Hamtramck’s Potholes & the Kingdom of God

I’ve never been to Hamtramck, Michigan, but I think I’d like to go.

Hamtramck (if you’re not a resident of the Mitten State, that’s “ham-TRAM-ick”) has a big problem. I heard about it on NPR. Like a lot of the rest of Michigan, the town’s streets are riddled with potholes.

Potholes are the worst. They’re hard to avoid in Michigan. The brutal cold. The contracting and expanding and traffic. Potholes happen. It’s part of life. That doesn’t make them easier to embrace. They flatten the tires and bend the rims of unsuspecting motorists. With folks parked out on the street (the immigrants who founded the town built simple homes with no garages) there is little room for dodging the hazards. The result is a grouchy populace complaining about taxes and government and “Why doesn’t anybody do anything?!?!”

In most towns, at least. Not in Hamtramck. Which is why I want to go there.

A group of residents decided to take matters into their own hands. They met on a Saturday to fix the pothole problem. They pooled their money together ($120) and bought 900 pounds of cold patch asphalt. They gathered tools and threw them in trucks. They got almost a whole block’s worth of potholes done before running out of supplies. So they set up a GoFund Me page to raise more money to fill more potholes. They are fixing the problem.

Not through complaining or protests.

Not through writing letters to their road commissioner.

Not through silently seething in the vehicles, praying for the city officials’ demise.

Not by waiting for someone else to do it.

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(Photo Credit)

I love what one resident said in regard to the problem their community faced. “We thought we’d just do this quietly,” said resident Jonathan Weier. “There’s holes in the ground, and there’s no one filling them, so let’s fill them.”

We have a lot of holes in our community, don’t we? Heart holes. Marriage holes. Systematic holes. Political holes. Religious holes. War holes. Racial holes. There is no shortage of global potholes. They are hard to dodge. They bend our hearts and flatten our resolve and make us grumble under our breath. The brutal cold of our society is leaving gaps in our humanity that are enough to drive us all crazy.

What is the obligation of the people of God when we can’t seem to avoid the gaping weaknesses in our society’s foundation? Shall we stomp our collective foot in protest, pointing the finger at the problem? Shall we dial our elected official and insist they do something? Shall we honk our horns, swerve slightly to avoid the problem, and complain in the privacy of our own vehicle about the ridiculous situation we are forced to navigate?

Shall we continually ask the question, “When is someone going to do something about these potholes?”

Or should we gather some friends, pool our resources, grab a shovel, and just fix the potholes? What if we just saw the holes, realized no one was fixing the holes, and decided to fix the holes? The Kingdom of God has never flourished when its citizens possessed power. Rather, the Kingdom thrives when followers of Christ are resolute to work quietly — and hard — at redeeming that which was broken.

Hamtramck has many potholes still unfilled. But the call has been issued by residents. They’ve (ahem) paved the way for others to follow their example. The money and volunteers are pouring in. It’s inspiring.

“If every resident bought a bag of cold patch, this would be over,” said Maritza Garibay.

May we in the Kingdom take our cue from the folks in Hamtramck — a place anyone would want to visit to see it all in action. And when the Kingdom of God looks more like this movement of ordinary people meeting needs, perhaps more folks will want to reside in it, too.

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