Seeing The City in a New Light

By: Natalie So

Natalie So is a Bay Area native who lives in the Mission, where her community group is also based. She is the editor-in-chief of Edition Local and regularly profiles artists and craftspeople in the Bay Area. Alongside, she is a freelance writer, photographer, and art curator. She hopes that this prospering city will continue to support the creative community in a substantial way.

What does the gospel of John represent to you?

Among all the things that I believe the gospel of John to be—a gift, a promise, a story, a great love, a revelation of light, a severe mercy—, it is the mystery of Jesus that strikes me the most. The first chapter of John says it all: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”—this becoming is the crux of the mystery, the moment in which divinity meets humanity in the most personal, most intimate, most humble way possible. The more time I spend in John, the more mystified I become at the person of Jesus. He becomes stranger and more radical and more surprising even as He becomes more familiar. He becomes more of a person and less an idea, more a living Way than a fairytale, and crazier still is the realization that I have a stake in this story; I can’t understand the person of Jesus fully if I don’t understand how He relates to me.

What does “Jesus Is Reality” mean to you? How has seeing Jesus as the ultimate reality changed the way you live in and interact with your city?

I’m often bewildered by what Jesus did—by His actions, by His presence, by His words. He was a bearer of paradoxes: a bringer of eternity through His earthly transience, a lover of the lost, weary, and the needy. Indeed, where Jesus most becomes a reality for me is in the way He loves. “Remain in me and my words remain in you … As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love” (John 15:7,9). It’s not really possible to see Jesus as reality and not live in and out of His love—to be sustained by it and act on it. You see, God’s mandate to love is at once radical and simple: we are to love God and love our neighbor, which is whoever is nearby—this may be the hardest person to love, the person who you do not like to love but must do so anyway. “Love each other,” Terrence Malick wrote in the script for Tree of Life, “Forgiveness has given him the key to reality. He sees it now: love is the answer to evil and sorrow. He will love every leaf and every stone, every ray of light.” And also: “This is what life will be: drawing closer and closer to the eternal.”

Has this sermon series stirred any hopes or dreams in you for the life of our beloved city?

This series stirs up hope in me that we all see the city in a new light. Let me explain. In a keen essay called “Shipped Out”, the writer David Foster Wallace describes a cruise ship experience as one in which participants are “skillfully enabled in the construction of various fantasies of triumph over … death and decay” through its “constant activities, festivities, gaiety, song; the adrenaline, the stimulation.” He writes, “It makes you feel vibrant, alive. It makes your existence seem non-contingent.” This, I feel, is an accurate description of what city life can become: hit after hit of stimulation that pretends to be a means to immortality, self-greatness, and omnipotence. But of course, we never really seize on those things.

What that stimulation can do is make us blind to the real fabric of this city, in which death and decay is achingly present. For me, one of the mandates in the book of John is to see things as they are—which is to see the brokenness, pain, and suffering of the world, not just in the abstract but in flesh and bone—but also, remedially, to see the love of Jesus and then love the bodies we see, in turn.

“Sight” is a recurring theme in John. To “see,” by definition, isn’t merely to behold with one’s eye, it is also “to have knowledge of the existence and apparent of; to understand; to comprehend; to ascertain.” As Jesus says via John: “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light so that it may be seen” and “everyone who looks to the Son” and “I have come into this world so that the blind will see” and “you do know him and have seen.” And of course, Jesus heals a blind man, giving him sight. My hope is that we become attentive to the places we live in and the people who live around us, which is not just moving through a neighborhood as dabbling passersby, but rather loving those who are in suffering or secret pain; the outcast, the sick, or the imprisoned; and seeing each person we encounter as the beloved children of God. We have a stake in the story of this city, just as we have a stake in the story of Jesus. After all, we see it everywhere in the book of John: the most extraordinary love touched the most ordinary lives.

 

This piece is a part of our Journey Through John blog series, that invites our community to share their personal reflections through our study in the book of John. For more posts, visit our table of contents.