So after the progressive improvers come and leave, someone has to clean up. For years we Michiganders have silently, or not so silently, wept over the plight of Detroit. But as new life sprouts in the ashes after a forest fire, so too there are signs of new life in Detroit. Precisely because of the depth of its difficulties it has become an interesting place for people who want to reimagine urban life. Not surprisingly, Christian non-profits, as shown in this story in Christianity Today, have taken a leading role in bringing Detroit back to health. From the story:

“We Christians need to be at the forefront of being imaginative, creative, and innovative in bringing economic viability for cities that are hurting,” he says.

The key for Christians, though, will be doing so in a way that rightly remembers their city’s history—and their neighbors.

“Newcomers come in without a sense of history and act as though Detroit is a blank canvas,” notes Mark VanAndel, pastor of discipleship at Citadel of Faith. Pastor Carey remembers watching Detropia, a new documentary about postindustrial Detroit. “One interviewee said, ‘I’m an artist and could never afford to live like this anywhere else; if this doesn’t work out, we don’t lose anything because we’re at the bottom.’

“When he said that, it was like a knife went through me,” says Carey. “This is ‘the bottom’? You can’t imagine the grief a person feels when this is the place that is home.”

“I didn’t realize how deeply I’d be offended when other people, even Christians, would joke about Detroit,” says Foster. “It’s like they were making fun of my kid.”

Carey and Foster say that as Detroit adjusts to a new set of migrants—those with hope, creativity, and incredible privilege—Christians in Detroit must keep a city with a battered soul spiritually intact.

“Who advocates for Grandma, who has worked here forever, who loves this city but is unable to fix her roof?” says Carey. “What about the young man who has gone through the public schools and still can’t read and is now approaching 20 with no source of income? Who speaks for them?

“We can’t let businesses or the government be responsible for the soul of the city. That’s what Detroit is known for—its soul.”

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Jeffrey Polet
Jeffrey Polet grew up in an immigrant household in the immigrant town of Holland MI. After twenty years of academic wandering he returned to Holland and now teaches political science at Hope College, where he also grudgingly serves as chair of the department, having unsuccessfully evaded all requests. In the interim, he continues to nurture quirky beliefs: Division III basketball is both athletically and morally superior to Division I; the Hope/Calvin rivalry is the greatest in sports; the lecture is still the best form of classroom instruction; never buy a car with less than 100,000 miles on it; putts will still lip out in heaven; bears are the incarnation of evil; Athens actually has something to do with Jerusalem; and Tombstone is a cinematic classic. His academic work has mirrored his peripatetic career. Originally trained at the Catholic University of America in German philosophy and hermeneutical theory, he has since gravitated to American Political Thought. He still occasionally writes about European thinkers such as Michel Foucault or the great Max Weber, but mostly is interested in the relationship between theological reflection and political formation in the American context. In the process of working on a book on John Marshall for The Johns Hopkins University Press, he became more sensitive to the ways in which centralized decision-making undid local communities and autonomy. He has also written on figures such as William James and the unjustly neglected Swedish novelist Paer Lagerkvist. A knee injury and arthritis eliminated daily basketball playing, and he now spends his excess energy annoying his saintly wife and their three children, two of whom are off to college. Expressions of sympathy for the one who remains can be posted in the comments section. He doesn’t care too much for movies, but thinks opera is indeed the Gesamtkuntswerk, that the music of Gustav Mahler is as close as human beings get to expressing the ineffable, that God listens to Mozart in his spare time, and that Bach is history’s greatest genius.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Our Lord delights in taking the fallen and broken, that rejected and lost, and redeeming it. Let us pray for a miracle in Detroit and be ready to be a part of that miracle.

  2. In the fullness of time, the rust belt cities of the Great Lakes are going to get the last laugh…..they possess water and nearby arable soil in abundance. The scrap alone possesses remarkable future value. Next time around though, they cannot be quite so cavalier about the water and soil which is their gold and silver.

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