kingdoms collide (or, my neighborhood)

stockbridge neighborhood is waking up. i like to sit in the couch in our living room, from which i can survey the sidewalk, and watch all the myriad people go by. they are of every color and every age. often they walk west with hands empty and walk back east with a bag holding liquor, beer, or small grocery items from Family Pantry. there are a handful of folks who make this journey 3 or more times each day. though our end of the block is occupied with quiet, good people we are a thoroughfare for the Family Pantry traffic, and the bus stop traffic.

some days i sit on the front porch and watch our urban wildlife, too. the squirrel who runs up and down our fence throughout the day, and the birds who stop to pick worms from our front lawn. then there’s the pit bulls being walked by their owners. when walking-by neighbors see my belly, they smile at me and wish me the best and ask if it’s a boy or a girl, and all the rest. people smile at you a great deal, i’m finding, when you’re great with child. even people who wouldn’t normally be warm get a little softer. it’s sweet.

there is a mexican family that lives about a block away they have a little taco stand that they set up on weekends. i’d heard about the taco stand and how great the food is, but until this weekend, we had never gone to visit it. friday night tim and i walked over to get some homemade horchata (good!). it was like walking into Mexico, that 50 square feet of space that felt like another culture and world entirely. and we chatted with the cart owners, and some other neighbors who frequently patronize the taco stand, and we felt so warm inside. we walked home in the dark talking about what a special thing this is; most neighborhoods don’t have a taco cart to call their own. added to the blaring of hispanic music that was until very recently emanating from the house to our east, and you can sometimes forget that you don’t live in a spanish-speaking country.

then there are the church bells of St. Adalbert’s Cathedral, ringing at 7 am and 6 pm daily, reminding you, if you have forgotten, where in the course of the day you are. and the ice cream truck, currently decked out with shrek cartoons on its side, playing it’s never-changing song punctuated by the robotic feminine voice that says, “hello!” that ice cream truck drove by during our wedding here two summers ago. our neighbor boys stop by nearly daily asking for tim, wanting to work on a bike, or to help out with our yard. and chris from next door yells from her porch to me as i sit sunning in the yard, giving me her updates on babies born to her nieces and asking if i want more venison.

we are putting a community garden in our giant yard, and there are a few other neighbor-friends planting food and keeping up compost heaps and raising chickens, ducks, and turkeys. some college guys down the street have a frisbee golf “hole” that they put in the street and use. another neighbor has the sweetest laundry lines stretched across the roof outside her kitchen, where she hangs her bath-tub washed clothes out to dry. and another neighbor feeds all the stray cats, and is now caring for 9 of their baby kittens. we have mint and comfry growing in our yard, and more flowering ground cover than we have grass.

within a block of our house there are at least 4 vacant houses. most of them have been vacant for a long time, though one just went up on the market two days ago. some of them are not even for sale, just boarded up and abandoned. the ones that are for sale, are usually $20K or less.  i like to dream of what they could become. our homeless friends have turned the back porch of one such house into their gathering place, and i can see and identify them from my kitchen windows.

on top of all of this quirky wonderfulness, there are a couple dozen Jesus-loving friends who live here, too. i can see some of their houses from the windows of my own. across the alley, one block south, two blocks east they have taken up residence here because they love each other and they love Jesus and they are crazy enough to think that (a) Jesus wants His kingdom to come to the West Side, (b) that prayer has something to do with accomplishing that, and (c) setting up camp in the middle of the mission field is part of what it means to live like Jesus lived. so, here we all are. we take great comfort and joy in one another. we share meals, pray together daily in a three-stall garage, started a little church, plot random acts of kindness (birthday celebrations for the forgotten ones, field trips for the fatherless kids, guerilla gardening in the alleys), share lawn mowers and toilet paper and eggs. it’s so very sweet.

i love this life. i love this place. i am so completely thrilled to be called to call this home.

even though i know that our neighborhood is considered “rough” by certain standards, most days i can totally forget it is so; my affection for this place and these people surpasses the statistics of crime, gangs, poverty, failing schools, abuse, fatherlessness, and addiction. most days i feel like the luckiest girl, and can laugh at the west side antics, taking them all in stride and seeing the beauty between and amongst the grit.

BUT

last night at 2 am i awoke from dead sleep to the sound of angry shouting. i got out of bed and went to the open window to have a listen and determine whether or not some sort of intervention was required. all i could make out was a single phrase, shouted loud and proud: “west side n-gg-r”. then, suddenly, after a few f-bombs and scuffles, four short, sharp gun shots in a row. then three more chants of “west side n-gg-r”, as though it were a battle cry, and all was silent again. we called 911 and told the dispatcher. within 5 minutes there were three cop cars present, but i wasn’t able to ascertain whether they found anyone, or found a body, or anything else. it is possible that someone was killed down the block last night.

it took me a long while to fall back to sleep, even after tim and i spent some time interceding for the situation, and reclaiming the promises of God for His protection and authority over us and our neighborhood. it was sobering. not like it’s the first time there’s been a slew of cop cars on our block or in our alley, and surely not the first time we’ve heard loud shouting and yelling steeped in violent anger. we’ve seen drug deals happening out in the open, and our friends have seen men beating other men with sticks and bricks. we know it happens. but for some reason, that event last night re-opened me to feeling the heavy evil. there is great evil. and it is very nearby. there is great evil that is done out in the open, without shame, with no attempt to hide. how that makes me long for Jesus to come and make all things new.

i’m anticipating giving birth to a child, and probably this week! she will be born into this place. and those sounds, with their accompanying spirits of violence, murder, and addiction, will be the sound-scape of her early life. i could almost feel my cervix UN-dilating in response to the fearful climate those gun-shots and shouts created, as if to say, “whoa! hold up! are we sure we want to give birth here?!”

i have learned to trust Jesus with my own body, heart, and home. and tim, as a discerning adult, can do the same. now we must learn how to trust Jesus with our daughter, who is an innocent. and that almost feels irresponsible. (i don’t actually believe that it is).

but i believe that there is a real battle, a battle that is perhaps even heating up, because there is a strong front advancing here: it is the Kingdom of God. and darkness tries to hide, but trembles at His voice. His victory is sure, but it isn’t human nature to go down without a fight.

we’re staying put here. under any flitting doubts about the zip code we’ve chosen, there remains a solid peace.

but you can pray. you can pray for more of this place to be transferred from the kingdom of darkness and brought into His glorious light. and you can pray that our daughter would get to grow up in a neighborhood that is being transformed by the blood of Jesus, steadily and surely over the years. as my friend chelsea wrote the other day:

I see Revival. As if our voices can be restored, our hands made new — let us begin with this city and let the gossip be that Jesus lives

amen.

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until faith becomes sight

i want to hold out hope for the transformation of broken and addicted friends to become free and whole followers of Jesus. and sometimes, like last week, there are lots of signs of life that feed that hope and fuel my fervent prayers. last week dave asked to be sent to mission bible institute to recover once and for all (miracle). last week we saw joe for the first time in weeks and discovered that during his absence he had weaned himself off all but one beer per day and wasn’t suffering with any of his usual shakes or hallucinations as a consequence. last week i had coffee with marie and she was tender and motivated, so we talked about maybe getting her into her own place so that she could stand on her own two feet and eventually get visitation rights with her little daughter. last week i felt so hopeful for all of them, praying for and with them with conviction and confidence.

but this week faith and sight are not lining up. this week dave is still around here, mostly sober and sheltered, but no longer interested in going to mission bible where he might have gotten some deeper and more lasting change. this week when i called marie to ask her on another coffee date, she hurriedly told me that she wasn’t doing good, had relapsed, and then hung up the phone. this week i ran into joe in a pile in the alley behind my house, his face covered with shame and his body saturated once more with alcohol, unable to walk or to remember how long he’d been in this state.

over and over, again and one more time, our friends choose death. it is SO hard to watch. cynicism and discouragement come knocking at the door of my heart.

over and over, again and one more time, i recall the goodness of my God, that He sits enthroned above the flood, faithful even here. i choose praise.

so there’s a small group of us who are devoting ourselves for the next six weeks to study and pursue of the gift of healing by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. we’ve come to believe that He is inviting us to participate in His ministry of healing as part of gospel proclamation to the west side. and even though i know that walking through inner healing prayer with a 50-something person who is addicted, homeless, institutionalized, and a victim of past/current abuse is a great deal more complicated than walking through inner healing prayer with a church-born-and-raised 20-something person who’s had more going for them than not… i have to believe that the Holy Spirit is sufficient to the task in both situations. i just don’t know how, which means it’ll be all glory to Him when we begin to see Him move.

we’re knocking and asking for this anointing to heal. we hunger for this so because we want wholeness among ourselves, but also for dave and joe and marie and others like them.

pray with us.

what a night

it’s been real cold around this house this week. the furnace stopped re-starting itself. we have to run downstairs to manually fire it up. sometimes every 20 minutes. because it’s like 12 degrees outside and the temperature inside so quickly drops. but i have friends who sleep outside on the alley-facing porch of an abandoned house, and i know it could be worse than this (being tucked under a quilt and down comforter, between flannel sheets, with a husband-heater besides).

still, i feel whiney about the darn furnace and the 50 degree air that greets us when we get out of bed each morning.

tonight there was a Love Feast and for the first time ever, and for reasons i do not know, the volunteers that were going to be bringing and serving the food to 150 friends and neighbors never came. we waited until the last minute. we prayed for God to provide. i wondered if there would be a small miracle — the sort where a stranger received a nudge from the holy spirit and comes sheepishly to the door bearing food enough to feed 150 simply because they were being obedient to the nudge, and not because they knew we were in need. we kept the kitchen doors closed so the gathering crowd wouldn’t notice that there was no activity and no food in there. and we waited some more. in the end we made an emergency call to little caesar’s and ordered 38 single-topping pizzas, paying for them with a check that, quite frankly, is likely to bounce. because our account is running low. but we did it anyway, because people needed to be fed, and because God can make provision for that pizza. yes, He can.

and so it was  humble family dinner, and not a balanced meal.

but then a young man i will call A fell down in a grand mal seizure while his hysterical girlfriend shooed everyone away, shouted for someone to call 911, and generally acted hysterical. helpful friends — some with medical training — gathered round him, though she wouldn’t let anyone help, so most of us stood nearby, some half-heartedly munching on pizza, and prayed with hands extended in his direction until emergency services came. they came so fast — within 5 minutes of my hanging up the phone. but A will be okay, i know. at least okay in this sense.

this is the sort of night that leaves me feeling frazzled and a touch overwhelmed…

…and scratching my head about the many small ways (the furnace, the missing food, and the seizures are only three examples) that God seems to be stirring the pot these last couple of weeks. it’s been churning ever since we started on this journey of learning about and opening up to the ministry of the holy spirit with all its unpredictability and power. it seems like things have gotten a bit crazier. i’m sure they actually have. and i keep thinking there is some sort of faith response He is looking for in us, or some thing that He wants to open up to us here, perhaps a display of His glory. but i feel like we’re mostly sorta bumbling. praying differently as we bumble, though.

and now i need to go to bed before the temperature drops another 5 degrees.

neighbors to clear the snow

just needed to stop in to share this one sweet thing.

lots of snow fell overnight. our heater hasn’t been working right, and needs to be manually jump-started every morning. so i got up and did so, then made breakfast and coffee and banana bread, crystal made chocolate chip pancakes to share. we haven’t anywhere to go today so the clearing of snow was not our morning priority.

then chris — the woman next door — called because she was out with her snow-blower and wondered if she could do our sidewalk for us. certainly, thank you!, i said.

tim and i were sitting on the couches in our living room, enjoying the sunny wintry scene outside, and then we saw jeremy — our neighbor around the corner –walk up with his snow-blower, clearly intending to clear our sidewalk for us. upon seeing it already done, he waved to us, and turned back around.

five to ten minutes later Zach — our neighbor kid from two doors down — came by with his shovel. seeing the sidewalk already done, he cleared the steps of our porch and knocked the icicles from our porch, then slipped away.

all this while we sit snug as can be inside our house, sipping on our coffees.

in fact, we haven’t had to clear our own snow all season so far.

it makes me smile because the idea is that you move to a neighborhood like this — which is sorta “rough” and “in need” — because you’re gonna bring your service and gifts and provision to it… and instead, sometimes you find yourself on the receiving end. it’s humbling and delicious.

every wednesday, a miracle

every wednesday night between the hours of 4:30 and 8:00 pm, i witness a miracle. i walk around in it, stunned with gratitude.

every wednesday night, you see, a small group of sacrificial, joyful people purchases and prepares enough home-made food to feed over 100 people. they come into the kitchen at the Hall and prepare it for serving, while neighbors of all ages and colors and sorts set the tables (12 8-seater tables) with humble paper plates and plastic silverware. the children run around chasing one another and wrestling with their college-age friends and mentors. a few folks come early to sit in the warm and drink a cup of bad coffee. and by six pm, almost every seat in that Hall is filled. most of the faces are familiar; they’ve been coming for months, or even years, and we feel a bit like a family by now. folks who walk the streets with heads hanging low under the weight of their shame or addiction, look bright-faced and confidently converse with trusted friends. everyone sheds their heavy winter gear. you’ll see an unaccompanied neighborhood kid seated next to a cluster of homeless men, or a caring grandmother with her grandkids seated next to a middle-class churchy person. sometimes someone will pull out a chair for someone else, or younger person will help and older one up the wide stairs into the hall. on small slips of paper, people write down how they would like us to pray for them over the course of the week (“pray i’d find work,” “ask God to bind our family together,” “freedom from addiction,” or “thank Him for our houses and our families and everything He gives to us”), which we will do corporately a few days later. worship music plays quietly in the background as the folks who did all that cooking come around to each table, look each person in the eye, and serve them their food  (a delish pasta dish with green salad and a roll, maybe a brownie, too), or pour them another glass of water. and after everyone has gotten their portion, we all pause and receive the Bread of Life from the mouth of a friend who’s been prayerfully studying for days, asking God to speak to hearts. and there is stillness and attentiveness, and someone might shout “amen!” or “that’s what’s up!”. most days everyone can have seconds on the food. as folks finish up with eating, they’ll take their plates and cups to the trash can or have another cup of coffee, or move across the room to talk to another friend. some weeks a guy will get up and sing a gospel song into the microphone, or deliver an impromptu and disconnected sermon. the room will empty nearly entirely, but some of us will stay and pause once again to worship (an appropriate response to a miracle, right?). if there are leftovers, we’ll send them home with people, and some friends will stay to wash down the table tops or to sweep the floor. and at about 8 pm, we’ll walk out from that place, turning off all the lights, and we’ll all be very, very full.

every wednesday.

a miracle.

seriously.

note: the pictures in this post are more than a year old. yes, i need to get current ones. one of these weeks…

to see again, and to lean in

it is so easy to stop seeing what’s right in front of us. this past week, charis asked the tenderos if they had a drop cloth they could borrow. well, for months there has a drop cloth laying in a corner, right in the pathway where they walk every day; it was right in front of their nose. this reminds me of how so many days i can sit alone in my sweet little house (thank you, Lord) and ruminate on the meaningless of my life and my lacking mission, while failing to see that across my yard, in clear vision of my kitchen windows, at any given hour, there are three to six homeless men sleeping or drinking on the porch of an abandoned house. could it be that part of my mission — or at least one place where i can begin to bring the kingdom to bear — is right in front of my nose, even while i sit inside moaning about my aimlessness? or maybe i haven’t stopped noticing their physical presence, but i have lost vision for the image of God in them, the Christ that is near to them, and their potential identity as redeemed children.

do you want to know what holds me back from giving into the urge to bring them hot coffee or muffins in the mornings? or from speaking bold and loving truth into their souls (again)? it is this: i’m afraid that if i give an inch, they will demand a mile, either because my heart will adopt them and long to help, or because they will, in their un-health, act out of entitlement and manipulation. there have been people in my life who have demanded a mile, in the unhealthy sense, and i feel so swallowed up by their neediness, so entirely consumed, that it is enough to keep me from giving even the inch that i can afford. other times, they might demand a mile simply by arousing my heart to engaged concern, which is painful to carry, and sometimes inconvenient in what it requires of me. so i hold back.

all i’m saying is that even if you move yourself and your family down to the center of the action — where the poverty and the drugs and the abuse are — you can still stop seeing what’s in front of you, and you can still neglect the poor. it’s always in our hearts. if you live in a more affluent area, you may need to go a bit further afield to find the least and the lost, but you can carry them in your heart. in fact, maybe you’re carrying them in your heart, your  prayers, your pocket book even more than i am, though i have a cluster of homeless men in my back yard who know my name and where i live.

“lean in,” was the short phrase that Tony embedded into his sermon at Stockbridge Mission Church on Sunday morning. it wasn’t even a main point, but it reverberated in my heart. that same phrase was spoken to me, specifically, at a healing conference i went to a couple years back. it was spoken to me by some caring group leaders who, after hearing my stories and my heart, exhorted me to lean in, and then to stay there. because lots of times, when it comes to relationships, i stand erect and across-from, independent and needless, and hope that others will be, too. maybe you do this too? the fact is that people are messy — not just the ones sleeping in my alley, but most all of them — and it takes great compassion and incredible courage to lean in closer, take a deeper look, and to speak and act in a way that effects change in the both of you. i wonder how often i avoid leaning in by talking about “having boundaries”? but i suspect that when this life is over, the things that will be worth remembering, the things that my Papa will want to talk about with me, will be those relationships into which i leaned hard and fearlessly because i trusted that He is big enough to sustain me as i lean, and to heal the other person, however intensive and far-reaching their mess.

calvin college is putting on a course during their “j-term” called Dunamis, which is a course all about the Holy Spirit, for Reformed people. Tony and I get to go to this class, and not only that, but we get to act as “Spiritual Trainers,” mentoring the students in exploration of the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. and i cannot even begin to tell you how unworthy i feel (am) of playing this role. because though i have been given revelation to know that amzing Person, most of my experiences with Him feel past tense, not a reality i’m currently swimming in and into which i can beckon others to jump. so i was thinking for a while that i might not do it, because of that lack, because i feel like a fraud. but then a couple of people (you know who you are) pointed out to me that perhaps such a commitment will be just the ticket to stretching me back out, pulling me back in, opening that up for me again. lack of engagement is a slow death; so when you feel like you’re dying, choose to engage.

 

jesus places, neighbors, & new churches

places to be with Jesus

we put a little love seat in our bedroom upstairs, in front of the three huge windows that line the north-facing wall. it is here now that i sit in the mornings to read the Word, journal, and pray. t finds his quiet place in the garage, which he’s taken to calling The Shack. he’s equipped it with a chair, a lamp, and a small space heater. there he can pace and pray, as he is prone to do.

neighbors on this end of 6th street

our neighbor next door hunts and fixes stuff and generally keeps an eye on the folks on our block. she comes by several times a week for one reason or another, always optimistically chatting about whatever is going on in her life. sarah is trying to get a bible study going with her, which i hope to join in on. she seems hungry in this way; she reads and watches christian inspirational things and wears a WWJD bracelet (what a throw-back!).

there’s an eleven year-old boy two doors down to the west. he’s taken a liking to tim, coming by nearly every afternoon in search of him, and looking crest-fallen when i inform him that tim is not at home because he’s working until dinner time. i love watching the excuses he comes up with to get some quality time with tim: geometry homework, long-boarding, learning new tech deck moves, or playing guitar. even more than that, i love watching tim love him, engage with him, and become something between a father and a big brother to him.

church planting (what?!)

on sunday we planted  church (how odd a thing to say!). for me and tim, this has felt largely accidental, or at least surprising. the dreams for Stockbridge Mission Church began forming during the year that we lived in Madison. the planning meetings for it we never attended. shortly after we began this ministry year, we all entered into 40 days of fasting in preparation for what God was beginning.

and then, suddenly, here it was! we prayed about it with all our friends at Love Feast. lots of them started to get excited about the idea of a church right here on the west side, that could be walked to and that would feel comfortable. to me, there’s no point at all in planting a church if it doesn’t serve this neighborhood. because there are already a zillion great churches in this city (more churches per capita than anywhere else in the US, you know, and probably the world).

but if the west side really does need this small church, gathered in the open space of the Tabernacle on Sunday mornings, where shoes get kicked off, and you take a seat on a bit pillow or a carpet square, where you hear testimonies of real honest Jesus-lovers and a true word of God proclaimed in language not lofty, where you can worship and even dance and yell “amen,” where you can come in your street clothes, where you also have loads of opportunities to meet with your church during the week (prayer times, meals, house churches)… well, then let’s do this.

ryan, our friend from Bridge Street House of Prayer, who are co-founding this wee church with us, had a friend tell him that this sounds like a church that “isn’t going anywhere.” meaning not so much that it is a dead-end as that it aspires to nothing more than being right here in this particular neighborhood for these particular people. i don’t know how to tell you just how giddy it makes me to envision Jesus building a church out of west siders (unlikely candidates). indeed, he’s already begun.

t will be leading worship pretty often for this new little church.

 

so it begins (rhythms and relationships in stockbridge)

almost three weeks now since we got the keys to this house. and only 2 nights that we’ve slept here. the first i slept horribly. these floors — because we live in what tim calls a dr. Seuss house — are so crooked that the furniture leans this way and that. we’re learning this house. i feel like we’re uncovering it, and what it was meant to be. it seems like a cross between farm-house and cottage suits it well.

some of our things seem like they were made for this house. they tuck just perfectly into certain spaces and our antique, road-side/thrift-store furniture feels so at home in a house built around the turn of the 19th century. so even with all the boxes and curtain rods and tools still scattered around the living areas, i can see that this is going to be lovely when it’s all finished.

today we are making room. (well, tim is doing this while i rest because i seem to have caught claire’s cold). we are making room for sarah jayne and for crystal, who will come to live here with us within the next week, i think. crystal’s room just needs the trim painted and blinds put up. sarah’s needs the wall patches completed, the tools/equipment cleared out, the walls painted, the door re-hung, and a curtain made. and then they will be here. and we will learn to “take care of each other” as the robert louis stevenson quote hanging on our fridge door says.

behind our house and across the alley is an empty little house with a small back porch and it appears that steve and dave and joe oakes and joe black and a couple other guys i don’t yet know have made it their resting spot, their dry place, their sleeping place. some days i walk to the rear of our yard and stand at the fence and talk with them. they’re so welcoming, so glad to see me back and to meet my husband. and in the mornings, before the Family Pantry starts selling alcohol, they are sober enough to have real decent human conversations with. steve says that one day he’d like to sober up and come visit us. i didn’t tell him this was a prerequisite to visiting our home, but he seems to know that that would be respectful. i hope he’ll do it.

watching tim at the Love Feasts has been sweet. he’s getting to know these crazy beautiful neighbors. this past week he worked at the “intercessory table” — a little station we’ve set up to allow people to come bring their prayer requests on folded pieces of paper to drop into a box, which will later be opened by the SBR family and prayed through, and at which folks can come to receive prayer in real-time. he had a steady little stream of men come to sit with him, to talk, and to pray.  my old pal Derek (alias Green Mile) met tim and upon learning he was my husband, told tim that he’d like to come to our house and make us a meal one day.

yesterday afternoon, after the Nitty Gritty meeting with Tony and all the SBR interns, charla walked with me to our credit union so i could get a rent check made, and we walked and talked all the way back to our house where she came in for tea. she was my first tea guest. and this is one of the reasons i’m so happy to be back: the nearness of charla and the rest of this family.and i love it because of people like marcy, who is also new to the neighborhood, but not to this family, and who walks the neighborhod almost daily with her dog mya and sometimes one of her children and always stops in to see how we’re doing in our house projects.

this morning was the first Intern Breakfast of the season. there we all were: jordan, coop, charla, paula, chelsea, tim, me, and all the tenderos (we are missing danmike, who is in scotland, and charis, who had to go to work). to look around the table at these faces, and to laugh together at classic neighborhood stories, and to share tony’s frittatas and jenn’s homemade granola… well, i’m home. the faces around the table are different ones than a year ago, but i choose them. i choose to be committed to unity, co-laboring, laughter, prayer for, and sharing with these friends. joyfully.

i am looking forward to nestling in close with Jesus this autumn, once the dust has settled and we return to rhythms.  i am hungry for Him, but have been far off. i have been so preoccupied with getting things done. it’s time to draw near again. with expectancy instead of fear of disappointment, with belief instead of cynicism. and to ask Him for His dreams for this neighborhood and this community. and to ask Him to live through me with the sort of potency of love and truth that we all need (not just the neighbors, but this family, too).

i plan to bake muffins tomorrow and take them to all the neighbors on our block (yes, the kitchen is completely set up; it’s very sweet.) i plan to pick up my camera again soon and start showing you what my eyes see in this place. i am praying for His choice of one or two other women to get really real with in this season — to mutually nurture and exhort one another.

after prayer walking last night, we made our first dinner here and as we lingered at the table, tim spontaneously stated, “i love the richness of our new life here.” amen. we don’t have to go far to find our mission field, he said, and we have these quality relationships right around the corner.

resting now…

ps: there is mint growing in our back yard. and a raspberry bush from the neighbor’s, which spills over to our yard. steve told me there’s a pear tree in the alley behind Family Pantry, too. sweet.

pps: jenn’s opening post for this new season

there is room for us all

the stockbridge neighborhood has changed while i’ve been away. i could feel it in the air right away. and as time passes, and i dig deeper back into this community, i can see the more concrete evidence of it. these are signs of life; things that were not there a year ago:

  • steeple-fest – a little street fair went on the other day for the west side (!). the police barricaded stocking avenue and there was a concert and food stands
  • the bloom collective – a little lending library and “info shop” geared toward promoting radical social change
  • 4th street garden oasis – a wee little community garden that’s getting everyone to participate in growing good food
  • hands on hunger – a non-profit committed to stopping hunger in west michigan, and seeing this as a justice issue
  • 4th street deli – located in a once decrepit and abandoned building across the tracks, now serving up hundreds of types of great sandwiches
  • and there are other old buildings being revived and populated, and efforts/initiatives i’m sure i know nothing about
  • and there are so many jesus followers moving into the neighborhood this fall, ourselves included.

there are moments when i worry that what is happening here is the dreaded “gentrification,” or that we’ll end up crowding out the very same poor and least that we are moving there to love and serve. are there too many of us, i wonder? are you concentrating our efforts in a way that ceases to be helpful? is this becoming super-saturated? are these new businesses and restored homes leaving little room for our lower-income neighbors to participate?

i think these are good questions and ones that i hope we’ll keep asking from time to time. because, for those of us who are moving into this place because we feel called to love the folks who lived here before we did, the goal really isn’t to crowd them out! it’s to encircle, embrace, include… to wrap them up in the kingdom. and if instead we chase people out, or disqualify them from participation in the new culture that our coming has created… then i think we’ve failed on some level.

BUT, i remind myself, we’d also be failing if after 5 years of laboring/living/loving in this place the poverty, the crime, and the grime remain unaltered. those things ought to disappear (darkness flees when light comes in), and this neighborhood ought to have a different spirit to it. but not because the people who originally lived here have all moved out. flower gardens, cooperation, wholesome food, reunited families, meeting jesus in the prayer garage, renovated homes, cultural events, and rising employment ought to follow in our train. but, these benefits are not only for us  (the “missionaries” and the middle-class transplants), they are for our neighbors and friends who are still here, but who now walk in new life, who now belong to a family and participate in the kingdom.

that’s what’s on my heart this morning. 🙂