Story 3: Old and New Brooklyn

I think Christians in the twenty-first century have lost something crucial to our identity simply because we’re unable to understand how astonishing it was that the first Church was comprised of both Jews and Gentiles.

This shift in group make-up was not casually stumbled upon. It was a cultural prejudice that Jesus had to forcefully break down in the minds of his followers.

Paul had to be knocked off his donkey by the resurrected Jesus in a blinding light to receive this information. Peter had an ecstatic vision where God told him to eat animals that Jews were never permitted to eat as a symbol for the reality that God was including Gentiles into the family.

Like, these two groups, Jews and non-Jews did not mingle. These two groups had thousands of years of hostile history erected between them like concrete.

For us in Brooklyn, it would be akin to a group of Hasidic Jews approaching the most progressive, vegan-loving, Foucault-reading liberals and asking them to join the family.

You see what I mean? Absolutely unthinkable in every way.

And yet, as Jesus makes abundantly clear, what is so other-worldly about the Church is that it’s a people made up by the formerly most bitter of enemies. People who have no business being in relationship if not for a mutual King whose love for each group compels them to reconcile.

Simply because if they did not reconcile, then that would be proof that they didn’t truly understand the love of their King. And not a cheap reconciliation. But a costly forgiveness, a sacrificial forgiveness.

That’s kind of what the Gospel is all about. That’s certainly the vision of the New Testament church we get from Paul. And that’s the call placed on all churches in all times everywhere.

Brooklyn is in the midst of some seismic changes. It is. We all know it. The reality is that Brooklyn is bifurcated across two different cultural lines. At Hope Brooklyn, we call them “Old Brooklyn” and “New Brooklyn”. (Old doesn’t mean outdated. It simply means “first”, “former”. We could call it “Brooklyn 1” and “Brooklyn 2” but that doesn’t flow as well.)

And the insanity of the gospel is that our mutual Father would forgive each of these groups for the ways they’ve wronged him. But if we truly and deeply understand this love, then we are unable to be the family Jesus wants us to be unless we’re reconciled to each other.

That’s hard. It’s awkward. And it will be painful.

It will be painful because grievous wrongs have been committed against each other. Wrongs of racism. Wrongs of displacement. Wrongs of selfishness and exploitation and simply refusing to sit and listen to one another. But if the grace of the cross means anything, it certainly means that I am now free from the fear that my brokenness is too much to forgive. My Father has told me its not. That his love is deeper still.

Thus, as painful as it will be, I must approach my brother with this knowledge of the Father’s grace and seek friendship. And if I am indicted in his story as one who wronged him, as of course I will be, I must ask him to forgive me and to make amends. And then we’ll do it all again but this time I’ll tell my story.

And it’s precisely in this exchange of story-and-forgiveness, story-and-forgiveness, that reconciliation is found, that the family is restored.

And when the wider borough of Brooklyn, still suffering from its division and misunderstanding and desire to be justified against the other, looks at Hope Brooklyn, it will see a family of native Brooklynites and transplant Brooklynites sitting at the same table, eating the same meal, crying the same tears, laughing at the same jokes, reconciled brothers and sisters, and it will say, “How in the world is that possible?”

Why are we planting Hope Brooklyn? Because both Old and New Brooklyn need the other.