The Risk of Roots


We’ve got to make commitments to our neighborhoods and cities bigger than vision and emotion; we need to covenant with others to grow roots in our cities or we will continue to create baggage for those who are already skeptical of us

The people I observe who have the hardest time adapting to new cultures have only lived in one place or one region; they can be considered monocultural. Monocultural people are vulnerable to ‘cultural snobbery’

Our rhythms, parties, days off, desires, and friendships have all be affected significantly. It’s a daily journey of dying to some of my own expectations and habits, but a sprouting in ways I never hoped for

Proximity allows others around us to experience beauty, generosity, failure, and grace in us

Relationships can only flourish when people embrace tension for a long period of time

We flourish when we embrace the opportunity to make ordinary choices in ordinary moments

North American church ministry needs to move gracefully from a posture of conquering and converting and instead join a joyful pilgrimage to the spots God has placed us
— Chapter 7 - Staying is the New Going

If you've taken the subway to my neighborhood more than once you have likely seen the mosaic above.  This church that at one time was literally part of the fabric of the neighborhood is now no longer there.

A Wall Street Journal article from last year gives some background on this church,

A year after the Civil War ended, an Episcopal church opened on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn to serve waves of immigrants arriving from England...
But a sign on a construction fence around the church says demolition is scheduled for fall. This summer, the Harlem-based Demolition Depot announced in an email that it had been commissioned to sell the contents of the church, which include stained-glass windows, doorways of hand-cut stone, fencing, light fixtures and pressed-tin ceilings.
— A Brooklyn Church is about to Vanish - WSJ

What does a church closing have to do with setting roots? [more than you might know from my life personally, more on that in future posts] It has to do with the reality that setting roots is a lesson in failing.  The biggest risk in this invitation to investment and involvement is the risk of failing and for that reason, many don't make the effort. 

In the midst of the winner's script culture that wants to Instagram wins and hide or worse 'Jordan crying meme' shame losses, staying and belonging is going to mean losing.  It's going to mean saying and doing stupid things, offending people and needing to say sorry and a whole host of other things that will make us look foolish and show our inadequacies and limitations.

Whoa, where's the good news in this?  The good news is that failures aren't wasted in God's economy.  It is in these failures and flops, we can come to realize what we don't know and all that God wants to teach us through our neighbors, our community and our city.  We can learn to see that failure is a much better teacher than success because it refines us and make us better people.  On top of this, when we come to realize that our success rate is not what defines God's love for us because we rest in Jesus perfect track record, we are free to learn and fail and embrace being changed as we dive into the messiness of setting roots in our neighborhood.

Some churches do sadly over time start to look at the community as a lost cause or reduce community to a "holy huddle" because they are or become fearful of those not like them.  In so doing lose sight of the beauty of moving out and learning from and participating in what God is already doing in our cities.

But did that church fail because it closed it's doors? Was it because it lost sight of the neighborhood or because it reduced community to the holy huddle? Or is there a bigger and different story unfolding? Setting roots is risky and will lead us to make mistakes and to get messy and we can either let that paralyze us from participation or we can get dirty and dive in because we trust what it can and will produce in us and around us.


Think of a time in your life that you really failed.  Take some time to review and consider what that failure taught you about yourself.

Would you describe yourself more as a tourist, pessimist, local, or pilgrim of your place? What is your next right step toward the posture of a rooted pilgrim?