The Urban Grind

Honor. Truth. Duty.


Honor. Truth. Duty. This is the mission statement of The McCallie School - a well established, top tier, boys college-preparatory school in Chattanooga. Confused that I’m writing about a prep school instead of the projects? Wealthy, privileged, and predominately white boys instead of the urban plight of poor, black ones? Hang in there. It will make sense, I promise.

The last few weeks have been crazy busy. It’s always busy at Bridge City Community but the month of February was utter insanity - in such a good way though. In addition to our regular, ongoing efforts we have been overwhelmed by the requests for us to share our story with diverse audiences. Humbling would be the best word to describe these recent opportunities. Not facetious humility like acceptance speeches at the Academy Awards. Not Biblically demanded, apropos humility by any pastor receiving an award. Truly humbling because urban mission work is unscalable and unforgiving.

  • Mark and I spoke on a panel at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga re: "Race, Gender, and the Media." We’ve never been asked to walk, talk, and act like authorities on these things so that experience was quite the adventure. However, Dr. Gailey, the professor of the class was more than hospitable and affirming of our reconciliation efforts.
  • I was invited to sit on a panel to discuss "diversity and inclusion" for our Chamber of Commerce - Southside Council. Not sure I’ll be invited back to that again as I called out a lot of people and things, which of course filled the room with the humidity of awkward tension. I was more nervous speaking to that room full of business owners and influentials than anyone in Alton Park. There’s something about a room bursting with people who pack power and privilege that is more intimidating than Rollin 20’s packin heat (translation: gang members with guns).
  • Bridge City Community was awarded the Guido Merkens Entrepreneurial Ministry Award at the Best Practices in Ministry Conference. When accepting the award on behalf of our congregation I was able to offer a glimpse into our urban mission work. (If the name Guido Merkens weirds you out read the post from last week… it’ll still probably be weird though)
  • A friend of mine, Times Free Press columnist David Cook, invited me to The McCallie School to comment on the phenomenal work of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me, in conjunction with the reconciliation ministry of Bridge City.

 I wasn’t so sure what the conversation at McCallie was gonna be like. I had never stepped foot onto campus nor paid it much attention considering we could never afford to send our children there. Pulling past the guard shack I was welcomed by prestigious brick, khaki uniforms, and the last vestiges of winter. Like an illegal immigrant I nervously stood with darting eyes, hands searching for warmth in my cold pockets, Coates tucked under my arm, and a Ricola clapping against my teeth. What a distant cry from the world of Alton Park I thought.

Not one to mince words or waste time my gracious host threw me to the wolves with a brief introduction and a few scribbled words on the whiteboard. With similar trepidation as at the Southside Council, I launched into what I promised would be a brief introduction of myself and a consolidated history of Bridge City Community. Forty minutes later I retired with ten minutes for questions and dialogue about the book that, up until that point, sat untouched on the desk in front of me. After answering a few questions the students were dismissed and hustled off to their next classes. David and I spoke about new developments with Bridge City as he walked me to my car. One down. Two to go later that afternoon. I was already jittery but decided another cup of coffee couldn’t hurt so I took off to my usual hot spot.

Just after lunch, I returned to the winding hill of campus enamored with the adolescent mischief of boys running from trouble and sniping others with rocks from second story walkways. So similar the behavior of these boys and the ones from Alton Park. So different the past, present, and futures. And only two miles apart. Worlds apart. The double header of afternoon classes wrapped up and I wasn’t sure of the outcome. All of the boys were polite, engaged, and appreciative. I wasn’t sure if it was legit or the result of a responsible upbringing. Either way I enjoyed my time with them as I do whenever I have the opportunity to speak about the gift God has given me to pastor an urban mission.

Leaving campus with a refreshed spirit and renewed partnership with David I saw the mission statement of the school. Honor. Truth. Duty.


I learned in Uganda that you honor someone with your presence and sharing your story with them. I hoped that my presence in the classroom and that sharing the BCC story would honor God, the McCallie students and the members of Bridge City. I think it did. Here are some emails I received in response to my visit.

Thank you so much for coming and speaking to our class. It's amazing to see God work through your life and the impact it is having on others. I would love to work with you and would love to get to talk to you sometime. I am free anytime after school. Thanks again.

I just wanted to send you an email thanking you for coming to class. Although, we talked very briefly, I enjoyed it very much. So much so that I'd love to talk to you again. Thanks for coming and telling you're story!

I just wanted to personally say thanks again for coming to our class and speaking. Your message meant a lot and there were lots of things to learn from it. You were inspiring to listen to.

I am a student the 1st period class that you spoke to. I just wanted to say thank you for taking time out of your day to speak to us and really allow us to hear your story. We really appreciate you enlightening us on the real value that religion and just the little things carry. I hope to co-operate with you more in the coming future! Anyway, thank you again for giving us your time we enjoyed having you. If you ever have any questions for me please feel free to ask!

I just wanted to say thank you for coming to speak to my class today. I could tell that you are extremely passionate about Christ and about what you do in the community, and I respect that very much. I don't think that a 50 minute class period was enough time for you to speak and answer questions but I enjoyed every minute of it. Thanks so much once again,

I really want to extend my thanks for taking time to come Mr. Cooks class. Since having read "Between the World and Me" and Ta Nehisi's "Case for Reparations" I have changed my view on what is happening in Chattanooga and so many other cities across the country. I visited your website and listened to a couple podcasts and I think what you are doing and the presence you have in Alton Park is promoting nothing but positive energy. I am not very religious but how you affect so many people is pretty righteous man. In time I will probably find the courage to come through to one of your meetings on Sunday, Keep It Up!

Well I just wanted to say thanks for coming in to speak to all of us about what you're doing. It was awesome to see that all pastors aren't so cookie-cutter, by the book, people. I'm thinking I might want to be one someday, but I wasn't sure before now if I fit the description. I feel like God is pulling me in a direction of servitude and hearing from you about your fearlessness really struck a chord with me. I've been really fearful and worried about what will happen, even though I know God has it covered whichever way things turn. Just wanted to say thanks again for your proof that He has a plan for each and every one of us and that no matter what happens in the future, if it's based around God, it will turn out for the betterment of His kingdom and glory.


Truth can be ignored or it can be embraced. In Chattanooga and across the country we find ourselves at a crossroad: do we ignore the truth that segregation, inequity, and racism exist are continue to be perpetuated; or, do we embrace the shameful truth of our history and struggle together to reconcile?


In each of the opportunities for dialogue presented to Mark and I in the last month we kept hearing the same question: “What you are trying to do is challenging, tough, difficult. What makes you do it? How can you wake up every day and struggle for a seemingly hopeless cause? A divisive issue?”

The Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God is the reign and rule of Jesus in our hearts and over our lives. Jesus honored us with his presence on earth and inviting us to share in his story of reconciliation. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He fulfilled his duty to willingly give himself up to death for our brokenness and resurrect to reconcile us back to God. Jesus is making all things new and will complete this work upon his return. As a member of God’s Kingdom my duty is to be faithful, as best I can. I fail most days. I do not honor the name of Jesus in everything I do. I ignore the truth a lot. I am unfaithful in many ways. One student at McCallie asked if there was ever a time I felt like giving up. My response: pretty much every day. Jesus didn’t give up.

Honor. Truth. Duty.

Thank you for honoring us by reading this. May you embrace the truth and answer the question for yourself: “What is my duty?"

(A special note of gratitude to the students of The McCallie School for their gracious hospitality and the unexpected invitation of David Cook to share our story.  Thank you.)

1 Comment

Pastor Josh,
Thank you so much for sharing this article. You took my breath away. I have been so impressed and touched by the things God has lead you to do and be. Please continue to post

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