“Midland’s changing.” That’s the confident assertion from many people who live in our region, concerning the town that is our central hub, the aforementioned Midland.
Midland has a reputation. Has had it for years. It’s a working class, no nonsense, hard-edged town on the fringe of Perth, nestled into the foothills about twenty-five km from the CBD. It’s been a tough place too, and pockets of it still are. Lots of ambulance call outs, a train station that is best left alone at night, and a strong undercurrent of under-and-unemployed. The constant screech of tyres around our suburbs at night betray a good-ole boys attitude that still persists, as do the car stickers such as “Horn broken – watch for finger”, “Justify Your Existence”, “Bitch on wheels” etc, etc.
But Midland is changing. The ghosts of Midland Past – the railway workshops – are now being resurrected as funky apartments, a GP SuperClinic and the Police Traffic Centre for the whole of the city. A new hospital is being built as I write, and there is talk of a real, live, actual university campus (the University of Hard Knocks? – cynical Ed). Trees are springing up where once there were no trees, i.e, the footpaths. Cafes with real coffee (not amazing yet, but decent) are spruiking their wares, pedestrian zones and new seating, plenty of urbanisation going on. Oh, and did I mention lots of new funky apartments? It’s got all the hallmarks of gentrification. And check this out: On the weekend the conservative Liberal Party ran neck and neck with the working-man’s Labor Party in the state election – the first time a Midland vote has gone down to the wire (result still too close to call – political tragic Ed). Just the perfect place to plant a church. This change, and the rate of the change, is like a badge of honour, a franked document to thrust under the noses of those city types who silently, and not so silently, wonder how people could live out this way. No bones about it, Midland is changing.
(Is there another 2012 coming up that we don’t know about? – Ed)
And yet, as I found myself echoing that very observation at Providence Midland’s Vision and Planning morning yesterday, I was struck by how vacuous it is. I stood before our core congregation in a community centre in central Midland and said those very words “Midland is changing”. Behind that observation was a whole swathe of assumptions on my part. Here in Perth evangelicalism is, like in so many parts of the world, welded onto a middle class identity, as if its very life depends on it. The lower-socio economic areas are best served by the Catholics and the Pentecostals, apparently. But you can be sure that if we even get a sniff of gentrification, we evangelicals will be there like a shot (double shot, no milk – Ed), replete with our coffee machines, wordy gospel outlines, funky songs and eagerness.
“Midland is changing” I said, before being immediately struck down by the gospel reality (better than being struck down by worms – apostolic Ed). I summoned a deep breath then reframed it. “But maybe that’s our problem, we’re waiting for Midland to change, when in fact, we’re the ones who are supposed to be changing.”
Let’s face it, if I can only love Midland when it more reflects me and reflects my sensibilities then I will never love Midland like Jesus loves Midland. If all I want is a surrounding area that requires nothing more of me than status quo, then the idolatry of comfort and ease has taken a hold of me. God wants me – wants us – to change to the extent that we love Midland like he loves Midland; in all its grime and dark areas, its broken lives, broken dreams, broken windows.
And even more than that, do we really think that Midland’s primary problem is that it needs a gentrifying face lift? Is that the main thing that Midland needs to change? No! Midland needs a heart transformation that only the gospel can bring. It needs to be filled with people – young, old, black, white, working class, middle class, underclass, who are loved by, and love, Jesus. If our hopes are pinned on Midland changing enough to make gospel work easier for soft-handed evangelicals such as ourselves, then our hopes are too small, and destined to be disappointed.
And, of course, over the top of even that, is the reality that when Jesus looked at Steve McAlpine he didn’t say “Steve’s changing. Good stuff, if he keeps that up I just might come and dwell with him.” No, Jesus saved me – saved us – as we were, whilst we were still sinners. We were making no effort at gentrification, we were not sprucing up, we were not barricading and pedestrianising the well-worn roads to sin in our lives. The dark places in Steve’s life were as dark – and as dangerous – as the back of Midland train station on a Friday night. Yet the incarnation tells me that God did not wait for us to change to come and dwell among us. The incarnation tells me that Jesus became poor for us, was born in a town like Midland, and was crucified outside the walls of the up-market respectable CBD Jerusalem (only one train stop from the temple – Ed). And it’s only when I truly grasp the significance of that will I be more concerned about my need to be transformed, and less worried by the fact that, despite all the changes in Midland, the most popular eating place in Midland remains the new Hog’s Breath Cafe.
So next year, in Providence Midland’s yearly review, I want to be able to look around at our people and say “Midland, God is changing us. Not to be what we want to be, but to be what he wants us to be, transformed into the image and likeness of his Son.” That’s His vision and plan for change from 2013 into eternity – even if that’s how long it takes for the new hospital to get finished.