photo © 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.