A Community Event

Where: the Akron Art Museum      

When: Tuesday, April 7th after work from 5:00-8:00 PM

What: SONG, DANCE AND FOOD FROM THE MARGINS OF AKRON

COME AND CELEBRATE THE CHANGING FACE OF LEADERSHIP

Why: We are an unofficial fellowship of neighbors, friends and family who season our community with love and we need to connect with each other.

Do you have eyes to see? A heart to believe? We are present but not always visible. The best stuff often happens below the surface, unnoticed and unrecognized, in the darkness of the incubating soil. Alchemizing minerals and nutrients, buried in the dirt, nourish organic life. We are already present and springing forth. Pulsing with life, rising, unbidden, pushing up through crusty topsoil to reveal the bright colors of spring in budding flowers and multiplying plants. Generating a variety of organic fruits and nourishing vegetables to be tended by community gardeners.

Power, prestige and privilege can’t deliver the full goods of a healthy and healing community. The grass roots are always below the surface. Hidden from the powerful. But still present, serving and leading on the margins, whether recognized or not. We are creative, emerging and ready or not, coming out of the shadows. In neighborhoods and workplaces we are already here, doing good, loving, laughing and making Akron a better place. Do you know who “we” are? Would you recognize a servant leader? We are disguised, as laborers, immigrants, grandmothers, small business owners, returning citizens, cops who care, single moms, students, neighbors, fathers and friends. We are the lifeblood of our community.

 

How do you identify us? We are engaged, taking responsibility to solve problems, whether we are authorized or not. We are amateurs, those who act out of love. Love for people and place. Do you really know Akron? If so, we are Akron.  Come and meet us. Discover who we are. The changing face of Akron. We are present and future leaders. Already and not yet. Rising. Germinating. Seeding hope in ourselves and others.

 

Block watches, urban gardens, neighborhood clean-ups, Porch Rocker festivals, GAINS Network, returning citizens, immigrants, women up to no good, Pride Centers, house churches, international students, recycling trash pickers, loft artists, budding entrepreneurs, machine shop workers, after school tutors, university students, minimum wage earners, social workers, teachers, library volunteers, coaches. Can’t you see? Life is alive and well and thriving at the grass roots.

 

Don’t miss the unveiling: Come and join the dancing and music making. Eat, drink and be merry. We work hard and play harder. Living. Loving. Laughing. Together. No one is excluded from the quest to make our community whole. You are needed and wanted. Your contribution is necessary. Do you know what it is? Consider yourself recruited to make the future happen. Who are we? Come and see, so each of us will be inspired by all of us.

Incarcerated Unto Christ

Every Tuesday afternoon men and women gather at the Front Porch to support each other throughout issues of Reentry (stepping out of prison/jail and reentering society). Every Tuesday morning Pastor Duane Crabbs visits the Summit County Jail. Every Sunday morning, two South Street members visit CBCF (Community Based Correctional Facility) to lead a Bible study. Everyday returning citizens stop by the Front Porch Cafe to use the telephone, warm up, wait for a ride, or search out some service or help in their process of reentry.

Why do we posture ourselves in such a position of service, ministry, and partnership with the ex-offender community?*

For a few reasons:

1) The prisoner is close to the heart of Christ. When Jesus inaugurates his ministry in Luke 4, He quotes from the prophet Isaiah equating ‘Good News’ with release for the prisoner and freedom for the captive. When his ministry draws to a close, Jesus references the Judgement Seat of God and the separation of the sheep and goats. His rubric for judgement includes visiting those in prison.

“When did we visit you in prison?” they inquire. “Truly whatever you have done unto the least of these you have done unto me,” is Christ’s reply.

2) South Street positions ourselves in service to the Reentry and Incarcerated communities because to a large extent we are those populations! At South Street half the staff come from an experience of incarceration. The South Street fellowship has a large portion of congregants and ministers that have known life behind bars. Although South Street intentionally structures our fellowship and organization to welcome the released, this percentage is a growing trend in America. Presently 1 out of 31 Americans are under some form of criminal control (incarceration, parole, etc.). Chances are within your own fellowship, family, and friends you know an individual or two who has gone through the system.

3) God has a way of reversing roles in His Kingdom. If you take the important seat, you may be asked to step down. If you choose the lowly position, you will be lifted up to the higher one. Don’t consider yourself a citizen of this nation, rather count yourself as God’s sojourner. Feeling left out of society, don’t worry you are God’s Chosen people!

This reversal continues to those free and those captive. In I Corinthians 7:22, Paul writes,**

For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave.

I would posit a contextualization for today’s world,

For the one who was incarcerated when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is incarcerated unto Christ.

God has a way of reversing roles for his people. As I have walked with many friends through their own reentry journey, freedom in Christ (and legal freedom) is such a central part of their transition and sense of identity. Likewise, it has deepened my sense of personhood to consider my American freedom yet count myself as incarcerated unto Christ.

Incarcerated unto Christ. That is how I try to view my self. It is a view that humbles me and helps me connect with my neighbor, which helps when you live and work within a few blocks from the Summit County Jail!

Grace & Peace

 

 

*The conversation around reentry and mass incarceration is broad with a wide range of opinions and viewpoints. I recognize a need for justice both for victims of crimes and for folks navigating that system from within. The hope of this blog entry is to present a theological framework for engaging that conversation honestly and humbly.

**I recognize also the contextualization of I Corinthians 7:22 throughout American history. This was a passage historically used to subjugate slaves unto the position the have found themselves in. I am more and more convinced that Paul’s writing is ultimately a framework for who we are in Christ (as well as the overall thrust of the chapter being about singleness and identity). It is a sin how we have used Scripture in the past to oppress others.

Release & Reentry

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

Some of Jesus’ inaugural words as He began His earthly ministry.

I had the opportunity this week to join the weekly Summit County Reentry Support Meeting. Every Tuesday between 4 pm and 5 pm, folks with records (the trending new-term is returning citizens) gather at the Front Porch to discuss issues of reentry and to support each other in staying out of prison, doing right, and finding opportunities.

As I stepped into this particular meeting, debt was being discussed.

How do I know if I should consolidate my debt or not? I’m worried if I call this number that I’ll just have more people calling me for money I don’t have.”

I don’t know if I should declare bankruptcy or go into default?”

“My ex-boyfriend used my account while I was locked up and ruined my credit, what do I do now?”

Individuals shared some of their concerns. A financial advisor was present at this meeting that offered advice and guidance on how to address respective financial debt issues. Others shared out of their own experiences. Every week various issues are discussed; sometimes professionals are present to offer advice, other times the group advises their own.

This time I had the opportunity to share about South Street Ministries and why we value hosting this group at the Café. I shared our history from the Crabbs family in Summit Lake to a growing community development ministry. I then opened up the floor for an important discussion – what does the Bible say about Reentry?

It’s a topic that I have been thinking much about recently. In Akron the levee failed and our prison population is being reduced. In Cleveland the Police Department has been reviewed by the Department of Justice for a pattern of excessive force. An off-duty officer was recently killed in Akron, and the national spotlight has been on the cities of Ferguson, New York, and Cleveland as we consider black lives, blue lives, and all lives.

jail

So I asked my friends at the Reentry Meeting, what does the Bible say about Reentry?

I shared some of my own reflections. I considered Joseph of the Old Testament who was locked up on a (false) sexual-assault charge. I reflected on Moses who contextually killed a cop. I thought about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego incarcerated (and incinerated) for refusing to bow to the emperor.

I thought about Peter’s incarceration, miraculous escape, and the death of his captors. I thought about Paul’s incarceration, a miraculous earthquake, a non-escape (read Acts 16), and the conversion of the guards. And ultimately I thought about Jesus, dying as an enemy of the state and the Lord & Savior of my life.

As the group responded they shared the reality of Romans 3:23, that we all have sinned. We all have done something wrong. Within the legal experiences of that group was the spiritual reality that all fall short.

The conversation continues at South Street as we consider grace and justice. The issues of reentry are complex. There are systemic disadvantages. There are straightforward wrongdoings. As we host a place for our neighbors to support one another, we are also bringing that conversation to the forefront.

The legal systems of His day were the bookends of Jesus’ earthly life. I am thankful that the story doesn’t stop there. That beyond the legal punishment of the Cross, is the reality of the Resurrection. That in the person/reality/divinity of Jesus we have perfect grace and perfect justice.

Some would encourage us to trust and await Jesus’ coming Kingdom (and we do). Yet Jesus tells us that His Kingdom his here now and exhorts us to pray His Kingdom come. We’re actively seeking that Kingdom now at South Street Ministries.

Christmas Songs

A week ago, my wife and I attended service at The Chapel, as we drove home from the service, we discussed our thoughts and a few points from that conversation have stayed with me throughout the week.

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends,” those are Martin Luther King Jr.’s words from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. They are in reference to the silence of so many white churches throughout the civil rights movement. At South Street these conversations are commonplace. We speak actively about issues of race, justice, and poverty. However as we drove home from The Chapel that Sunday, we were saddened that there was no mention of the Eric Garner case, nor any mention of the continued protests in Ferguson. I was reminded why so many of my friends are so vocal about these issues over social media, there is a large contingent of America that still doesn’t talk about the issues of our day.

The second point of conversation my wife brought up, it was amount lament. The sermon that Sunday focused on the diversity of songs throughout the Christian tradition and Bible. However, there was no mention of lament, even though the Bible has an entire book dedicated to the theme in Lamentations. A Biblical lament is a dour recognition of the wrong and sin that is around us (and in us) and a deep cry for God’s coming and redemptive good.

Although I know many, many traditional Christmas songs by heart (and sing them quite often throughout the season), as I read throughout the Nativity this year, I am struck by the kinds of songs they sang. Prophetic songs that addressed the issues of their day, sad lamentations over grave injustices, hopeful chords sung in deep faith. I think these melodies may be needed today more than Rudolph and Santa Baby.

Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

The Angel’s Song (Luke 2:14)

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.

Simeon’s Praise  (Luke 2:29-32)

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

And a final Lament…  (Matthew 2:18)

A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”

As I consider these songs and words, and as we light the Angel candle today on our Advent wreath, I think about the broken places, I consider the hard economic realities that would cause Mary to say, “He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.”  I consider the racial and ethnic realities and tensions as Simeon declares, “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles.

I think about the prophet Amos (5:23-24) and his declared word of the LORD,

Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

And that the Angel’s visited shepherds (not kings, nor priests) to declare God’s glory and peace.

But lastly, I think of the town of Bethlehem. That little town that hosted the Savior’s birth, than paid for it with a government enforced infanticide.

Matthew 2:16 —  When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.

Harkening the writer Matthew back to Rachel’s lament, “weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

When I read that I think of Eric Garner’s wife and Tamir Rice’s mother. I have heard them in a few interviews weeping and mourning, and refusing to be comforted because their children or husband are no more. I think of the #blacklivesmatter campaign and the push to recognize (and address) the disparity in policing practices (amongst a great other things that that campaign represents). I observe the contrast of political marches in one part of our country while Christmas concerts occur in other parts.

I know from personal experience the desire to squelch the voice heard in Ramah. Her cry discomforts me. I would rather my days be merry and bright, than hear her somber cry, recognize her real loss, and acknowledge my inability to comfort her.

Stay woke this Advent. Listen to the lament of those around you, and recognize it as one of the songs of Christ.

 

The Advent of Christ

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! That is my usual disposition as we enter the Christmas season. However my experiences at South Street and my own Biblical reflections have deepened my Christmas theology.

Mary & Joseph lived under Roman Empire. Caesar’s census dictated that a nine-month pregnant woman travel to her betrothed’s hometown where they delivered the child in a barn. Their first visitors were the unlikely partners of shepherds and angels. Their latter visitors, wise men from the East, brought with them the threat of Herod, who decided it expedient to have infants and toddlers murdered rather than risk a threat to his despotism. That is our Nativity;Jesus the oppressed, poor, Jewish, refugee.

I value that advent account because Jesus, from conception to birth, stands in solidarity with the oppressed. My quaint Nativity set does not justly reflect the reality of Christ’s incarnation; actually most of our Christmas traditions fall short of reminding us that Jesus was poor, was oppressed, lived as a refugee, and ultimately died as a traitor to the State.

Don’t mistake my reflections as Grinch-itude, rather take them for what they are: good theology! We are in desperate need of some real Nativity narratives! Although I enjoy the Holiday season more than most, I recognize a strong cognitive dissonance (a mental tension) between the Nativity of Christ and the Christmas marketed to me over the radio, internet, TV, and mail. And frankly the Holiday Christmas isn’t sufficient to deal with the issues of our day. Ferguson and escalating police militarization, systemic racism and white privilege, materialism and widening class divisions — the large scale issues of being an American Christ-follower can’t be addressed in a Holiday special of Elf.

However, the Advent of Christ is powerful enough to address these issues. Jesus the oppressed, poor, Jewish, refugee is a story (and a reality) that allows for the ‘other’ to enter in and address the social realities of their day. The staff and volunteers at South Street live and minister in this tension – that God often shows himself in the most broken of places. And like the wise men, it takes Kingdom eyes to find Him there.

So light a few candles this season.

Light a Candle of Prophecy and Hope to remind ourselves that another world is possible.

Light a the Bethlehem Candle of Preparation and long for the Advent of Christ. Long for God’s peace and justice (shalom) for all God’s people.

Light the Shepherd’s Candle of Joy and rejoice that the Gospel is Good News. And that good news means real things (sight to the blind, release for the prisoner, and eternal life).

Light the Angel candle of Love. Then go out and strengthen the muscles of love. Within your broken family, within our broken neighborhoods, within our broken world.

And lastly light the Candle of Christ. At South Street we enter into many hard and broken places and peoples (and wrestle with the brokenness and sin within ourselves). We step into these hard places because of the reality of Christ. His first Advent (coming) has given us a hope and faith to be his active working in the world today. His second Advent is our trust that our work will not be in vain.

I will not wish you a Merry Christmas. I will ask that God continue to open the eyes of our hearts to the injustices around us and may we as God’s people move lovingly and humbly into those places of brokenness as partners in revolution and renewal.

Blessed Advent