As I sit and wait to board my plane from Chicago to Seattle, I ponder this question from three perspectives. First, I’ve been living in Chicago since 1985 and my wife and I started living in the Humboldt Park neighborhood and working with a group of friends to start a nonprofit that would mobilize adults to come alongside youth as mentors. We were also involved in a local church that would begin to experience huge amounts of disruption as Jesus would get our attention on what He was doing in the neighborhood where the church building was/is located. I guess I was already headed into ‘growing’ the church more by disruption than numbers. My eyes and a few others eyes were focused on our own spiritual growth AND finding out what God was doing in the neighborhood. It’s surprising when you begin to listen to neighbors about what was most important to them. Eventually, we saw a rift between the youth and the adults where each looked at each other with suspicion. I thought, if there is a way to bring the two groups together we would be able to dispel the misconceptions and eventually work together to make the neighborhood a place where all could thrive! So I went to work putting all of organizing skills to work. I found out what made adults (read homeowners) angry enough to get off their couches (read butts) and into the streets to do something. I also found out what made the youth angry so that they would do something other than hang out on the street corner making a living. What I learned is that anger is a fleeting emotion and doesn’t create a space for people to come together to build relationships of trust. So a lot of effort went into trying to do this and a great lessen was learned.
Secondly, I thought that if my organizing were faith-based it would be tempered with the right perspective and attitude so I deepened my understanding of what it is to be ground my organizing in the bible and went back to work. The only thing was that my primary motivating speech was about tapping into the anger of all parties and using that to get people into the streets. Again, another lesson learned – anger will not sustain a transformational movement.
Thirdly, I gave up on organizing after seeing people burn out over and over again and thought there has to be something different to help create thriving communities where humanity flourishes. I stumbled on faith-rooted organizing and caught a glimpse of the possibility of integrating my faith and God’s word in the public square no matter where that square took me (us). I found prayer, reminding elected officials why they took office in the first place, casting vision for what’s possible in our communities to be an important tool and continue to use it in the work that we are doing in Chicago.
One more lesson I hope to unpack is this idea that Alex Roxburgh represents. He says, God is already out in front of us and it doesn’t matter if you are part of an institutional church or organic church. It’s not about starting something ‘new’. It’s about listening and seeing where God is working and going there with an attitude of a listener; being ‘the stranger’ and expecting to be surprised by God’s wonderful work that is already going on in the neighborhood.
I can’t wait to be in Seattle for #inhabitcon2016!