“God is in the midst of the city. It shall not be moved. God will help it when morning dawns.” Psalm 46:5
“God is in the city” are the first words I say to volunteers and church groups who come into the city to serve and the title of my new book. I say this because God is already at work in the city before we show up. We don’t bring God to the city. We are invited to join in with what God is already doing.
I wrote God is in the City because I was tired of hearing only negative things about the neighborhoods I have lived and worked in for the last ten years with Mission Year. I wrote this book because I wanted to highlight the local leaders, heroes, and saints that are working day in and day out in the midst of pain and systemic injustice. I wrote this book because I had to testify, I have been a witness to God’s grace in the city, and I’ll never be the same.
God is in the City is a collection of inspiring stories that will transform the way we see God and the city. By telling stories, I wanted to provide a more nuanced narrative about urban communities than we typically hear in the media or in the church. I have noticed that most people have misperceptions and fears when it comes to urban neighborhoods and the people who live there. When I felt God calling me to move into an urban neighborhood in Chicago, I had a lot of fears too. I thought I was going to a scary and abandoned place where God was absent.
What I quickly discovered was that God was present in the city in profound ways. Although poverty, violence, and injustice abound in the city, there is also deep faith, authentic community, and courageous struggle. I learned that God is in the city – and because God is in the city – the city can be a sacrament of grace capable of transforming us.
God is in the City is about developing new eyes. When we develop new eyes, we are able to see where God is at work even in the midst of gang violence, corrupt cops, political scandals, and broken education and justice systems. We are able to see Christ in the homeless, the outcast, the stranger, the prisoner, and even in ourselves. We are able to fall in love with Jesus and the neighborhood as we encounter God’s grace and transformation in unlikely people and places.
God is in the City helps us find God in all things, in all places, and in all people. We learn how the grace of God is available to us at all moments. Without this realization, we are likely to miss what God is wanting to do in us and in the places we find ourselves. When we learn to see people – especially those we think are so different from us – as divine image-bearers, we open ourselves to receive the gifts they have to give us as we seek to give our gifts to them. This transforms everything. We see potential for life in the midst of death and possibility for meaningful bonds of community in the midst of deeply segregated city blocks. We see hope growing right out of the places of deepest despair.
If the church is going to be a witness for God’s justice and peace in the city, we need new eyes. We need to take a long look at what is happening in our cities and wrestle with what our responsibility is. We are called to be witnesses of God’s grace in tough places and proclaim the good news: God is in the city!
Shawn Casselberry is an advocate for God’s justice, author, and Executive Director for Mission Year, a national Christian non-profit organization focused on coming alongside God’s work in the city, learning to love like Jesus, and training up young adults to be faithful Christian leaders for the city, church, and world (www.missionyear.org). Shawn is currently working on a Doctor of Ministry degree in Building Beloved Community from McCormick Theological Seminary. Shawn’s book, God is in the City releases October 1st on amazon, PRE-ORDER now at: http://bit.ly/godisinthecity). You can follow Shawn on twitter: @scasselberry.