After an energetic round of creating sculpture with kids at Washington Park, I needed to regroup with a hot chai and a good book: by myself, no conversation and some introvert space. Recharged, I left the coffee shop in Over the Rhine (OTR) getting only a few steps when Mark Anthony jumped off his bike, Street Vibe satchel in hand, looked me in the eyes and said "God told me to give to you something."
|New, fun friends @ Washington Park|
Then he pulled out a necklace with a small bird pendant. I thought it looked like a dove. "This is for you," he said. I was flabbergasted with the way in which Spirit works and humbled by this gift from someone homeless. "I gave him the twenty saying "you need this more than I do" feeling ashamed that I had even hesitated.
A couple of younger, hip African-American men confirmed that, indeed, this was Mark Anthony and he was okay. "Mayor of OTR," he had told me. After exchanging gifts, I asked about an earlier passing remark. "So what about this cancer?" "Got colon cancer," Mark Anthony said patting his left side. If I don't get the colostomy bag, I got six weeks." Apparently he'd beaten this once before when a local artist friend turned him on to green juicing. "Put me in remission; now it's back."
For some odd reason, we just kept hugging. I gave him one last last long embrace, saying I was wrapping him in healing. He cited scripture so fast, all I got was Timothy. Before we parted, he said with the same earnestness as when I heard God speaking through him, "You've got to go two doors down and go inside." 'OK," I responded.
I had no idea what he meant, but I was just as certain of following this command as his earlier prognostication that God told him to give me something. I pushed open the door, reminded of years go when I entered a predominately African-American church on my street. Both times I was very aware that I was doing as Spirit directed and that this could be life altering.
There was a square of tables with modern, Ikea chairs and a haphazard mix of trimmed younger caucasian men, hard-looking older white men, older and younger African-American men, a youthful male with beautiful tattoos, two women of each color, one well dressed and social, the other wearing the uniform of the homeless and a glazed expression, a woman in a t-shirt looking like she ran the place and, well, me.
One of the white men finally chimed in and welcomed me. In the informal chaos, I did not feel out of place or unwelcome. I simply took it all in. I learned this is a relaxed gathering place focused on the work of Jesus in helping all kinds of people live together, providing "home" and accouterments such as meals and companionship. I was mesmerized. This was the pre-dinner gathering and I was invited to stay for it and the preceding Bible study. I lingered about an hour, through dinner and meeting Brandon 1 and 2. They both have the same name and good naturally disagree over who is #1 and who is #2. Mostly I milled around and conversed with Dan. I'm guessing he is about my age. That's about where any similarity might end.
He is homeless, a gunshot survivor, loves art and works construction. His current job ended with a failed inspection. He has an inviting smile and we conversed easily. He's a native Cincinnatian, but would like to get out. His shooter, a teen 15 years ago who pulled the trigger at close range because Dan stood up on a park bench, will probably be on parole soon. Dan's family lives out of state and, right now, he doesn't possess the means to leave. When he has money, he stays in a motel, otherwise it's on the streets. He's angry that city hall has closed its restrooms. "For centuries the homeless have slept at city hall," he told me. He says the homeless have no way to compete with local politicians.
We talk about Over The Rhine and gentrification. He points to a caucasian male absentmindedly walking a big dog and steering a little too closely to Dan's unlocked bicycle. "Some rich white folks have stolen bikes," he says incredulously. "Why?" he asks the air. We both know I have no answer.
And yet, Dan doesn't sound bitter. He knows lots of folks being displaced after spending generations in the same apartment. "They don't mind a new owner and understand they rent will go up, but then they're forced out in 30 days." "Where do they go?" I ask. He shrugs. I tell him about the elderly but spry nuns I met the day the renovated Washington Park was dedicated. They were protesting because of displacement, I relay. They showed me the pointed iron pickets around the park discouraging anyone from sitting on them. And, I have created art with native OTRers as well as children of gentrifiers and suburban visitors, so I have some sense of the shift.
We both solemnly remember the homeless woman a Cincinnati Police Officer drove over and killed in Washington Park before its facelift. Dan reminds me that the park had been a cemetery. I know that will haunt me next week when I leave my car in the park's bowels. In the name of progress and commerce, we seem to lose any reverence for life and death.
But somebody, hasn't. Higher Branches, where Mark Anthony sent me, has a vision to "enrich individual lives and mobilize change within whole communities. We are compelled by God's Word to remain in Him and sacrificially love one another." (John 15) The nonprofit founded by John and Emily Baumann has nurtured relationships and tended residents via meals, Bible study, yoga, art, music and youth mentorship for three year.
That's a place to find Spirit in the midst of a community moving up without looking back.
• Where do I find diversity in my life?
• When have I trusted God to lead me somewhere intimidating?
• What was the result?
• In whom have I heard Spirit speak?
• As a result, what have I learned about listening?
As my white self
shuffled out of
the hip coffeeshop,
sculpture at the
a small, thin
black man wearing
a big grin flew
off his bicycle,
God wanted to
give me something
and began searching
I, obediently, stood
there certain God,
had, indeed, told
and not so obediently
offering the clearly
at least not at first
until after the most
needy gave me a gift
a gift from the heart
and one of his
as we embraced several
times on the street,
I finally offered a
prayer of healing
still under Spirit's
influence, I did as
the man instructed
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