The Gospel, Race, and Reconciliation

America is a country with deep racial scars. For a long time, those scars were willingly self-inflicted and completely exposed; from slavery to Jim Crow, racism was rampant and embraced, not by all, but definitely many. The times changed, however, and this explicit racism became less explicit and more implied. It disappeared from our public discourse, except when we would assert that it had disappeared, and many claim we now find ourselves in a post-racial society. We’ve entered into a period defined by the now-infamous philosophy of “color-blindness,” the idea that racism and racial privilege no longer exist, and so one can simply ignore race as a factor in any decision. This, some believe, will lead to true equality.

For white Americans, this is the easiest view to have, and for a long time was what I myself saw as the truth. If we’re post-racial, then we in the power majority can continue with business-as-usual without having to get our hands dirty. I don’t have to exert any effort on behalf of my non-white brothers and sisters because they can achieve whatever they want on their own; I am free to be neutral. It is certainly enticing and would point to a society where everything would be just right.

But while racism may have become less overt, it remains difficult to completely silence the cries of the many who lament the oppression and discrimination inherent in the American system, the racism stitched into our collective DNA. Poverty, mass incarceration, single-parenthood, and many other national issues disproportionately affect non-white demographics. The public outcry and intense, far-reaching grief after events like the recent Trayvon Martin ruling or the aftermath of the Oscar Grant shooting serve as reminders that, despite the proclamation of post-racial America and color blindness, racism isn’t over.

In Spencer Perkins’ and Chris Rice’s book, More than Equals, a quote from Elie Wiesel opens a chapter entitled “White Blinders.” Wiesel writes, “Take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormenter, never the tormented” (70). America’s racial scars are still there, and though we attempted for many years to conceal them, though we sometimes currently try to remain neutral, we end up choosing the side of the oppressor. If remaining neutral and passive is itself an act of oppression, fighting that injustice requires action on our part; on my part. The question then becomes: “What is the proper way for an indirectly affected person to fight racial injustice? What can I do?”

Coming into this summer, I knew that race was going to be a main theme. In a lecture at UVa this spring, Soong-Chan Rah and Anthony Bradley planted seeds that I desperately wanted to water by entering into a predominantly black context and tackling this reality. The logical question, then, was “How do I, acknowledging my whiteness, participate in this context?” I am not directly affected by many of the issues that face the non-white folks in this community. Is there a way for me to engage them, and by extension those issues, without further contributing to the white, European power culture that exists today?

Perkins and Rice’s book focuses on reconciliation and it seems that for Christians that this is the direction in which we must move. Their approach starts with an understanding of the Gospel as reconciliation. In Genesis 3, humans broke away from God and left the Garden. In Genesis 4, one man breaks away from another when Cain kills Abel. From there on, the Bible deals with undoing those two events by pursuing humanity’s reconciliation with God and neighbor, culminating in Jesus and extending through Paul. Jesus reveals that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor; “all the Law and the prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22.40). Paul follows up by writing that God has given us the “ministry of reconciliation” after He reconciled us to Himself through Christ (2 Corinthians 5.18). Our goal, our life, is to reconcile.

This hope of reconciliation resonated with me as I read this book through the lens of my experience in Walltown. Perkins writes, “for it is only when we feel a friend’s pain by making ‘his’ problem ‘our’ problem that we will harness the necessary passion to act” (Perkins 36). Through this summer, I have made close friends. But I think the true friendship about which Perkins writes is not merely a person in whom we confide or with whom we go out to coffee; rather it is a friendship rooted in the desire to live life with one another, to actively engage another within community. To find that passion, to truly take on another’s pains, requires that deep, relational, intentional friendship.

I personally saw this in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin ruling. The counselor group for Urban Hope this year was about half white and half black. During a bible study, which came at a time when we had all become quite close, we were able to speak candidly about the ruling and its implications. I heard the stories and saw the emotions coming from those that are directly affected. I listened to firsthand accounts of similar experiences, experiences that I have never, and will never, fully encounter. But through the lens of someone who lives in that reality, and more importantly a good friend, I was able to understand so much more clearly the gravity of the ruling. The racial truths became undeniable as I could suddenly relate, on some level, to what my non-white brothers and sisters experience daily. Despite my greatest efforts I could not have achieved this alone. Only through a real friendship could I glimpse into that world to hear and feel the powerful lament, and while it is just the first step, understanding this pain, feeling this pain, is a step toward fulfilling the Gospel: reconciling the world to God and man to his neighbor.

Reconciliation is the act of bringing two groups together, to mend broken halves into a cohesive whole, and not only is it a key part of the Gospel, it’s a key part of any positive race relations in the United States. I chose to highlight just one aspect of reconciliation but it does not stop at feeling a friend’s pain; there is plenty more involved on this journey. Along the way, we must listen. We must ask what our non-white brothers and sisters want. We must build up indigenous leadership. We must help cultivate safe places. We must love. We must live life like Christ.

This summer has seen these themes repeated because racial reconciliation has influenced my entire summer experience. From Genesis on, humans have been working toward true reconciliation with God and neighbor, and here in Walltown, we’ve been working toward true reconciliation with our non-white friends. The path to reconciliation is long and hard but its fruits are sweet. I am glad to have played a part in the process.

Everyone together on the last day of Urban Hope

When Capitalism and Christianity Collide

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” Acts 4.32

Urban Hope is a business camp. It was born out of felt-needs community development, out of the conviction that in order to build up a community we must focus on their needs and desires, their strengths and not their weaknesses. It is focused on what the people of Walltown believe the focus should be, on their thoughts and dreams for this neighborhood, on Christianity and financial literacy. Urban Hope is a camp committed to teaching and practicing Christian ideals, another felt need and desire of the community in which it exists. It is a camp dedicated, among other things, to entrepreneurship, to equipping and empowering campers with the necessary skills and resources to navigate the sometimes-treacherous waters of capitalism and the free market economy that profoundly influences our lives as Americans.

We live in a society whose economic system has incredible wealth generating opportunity. Our brand of capitalism values and encourages virtues such as working hard, perseverance, and creativity, but also others such as greed, ambition and, at times, exploitation. Capitalism’s strength lies in generating wealth, but not distributing it. And, of course, it values private property, a phenomenon considered by many to be vital to the success of free market societies. While these things are not the only focus of Urban Hope, they inevitably enter into the conversation as economics are discussed.

Above I have quoted a verse from the book of Acts that has profoundly influenced the way that I have approached money, ownership, and capitalism. In this verse we find a description of some of the earliest followers of Christ, men and women we presume to have had possible direct contact with Jesus, or at the least only a few levels of separation from Christ and his original disciples and apostles. We see a radical Christianity, one that practices a vision of community that shares everything: thoughts, desires, passions, and possessions; all were of one mind, heart, and material. While I find the first two important, it is this last thing that has always struck me as the most profound, the one that is perhaps the most difficult to achieve.

When I first got to Urban Hope, I was a little confused. As I mentioned at the beginning, Urban Hope is a camp focused on business, committed to teaching our campers financial literacy and equipping them for success in a life inextricably bound to our economic system. I understood the concept of felt needs, and that financial literacy was a need of this community, yet I couldn’t silence the voice in my head that kept reminding me of that verse in Acts, and honestly many other verses in the Bible that appear to me to condemn many of the practices and attitudes found in capitalism. There seemed to be a tension: when a distinct, felt need does not line up perfectly with the practices of the Bible, how do we reconcile them? And another, perhaps more pertinent question is can I, as someone who has grown up in a context with extensive knowledge of the details of business, make a decision that this felt need should or should not be legitimately pursued? For a good portion of this summer, I felt this tension, and often during the economic development time I would feel a deep unease as I heard some of the values of capitalism being taught at a Christian camp.

I was able to talk to Jonathan and his wife Leah about this question, who have both previously worked at Urban Hope. They acknowledged that this tension does in fact exist and is something that they had both noticed. Yet despite recognizing this tension, both had been able to reconcile it with the themes of the Bible. Leah, at one point, offered up a pragmatic piece of wisdom: “Well, they’re going to learn about the economy from someone. Why not let it be us?”

The simple reality is that capitalism is inescapable; our campers, like Leah said, are going to learn about it from someone. They could learn from school, a setting that does not simultaneously emphasize the values of humility, love, community, and many more found in Christianity. Or they could learn about it in “alternative economies,” with black markets instead of free markets, in a setting wholly unsafe and disconnected from the dreams and desires of this community. Both of these situations result in our campers learning about the economy, yet both are outside of the context that results in the complete flourishing of our campers and, by extension, this neighborhood.

It became clear, through this conversation, that there is room for reconciliation and proper empowerment between the tension of two seemingly different ideas. On a personal level, this required an understanding of the incredible complexity of development and the various questions that I must ask myself when working in a community. First and foremost, I realized the deep need to acknowledge the realities of a given situation, rather than focusing on the theoretical; the youth of Walltown are going to learn about capitalism and its values from someone at some point in time. Through Urban Hope, we can focus on the good of capitalism as well as the good of Christianity, and walk with them to combine the two into a coherent worldview.

I think the further beauty of this approach is that it forces the cohesion of my religious beliefs and the actions that I take in a community. It is a frightening moment when we abstract our religious beliefs away from the context in which we find ourselves, and equally disconcerting to divorce our work from our beliefs and focus on the former. To fully engage, and enrich, a community, both our beliefs and the wants, needs, and desires of the people we are serving should influence each other. At Urban Hope this means economic instruction that focuses on the positive aspects of capitalism and its possible benefits, all taught through a Christian lens, one that recognizes the importance of humility, generosity, and love for our brothers and sisters.

This is the approach employed at Urban Hope and I am now able to see the felt needs of this community addressed and reconciled with our Christian ideals. The result is a camp committed to Walltown and committed to Christ, a camp that addresses true wants and needs of this community and stays true its beliefs. And I am glad to be a part of it.


‘We Have Done It Ourselves’

A few years ago I spent the summer working on a farm in Benin, West Africa. I lived with a missionary family who had been in Benin for nineteen years and at the time of my trip they were just about to leave, headed back to the states after a long time abroad. They were turning over their non-profit, their seminary, and their agricultural training center to the Beninese; nineteen years of work was being passed on to men and women with whom they had shared life their entire adult lives. I remember as I left, just days before they themselves were to leave the country, I was talking to Matt, the father of the family and executive director of the non-profit. He said that all along, this had been the plan. The project to which he had dedicated much of his life was never about him, he said. In order for his work to truly make an impact he had to step aside and let the Beninese take ownership of the organization, to be the ones in control. As long as he, an outsider, was in charge, it wasn’t fulfilling its purpose of equipping and empowering the Beninese. Now, a few years later, the project is still running, directed and maintained by Beninese, as it was intended from the beginning.

This story strikes me as quite similar to my experience this summer. While I am in no way implying that I have spent as much time or effort as Matt did in Benin, I do think that Matt’s experience can help inform the view of my work this summer. Here in Durham, I am an outsider. I see myself as an outsider in more ways than one, but most easily as a non-Durham resident. I traveled here from Virginia to work alongside organizations in a specific community, working to empower a specific group of people: Walltown. While I think it is important to fight hard against an “us” vs. “them” mentality, which I may potentially reinforce by calling myself an “outsider”, I think it is still crucial to understand my true position. At our roots, we are all humans, children of God; there can be no “us” or “them.” Yet recognizing that I am myself an outsider, someone who has come to this community from elsewhere, helps ensure that I do not harm the very people I am seeking to serve. I think this is critical to community development.

The question that guided me toward this belief is simply, “how should I interact with the community in order to ensure that my actions have positive consequences?” John Perkins and the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) answer with a Chinese Proverb and I believe it to contain strong words by which to work and live:

Go to the people
Live among them
Learn from them
Love them
Start with what they know
Build on what they have
The best leaders, when their work is finished
Their task is done
The people will need to say ‘we have done it ourselves’

It is the last line that I see as the most important, but also the most difficult to accomplish. What good is our work if we do everything for the very people that we are serving? As an outsider, my role in community development is not to implement, but to empower, to cultivate autonomy rather than dependency. Too often the temptation is to use our knowledge, resources, or power to accomplish tasks for the people we are serving. We look at solving a problem as the desired end and worry not about the specific means used to solve it. As long as the issue is resolved, we have done our work well, even if the “community” in which we are working played no part in achieving it. The danger here is that we end up doing the work for the people we are “helping,” creating a cycle dependency that in can in no circumstances be mistaken for “development.”

If we’re honest, many people practice this view, yet it should not be the approach of community development. What, then, should be? To employ a well-known cliché, community development, simplified, can be equated to teaching folks how to fish. Obviously the approach is more nuanced than this simple analogy, but a community is not developed if outsiders continually bring in loads of fish and merely drop them at the community’s feet. They may be well fed, but they are not developed. Community development is, to continue this analogy, working alongside the people to not only teach them how to fish, but also to work together towards buying a fishing pole, driving to the pond, and digging, together, through the dirt to find some worms. Never once, however, do we do anything for the people that they can do themselves, for that would only hurt the community.

I often wonder what this means for Christianity. For those interested in development, the Bible does not provide too many detailed approaches. There is no commandment that explicitly states how one should walk the fine line between helping too little and helping too much. Rather, biblical advice on aid seems broad and simple. In James, for example, the author writes, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes or daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2.15-16). Similarly, in Matthew 25, the righteous give water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, and clothes to the naked. One could, very easily, use these verses to justify an approach where we, as the provider, do everything for a passive and merely receptive “needy” person or group.

These verses provide a great opportunity for us Christians to truly examine the social consequences of our religious beliefs. To merely provide, without any degree of empowering, creates dependency; it should be avoided at all costs. Can we, as Christians, take these verses and further flesh them out them to better suit development? John Perkins, the CCDA, and many other Christians appear to think so. It seems to me that our responsibility as Christians, especially ones involved in development, is to first understand our purpose. If we are truly seeking to better communities, not by merely addressing surface level issues but by truly desiring for them to thrive, we must do what works. We must equip, and to achieve this we must move beyond away from provision and into development. We must work so that the people can truthfully say, “we did it ourselves.” Through this, I think, we are better displaying our love for these communities, which is, as far as I can tell, the heart of Christianity.

This approach to community development, while deeply necessary in broad circumstances, can be just as helpful in personal, daily interactions. At Urban Hope we focus on business and entrepreneurship. Twice a week my group, made up of fifth and sixth graders, has “economic development,” a time when they learn about various aspects of business and the economy, often with the help of a School House Rock video. Recently they learned about savings and interest, a concept that they can practice with the “Bull City Bank,” a camp bank only for them. Each camper has a job, and each job has a salary. If they do their jobs, they get paid and can deposit and save money in the bank. On Thursdays the campers calculate interest and decide if they want to withdraw or continue to save; the choice is theirs.

Some of our young, aspiring entrepreneurs.

This week, as Thursday rolled around, the time came to calculate the interest earned. Since the campers had just learned how to do this, we decided to let them practice calculating their own interest. Interest is confusing enough to me, but for a fifth grader, it’s beyond tough. As we were sitting around watching them work, the campers would come up exasperated and, dropping their pen and paper in my lap, ask me to do the math for them. As I sat there, I realized how easy it would be to pull out my phone and quickly calculate their 20% interest. We could finish early, the campers would happily have their money, and I wouldn’t have to struggle through teaching them about decimals. But the last line of that proverb crossed my mind, and I imagined the campers crunching the numbers on their own and exclaiming, “we have done it ourselves!” I decided to work with them, not for them, to calculate their interest and after a while we finished. The campers successfully tallied their earnings by themselves and took away at least a slightly broader understanding of how things work in the business world.

I understand that this is a small example of the important approach outlined in the proverb and practiced by many in development, but I believe it points to something bigger. As Christians, we must be mindful of our work. When we go to a community, when we love them, when we learn from them, only then we can hope to help build them up. Yet we must not build them up upon ourselves, for as soon as we leave the foundation disappears, the people come crashing back down to where they were. Rather we must work together to build upon a solid foundation, one that does not disappear, so that when they stand upright and smiling, they are perched upon their own handiwork. When they look back over everything that they’ve accomplished, they can say to everyone who asks, “we have done it ourselves.”

Safe Places

For a long time, I have believed deeply that the church must be a model of diversity, of a group transcendent of society’s established race lines. Any church or group that appealed to one ethnic group prevented the church from becoming a truly diverse “melting pot” of an institution. Thus, ethnically homogeneous churches and institutions, regardless of the ethnicity, hindered Christianity.

Soong-Chan Rah, who offered a lecture at UVa last semester, on “Race and the Gospel,”  sees the role of ethnic-specific religious groups—churches, campus ministries, etc., differently, and his comments proceeded to completely break down my approach. He said that sometimes non-white people in the United States need a place where they aren’t in the minority, a place to recharge after a life filled with face-to-face experience with their “otherness.” If I were confronted six days a week with my status as a minority, must I also, on Sunday, enter into a culturally different, and possibly uncomfortable, atmosphere in the name of diversity? That was the consequence of my view before hearing Rah speak. The worshipping community, however, should be a place where I can simply be myself, fully at ease with my religion and those around me. What Rah was appealing for was a safe place for my non-white brothers and sisters, a context in which they can be themselves.

Urban Hope recognizes this reality and seeks to establish a safe place. The second half of Urban Hope’s mission statement is that we are “creating safe places in our neighborhood to grow together into wholeness.” This idea of a safe place is, I believe, vital to the success of any organization or program that deals with community development. In a work rooted in relationships, people need an opportunity to flourish, and to do this they need a context in which they are comfortable and safe.

We can imagine the effects of the opposite context, one in which we don’t feel safe. All of us have experienced a time of discomfort, a time when we did not feel particularly at ease, whether it was caused by the physical atmosphere or the people around us. Few, I think, would say that they were themselves; we put our guards up and steel ourselves so that we hopefully escape the situation unaffected, or at least not as affected as if we were completely open. This is the human condition, rooted in self-preservation, and it would be wrong of us to expect anything different. The safe place, then, offers that context needed for people to be at ease, opening the doors for the building and maintaining of genuine relationships. Only through this can we hope to affect change.

A “safe place” can mean multiple things, as I believe it does in the Urban Hope mission statement. Perhaps most importantly we want to provide a place that is physically safe for our campers. While I do not wish to overpaint Walltown as a relentlessly violent neighborhood, violent action does sometimes spill onto its streets. Last week I had a conversation with a camper where she informed me of a shooting that had happened earlier that day, not two short blocks from my house. She was not indifferent in her telling but neither did her tone suggest that such shootings were complete anomalies in the neighborhood. This is not the only reality of Walltown, but we must acknowledge that it does exist, and at Urban Hope we seek to provide a place of refuge in which the campers can feel safe from harm.

In addition to physical safety, a safe place must be one of personal, emotional comfort. The implications of Rah’s stance on this issue speak directly to my work here at Urban Hope. If we are seeking to establish a safe place, does my presence as a white male in a predominantly black context hinder this? Can the kids truly feel at ease as long as I am here, given that I come from the majority group? Every part of me wants to say yes, and ultimately I think it is possible, but those implications are not easily dismissed. How, then, can I make certain that my presence does not prevent the development of a safe place at Urban Hope? What steps can I myself take to ensure that these kids can grow despite the challenge that a diverse atmosphere presents?

Luckily there are many people here in Walltown who have successfully navigated this tension and cultivated safe places while simultaneously adding to the diversity of the community. Through listening to and observing these people, it has become apparent that a main step toward maintaining a safe environment is to submit. Coming into Urban Hope my first actions must be to let myself grow into the existing culture in order to preserve its “safe” status. Rather than assume that I have the answers or the means to achieve a certain end, I must instead, with as much humility and grace as possible, actively seek to allow this culture, and by extension the comfort of those who live here, to flourish. This is one possible way to create a safe place.

But is an ethnically homogeneous group the only type of safe place? If so, this would present a bleak future for reconciliation, a process that aims to bring two groups to each other, rather than merely forcing one onto the other. I think Soong-Chan Rah has great wisdom here but there must also be a way to cultivate an ethnically diverse safe place. Through this question we return, I think, to Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis, the two people responsible for integrating Durham Public Schools. Both sides ultimately learned that the key was to listen and through that attentive practice groups could be brought together for a common good. And like Ann Atwater taught, once we’ve helped our brothers and sisters get halfway to what they want, we tell them our needs, and then we work together to achieve it.

I think the second scenario fits more closely with Urban Hope and it is the one that guides my actions here. There is a richness, and utility, in diversity as we understand that everyone has something to contribute. But we must acknowledge the importance of letting flourish the other cultures and practices of the groups with whom we work and, at least in my situation, ensure their safety. It’s definitely a process, and it may take time, but the result, an ethnically diverse safe place where we can “grow together into wholeness,” is well worth it.

Hope on a nature hike at the Eno!

The Wisdom of Retreat

This past week has been one of well-timed, welcomed rest as I find myself exactly halfway between the beginning and the end, both with Urban Hope and with the Project on Lived Theology. So far, there have been plenty of things to reflect on; I carry a journal that is literally full of my various thoughts and have an entire Word document dedicated to quotes and ideas I’ve encountered so far on this journey. There is no shortage of material, both simple and profound, to sift through and let it softly inform my life as I move forward.

Luckily for me, last week Urban Hope had an overnight retreat, a structured, intentional period of reflection for both campers and counselors. We drove about twenty minutes outside of Durham to Camp New Hope, a camp in the woods with cabins and plenty of outdoor space to get away. For many of our campers, our air-conditioned cabins were rustic to the point of fascination; we might as well have been in the Amazon. It was a fun week filled with games, swimming, “campfire” devotions (it rained the whole time, so our campfire was a flashlight and we cooked s’mores on the stove), and plenty of time to talk with and get to know the campers on a deeper level.

It was perfect to change from the normal context of my interaction with the campers, one far different from the “remote” woods, and to see how at Camp New Hope many of the walls came down and the kids opened up. I felt a strong shift with many of the kids and am excited to see where our mutual experience at New Hope takes us. After two nights, the kids went back to Walltown and the counselors stayed on for an extra day for our own retreat.

Urban Hope 2013 Counselors and Staff at Camp New Hope

As I stood in the quiet stillness of Camp New Hope immediately following our campers’ departure one word floated around in my mind: retreat–the act of retreating from the constant motion of life, at least for a little while. Dorothy Day’s published diary, Duty of Delight, is filled with moments of retreat when Dorothy would leave her hectic NYC life for a quieter stay on a Catholic Worker farm or some other calm, isolated place. Rather than mere relaxation, Dorothy saw her retreats as spiritual experiences where she was able to connect with God away from the distractions of her everyday life. No doubt it was relaxing, and no doubt it quieted her soul, but the main goal was to reflect. The main goal was to get away and connect with God so that she could look back on her actions, everything she had done, and let her reflection inform her future action.

The retreat this past week had me thinking not just of the utility of retreat, but its wisdom. If we look at retreat as merely a useful tool, we might only stumble across it when it is convenient rather than actively pursue its presence in our lives. Sitting at Camp New Hope, and reading of Dorothy’s retreats, encouraged me to view retreat as that latter possibility, as something that I should fight to incorporate into my life in order to carve out a place where I can sit back and reflect. As I am sure many can confirm, reflection is often difficult in the moment. When countless things are grabbing for your attention, how can any be expected to take a moment and analyze just exactly what is unfolding around them? Retreat is one possible answer; scheduled time away from the very things you are seeking to break down and question. It also doesn’t hurt that retreats can often be a place of pure relaxation… Whatever makes the reflection easier!

Camp New Hope offered me this place of relaxation and retreat, and reflection came easily. For the most part, however, my reflection came in the form of questions, many of which were inspired by the book that I am currently reading: The Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism. To be completely honest, many of these questions are difficult to ask, especially in a society that seeks to quell any attempts to open many of Pandora’s boxes found in our nation’s history and their current implications. In the moment, living within the context that often begs these questions, there still somehow exists the temptation to remain quiet rather than open up and ask them. On this retreat, however, I was able to gather my thoughts without the fear of offending anyone or stepping on toes and point myself in the right direction, towards actually addressing these hard questions in the coming days and weeks.

This time of retreat was truly invaluable. Life slowed down to a point where time’s purpose seemed to be to help me through these questions, and perhaps just as importantly, to quiet my soul. Retreat, at least in this circumstance, provided me with the opportunity to refill my tank and ready myself for the rest of the summer. This state of reflection and relaxation, so present in retreat, strikes me now as the wise thing to do in a life consisting of constant motion. I am certainly ready and excited to get back to doing what I set out to do at the beginning of Urban Hope: be an active and engaging presence and influence in the lives of my campers.


Listening to: “What Do You Want?”

Part of my work with the Project on Lived Theology, includes meeting with my mentor Jonathan on a weekly basis to discuss the readings that we have been going through together. For the past two weeks we have been reading the “biography” of a Civil Rights group, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), called Many Minds, One Heart. My past few blogs have seen the recurrence of a few key actors in the movement, most notably Ella Baker, who have not only challenged my perception of the Civil Rights Movement by changing the focus to ordinary individuals but have also challenged me on a personal level, specifically with how I relate to people. At the heart of this movement was a desire to build relationships founded on listening, and only through that attentive practice could one successfully discern the actions to take in a given community.

The driving force behind Miss Ella Baker’s tactics was its relational nature. By listening to people, one can better understand their wants, needs, and desires, and then act accordingly. Ann Atwater, the woman largely responsible for integrating Durham Public Schools, performed this practice this by asking people “What do you want?” She said that this was the key to developing communities. After asking what someone wants, she would teach, we must work with them toward that goal until we’re halfway there, and then tell them what we want. This process is one of involvement, one of achieving goals by creating relationships with true “wants” at their heart.

This process is what helped Ann Atwater work with C.P. Ellis, an American segregationist and Exalted Cyclops of the Durham Ku Klux Klan, to successfully integrate Durham Schools. After discussing what they wanted and listening to each other, this militant black activist and militant white segregationist realized that they both desired the best schooling for their children and that in order to accomplish this Durham schools had to be integrated. At the end of the ten-day integration session, C.P. Ellis stood in the front of the room. He held up his Klan membership card and said to everyone there, “If schools are going to be better by me tearing up this card, I shall do so.” And so he did. Ellis renounced the Klan that night and never returned. Other Klansmen threatened his life and never talked to him again for the next 30 years.Thus began integration, and more specifically, a genuine, lasting friendship between the two unlikeliest people in Durham, all through listening to the wants of others.

Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis work alongside each other to integrate Durham schools

Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis work alongside each other to integrate Durham schools

Last Friday Jonathan challenged me to do just this at Urban Hope. There is the distinct possibility, he noted, that I could go all through Urban Hope and have an intensely positive experience, one filled with personal reflection, realizations, and growth. I could live life with these kids throughout this entire summer and let it inform and influence the actions that I take when I return to the Charlottesville community. Perhaps even more than that, my experience at Urban Hope could profoundly shape the rest of my life, causing me to branch out beyond what I had previously intended and create a more intense involvement with urban youth, wherever I may end up. All of these things are great, he said, and would indicate a very rewarding summer experience. But suspended in the air between his sentences I felt the implication of all those scenarios: none of those mean much to the kids at Urban Hope beyond this summer.

The question Jonathan wanted me to ask myself was this: what would it look like to treat these kids as Miss Baker treated folks, or how Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis treated each other? How could I find out what these kids want and embark on a journey of fulfilling that desire in their lives? What is it that I can do now, here in Durham, to build up the Walltown community by translating the desires of its youth into concrete action?

“What do you want?” is a difficult question for any adult to answer truthfully, so how much more challenging would it be for a child if asked? Jonathan encouraged me to find alternative ways of posing this question, of searching out its answer in the lives of my campers. What makes them happy? What makes them angry? To which “wants” do their everyday actions point?
I have only been thinking about these questions for a couple days but a few answers immediately came to my attention. Most obvious to me was that the actions of these kids point to what seems like a deep desire for affirmation, to be told that they matter. Perhaps every child feels this way, and I’m sure to some degree they do, but this desire seems so real here in Walltown. I don’t want to generalize the lives and realities of the folks in this community but I am sure that at least some of these kids come from incredibly difficult families where they compete with so many things for the loving attention of their parent(s), grandmother, or foster parent.

I’ve tried to put myself in their parent’s shoes. I imagine a life, for example, in which I was financially unable to receive a college education and now work multiple jobs to provide for my children. In this life I face daily the realities of a difficult neighborhood and must somehow deal with the stresses and burdens that come with it. My financial situation precludes many amenities that make life easier for me and my family, like health care, legal services, or good education. And on top of all these things I must also provide love and attention to my kids… It seems difficult to accomplish theoretically, and I’ve seen with my own eyes that it is difficult to accomplish for many in Walltown. When questions of survival are on the table, “quality” time with children may seem an unaffordable luxury.

Where, then, do I come in? If what these kids want is to be affirmed, to be shown that they do in fact matter, then this is something that I, as someone who interacts with them daily, can do. One theme throughout camp that we’ve been revisiting with the kids is that as Christians we can understand our beautiful identity as children of God, made in His image. Addressing their wants, however, requires me to see that truth as well, and to love them accordingly. While seemingly simple, I am beginning to understand that this is a part of my time here that I cannot ignore or push to the side; it must be at the forefront of every interaction that I have with the campers. My role extends past a camp counselor merely here to maintain the peace and begins to break into the realm of mentor and friend, a role that can better contribute to the Walltown community. In this role I hope to discover more and more “wants” of Walltown and to continue working with Urban Hope to see them addressed.

The Great Potential of Youth

My second week of Urban Hope is almost halfway through and my eyes have already been opened to the deep potential displayed by the campers that I work with. I just came from Duke Divinity School where two four-person teams of 6th and 7th graders fed close to 80 guests at the Duke Youth Academy (DYA). Each team was tasked with creating its own theme, planning its menu (with vegetarian and vegan options), and decorating their tables. They prepared the meals days in advance following strict restaurant health regulations and procedures. The day of the event the two teams served the DYA students, filling every role that one would find in a restaurant: hostess, waiter, chef, and many more. The dinner was a huge success, both with our campers and our patrons, and everyone was ecstatic to have succeeded so well.

The intense effort given by these kids toward this particular entrepreneurial challenge was both humbling and inspiring for me on a theoretical and personal level. While we don’t live in a society that fully dismisses the power of the youth, adults seem to be favored as the more important and impacting age group in society. Whether its intelligence, maturity, or wisdom, the youth never seem to have enough of it.

Bull City LeadersThis is, in fact, something that I personally have often been thinking about as I move closer to graduation and am asked again and again that inevitable question: “So what are going to do after college?” Most of the talk about my generation’s career options paints a dismal picture of what the future holds. The hope of obtaining a good start up job, according to many, has faded into a mess of unpaid internships, expensive and unnecessary graduate schools, and other scenarios where we are said to be much worse off than those who have come before. These conversations, whether one actually believes them or not, have the potential to undermine the self-efficacy of people my age. After hearing and seeing this perceived reality of our futures we begin to doubt the impact that we could have on the world as young people and instead see our role in society as latching on to preexisting organizations and institutions in order to affect the change that we wish to see in this world… Or at least that is how I sometimes feel.

Catching me in this thought process, Urban Hope has served to shake things up. Seeing these campers, coming from a community with a perceived reality far bleaker than mine, take on and succeed in challenges that I would struggle with has really been a huge inspiration. Although at times it was difficult to motivate these campers, as most of the counselors can verify, in the end was a product so exceptional that most of the DYA people, and the Urban Hope staff, were baffled. The meal was incredible, the atmosphere was incredible, and the service, all done by the Urban Hope campers, was incredible. I saw in that challenge the astonishing potential for young folks to rise above their circumstance and demonstrate the extent to which they really are beating the odds.

Urban Hope is not, however, the only testament here to the great potential found in many youth and people my age. Jonathan and Leah Wilson-Hartgrove, founders of the intentional community and hospitality home where I was living, came to Walltown immediately after graduating from college and started the Rutba House and School For Conversion, two huge influences in the community today. This was also months after they had gone on a peacekeeping mission, as 22 year olds, to Iraq during the Shock and Awe bombing campaign of 2003. Rather than assimilate into an existing group or organization, or even pursue the usual post-college course, Jonathan and Leah, at my age, came into Durham and have had a profound impact in the ten years since.

Another example has been my reading for this week, Many Minds, One Heart by Wesley Hogan. This book traces the history of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Commission (SNCC), an extremely influential Civil Rights group comprised mostly of college students. These young folks, again all around my age, who like Jonathan and Leah decided to pave their own road toward future goals, organized sit-ins, voter registration movements, and many other direct action campaigns in the face of complete and utter hopelessness. The odds, like the odds in Walltown, were stacked against them; too many forces didn’t want to see their success. Yet despite this, these students persevered and ended up changing the face of the Civil Rights Movement. Change really was possible.

Witnessing this hope reassures me of the good works that can be accomplished simply by doing them. Shane Claiborne, an author and new monastic (or, “ordinary radical,” as he would call himself), has a great line in one of his books: “Most good things in life have been said far too many times and just need to be lived.” For me, a guy who likes to say things a lot, it is inspiring to see people just doing things. Great things, for that matter.

Breaking Bread Together

This past week has been one of transition. My work with Jonathan and School for Conversion officially ended and orientation for Urban Hope, the summer camp where I’ll be working for the rest of my time here, officially began. The days were long and the sessions intense, yet much joy was had with the other counselors and staff as we prepared the camp for the coming weeks. I cannot help but enter into a state of constant reflection as my summer slowly shifts gears and the next chapter of my work in Walltown begins.

Urban Hope is a summer camp for 5th-8th graders, mostly from Walltown, that takes place in a former church building down the road from where I live. The camp caters toward the youth of Walltown, striving to build upon the already strong sense of community felt by everyone in this neighborhood. The main goal of the camp can be summed up in it’s mission statement: “Urban Hope is raising up generations of young heroes—who are beating the odds by the grace of God—through creating safe places in our neighborhood to grow together into wholeness.” Urban Hope focuses specifically on business, structuring much of its teaching and activities around entrepreneurship. The campers take classes on financial literacy and participate in various challenges throughout the summer that teach them the basics of entrepreneurship, a skill-set that can make an incredible difference in their lives. To provide an example, one current counselor, a former camper, is now receiving his Masters degree in Business Education. This camp is a strong influence on the neighborhood.

Urban HopeAs I move into this phase, a few specific thoughts are on my mind. I keep returning to the epilogue of The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day’s autobiography. I have been reading Dorothy’s diaries throughout this summer and have come across a theme to which she often returns: the breaking of bread. In the epilogue of The Long Loneliness, Day provides us with a good idea of what she seems to mean: “We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know Him in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore.”

Dorothy believes that in order to fully know someone, whether God or a neighbor, we must break bread with them. Through this knowledge we are able to love, and through this love we move towards a greater companionship, a glimpse of that Kingdom that we pray comes every time we recite the Lord’s Prayer. By participating in a practice passed down from Jesus we are able to come together and, in the words of the Urban Hope mission statement, “grow together into wholeness.”

The actual practice of this tradition is, at least to me, somewhat ambiguous, and honestly I think that adds to its beauty. As I reflect on what breaking bread with someone could entail, I see two distinct possibilities: the sacramental practice of breaking bread, literally, like at the Last Supper, and also the broader practice of simply eating with others. The latter possibility is one that I have seen often so far during my time in intentional community. The Rutba House has family meals four times a week and all the members say repeatedly that it is one of the most crucial aspects of living life with others. Relationships are built upon and people are loved through these meals, as all the members of the community are able to come together around one table.

Jonathan planted another idea in my mind that I have been contemplating. He pointed out that during lectures and other formal conversations, there is always one person in a position of authority that dictates the flow and pace of the topics discussed, whether that’s a teacher, moderator, or organizer. At meals, however, we see a much different picture, one of equality. All humans have to eat; there is no way to sidestep that central human need. In shared meals it becomes impossible for anyone to elevate himself or herself above another human, as we are participating in a need of our common humanity. Furthermore, as anyone who has experienced a large family dinner can confirm, virtually everyone has the same opportunity to speak and engage the others in dialogue. It’s very hard to steal the floor as we all take inevitable pauses to sustain ourselves between our sentences. It is this leveling of relationships that I desire to see at Urban Hope, and it seems that breaking bread with the campers and counselors could help it be realized.

There is also beauty in the sacramental practice, however. In Jesus’ time, the breaking of bread seemed to have an incredible unifying effect. At the Last Supper we see a diverse group of men sitting together and participating in one of the earliest expressions of Christian community. Simon, a zealot, and Matthew, a tax collector, two very different disciples, were able to come together and truly know each other, and Jesus, in the breaking of bread. If one were to modernize that relationship, it could be an IRS agent and someone on the NSA watch list sharing in community; it seems highly unlikely it would happen. Yet something bound them together and breaking bread was the outward expression of that deeper connection.

It is this sort of community that I want to help foster at Urban Hope. Regardless of whether or not I get to physically break bread with these kids, I want to find a way to bring about its effects. I want to find a way to approach people who have completely different histories than me and ultimately know them well so that I can better love and serve them. As an outsider to Walltown, and more specifically these kids’ lives, I feel that getting to know the campers is perhaps the greatest task of this summer, and the positive nature of my role in their lives depends on it. It is this realization that pushes me to want to break bread daily with these kids throughout the summer and find a way to take part in the community into which I have entered.

The next sentence in Dorothy’s epilogue, following the one above, puts into words what we work towards by breaking bread as a community and what I want to see realized in my own time at Urban Hope. “Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.” I want to take that crust and see Urban Hope become that banquet, a place of celebration for the incredible work being done here in this neighborhood. I want to see that joy daily as I eat breakfast, lunch, and often dinner with these kids and the other counselors. And even more, I want to see the literal breaking of bread bring folks to the table that maybe wouldn’t have sat together before Jesus came and gave us the gift of unity in Him. And if breaking bread can do all of this, then let the bread breaking begin.

photo credit:

Strolling in Walltown…

“Strolling in Harlem does not mean merely walking along Lenox or upper 7th Avenue or 135th St; it means that those streets are places for socializing. One puts on one’s best clothes and fares forth to pass the time pleasantly with…the strangers he is sure of meeting.” Ella Baker, Freedom Bound, p. 28

For the past week, Jonathan (my mentor and a member of the Rutba House) and I have been reading, Freedom Bound, the biography of Ella Baker. Miss Baker was one of the most important figures in the Civil Rights Movement, and perhaps someone you’ve never heard of. She was not a well-known personality of the movement, like MLK or Malcolm X, but rather a behind-the-scenes organizer who played a crucial role in bringing together and sustaining groups like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Something that both Jonathan and I noticed about Ella, alluded to in the opening quote, was her ability to engage and relate to people. Early on in her life, Ella took to roaming the streets in order to spark conversations with anyone and everyone she ran into, an exercise that carried on throughout her entire life. She would often walk up to a complete stranger, shouting “Hello Brother!” as she got to know people’s stories and learn from them, from their lives and experiences. It seemed it was this quality that people found most striking in Ella’s life: that she was always willing to listen. There was not person in whom she was not interested. As I read her biography, I wanted more and more to be able to engage people in this way. I was inspired.

As this morning’s work wrapped up, Jonathan looked at me with a slight grin on his face and said, “You know what? This afternoon I want you to read about Ella for a few hours, and in light of her favorite past-time, spend awhile walking around the neighborhood and meeting folks.” I no doubt had a look of uncertainty on my face as it sunk in what exactly he wanted me to do. “Go down Onslow Street a few blocks,” he continued. “There are some guys that usually hang around the corner down there. If you let them know you’re with the Rutba House, they shouldn’t try to sell you drugs.” And then he went on his way, leaving me to figure out the specifics of the task at hand.

I went home to read Ella’s biography, trying to give myself time to develop some sort of strategy or method for strolling Walltown. I brainstormed the best way to approach strangers, the best tactic for starting the conversations, the topics that would keep someone roped in; I planned in advance every aspect of these conversations so I wouldn’t be caught off guard by some act of spontaneity. As I sat there I began to realize, perhaps incorrectly, that there seemed to be very few ways for me to open up a genuine conversation with people that extended past the usual formalities. What is there to say beyond, “Hey, how you doing?” or “Nice day, huh?” I could not, despite trying, come up with a good means of going about this “strolling” and engaging people in meaningful conversation.

As the afternoon slowly faded to evening, however, I knew that I just needed to go out and do it. I left my house and started for that corner that Jonathan mentioned. The first block passed, and no one was out. The second block passed, and still no one was around. By the end of the third block, I started to wonder if anyone was out in Walltown. But then, as I rounded the last corner, I heard a loud, “HEY!” and saw a man cut a path straight for me. As he got closer, I realized that I knew this man; I had met him a few weeks back with Jonathan not two blocks from where I was standing. As he strutted up, I noticed he was carrying three things: a cane, a bag of hot dog buns, and a huge grin. He shook my hand vigorously as I reintroduced myself, realizing he didn’t remember me.

His name is Doc, I relearn, and he lives a few streets outside of Walltown but considers this place his stomping ground. Doc and I talk about random, surface-level things for a few minutes before he abruptly stops and looks me in the eyes. “Elvis,” as he has taken to calling me, “can you go to the gas station and buy me a beer?” When I reply no, he changes his request. “What about a pack of cigarettes?” When I say no again, he doesn’t have a response, so I make an offer: “How about we go get a pack of chips.” Doc gets that smile on his face again, says ok, and just like that, we’ve moved past the domain of salutations, at least slightly.

For the next forty-five minutes, Doc walks me all over Walltown, introducing me to anyone and everyone we pass; he seems to know them all. I meet Mole, Frank, Mr. Scott, and many more, each greeted with the loud, piercing “HEEYY,” and each farewell an equally loud “GOD BLESS.” As I walk with Doc from house to house, duplex to duplex, meeting every person in sight, I slowly begin to realize that setting out, I was attempting to be Ella Baker. But as we stroll, it sinks in that a man who has likely never heard of Miss Baker’s methods is truly schooling me in her ways. It is both a humbling and inspiring experience as I realize that this summer’s education will not just come from books but from the men and women with whom I interact daily.

On the front porch of the Rutba House hangs a wooden sign with Jesus’ words from Matthew 25.35: “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” For the folks at the Rutba House, their role is that of the “welcomer”: the one who sees the stranger and invites them in. I became aware through my walk with Doc, however, that here in Walltown I am the stranger and have been graciously welcomed in by so many of people. Doc had no reason, after we snacked on those chips, to introduce me to everyone he saw. And even further, those people had no reason to engage me as I stood awkwardly on their porches and in their doorways, trying to keep the conversation alive.Walltown Porch

The heart of Matthew 25 is that we find Jesus in the people we least expect: the hungry, the prisoners, and strangers. When I first read these verses I saw them as a way of encouraging Christians to take direct action in the lives of the disenfranchised, as I outlined in my first post. We are called to care for them as we would care for Jesus. But this past week has shown me even more about what it really means for the “least of these” to be the Jesus of our society. Jesus walked around teaching, healing, and loving. He offered salvation to those that would follow, to those that answered his call. To really see people as Jesus, then, is not only care for their needs, but it also to place oneself, myself, at their feet, ready to serve and learn from them.

The disciples gave up everything they had to follow a guy they barely knew and experience things wildly outside the scope of their previous lives. I realized that as Doc walked up to me, yelling “HEY,” I was like the apostle Peter being told to drop everything and follow. I had to drop my worldview, my biases, my hierarchical relationship with those society casts out, and follow as Doc taught me more about what it means to be a Christian than any book or commentary. The relationship shifted from one of giving to one of receiving and only through that change was the meaning of Matthew 25 able to come to life. No longer is my role simply to provide, to feed and clothe, but it is also to learn; to understand that our humanity, our salvation, both Doc’s and mine, is inextricably bound.

I can’t think of a way of learning this outside of strolling with Doc. Jesus was a peripatetic teacher, walking from place to place instructing his followers; it seems fitting then, to learn much about what it means to treat others as Jesus by strolling through Walltown with Doc. I also can’t help but hope for the introductory conversations with many of the folks of Walltown to turn into deeper friendships. And it seems to me that that’s also how Miss Ella Baker would have wanted it.

Forward Together

Last Monday, I stood on the third floor gallery of the North Carolina State Legislative Building and watched as 57 of my brothers and sisters were arrested by North Carolina General Assembly Police on the floor below for an act of civil disobedience. As I watched from above, the folks down below sang hymns, prayed, and some even cracked a joke or a smile with the police beside them as the officers zip-tied their hands and led them out of the building, including one guy that I live with. No violence, no hate, no anger; just joy and a deep conviction that something had to change.

Before I dive into my reflection on this event, some background information might help to frame this conversation. In the last statewide election the Republican Party won majorities in the North Carolina House of Representatives and the Senate, and as well as the Governor’s office. Since then the legislature has been proposing numerous bills that many religious folks see as fundamentally opposed to the calling and commands of Jesus Christ.  Over the past four weeks, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP has been gathering many people spanning race, age, political leanings, and even religion to protest laws that directly harm the well being of the marginalized in our society. The movement, called “Moral Mondays” is gaining attention and strength and is at its core a statement of strong faith in a time of uncertainty–socially and politically. And as far as I can tell, Christ is at the center.

For a few years now I have been reading and talking extensively about justice, mercy, compassion, love—many words found at the heart of this movement. Yet often those ideals never quite broke into my daily routine, into the actions that fill my life. I felt, and quite honestly still feel, tension between two (for lack of a better word) types of Christianity. I grew up without much cause to interact with the poor of this world, blissfully unaware of Jesus’ calling to protect them. But even when that command became clear, its importance understood, I still found an incredible barrier, self-made, between my community and Jesus’ community; the two didn’t match. Personally it seemed that regardless of how much I wanted to take a part in the vision of the gospel, I couldn’t escape my upper class, economically homogenous bubble and do anything meaningful in the lives of my marginalized brothers and sisters. Stuck, I ended up not doing much at all. This paralysis seemed here to stay.

Stepping into Durham and the Rutba House, the intentional community where I have been living (for more on the Rutba House, the School for Conversion, or new monasticism, see, I suddenly witnessed a community that matched so much more closely my understanding of the lifestyle articulated by Jesus. Here are people that actually live their lives for others, people that take the endless theories and make them a reality right here in Durham. I have witnessed firsthand a Christianity that rests on Jesus—his actions, words, and commands—and it has been wonderful. The self-made barriers between the rich and the poor, the ones in my life, seem to have no place here; everyone is a child of God, born in His image. And it is the recognition of Imago Dei, present in us all, that pushes us toward taking direct action in the lives of the poor, sick, and oppressed.

“For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Matthew 25.35-36

What sticks out to me in this passage is that we see the righteous (the people to whom Jesus was speaking) take direct action to address to needs of others. This action wasn’t “start a prayer group” or “have an altar call;” it was feeding, inviting in, clothing, tending to the sick, and visiting prisoners. They were actions that address immediate needs, resulting in immediate, tangible results. They were actions especially relevant to people like myself, those of us that have much to give, reminding us of another saying of Jesus: “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10.8). They were actions supporting the least of our society, much like the action taken by those 57 people arrested last Monday

I can hear, and have heard, the questioning response to arrest as a means of social change: “We agree with your sentiments, but there are less extreme ways to make your case,” or “Couldn’t you just talk with the legislators instead of breaking the law?” I have heard these questions and often asked them myself because I too look at this complex situation and wonder what about the role of Christians. When we have prima facie obligations to both the law and the poor, what happens when they conflict? Which one is more important? While I don’t presume to have a monopoly on the answers to these questions, I do think a Christian argument can be made for arrest as a legitimate action in response to injustice. It seems to me that arrest is just another way for us to take direct action in defense of “the least of these.”

I often forget that many books in the New Testament were written from jail, penned by Paul as a prisoner. Just this morning I read of the arrest of Paul in Acts 21 that eventually led to his ability to talk to Felix, Festus, and Agrippa. The stories of North Carolina and Paul are not a perfect fit, for few analogies are, but in both we see arrest as a means to rattle the cages of the decision makers in power. How else could Paul have gotten an audience with those officials? How else can the people reach the ear of their representatives and let them know that the voiceless are being pushed even further to the margins.

We are reminded as well of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, a time period I’ll be reading about for much of the summer, and a movement that began with the arrest of Rosa Parks. When laws violate a fundamental right, and in these cases a Christian truth, civil disobedience is an admirable response, and one that can truly affect change.

As the men and women were being lead away by the police to the Wake County jail, I stood outside with Reverend William Barber, the president of the North Carolina NAACP, and hundreds of others chanting, “Forward Together, Not One Step Back.” This solidarity, communicated by all, was a unity explicitly rooted in a type of love first commanded, and then demonstrated, by Jesus. His crowd was the lepers, the prostitutes, and the tax collectors; today they are the impoverished, the disenfranchised, and even the incarcerated. Our duty, my duty, as Christians is to extend love to them, and when the time comes to stand up for them, even if that standing (non-violently, I must add) leads to our arrest. Like King, Gandhi, and many others before us, some unjust laws should not hinder us from living life like Christ.

It is truly incredible to be in a community like the Rutba House. In the coming weeks I am sure that these themes will be revisited as my own tendency toward inaction is gently revealed. There is much to learn, and much to digest, but this journey has been deeply rewarding thus far and I’m sure the excitement will continue!