Welcome to Wonderland: Insights From a Couple of Angry Alice’s

alice in wonderland at the criss museumphoto © 2010 RAFTWET Jewell | more info (via: Wylio)I think I know what Alice felt like when she returned home after spending time in wonderland.  I doubt she went back to life as it was before.  I think she longed to see the mysterious Cheshire Cat appearing and disappearing and I bet she missed the Mad Hatter’s jokes.  I suspect she had a hard time discerning what was real for the rest of her life.  People who fall into rabbit holes are never the same!

Spending my days in the inner city in a culture of extreme poverty and my evenings at my home in the suburbs living midst people of relative wealth, is like falling into Alice’s rabbit hole every morning, spending the day in Wonderland, and coming out into Disneyland every evening.  I spend many weekends in my cabin in the woods simply trying to make sense of these two worlds.   The insanity of Wonderland leaves my head spinning.  Things like kids killing kids, substance abuse, violence and neglect are so challenging to my Disneyland existence.  After spending time in Wonderland, Disneyland just feels fake.  From the master planned communities, to the manicured lawns, to the pedigreed pooches, we are all living out a script in a world designed for our comfort and convenience.  Which is real?  Is it all just an illusion?

In Wonderland $50 would keep a family in housing for a month, but in Disneyland it is simply the price of dinner for two.  Down in the rabbit hole, no one has a car, yet in Disneyland a car is a rite of passage for most every sixteen year old.   In my urban context, people struggle to keep phone service often paying by the minute while every child over the age of seven in the burbs has unlimited minutes and texting.  My friends in the inner city wait in long lines for handouts from strangers to stock their pantries, while we roll through the grocery stores selecting the finest foods for our tables.  I have friends in the inner city who have been looking for a job for years, yet my sixteen year old got a job in a week.

I am not saying this to make anyone feel guilty.  My daughter has a car, all my girls have cell phones and Chris and I have been known to drop more than $50 during a night out for just the two of us.  What I am trying to capture is the surreal nature of these two extreme ends of our American culture.  As one who travels back and forth between these “lands”, I struggle making sense of it all.  I also sometimes get angry: angry at the injustice I see in Wonderland, angry at the waste I see in Disneyland, angry at the church that appears to be just another ride in Disneyland and angry at myself for not being able to stop the insanity of it all.

Hugh Hollowell wrote an excellent post titled “Why I Am Angry – Or Down The Rabbit Hole.” He captured far better than I can, why the Alice’s are angry.  I strongly encourage you all to read Hugh’s post.  I think it might help you all understand why some of my writings may come across as angry.

There is also a certain element of guilt that I feel because I choose to live where I live.  Disneyland has great schools and my children are receiving the finest education.  I think most of us choose Disneyland for our children.  The challenge is to remember that Disneyland is not reality.  We swim in waters that tell us that we deserve a $4 coffee every morning while kids in Wonderland go hungry.  We believe the Disneyland version of a God that would only call us to do things that are safe, convenient and make us feel good.  We want to love our neighbors in Wonderland but only if we can do so from the comfort of Disneyland.   Yet, Wonderland is a world without rules, without schedules, without reason. You cannot minister in Wonderland with a Disneyland approach.

I had a pastor from a very wealthy suburban church ask me this week, “Where does the suburban church fit into the battle to alleviate poverty in our city?”  The truth is you cannot battle the injustice in Wonderland unless you are willing to leave Disneyland. The journey from Disneyland to Wonderland happens physically but more importantly mentally and spiritually. You have to become like Alice, lost in a strange new world with its own rules.  You have to allow white rabbits to lead you and you must be open to learning from a caterpillar.  You have to put up with the misdirection of that mischievous cat, pointless tea parties, and the harsh injustice of ruling kings and queens.  Like Alice you enter this world without a map or a compass, without power and control, and you have to simply feel your way through like a lost little girl.  Sometimes, you will catch a glimpse of a white rabbit and think you are heading the right direction only to find you are more lost than you thought. Unlike the God of Disneyland where we pray and get what we want, the God of Wonderland works in mysterious ways in a land where children are beaten and neglected and others shot and killed in the streets.

Only those seeking to follow a crucified savior dare enter this world.  Only those who believe God can work in uncertainty and chaos will survive.  Only those who believe that their simple presence holds power would find meaning in entering in.  We do not enter Wonderland to “change it”, we enter to be changed by it.  Somehow, when little girls from Disneyland become friends with the March Hare’s of Wonderland, the illusions of both worlds are shattered and the reality of God’s Kingdom breaks in.

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2 Comments

Filed under Personal Reflection, Urban Ministry

2 responses to “Welcome to Wonderland: Insights From a Couple of Angry Alice’s

  1. HLBradley

    I think you did a great job of describing the two worlds and the strange feelings that come from traveling from one to the other. Yes, returning home is like living in Disney once we have visited the other world. I am
    sometimes struck by a strange feeling (don’t really have a word for this feeling) when I am in Disney (short pump) and see someone from the other
    world there standing with a sign. It is happening more often now and I feel
    as if everything should stop until these people can be heard and helped. But everything just goes on as if the people aren’t really there. I guess they are invisible because I know that everyone doesn’t see what I see when I look at
    a homeless person. Yesterday I had the experience of shopping in a Christian bookstore, that was very busy and noticed a number of clergy there. The store employees were promoting World Vision to all of the customers. Across the street at the intersection was a women with a sign.
    After stopping to speak to her and giving her one of the Homeward cards, I felt the urge to go back into the store and mention to them the fact that she
    was there and even though World Vision is wonderful someone might be able to help that lady today. I did not return to the store but it is just an example of one of those times when the two worlds are contrasted.
    Anyway, I really appreciate your blogging.

    • wmccaig

      Helen – It always seems odd to me to see someone who is homeless out here in the burbs but I learned at the clergy convocation at Richmond Hill this week that there is almost as many people in poverty in the counties as there is in the city. However, the difference is that in the city you have intensely concentrated poverty and in the counties it is spread out and harder to identify. I also think the depth of poverty is much more pronounced in the city. The poverty line is well above that of most of the folks I see in my ministry. RRHA average income is under $9,000 a year. No one could survive on $9,000 a year in the county. However, it is harder in the counties if you do fall that far into poverty because there are not as many services and not many buses run from the county to the city which makes me really stop and take notice of folks in the burbs on the street corner. God bless you for not just passing by like most people would.

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