I've heard the phrase a lot recently from multiple people from multiple backgrounds. They are either talking about someplace else or some people are even talking about their own areas of residence. The phrase is something like this: "That's/It's a bad neighborhood." This makes me think. What is a "bad neighborhood"? We all know what people mean when they say phrases like that. People are poor. There are probably drugs. Nobody should walk alone after dark. Black people live there. Languages other than English are spoken.
Most of us, whether we want to admit it or not, have these biases and images come to mind when we think a place is a "bad neighborhood." I believe, however, that God views "bad neighborhoods" differently. A "bad neighborhood" is where people are struggling with issues such as poverty, addictions, loneliness, depression, etc in isolation and solitude. Generally speaking, people in poverty don't suffer in isolation. They depend on each other. They sacrifice for each other and sometimes even to their own detriment. We need to stop thinking that people living in impoverished areas--generally considered "at-risk neighborhoods"- are "bad" and that living in middle- and upper-class suburbia is "good." When people are isolated from each other--like they generally are in suburbia--this is not something I classify as "god" or something to aspire to. I'm not saying living in poverty or in a drug-ridden area is a good thing. God's heart is for poverty to be abolished, and our Creator is crushed when people's lives are overrun in any type of addiction. What I am saying, however, is that the "American Dream" is not always God's dream for a neighborhood. We can't just slap someone in the middle of suburbia where they don't know their neighbors and call it "good." Now, there are suburbs where people do know each other and are doing "life together" as Bonhoeffer might say. But it can also be remarkably easy to be alone in a nice house seeking an idol of self-sufficiency and be completely a mess internally.
We need to stop using binary language where we describe something as either "good" or "bad", especially when that difference is defined by classism. Instead, we need to focus on what God envisions for every neighborhood: a place where everybody's physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological basic needs are being met. That's what can make us whole. That's what we should all strive to regardless of whether society deems us "at-risk" or "bad." That requires that we don't exist in isolation. It requires us sharing our lives and our physical assets for those who do not have enough. Relationships that become friendships are what leads us to not viewing certain areas as "bad" but as the places where our friends reside and we do life together. That's something that allows God's Spirit to work in new and innovative ways and bring wholistic healing to people of all backgrounds. You don't fear your neighbor when you know them and they know you. We label people and places because they're different than us. Clearly, those labels are hurting us. Instead, let us look toward our neighbors as a person who reflects God's image, even if we can't fully see it yet. That allows us to see God's Kingdom breaking in and to start bringing that Kingdom more clearly to earth.