Where Is God In the City?

I'm delighted to have Shawn Casselberry guest posting today. He is Executive Director of Mission Year, the volunteer ministry so near and dear to my heart. Also, he recently released a book sharing stories of God's presence in the city. Spoiler alert: Billy makes a cameo in this book, so you should definitely get a copy!

Image Credit: Hernan Seoane
When I went to Chicago, I never expected to encounter God.

I relocated to the Chicago in response to a call. A physical phone call for a job offer for my wife and I to work with Mission Year, and a two-year inner calling I felt to move to the city after reading John Perkin’s book Restoring At-Risk Communities.

I wanted to do something about the pain and injustice I had learned was deeply embedded in our country’s urban cities. I wanted to contribute. I wanted to be a light. You know, all the things us Christian do-gooders want to do. After a decade of living and working in the city, I can honestly say the city has done more for me that I have done for it.

In actuality, the city has done something to me.

I have been changed inalterably. I have been transformed by the city, the neighborhoods, and the people I’ve met in urban communities across the country.

For the last decade I have lived in Chicago. A beautiful, historic American city. We are known as “the city that works.” Yet we are also known for political corruption, failing schools, high violence, and the notorious distinction of being the most racially segregated city in America.

Seeing these grim realities has led me to ask the question, “Where is God in the city?” Sure, we can imagine seeing God in the developed downtown areas, lakefronts, and nature preserves where, “God is good!” so effortlessly slips off the tongue. But I have found that God can be experienced in the neglected parts of the city too.

Too often, news outlets give us a daily rundown of crimes across the city’s struggling areas without reporting any of the good that is going on in those neighborhoods. Although poverty, violence, and injustice abound in the city, that is not the whole story. There is also deep faith, authentic community, and courageous struggle.

When we look at the city with new eyes, we see that grace is present under the surface, on the margins, in the background, and sometimes right in front of our faces. Developing new eyes helps us see potential where others only see problems. When we develop new eyes, we see that God is in the city – and if God is in the city – the city becomes a sacrament capable of transforming us.

I now see that God is present in the city and in everyday people, places, and events. I don’t see urban communities as hopeless places to be avoided but places full of people with heroic faith with much to teach us. I see that God is not distant or outside of our everyday experiences, but accessible and ever-
present, ready to be encountered in the city.

I see that God is in Chicago.

Shawn Casselberry is an advocate for justice, author of God is in the City: Encounters of Grace and Transformation. He is Executive Director for Mission Year, a leading Christian ministry dedicated to bringing hope to the city through faith, community, solidarity, and justice. 

Shawn’s book, God is in the City, is available now. You can follow Shawn on twitter.

Interested in sharing your own travel post? I'm accepting submissions to be published in November. You can learn more and register here.

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