“Safe” Is an Interesting Word

In our recent search for a neighborhood and place to make home, the term “Safe” has been thrown around quite a bit by others. Those who say it are usually very genuine and well-intending: “Now that you have a baby, you’ll want to make sure you find a safe area of the city,” or “I’m sure you’ll be able to find a nice, safe neighborhood to purchase a home in.” I find it extremely difficult to respond to statements like these because of the layers and layers of underlying assumptions behind them. Let me try and break this down a little bit.

What do they mean by ‘safe?’
I think the most obvious is that they don’t want us living where the feature crime stories on the evening news are located. Physical safety is their obvious concern and there is certainly some validity to that. Unfortunately, our major indicator of ‘safety’ is the evening news, which tends to categorize it’s media in interesting ways, and it continually reinforces our stereotypes. First, the news covers mostly negative stories, ‘if it bleeds, it leads.’ Second, the news, and people, tend to categorize in ways we understand; so a large geographic area, falls into one categorization (just like a large people group or income level). What you end up with is that ‘safe’ means living anywhere other then the area of town where the poor, and many minorities, have been isolated to.

I guess I would like to start by asking different questions, and having different concerns then ‘safety.’ Shane Claiborne touches on it well:

“People sometimes ask if we are scared of the inner city. I say that I am more scared of the suburbs. Our Jesus warns that we can fear those things which can hurt our bodies or we can fear those things which can destroy our souls, and we should be far more fearful of the latter. Those are the subtle demons of suburbia.

As my mother once told me, “Perhaps there is no more dangerous place for a Christian to be than in safety and comfort, detached from the suffering of others.” I’m scared of apathy and complacency, of detaching myself from the suffering. It’s hard to see until our 20/20 hindsight hits us—but every time we lock someone out, we lock ourselves further in.” [via]

As I am trying to follow, I think the first question in deciding where to live is to ask, “What does Christ call me to?” I think a quick reading of Scripture would make it quite clear we are not first called to physical safety. Christ himself spends time with the poor and the oppressed, the ‘desperate and dangerous’ people of his day. He lives amongst the unsafe and ‘unclean’ and he speaks out to his followers to do the same, addressing injustices along the way.

Finally, as it relates to children, there is a strong lead in the Bible to teach your children to follow the faith. The goal is not to keep your child ‘safe’ above all else, but rather to lead your child to truth. Having children does not mean you forsake your values in an effort to preserve their physical longevity, it means you hold that much more strongly to the truths and convictions that you know to be true, that you might properly serve to point them toward the truth.

9 thoughts on ““Safe” Is an Interesting Word”

  1. I love this post. Being ready to give birth to Jake and I’s first child, some of the extended family (and friends) are quite concerned about our next step in life (thinking about going to school in kenya), and just keep on saying, “is this safe? is this smart?” Jake replys with his comment that safety is an allusion. Which is true, but it doesn’t satisfy their concern. I really like shane claiborne’s quote that you have in here…thanks for this post. it’s reassuring to hear it– makes me feel less crazy :).

  2. There’s a lot of truth to this, and “it’s not safe” is not a reason to ignore a call to minister in the inner city. But the way I read this, on the physical safety versus spiritual safety, this would presume that the cities are physically unsafe and the suburbs spiritually unsafe (by merit of being physically safe.) Due to a dynamic that feeds it self, small town America is decidedly less hostile spiritually than the inner city: again, this isn’t a reason in itself to move, because the reason for this is too many of us respond to hostility to our faith and values in the big city by turning tail and running rather than fighting for the soul and heart of the city.

    And turning over these centers of culture to enemy hands is definitely a bad idea.

    It sounds like you’ve been given a passion for inner city ministry in the areas you mentioned. Just remember, not everyone in the Body is called to hoe the same row. The most important thing is to go where God is leading you–and to realize, as you’ve pointed out, that won’t always, if ever, make sense by human logic, especially in terms of such risk factors.

  3. Andrea,
    You got me all wrong. I’m not ‘called’ nor do I have some unique ‘passion.’ I’m compelled through the clear teachings of Christ in scripture to throw my lot in with the least of these, the outcasts, the ones Jesus hung out with. Jesus says blessed our the poor for theirs is the kingdom, I would be foolish to be hanging around with the rich then wouldn’t I?
    I strongly believe EVERY follower of Christ is ‘called’ to geographically place themselves with and amongst the poor in our society. And that will also require a radical lifestyle change as it relates to our possessions as well.

    I can’t think of a ‘calling’ that would be in conflict with that clear directive of Christ.

  4. Ariah,

    I still think you’re making the mistake of confusing a personal conviction God has placed on you with a directive for all believers. Either that or misreading scripture. I don’t see “thou shalt live in poverty stricken neighborhoods” in the scripture. This is your conviction, not scripture.

    Americans do generally have issues with serving mammon and worshiping wealth, etc. We generally are far too much in love with physical safety and our comfort zones. But you’re going to the opposite extreme. The Church does have a responsibility to look out for the oppressed, the widow, the oprhan, etc. I simply find your views on how this must be done too narrow.

  5. Andrea,

    I can understand why you think I’m going to the opposite extreme. Most Christians in our society live just like the status quo that we assume that’s proper, or at least the norm. We never step back and question it, attempt to start from scratch, and try and emulate Christ.

    Here’s my question for you. If you could step back, out of your current home, and pretend you were starting a fresh. Your only goal is to follow the teachings of Christ. Where would you live? How would you most imitate Christ in your choice of geographic location? And why?

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