Conversations with God

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My entire year here has been a conversation with God that has focused on two major questions; what now and what is next. The tension is one we all face between the present and the future. I’ve had to be in prayer, reflection and conversation with this community and my broader community of friends and family to navigate this unique time in my life. All of these things have allowed God to speak and for me to listen and respond.

The question of “what now?” was answered by doing what was in front of me. Every day I was invited to be present to my work on Transit, my relationships with residents and guests and to be present both in body and mind at prayers, meetings and times of formation. I’ve continued to ask myself “How is this particular scripture that we are reading speaking to me? What in the message at our service does God have for me? Whom can I bless, whether it’s a guest, resident or member of the larger community with my presence, perspective and hospitality?” I’ve also tried to be faithful to the needs that arise in the present, of making more coffee, an impromptu meeting or task, a spontaneous conversation that erupts at the dinner table. I’ve been present to the laugher in the kitchen and chapter room and made sure to enjoy the garden and walk the labyrinth as well. Mostly, it has been maintaining my commitment to do what is mine to do, presentations for Transit, washing dishes, cleaning dorms and tidying the Chapel. These things have both provided a sense of solidity, purpose and wonder.

The answer to “what’s next?” was aided by my time in VoCare, the school for vocational discernment. I learned how to discern what I might do in the future by listening to the lessons of the past and paying attention to what brings me energy in the present. Both inquiry, stepping into the deep questions and action, taking steps forward to test and explore, have provided great clarity. My work as a resident and with Rapid Transit in addition to lectures, trainings and conversations at Richmond Hill and with friends have helped me to do the work of self-discovery that has shaped what I plan to do next. I’ll stay in Church Hill, work in community development, write, pursue life coaching and hopefully participate in RUAH.

This has been a purifying time, of hard work and commitment, of joy and laughter, of good food and good fellowship. God spoke to me through all of these things; about who I am, who He is and what he has called me to do. He has come to me “disguised as my life” and I am glad to receive the gifts of the present and the hope for the future that Richmond Hill has provided.

This is my last post on this site for a while. If you like what you read, visit me at www.ebonywalden.com

Prayer as Interruption, Honor & Imagination

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I want to allow my life to be interrupted by God, to be open to divine possibilities. For most of this year, prayer has been an interruption to my sleep, my work, my conversations, my free time and my thoughts. At points, I wrestled to stay present, to stop what I am doing to engage God and pray for the city. At other times, it has been a respite and provided a needed refuge from my to-do list, anxious thoughts and addiction to self-sufficiency. As much as I have both enjoyed and struggled with praying 3 times a day, it has become a needed and necessary interruption. The discipline of communal prayer helps me remember to turn toward God in the mist of my busy day, to unplug from my work and my story enough to lift up the healing of the city, to ask God for help, grace and strength. I am reminded that I am not alone, that God is at work, that whatever I am thinking about, working on or dealing with, I can lay down for a few minutes. I can receive these few minutes as a gift and an invitation to listen, be renewed and focus on God. That is indeed a beautiful blessing.

Tuesday Mornings and Thursday Evenings are my favorite prayer times. I lead prayer on Tuesday mornings. I turn on the lights, light the candles, unlock the doors and read prayers and scripture. Something comes alive in me when I have to wake up a bit early to be ready and seated before everyone arrives. I get to prepare the way. It is an honor and privilege to usher our community into the heart of God. The responsibility has been delightful.

On Thursday evenings, Anne Campbell leads prayer by telling stories. This is a spirit filled time. Jesus told stories and the bible is full of them because stories are a good tool for opening our understanding and a way to renew our hearts and minds. When Anne tells stories, Chapel is transformed into a space of imagination and creativity, a space of merriment and freedom. These are words I associate with God, so I am glad Anne tells stories to shepherd us into God’s story with such dynamism. Leading prayer and listening to these stories alongside biblical stories has kept me alive and awake in prayer.

During evening prayer, Mary’s Magnificent has resonated with me. I have the words memorized but it is the way they reverberates through my chest and head that is striking to me. It feels like something is being prayed through me. Mary’s song is a signpost for me to continue to say yes Jesus, to whatever it is that the spirit wants to birth in and through me and to respond by praising God for his greatness, favor, mercy, strength, provision and help. Her response to God penetrates my being.

Experiencing prayer in these new ways has been stretching which has created more space for God

Let us go rebuild the ruins!

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Last Friday, I attended the national conference of the Association for Community Design. It was mostly comprised of urban planners, urban designers and community advocates who want to make a difference in their community. We were all at the conference and in our respective professions and communities looking to be a catalyst for a change we can see. Maybe even a change we have a part in designing and facilitating. Days like these remind me why I went into urban planning. I wanted to be a rebuilder of ruins, restorer of hope not only socially, but physically, of homes, buildings, streets, parks and neighborhoods. Most of the people I met from the conference had that same passion, so I was in good company.

Neighbors

The theme of the conference was “neighbors.” I believe this was a good place to start because community usually begins with being a good neighbor. And with that theme, we had our sessions at different galleries along Broad Street that allowed us to walk and see the area, took neighborhood walking tours to understand the history of various neighborhoods and dined at restaurants around Richmond to get a flavor of Richmond’s best eateries. We took in the landscape, engaged businesses, arts organizations, history and local residents during our time. We practiced being good neighbors by getting to know the places and people of Richmond. We did this simply by getting out, eating together, walking and talking.

Love and Forgiveness

Sitting next to other planners and designers at lunch, our table discussion prompt was “what does love and forgiveness have a role in your work?” Wow, what a good question. This was my kind of conference, going from practicing being a neighbor; walking, open and curious, to practicing love and forgiveness. In the work I’ve done in community building these two themes are much needed, as we move toward one another to help build trust and understanding. Being open to change, challenge and growth as well as doing things for the better of the larger community are important, that’s love. I also think forgiveness is necessary. In the physical, social, economic and political arena of a city, there are many wrongs that have been done in the name of the good of the city. For example, we walked the Jackson Ward neighborhood in Richmond and stood next to the highway that destroyed a neighborhood and social fabric of its residents. Yes, love and forgiveness are necessary daily if we are going to get on with the business of building community. Forgiveness can help us reckon with the ills of the past and its impact on the present and love can bring us together in the present and bind us to one another as we go forward into the future.

From Noxious to Nature

One session really blew me away, it was about an African American neighborhood outside of Houston that was plagued for about 20 years from illegal dumping. There was enough trash on these few acres of land if piled up would be taller than any sky scraper in the city. The residents called and complained for years, but nothing happened. They were plagued by air pollution, noxious odors and toxins, rodents, debris and ash from recurring fires and constant light and truck traffic from dumping. The neighborhood brought suit against the city and finally won and the dump was shut down after 20 years. To reconcile for this offense, the city cleaned up the dump and turned it into an outdoor habitat and recreational center for the community. There was such a stark physical transformation, from noxious to nature. This type of change, ma be one of my favorite things to hear about and witness. It reminds me that one day, all things will be made new, but while we are here, we get to participate in the process.

Watch the documentary “Out of Deepwood” to learn more.

Stability: Finding Home

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I am getting ready to leave Richmond Hill in another 4-6 weeks. Oh how time flies when you are praying for the city. I will have moved 3 times in a little over a year once I leave this place. Stability has been on my mind, both in how to find a home for my diversity of passions and as I wonder where my next home will be. In the mist of this transitional year and entering into another period of transition, I have been thinking about stability of place, of people and of heart. How do I find solid ground amidst all of this change?

Finding a Home for my Passions

This year, in the school for vocation, I have done a lot of reflection and discernment about the many elements that make up my vocation, where and how they will fit in the container of my life. I’m interested in community development, coaching, speaking, poetry, writing and facilitation. Twice, the same friend said “ebony, I get the image of a house when you are talking about these things.” I thought he meant an actual organization or place, but when we spoke again, I got more clarification. He said “it seems like you are trying to build a house for yourself, and this is a process of you are trying to figure out the rooms, which ones will be larger or smaller, which ones will get used the most and the least.” Yes, a house or home is a good metaphor for what I am trying to build. It’s also a good symbol for identity. I am learning to enter the mystery, be curious and experiment a bit. Some of the questions of what, how much time and energy for my passions/rooms will only be answered as I try new things, take risks and make decisions. I will have to be patient with these questions and live my way into the answers by trial, error, listening for the spirit, saying yes and no and taking advantage of opportunities in front of me. I’m looking forward to the process, even though it’s a bit scary.

Stability of Place, of People and of Heart

I now live in a new city and plan to stay here for a while. I neither live in the same city as my family or most of my close friends. Most people in our society both move and change jobs every 3-5 years. I wonder how to find some sense of rootedness and solidity of place and people in this type of environment. Returning home is a theme that has come up for me, finding home in God and myself, and the places I can come back to where I have deep connections, rootedness and relationships.

In this changing world, I’ve adopted the notion that I have to find the home in myself, in my own skin and soul. Part of that is making sure to stay connected to the spirit of God within me and knowing the quiet place that is my refuge, where I find God. Wherever I am and God is, I am at home. At home in God and with myself. I must continue to engage in the practices and disciplines that help me come back to myself and return to God. For me that is having times of silence, reflection, medication, journaling, walking outdoors and sitting in gardens. Certain psalms, prayers, scripture passes and songs bring me back to a solid place, within myself and in the arms of God.

There are also people that are connected to specific places that feel like home to me. New York where my family lives is a place I call home, there are people who love me, familiar and caring and supportive people; my favorite places to visit, eat and be. There is an element of home in Charlottesville as well. I know both of these places well, can drive on auto-pilot, and can run into an old friend on the street. I love the familiarity. When I go to both these places I recognize a part of myself that seems to have been missing.

Some of my friends also feel like home, when I go over my friend’s Leonette house, she feels like home. She has known me for over 10 years, we can laugh, do something fun or do nothing. I know I can go into her fridge and closets to get what I need. Likewise, so many of my other relationships is Charlottesville feel like home. I am known, I feel a freedom to be myself. No matter how long I am gone, when I return, we pick up where we left off. This comfort and companionship is priceless, it’s also soul satisfying.

Richmond Hill, now feels like home, a spiritual home, where my love for contemplation, the city, racial justice come into one. The ethos, the people here, the mission and vision feel like home to me. It’s a place I can come back to for guidance, direction, discernment.

Richmond, is new to me, but it starting to feel like home. A place I can build a life, a place I can make a difference and hopefully build that metaphorical house we are talking about.

The only ways I have found to maintain a sense of stability in this ever changing environment, is to I know the places I call home, in God, in myself, in others and specific places/spaces in the world. I hope to go out and explore the world through life and work and return to these places and people as often as I can or as much as is needed to solidify my soul.

Put on your walking shoes

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I read somewhere that if you are stumped, in a creative black hole or want a new perspective on a problem, then taking a walk can switch something in your brain, so that options and opportunities open up. It spurs creative ideation, settles negative emotions and changes moods. I love a good walk. For 3.5 years I walked down the same beautiful street to work, watched seasons change, paying particular attention to the sounds and beauty before me. It was my morning and afternoon meditation. Rain, sleet, snow or sweltering heat, I walked because it brought me life and peace. It opened my eyes and my heart.

Twice in the past month, I got a chance to walk my neighborhood. On Good Friday, a group of churches did the Stations of the Cross at 12 different locations around the neighborhood. We walked, stopped, prayed, read scripture and listened to reflections from people from the various churches. As we walked from station to station, someone lead the processional with a cross held up before us. It was quite an experience. The walk put brick and mortar, pavement and parks, people and silence, earth and sky as backdrops to the Gospel story. I reminded me that God is not just in a church or chapel, he is outside in our everyday lives, on our streets, with us as we walk. He shows up in nature and his creation. This walk grounded me in that reality and to the truth that I am also a part of his ongoing story.

The second instance was the week before. It was a nice day and our formation facilitator decided to take us outside for our monthly reflection on one of the rules of life. This month, we were reflecting on the rule of hospitality. We were instructed to walk as a group and search for things within our general neighborhood that we thought represented hospitality. Someone pointed out our chapel, we invite anyone from the community to pray with us at 7am, 12pm and 6pm. Another person pointed out the school that is one block a way, as a representation of not just a school, but a community facility. The laugher of the children she could hear from her window was hospitable. I pointed out the prevalence of front porches, people sit on them, watch, listen, are available to their neighbors. Front parches also promote safety, as the presence of people sitting outsides provides “eyes on the street.” As we passed a cleaners, one gentleman noted that the woman there was always kind in her service to him. When we got to the main road, one of us stopped and pointed to the flowers out in front of the beauty shop as a way to be hospitable and make the business and street attractive. The best example of hospitality came out of the front door though. Marie, a stylist came out and asked us if she could help us, engaged us in a conversation about her business and even gave everyone a discount. She was genuinely open, interested and willing to provide service and assistance. She made all of us feel welcome. We returned home feeling expanded and surprised from the experience.

It is amazing what you can see and find if you put on a new lens. Whatever we go out looking for, we tend to find. A walk can be a break from something, an adventure, a means of transportation, a prayer, a ceremony or just a way to stay awake to the life, beauty and hospitality that is present around us. I hope you pay close attention on your next walk, I am sure you will be surprised by what you begin to see. I am sure this new seeing will reveal something of God’s beauty, truth and goodness to you.

Accompaniment

I’m always on the lookout for good questions. Questions that get me to deeply reflect and discover something new or move me to greater intentionality. These two questions were about accompaniment, someone to travel with you on your journey.

  1. Who do I have accompany me on my personal and professional journey? To offer me strength, support and encouragement?
  2. Who am I supporting in their success?

After spending 8 months traveling the world alone, I learned firsthand the benefits of companionship. Nine times out of 10, whenever I met someone that I could tour, travel, eat, talk or volunteer with, it always make my time better. The good times were more beautiful and the tough times were more bearable. On the last day of my ATW trip, I was rather tired and not interested in meeting anymore new people. I randomly got into this conversation with Mark, a Spaniard who had just moved to Australia. He was having some trouble understanding the English of our tour guide, and though I didn’t really want to talk I begin helping him out. After the tour, we ended up spending the entire afternoon together at Bondi Beach, had dinner and spent the entire next day together hiking in the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney. Those were a few of the best days of my trip. Some of the burden of trying to figure out what I was going to do, where I was going to go and watching over my person and personal belongings was shared when we were together. Likewise, we also shared in the beauty of the scenery, food and our love for old school hip-hop. I doubt I would have even taken the hike by myself, but with someone it was feasible and enjoyable.

Likewise, in my entrepreneurship class, we have accountability partners to help us through the class. We discuss our ideas, fears, get feedback and offer whatever advice and encouragement we can offer. We also get support from the other women we interact with in the FB group. This interaction is priceless. Similarly, my coaching program advised us to create an advisory board, a group of people with varying expertise that believe in us and our business. Accompaniment. Sometimes we have to be vulnerable and ask for the help and support we need, other times it comes naturally. Either way it’s a blessing. Whether it’s a church community, family member (s), a small group of faith or friends, an accountability partner, mentor or spiritual director, I’ve learned the role that support (a living cloud of witnesses) plays in my spiritual journey and professional success.

The second question was more penetrating. I knew I had a lot of support, but who in my life needed my support? After reflecting, I was inspired to be intentional about “paying it forward” and supporting someone else in my life that may need support. Last, Tuesday, I set a weekly appointment to meet with one of my co-workers, to simply see how he was doing, share information and support him in his success. I’m exciting about the journey, my own and witnessing his.

  1. Who is supporting you in your journey? Where might you seek out this kind of support?
  2. How are you contributing to another’s success? Who in your life needs your support?

Wilderness Gems

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Last week I read about the Israelites murmuring and complaining in the Book of Numbers, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” Throughout Exodus and Numbers, there are many occasions when the Israelites, complain against God and sometimes suggested going back to the slavery of Egypt. Freedom and this new way of living that was lean and relies on God is almost too much for them.

The wilderness, by virtue of being in the dessert is not a place of comfort. It’s a lean place, one in which all of our faculties are tested and stretched – mental, physical, spiritual and emotional. The Israelites wondered in the wilderness for 40 years searching for the promised land, Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days being tested and tempted by Satan before beginning his public ministry. For Lent, we enter into the wilderness by fasting in hope and expectation of Easter. We simplify, we get down to some essentials, give up some luxury, addiction or harmful habit or way of being. I gave up sweets and every night after dinner my faculties are tested and stretched. I have to calm the internal uprising. No the wilderness is not an easy place and most of our wilderness seasons are far deeper than passing on dessert, seasons of loss, disappointment, failure, uncertainty and depression. I felt like I had my own personal wilderness for a few years, a time of wandering.

One of my colleagues asked, “How was God forming them in the desert?” What did the Israelites learn in the wilderness that prepared them for the Promised Land? It seemed like he is stretching them, increasing their capacity of uncertainty, inviting them to enter into a relationship of daily provision. Over and over there is crisis – no water, no food, and outbreak of serpents – and then God’s rescue. Over and over they learn their own hearts…their response when things don’t happen immediately, their way or meet their expectations. We see their impatience and hear them complain. I always want to yell at them from my vantage point, but I would have and probably done the same lament and murmuring. In their wilderness wondering they were shedding the bondage and slave mentality of their old life and preparing their being and character for the new land. They had to learn how to live daily by God’s provision, trust, how to hope, and problem solve and live in community.

In waiting, wandering and wilderness places God is doing something, he is shaping and stretching us for our future…Helping us see ourselves more clearly and know and see Him in a deeper way. In my years of wilderness, I learned how to pray, how to be still and listen to God. My patience was stretched. I learned how to care for myself, set boundaries, how to live in and rely on community. In those months and years, my character was refined, and I believe I’ve become more human, more myself. I shed some things and new things were born in me. I have a greater capacity for both joy and sorrow, to bear mystery, to see God and listen to myself and others. During Lent, often I learn what I can do without so that I can make space to feast on God and the goodness of greater simplicity.

What are you I learning in Lent that is preparing you for Easter? What have you learned in the wilderness times of your life, how did those times form you?

Say Yes!

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As I was considering moving, the primary motivation for me to leave my life, friends and job behind and live and work here was that it seemed like an invitation from God to be more myself. Here was an open door that was aligned with my mission and passions, so I decided to walk through it. In saying yes to Richmond Hill, I was saying yes to my calling to community, racial reconciliation, to seek the peace of the city and my own spiritual formation. It was an act of obedience.

As a child, the word obedience seemed harsh. I associated it with the potential punishment of disobedience. In my early spiritual life, there was an angry God in my imagination, telling me the right thing to do against my will and desires. I have become better friends with the word obedience and God lately. I have learned that obedience is saying yes to who God has made me and being faithful to the tasks that help me live out that call. That also means saying no to other things, no matter how good they may seem.

Vocare, the school for vocation here, has been a wonderful space to explore God’s will for me in relation to calling. The other day, guest speaker, Dick, said “know your gifts and know God’s will for you.” He encouraged us to identify our God given gifts, strengths and talents so that we could use them to glorify God and help others. That provided such clarity. We are always trying to figure out God’s will and purpose for us and it often feels like walking in the dark. The idea that our gifts and passions are the path to His will for our lives was like turning on a light.

Rev. Nathanial, another Vocare speaker, talked about having a personal mission statement. This statement outlines your values, passion and purpose in a concrete way. It’s been an important guiding tool in his decision making. He’s had job offers he was able to easily say no to because they were not in line with his mission. Alternatively, he was able to say yes to other opportunities that were. It is another way to stay on the path toward purpose and live into a deeper sense of self. I dug my mission statement out of a pile of papers and put it where I could see it. It reminded me that writing brings me life and coaching as a way of helping others find their purpose is a passion of mine. A few encounters this week confirmed my desire and ability. I am encouraged to take a small step toward both.

I want to spend my time and energy in ways that bring me closer to my calling, passions and purpose. In the “The Artist Rule,” Christine Valters Paintner says “what brings me joy and energy also brings me closer to my calling.” Touche’! She also says obedience is listening deeply to the ways God calls you in everyday life and how you respond.”  I have gotten excited about obedience as listening for God in my gifts, in things that bring me joy and energy and responding by doing those things as often as I can. How are you being invited to listen and respond? I hope you have the courage to answer your call by saying yes to what brings you life.

A New Mindset

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I was laying on my mother’s couch on Christmas day reading the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success when I heard a knock at the door. I found my cousin on the other side with a raw turkey in hand. “I came over to fry my turkey” she said.

I cracked a smile, “Come in, my mom didn’t tell me you were coming, but I’ll get things set up and do it for you.” I am now the family turkey fryer on Holidays, just so you know.

The conversation quickly went to how she was doing. “I don’t know Ebony, I’m sad a lot and I stay to myself more than I ever have.” She had lost her mother earlier this year, had a relationship end unexpectantly and her doctor told her that she needed to lose weight or start taking diabetes medicine. That is definitely enough to cause a bit of depression, but I was impressed with her response. Instead of waiting to get diabetes, she started walking around the track, eventually joined that gym and has now lost 42lbs in a matter of months. She told me of triumphantly how she conquered the elliptical.

“When I first went to the gym, I would only walk on the treadmill and go home, that is all I could do. Then I got on the elliptical for 7 minutes, then 15, then 30 and once I passed 40 minutes, I knew I could do an hour.”

She went on in an emphatic tone. “By the summer time, all of this will be gone” pointing to the bulge in her stomach. She went on to talk about how she has been investing in her relationship with God for peace and strength, doing some soul searching to figure out who she is and what she wants to do. “I’m even thinking about going back to school, the boys are both over 18 and it’s time to do me.” “Amen” I said.

My cousin exhibited the epitome of the growth mindset I had been reading about when she knocked on the door. The premise of the book is that ability, skill and intellect are not fixed, with time and hard work, we can grow if we learn from failure and not let it measure who we are. When things weren’t going right, instead of feeling stuck and giving up and in, my cousin decided to grow and put some effort into becoming the person she wanted to be. The elliptical story is a classical example, she went from walking around the track to an hour of rigorous cardio.

This made me think about my own life, where I had given up on things because I wasn’t strong in them, though my ability was fixed and/or didn’t want to do that hard work. I distinctly remember saying to a friend “I do not like to do things that I am not good at.” I realized I was just afraid of failure, afraid to put hard work and effort into something. I just wanted to be good, without the work. Of course this is not true of most areas of my life, but I’ve always felt my sports and artistic ability was fixed. Last year, I took up swimming, it was one of the hardest things I have had to do, being bad at something for a sustained period of time. It took a lot of tenacity to begin to chip away at my fear and improve my skill. I am by no means a good swimmer now, but I can do more than I started out doing. I even had a setback when I freaked out and had to be rescued while swimming in open water. Now I am thinking about going taking some more classes so I can swim unafraid in the ocean.

I think Richmond as a city is beginning to have a shift in mindset, from apathy to the desire to realize its full potential. I’m glad I get to be present for it, to watch and participate. People hear that we are 92 out of 100 of the top cities in the area of public transit and with a little encouragement from folks like me, they are beginning to see that it is possible to change that. I wonder what would happen if more people took on the mindset of growth, learned to get better from failure and thought that it was possible to improve. I wish more people, institutions and cities would have a growth mindset, saying to failure, negative statistics and loss, and we can learn from this, we can grow, we can put in the time and effort and we can become better.

The book points out numerous examples of athletes, business leaders and everyday situations, where people looked at disappointment as a challenge and put in the energy to improve, people we think of as naturals like Michael Jordon. I don’t want to be Michael Jordon, but I do want to put in the hard work to be the best and truest version of myself. I have an inkling there are many things budding inside that need time and persistence to fully bloom.

The beginning of the year is a good time for me to have read this book. A new year is a good time to set goals and intentions, to take on a new mindset even and allow that to transform my life. Sometimes we don’t necessarily need to change a lot in our lives, but we need a new way of thinking in our lives. I pray for new eyes to see, new ears to hear and a new mind to learn and grow. The author points out, “maybe we cannot be anything we want to be, but we can be and do a lot more than we think.” Touché

This reminds me of Paul’s words to the Romans, “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

Happy New Year!

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Land Use Drama: Battling for the Common Good

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I was trying to explain to one of my coworkers some of the ins and outs of City Planning. While doing so, I must have used the word “land use.” “Tell me more about land use” he said curiously. Mmmmmm, well it’s about how we use land, where things are placed in the community and for what/whom – housing, recreational facilities, restaurants, parks etc. At my last office, when there was some big fuss about what to do with some piece of land or the design of the building…I would say “Land Use Drama!” As I have been walking around my neighborhood, I have gleaned a bit of information about land use drama here, about the battles and dissention over what to do with land in our this city.

The Stadium in Shockhoe Bottom

While I am on my morning walks around Church Hill, there are two different signs in the yards of a set of neighbors, one in support of the minor league baseball stadium in Shockoe bottom and those against. It made me wonder what kind of people support such an endeavor and what kind of are against it, their values and interests. I just got here, but it seems odd to place a baseball stadium pretty much in the middle of an urban fabric, even if that fabric needs some work in order to become thriving. I like small street blocks, old brick buildings and history…i.e. quaint character that can’t be replicated. I am also for development and redevelopment and the economic development potential it brings. The fight in this case seems to be between economic development, much needed redevelopment and investment AND history, the history of a slave trade, the most historic part of the city and the original grid. Cities are bombarded with these battles both historically and presently. Over the entrance of our office building is the quote from Jeremiah, admonishing us to “see the peace of the city.” I wonder what it means to be a peace maker in the mist of such drama. It makes me want to find a way to renew and propsper without demolishing history and create development that both honors the past and takes us into the future. Or maybe just get people around a table instead of on either sides of things.

The Libby Park View

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My favorite walk is about a ½ mile down Grace Street, turning on 28th and reaching Libby Park. Libby Park has by far the best view of Richmond that I have seen. It is supposedly responsible for the naming of Richmond, as the founder of the city thought the view was similar to a town called Richmond on the Thames in England. This sign indicated that there was a proposed development to build a condo building that would block this important view. This yet again creates a schism between those for and against. I love the view and hope to stays, but I also realize how important development is not blocking a view is hard to write into a zoning law or enforce.

Gentrification and Mixed Use Housing

My neighborhood, Church Hill is close to downtown and is perhaps one of the most up and coming neighborhoods in the city. It’s become attractive to young professionals and is gentrifying.\. Most people I chat with say that new condo developments, restaurants, bars and coffee shops have been popping up all over the place. Coffee shops and high-end restaurants are a sure sign of gentrification which on the flip side means renewal in a sense, but renewal that benefits whom? Redevelopment has its obvious benefits, but this also comes with costs. Often that cost is displacement and amenities that do not benefit existing residents who are often lower income and/or people of color. Neighborhood change is inevitable and I don’t think it’s a bad thing per se, but it often happens in a way that is not for the good of all, the common good.

There are also plans and public meetings about the redevelopment of one of the city’s largest public housing projects in Church Hill (Creighton Court, 500 units) to create a 1200 unit mixed income community. Mixed income communities are those in which the residential units have a mixture of public housing units, affordable units and market rate units. It’s a method to deconcentrate poverty and delude some of its effects on a neighborhood, upgrade housing, promote homeownership and bring into a community the social and economic benefits of middle income households. They are a good idea, but I wonder the result of putting people who are different races and classes (with different norms, values and tastes) together without a conscious effort to bridge these gaps. On one hand it’s good to occupy the same space, as there is potential for relationship, but I can also imagine there will be clashes in culture and class. Moreover, housing is only one piece of the puzzle in combatting poverty, I hope the services and greater access to employment will follow.

All of this land use drama invokes deep questioning in me about division, about race and class, redevelopment, renewal and how we live together with different views and competing interests for the common good. Working for the peace and prosperity of the city involves thinking through and about these land use decisions, battles and the issues we face and their consequences on the entire community but especially on the least among us. I think sometimes people of faith think working for justice or the thriving of the city means doing charity, but maybe it means understanding the larger fabric of the city and being involved in decision making processes that could result in its benefit…working for the common good. I am glad we pray for the healing and thriving of the city daily, these battles remind me that we need prayer, we need God and we need a new way of being to live in peace. When I pray for the coming of the kingdom, I think about both preserving beauty and history, about economic prosperity and decent housing for all, about diversity and uniqueness all wrapped up into one big vision. I’m reminded that it’s not my vision, but God’s vision.