I am riding northbound on I-55 to my next destination. Got some time on this Monday afternoon.

Last Friday official approval was given for the Urban Mission Center in St Louis. As it is with any process demanding careful planning and count-the-cost questions, it took time. But enough planning and answering has taken place. Gail now is excited.

Gail gives oversight for the UMC. Sara Johnson serves as UMC Director of Program and Recruitment. Gail, what’s your title?

She grinned. She’s not sure. Maybe Director of “find the money”. Gail’s driving. I’m riding. I-55 northbound.

September 5-6 will be the Design Days for the UMC. A group of design-type people (I get to be part of it) will gather in the Temple Corps building on Arsenal Street. Two presenters from Leadership Network, Alan Roxburgh and Craig Van Gelder, will lead us in two days of design.

The drive north today is remarkably comfortable. My window’s open. Upper 70s and dry air. Feels good. Summer in St Louis, where is thy humidity? Where is thy heat?

September may not be too hot, humid. It may be a good month to listen, talk, think. Design a center for urban mission. For Salvation Army people and others who want to be of use in this yet fresh Urban Millennium.


Mission takes place via ‘servant-leaders’.

I have strong feelings about this term. That it is best described for our times by Robert K. Greenleaf. If the urban mission is to happen it will be by servant-leaders. A few thoughts here about what servant-leadership is and isn’t.

The servant does your will.

The leader either gets and makes you to do their will.

The servant-leader? Seeks God’s will for others. Thus seeing what could be, then does what can be done on earth for it to take place. For, as Greenleaf is certain of, the servant-leader is servant-first.

The servant only? There is no change, it is serving action which sustains a status quo.

Leader only? The same, the only variation being that it is the status quo world as realized in the leader’s interior kingdom.

Servant-leader? change, for it is now the will of God, the realization of the kingdom of God. Even when it is such a tiny start. Leaven. Mustard seed. Transformation, renewal, restoring as it once was, to become again the created wholeness of the beginning. “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)

Servant-leaders are needed in urban settings. The systems of cities call out to be challenged. So that all will have a place in the 21st century’s dawning Urban Millennium. Including the marginalized and the vulnerable.

It is only in this way that shalom will come to the city. To those who are the least. And to those who may suspect contrary to appearances that they are not the most. Cities can become very good places. Where we really do need each other.



Vox Nova addresses a growing concern. We are perceiving a widening gap between urban and rural America. Politically defined America appears to grow more regionally concentrated, such as in Missouri where I live: City of St Louis, West County, St Charles County.

But the effects of 21st century urbanization overlay even the smallest of places. Example: urban culture in SE Kansas where in our frequent visits we observe urban music and social inroads. The life of cities extends more widely than ever via media, commerce, especially through the internet. Urban life informs and shapes our world-view.

Our increasingly connected urbanized America is more densely populated, diversified, and prominently income disparate. We may be seeing rural and urban socio-political differences more regionally defined. But can they pull America apart?

The overlay of urbanization – it’s density, diversity, disparity – may be more definitive of America’s future.

Originally posted on Vox Nova:

I’VE MENTIONED BEFORE IN THIS SPACE that I have been worried about the long-term prospects for the survival of the United States as a unified and cohesive political entity. I still am.

Before I get to the specific reasons for my concern, it is worth pointing out that countries and empires have been breaking up, merging with one another, annexing territories, granting those territories independence and so on since the first farmer planted the very first crop 10 or 12 millennia ago and the whole project of human civilization began. Recent world history suggests that the breakup of the United States into a sort of commonwealth of independent countries need not be violent or otherwise ruinous, at least in principle. The breakup of the old Soviet Union was accomplished with relatively little bloodshed.

Go back a few decades, and we have examples in our own history — the Philippines, the…

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pre June 14 2014 419As part of my work (now a year at it) I receive weekly the St Louis Business Journal.  Business interests me though I wouldn’t claim expertise.  Each issue of SLBJ teaches me something; it also brings enjoyment in the Mark Vittert column.

This “economic growth is bypassing St. Louis” article from the June 27-July3 issue caught my eye.

economic growth bypassing St Louis

I enjoy being here in St Louis.  But it has taken me a year to almost have a grasp of ‘where am I?’  There’s City of St Louis.  And there’s St Louis County.  The City is not part of the County.  Unlike Chicago in Cook County.  Or my Minnesota hometown of Duluth in a county also named St Louis.

I choose to believe Wikipedia which claims there are 41 independent cities in the USA.  38 in Virginia (what’s that all about?), Baltimore, Carson City, and St Louis.  St Louis has a most interesting story as to its non-county existence.

Sorry, SLBJ restricts access to the Greg Edwards article.  But it reports Rick Bagy of First National Bank of St Louis as saying St Louis’ many municipalities with so many different rules, regulations and paperwork make starting a business here difficult.

I heard from a major retailer with quite a few locations who wishes they hadn’t come here because of how hard it is to open another location … How many municipalities do we have?  They all have their own rules.

It can also make it confusing to know where one happens to be.

There is no confusion as to where a person may be when one crosses the Missouri River on I-64 or I-70.

Several months ago I attended a large gathering of business leaders in St Charles County.  It is a population and economic powerhouse neighboring St Louis County to the west.  The two are separated by the wide Missouri.  They are also separated by politics, and race.

The gathering grew respectfully quiet as a prominent St Charles business figure made clear that the river and its bridges were valued for their important role in ensuring continued separation.

I’m not convinced all who grew quiet at that gathering agreed with the speaker’s philosophy.  But I’ve picked up in my twelve months here that such thinking can substantially define life in St Louis City, County and our region.

And I’ve also suspected that as beneficial some might find this separation it’s not in the best interest of metropolitan St Louis.

I think what Mr. Bagy points out about a passively balkanized St Louis is becoming more seen.  And less helpful.

Check out the just created website for our Urban Mission Center in St Louis.

Also make sure to check out about the upcoming Weekend Intensive on Missional Leadership taking place at the UMC September 5-6.


Concentrated teamwork

This evening on Arsenal Street in St Louis we learned something about contending for our neighbors.


We worked together in two teams to stack these red Solo cups into a pyramid using a rubber band stretched by five strands of ribbon. Not easy. But both teams succeeded!


Melissa and Hunt, Major Gail, Elysia, John S. are pleased

We then discussed what lessons we learned about listening, submerging, inviting and contending. These are four of the six postures we have been working on from Thin Places by Jon Huckins and Rob Yackley. Thin Places is an approach of six postures for creating and practicing missional community.

We are still figuring out what took place. What we discovered about being a community which works together. Being in mission. Together.

Yes, I’ve had bad dreams about rats.

Those dreams and, as I mentioned in freedom in the screwed up places, a habit I yet have of darting side-long glances at certain types of peripheral movement (though it has diminished over the years) originated from our years working in an old building at 1512 West Madison Street on the west side of Chicago.

Part of that building is still there, incorporated into a new structure at the corner of Madison and Ogden.  Gail and I were there for several years during which we oversaw construction of what is the 3rd iteration of the Chicago Temple Corps at that corner.

The new building was made possible in part because of rats.  When we arrived in 1984 our old building had them.  These were what are called sewer rats.  They are big.  I would regularly kill specimens with 12″ bodies; tails extra.  Gail claims she once entered the kitchen to find a rat the size of a house cat on top of the fridge, just looking at her.  It creeped her out.

The building was so old, it was so full of holes.  Enter rats.  We set traps baited with peanut butter.  Works better.  But we often walked in to find our traps licked clean.  Rats can be clever.

The rats that survived the traps taunted us.  They would jump down from the refrigerator when Gail entered the building in the morning.  They would run across the kitchen floor when Major Mary Garrison was cooking in the evening.  A rat even ran between the Major’s feet as she stood in front of the stove.

Our son John once came running out of the nursery with Carl and Dennis.  A rat!  I slowly opened the door they had shut behind them, stick in hand.  Peered in.  I saw it.  I saw its hind legs perched on a chair rung, motionless.  I feint.  It runs.  I dispatch it with a sharp rap.

One evening we were meeting in the chapel, heard a squeal, then random notes from the piano across the hallway.  I went to investigate and found a rat on the floor next to the piano, twitching, its back broken.  It had dropped out of the high ceiling onto the piano top, bounced off the keys before landing on the floor.

I finished it off with my stick I kept for killing rats.  The stick would get those the peanut butter didn’t.  One time the stick wasn’t at hand so I sailed a stock pot lid across the kitchen.  I think I missed.

But I became somewhat skilled at getting my rat.  I felt buoyed by moral authority; rats don’t belong in our building.  The crusade against rats was righteous.

The day came where we knew that the old building would no longer be needed.  Our new one was nearing completion.

Gail had turned the oven on for Sunday morning’s breakfast and heard a noise.  Preparing breakfast with whatever we could offer for the young people was a weekly ritual.  Day old rolls from a bakery were to go in the oven this morning but they never made it.  Gail came to get me.  Please, check the oven.

I stood in front of the oven with my stick.   From underneath came waddling a rat with its hair singed into a fro.  When Gail had lit the oven, somehow the poor rat had been flash broiled.  It slowly waddled out toward me.  It couldn’t see.  I could.  I struck.

Ratting came with a cost.  During those years Gail told me she woke one night to find me kneeling on the bed, crouching at some unseen enemy.  She asked what I was doing.  I said “Norwegian rats” and kept my alert pose.  I have no remembrance of this.

I said earlier that the new building in part was made possible by our rat problem.  It happened this way.

One night we were working with young people and families in the fellowship hall.  We were surprised to hear the sound of a rat trap.  In the kitchen.  Kirsten!

A rat trap is a more serious danger than a mouse trap.  Its bow can break a finger.  A two year old could lose a finger to a trap.  Our two year had found the peanut butter on the trap.  She was fortunate to have set off the trap before it could crush her fingers.  The story of Kirsten’s close call traveled to headquarters.  A new awareness of our building needs.  It resulted in the new building on Madison at Ogden.

That new awareness and genuine concern led to a visit by the Divisional Commander accompanied by a Major Bill Roberts whose son I just saw this morning in Chicago.  Brigadier Jack Cheyne and Major Roberts visited our old building on a Wednesday, to see and to listen.  Verbal assurance was given of priority to our project.

The following Monday a building next door fell over onto our building.  It was October 19, 1987, Black Monday, as it’s known in finance history.  Which young Bill Roberts this morning mentioned to his audience.

Black Monday sort of sealed the deal for a new Chicago Temple Corps building.

Dundee  4 13 2013 c


I like the freedom here … I actually like how screwed up it is. I work every day to help fix Detroit, but if we ever complete the job, I’ll find somewhere else to go.

The alley.  The building.  In the neighborhood where I served 6 years.  The picture’s from a year ago when I had some time to revisit while Gail was speaking at a youth conference near Detroit.

The man who likes Detroit freedom is Matthew Naimi and I know what he means.  It’s the way I felt during my days in Detroit.  I felt as if the city’s screwed up condition was liberating.

Sure, there were times it was absolutely frustrating.  Dozens of tires dumped on my lot, and before Mr. Clay could arrange for someone to haul them away here comes a city inspector who ticketed us for the tires.  The fight would have cost more than the ticket.  We paid the ticket and we paid the hauler.  I wonder where he dumped them.

What I found liberating was that there were no rules.  The rules don’t work in Detroit, East St Louis, west side Chicago, Gary and countless other screwed up places around the USA.  No they don’t.  And because they don’t, you are free to.  The screwed up places have been abandoned by the rule makers.  They make the rules, but no one’s playing by them.  So, they take their ball and go home.

Naimi understands the downsides of being in the largest American city to declare bankruptcy.  He also knows Detroit is a good place for someone like him.  Who sees SCREWED written all over a city.  And loves working every day to help fix such a messed up place.

Dumped tires.  Sure, frustrating.  There are worse things.

Gail really likes this quote from one of our long-gone Generals of The Salvation Army, Arnold Brown -

The frontline of The Salvation Army must always run through the agony of the world.

Where the brick wall ends in my photo is a small indented area which held our dumpsters.  One night I opened one to shove in cardboard boxes and as I did a rat jumped up, ran along the cardboard, my arm, down my back and disappeared into the night.  I don’t like rats, for eight years killed big ones with a stick in Chicago (another story).  I would have bad dreams about rats; some peripheral movements still put me into heightened alertness.  But that night, the lightness.  As it ran across me.  Filled me with wonder.

I think Mr. Naimi is the kind of person who looks for the frontline.  Read more about him and others in Hanging a Shingle in Detroit.

I think some of you are also frontline people.  These days, I’m looking for people like you, who look for the frontline.  If you’re that kind why don’t you drop me a note.

Temple Gardens April 2014

Temple praise band April 2014 (1) Temple praise band April 2014 (2) Temple praise band April 2014 (3) Temple praise band April 2014 (4)Temple praise band  April 2014(1) Temple praise band  April 2014(2) Temple praise band  April 2014(3)Temple praise band April 2014 (5) Temple praise band April 2014 (6) Temple praise band April 2014 (7)Temple April 2014



Originally posted on Vox Nova:

Nine years ago the science fiction writer John Scalzi published a blog post entitled Being Poor.    It became very popular and was reprinted in a number of venues.    It consisted of a series of short statements that attempt to encapsulate what being poor in America really means.  The list is long, but here are a few examples:

Being poor is stealing meat from the store, frying it up before your mom gets home and then telling her she doesn’t have make dinner tonight because you’re not hungry anyway.

Being poor is thinking $8 an hour is a really good deal. [In 2005 the Federal minimum wage was $5.15.  ed.]

Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually lazy.

Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.

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