In the first year at Grace, we've had a phenomenal string of victories and blessings. The way that God moves and works in this place is just a blast to be around. We read the stories in scripture and we wonder (I hope anyhow) what that must have been like and I have to often remind myself that what goes on around here surely isn't all that different. I've said it before and I'll say it again and again...I've got to believe that this place is as close as I'll get in this life to the burning bush. It sounds hyperbolic to some I'm sure, especially in the midst of a Church, culture, and world that just isn't so sure what it believes anymore. Or if it even believes. And down here, we just keep on about our business marveling, laughing, and smiling at the absurdity of the blessings in this place that so many warned me not to come to.
Yesterday was a "rough" day around the church. I have made it my business to know my neighborhood since I first got on the ground here in June of '13 and it has paid dividends. I walk these streets and I talk to everyone I meet whether they're on the street, on their porch, or doing their fool best to avoid me (lol). In that, I've been referred to by more and more folks as, "My pastor." Now part of the problem, at least on the surface and I have truly come to understand it as a very superficial problem, is that I never see them in my building. However, being a good Wesleyan of the "world as my parish" vein, I've really had to work to come to terms with what that really means aside from a nice slogan or ideal; and we all know how much I love slogans and church signs. I am trying to live/figure out the idea that my parish extends from Wyandotte Park to Churchill Downs, from Southern Parkway to just on the other side of Taylor Boulevard. (I would've never dreamed we'd be able to refer to our ministries extending to the other side of Taylor) I'm still not entirely sure what that means or what this looks like, but I continue to walk and drive this "parish" as I try to work it out.
Because of this investment, I feel confident in saying that I have my fingers on the pulse of this place. You begin to notice the easily missed details and you begin to develope a discernment of the ebbs and flows of this place. In that, we've noticed a marked change over the past couple of weeks. There is a tension that I haven't experienced in the past year, a tightness. There are new faces, new vehicles in the parish that seem to add to this tension. Drug deals and dealing with addicts are nothing new to the parish, but it appears to be on the upswing.
So I made mention of these things to my church yesterday morning, that I didn't know what it all meant aside from the idea that we needed to "ramp up the prayer and to not grow weary in it." This little church has done a remarkable job pushing back the darkness, which is exactly how we refer to it and prayer has been a huge part of this. However, it isn't just pushing the darkness away, it has been inviting others out of it. And we've seen the amazing take place.
And then yesterday afternoon, my discernment seemed to manifest itself. This is what I posted on Facebook last night....
As I challenged both services today, we NEED prayer in the neighborhood. Just before Heathen Church this afternoon a young lady was found less than a half block from the church unresponsive from a heroin OD (I know her). I found this out because the kid she had OD'd with came to me with blood running down his arm where he had just shot up to let me know as they loaded her on an ambulance. Then after a very powerful, draining service at the end of a 13 hour day, I get a phone call as I settled onto the couch that one of our newest kids (16) had just been given crack and was "freaking out". So I rushed back down to the neighborhood and dealt with that. And then I stopped by my office and was met by these two as I was leaving, "Can we have Popsicles!?" (I don't think I've ever been so happy to see these two lol) Please pray for us and our neighborhood.
Heartbreaking, jarring stuff. You can see on a daily basis the absolute destruction that these drugs bring upon the lives of these people, as well as upon this community. Lives are being destroyed in the parish and you know, most days, I'm not sure what we're supposed to do. We've built relationships with a lot of the addicts, we've offered to help get them into rehab, we've fed them, we've bought them diapers, and we have loved them. I do not see these people as a scourge, or as disposable, or as undesirable. I believe that Jesus died for the dealer and the addict alike, and I believe that as Christ followers, we have an obligation to them and to our Lord, to reach into this kind of darkness as best we can. My job, our job, I think, is to first and foremost take Jesus where no one else has tried or is willing. From there, I'm more than willing to let Him do His job or to lead me deeper into mine.
In all of this though, there are a few points I want to touch on for family, friends, colleagues, and readers. In many ways this is tough work, no two ways about it. However I have also said that I have an easy job because I never have to wonder what to do next. There is always something and that excites me. Ask me about Grace and I begin bouncing off of walls; I can't help myself. When it comes to the tough part, I am so thankful that my heart still breaks. The day that I am not crushed by a young woman OD'ing a half block from the church is the day that I need to walk away. The day that my heart doesn't rejoice in two kids wanting Popsicles is the day I need to walk away. Those who serve down here, we have tapped into something special, an oasis of sorts. This is a place where our faith becomes actionable, it becomes reality. It is not some ideal that we talk about on Sunday mornings or Sunday evenings; to be here is to live it out, you can't help it. I am truly honored and thankful that I get to be apart of this craziness.
I was absolutely drained last night when I did finally get to settle in at home. Emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically. However, it was the kind of drained that produces the almost nonsensical, but very deep sensation of peace and contentment. This morning? I woke up still smiling and excited to get back after it again. I woke up filled back up and re-energized. That's what this place does to you. That's what chasing after the "burning bush" in the darkness will do to you.