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A little over a year ago Gail and I talked over lunch with Rob and Stacy about what we’re doing in St Louis and our shared commitment to mission. Excited to see this new missional community expression on the West Coast!

Waking up this morning before the sun, the above photo was the beautiful scene – a Valley we are falling in love with every day, ready to fulfill God’s purpose for its existence.

January 2018 is when valley miSsionAl communitues officially launches (if you haven’t yet, see the last blog post with the 2023 Vision). We will be moving into a house in Canoga Park any day now, and so much is being planned: a house blessing party, Bible Study, worship, meals and much more. It’s going to be a place to send people out in love and service.

Even though Crags and Gilmore in Calabasas has been our home for several months, we are only ten miles from Canoga Park and go frequently.

Tuesdays, Sweet Prayers day, we now visit 5 Massage Parlors faithfully. After meeting in the parking lot of the Adult Rehab Center…

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More of my local life as a St Louisan.

I live in the Benton Park West neighborhood, not as chichi a place as Benton Park to the east. BPW’s greater socio-economic diversity means that it tends to have more ‘issues’ so we keep our eyes and ears open to dangers. But also to its uncommon beauty.

img_0297I run a regular morning route south into the Dutchtown neighborhood, seeing far more aesthetic pleasures than I am able to capture in photos. I style myself as a member of the nonexistent Dutchtown Runners Club.

This week I’ve enjoyed these two ongoing studies in migrating bricks.

Construction and deconstruction.


From today’s New York Times –

“It couldn’t have hit a tree? A light pole? A sign?”

SGT. MICHAEL J. LOPUZZO, the commander of the 40th Precinct detective squad, on a bullet that had traveled nearly two city blocks to strike an unintended victim, in the Bronx precinct’s 14th – and final – homicide of 2016.

It reminded me of our family’s experience with a traveling bullet we had nothing to do with, yet it visited us.  Here’s ‘pop’ from some time ago.

Last week on my early morning run police were gathered outside a home, ready for something.  It was quiet.  They were nervous.   I got the hard stare as I passed before their attention returned to the home.  Had they tracked down the random gunfire we hear at night?  It’s been quiet since.

It is unsettling to hear gunfire where it doesn’t belong.

It is a 100 degree day on our street.  I say to Gail ‘let’s walk to El Bronco‘.  We go.

We walk down Iowa.  A mother and her young daughter coming out of their home smile and greet us.  We return the greetings.  We each know not the other’s name.  But we know we are neighbors.  Neighbors walk in their neighborhoods.

Across the street three young men yell greetings to us.  We smile and I give thumbs up.

At Cherokee we turn west.  Cumulonimbus overhead arriving from the west.  Are we going to get wet walking home?

Our usual.  A chimichanga for her.  For me the two taco lunch special which you can order anytime.  Not fancy, but simple goodness.  The place quieter than usual.  Heat has people down.   Not us.  We have to eat.

Tonight Gail tells me that she wishes she knew the names of El Bronco staff.  Our waitress.

When she comes to collect our bill I ask ‘what is your name?’  She always has a warm smile for us.  But now her smile turns beatific, more intensely warm.  As if ‘I’ve been waiting for you to find out’.  As if we just gave her a gift.  Her name is Maylee.  I introduce us.  ‘Phil and Gail’.  That smile is with her as she leaves our table.

During my first taco (steak, onions and cilantro wrapped in two warm corn tortillas drizzled with lime) I happen to look up and notice that Pastor Dave is with the group of men that had entered a few minutes earlier.  We catch each others attention, wordlessly exchange waves.  After paying our bill we go over and Dave introduces his three guests.  The men are visiting from Springfield MO, Denver, and Kansas City. We chat a little.  They ask about our Salvation Army work.  Pastor Dave asks what Salvation Army people think about Sara Johnson’s Democratic Party committeewoman campaign (enthusiastic).  He also asks about our son, John.  John introduced us to Pastor Dave a couple years ago.  John knows everyone in Benton Park West and everyone knows John.

We leave El Bronco.  The sky has grown darker with clouds.  We start up California.  Thunder.

I say to Gail ‘show me the grapes’.  She told me about them a few days ago, grapes that finally have appeared on a vine John put up a few years ago behind the Salvation Army Temple Corps.  Rain sprinkles, but I want to see the grapes.

We turn east on Juniata and jog to the left down an alley to a trellis.




Will they survive?  When some unknown passerby notices that they are starting to look good …

Across the street Miss Gigi sitting outside at Booth Manor, keeping cool, notices us.  We cross the street to talk.  We all agree.  The grapes look promising.  For now Miss Gigi is keeping an eye on them.  She will put up a little fence with a sign.  She tells us that should be enough to help people respect the grapes.  We believe her.  Miss Gigi has authority.

The rain starts to fall.   Miss Gigi sends us off.  We pick up the pace.  The wind has too, the air cooling.  But before going inside I need to inspect Gail’s flowers.  She noticed today that the black-eyed Susans she and Sara planted a few weeks ago are doing well.


Inside, before the heavy rain begins, ends, leaving a quiet St Louis sky.


I tell people that this is the first time in a long time that I have lived in and felt like part of a neighborhood.  The experience of walking to a restaurant.  Of meeting and visiting with people I know.  It makes me feel rich in the Holy Currency of relationship.

I like being a neighbor.

We all brought food.  

Miss Gigi’s spaghetti.  Gail’s deviled eggs.  Sara had a hot grill going for a package of Nathan’s hot dogs.  Hannah made cucumber salad with herbs from Temple Gardens.  

A full back yard of conversation and food.  Farewells to Captain Mary Kim and Lieutenant AJ Zachary.  Cookies and brownies.  

Life together.  

Stephen Eide wrote last week in the NY Times of Nathan Bomey’s new book  Detroit Resurrected “the most thoroughly reported account of the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history. It also stands as a valuable work of urban policy. The overarching theme of the book is how Detroit turned to bankruptcy to restore the social contract.”

I have been gone long enough (12 years) from Detroit that the image in my head is likely marred by inaccuracy of memory.  The city is also a different place.

Four years ago I was back in town, by choice.  A weekend trip for an event north of Detroit gave me a few hours to revisit.  Even then the city seemed different from my memories.  And it was in worse shape.

The building I had worked from was trashed.  The neighborhood grocery, one of few independent stores in the city, was closed.  Its parking lot was filled with garbage.  Windows smashed.

It was sad to now see the former Salvation Army building at the corner of Dundee and Grand River.  Left alone, an orphan, unclaimed and empty.  Not long after my visit the building was burned.  I haven’t been back since.

Dundee  4 13 2013 c

My weekend visit four years ago:  I decided not to try go inside.

When someone writes of Detroit in terms of resurrection is it a miracle?  In spite of appearance, the reality is that this largest of municipal bankruptcies featured “ownership of a world-class art museum and the almost unbelievable harmony that prevailed among all public officials involved in the process: local Democrats, the Republican governor and State Legislature, members of the judiciary and the state-appointed emergency manager. After six decades of uninterrupted decline, Detroit, for once, seemed to catch all the breaks.”

Resurrection needs to rise from someplace.  An art museum worth more than eight billion and unanimous good will.  Detroit, the city, has this.

Now it’s to be seen if Detroit, its neighborhoods, each of them, have someplace from which to rise.

Gail and I talk regularly about the Urban Mission Center.  I try to keep some distance to remain simply a contributing voice.   

Here’s our most recent construction about what the UMC is to do. I guess you could call this its mission. 

The Urban Mission Center prepares:

  • people for the city
  • the Army for the city
  • the Army for people of the city
  • people of the city for the Army

Well, there is the bare bones of it. Much of our conversation in the car and over coffee is now fleshing this out.   

More later on this.  

An open note to Sara and Gail –

This paragraph (“In other words … sail quickly out of harbors that have silted up”) from Eberhard Bethge’s biography on Bonhoeffer expresses what I feel you are faced with in developing the UMC.

Safe journey!


I woke a few minutes before my clock radio.  I rose and walked down the hall toward the stairs.

I pause.  Out of the window north I see as I’ve seen before, but this morning I pause, notice, and wonder what is the story in that apartment.  It’s a block away.  A large empty lot intervenes, clearing the way for my eyes.  It’s a generous line of sight this upstairs northward view gives.  The apartment is dark just as are most at this time of morning.  On the streets very few people yet.  

I creak my way down the stairs.  16 steep steps.  Midway my view changes.  Through the window above our front door I now see across the street.  That house is also dark but it is always dark.

Last week when John and Betsy stayed a few days on Arsenal I learned that Mrs. Williams once lived in the house.  John told me that he knew her.  Often stopped to visit. Regularly helped with the kind of things an elderly woman living alone could not do for herself.

Mrs. Williams no longer lives in that house nor in this world.  The house is dark.

Some say that the world too is dark. At five on a winter morning, yes.  Moving beyond a literal sense, this world can be painted dark or light.  Depending on the viewer.

What do we expect to see?

This week I’ve resumed reading Phil Needham’s book When God Becomes Small.  I am reading where he says “we do not expect to encounter God, and therefore we usually do not.”  It is so when, Phil points out, we become distracted from the ‘all-important now’.  

One of my favorite set of lines is John Keble’s:

If on our daily course our mind, be set to hallow all we find, new treasures yet of countless price, God will provide for sacrifice.”

At that second line, usually quietly with my lips barely moving, I believe I experience an actual sharpening of my powers of awareness.  Everything and anything POPS!  

“…be set to hallow all we find…” 

is my psychic coffee.

The 5 o’clock bus.  What is the story of the opening of its door at the corner of our block, eastbound?  I hear it from my bed upstairs, before I look out of my first window for the day.  The hydraulic hiss of the lowering bus accompanies the recorded woman’s voice announcing the purpose of its stop. Someone gets on this bus every morning.  I am guessing to work.  That it’s a long trip with a transfer ahead.  It will be a long day for that man (let me make a man of him in my imagination, invited aboard by the woman’s voice).

This morning I have surprised the bus and the woman’s voice.  I am downstairs making coffee.  As I measure out scoops I hear the eastbound Arsenal bus, a hiss, the proclamation.  Then the bus roars away.

It carries a story.  

I live in a place surrounded by stories.  We call this place the city. 

how it looks this morning, the house of Mrs. Williams

My view of Halsted this afternoon sipping cafe au lait and doing email.

My view of Halsted this afternoon sipping cafe au lait and doing email.  And pondering the meaning of changed names.

Today I was in Chicago.

I was in Chicago with personal missions to complete.  Like a new pair of shoes to wear with my Salvation Army officer uniform.  Alamo Shoes on Clark in Andersonville.  It’s been my shoe salvation for many years.  It’s not easy finding my size for this kind of shoe.  Alamo has always saved me.  Today, I walked in, a salesman greeted me, I told him what I wanted, a moment later he had the shoes.  I was out in ten minutes.  My kind of shopping.

But I utterly failed in finding a replacement metal teapot for Yoshiko.

For years my mother has used a small, very small, aluminum teapot to brew green tea.  When I visit we share tea from this increasingly worn pot.  Her favorite tea:  genmai cha.  Today I thought Mitsuwa in Arlington Heights would be teapot salvation.  Wrong.  I am so sure that I once saw this type of pot in Mitsuwa’s grocery store, but today nothing.  And the little shop once in Mitsuwa, filled with all sorts of Japanese household articles like a metal teapot, gone.  Today, only an empty space.

After my disappointment at Mitsuwa I drove from Alamo this afternoon to Joong Boo Market on Kimball almost under the Kennedy Expressway.  It looked promising when I started searching but again, disappointment.

On the way I drove California between Irving Park and Addison and passed the high school our youngest son graduated.  It’s name has changed.  Once, Gordon Tech.  Now, DePaul College Prep.  But that section of California still also has the little signs bearing the honorific name of Gordon Tech.

As time goes by more people will wonder.  Why ‘Gordon Tech?’

After the disappointing Joong Boo I stopped for lunch at Penny’s Noodle on Sheffield under the Brown line ‘L’.  The waitress smiled when I entered.  It’s gratifying to be recognized after a long absence.  But the menu she offered said “Paul’s Noodles”.  Yes, there too was a name change.  But she assured me that the same family still ran the restaurant.  I believe her.  My warm bowl of wonton soup was as good today as in years’ past.  It felt very good on this sunny day which warmed only to the low 50s.

And my bank (I still bank in Chicago).  The same bank, but it got a new name several months ago.

And Caribou Coffee.  Now, Peets.

The changes in names today invoked pattern-searching instincts in me; what’s going on?  I’m not sure there’s any significance to all the name changes.  Still, I wonder.

Names and identity.  In such a densely populated place like a city, a place with so many places, we can feel lost without the familiar.  The school building, the noodle shop, the bank were all still there.  But, the names.  All different.  I felt faintly bewildered and not completely liking all this changing of names.

Mitsuwa was once Yaohan.  It went through a name change several years ago. I have grown used to that change.

Sears Tower, now Willis Tower. Many Chicagoans have not gotten used to that.

The things are there, mostly unchanged in appearance and perhaps substance.   But the names.  How is it so that it matters?

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