November 11, 2014 by Kyle
I’ve written here, here and here about the various happenings on street corners. Back in the day you would see guys rep corners. They stood on corners with one sneaker on the wall and the other flat footed on the ground and you understood. While occupied you didn’t spend a lot of time meandering–you quickly walked past unless you could take the corner. Corners were important – they represent a transition point or a meeting place or a pause on a journey. You can’t underestimate the significance of place for people. Folk where I’m from tell you where they’re from by cross streets, “I’m from 22nd and Allegheny”. In reality there’s a gas station, Rite Aid, Dunkin Donuts and Beer Distributor on the four points and the street I grew up on is Hemberger St.
Yes, these city corners…corner candy stores, Chinese Food Restaurants, Korean drug stores, Italian Hoagie Shops and crack houses. The corners are covered and space is limited–so just keep stepping. One thing that gets under my skin is when churches crawl from under a rock and try to rep a corner. Basically what happened indoors came outdoors. There are folding chairs, hymn books, fans, speakers, drums and a cheap mic system on the sidewalk and it was folk having church outdoors. This was hardly reppin the corner for Christ–in fact, it was a poor attempt at evangelism and outreach. After the fire and brimstone message church folks would fold everything up and escape back behind those red church doors.
There in is the nagging question…’How can the church establish itself on corners in a real way?’ City corners are places where the masses converge to dream, perform, communicate, complain and yes, hope for future in a place that does not forgive easily. If the church could meet its community at these intersections of life and death I believe the results would shock us.
The verse below is a great starting point.
The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; (Psalm 24:1)
Oft quoted, but I wonder if many of us truly believe in divine ownership or whether we may be content to believe that this only applies to the inside of a church. Stewardship refers to the responsibility of managing something owned by someone else. We are a governing force within a hostile environment. We do battle at the intersection of culture, race, class, ethnicity, sexuality and gender. At this intersection I am reminded of the words of Jeremiah the prophet,
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 1:7-8)
We’ve been given a place in the world and we understand that our existence, in many cases, is in direct opposition to the world’s philosophical underpinnings. The analogy of a battle is as an appropriate description of our lives as exiles. We gaze at the presence of sin in our world and we must kill it wherever it shows its face.
Jesus goes into a town called Sychar which is located in Samaria. Here he crosses ethnic, gender and religious lines in order to request and give water. (John 4:1-26) It was not an equal exchange and what started off as a day at the well transformed the village of Sychar and spread to surrounding places. A public meeting place becomes a gospel outlet. Jesus offers himself as nourishment for this woman’s famine. Her lifestyle is a complex matrix of sin and consequences. Only Christ could unravel the complexities of her existence. The well they drank from had history, it meant something to the Samaritans and after this encounter carried an alternate meaning. Christ gave that place alternate meaning.
Many of the urban corners in Philadelphia carry a kind of meaning. If you look at the news they are places to be feared and avoided. Many of these corners are entry points where young men enter the prison pipeline. For many of our young women it is where they are ‘cat called’ into premature motherhood and life in the system. For many these corners resemble a loading dock for an urban middle passage. What if we actually took the example of Christ who redeemed a whole village by starting at an important intersection and through a conversation gave himself.
Yes, take the corner for Christ. No, you don’t own it, but it can become a place of love and not a place of fear. The corner can actually be a place where barriers are broken and sin is not simply diagnosed for free but it is also treated and healed. This goes beyond simply handing out tracks or yelling through bullhorns or having church outside. Fulfilling the great commandment requires a deeper look at what Jesus actually did and not simply regurgitating the paradigms and models we are used to operating under.