BIG for the Right Things
Jerusalem of the Old Testament was a big city with a big story to tell, much like Dallas is today.
It was the city with the big temple, the place where kings sat on their big chairs, where big hopes and big dreams were realized. “Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God,” says the Psalmist.
The similarities to Dallas are striking. We’ve got big towers, big wealth, big people (Dirk), and a big future. We finance big projects, we build big stadiums, we even coin big-time slogans. Heck, big things really do happen here!
But if you look at any city long enough, and with a critical eye, the veneer of greatness inevitably falls away.
Exhibit A: Jerusalem
For one thing, the economy of the holy city was never perfect; it had its ups and downs just like ours. One could smell the governmental corruption from a mile away. Sound familiar? Not to mention violence was a constant plague on decent citizens. And just as a president was killed on our streets, the city of Jerusalem was known for killing kings.
Beneath Dallas’ many boasts of wealth, power, and influence are issues similar to Jerusalem’s, if not worse. Look no further than the findings from the Mayor’s Task Force on Poverty.
From 2000 to 2014, the number of poor people in Dallas rose by 42%. In the same time frame, median family income for a single mom with kids fell by 30% – from just over $28,000 to under $20,000 a year. The study also found that Dallas food pantries are used not by lazy freeloaders but predominately by the working poor.
Two statistics from the study loom particularly large. Dallas has the third-highest overall poverty rate among big cities in the nation, and the highest child poverty rate of all.
With poverty and food insecurity on the rise, it doesn’t help that Dallas currently has a depleted, demoralized police force that may not be adequately equipped to serve and protect its citizens.
Big cities must advertise the big things that happen because they know that stories of success and self-adulation draw people in, generate jobs, feed the economy, and accumulate wealth – at least for some. But how can we sit back and boast about all we have when so many have so little?
Let us take a cue from a man named Jeremiah, who in his day saw very clearly what was wrong with his city. In Jeremiah 9:23, he commanded the people of Jerusalem to abstain from three things:
Do not let the wise boast of their wisdom.
Do not let the mighty boast of their might.
Do not let the wealthy boast of their wealth.
These three commands were meant to safeguard Jerusalem from believing itself a pristine city, when in fact so many problems persisted and needed addressing. Instead, in the next verse, Jeremiah gives three commands to boast in other things, which I will paraphrase in Dallas lingo:
Be big in steadfast love.
Be big in justice.
Be big in righteousness.
When we’re big in steadfast love, we celebrate our commitment to sustain human dignity regardless of the economic or cultural divisions between us.
When we’re big in justice, we celebrate the positive ways we use the wealth of individuals, churches, businesses, and governments to bring adequate and dignified services to all our neighbors including food, health care, housing, child care, and education.
When we’re big in righteousness, we celebrate a city that puts the common good before self-interest or political affiliation; where Lake Highlands joins hands with Vickery Meadow, Preston Hollow with Pleasant Grove, North Dallas with South Dallas, and where many cities become one city, worthy of every boast we’ve ever told.
My church, NorthPark Presbyterian, attempts to be big in all these things, which is why we are hopeful that two of our initiatives, the Reverse Food Truck and SoulFood Greenhouse, will help bring food and relief to poor communities. We are also hopeful that other churches and businesses will get involved to help us fulfill Jeremiah’s commands.
So be BIG, Dallas. Be big on the things that bring true and widespread prosperity to our city, and let the rest of the nation know that we care for all our neighbors, not just the wealthy and powerful. And then, let’s brag. Brag endlessly because we know our slogan is true.
Big things happen here.
Rev. Brent Barry is the lead pastor of NorthPark Presbyterian Church. Brent and NorthPark have a deep commitment to working with the poor and hungry in Dallas, helping those with Alzheimer’s disease, and reaching across religious and cultural lines to do their part to bring Dallas together as one.