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Back alleys

Back alleys

When I want a feel for a town, I don’t head for Main Street. That’s for the tourists and TripAdvisor junkies. For me, nothing gives an unvarnished feel for a place like an alley.

Today, I am casually strolling through the little-noticed lanes of my town. The whole of the downtown exudes charm – so much so that even the back streets are named appealingly after fruit. Cherry Alley, Blackberry Alley, Pear Tree Alley. A veritable orchard of small lanes.


But the names don’t trick me. These are still alleys. This is where we see behind the Federalist fronts. Where trashcans await pickup. Where open garage doors reveal disorganized tools and toys. And where a faithful pet is buried under a hand-made gravestone.

I stop, my artist’s eye drawn to a rusted hoop, bent with age, forlornly clinging to the remains of its net as if trying in vain to let go of the memory of impromptu games. This simple scene speaks volumes about families and change over time. It’s bittersweet. But it’s genuine.

Why is it so hard to get to a genuine place with people, particularly in churches? Maybe it’s our busy schedules. Or perhaps, our willingness to go deeper is reserved for only family and long-time friends. I fear it may also be the result of a shallow understanding of grace: we don’t really believe in our desperate need for a Savior. We cling to our respectability like a rusted hoop to its shabby net.

I long for us to be different – to be honest and open and welcoming. To live in the humility and joy of forgiveness. Philip Yancey wrote, "Imperfection is the prerequisite for grace. Light only gets in through the cracks." The world doesn’t need impossibly perfect Main Streets like some in some religious Disneyworld. That’s what the Pharisees attempted, and look how Jesus felt about that.

The world needs to see a fellowship of the redeemed. Imperfect people letting the light of God’s love permeate all of their lives.

Even the alleys.

Lord, revive your people. Help us to live honestly, allowing our brokenness to be a constant reminder of your great love and grace. Would you awaken in us a deep hunger to be connected to you and to each other? Show us the fallacy of false fronts and the joy of being a forgiven people.

Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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