saturday event

Sometimes I think we as Christians believe an activity or organization isn’t legit unless it has a Jesus sticker slapped on it, unless it has some scriptures in its mission statement. I think this is partly because of Christians’ tendency to create a false dichotomy between the “sacred” and the “secular.” In other words, God is in some things, but absent from others.

This is often evident when Christians attempt to connect in some way to a perceived need in their community. Youth in the neighborhood need mentoring and direction. Women and men live on the streets without a permanent place to call home. A local waterfront or park is in need of a cleanup. The first reaction by many believers is to create a Christian mentoring … homeless outreach … or environmental group.

June 2007 Fun 050.jpgBut in many of our cities and towns, the organizations and groups who have thought the deepest and longest about many of the issues we care about may not be rooted in any religion. This speaks to the disconnect between many Christian churches and the realities of our world, but also the work that many seemingly “non-religious” people have done toward the troubling issues of our world.

We definitely experienced this when we moved to Boston. Living in a community of largely lower class immigrant families, where many youth feel like they don’t have a chance to succeed, we were tempted to strike out on our own in an effort to connect with our neighborhood and somehow make an impact for God’s kingdom.

But it didn’t take very long to see that there were those in our community who had been pondering the social issues we saw for many, many years. One organization responded to the heightening youth-on-youth violence of the late ’80s by establishing a space for these kids and teens to come together to learn and participate in the performing arts. Another organization responded to the youth struggles, as well as an environmental justice problem in our community, by forming a youth-led group to act and advocate as a team on behalf of a local waterfront.

It didn’t take very long for us to realize that the logical solution to our desire to connect and contribute to our community was to join in with what people were already doing, not start some “Christian copy” of a tried-and-true local original.
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Saturday underscored this for us. On Saturday, we celebrated with many of our neighbors at an all-day event we’ve been helping to plan over the last several months. We joined a team of young adults (including Matt & Pam, who connected us to this group) and teens from East Boston and Chelsea, the town just to the north, to plan a day of fun — with music, boating, food, crafts, a parade, games, a 5K race, and various exhibits — along the creek that connects the communities. The event raised money and awareness of several of the environmental hazards that threaten the beauty and usefulness of the wonderful stretch of water, which could and should have much more human access and use than it currently does. More than anything, though, the event (and planning, especially) was a chance to get to know some amazing young people who truly care about each other and their city, and a chance to bring two amazing neighborhoods together for some “fun in the sun.”

It was an overwhelming success. I was the co-organizer of the 5K race, which drew almost 100 runners, and Chrissy organized about 40 volunteers for the event (which may have drawn as many as 2,000 people throughout the day).
What have we learned? Well, we learned that there are wonderful communities already in existence to which we can connect, and with whom we can partner to find solutions to the problems we see. We know, of course, that the ultimate solution to any earthly problem is the transformative power of Jesus, and that the kingdom of God can “break into” our world through more than just para-church organizations. It is our hope that God will use us to this end as we partner with — not separate ourselves from — those others in our neighborhood who desire peace and not war, beauty and not destruction.

Could it be that in our attempts to separate ourselves from the “good works” of the world, the church misses wonderful opportunities to connect to what God is doing through groups of people we may have never imagined could be used?

I wouldn’t put it past Jehovah to do such a thing.

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(I helped lead environmental boat tours of the creek we were celebrating on Saturday … what a perfect day!)


The sponsoring organization of the event was kind enough to give us a space in its community garden, a plot of land that provides some local urban youth (ourselves included) a project to tend, along with some healthy vegetables and herbs. The top shot is of the entire garden (our plot goes from where Chrissy is standing to around where the fence is in the back), and Chrissy is watering the sunflowers in the next photo down. The bottom two show a mural that the kids painted on an adjoining brick wall: “Community Strength.” It’s a beautiful thing when beauty springs up from the hard concrete of the city.

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8 responses to this post.

  1. Steve, I couldn’t agree with you more. A couple of years back people started saying that religion doesn’t have a monopoly on morals. I don’t think religon has a monopoly on doing good works either, or loving the poor, or enviromental justice.

    I too am working with a secular group in my communnity. Tonight the friends group for the park next to my house is gethering to maintain the peace garden in the park. I’ll be there getting my hands dirty along side my heathen neighbors, making the park beautiful, and meeting new people.


  2. Mom and I are going to Neil’s, a bar down the street, tomorrow night for pool and happy hour. Don’t be alarmed, son; it’s another event of our neighborhood association that is putting us in touch with the people in our community. Usually on Wednesday nights, we walk with a dozen or so neighbors around the ‘hood chatting and picking up beer bottles and other trash. It’s been a great way to connect. Is Jesus in the picture? He is in our minds and intentions. Keep up the good work.


  3. Posted by Chris on June 19, 2007 at 11:59 am

    I didn’t know anyone thought that religion had a monopoly on good works or morals. It’s probably a product of your imagination.


  4. I’m jealous. Saturday looked like a lot of fun, and right up my alley.


  5. Steve, may I quibble with your wording, just to see exactly what you mean? You state, “In other words, God is in some things, but absent from others.” Would you prefer we say that God is in all things? Or absent from all things? (I’m assuming, of course, that you aren’t using “in” in the sense of omnipresence).

    I agree with your overall point, by the way, just thought you could dwell a little longer on the above statement.


  6. Posted by Steve on June 20, 2007 at 10:27 pm

    Danny – Excellent question. Let me clarify. Maybe “God is in … not in” was the wrong way to put it.

    I was attempting to describe an old Greco-Roman phenomeon known as dualism, which is the assumption that the world is divided in two parts: the sacred and the secular. This view assumes that the sacred is on a higher plane than the world, which is devoid of meaning and to be escaped. I think the church has adopted this philosophy with regard to the world and “its activities.” In other words, if an activity is not originated by the sacred (the church), many Christians won’t participate.

    Does that clarify at all? What do you think about that?

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Danny.


  7. Posted by Daughter on June 22, 2007 at 10:03 am

    I wholeheartedly agree. We as Christians can often learn a lot about compassion and respect for others from our neighborbors.

    Slightly off-topic – did you hear about the Simple Way getting burned out of their home in Philadelphia?


  8. Steve- I figured that’s what you were getting at, I was just being ornery, I suppose. But, while I’m here, may I ask a follow-up question?

    I think we both agree that there are endeavors originating apart from the church that are in line with God’s overall plan (I’m not sure the best way to word that, forgive me)- this group here in Boston would be an example. And I think we both agree that there are endeavors within the church that God would not endorse. So how do we decide what God is “in” and what He is not “in”? How do we know (or can we know) what God endorses and what He does not?

    Thanks for humoring me, Steve.


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