hazardous faith | a dreamer is humbled

"Where you from?"

"Philly," I replied, certain that he wasn't familiar with my town, six hours east of the stoop where we gathered that first day. Neighborhood kids darted playfully through the crowd of twenty-somethings, drawn together from across the country and right next door for a summer of urban ministry.

Narrowing brown eyes, he pressed me. "The city of Philadelphia? Or the suburbs?

I had not sought the group's attention but had it suddenly, a flush creeping up my neck. Black faces turned toward mine, a mixture of amusement and suspicion. White faces looked uncomfortable, embarrassed.

My voice was small. "I live about forty minutes outside."

"Then you're not really from Philly now, are you?"

I was not. And that day, I was as far from home as I had ever been.


I'd planned to spend that summer with the religion department in Palestine, chasing justice and adventure, but political unrest grew, and the trip was cancelled. A summer in Pittsburgh seemed like a worthy, if less hazardous substitute. I'd work with teams of middle and high school students, renovating homes for low-income elderly owners.

I was great with teens. White teens, that is. It was perhaps the only gift that I brought to the internship, knowing little of urban poverty or race and even less of housing repair. The summer humbled me, revealing the iceberg tip of my own privilege and ignorance.

One night past bedtime, I was on close-up with my partner. Our work camp teams were tucked into bed upstairs, but outside a group of neighborhood kids fooled around, playing ball and talking boisterously. Attempts to quiet them down and send them home were unsuccessful. A few busted inside, wreaking quick and noisy havoc before running off laughing into the night.

The kids won't listen to us! we lamented, frustrated at the lack of respect [that we were owed?].

This is their neighborhood, the director reminded gently. You are visitors, but this is their home. What do you think it's like for our friends when unfamiliar white faces--who have not yet learned their names--tell them that they can't play ball?


I thought that it would be romantic, serving Jesus there on the North Side. Fresh off of a semester studying urban history and liberation theology, my starry eyes and bleeding heart were high to change the world.

As it turned out, crowded quarters and concrete weren't romantic in the least. The ice cream man sold drugs, and the only green space was a sparse and littered ball field. We worked on inhabited homes lacking walls and smelling of cats and found a heavy dose of tension for every inspired grace.

Of all the things that needed changing, it was my heart that God softened first, revealing my pride and the depth of what I still had to learn.

This post is part of Ed Cyzewski's synchroblog celebrating the launch of his new book, Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus, with Derek Cooper. Would you take a moment to preview the book here? You can link up your own story (and read more) over at Ed's place.


grace notes {ten years}

We met at twenty, bright eyes wide to love and adventure, and marriage accorded both in plenty. Grateful today for ten years and life written together.

You are the known way leading always to the unknown,
and you are the known place to which the unknown is always
leading me back.  -Wendell Berry

Ten years and the betters outweigh the worse by far
We wouldn't trade lavish stories for fuller pockets,
for our eyes glimpsed God's faithful hand at work

Memories cling like fire escapes to third floor walk-ups
The barista and bike messenger fade to lore for
country views and two babes our love made
Four helmets line the hall and we still savor coffee hot

Did you think that we'd be young forever, too?

But we've grown up, learned grace notes
Hearts rest in being known and loving more

An outpost in a peaceable kingdom can be a lonely place, but
home is wherever i'm with you.

This poem is reworked from one published 8/24/11.
Another on married love: Full Hearts


august and everything after

Summer is long, and this was our eighth. I write sparse, heavy words here. What can one say? It's hard? The kids are tough? I'm exhausted and poured out? I medicate with bright nail polish and 90s rock.

It's always cold the day after the summer staff disappear. Taillights fade and clouds swoop in, taunting. Leaves fall, daring me to hold it together. Vacation is still a few weeks off and Jim works straight through and did we offer every sun-lit day on the altar of camp?

It's foolishness, petulance. The grey burns off by noon. A friend calls me off the couch and into the woods. Wrangling our three, we set out, spying frogs and fawns. A water snake. Fox holes and hoof prints. Stay on the trail! There's poison ivy--and butterflies! Not monarchs, those are bigger. Dylan knows things, and she's right.

The creek is cold, but I'm not searching for omens anymore.


on disagreement & hate (& chicken)

I came across this on Twitter this morning:

My initial reaction was a resounding YES. It's not difficult, in an age of sound bites, status updates, and screeds, to recognize that our discourse has deteriorated. I lament the ugliness as much as anyone but also the peculiarly Christian tendency (related to the gospel of playing nice) of equating honest criticism with hate. I see it online among believers even when the disagreement is cordial.

I don't follow this pastor or know the context in which he typed the tweet, but it went a bit viral, and suddenly I had a sinking suspicion that maybe it resonated with some for other reasons, possibly related to the embarrassment that was "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" earlier this month.

There's been plenty of insistence lately from Christians that their vehemence against the "gay lifestyle" is not hatred, and perhaps it isn't directly. Plenty of people want to love God and their neighbors, and their beliefs aren't motivated by hate so much as a desire to be faithful. If we long for understanding and elevating the discourse, it could be helpful if critics on both sides experimented with the practice of assigning positive intent, but we must recognize that the stakes are considerably higher for those who are actively experiencing marginalization and even violence.

But does it really matter what one's motivations are if what we're taking about practically is denying legal protections to fellow citizens and families?

Marriage is not only a religious symbol or sacrament. In this conversation it is critical to remember that marriage is the exclusive avenue for couples and families to obtain myriad legal rights that straight folks largely take for granted in everything from health care to insurance, survivor benefits, adoption, parenting, guardianship, and so much more.

The right to marry is not equivalent to the right to marry in X place of worship. If gay couples are granted the same legal benefits as their straight peers, religious communities would still be able to decide who to marry [straight couples, members, couples previously unmarried, those not co-habitating, ones who submit to premarital counseling, etc.] according to their convictions, just as always.

[If we were feeling especially honest, Christians might admit that the "biblical" definition of marriage isn't quite as traditional as we've let on: polygamy, concubines, child brides, coerced "sex" with slaves/servants, taking women as spoils of war, and forced marriage all appear within the biblical narrative.]

Christians like to raise the persecution banner and decry how unfairly we've been accused of hate, but would we have to defend ourselves from such accusations if we were actually known for our love?

After all, it won't be our chicken or bumper stickers that show the world that we're Jesus' disciples but his love in us, poured out abundantly and overflowing. 

Love is the narrow path and the light to guide the Way.



sacrificing privilege on the altar of grace

Christians conform to the pattern of our grace-starved planet more than we care to admit, but we're called along another path: the way of the cross, on which King became Servant and redemption was won.


God writes his salvation story over shattered hearts and fractured communities, transforming pain and brokenness into beauty and wholeness. None are beyond the grasp of a grace that covers Pharisee, tax collector, and prostitute alike.

We love a happy ending and rejoice when healing is vivid and love wins, but what about the story that's in progress? 

Have we loved the sinned-against as well as we love the sinner? Those wounded by cruel words, violence, or humanity-denying oppression? Can we weep with them in the darkness?

Is there grace for the sexual abuse survivor whose wounds are raw? Will her story turn our listening ear?

Have we grace for the student tormented by bullies?  Can we love him in his hurt?

We trust fervently in a grace that transforms lives and long to speak words of healing, so we plead righteousness from the rooftops, issuing calls to grace, forgiveness, and unity. 

Our desire may be pure, and it all sounds so beautiful. What could possibly be wrong with us unabashedly championing grace?

Here's the harm: the way in which Christians talk about grace often preferences the powerful, privileges the sinner, and expects the sinned-against to get over it, already. 

We rarely put it in those words exactly, but what about these?
God wants you to forgive.
You just need to let go of your anger.
You're reacting emotionally.

Everyone is making too big a deal out of this.
Talking about this issue only perpetuates disunity.
We should save our energy for something that really matters.

These conversation killers look less like grace than legalism, dictating to hurting and marginalized people the "proper" way to react to a pain that we ourselves have not tried to understand.


We worship a God who makes all things new and raises the dead even now.

The love of Christ is no fuzzy sentiment. It encompasses the humility of the cross and the power of resurrection, and it resembles neither cheap grace nor false unity.

Grace comes alongside to listen. She sits with the stories of the wounded, offering presence and prayer over easy answers and presumptuous advice.

Without forcing deadlines, grace welcomes the difficult work of reconciliation. Jesus went to the cross and back for ours, and we'll wrestle together before we see it birthed among us. Grace is not the gospel of "Play nice!" but a light that guides us through conflict, together.

Privileged and powerful, weak and wounded. To transform one is to change us all, and grace looks like accountability and boundaries as much as forgiveness and reconciliation.

What might happen if we expected grace to change us first?

My heart. Not hers.

My sin. Not his.

My reaction. Not theirs.

Healing begins with us, in repentance and listening. In carrying one another’s burdens and laying down power and privilege on the altar of grace.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, 
    did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing, 
    taking the very nature of a servant, 
    being made in human likeness. 
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to death 
even death on a cross! 
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name, 
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, 
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, 
    to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Love serves and sacrifices. Grace surrenders advantage, levels hierarchy, and lifts the humble, not striving to fix or police pain from a comfortable distance but sitting together in its midst.

It is for freedom that Christ sets us free. Love resurrects the abused and abuser without favoring the wounder over the wounded.

Love always protects, and it binds up broken hearts first.

  • Do you think that privilege plays a role in who receives grace?
  • The Outrage Machine gets ugly fast. How can we navigate a way between opting out and throwing mud? How do you discern when to dig in and when to let it go?
  • Finish this sentence: "Grace looks like..." When have you experienced it?

those without a horse

Label, lie, vilify
simplify, Other. Brother,
"Can't we all just get along?"

Those without a horse
dismiss the race with record speed.
Whose stories have we snuffed with noble
cries to settle down?

Prophetic voices rise 
above the fray from muted margins;
shalom whispers the heat of conflict, too.

We practice resurrection: calm, storm, 
work and wonder. Rooted and built up and
building in love, we'll light a most excellent way.

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