Devices and Disguises

"We all have our devices, yours make you look terrible, mine make me look good."

My words as we discussed the Beatitudes at South Street's Sunday fellowship. We were discussing the backwards nature of the Kingdom of God. As we entered into conversation, I knew the place of my own heart: distant and stale. A spiritually lazy week had yielded a short-tempered, selfish version of myself that I knew how to properly disguise.

My disguise of productivity. Before South Street gathered I was working. I cleared the snow off the van and picked up friends and neighbors to come to worship with us. When I arrived at the Front Porch, I set up the sound system, changed the trash bags, set out pastries, made a fresh pot of coffee, and bought Styrofoam cups (so that I wouldn't have to do dishes as well I suppose).

No one was the wiser. My productivity disguise doesn't just blend into most Christian cultures, it thrives there. I answered questions and addressed concerns. I ran the sound for the service. However as Duane began to paraphrase the Beatitudes, discussing the 'goodness' of mourning, or being cursed, or being poor, my productivity facade began to chaff the spirit within.

I sat with friends, some my age, one significantly older who is quite straightforward and has a silver tongue (that is no stranger to the baser words of our discourse). He quickly connected with the Beatitudes. He knew mourning, poverty, and hardship far better than I. He knew times of walking with God and times when his devices mad him far worse off.

"We all have our devices, yours make you look terrible, mine make me look good." I responded. The discussion continued, but the disguise continued. I set up a video to play, drove some folks home, and proceeded home to get some work done.

And I did. And the rush was validating. I finished a flier for South Street's 15 Year anniversary (March 9th!!) and revised the website. For some reason, I decided to visit the Chapel's new service, the Gathering. I had perfected my disguise at the Chapel. I had authentic days and false days, but few were aware. Throughout the hard days I was not blessed, I was disguised.

The service was well attended and youthful. My reputation proceeded me and I was greeted by old and new friends. We worshiped and I sang loudly. I love the sound of my voice.

I stopped singing. My falsehood was intolerable, and the inner spirit once again chaffed against the disguise. The sermon spoke well to my condition and after a good deal of socializing I went out with an old friend and his wife. I had walked with this couple through a great many hardships and their Beatitude blessing was apparent to me.

"We all have our devices, yours make you look terrible, mine make me look good." I thought again.

I headed home, tired from a long day of doing, with little essence of being. My disguise sat on the floor of my truck, stripped off through conversation, conviction, and exhaustion. The hardship with a productivity disguise is that eventually the burden of performance is too much to bare.

I was blessed that day. I was blessed to talk at South Street, to accept a word from friends and neighbors who had no pretense of productivity. I was blessed to worship at the Chapel and recognize the vanity of my own soul. I was blessed to sit at Luigi's and listen to the genuine hardships and pain of friends.

And I am blessed to be rid of that wretched disguise. I am blessed to ask for help instead of always give it. I am blessed to be still and rest.

I Need This

I really hope this post sees the light of day.

I am in a season of incoming. There are lots of things (lots of stuff) that I am acquiring. Over the course of the next year, I will buy and furnish a house. I will receive many gifts from friends who love me dearly. I am in a season of incoming.

And because I am a Christ-follower and because I live in a 'needy' neighborhood, this season has taxed my spirit. There is an unconscious accumulation of stuff that just happens as middle-class Americans. We buy things and receive gifts, and things amass in our basements and attics.

My grandfather passed some time ago and some of his things were passed on to me. My parents recently moved and I inherited their surplus. My birthday is coming up, and friends will buy me stuff. And a season of incoming can easily turn into a long season of having, a lifetime of owning, a culture of needing.

And it is to that sentiment that I now turn: need.

My cell phone does not work that well. It often freezes and has some programming glitches. I recently said, "I need a new cell phone." That is not true. I want a new cell phone, but I do not need a new one. I am quite reckless with that word, as we all are.

Because when I need something it seems all the more justifiable. To need a new (and thus reliable) car, a consistently functional phone, a set of matching plates, or a comfortable couch makes the acquisition of such items all the more palatable and justifiable.

But were I to say the more truthful, but less noble 'want,' my character may be called to question. My selfishness possibly exposed. I want a new cell phone. I want a truck that doesn't have problems with power steering. I want nice cutlery and comfortable furniture.

I have 22 hats in my closet. Twenty-two. At South Street today I wore my 23rd hat and one of the kids who attends took it from my head and put it on. This is an infuriating game the children play for two reasons: one- it leaves my balding head cold, and two- without fail the inner city youth I work with and love inevitably look cooler than me in my own hats.

And when the service ended, the child asked if they could keep my hat.

I need this. Not my 23rd hat, but a consistent presence in my life that reminds of my propensity to acquire and my reluctance to give. I need the twinge of selfishness (because I like that hat) to remind me just how petty and selfish I can be. And I need a community where sharing is normative, where giving and receiving is a beautiful two-way street.

I often receive accolades for my work at South Street. I do not deserve them. I need this ministry, because it ministers to my selfish heart. My neighbors, brothers, and sisters (many with legitimate needs, many others with far more reasonable wants than my own) lead my heart to freedom by taking things off my head.

I am in a season of incoming. But there is a season for everything.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

LORD, grant me the wisdom to know the difference.

Grace & Peace


Akron: Love & Lament

In less than two miles I was in two worlds.

Tuesday started with my neighbors and I watching a house get destroyed. The house across from me, next door to my neighbors has been vacant since I moved onto Bachtel Ave. 2 years ago. My roommates and I joke that there are more rocks from our driveway on the roof and through the windows of that old, abandoned house then there are rocks remaining in our driveway.

And it was an eyesore. And it was a home for animals (raccoon and possum). And the foundation was bad (or so I was told). And the copper piping had probably long been stolen already. But this being the third house torn down over a five day period on Bachtel alone was still disheartening. It's a brown-dirt scab on an already injured street. I thought of Lamentations 1 "How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave.

However, my afternoon was spent at the University of Akron in a conference hosted by the Knight Foundation entitled "For the Love of Akron." We spent the afternoon designing shirts that captured the heart of Akron, perceiving the city through different eyes, and proposing plans to renew the city through art and civic leadership.

It was good. But made for a weird day.

My morning spent watching a house razed. My afternoon spent dreaming about the future of Akron. The contradiction was obvious to me and weighed on my spirit. The present reality of my city didn't match the desired future. And as encouraging as the conference was, my present concerns were left unanswered.

However, I doubt that the city or the Knight Foundation would even be able to answer my lament. I understand most of the economic and political issues at work in my neighborhood. Its easier to 'landbank' and reinvest into a neighborhood later. Not many of my neighbors vote or attend community meetings for change.

So the words of the prophet Isaiah were particularly relevant to me this week: (Isaiah 58:10-12)

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. I like that. Because there are less and less dwellings on Bachtel every month. Summit Lake leads Akron in abandoned and vacant properties. And there is a clear effect on the neighborhood. I ask my neighbors what they think and there responses are usually sighs of 'what if.'

What if my family had moved in? What if they repaired the house? During the "For the Love of Akron" event, many artist's efforts to renew their city were displayed. One such artist Candy Chang from New Orleans developed "I Wish This Was" stickers

The stickers were posted all over New Orleans to express hope, despair, frustration, and potential.

I wish my street were full of good neighbors and not empty plots.

I wish there was a grocery store in walking distance.

I wish the school on the top of the hill wasn't unused and vacant.

I wish my street were a little more like Isaiah 58 and a lot less like Lamentations.


I can remember talking about nonviolence and pacifism at a coffee shop. I remember the debate over the theoretical question, "what if someone broke in your house and threatened your family?" I was 20, single, and relatively safe. The notion of someone breaking into my not-yet real house and threatening my non-existing family wasn't even a present reality.

I look back at the conversation in disgust now. Because it so trivializes the real hurt and pain and loss that so many have actually felt. An 11 year old girl was hit by a stray bullet this week. She died soon thereafter. She had been a participant in South Street's urban gardens last year. Some of her extended family are still gardening participants this year.

I did not know the girl personally, but the weight of violence has burdened my heart this week. so much so that the hope of peace seems distant. It is easy for me to turn the other cheek, I've never been hit and I don't fight. But how do I tell children about peace when fighting is all they know? Sometimes, it feels like I don't practice nonviolence, but non-activity. Peace is easy when there is no conflict.

But for my neighbors and city, is peace even an option? Can the deep shalom of Christ be actualized in neighborhoods where girls get hit by stray bullets? I found Psalm 122 in my search for an answer; it reads as follows:

Psalm 122: 6-9

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
"May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels."
For the sake of my brothers and friends,
I will say, "Peace be within you."
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
I will seek your prosperity.

This is a song of ascent. A song the Jews would sing as they walked the dangerous hills and roads on their way to Jerusalem to worship. And it would be easy to trivialize this Psalm, to view it as a song instead of a promised prayer. So I tried a few extra-Biblical alterations:

Pray for the peace of Akron:
"May those who love you be safe.
May there be peace within your streets
and security within your homes."
For the sake of my brothers and friends,
I will say, "Peace be within you."
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
I will seek your prosperity.

I am convinced that there is not much I can do to change my neighbors outlook on peace and violence. But I know that I know that God does change hearts, redeem cities, and establish peace.

Pray for the peace of Akron.



God bless you.

An interesting phrase for a sneeze. An even more interesting word and premise, blessed.

Jesus doles out blessings quite interestingly, blessing the poor, the mourners, the persecuted, and the peacemakers in the Sermon on the Mount. But for us (at least for me) living in a wealthy nation, with a consistent paycheck, good friends, daily meals, and a solid family, blessedness can take quite different forms than what Jesus dictated in Matthew 5.

Because blessings should be associated with happiness, right? Blessings should be connected to a good life. And I am not writing to posit that this isn't true. I merely want to share how I have been blessed in recent weeks.

At South Street, we strive to employ urban youth. To teach them job skills and financial management that will equip them with opportunities as they enter adulthood. We do this on a small scale, hiring 2-3 youth at a time. One particular young woman is bright and witty, with a razor's tongue that keeps the neighborhood entertained and ensures her protection against the insults of others. She frequents our programming and also attends events with other Akron non-profits.

At one such event, this young woman lost her temper as a situation spiraled out of control and our newest hire ended up verbally and vulgarly dissecting the staff of this organization. Needless to say, we heard about it.

So we talked. We put stipulations on her employment based on her reconciliation with this organization. They didn't need to be friends, but they needed to respect each other. And this mediation came to pass, and it went well (for the most part…).

So where does blessing come in? How was I blessed by this whole situation? Frankly it was more work for me and a bit more drama than I care for. But in between the situation and the mediation, this student asked me for some help with one of her school assignments. Poems for English class.

And I was blessed. Blessed to be a neighbor, friend, and brother in Christ close enough that this young student currently on some form of probation felt comfortable enough to not only ask me for help, but to let me read her poetry. Poems of a descriptive personal nature, detailing her temper, her facade, her inner quietness.

It was a blessing to be let in. To be invited into her life and to know her a little deeper through her words. Her words defend her in a rough neighborhood. Her words entertain others and esteem her place in the pecking order. Her words defend against racial and economic differences. Her words can cut you to the core. Her words were a blessing to me.

I am not going to post her poetry her. One because I do not have her permission (although I may ask later) and two because it is her story to tell, not mine. Mine is to share her blessing. Not a blessing of wealth, family, or comfort, but a blessing of depth. Depth of character, story, and shared-life. I am blessed to be welcomed into the heart and life of another.

I hope that in my words you find a blessing as well.