Cordelia, fetch my wings

Some Greeks were among those who had come up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and made a request: “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” Philip told Andrew, and Andrew and Philip told Jesus. Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Human One to be glorified. I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.

John 12:20-24

I’m not in a cultural minority. And even though I have visited countries that are not majority Anglo, I have been aware of the hegemony of my home culture in those places. As a Mexican ambassador once put it, “We have Taco Bell in Mexico City.” So there is rarely a circumstance in which I don’t “own” a bit of the cultural real estate. Which may be why I don’t immediately realize the cultural impact of the phenomenon of gentrification. When we talk about a group of people being displaced from their homes by hipsters and house flippers, we usually speak in economic terms. An equivalent loss, however, can be felt in the ties of community that are rent asunder like mycelium fibers being torn from the soil.

Can all of this happen without the perpetrators realizing what they are doing? I think it can, in a sense, if the participants see themselves as mere individuals and not part of a larger pattern. My people (the WASPs) are good at that particular kind of myopia. Under other circumstances, it can totally be a strategy to take over a physical and cultural space block by block.

Or, in the case of one story I have heard, barstool by barstool. If I can find the source, I’ll tag it here, but the story goes something like this: a patron is visiting a bar for the first time. The bartender seems friendly and the vibe is relaxed. Another person walks in, sits down at the bar, and is chatting amiably. All of a sudden, the bartender makes a verbal 180 and tells the more recent arrival to leave immediately, perhaps with allegations that the person has had an inappropriate relationship with his mother.

Why, the patron wonders, has the bartender suddenly reacted so uncharacteristically with another customer. The proprietor explains that he had just seen a neo-Nazi tattoo on the man’s hand before he cast him out. The bartender goes on to describe how quickly a situation can escalate from having one anti-Semite in the bar, followed by a small group the next day, ultimately resulting in a complete neo-Nazi takeover by the end of the week. Once a place becomes that kind of place, no one else will even come in. The bartender had to stop it immediately because he knew where it was headed.

That reaction is reminiscent of Jesus’s reaction to the Greeks being brought to him by Philip and Andrew. Not that Greeks are to Jesus as neo-Nazis are to bartenders, but Jesus immediately sees where all of this is headed, and it is not good. These Greeks are seeking out Jesus because he has just triumphantly entered Jerusalem. To use a modern metaphor, Jesus is trending higher than Will Smith, and the Greeks want proximity to fame. Or maybe they are interested in observing a cultural phenomenon. What they are certainly uninterested in is worshipping the incarnate God.

St. Paul writes that the message he is carrying, the one about the fruitful sacrifice of the crucified Christ, is absurd from the perspective of the Greeks. They come to look at the triumphant Jesus only to find him on a cross. They think, “I would not have done it like that at all.” The Greeks are like tourists on the corner in an Appalachian town saying “they need more of a New Orleans vibe here.” Like gentrifying property brothers, homogenizing whole regions and driving out the natives, the Greeks are about to tip the balance towards something vile, uncontrollable, and ultimately self-destructive, whether they mean to or not.

Morgan Geer, the creative force behind Drunken Prayer, has seen this scenario play out in the town where he grew up, Asheville, and the town he chose to call home, Portland. He’s heard the ghosts of his ancestors cry out that their houses are more than financial investments. They are homes and parts of communities that matter. Does it make any sense to stay present amidst the dust of renovation and jackals of real estate. Where else would Jesus have us go?