Jason P, Educator
Where are you from? At this point in my life, that’s a complicated question for me. In my almost-28 years of life, I was born and spent 16 years in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I’ve also lived in Northwest Arkansas for a total of 8 years, Northeast Arkansas for one, and now the Dallas-Fort Worth area for 3 years. In my current situation, I usually say I’m from Arkansas. Hot Springs is always a good answer because I’ve still spent over half of my life there and my parents still live there. The point is, there isn’t truly a city that I have rooted myself in enough to love. According to Rich Pérez in Mi Casa Uptown, not only am I missing out, but so is the city to which I have not shown Christ-like love. Why does it matter? That’s what Mi Casa Uptown is all about. Rich Pérez grew up in Washington Heights, New York City. His parents were immigrants from the Dominican Republic. He loved growing up in uptown. He moved away to bible college, married, had a family, and then made a surprising decision: he moved back to Washington Heights. He wanted to plant a church in the city and move back in with his family. This book is the result of both his reasoning and the principles he learned along the way. Any time we are in the same place for an extended period of time, we start to notice things that we do not like. Like they say: familiarity breeds contempt. I have felt this towards a city, towards a job, and towards some people. But, Pérez asks, what if instead of contempt, familiarity bred love? He then gives principles passed down from his family that will help breed love for community, which includes everyone around you. The principles? Plant roots. Make homes. Build families. Love neighbors. Trust Jesus. Die well. These provide the structure for the book, and into them Pérez weaves stories of his life and family and show how these principles are laid out in the Bible as well. Pérez makes the distinction between being a resident of your community and a neighbor. Residents live there. Neighbors plant roots. I have to admit that I have been a resident of almost every community I have lived in, not a neighbor. This is in contrast to how the Apostle Paul lived his life. Looking at Acts 17:23, Pérez points out: Paul passed through, observed, and found things in the city of Athens. His perception that they were religious people didn’t come from mere intuition or a stereotype. And quite frankly, it didn’t come from a special revelation from God. It came simply from Paul walking the city and taking the time to know it. And because of this, Paul was able to reach the community with the gospel! That’s why it’s important to build roots in your community. In Mi Casa Uptown, Pérez has many fascinating and important thoughts on topics from gentrification and diversity to the American church’s “heresy of niceness” (“We give the impression that now that we’re Christians, we swing from one victory to the next.”). But the part I enjoyed the most, and honestly surprised me, was the depth of parenting principles he provides. He shares the story of how he pulled his kids out of private school to put them in a public school, a decision he admits is not for everyone, but was right for them in order to make roots in their city. I think this is so important because of how badly Christian speak of public schools and (by implication) the parents who send their children to public schools. What is missed in this degradation of public-schooling parents is the reality of the mission field that is the public school system. In addition, they miss the positive effect a public school experience has on a child if the parents are intentional in integrating a full, Christian worldview at home. Pérez also tackles the larger question of “shielding” your children from all negative topics and influences. “The common fear is that is that kids in the city will see drug deals on their way to school, prostitution across the street from the park, or a sea of homeless people just before reaching the bodega for a gallon of milk. And although that might not always be the case, it is the reality in many ways and at many times. I certainly lived it as a kid in this neighborhood. But shielding your kids from seeing those things doesn’t keep them from the lustful thoughts they can entertain in the privacy of their own room. Shielding your kids from seeing those things doesn’t keep them from living in a nice house and yet being in a broken home and feeling abandoned. Shielding your kids from seeing those things doesn’t keep them from having to confront the anger that lives inside of them because of broken relationships.“ The point? You have a much greater influence on your children than any other factor, no matter what your children may think or say. Have conversations with your kids about things, even if you might think they’re “not old enough”. Tell them how Christians should think and talk about it. He continues: Although the fear is that our children might lose their innocence if they’re exposed to this, the truth is that there is no innocence to lose. Instead, these moments — scary as they may seem — provide us an opportunity to have meaningful conversations with our kids. My point is that the city forces us, as parents, to be present while our children experience the world. Sin and its consequences are ugly, and although the city tries to glamorize that, parents have the unique opportunity to retell the story of the city through faith, hope, and obedience. There is another principle of parenting that I found particularly enlightening in Mi Casa Uptown. Pérez writes: Part of the responsibility of parenting or mentoring is to help children decipher their actions — why they behave in the way they do, why they long for mischief or attention, and they find more comfort among dudes from the corner than they do at home … What I am saying is that investment in parenting or mentorship, as I’m learning, involves not flipping out when your child does something that you wish he or she hadn’t. Investment involves dialogue. My wife just gets things faster and better than me. I can spend an inordinate amount of time researching and thinking about an issue, political or otherwise, talk to her about my time-invested thoughts, and she says “Yeah that’s what I’ve always thought.” This is true to an even greater extent in parenting. She has been telling me for a long time now to stop flipping out at our daughter and have a dialogue. I have learned, in the process that is still ongoing, that I cannot just expect my children to obey if I do not first invest in the relationship. And even more so, investing in the relationship is a perfect way to teach them instead of simply punishing them for bad behavior. Discipline is the same root word as discipling. I was extremely happy to read Mi Casa Uptown, and I highly recommend it to anyone in an urban setting, an ethnically diverse community, or anyone wanting to learn more about how to reach their community with their family. I received a review copy of this book courtesy of B&H Books and Lifeway, but my opinions are my own.