As a social scientist I've worked with youths in Detroit for many years. Recently, someone asked me how I meet the challenge of urban blight. My first response was that my daily prayers allow me to realign my thinking about the situation confronting cities today. I drew upon one of my early lessons in Christian Science Sunday School. A teacher once told me that anything I do, I would always do better if I knew God’s omnipotent love better. I paraphrase this early lesson as “you do better when you know better.”
I definitely know better than to accept urban blight. In my vision of universal harmony, I know that wherever we are – Detroit or any city – we are always part of God’s kingdom. My thinking is aligned spiritually with the fact that “with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27). The right ideas and policies will change any challenge, as we explore better ways to reconstruct our cities.
Detroit is challenged; one part I play in its reconstruction is to know that there are right solutions at hand. It’s not about census numbers, limited budgets, rising unemployment, political corruption, or increased crime. My responsibility is to align my thinking with the one power that always does better: God.
Urban blight is the picture that says ecologically Detroit is decaying. I look into this picture seeing an opportunity to reconstruct and renew hope, people, and the environment. Each morning I pray to refresh in my thought the fact that all challenges of urban blight are subject to the dominion God has given His sons and daughters. In thought, the ugly images of poverty must be replaced with God-inspired images of inclusion and creativity that allow citizens in such situations a way to live in harmony, abundance, and peace.
In this way, we will gradually approach something like the city of God described in the book of Revelation. Mary Baker Eddy wrote of it, “This city of our God has no need of sun or satellite, for Love is the light of it,...” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 577).
The challenge of urban blight is being met in Detroit daily. Collectively, and individually, citizens young and old are successfully rebuking the notion of blight. I am praying when someone writes an ugly blog, or when I find naysayers condemning the city or a particular group. I find prayer effective because I can enter a “closet,” as Jesus described a quiet place for prayer, in my thoughts. Without anyone or anything stopping me, I can know better than to add fuel to the false fires of discontent.
As an example, I see the work of Michigan State University, with Wayne State University and YouthVille, an organization dedicated to youth development, as helping make the city safer and more productive for young people. My work in Detroit knows nothing of blight when I attend, for instance, a poetry initiative made up of kids from all over the area.
Christian Science has enabled me to understand that prayers for our cities do have an impact, blessing and contributing to healing and renewal. We can meet distress in our cities with prayer. Urban blight is opportunity for knowing – and doing – better.
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