What does one do when God is silent? What does one do when one begs and begs for a word Any word And instead receives
It's maddening, this Holy Saturday. The space of unknown, denial, grief. All hope dashed in the form of a cross Four nails Two beams One death All death Why death?--my God Whose God Is there a God What is God I don't know. Why don't you answer to the pounding at your door? Do you not see earnest hearts in grief? Do you not hear our cries and wailing?
Silence is the taste of abandonment And hope dashed against the rocks.
It is the whimper of a spirit in mourning with no one to turn to.
I didn’t go to church on Palm Sunday. I didn’t have it in me
to celebrate a “triumphal entry” of Jesus and wave palm branches and cry
“Hosanna!” I’m a fan of Palm Sunday, don’t get me wrong. I love a good
celebration and a good spontaneous party. I’m just also an introvert so the
only party I’m probably gonna show up for is one where Jesus is actually
processing again and we’re not playing re-enactment cuz I don’t have energy for
I don’t know if you know the story, but Jesus comes into
Jerusalem and the people are really hype about it so they lay their coats on
the road and wave palm branches from the fields and cry “Hosanna!” and welcome
him and it’s pretty cool. The religious leaders are in a tizzy, but everyone
else is enjoying themselves. The religious leaders wanted a Messiah (Savior)
who rode in on a majestic horse or something…I can’t remember. All I know is
they didn’t want a donkey and they were like “This Jesus guy is not cool
enough/right enough/fit in our boxes enough to be the one who is going to set things Right.” BUT HE WAS and that’s the kicker of the whole Gospel
thing is that Jesus was the underdog who was actually the top dog that got executed by the state but that's a whole nother story I digress.
But I was reading the story and I was like “What…The
Triumphal Entry?” (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19:28, John 12:12) Like, triumphal
entry for whom? I’m not sure why it’s called the triumphal entry because I’m
pretty sure a majority of people were not down with this whole procession thing
and it’s further implications. I mean the guy comes in and basically says he
has street cred and totally challenges the framework of the place. He
challenges Empire. He challenges the very essence of the city. And that never
makes the status quo happy. Especially when your whole life work is spent
maintaining something and this bro comes out of nowhere and starts eradicating
boundaries and laying down a new law for the land.
Like, today. I’m waking up, taking it easy, looking out my
window in Summit Lake and wondering what it would look like if Jesus did that
whole procession thing in Akron. Okay. First off, there’s a lot of problems
with this idea. One, we don’t ride donkeys. There’s no way two disciples are
gonna come in Akron and find a donkey to bring back for Jesus to ride downtown.
He’s just gonna look waaaaaay strange. Two, we don’t have palm branches that we
found out in the fields. I wish we had palm branches. Again, it just ain’t
gonna happen. This is a city in the Midwest. Three, we don’t have cloaks to lay
down in the middle of the path, nor do we have paths that we use for
transportation. How could Jesus even have a procession in Akron?
So I start to think that maybe Jesus actually sent his
disciples to the Metro station to borrow a Greyhound. Their logo is a dog. Dog,
donkey—close enough. So the two disciples are drivin’ this Greyhound bus they
borrowed (sorry fam who’s about to miss your bus, but trust me you won’t want
to miss this procession) trying to figure out how to get back to South Akron
where Jesus is but the construction is a mess and so they end up running over a
few orange cones and cursing a bit and going down the wrong way of a one-way
street but they FINALLY make it back down S. Main St. and out of the city.
Jesus hops in at the faaaaarrr end of S. Main and maybe the
disciples put streamers on the back or maybe there are signs saying “Jesus, the
prophet from Nazareth in Galilee!!” but Jesus ain’t that flashy so he probs
just gets on the bus and invites people who are walking down S. Main to hop on
cuz they can’t afford the bus. Actually, no. I’d like to think that maybe these
walkers are the ones who are actually running ahead into South Akron and Summit
Lake, frantically knockin’ on doors and gathering a crowd to welcome the slow
moving Greyhound bus.
I dunno. Anyway, I’m probably chillin’ in my house in Summit
Lake thinking way too intense about life but I hope there’s a knock at my door
(probably from a neighbor-kid) shouting at me “JESUS IS RIDING DOWN BROADWAY IN
A GREYHOUND BUS COME QUICK” and I’m like “Wut. Who’s Jesus?” and I hop up and
get my shoes on tho sometimes I’m slow moving so it may take a while and I’m
running out there with everyone and their mother from the Peter Maurin Center
and Save-a-Lot and the strip clubs and the take out stores and Long St. and
Main St. and Archwood and Church’s Chicken and South Street and the auto shops
and the random buildings that I don’t know what’s in them and all the spaces
in-between and we’re in a tizzy trying to sort out what this slow moving bus is
about but you best believe we know this is no joke so we show up.
The crowd is quickly gathering and slowly moving down
Broadway and we’re rushing to fill all the potholes with dirt ahead of Jesus
and move all the orange cones so the ride isn’t so terrible (cuz this
construction is a mess.) We don’t have cloaks to extend on the path, but we do
have a deep sense of Midwest hospitality and we know potholes are the worst. We
edge closer to South Street, to Thornton, people coming from Summit Lake and
South Akron, streaming from the varying buildings offering social services,
social support—ALDI’S. THERE IS A CROWD COMING OUT OF ALDI’S. SOMEONE’S
BRINGING A CHEESE PLATE! It’s a scene! We pass the Metro station and hit University
housing and students join. I hope some bring protests signs because it wouldn’t
be a good crowd without a protest of some kind.
We’re entering downtown and we don’t have palm fronds but
someone had the foresight to bring hundreds of Galley Boys from Swensons so
we’re tossing bags and waving our burgers to welcome Jesus to Akron. IT’S A
PARTY IN DOWNTOWN ON BROADWAY. CONFETTI EVERYWHERE. GALLEY BOYS ARE FLYIN’!
HOSANNA! HOSANNA! YAY JESUS! SO MANY
RANDOM AKRON-ITES GATHERED TOGETHER AROUND A GREYHOUND BUS!
After Jesus is welcomed into the city he goes to the temple
to check it out and sees that people are sellin’ stuff there and he get super
upset and flips the tables and drives the sellers out. Holy space is to be kept
holy. The priorities of the religious are out of line with the heart of God,
and Jesus flips the tables to bring light to this dissonance. That is the role
of a prophet—to bring light to the dissonance and challenge the powers that be.
I don’t really know what that looks like to contextualize
this part of the story to Akron. I’d like to think that maybe Jesus meanders the
procession down to King James Way. I like the dissonance of that—Jesus being in
the space where we welcomed another proclaimed King (James) with a giant
I’d like to think he stands on the stage at Lock 3…and just
stands there. Maybe all my neighbors from Summit Lake and South Akron are still
there, finally eating the Galley Boys, taking a break and resting from a long
walk. Everyone else probably left, having more self-proclaimed important work
I’d like to think that Jesus finally opens His mouth to
teach, on a sunny April day at Lock 3, and he speaks the words he spoke when he first
began his ministry in Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he
has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim
freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the
oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
I come from a long line of cowards Who know resistance only as a buzzing gnat By their ear that keeps them from their livelihood "We cannot flourish with all this noise." Head tiled in judgement and disgust, Nose too high to see that beneath their feet are the masses A space of supremacy only ever to be occupied by An ever-loving, just God, And never man. This is the sin we have never named. I come from a long line of cowards Who are too proud to admit that they may have messed up Too proud to repent Too proud to embrace My God I am sick of your games And your cowardice makes me ill If only I might forget that you are Bones of my bones and flesh of my flesh But I cannot.
Once I knew the taste of the air by my tilted nose, Until one day I looked down And in the masses swam into clarity the face of my brother. In curiosity I crawled down, With the firm, supportive grasps of my neighbors, Only to see that resistance was the lifeblood of the spirit, Community the medicine of the soul, And story the tie that binds.
I come from a long line of cowards Who are so afraid of the unknown of our neighbors That we will grasp (oh so) tightly to the illusion of flourishing Rather than choosing the courage of repentance, mutuality, and healing. This is the sin we have never named.
The phrase has been ringing through my head all day.
I remember during my Mission Year during our National Orientation in Atlanta we walked to the MLK Jr. National Historic Site. There was a flame encircled in brick, forever bubbling from the ground, with a plaque that read "The Eternal Flame symbolizes the continuing effort to realize Dr. King's ideals for the 'Beloved Community' which requires lasting personal commitment that cannot weaken when faced with obstacles." Building beloved community. "I want to canvas on D'vyne's street and bring her coffee," I whisper to Ruth. We were down at the Summit Lake Community Center gathering with other local leaders to hand out flyers to let people know about our community meeting this Thursday. Our community council is a crew of unlikely partners, all brought together by a deep care for the Summit Lake community. We've revitalized the monthly neighborhood meetings, with a desire to build greater connection in our neighborhood. And here we were, 9am with Dunkin' Donuts in hand, getting ready to go out in pairs on MLK Jr. Day and hand out flyers.
"LET'S GO TEAM!" I screech in excitement as we walk outside in the cold. My enthusiasm is met by laughter, but I just can't contain it. So many people I respect and care about walking around talking to my neighbors whom I respect and care about about a community meeting that I respect and care about. It's like a Director of Communication and Advocacy's dream!
My team is Jeremy, Ruth and I and we get in my car and park at my house because we were given Long St. as a canvassing route. I'm really excited about it because it gives me an excuse to meet a lot of neighbors I haven't gotten a chance to meet organically, and a chance to visit neighbors I haven't seen in a while. Darren meets us so then we're a team of four, splitting up the street and taking sides. Ruth and I are having a blast, walking from door to door, cracking jokes, making Instagram stories. I watch her be a complete rock star, telling people about our community
meeting, the importance of their perspectives, and an invitation to come
join us. She leads in confidence at such a young age.
We visit our Girls Studio friends, I see some AfterSchool loves, and we connect with parents, grandparents, teens--people in our community who remember Summit Lake in many different seasons. We hear concerns for our community and curiosity about the neighborhood association. We are connecting people, connecting story, sharing life. Somewhere at the end of Long St. I realize that we are building beloved community.
* * *
We're back at the community center and Jeremy and Darren have left and it's just Ruth and I. "I want to go bring D'vyne some of this coffee," I state. Aliyah joins us and we hop in my car with the coffee to bring some to D'vyne. It feels like we're having a mini Girls Studio reunion and I love it.
We pull up to her house and hop out of the car and stumble onto the porch, rap on the door to see an unfamiliar face opening the curtain, asking who we are. "We're here for D'vyne--it's Aliyah, Ruth, and Amber." We hear the message relayed to the adjoining room and then we hear an excited scream and D'vyne tumbles out of the house and wraps us in a hug. We're laughing, just laughing, shoving Dunkin' Donuts coffee in her face and she's grabbing her shoes and vanilla coffee creamer and Mama comes out and says she can go wherever because she trusts us. All of life is but an adventure.
We end up at Save-a-Lot because it's Aliyah and Ruth's mom's birthday so we decide to make a surprise birthday cake for her. She likes chocolate a lot but there's no chocolate icing so we choose brownies and powdered sugar instead. I grab chocolate pudding, Ruth grabs candles, D'vyne grabs frozen Chinese food and we're hustling through the check-out line.
Finally we're in my house taking off our shoes and letting out a sigh of relief. This space is a safe place--a place where we've laughed and cried, a place where we've met for Studio, a central hub, a hang out spot. They said they just wanted to chill, and so we chill. We bake a surprise birthday cake. I make us lunch. We take a nap. They do the dishes. We laugh. We live life.
We are building beloved community.
* * *
Later in the day I'm at our AfterSchool volunteer orientation, laughing with our incoming interns and volunteers. One is a high school friend of mine, two are interns from Malone, and the third is stepping into being Program Director while I begin to do more Communications and Advocacy work at South Street Ministries. We play a couple of games, eat pizza and wings, and talk about AfterSchool as a program. I think about the AfterSchool families I visited today while canvassing, telling them that program was starting this week (to which one grandma firmly said: "Oh, they'll be there!" as her four grandkids buzzed around her asking question after question).
In the same day I've connected with AfterSchool families and AfterSchool volunteers. It's such an unlikely partnership, but that's what we're about at South Street. We're about putting people that don't make sense together into relationship because we believe that God is there in those in-between spaces. We believe that shared risks are the vulnerability on which trust, empathy, and healing are built. We believe that renewing our community is a process that is always undergoing and never complete. We believe in Jesus, who taught us to be a neighbor--who taught us to center our lives and decisions to include and amplify the voices of the most marginalized.
After orientation David insists that we go get the mango drink at the taqueria that I rave about. We pile into the South Street van and head to the plaza in Firestone Park, only to find that the place is closed for the day. Thankfully the little grocery store next to it is open, so we walk out with three Jarritos and a wave to the local store owner.
We are building beloved community. * * *
"Happy birthday to you Happy birthday to you Happy birthday dear Mom Happy birthday to you!"
My heart is so full of the laughter and love for this place, for these people, for this work.
We are building beloved community as an active verb and not a passive, idealistic noun.
I sit in the Middle Eastern bakery in my Akron neighborhood, gazing out the window at the local locksmiths. Next to it was a bright blue house shedding it's siding like skin, much like the community around it which is always many things at once--both old and new, hope and decay, ebb and flow. We are in the midst of the greatest paradox, and we call it life. I go up to pay for my lunch, and am greeted by the store owner. She has become a constant in my life. We call one another family, but neither of us has said so with words. We speak through our eyes. "Whomever it is that is making you sad," she says, "Is not worth it. I see you over there in the corner, looking out the window. Let them go. Life is too short." She rings up my check and I hand her my card with an endearing smile.
"I hear you," I reply, an honoring nod an acknowledgement that I have received her wisdom. She has many more years than I. I open the old frame of the metal door and am hit with a wave of winter, accidentally allowing the door to slam shut from the shock of the gust of brisk needles. I put my hand up as an apology to all inside, and wave good-bye to the owner.
On my way home, I stop by at the local taqueria, opening the screen door to peek inside at the fountain drinks on the right. I'm greeted by the store owner, wave my hellos, and turn to the right to take a look at the fountain drinks. Pink, brown, and white--no mango. Damn.
"We have no mango drink!" I turn and see the other store owner smile laughing at me.
I laugh out loud in reply. She knows me not because I come to eat food often, but because I stop in seeking this $2.00 delicious giant mango drink I have no cultural context for. It has become an exchange of endearment between the two of us every time I come in. The owners speak to one another in Spanish, and the first turns to me and says, "We need to wait until we are out of one flavor. We'll have mango all next week." "I'll be here!" I smile, waving my good-byes. I take a mental note to eat here next week, too, so they know I'm not just a fan of the mango drink. I walk next store to the small grocery store and get a stock house of Jarritos. I've decided I like drinking Jarritos because the bottle makes me feel fancy. Plus they're delicious.
Once I'm home, I'm cutting potatoes into small pieces and thinking of my year in Philadelphia where my housemate cut potatoes every week, baked them as a skillet, and put them in separate containers as his food for the week. It was his staple, and I always wondered how he didn't get tired of potatoes and chicken, but he didn't. I got tired of everything in Philadelphia, but my spirit didn't respond well to routine and monotony. It was good for a season. And now I'm here, food for the week in the oven, sipping Kona coffee out of a mug, looking out upon the living room of the place I call home. What a rocky transition to finally feel at home. But I know that this place finally is home. For how long, that I do not know. But I sense I will be staying here a while. I've been mesmerized watching videos of poi pounding, watching hands repetitiously fold poi bathed in water. It reminds me so much of dough being kneaded, of my mama's hands folding dough from her grandmother's roll recipe, integrating it upon itself again and again.
I think our lives are a bit like this, being folded upon themselves in a circular motion as we integrate our new selves upon old selves and new passions into old spaces. We ourselves are in a constant state of renewal and folding and unfolding as the seasons of our lives mesh with one another.
Life is but a paradox.
I am a writer. Even as I write those words I hesitate to proclaim them for they have deep implications. I have wrestled time and time again with claiming being a writer, or an artist, even. I've found much more solace in embracing the identity of "creative." But I sense that it's time. I sense that it's time and things have aligned so that I may practice the discipline of writing in my day to day. I am a product of all who have poured
into me, and so my words are merely a reflection of all those who have
taught me much. I am a product of many teachers of many cultures, worldviews, and experiences, and I seek to honor and esteem each and every one of them in my writing. My hands are open in service.
I am a storyteller who paints with words to expand people's theological imaginations towards an understanding that we can care for one another better. For such a time as this, may it be so.