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Walking in Community

 

Author: Michael Gong, MTR Grad

A few years ago, my church, which lives and meets in Mitchell Heights, was studying the Gospel account of Matthew. We made a simple, but foundational observation: the overwhelming majority of transformational interactions that Jesus had with people began with him walking. Perhaps the obvious reaction to this observation is to note that modern means of transportation did not exist then, so Jesus really had few other options. Maybe Jesus could have convinced Judas to spring for a chariot, but he did not.  However, I think the more appropriate response was to ask a question (scientific method, anyone?). How does walking instead of driving change the nature of our interactions?

So, we challenged each other to walk whenever possible. Walking changes your perspective. Without doors and windows to insulate us from our surroundings and without speed to blur our vision, we began to see our neighborhood differently. When we drive, a friendly wave or honk can make connections, but stopping to talk can build bridges. Walking is a humanizing act. We are clearly seen as a person, rather than as an anonymous occupant of a machine.

Walking increases proximity; proximity enables compassion.

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like a sheep without a shepherd.  Matthew 9:35-36.

The more you walk with a people, the more they become your people. Most of you are naturally more compassionate than I am. I need help. When I am roused from sleep in the early hours of the night by raised voices and gunfire from a house where one of my students lives, I am confronted by my lack of compassion. When I see a student in their home context and find that they are the most stable person in their family, it challenges my lack of compassion. When I have a student confess that her aunt stole vegetables from my garden to feed their family back when they lived on my street, I am challenged by my lack of compassion. When I walk past a student’s house at night when the daytime temperatures are below freezing and inches of light are streaming out of a crack in the front of the house, I am challenged by my lack of compassion.

Compassion drives me to consider my interaction with students more carefully. I don’t lower my expectations, but I do frame them differently.

What does it mean to walk with a group of people? For me, living in the same community as my students is part of walking with them. We chose to live in Mitchell Heights to be closer to the school where my wife taught when we first moved to Memphis in 2007. Her experiences and interactions with school families were a big reason I considered the career change to teaching. We celebrated last year with several students from her first 3rd grade class in Memphis as they graduated high school, some going on to college. Living in proximity to their families allows us to share more directly in their trials and triumphs. We have developed real friendships (and also babysitters). Community is the reason why I have no plans to leave Kingsbury High School any time soon.