“i choose the city” by francis dubose

Tall Skinny Kiwi calls Francis DuBose, who passed away in June, an urban missioligist and notes that the seminary professor is responsible for the current use of the word “missional” by many within the church.  I’m unfamiliar with DuBose’s many books, but this poem from Mystic on Main Street has me intrigued.

I CHOOSE THE CITY
by Francis DuBose

I choose the city…
Not simply to live in it,
to see it,
to hear it;
But to touch it;
yes, to embrace it,
to hold it,

To feel the wild glory of its
pulsating soul,

To move over its wide,
hurried broadways,

To stand stilled and sobered
at the nowhere of its dead-end streets,

To be trapped with it in its
pain and problems,

To be at once chilled by its ill
and covered with its confetti.

I choose the city because I choose God,
Because I choose humanity,
Because I choose the divine-human
struggle–

The struggle which will be won
Not in the serene path through
meadow and wood,
among the bees and birds, and flowers,

But in the city street
Made by the hand of man
Through the gift of God–
Main Street: the final battle field,
The scene of the ultimate struggle,
Where man chooses right
Because he is free to choose wrong.

Babylon, dirty and daring–
Babylon, yes–
Babylon today–

Tomorrow…
The New Jerusalem!

Francis DuBose, Mystic on Main Street, Chapel Hill, NC: Professional Press, 1993, pp. 78, 79.

If I’d had the chance to ask professor DuBose a question about this poem, it would have been this: Who can choose the city? Did he have in mind those who moved intentionally into a city, or does this poem include those who are native to their urban setting?  Soong-Chan Rah points out in The Next Evangelicalism that choice and mobility are the prerogative of the middle and upper-classes, but surely the ability to choose to participate with God’s mission in the city is not limited by socioeconomic factors.

The poem is a personal expression, so it’s not fair to read into it too much.  I seems however, that DuBose would say that every Christian, regardless of class and status, can “chooses right because he [or she] is free to choose wrong.”  Fundamental to Christianity is the idea that the mission of God is accessible to all because God has become accessible to all.  This doesn’t downplay the social realities that Dr Rah points out in his book.  But I wonder if this conviction allows those of us at the higher end of the economic spectrum to see the work of God among those we have reduced to categories of need.  To push it further, those of us privileged enough to choose to live in the city ought to pay incredibly close attention to those without the same options but who consistently have chosen the will of God.

3 thoughts on ““i choose the city” by francis dubose

  1. I love the expression of this poem and agree that we should read little into it; and if we do, we should tread cautiously into the realization that we are bringing our own history into the reading.

    I do wonder how he would explain his selection of the words “Main Street.” This could be a clue that city does not necessarily mean metropolis or the sort of “urban” idea of the setting.

    I love this “urban” conversation, it intrigues me. It has become quite the rage in the evangelical world, especially in regard to the urban/suburban divide. The question I am most curious about is, do people who live in the city, especially the socio-economic strata that are afforded the “choice”, do they really SEE the city?

  2. Wouldn’t it be powerful if we all embraced where we live as fully as he embraced the city? We all can choose to live fully the life we have, no matter what our economic situation is–no matter where we are in the social strata, no matter what city,etc…. The danger lies in not choosing, in hoping for something different, in complaining for what is, in allowing a trapped feeling to keep us from fully embracing the good that is present because God is present everywhere–even when surroundings are ugly, dangerous, and futile. If I lived in Kabul, or in Bagdad, and my only “choice” as a woman was to be there, I would want to be able, with God’s help, to live the way Frances describes his choice above. So, it should be my choice no matter where I live and that choice will impact how I live, how I view my hood, my people, my situation….

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