Tag Archives: inner-city

On Theft

29 Jan

It never used to matter ________________________ On Theft
when I was kid what shortcuts I took

Could’ve been through trees
as tall as widows peaks—and further
on up to heaven
or through muddy, clompy infant grounds
parasitic as they perpetually were,
to my new sneakers
even the paper-white spectacle
of our unlined back yard
was open, in the literal sense,
to me and my habitual, fantasy-filled wanderings

But now, as I am older
my paths have become less
abundant, narrower, in the
frighteningly literal sense,
and I am increasingly hesitant with
where my feet travel

I’ve learned to stick to the
deepest canyons, and filthiest
furrows, where so many feet
have trod, bringing with them
their dust mites, spilled lemonade,
their houses’ natural and unnatural grime
these paths are safe;

And though it meanders, it saves me time
for even crows meander through the sky
and we’ve made them the standard
for speedy travel, so
I go as the crow goes, from the platform,
through the snow-canyon, its slick river
uneven and hard enough to hurt if it were warm
enough for sandals; incidentally, if that were the case—


to the corner of the garage and house and sidewalk
where my shortcut leads, converging
at this cleared deposit,
manicured for the short-cutter,
but here — I notice this, too
as I grow older —
the sidewalks are not immune to
this deviant curse
— the human, off-stepping, pit-falling
what should parallel Eloise’s building
winds about, as if inebriated
or maybe curious, like me.
much like the tree by the corner
that sprouted in uncertainty
and grew up all the more
constantly turning to see who’d gone
by, pinching its nerves,
sending its bark in a now-(thanks
to me) metaphorical spiraled

options weighed.

29 Jan

what happens when…

the organization you work for “releases” the one person who understood its mission?

throw a brick through a window? too teenage.

go yell at a random higher-up? too finger-pointer.

break down sobbing at your desk? too mid-life-crisis.

stay up all night writing a blazing manifesto? too jerry-maguire.

blog about it?


that sounds about right.

sigh… Darryl. You saved us in this place. Al went somewhere else. Now you. What the hell am I supposed to do?

Certainly the Kingdoms Collide

4 Nov

What Happens When They Do? | assembled thoughts on the day

It’s November 4th, 2008, and there are billions of people in the world who know exactly what that means.

Presidential election, U.S.A.

Woo hoo.

That woo hoo is both real and sarcastic, because while I agree with a majority of Obama’s takes on current issues in the U.S., I also recognize a required disconnect from a worldly political system. My faith is not in a man who calls himself president of any nation.

Some stop there and use faith as an excuse to abstain from real, political issues — those things that are strangling some Americans, and unjustly feeding others.

So how do we engage a political system in which we place no sustaining hope? A position of authority to which we don’t really bow? A country to which we don’t necessarily pledge our allegiance?

What’s a servant to do when his two kingdoms collide?

These questions appear all over the global village, in the form of blogs (like this one), message boards, books, discussion groups, political forums, classrooms, and church services. Greg Boyd’s Myth of a Christian Nation has some great ideas, as does Shane Claiborne’s Jesus For President.

But in reality, when we take our eyes off the page and look at our broken world, what we read and what we see don’t match up.

This says this, but what I see is that.
A sentence doesn’t always help us make sense out of a situation.
A chapter can’t always take away confusion, the overwhelming sense of “What now?”

We need practical advice. What does serving God and serving the people of America look like?

Recently, I heard it described this way:

“No matter who wins, the church has work to do.”

This implies a resolute faith, one that understand political systems and gives them credit for their ability to further peace, justice, and hope, but reserves its true hope for what we, the church, can do. We need to pick up the pieces of the broken system, glue the puzzle back together, and see a picture bigger than a 2-dimensional photo of a prosperous nation.

We need to see a world embodying Shalom.

In practical terms: if McCain wins, we’ll need to fight hard against war-mongering, racism, consumerism, and a free-trade ideology that perpetuates under-developing nations, as well as loudly call for better environmental practices and regulations. If Obama we need to fight against universalist ideology that says “anything goes,” humanism and atheism, and we need to keep him accountable to the promises he’s made to the poor, to the uncared-for, to those without health care.

Most of the things we’ll need to fight for and against are the same things Christians have fought for and against for centuries. Because in the course of a day the world will change.

But it won’t change much.
Greed won’t be replaced with love.
War won’t be replaced by peace.

We can’t be foolish enough to think either candidate is the Messiah or the anti-Christ.

Too easily we “do our duty” on November 4th, and the next day campaign promises are forgotten and news about the president and his policies begins to retreat from the public sphere.

Tonight, we can celebrate, or we can mourn.

But we better not become resigned.

It’s we who can change things. Make a difference in the lives of the poor. Give care to the uncared-for. Make a commitment to peace. Live sustainable lifestyles.

It’s that truth that I’m banking on.

Four years of committed Christian living — peacemaking, loving, and neighboring — I’d vote for that.

(note: i borrowed unashamedly from numerous authors I’ve read in recent years, as well as conversations with my brother, some of my former professors, my wife, and my Mission Year team to write this piece. thanks to all that continue to challenge and inspire me)

as i survey the wondrous cross-fire

23 Oct

It’s like our streets are puzzle pieces, not only in how they weave and intersect at odd, incongruous angles, but in how they piece together a history, a culture — a past, present and future drama that incorporates thousands of characters and millions of memories.

It’s like the connections are forming something and no one can see what it is.

It’s a birthplace, an airplane hangar, a night on the town, or a peaceful countryside, a scary monster, a tidy desk, a family portrait or discarded letter.

It’s the world, isn’t it?

When it rains the pieces are soggy, and we lost sight of how we fit together, sitting inside or under porches, heads down, umbrellas up, our hands in our pockets. Our cardboard lives get water-logged, because we haven’t yet been lacquered.

Pieces go missing.

People disappear. They move, they leave, they go to stay with a friend.They get arrested, they get shot, they die.

And things look a bit more askew than they had a moment before. We’d formed a connection that painted a little more sense to the streets in our city. We were the fingers, the leaves, the burst of color, the textural significance, a stray pencil, or plain, bright blue.

We held our connection by the chemistry-like bond of the bigger picture.

And then it crumbles. We are a fingernail, or a stem.

We are pieced together as the sphere becomes smaller and smaller. We know them and they know us and come to find out, he knows her and we know her, and we and he now stretch to fill the gap of those that went missing. Some semblance of whatever we’re making is attained. But we are infinitely aware, and broken-hearted, by the squarish bits of nothingness that dot our country road.


highlight to read


29 Sep

People love giving advice. Even in stories you can hear what they’re trying to tell you. But in these first weeks in Chicago, when we’ve passed someone on the street, the advice hasn’t been wrapped within a story; it’s been a blunt word of caution, as if danger here moves about in broad daylight wearing a friendly mask and glossy lipstick.

We are constantly the recipients of advice that suggests we leave, to be safe and get out as soon as we can. Which is great. I appreciate the concern. And granted, we probably appear to be lost tourists unaware of where we’ve landed. But if there were no danger here, we wouldn’t have come. Relocation as a spiritual calling would be unnecessary.

Besides we see danger in the rural Midwest. We see violence in the Bible Belt. We see destruction in individualism and lives that are compartmentalized.

So what is so crazy about living in community and going to where it is both most needed and already so abundant?

Because when I stood in Lawndale’s sanctuary listening to Celestial Ministries’ drumline fill the space with a sound more enormous than our neighborhood’s constant sirens and rumbling trains, I couldn’t imagine a greater place to be. When I saw a girl get so excited she threw off her drum to start writing a new rhythm, jumping from bass drum to bass drum to get the tones right, I was proud of everything going on around here. When I saw three tiny girls walk into tutoring in matching outfits, matching hair-dos and enormous matching sunglasses, I laughed harder than I’ve laughed in a long time.

Moments like that are why we’re here. To trust in a humanity that is God-created, that may be broken and have its faults, that may have been oppressed and systematically kept in an under-privileged state, but that has poignant moments of beauty in the smallest and greatest ways.

Jesus called us to a lifestyle of beloved community, where our needs are interdependently stated and interdependently met, where our wants become the wants of the entire neighborhood, where gang violence is a higher priority than a new car, where property is a myth and we claim no right to possess a section of Earth, and where love will wear down the oppressor.

We are blessed to be part of a current tradition that is working to recreate, understand and get back to this.

We may look crazy to the world, but that is precisely our rubric; should we appear sane, we will know we’ve lost sight of our goal. Our joy is complete by being here, and we now see the extravagances for what they are: cheap tricks for clouded minds, a sedative for a populace with nothing to live for but shallow laughter and the warped joy of paying off a credit card.

That life is not our aim. We want nothing of the sort in our story. It may take us to the inner-city today, the brothels of Thailand tomorrow. It will surely take us to the hells on Earth, and we may lose more than we can imagine.

But what looks like our destruction may actually be our salvation.