UMC Highlight Reel

I've been an absentee blogger the last few months. Here is my humble attempt to catch you up on the big happenings at the Urban Mission Center.

  • Temple House Community. As the hands and feet of the Urban Mission Center, the Temple House community has been busy serving and leading in our neighborhood. This summer, dwellers volunteered with the Summer Youth Program at Temple, worked in our community garden, served as guides for our visiting groups, developed friendships with neighbors, and much more. This fall, they've been busy leading worship arts at Temple, standing in solidarity with local activists, and offering hospitality to each other and our neighborhood.  We also welcomed Alexis Ferguson and Wakeda Carr to our community. We're currently studying the Book of Acts on Sunday evenings. It's good, living life together.
  • Band of Survivors. We had the opportunity to host BOS from the Metropolitan Division in July. It was so good! We often have groups that want to visit us to serve, but Nate made it clear from the beginning that they were here to learn -- and learn they did! We led them through a daily bible study about neighborhood ministry, took them to Ferguson and the Civil Rights Exhibit at the Missouri History museum, and hosted a panel discussion with Christian activists. It was so good.
  • Ferguson Community Empowerment Center. We celebrated the grand opening in late July, and we've been busy developing the Spark Academy. More on that later.
  • Urban Ministries Practicum. A dream three years in the making came to fruition in September. We hosted our first practicum in partnership with Olivet Nazarene University and SACEP. We had 12 officers spend a week with us, exploring the complexities of serving in the city. Again, it was so good. Our friend Major Cherri Hobbins is working on an article that will give a good picture of our week, so keep a lookout in the Central Connection. We're already looking at spring dates, so we'll do it again soon.
  • CCDA Conference. A highlight for us every year is attending the Christian Community Development Association National Conference. Bonus this year: it was in my hometown of Detroit! We were challenged and encouraged after a few days with our tribe. If you're passionate about making shalom a reality, consider joining us next year in Chicago.

A couple things we're working on:

  • A Handbook for Neighborhood Engagement. We've learned a whole lot in the last few years, and we feel ready to share our findings with the world!
  • Cohort on Arsenal St. I had the opportunity to participate in a cohort on the west coast for people leading missional communities. It was a gift, journeying with other like minded folks, over the course of 18 months. We've designed a cohort specifically for Salvationists (officers, soldiers, employees, volunteers) hoping to advance their missional leadership skills. We launch this March and we are pumped.

Youth Night at Temple Corps

News of a kidney match came to our corps officer late last year. This was welcomed news, after a long and concerning wait. Captain Dale would have surgery soon after Christmas, and he'd be out for a few months.

As the Temple House Community considered how we could support our officers during a stressful time, we thought leading the Wednesday night youth program might be a good place to start. So, we assembled -- all hands on deck, we need you every Wednesday from February to the end of May!

Last week we celebrated the conclusion of youth night with a "Hello Summer Party." We asked our young people to bring the whole family for an evening of fun and fellowship. There was a BBQ, carnival games, oodles of prizes, sno-cones, cotton candy, and endless giggles.

We've had a great time getting to know our young people. They're a group of beautiful, lively, sometimes naughty individuals who come to us with hopes and hurts. We love them a whole lot.

Love Your Neighbor(hood)

I was enjoying the breeze in my sunroom the other day when I heard the sound of a lone trumpet playing in the alley. I live right off Cherokee St, our neighborhood's business district and cultural hub. The Fortune Teller Bar and Art Monster Tattoo share my alley, making for all sorts of interesting conversations at the dumpster.

I was struck by how much love I have for this place, Benton Park West, a little neighborhood in South City, St Louis. We try to teach our dwellers to know and love their neighbors, and I think the natural progression is to begin loving their neighborhood. It's gritty and sometimes loud and even tense. But it's also diverse and full of beauty and charm. I asked our dwellers what they love about Benton Park West.

  • I love the diversity and Jennifer and Kamiya (my next door neighbors - there is never a dull moment with them around).  I enjoy talking to Joe across the street and seeing Marlow once in awhile.  I love Grove East Provisions especially the BLT made on his fresh made bread.  I love getting together with Temple House people on Sunday nights.  Wish I could be with them more because its always a good time. I love the flower gardens that are scattered about in the neighborhood and I love the two sycamore trees in front of the house that remind me I'm home.
  • I love its big old trees.
  • I love the quirky Cherokee St community.
  • I love how diverse BPW is. It's not LA diversity but it is one of St. Louis's most racially diverse neighborhoods. In addition, Cherokee street is one of my favorite parts of the city. It's easily one of the oolest streets in town. Everything from coffee shops to art galleries, bars, bakeries, clothing stores, taquerias and thrift shops, Cherokee street is always a number one spot to lounge with out of town guest or locals. And I especially love those random but frequent moments where you run into neighbors, colleagues, or youth that you work with, just going about their day or having really fun time on Cherokee Street. 
  • I love that it's small enough to know each other and care for each other.
  • I love hearing kids giggle and play outside.
  • I love chatting with neighbors at Food Pantry every week.

I was at a conference last week that focused on being rooted and embedded in a place. I think if we're going to see God's mission realized in our world, faithfully living out reconciliation in our neighborhoods seems like a good place to start. That's a whole other blog post!

What do you love about your neighborhood?

 

How We are Building Community

Temple House has made some strides in community lately. Here is a blog written by one of our Dwellers as she reflects on what is looks like for us to come together as part of God’s family.

 

How do you create a bond within a group of people? How do you create community among individuals who are still finding their space, their position, and their footing? The answer may seem silly but I am speaking from experience, sports, specifically volleyball.

Stephen's Celebration

On one of our Sunday night gatherings, our group of Temple House residents gathered together inside the gym at the Salvation Army Crops. The teams were chosen somewhat democratically and the game began. Throughout the evening there was more laughter, smiling, screaming and cheering than I had ever heard from our group of dwellers. Who would have guessed that a simple game would have welcomed such love and connection to our community?

While games were lost and teams were crowned winners there was little bitterness at the end of the evening. I was left with was a sense of community, camaraderie, happiness and a sore side from laughing too hard at Richard’s victory dance.

Praise the Lord for his divine design among humanity. He can bring a group of individuals and over the course of a volleyball game knits us together, binds us to one another and reminds us there is healing, hope, and joy in these connections.  

While there are talks of a rematch, my excitement is not in reclaiming the victory crown it is in finding that moment again. Connecting with my fellow dwellers, laughing with my brothers and sisters in Christ, and learning how to work together for a common goal and a common good.

- Hannah M. 

 

Justice Day

Last weekend the Urban Mission Center hosted Justice Day St. Louis. We partnered with the Justice Conference and focused on the topic of justice for youth. We decided on this topic because we understand the importance of this discussion as we work to seek shalom in our city. Our apprentices brought together six local educators, activists, and organizers to help lead attendees towards not only learning about the problems that youth face, but also how we can be involved in advocating for youth. An important piece for all of us to remember as we seek this work is to listen to what Karissa Anderson said during the panel, we must give youth space to speak for themselves, we cannot just assume that we know what they want and need.

    Aaron Layton began the day with a message about the importance of education for our youth. As an educator, Mr. Layton cares deeply about education and how it affects students. If we do not give all children a quality education then we are putting them far behind in the race of life, and this disproportionately affects youth of color. Mr. Layton referenced this article during his talk, I would recommend reading it to find out more about school funding. The next speaker was Michelle Higgins. She spoke to us about engaging youth in justice work. Her main point was that youth need two things from those who seek to work with them; discipleship and advocacy. It’s essential that we give youth good models to follow as they grow up in this world that often wants to think the worst of them. We have to walk with them so that they know that we truly care for them and that we want the world to see them as we do. We finished the day with a panel of four local organization leaders who are actively engaged in working with the city’s youth. Rev. Dietra Wise Baker, Darren Young, Karissa Anderson, and Marlon Wharton shared their experience from working with youth and how they work to mentor and advocate for the youth they serve.

    Justice Day was about coming together to find out how we can best work to support our youth and it was a success. All of our speakers brought some hard truths to the table and the participants left with tangible ways in which they could join in the work of pursuing justice for youth wherever they are. Those who came to the event have already asked if we will be putting on another event like this and we look forward to providing more spaces for this type of conversation to happen in the future.

Regeneration 2017

From February 17th-19th, the Urban Mission Center had the opportunity to go to the Salvation Army's Regeneration conference with the Dwellers and Apprentices of Temple House. This year's conference theme was reconciliation and we were treated to the speakers, Dr. Cornel West, Steve Carter, and Captain Lisa Barnes. Dr. West spoke on racial reconciliation and why doing justice is important for our Christian walk. Pastor Carter spoke on how we are blessed to bless others and on how to fight out implicit biases. Captain Lisa Banes lead us through a healing process and preached about how she's had to reconcile with others in her own life. 

It was my first time attending Regen, and I have to be honest, I was incredibly impressed. I was thankful to hear the message that Dr. West spoke when he said, "Justice is what love looks like in public." I think that phrase is important to remember as we go about learning what justice looks like in our present time. But the standout was Captain Lisa Barnes. During the worship night that she led us through a process of reconciliation with those who have hurt us in the past. She had a few officers stand in the front of the Chapel as "placeholders" and she gave people the opportunity to go and speak to the placeholders as if they were the person or thing that had hurt them. The room grew heavy as people rose to confront the demons of their past and move forward toward healing and reconciliation. It was an honor to be in the room as the Spirit moved in the room to help people towards healing. 

Again, I'm thankful for the Salvation Army as they give young adults and their leaders space to discover what it means to practice reconciliation in our lives. As we go forward, I hope that those who attended the event take the words that they heard and will work to apply them in their daily walk as Christians. 

-LB

Temple House Group Photo

Faithful Presence

Authentic abundance does not lie in secured stockpiles of food or cash or influence or affection but in belonging to a community where we can give those goods to others who need them - and receive them from others when we are in need.
— Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

A local house church pastor friend makes it a point to welcome new businesses to the neighborhood. Today his church bought the first 50 cups of tea for anyone who stopped by Teatopia on opening day. A few of us decided to take him up on the offer. I walked in to see the tiny establishment packed with friends from Cherokee St. We laughed and mentioned how fun it was to run into one another outside of a planned event.

It got me thinking. What if every Salvation Army made it a point to support local establishments? Maybe spend a little more to frequent the mom and pop hardware store, or have meetings at the corner deli instead of at the corps. What if we learned the names of every proprietor within walking distance?

We try hard to model that at the Urban Mission Center. We spread the word about the amazing Bahn Mi at Kalbi Taco Shack and take visitors to El Bronco and our office is a rented desk in a room full of neighborhood folks.

I challenged dwellers to meet one new business owner or neighbor this week. We'll see what they report at our next gathering!

Justice for the City

The Urban Mission Center has made the commitment to be more involved in the justice movements that are happening in the city. One of the first ways that we acted out this commitment was to attend Faith For Justice's annual MLK Jr. Event on January . One of our Temple House dwellers, Hannah Manyara, was kind enough to write about her experience at the event.


The Urban Mission Center was excited to attend the Stride Toward Freedom: Reclaim MLK 2017 event which was hosted by South City Church. During the event, we heard from various speakers and joined together as a community with our neighbors and friends, activists and newly woke participants. Being someone newly woke, this gathering was helpful as I learned about laws, amendments, and systems which had been used to undermine people of color and other minorities for generations. There were both faith and justice aspects to the different sessions which allowed for individuals from various walks of life to feel welcomed and included in the conversation. The part of the evening which had the biggest impact on me personally was when we read off the names of those who had been killed at the hands of police officers. Some names were well known because of the media coverage they received, and others were lesser known. Speaking their names and giving pause for their lives cut short was sobering and gave me a vision for why we are lifting our voices against these injustices.

At the end of the evening, I was challenged by three things which were discussed throughout the sessions. First, I want to open my home to those who are different from me whether it is race, nationality, gender or religion. Secondly, I want to educate myself on the policies which are being passed by both the local and national government. Finally, I want to step out and stand with those who are in the fight against these injustices; silence against injustice is the same as endorsement. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

I hope you feel encouraged and maybe even led to join me in any or all of these challenges as you begin 2017. I pray that stepping outside of our comfort zones will be a rewarding challenge which takes us to places we never knew we had the strength or courage to reach.

 

Our Kids are Not Felons

On January 9 the Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU) hosted an action meeting titled "Our Children are Not Felons." I attended the event in the hopes of learning more about the change in Missouri law that allows students to be tried as felons for fighting in school.  According to Fox2Now, starting this year, "3rd and 4th-degree assaults will be reclassified from misdemeanors to felonies. Under the measure, students who are caught fighting on school grounds or on a bus, and it is witnessed by a school resource officer or police; could be charged with a felony." While the MCU believes that this will affect all children, it appears that the law will, once again, disproportionately affect minority children and those in poor communities.

The MCU hosted this event as a call to action for parents, superintendents, and community members so that schools would create memorandums of understanding. They created a list of key nonnegotiable's so that those who wish to advocate for our children have a common starting place. A big part of this meeting was to get contact information from people who are willing to commit to advocating for students and make sure that our schools are doing right by them.

We at the Urban Mission Center believe that our children are the most valuable assets that we have in the city. All kids should be given the opportunity to succeed, no matter where they come from. Reverand Karen Anderson, president of the MCU, brought up the point that we expect more from her kids and we do from adults. She is correct, we have to give kids the chance to live their lives without the fear that they will be jailed for any mistake or outburst that they may have.

Rev. Anderson tells a tribe with the customary greeting is “How are the children?” The traditional answer is “All the children well.” Well, none of us can honestly answer that all of our children are well. Will you stand with us as we work towards that answer? Will you aid in the works that will allow our next generation to have a real chance at life? If the answer is yes, please follow the MCU's work on their Facebook page to join them

-LB

Also remember to check out our event in March about Justice for Youth by clicking here.
 

A New Building!

At the end of September, the Urban Mission Center had the opportunity to acquire a dedicated space where we meet to do our work. We’ve had the chance to use this space for both our Design Days and Urban IF events. We’re thankful to have this space to work out of, it will help further ground us in the Benton Park West neighborhood and we’re excited to use it for neighborhood events as well as our own Sunday night gatherings. 

As we’ve learned how to use this new space, it made me think about how space is important. Before we had this house, Sara would often say that we are more of a people than a place, but I believe that this house allows us to be both. Now that we have a central space to work and to hang our as a Temple House community, we have another opportunity to create and maintain deeper relationships with each other. Now, when someone asks where the Urban Mission Center is, we can point to a location and proudly state that’s our house. 

Book of the Month - October

This month's book of the month is a bit different than the past few books. God of Justice was put together by the International Justice Mission Institute as part of their global church curriculum. Abraham George and Nikki A. Toyama-Szeto coauthored the book, I had the chance to see Toyama-Szeto at this year's CCDA national conference, and she is someone who embodies the call to justice in her life. God of Justice is a twelve-session, discussion-based study on justice as it is featured throughout Scripture. I'm currently going through it right now and it's been interesting to see how they chose to take participants through the entire story of God's justice, starting in Genesis and going all the way through the New Testament. 

This book is a good introduction to biblical justice if you're new to the movement. If possible, I would suggest going through this with a group and taking time to dig deep into on your own. As the authors write in the introduction, "It is our hope in writing these Bible studies that the body of Christ around the world would be awakened to God's heart for the poor and the oppressed. It is our hope that the missio Dei (the mission of God) will bring freedom, and justice will become our mission as well." I hope that you will give this book a chance as you discover more about how God desires His people to take part in pursuing justice for the oppressed and the poor. 

You can purchase the book here.

 

 

Book of the Month - September

This month's book is Making Neighborhoods Whole by Wayne Gordon and John M. Perkins. The authors are part of the founding group of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). They co-wrote this book as a handbook for Christian Community Development. It lays out their eight key principles and also has essays written by other people doing this work across the country. Shane Claiborne wrote the foreword for the book and he wrote this about the CCDA, "But while we don't need universal blueprints that we try to impose everywhere, we do need some tools we share in common as we build, and we need some training on how they work." That's something that I appreciate about the CCDA, while they do have their philosophy, they understand that no two communities are exactly alike. They allow people to be as creative with their implementation of the key components as is needed in their spaces. 

This book explores what the 8 components are but then also gives us a peek into how they've been lived out in different communities. It offers hope for people who are attempting to do this kind of work by showing them that they aren't alone. I would recommend this book to anyone who is considering relocating and doing work among the poor. It will help give you some guidelines as to what you're going to face and how to work to be a kingdom builder wherever you land. 

You can purchase this book here or by clicking on the title above. If you're curious about the CCDA you can read about it here or here.

Christian Community Development Association

From August 31 to September 3, the Urban Mission Center got to send three people to the Christian Community Development Association’s (CCDA) annual conference. While there we were given the opportunity to learn from those who have been doing community development work and receive encouragement from them as we attempt to do that kind of work here in Benton Park West. The CCDA is an organization that was started to help bring like-minded people together so that we would be able to pull from resources throughout the country. The organization has officially existed since 1989 and has inspired many Christians to bring their 8 key components into their lives. Here’s a short introduction to the CCDA’s eight key components.

Relocation

    In order to really do work in our communities, we have to live within our community. Relocation is the idea that we desire for our neighbors and their families the same things that we desire for ourselves and our families. When we live among those that we work with it becomes easier to see the problems that they face and allows us to come alongside them as we work together to find a solution. 

There are three types of relocation: relocators, remainers, and returners. Relocators are just what the name sounds like, they move to a different community to do work and live among the people there. Remainers are those who are born in a community and stay in the community in order to help it grow. Returners are those who are from a community but leave it to go learn in other locations so that they can bring back what they have learned to their community and use their knowledge to benefit their home. 

Reconciliation

    The CCDA handbook, Making Neighborhoods Whole, written by Dr. John Perkins and Dr. Wayne Gordon writes about reconciliation like this, “Community development is content to help people find a job or a decent place to live. But Christian community development includes guiding people toward a reconciled relationship with God through Christ.” They focus on three parts of reconciliation: people to people, people to God, and people groups to people groups. Their goal is not to persuade or be persuaded, but to understand and be understood and respected. 

Redistribution

    Redistribution is about creating economic opportunities for all people. Dr. Perkins writes, “We’ve all heard the saying that f we give people a fish, they’ll eat for a day; if we teach them to fish they’ll eat for a lifetime. CCDA-style redistribution goes further by asking a question I raised in my book Beyond Charity: Who owns the pond?” On their website, the CCDA describes redistribution like this, "When God's people with resources (regardless of their race or culture) commit to living in underserved communities seeking to be good neighbors, being examples of what it means to be a follower of Christ, working for justice for the entire community, and utilizing their skills and resources to address the problems of that community alongside their neighbors, then redistribution is being practiced."

Leadership Development

    “The primary goal of leadership development is to restore the stabilizing glue and fill the vacuum of moral, spiritual, and economic leadership that is so prevalent in poor communities by developing leaders.”

CCDA believes that in order to have a lasting change in a neighborhood you have to raise up leaders from within that community. This isn’t an easy process, it takes completely investing in a select few that you feel called to and teaching them what it means to be a Christian leader. 

Listening to the Community

    “Christian Community Development is committed to listening to the community residents, and hearing their dreams, ideas, and thoughts. This is often referred to as the "felt need" concept. Listening is most important, as the people of the community are the vested treasures of the future.” Listening to the community allows us to appreciate what the community has and what its actual needs are. This is important for community development because too often we think that we, as relocators, have all the answers needed to fix a community. However, when we take the time to listen to our neighbors, we find that we can create better solutions to actual problems that our neighbors are dealing with. 

Church-Based Development

    For this one I’m just going to let the CCDA speak for itself, the lay it out quite nicely.

    “The community of God's people is uniquely capable of affirming the dignity of the poor and enabling them to meet their own needs. It is practically impossible to do effective wholistic ministry apart from the local church. A nurturing community of faith can best provide the thrusts of evangelism, discipleship, spiritual accountability, and relationships by which disciples grow in their walk with God… It is the responsibility of the church to evangelize, disciple and nurture people in the Kingdom. Yet, from the command of Jesus, it is also the responsibility of the church to love their neighbor and their neighborhood. Churches should be seen as lovers of their community and neighborhoods. It is out of the church body that ideas and programs should emerge… The church helps people to understand that each person has gifts and talents and all must utilize those for the greater good of the community. A worshipping church breaks down many of the barriers including racial, educational and cultural barriers that often separate people in communities.”

A Wholistic Approach to Ministry

    In order to help people reach their full potential, we can’t compartmentalize the problems people face. That, too often, allows us to reach for simple answers to what are actually complex problems. “Christian Community Development has a wholistic approach to ministry that deals with the spiritual, social, economic, political, cultural, emotional, physical, moral, judicial, educational and familial issues of each person.“ CCDA believes that the best way to help someone is to get them connect and engaged with a church because the church is the best place for people to receive complete healing. They write, “It is important to network with other churches and organizations in communities. In order to accomplish the wholistic aspect of ministry, pastors and leaders must be networkers. Christian Community Development builds coalitions in communities so that they can work together to solve the problems.”

 

Empowerment

    It’s not enough to just give handouts to people, that creates and continues dependency. The CCDA works it out like this, “Three principles come out of God's welfare system in the Old Testament. First, there must be opportunity for people to get their needs met. In Deuteronomy and Leviticus, this happened to be a field with food in it. Secondly, the person who had a need must be willing to work for it. The widow, alien, orphan or poor person must go into the field and pick up the crops. This, then, involved work on the part of the poor. This is also found in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 which says, "If you don't work, you don't eat."

Thirdly, when these first two principles are working, a person's dignity is affirmed. All people have inherited dignity by being created in the image of God. Oftentimes, charity demeans a person and strips him or her of dignity. The last principle of empowerment affirms a person's God-given dignity.” 

Empowerment is about affirming people’s dignity and their ability to contribute to any situation. Instead of just giving handouts, allowing people to work or help with the solution helps them feel their inherent value. It helps them grow in their confidence that they have something that they can share with others. 

So there's a breakdown of the CCDA's philosophy. If you'd like to read more about it, check out their website or click here for the book written about their philosophy. 

Book of the Month - August

The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting faith in a mobile Culture - Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

 

“Someone asked Abba Anthony, ‘What must one do in order to please God?” The old man replied, ‘Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.” - Abba Anthony

The week of July 31- August 6th, I had the opportunity to attend the Central Leadership Bible Institute (CBLI). While I was there I got the chance to learn from different speakers and hear what they had to say about faith. I also had the opportunity to catch up on some reading that I had been neglecting. One of the books that I read was Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture. This book gives readers the opportunity to rediscover what it looks like to have stability in the culture we live in today. Hartgrove-Wilson writes, “we are able to best discern the call of God in the company of friends where we are rooted in the life-giving wisdom of stability.” (5). I read this book as a 22-year-old who’s been told for the last four years that the best way to discover who I really am is to travel the world and learn about other people. But that’s the opposite of what Hartgrove-Wilson wants readers to understand in this book. According to him, we best learn about ourselves if we stay put and not only get to know the people we live with, but to allow those people to get to know us. That’s part of what we are trying to do here in Benton Park West. As the Urban Mission Center grows, we are listening and learning with our neighbors so that we can become something that actually helps the community. We appreciate stability because it offers the chance for us to slow down and learn to appreciate the simple rhythms of life. Instead of rushing around to the next bright and shiny opportunity, we experience our biggest joys in sharing life with each other. It’s not always easy, but if we want to become a community that truly knows how to love and forgive one another, we have to do it. 

I chose this book for August because I know from experience that it’s a time of instability for a lot of people. School is starting up again and people are moving to new places because of it. I hope that you’ll find comfort in the wisdom that is found here and as you live within your place, I hope that you’ll not easily leave it.

- LB

You can check out Hartgrove-Wilson’s book here.

 

Two Years

Monday night Lexi, our first apprentice at the Urban Mission Center, sent me a link on Facebook: Hey, would it be possible for us to go to this vigil tomorrow?

Yes, definitely. 

We drove north to Ferguson the next morning. It's a quiet ride. I remember commenting about how some people who've never been to Ferguson probably imagine it as a burned out, deserted place. But it's not. It reminds me of Hazel Park, a neighboring suburb of Detroit. 

This isn't my first visit to Canfield Green Apartments, but today felt different. The sun was hot, beating down on the memorial of stuffed animals, candles, and flowers. Two little girls were giggling, hand in hand. A friendly pit bull nuzzling a group of children. Gospel music on the speakers. Break every chain, break every chain, break every chain. There was a certain love and hope in the air, maybe a quiet resolve. Almost like the acceptance that things are not as they should be, but we are working to make them right. It felt like reconciliation in process. 

I'm not too sure how to articulate how my heart has changed since the death of Michael Brown. It feels heavy and hard. I often feel misunderstood by my fellow Jesus people. I'm okay with that.

-SJohnson


Two years ago today, everything changed. Two years ago today, another black boy was shot before he had the chance to become a man. And two years ago today, the world exploded. And yet, a little under two years ago, the Urban Mission Center was opened. We recognize anniversaries because it’s important to remember the past and where we started from. 

My perspective changed when Mike Brown was killed. I admit, I had never been forced to think about racism, I really only experienced it when I saw my African American friends go through. Although my family is interracial, I don’t remember a time in my life where I felt like we were excluded or treated differently because of it. That may have something to do with the fact that I grew up in a town where my mom’s family was well known and well loved, but who really knows. I believe that God was just shielding us from it, and for that, I am incredibly grateful. When Mike Brown was killed, I was in Tennessee on the last day of a college resident training program called WalkAbout. I was completely disconnected from the world and had no idea what had happened in St. Louis. But I remember sitting in my college dorm lounge and watching as Ferguson was torn apart by the rage and tension that had been built up and then released by the verdict that Darren Wilson would not be indicted. The Black Lives Matter movement came in full force then, and I have to say that it’s incredibly important that it did. See, with that non-indictment, the nation’s black people heard that their lives didn’t matter as much as that one officer’s. They had to come up with something, some way to show that they did matter. So they took to the streets and took over social media. No Justice. No Peace. I heard that cry and knew that I needed to take it up too. 

Sadly, not a lot has really changed. An absurd number of black men have been killed since Mike Brown’s death. When Philando Castile was killed, I was shaken to the core again. It was the first time that I really felt scared for my dad. I text him the morning after just to tell him to be safe, because it seemed like there was no safe place for black men after that incident. But it only confirmed in me that I would have to do work to end that. I don’t know what my position looks like in this fight for equality, but I know that I need to be a part of it. No child should have to fear for her father’s life just because he’s black leaving the house. No one should have to live in fear. So I’m trying to come up alongside people who I can learn from, people that will push me towards the reconciling work that must be done. I hope that more of you will do the same. I don’t want anyone in my family, nor any of God’s people to live in fear anymore. 

-LB

Book of the Month

Prophetic Lament by Dr. Soong-Chan Rah.

 

“Our theology and spiritual formation hadn’t given us sufficient permission, language or tools to adequately sit with the despair and sadness of recent racial injustices, senseless acts of gun violence and social unrest taking place in the world around us.” - Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil. 

     In light of all that has happened, the Urban Mission Center would like to start off our new book of the month series with Dr. Soong-Chan Rah’s Prophetic Lament. His book is one that attempts to open up our eyes to the wrongs we commit against those who are suffering when we fail to acknowledge their pain. He calls out our churches writing, “a triumphalistic theology of celebration and privilege rooted in a praise-only narrative is perpetuated by the absence of lament and the underlying narrative of suffering that informs lament.” What Dr. Rah is saying here is that when we go to church and only sing songs of praise and celebration, we do a disservice to other Christians who are in a state of suffering. Apart from that, when we do not take part in lamenting injustice, we begin to forget that injustice is happening to our brothers and sisters around the world. Dr. Rah works through the first three chapters of the book of Lamentations to show readers how the Israelites practiced lament and gives the present day church an idea of how we can work lament into our own faith practices. 

     This book is important. Without lament, we cannot cope with all that has happened because we won’t have space for it. Lament allows us to acknowledge that awful things have happened and gives us the understanding that no one except God can get us through this mess. 

You can find Dr. Rah's book here.

 

- LB

Transformation

It’s a word that the wider world would scoff at. Most of you probably won’t agree with that, you’ll bring up this notion that the world has been all about the transformation in the last 50 years and that we’ve done nothing but transforms the way our world looks and functions. But my notion of transformation isn’t the same as the world’s. See, usually, when the world talks about the “transformation” of a neighborhood it’s really talking about gentrification. That’s just a fancy way of saying that people with lower income get kicked out by the “beautification” efforts of the richer, usually white, folk moving into the city. That’s not the kind of transformation the Urban Mission Center longs for, not the kind that God longs for. In fact, it couldn’t be farther from the transformation that we wish to see in the Benton Park West neighborhood. This space is already seeing the beginnings of gentrification, and that’s scary. People who have lived here basically their entire lives are beginning to face the threat that they’ll join the absurd number of people who’ve been displaced. But, as we’ve seen, it’s not easy to fight off gentrification when you’re up against politicians who are more interested in giving tax breaks to big businesses than they are helping their constituents. So we are constantly faced with this challenge of how to bring about a transformation in our neighborhood that will allow it to look more like God’s kingdom.

 

As I think about this idea of transformation, I can’t help but think about the garden that we tend. One of the main aspects of Temple Houses and the Urban Mission Center is our community garden. A week ago we had the opportunity to host a mission team who helped us weed the garden.

 

Weeds

 

When we started the garden was a mess of weeds and plants attempting to grow amidst them. It reminded me of the Scripture that Tony Campolo quoted at this year’s Justice Conference. Christ tells a story about how one farmer laid out his seeds to grow for the next year and an evil man came along and scattered weeds among the farmer’s seeds. When his servants realized what had happened, they asked the farmer if they should pull the weeds. He warned them not to saying, if we pull out the weeds then we will pull out the good crop as well. No, let them grow together and we will separate them when it comes time for the harvest. In the same way, we thinned out the garden and separated the good crop from the weeds at the beginning of the week.

 

But as the week continued, the garden transformed. It became less a bed of weeds and more a place where crops could grow. We were preparing the field, much like God prepares the field for His people to come work in. And much like God’s field, it became apparent that this was work that could not be done by a few. Sara and I talked about the progress that was made because of the six women who served alongside us. Without them, the garden would have looked worse for the wear for much longer than it did. Because the workers were many, we were able to create a place where something good could grow.

 

Watering

 

That’s the kind of transformation we wish to see in Benton Park West. We want it to become a place where all people are given the chance to grow and to succeed. However, we don’t claim to have all the answers on how to do this. One of the books that our community reads is titled Thin Places by Jon Huckins and Rob Yackley. It talks about six postures of living that allow a community to be built. The first step on this journey towards transformation is listening, and that’s what we strive to do. Most of us in Temple Houses are new to the community (new meaning we’ve moved here in the last few years), we are implants from different places across the country. We don’t have the roots laid down here just quite yet. But we are willing to humble ourselves and understand that no one knows what’s best for this community unless they’re from here. It’s up to us to listen to what they have to say and then be willing to work with them to transform this place we call home.

 

-LB

 

 

An Authentic Weekend

Friends, there was so much to love about commissioning* this year!

A few highlights for me:

  • Connecting with so many wonderful people!
  • All of the media and visuals were great. I especially loved the graphics on Saturday morning. Beautiful.
  • The weekend app was very helpful, especially because I lost my booklet on Day 1. 
  • I applaud the open seating. Aisle seat at every meeting! 
  • Can we discuss the beauty that took place on Saturday evening? Wow. If what happened at the Authentic Worship meeting is any indication of the direction we're going, I am excited. It was truly a space for all voices and all people. I loved it. More and more and more spaces like this, please.
  • Having the opportunity to share about my neighborhood on Friday evening. And beyond that, all of the love and support and affirmation I received afterwards. What a gift. 

*Commissioning is a weekend gathering of Salvationists in the Central Territory (the 11 central states), where we commission and ordain new Salvation Army officers. This is my attempt at a definition. 

Friend of Time

In case you missed it, I’m participating in a leadership cohort through Thresholds. A quick recap: the cohort is a learning community for people seeking to establish or deepen missional communities, i.e., people like me. It meets in the Golden Hill neighborhood of San Diego over the span of 18 months.

I returned home from our third gathering last week. This gathering was different from the others. I can’t really put my finger on it exactly, but I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we’re learning to love each other. That first gathering was full of anticipation and a few nerves, having no idea what to expect. By this third gathering, the nerves were gone and I was just plain excited to see my cohort family!

We spent the weekend learning about how to navigate conflict in community. Fun times, right? Yeah. It was heavy and hard and I had to face some inward conflict. But when you push through that conflict, whether it’s inward or outward, the payoff is huge.

Major Gail usually asks me to give her three things from any conference or event I attend. So in no particular order, here are my three things from the Thresholds Cohort gathering #3:

  • I’m not great at handling conflict, and it’s not for lack of training. Seriously, between summer camp orientations, serving as an RA, teaching high school —I should be a pro. You can have all the training in the world, but if you’re not willing to do the work, it’s of no use. After last weekend, I have some actual tools to help me navigate conflict. While I am not excited to put them to use, I’m glad to have the option.
  • For probably the last year or so, the Spirit keeps bringing me the word "story." I'm beginning to take note. I received the word again in Chicano Park, where the stories of a displaced population are shared through over 70 murals. The stories of despair and hope, brokenness and restoration were captivating. As I wandered around the park, I thought about how important it is for people to both share their stories and to hear the stories of others. My story matters, your story matters, the stories of those before us matter. Someone this weekend, either Rob or Christiana, said something like "If you don't know someone's story, you will misunderstand them." SO TRUE! Imagine if we made space to hear stories from people in our neighborhoods, our churches, even our family. I like to believe there would be more love and less hate.
  • Our reading assignment for this gathering was Jean Vanier’s Community and Growth. I can’t begin to unpack that book in a blog post, but I keep coming back to this
Perhaps the essential quality for anyone who lives in community is patience: a recognition that we, others, and the whole community take time to grow. Nothing is achieved in a day. If we are to live in community, we have to be friends of time.

And the friend of time doesn’t spend all day saying: ‘I haven’t got time.’ He doesn’t fight with time. He accepts it and cherishes it.
— Jean Vanier, Community and Growth

I feel like I live in constant tension between my desire to slow down and the pressure to hurry up. I'll be honest, it's really frustrating to me. I want to be a friend of time. To be patient and move cautiously. To have the space in my life to accommodate interruption. I don't live in a world or belong to a denomination or practice a profession that is a friend of time. I'm still figuring out what exactly this means for me!


While this isn't really a takeaway from our gathering, I think it's worth mentioning: I really miss my neighborhood when I'm away! I miss my quirky neighbors, the kids laughing at the bus stop, crossing paths with friends, and my daily commute through the neighborhood. When I moved to St Louis, I didn't expect to feel so connected to a place.