People might not realize it when they first meet me, but I am a romantic at heart. The problem is I am also a pragmatist. These two sides war often. Every time I pass a flower shop (I live within walking distance of one) I think about buying my wife flowers, but I know they will die in a couple days. Why by her a card that tells her I love her, when I can just walk into house and tell her myself. Why plan a romantic weekend away to visit the city I already live in? Oh, the rub.
When Debra and I were first married we planned to attend a marriage conference one weekend. The conference was great. It had built in times for couples to talk with each other, a date night and it was suggested to us to stay in a hotel to be fully submerged in the weekends events. A hotel would be more convenient, it would be fun and it would be romantic. So even on our shoestring budget, this is what we did. However, after our first night in the hotel, pragmatism won out. We thought will it was dumb to pay for hotel when we live just down the street. So, we canceled our second night at the hotel, slept in our bed and enjoyed the conference just the same.
Fast forward 20 years. Its was our Platinum anniversary and I told Debra I would take care of all the planning and details for a romantic, fun and memorable celebration. My first idea was I to travel for this momentous anniversary. To go somewhere fun, exciting and even a little exotic. Reykjavik, The French Quarter, Chicago. However, the budget just would not allow this. I did have some funds saved up as I had been pilfering parts of my paycheck since the preceding year without tell Debra. So, what time and funding would allow was to visit Denver.
Admittedly, Denver is not Venice, Prague or Paris. Admittedly, traveling to Denver required no travel excitement. Admittedly, Denver is the city we live in. But once my romanic side on out, I booked us a room at the newly renovated Union Station Crawford Hotel downtown. During our weekend downtown, just 10 miles from our own home, we eat in local restaurants, walked the streets, watch the city wake up early on Sunday morning and thoroughly enjoyed our stay downtown.
As we moved through the city I had time to see it in a different light. Before this weekend when I was in downtown Denver I was concerned about finding a parking spot, making my meeting on time or finding my way out. But this weekend because we were staying and walking around the city I had the time and presence to see it like never before.
I saw the beauty of its back alleys.
I saw homeless people digging in dumpsters for food.
I saw the old buildings standing next to the new buildings meant to look old.
I saw someone pissing on the sidewalk.
I saw the city infrastructure working to clean up and recover from the day before.
All of this reminded me of the other more exotic cities I have been in: Delhi, Edinburgh, Jerusalem, and others. But for the first time I was able to enjoy my city. To embrace my city. To allow Denver to tug on my heart. After 5 years I am just now starting to love a city. All because I let my romantic side beat out my pragmatic side. The weekend was not cheap, but became priceless.
Shortly after our weekend downtown I facilitated a conversation about Jesus’ love of the city of Jerusalem. Jesus loved a city that was not his birthplace (Bethlehem), nor his home town (Nazareth), or the center of his ministry (Capernaum). He loved Jerusalem because it was the heart of a people. It was the center of religious and political life for the Jews. Jesus loved Jerusalem because it revealed and represented the people’s connection with God the Father or the lack there of. He love it because it was lost, fearful and misguided by those entrusted to lead it.
you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you,
how often I have longed to gather your children together,
as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings,
and you were not willing. Matthew 23:37
I think when we begin to love a city like Jesus did, we will be willing to sacrifice for his health, prosperity and salvation. Just like the church is not a place, but a people, so a city is its people not a location on a map. Jesus shows us this so clearly in his lament for Jerusalem. To see a city as it is, to notice its beauty and it is tragedy, to hope for it, to work on it behalf is to have compassion for its people and love them. As, the city goes, so goes it people. Jeremiah encouraged the Israelites this way generations before Jesus when he told the exiles held in babylon:
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city
to which I have carried you into exile.
Pray to the Lord for it,
because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:7