Downtown Seattle on a Friday evening there is a palpable energy. Tourists and locals mingle, anticipation of the weekend upon them – exploring, spending, eating, all the fun things a vibrant downtown has to offer.
One of the reasons I love cities is this tangible energy. Yet sometimes, particularly in the busier moments, urban energy can also be exhausting, drowning even. Between waving smartphones snapping selfies, rush-hour traffic and its hurried honking, and the once-a-block lure of Starbucks, a moment doesn’t go by where the city itself doesn’t threaten to consume you.
It’s a blur.
Yet as the Praxis group wandered streets and neighbourhoods in Seattle recently, small details began to emerge.
We began to notice people, particularly their faces. A tourist wanders past the famous gum wall below Pike Place market, smiling at the absurd beauty. One of many homeless people stares blankly from the street corner as another person walks blindly by without notice. A local businessman rushes down the sidewalk with wearied and distracted eyes. And then at dusk, people flock to the balconies and lookouts with gazes of wonder as light from the setting sun beckons through the concrete maze of Downtown. It’s easy to describe cities with words like complex, busy, or impersonal. But with something as simple as looking people in the eyes you can begin to see cities as places of life, even if just one person at a time. We can begin to see God at work in the particularities of the people and places we inhabit.
While we were in Seattle, Tim Soerens, a resident collaborator in various Seattle neighbourhoods through the work of Parish Collective, led us to consider the work of God in the particular – local streets, businesses, and people that create a specific identity to our cities’ neighbourhoods. Telling stories of Christians participating in urban farms, colorful street art, and social entrepreneurship, Tim pointed us to the call we have as Christians to participate in God’s work of renewal in our world, not as an abstract theological concept, but in the presence of local lives living for Christ. In the urban blur, we got glimpses of life.
As a group, I anticipate more ways in which we’ll see God at work in the particularities of different cities we visit. But beyond seeing, I can’t wait to see the ways in which Praxis students will begin to participate in the particularities of their own cities, one day telling their own stories of how their places reflect life and the work of God in our world.
-David Warkentin (Praxis Director)