This was without question one of the most memorable weekends of the year. Even after living in Chicago for four years there’s still new neighborhoods to explore. Against my reluctance my wife and I ventured out to Pilsen for what my wife would call, “flavor and diversity.” For me I knew exactly what this meant, heading to a neighborhood that roughly reminds me of where I grew up. You see, I have a love/hate relationship with my hometown. Far removed from Beverly Hills, The Hills, and South Orange County, my hometown was the quintessential low-middle class working neighborhood. No McMasions, no top of the line soccer mom SUV’s on our streets. While safe in some regards, there were plenty of crystal clear indicators that implied it really wasn’t. Gang inspired graffiti covered walls of certain “landmarks” within our town to mark whose gang “ran” the city blocks. Drugs definitely found their ways into both public and private schools, and I can still outline which areas of the city you should not be around or near when the sun went down. On top of all this was the in your face reality that well over 90% of the city’s population was Hispanic. Spanish is the first language typically learned in households and children like me, 1st generation born in the States was the norm.
But back to Pilsen. From the second I stepped aboard the Pink line el I was tense. I know my wife loves exploring new neighborhoods, but on my preconceived notions and ideas I was expecting the worst. I made sure we looked like we knew where we were going, didn’t look anyone in the eye, and made sure we weren’t being followed at any time, you know, standard city rules. Instead, when we made it to “the main strip” along 18th street something interesting happened, I became immersed in my surroundings and instead of feeling like a stranger in a place where I have to watch my back, I felt like someone returning to his hometown…and was happy to be there. The smells, the sights, the sounds, the stores, they all reminded me of my hometown and I felt like a kid who went off to college somewhere and made it back to his hometown for the weekend.
The remarkable thing to me was that I felt happy to be there. The smell of Pan Dulce in the air reminded me of days spent at my grandparents’ house when I was a child, the city streets and storefronts brought me back to very far-distant childhood memories of seeing the city streets with innocent eyes, before I read, heard stories, and witnessed criminal activity. It also didn’t hurt that Pilsen has some of the most beautiful mosaic art in the city, which masterfully occupy the sides of entire buildings. After a lengthy conversation with my wife about all of this when our adventure in Pilsen ended, I came to the realization that, even to this day, I had let the self-indulgent and gooberific opinions of would be LA hipsters shape my opinion of how I perceive where I am from. While my hometown is a far cry from the friendliness and public art displays that exist in Pilsen, I should not be ashamed of where I am from. It will always be apart of who I am whether I like it or not, so why not carry some pride to go along with it? After all, my frugalness has taught me in large part to not give a damn about what other people think, so why I do not apply that to my own personal background?
If all of this were not enough for a fun-filled weekend, at my home church here in Chicago we had to say goodbye to one of our leaders whom is heading to the suburbs to lead a new church congregation as a pastor. Our home church here has been somewhat of a revolving door as I feel like we are always saying hi to new faces and goodbye to some of our staples every few months. This person has been without question our most consistent face of leadership around our church over the last few years. She personifies everything I love about my church: great music (she has an AMAZING voice), welcoming atmosphere, a genuine spirit of love, superb culinary delights at pot lucks, a generous spirit of giving to those in need, and an ability to take my breath away with sermons that are second to none. In fact, I think so highly of this person that I am unable to come up with a cute little acronym/pseudonym that perfectly summarizes her best qualities, she seriously has too many J!
But her departure is the bright and shining reminder that those of us remaining need to follow her lead. I for one, need to see where I can fit into leadership roles and be the example to newcomers as she was for me. Yes I will miss seeing her every Sunday in worship, but her influence has made an impression in my faith that will last a lifetime.