Bikes, Cops, & Kids


For me, summer means one thing: Bike Shop at South Street Ministries. Bike Shop was my first step into south Street Ministries over a decade ago through my Eagle Scout Project. (South Street has had a long and treasured connection to the Boy Scouts). Years later, when I returned to Akron, Bike Shop was the first program I began to volunteer with, and when I started on staff with South Street, I found that the Bike Shop program was (and still is) grant-writing gold.

The model is simple enough, South Street receives donated bikes. The Bikes are repaired by the neighborhood kids alongside caring, Christian, adult volunteers. The kids receive their bikes when they complete a set number of hours based on their age. So kids learn how to fix and maintain their own bikes AND earn a bike in the process.

At least that is the theory. The reality of Bike Shop follows the above model, with the appearance of organized chaos, 25+ kids working on bike simultaneously asking for help, and the occasional theft or fight. I remember one stressful night a few years ago when a neighborhood skirmish passed through the bike shop. We had to close the program early and call the police. By the time they arrived the squabble had moved elsewhere, but quite a few kids were upset that the few ruined the night for the many.

We had the police at Bike Shop last night too. Although they arrived on time and came to help with the program. Three Akron Police Department Officers in uniform spent their Monday night fixing chains, repairing flat-tires, and talking with kids. Generally at Bike Shop, kids come to me with concerns and repairs, I then have to direct them to one of the other adults present for help. A young girl (13) asked me for help with her chain and I pointed her to one of the officers who had a moment of downtime, she paused, so I walked over and introduced her, and they proceeded to repair her bike together.

IMG_1431

I write the above narrative very aware of the black and blue dynamic in our country. I am not simplistically absolving the heinous acts of some officers of the law in light of the good done by many. Nor am I writing a fluff piece to puff up the perception of the APD. I write to share a witness to what God is doing at South Street and why I value it deeply:

  • Unlikely Partners — Within South Street’s mission is the idea of Unlikely Partners people from different worlds coming together to work towards advancing God’s Kingdom. Last night at Bike Shop represented that dynamic to me. There was a myriad of community leaders coming together to help kids repair bikes and talk with them throughout their time together.
  • Akron’s Finest — Remember that term? As I have talked with police officers about some of the nation-wide dynamics around policing and #blacklivesmatter, one of the consistent themes I hear from them is the lament over the loss of the prestige of the position. ‘Being a cop used to mean something…’ I hear them say. I saw Akron’s finest last night. Three were cops. Two were neighborhood mothers checking out a new program. 4 0r 5 were South Street volunteers from around the greater Akron area. 2 were neighborhood kids stepping into leadership at South Street for the summer. And 25 were some of the finest, funniest, best kids I know.
  • Walking Humbly — There are needed conversations in this country — How and why and who we police? What a return to community policing looks like? The definitions of protecting and serving? All centered around dynamics of race and class. I am not submitting this blog as one of those conversations, but I will say this — what I appreciated about the officers at Bike Shop last night was their service. They came and fixed bikes. They didn’t patrol the site to make sure kids weren’t stealing. They left discipline issues to be handled by the staff. They were humble in their presence at Bike Shop. The verse Micah 6:8 has become a tagline for many churches concerning issues of justice. I would encourage folks to learn from the last stanza ‘walking humbly with your God.’  Humility has served me very well as I approach these very conversations with neighbors, leaders, friends, civic officials, and others.

Grace & Peace

How’s the Weather?

If you’ve ever lived in Akron, you know the weather can turn on a dime! Within the course of a week (or even a single day) it is not unheard of to experience summer sun, sleet, fog, winter frost, cold rain, and warm spring showers!

Akronites maintain a certain capacity to roll with the weather. It’s a learned skill of living in Northeast Ohio. At South Street Ministries, there is a spiritual equivalent — our days in ministry are often spent in a broad range of places and peoples:

  • training a group of suburban volunteers to engage the city respectfully
  • conversing with and assisting someone recently released from prison
  • interacting with neighborhood youth in community garden plots
  • talking with the philanthropic community about neighborhood development.
  • speaking at churches about God’s heart for those that are down-trodden.

Perhaps the varied weather of Akron has prepared us for the varied forms of service and ministry seen daily at South Street Ministries!

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.