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.
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