Resurrecting That Old House

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” John 2:19

That old house has finally sold. It’s been empty for a while, and what used to be a grand old place on West Main Street now looks more ramshackle than rambling. It’s a big red brick place, a relic of Richmond, Indiana’s, 19th century economic glory and also a street side memento of the family that once lived there and likely hosted grand gatherings. The house looks like it’s easily suffered years of neglect. I’d like to interrogate it: why are you empty? What were you like before?

The whole place takes up an acre in the city, along a busy thoroughfare. Most of it is a yard so overgrown with woods and weeds it resembles the forbidden forests of fairy tales. One year I saw plenty of poison ivy. This year I have seen a collective of cats. I’m guessing the Enchanted Forest hosts a feral colony that can live there discreetly and safely. I’ve even heard the cats live in the house, which wouldn’t surprise me; it would certainly have enough bedrooms to accommodate an extended feline family. There are still curtains on the house’s front window, a leftover touch of elegance, an intimation that light and hospitality once were there and can come again.

It will take work for that old house to be resurrected. These past two weeks at seminary while studying the subjects of poverty and justice I’ve seen photos of Resurrection City , the tent city erected on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1968 by the Poor People’s Campaign begun by Martin Luther King Jr. It is both a good idea and a rough place there at the intersection of hope and faith, a fixer-upper in a less well-heeled neighborhood of the Kingdom of Heaven.

In the pictures I’ve seen, Resurrection City looked pretty depressing, a shanty town. If it had beauty, I guess you had to know where to look for it or know how, through a very active imagination. Dr. King certainly knew; his mind’s eye opened by God, he told us he had seen the Promised Land. In the speech he delivered in Memphis the night before he was assassinated and months before his campaign marched on Washington, he saw something very few others could see. ,Beyond the Memphis sanitation workers strike, beyond the snarling dogs and fire hoses and jail cells of the civil rights movement, he could see the kingdom, because, like Moses, he had been to the mountaintop. The rest of us lack imagination or are hustling along in our lives. Some are angry; others lack faith.

I wonder where the flowers were in Resurrection City. Cities need little details to make them livable and pleasing: cats padding around at twilight, flowers that bloom welcome, kids playing. Did those city planners want only to tell the truth? Truth is not always beautiful; sometimes it’s simply the medicine you need when you’re sick, bringing healing and tasting bitter. If Resurrection City was a failure, perhaps it was because they didn’t plant flowers. They certainly planted seeds. How long, oh Lord, till those seeds flower?

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