Personal Reflection: Being Christian… in Austin

 

BEING CHRISTIAN… IN AUSTIN
Christina Castelli, Parishioner – The Hill

I don’t really feel qualified to write about “Being Christian”. It sounds so goshdarn confident. It sounds like I’ve got it all figured out; like I’m always comfortable promoting my Christianity; like I know how to be a shining beacon on a hill in this patch-worked, ever-growing city.

But I’ll make a confession – in 2016, I went to church less than 15 times. For a kid like me who spent eight years at a Lutheran school where they took our “Church Attendance” on Monday mornings, that is shameful.

Thankfully, one of the reasons that I have been drawn to the Episcopal Church in my adulthood is that we are pretty light on the shame and pretty heavy on love, growth, and understanding. And I found a simple way to improve my church attendance this year – I signed up to sing with the worship band at the Hill!

Kathy originally reached out to me for this topic because I’ve been promoting my series of “Silent Reading” events at the Hill. This is intended to be an inclusive and non-discriminatory way for folks to engage in communal solitude.

However, as I started writing I thought, “do my events really attract a cross-section of Austin? Or are they really just targeted for other people a lot like me?” Not that this isn’t valuable – I firmly believe it is always beneficial to create more community! But if I pretend that “people like me” is the same as “people in Austin,” I’ve created a dangerous blind spot.

I thought about our underfunded East Austin schools, and how so many of us are able to pay more for private schools or homes in better school districts, and not think about those we are boxing out or allowing to flounder in the process. I thought about the house I just bought in a Hispanic neighborhood that cost twice what it did three years ago; knowing that in 10 years, half of those blue-collar families will be displaced by young families with white collars like me.

I thought about how many of us will go see the movie Get Out and root for the black male protagonist, and then go to our exquisitely catered church functions without realizing that we are the problem. I thought about how few working-class people I’ve met in our congregations – even, and maybe especially jarringly, on The Hill. I wonder if I should join a black church instead.

I don’t know the solution. I try to carry $1 bills so that I can hand them out whenever I’m asked. I’ve started volunteering with Foundation Communities and attempting to learn Spanish. I’m hoping to begin attending school board meetings and canvassing for policies that are fair to Austin’s black community.

I try not to ignore those living hard lives that I don’t recognize – and I worry that it’s not enough. I worry that I am the wealthy man giving a sizeable donation of no real sacrifice, while Jesus is applauding the pauper woman giving her two mites. And yet I am afraid to give more because I want to have more – for me, for mine. I am afraid to engage further because the more I see, the harder it is to ignore how unfair life has been in my favor.

I try, and fail, and fail again to model the acts of Jesus for all of Austin, and not just for the parts that make me feel safe and comfortable. Getting to that point is much harder, but ultimately much more important, than improving my church attendance.

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