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Commentary: Sidewalks for a sense of community

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He put down his cup of coffee, looked me in the eye, and asked, “Wait. Do you mean literal sidewalks?”

I did mean literal sidewalks.

It was the Thursday of Holy Week, so I wore my pastor’s collar, something not ordinarily required by our Presbyterian tradition. This group gathered for coffee and to discuss race-related issues and work on being friends together. I’d just finished talking about the upcoming Livable Streets Summit bike conference and how we might start somewhere, like working together on better sidewalks and pathways in Oklahoma City neighborhoods. It wasn’t a metaphor. It wasn’t a slick preacher’s illustration. I wasn’t trying to Jesus juke anyone.

I was talking about sidewalks.

Christianity has always cared about physical places and spaces. Our worldview contains the theology of place: God cares about this world. This world isn’t all there is, but it’s important. He created it. He entered into it. He’ll make all things new one day.

I’ve been learning to develop this sense of care for a place and its people. I grew up in Missouri and first moved to Oklahoma when I worked in Stillwater after college. I rooted for Oklahoma State University, wore orange and ate at Eskimo Joe’s. After seminary, I moved to Norman to work at the University of Oklahoma (OU), so I switched to crimson and cream and Classic 50’s Drive-In. I had a clearly delineated space as a campus minister at and for OU. I wanted to love the students and their stories. Their stories became mine.

When I moved to OKC to start City Pres in 2011, I carried that same mind-set. This is my city. I’m proud of what it’s proud of, promote what is good in it and grieve for its brokenness and needs. I care about the milk bottle landmark, Gold Dome, Plaza District, Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, Festival of the Arts and, of course, the OKC Thunder and everything incredible that’s going on.

I’m also here to help Emerson High School, the homeless, the lonely and those hurt by injustice and racism all around us and in our own hearts.

Along with the normal programs and activities of our church, I started walking and biking. My single-speed fixie isn’t anything fancy. I walk around the neighborhoods of our church, greeting people and praying for them even if they don’t know I am.

That has limited my scope. It has made me much more aware of traffic patterns and weather forces. It has connected me more to both the built and natural terrain. I now think of how difficult it is to walk across Classen Boulevard to get to church. We installed bike racks at our church so people could ride and park there if they wanted to.

I have troubles, too. I’ve fallen off my bike. I’ve gotten yelled at. I’ve gotten rained on. I’ve gotten hailed on. I’ve gotten my shoelace caught in the gears. I’ve gotten to know which places have good bike racks and which don’t.

But I’ve also met new friends and had new conversations. I’ve felt more a part of my city when I’m not flying by in my own bubble and my own world with my own climate control. I feel even more connected to this place, to these people, to these stories.

It means we need better sidewalks and pathways all over our city because we want the best OKC we could envision.

We’re for mercy, justice and love. We’re for people, especially those who need help. Sidewalks and pathways are small steps, but not unimportant.

It’s a metaphor, after all, but we could start there.

Doug is a pastor at City Presbyterian Church in Midtown who lives in the Gatewood neighborhood.

Print headline: Small steps, big city

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