I have come to terms with my sarcasm. But recently, I’m finding myself to be a greater optimist than I previously thought. I’m optimistic about social change. I’m optimistic about the future of art. I’m optimistic amidst the pain and confusion of my friends that we will find peace and fulfillment. And I’m optimistic that the church will become something more than the dead dogma it refuses to move past now. With that said, I remain a pessimist about Redding, CA. This was the city I called home for several years before I went to college. This is the city that took so much from my family. And this is the city, I am convinced, continues to hurt so many. I know this may come across as bitter high school angst the refuses to let a grudge die, thus causing me to demonize a place instead of pinpoint the source of the problem. Yet, the more time I spend in Redding and the more stories I hear from those still there, convinces me that there is something very wrong with that city.
As I continue my theological studies, I am further convinced that Jesus favoured the poor over the rich—and he is thus, with those who are with or near the poor (we can argue about the fact that while I am near the poor I still remain uninvolved due to the paralyzing nature of academia later). This conclusion makes me believe that places that are removed from oppression are removed from God’s sight. I often say that the true Church does exist, just not in the suburbs—how could real community exist in a place that was created for the American, not Christian, dream of privacy. And Redding is one of the most narcissistic cities I have ever encountered. True, there is oppression in Redding as there is oppression anywhere. Yet, so many problems seem to be caused by suburban alienation.
I spent this Christmas in Redding and I began to formulate my reason for hating this Tehama County bubble. Redding is a trap. It is so easy to get stuck there. The saying, “Those who don’t do, teach,” changes to “Those who don’t do, get married.” I guess when you don’t know what to do with your life (not job, but life) you just don’t want to face that mystery alone. Tragically, this seems to backfire when you realize that your lack of vision, drive, or courage can take down a marriage. It’s sad to go back to a place and see people that sat next to you in English working at Best Buy, or finding out that several of your former friends are now pregnant not through love but irresponsibility. And there are those who get out of Redding, but they can’t leave because Redding has a way of pulling you back.
I used to attend of Christian that did not have a single African-American student in it. The school was small in general, but this became even more of a conundrum when the 2,000 person school not a quarter of a mile away had the most diversity in the entire city—and even that high school was known as the ghetto one. This could be said for many cities. No city will ever be perfect. But this coupled with say Simpson college and the amount of drama the takes place at the several disjointed churches in that city (not to mention how messed up Red Bluff is), reveals a Christian theology that refuses to find those in pain. The more separated I become from Redding, the more I see how incredibly fucked up that city is. The beauty of its skies can’t hide the ugliness of its heart.
Don’t worry, I don’t believe that Redding is Sodom. There are still those who are doing good deeds there. But those people are far and few. The city thrives off on the idea that isolation is the key to happiness. While this may work for some, I am sure that the city will have an identity crisis soon enough (there’s my optimism again). It’s taken me a long time to reform myself without all that the baggage that city put on me. Yet, every time I go back there, I feel like I’m restarting the process. But alas, I’m back in SoCal—my real home.