taking the words of Jesus seriously

It is hard to believe—as I catch the glistening light bouncing off the wings of bronze dragonflies that swarm the black-eyed Susans in front of the church chapel—that a murder happened two blocks from here last week. But such is the paradox of beauty’s choice in company. I will never understand it.

Five blocks south and three blocks east, a man was stabbed in the head for making the risky decision to open his front door after the sun goes down. Across the highway that lines our neighborhood, alarm after alarm sounds with break-ins and thefts. Three alleys over from where my toddler lays his head at night, two teens were shot for simply walking along the sidewalk. Our friends replace their kicked-in backdoor, scrub their graffiti-tagged retaining wall, and grow leery of foot traffic and yard-cutting requests, as do we. In the south of town, pets are brutally slain by intruders, and it seems no area can even be idealized anymore.

As I pull my son’s nursery door closed, still recovering from the shakes caused by the UPS delivery man’s knock, I daydream of country living and wonder aloud online about the causes of such spikes in our city’s crime. Is it the summer heat? The political climate? An overall drop in societal morale? Is it the drug ring about which I hear rumors? Too much policing or not enough? Is it the fact that folks do not know that they are loved and are not looking for the image of God in each other? 

“What is happening?” my neighbors and neighboring neighbors say as they triangulate gunshot locations by chiming in with what they’ve heard and from where.

I love this town of Shreveport, Louisiana. Specifically, I love this area we call home with its diversity and pride and people. I am thankful for who I have become and am becoming, what I have learned about myself and God’s world by following what we believed to be Jesus’ call on our lives to relocate ourselves among the poor. Share space with the marginalized, and their issues will become your issues—and haven’t they?

I still believe this to be true and that it is important. But I struggle to remember why when I am afraid for my vulnerable child, when I am watching over my shoulder as I load our car, and when I am carrying my keys between my knuckles. I struggle as I ask God if we have been released from this area, dissecting what tethered us in the first place. Was it call or conjured ideas of faithfulness to which we’ve legalistically bound our futures? Is there not a “time for everything,” and is it time for something else? Then I think about some of my neighbors who have far fewer choices for being elsewhere. And I simultaneously am forced to admit that there are far fewer safe places in our city these days, which is relieving and unnerving.

A scripture bubbles to the top of my head: “‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the twelve. Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.'”

And where would we go? I wonder. Where would be home? It is a layered and frequent question. As is, how long will we stay?

The answer is that I’m not sure. But we will be here today. And today we will throw a block party. Today we will pray . . .

God who relocated into our existence through Jesus,

Help us gather with the homes to our right and our left
That we may learn names and faces, form bonds
And though the notion of togetherness feels weak against worry
Surprise us
Remind us 

In the name of the Christ who absorbed violence with grace
Tell us again how love alone is what saves us
And that this love is accessible through tangible relationships
To drive out fear
Our crippling fear

Make our minds sharp and wise, our hearts ever soft
Not corroded, cynical, or reckless
Above all, keep us leaning generously into Grace
And what Mercy taught us
About being human 

Tell us one more time how the meek get the earth,
And how the peacemakers are called God’s children
When the nighttime creeps in with its shadows and sounds
Say the Kingdom is near
That it’s here 

Show us again the power of friendships and of parties
In pies and prayers and strangers sharing space
And give us today what we need for today to remember
I am theirs
And they are mine 

Amen

About The Author

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Britney Winn Lee is a writer, mama, wife, and neighbor living in Shreveport, LA, where she works as the director of a community arts program. She is currently signed with Wipf and Stock Publishers for a ministry memoir whose working title is "The Way is Where: A Complicated Search for Radical Faithfulness" (due in 2018). Her public writings can be found on Red Letter Christians blog, Art House America blog, and her personal site www.britneywinnlee.com.

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