on getting it wrong

Ask me in ten years time what I was doing in 2011 and I’ll stream-of-consciousness you out of your socks! You’ll hear of the things I loved about that year: morning prayer and rhythms of life, poker at O’Neals Pub, sitting on the steps in summer, chick-fil-a, house meals and cooking together, riding the El train into Philly city center, games nights with housemates, walking to and from work, late summer nights on the block, playing dominoes in the street, a barbecue on the roof of our house, kids playing in the fire hydrant into the early evening, pretzels and ping-pong at Frankford hall, and potluck meals…You’ll hear stories: a homeless woman bathing in our kitchen sink, hiding a turkey in the oven while someone went through my trash, a 26 hour roadtrip to Minneapolis, sheltering under a kiddie pool in the pouring rain during school supplies, a Minnie and Mickey Mouse dance-off in the street, Christmas dinners, sitting in the emergency room at 2am with a neighbor, knife fights and water fights, celebrations and candlelit vigils for the unknown woman and the young father who were shot…You’ll hear the things that were sparked in husband-man and I during that year and hopefully you’ll see how some of those have come to fruition in our lives. You’ll hear the things we learnt. And hopefully, you’ll also hear the ways we got it horribly wrong and the things we regretted and the things we would have, could have and should have done better. But in case you don’t ask, here they are…

* Talking less and listening more – Looking back, we went in guns blazing, quickly identifying and speaking into the areas we felt could use improvement, the values we thought should be prioritized, and the mistakes we felt had been made. Some of those things may have needed speaking into, and certainly we were honored by the trust (and the grace) that was extended to us to change and adapt and put new systems in place and impact the direction life and work took. But in all honesty, we could have done a lot better if we had taken the time to live in and into the community before speaking into it.

* Avoiding spirals of negativity and gossip – That stuff is like yeast; it insidiously creeps in and grows and expands and thrusts itself into relationships and friendships and spaces of your life its not even related to. And all it takes is three simple conditions to thrive: 1. not addressing things quickly and conclusively with the person you have issue with, 2. spreading the issue to other folks by venting, telling stories, or “asking for advice” and 3. the receiving person saying “Yes….and….” Ah, if we could just stop things at that “YES…” cos it is Toxic. What it does is affirms the person’s experience and associated anger/frustration/disappointment/hurt and says “You are entitled” to feel like that. And then it adds fuel by sharing its own experience, fanning the flame of broken relationship. That “Yes” does not seek to reconcile – it seeks to justify, affirm negativity, identify with it, and widen the rift that exists. Looking back, I would have sought to address things quickly and directly, not shared it with other folks (outside of my safe person – husband-man), and when I heard negativity and gossip I would seek to say “Yes…and….” less.

* Connecting more diversely – Ah, this is the big one! Only toward the end of our time did we start to make connection with some of the absolutely incredible, inspiring, insightful, wise and honest leaders that had lived in the neighborhood and invested themselves fully into it for years! I believe that in any neighborhood there are phenomenal leaders already embedded whom we should seek out and learn from. For us, in a diverse neighborhood like Kensington, we should have been seeking out and sitting at the feet of, listening and drawing alongside the strong Hispanic and African-American voices and leadership all around us. This would have saved us MANY mistakes, misunderstandings, miscommunications, hurt, pain, frustration and puffed-up mentalities we, and others, experience when we don’t intentionally Stop, Collaborate and Listen.

We do not hang our heads in shame over these things, but we do recognize where we fell short. We do not get tripped up by regret, but we do repent. And we put in place strategies that help us do better next time.


On stories

These are not the answers. I’ve only been here a month. Inserted myself into someone else’s story. HIS and all those who came before me. All those who walked these streets. Slept in my room. Wrestled. Cried out. Toiled. Built relationships. Broke relationship. All those who sought to change and were changed and all those who somehow managed to bring change to others. I’ve inserted myself into a story that dates back 13 years. And further. Back to the days when this area was vibrant with factories, business’, jobs and families. A little further on to the “white exodus”: the years when factories closed, businesses relocated, jobs were cut off, and families drifted on and apart. I don’t understand this part of the story. I don’t even understand or grasp the part of the story that begins 13 years ago. I certainly don’t understand in its fullness the part I find myself immersed in now. So these are not the answers. Not after a month. As if a lifetime could give them.

No, these are the questions. My thoughts. My struggles, my dreams. My wrestlings and crying out. My toiling, my seeking and my changing. I tend to write romantically. I live practically. Immersed. The writing is the listening to Josh Garrels through my earphones. The living is the hearing fights and children and police sirens and drug dealers breaking through. Hear them both; they’re both important. I must live as though I am here. Present. I must dream as though I’m not. Future. I must understand as one who was. Past. And I must hope that Christ breaks in. On me. On this neighborhood. On our lives. Present-continuous.

This is the story. About liturgy in the morning with visitors and community and strangers. All of us with one thing in common: Jesus Christ. About evening prayer in the basement. Surrounded by clothes and food and tools and toys and stationary and ice-cream and prayers which span 13 years and beyond – deaths and lives and addictions and marches  and subversion and holy mischief and small acts of great love. It is about living intentionally in a community house with 4 other people. About frustrations and different interpretations of cleanliness and moods and personalities and strengths and weaknesses and how to share the bathroom in the morning and the washing machine in the afternoon and graciously accepting tofu. It is about intentionally living in geographic community in a neighborhood that is loud and many times angry. Where children and people in need and pilgrims knock on our door – seemingly unceasingly. It is about learning to live and most especially to live well amidst drugs and addictions and anger and hurt and seeming confusion. It is about boundaries. It is about realizing that we are not the only ones who bring good here and recognizing it in the lives of our neighbors and friends – not our social “projects”. It is about struggling with how best to relate to the drug dealers who sit on our step turning thousands of dollars of despair a night. It is about how to maintain a marriage amidst competing demands and other covenant commitments.

It is about making sure to place Jesus back into the center of the gospel of social justice every time I am tempted by my own pride and naivety to relegate Him to the back seat.

It is about going about our daily lives aware, intentional, full of grace and mercy and love. It is about not just going about.

“I read in a book that a man called Christ went about doing good.

It is very disconcerting to me that I am so easily satisfied with just going about.”

Toyohiko Kagawa