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.



Here on Arsenal Street I am observing our Temple House candle and prayer hour.

Each Wednesday our Temple House community lights a candle in a window at 8 PM.  For an hour we take time to pray for peace in our St Louis neighborhood.

This week I pray with the memory of 4 evenly spaced gunshots two nights ago.  The day before, Miss Gigi shook her head at our Sunday evening meal when we talked about how warmer weather means more shooting.  She pointed to the alley behind us.  They shoot back there.  Yup.


Last week I took this photo walking home from Sara’s place.  We had finished our Tuesday meal together hosted in her home.  Over plates of enchiladas Stephen, Jessica and I had discussed how individuals who are people of color (Stephen and me) become the spokesperson for all those who look like us.  At least in the eyes of people who are not of our color.  I don’t mean just white people.  All of us tend to this simple-mindedness.  Our conversation made us more aware of our tendency.  More aware of what to overcome.  Then it was time for banana bread and fresh strawberries with whipped cream.

The weather has been great here in St Louis.  I’ll soon begin my fourth summer here and after years of Chicago summers can’t say that it’s any stickier, hotter here.  The sky over St Louis can be dramatic with cumulonimbus clouds and storm fronts that rush through.

Drama.  Living in a neighborhood with gunshots a regular feature causes a person to take the shooting a little less seriously.  A few months ago during an early Sunday morning run I heard gunshots, listened carefully, gauged them to be from one direction several blocks away, and corrected my running course in another direction.  Simple.

A little less serious.  Cavalier?  That, among other reasons, is why on Wednesday evenings we light a candle and pray.


Sunday evening in Temple Gardens for a grand cookout and potluck.  Behind us to the right is the alley about which Miss Gigi just shakes her head.

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.  

I felt a twinge of guilt reading Cecilia Kang’s NYTimes article on unemployed Detroit residents trapped by a digital divide.

Charlie Cone advised us on all sorts of matters in Detroit including IT and internet.  Charlie was a retired Colonel who had helped set the Air Force on course into the computing age. During my final year in Detroit Charlie had suggested that our west side Salvation Army Corps investigate bringing internet into our neighborhood.  Agreed.  We began talking with those who could help make it a reality for the many families in our deeply under resourced community.  It stopped when our ‘moving orders’ came.  And it was not picked up by our successor.

A few years ago Michael Liimatta, who I met through our partnering with City Vision College, took off with internet access to underserved neighborhoods in Kansas City.  Michael is co-founder of Connecting For Good, “the only Kansas City organization with the sole mission of digital inclusion …to make sure our community’s most vulnerable members have the tools and the knowledge to use the Internet to improve their lives.”  Michael has moved on, now in Washington as the manager of HUD’s ConnectHome a pilot program “launched in twenty-seven cities and one tribal nation to reach over 275,000 low-income households – and nearly 200,000 children – with the support they need to access the Internet at home.”

Kansas City and many other places around the USA will benefit from ConnectHome.  Will Detroit?

Listen to last week’s interview of Michael Liimatta on KC public radio KCUR.

Prayer candle

This week began our Wednesday evening prayer for safety and peace in St Louis.

Behind the candle in our window is the bell tower of St Francis de Sales.  Gail and I started our eight o’clock hour of prayer observance with the bell of St Francis.  We joined other Temple House homes on Arsenal, Wyoming and Jefferson (and in solidarity even far off in Chicago).  A candle in our window for one hour.

It was an hour of meditation and peace contrasting with gunfire and violence.  It is part of our witness.  And we believe that it also is a time of God at work in us and in our Benton Park West neighborhood.


Last night we met on the back porch.  Jessica had warm chocolate chip cookies and a home-made pizza.  We talked, again, about the same thing we had discussed last week at Darren and Char’s place.  What to do about the shooting in our neighborhood.

Last week someone was shot to death in front of Darren and Char’s building.  It’s the first shooting death this year in our neighborhood.  But many gunshots have come before that one bullet.  At times we hear them as we lie in bed on an otherwise quiet night.  Or we happen to glimpse out the window just as someone falls, writhing in pain.

What do we do?

Last week we agreed.  Prayer.  And a candle in the window.  Last night, more logistics.  Today, Gail posted to Temple House Dwellers Facebook:

“Last night we decided to light a candle every Wednesday from 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM and pray for an end to violence in our neighborhood. We hear gun shots but acknowledge that there are other acts of violence as well. We want our neighborhood to be a welcoming place where hospitality is practiced. Shooting at each other is not welcoming or hospitable…(yes, I often state the obvious, can’t help myself). We know that there is more to do on this but we are going to start with the lighting of candles and ask God to help us hear and see what the next step will be. We still have not come up with a ‘slogan’ but feel it will come.”

One more thing we agreed will help us to pray for our neighborhood.

When we lie in bed on a quiet night or are out walking and hear ringing in the distance on the hour the church bell of St Francis de Sales Oratory we will pray.

So, here we go.

St Francis in the distance

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 do not trust the loudest most insistent voices.

True, those voices make it easy to absolve myself of responsibility. Simply do what they ask.  The loudest in a roomful of children usually succeed in getting our attention.  How loud they can be when it’s time to pass out treats.

But I’ve discovered God speaking in the slow-to-speak-quiet voice.  Often lost in the noise generated by the pushy-too-loud crowd.  Sometimes it is a voice speaking only through a look or a touch.

That’s the point when we read the Gospel account of the woman healed by reaching out and touching the hem of Jesus’ clothes.  It surprised his disciples, and the woman, that in the pushy loud crowd Jesus noticed.

Phil Needham’s When God Becomes Small (Abingdon Press 2014) continues to impress on me the value God places on the small.  I have been reading his use of ‘small’ as equivalent to my use of ‘powerless’.

One afternoon several years ago I saw this powerlessness as I drove past a frail aged woman walking along the street.  All drivers slowed and swung wide to give her a safe margin.  That image has stayed.  It keeps revisiting me as an image of the power powerlessness of God.

God’s power is not like the power of the loud and insistent.  Divine power is quiet, persistent and also easy to go unnoticed.  It appears as helpless, unimportant, the least, as a child, as small, as human.

Years ago a mentor taught me that the Holy Spirit is a gentleman.  I find that image consistent with Jesus.  Instead of dictates, questions.  Instead of the well-placed, outsiders.  Instead of orders, invitations.  Instead of barging in he says ‘behold, I stand at the door and knock’ (Revelation 3:20).

Jesus gives a list of the powerless in Matthew 25.  It is clear that it is him that we hear, see and help in the hungry, thirsty, alien, cold, sick, and imprisoned.  If we do, we receive his welcome and kingdom.

I leave you with this verse from William Edwin Orchard.

Like summer seas that lave with silent tides a lonely shore, like whispering winds that stir the tops of forest trees,

like a still small voice that calls us in the watches of the night, like a child’s hand that feels about a fast-closed door;

gentle, unnoticed, and oft in vain; so is Thy coming unto us, O God.


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