Street

Wrestling with the “Forces of Wickedness” Along 8 Mile Road

by Sarah Rose Sharpon June 6, 2016

This is a HYPERALLERGIC article written by artist and critic Sarah Rose Sharp .

 Billy Mark as The Wrestler (photo by Jeff Cancelosi)

Billy Mark as The Wrestler (photo by Jeff Cancelosi)

DETROIT — Saturday, May 28 was a staggeringly hot day out along 8 Mile Road, where, just before three in the afternoon, a somewhat anomalous crowd of people began to gather. This stretch of road is a place people rarely visit without some purpose — getting an oil change, perhaps, or hitting up one of the many dispensaries that have sprung up in the short time since Michigan legalized medical marijuana — let alone a place where you see people congregate. Just a handful in front of the Fast Lane car wash and lube on the Ferndale side — Detroit’s closest northern suburb, divided from the city by eight lanes of traffic — and a somewhat larger crowd on the Detroit side. Both groups seemed gathered without much apparent purpose. Attention seemed to be focused on the wide, grassy median, dividing east- and west-bound traffic on 8 Mile, planted here and there with trees. One such tree, just east of the Mitchelldale intersection, had some unusually bright red objects cast about its foot. Just adjacent to that, a blue wrestling mat was barely visible in the grass. Otherwise, there was nothing to indicate anything out of the ordinary was about to take place.

However, this set of visitors was present to witness an event of great cosmic significance: performance artist and poet Billy Mark in his role as The Wrestler. Some 45 days previous, Mark announced his intention to face “the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Mark draws his language directly from the Bible’s Ephesians 6:12: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

 The Wrestler grapples with the invisible barrier (click to enlarge) (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted)

The Wrestler grapples with the invisible barrier (click to enlarge) (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted)

 

Siting the match along 8 Mile was no arbitrary act; this road forms the official northern border of Detroit, and during the many decades of siege-like relations between the city proper and the surrounding Metro area, it was heavily policed to prevent any sort of interplay between the mostly black Detroit population and the mostly white suburbs. Mark is not native to Detroit, but his time here has put him in touch with the residual racial tension, which remains an understandably raw nerve, especially as demographics of the city begin to shift again.

“One afternoon I experienced a deep sense of cultural division pervading a room full of people,” said Mark, in a follow-up interview via email. “I didn’t say much in the moment, but it stayed with me in my guts and I was frustrated by my lack of vocabulary to access this sense of division.” He set about to construct a kind of spiritual wrestling match in pursuit of healing this division, despite his only direct experience with wrestling limited to a few weeks of practice in 8th grade.

To prepare for his somewhat ambiguous but daunting task, Mark enlisted the aid of a diverse group of trainers. Edwin Geronimo was in charge of training the Wrestler’s mind; Matthew Hale, his body; Yvette Rock, his spirit (soul); and Sacha Geronimo, the strengthening of his heart. Their work was multifaceted, including an open call for training partners, and sessions that ranged from physical grappling, endurance exercises, guided prayer, and confronting fissures in Mark’s own consciousness that might leave him vulnerable in this spiritual match-up.

“His opponent was division,” said heart trainer Sacha Geronimo. “And so we had to look at areas in his life where there was division — especially when it comes to issues that he might have had with race, growing up. We said a healing prayer, asked the Lord to take him back to places where those hurts and wounds and take place, and ask him to bring healing.” Geronino leads a few groups on racial reconciliation and characterizes herself as a strong believer in healing prayer.

Mark identifies as Christian, and has this to say on the topic of religion:

Religion, for me, is like an art form or an art practice that guides my spiritual creativity to a mysterious and substantial end. ‘Experimental’ work is a very faith-based practice in my experience. In experimental work, as in faith, I set out in a direction and am willing to embrace my ridiculousness and question my own methods on the way in hopes of a deeper and more revelatory experience.

 Mind trainer Edwin Geronimo

Mind trainer Edwin Geronimo

The performance, which took place from precisely 3:02–3:26 pm, was comprised of several rounds, indicated by the sounding of an air horn. Mark, clad in a black wrestling singlet, gold sneakers, and white headgear came up the median at a slow jog, dragging a jump rope behind him. The first round comprised of negotiations with the rope, which was variously dragged by Mark in a series of precise gestures, or animated to appear somewhat like Mark was grappling with a snake. Having successfully navigated the first round, Mark moved onto the second, which involved three unbroken minutes of jump rope. At this point the crowd, which had been mostly silent, broke into cheers of encouragement — even the effort of clapping was somewhat taxing in the oppressive humidity, let alone the concept of rigorous physical exercise.

“A lot of it was about what a match is like, how to prepare for a match,” said Hale, a former wrestler and Mark’s body trainer. “The jumping rope that came into it — that was one of the main training things we did, just for endurance. Until this week, he had never done more than two minutes in a row, and he just did three three-minute sets in the 80-degree heat.”

Mark alternated these jump rope sets with grappling exercises, including an elaborate process of hanging red flags on the tree that sheltered his match, in some cases jumping into the air to access higher branches, and donning a heavy, red woolen cap with four long dreadlock-esque tentacles trailing all the way to the ground while wrestling around a cellophane barrier held in place by Hale and Edwin Geronimo. On either side of the barrier were pots of pink painting, and amid dodges and feints, rolls and peel-offs, Mark began to leave handfuls of pink paint on the barrier. The need for improvisation was paramount, as the wind moving the barrier threw a wrench in Mark’s careful training.

“These are just the trials that we go through,” said Edwin Geronimo. “It’s evident that’s it spiritual. But God won — God always wins.”

 The Wrestler struggles to free himself from invisible bonds

The Wrestler struggles to free himself from invisible bonds

With each turn, it seemed that Mark had laid down a further trial for himself — toward the end of the match, Hale and Edwin Geronimo wrapped Mark from the shoulders-down in the length of industrial cellophane, forming a kind of cocoon. He was visibly exhausted at this point, and the crowd redoubled their efforts to verbally support his efforts.

“I came up with a 40-day training guide to wrestling spiritual forces of wickedness and evil in the heavenly realms,” said spirit trainer Yvette Rock, “and so, I went up to day 35, and then I’ll do the 5 days after the match.” Rock has spent the last 12 years researching and doing work on a project “10 Plagues of Detroit,” so she was a natural fit with Mark’s spiritual exploration. “It’s important to think about why certain places are the way they are, or people — looking at 8 Mile, and knowing that a place doesn’t just become a place by accident. There’s a lot of things that affect the condition of a place.”

There was a great deal of tension to Mark’s performance — not simply the reflexive sympathy of watching a human go through a trial, but some legitimate concerns about aspects of the environment beyond anyone’s control. Twice during the performance, Mark’s median was buzzed by a police cruiser; I contemplated what capacity I possessed to intervene if the police decided to interfere with him. Watching Mark break through his cellophane bindings was energizing and triumphant; I was not the only one concerned that he might give up.

 The Wrestler

The Wrestler

“It was tough out there on the median,” said Mark. “I have never pushed my body that far in this process before. There were definitely times that I wanted to stop. It wasn’t pretty, but it felt simultaneously painful and sweet.”

“I consider my life very, very, cushy,” he continued, “I have my struggles, and I often feel for other people’s struggles, but this notion of our struggle was foreign to me. How do we access our struggle. What type of responsibility, what time of union is our struggle? It’s pretty mystical. When I am pushed to the limits of my hope and faith and trust, I enter into a very human experience.”

The match concluded and the crowd went wild. Mark acknowledged his victory with a raised hand, before continuing his jog down the 8 Mile median, disappearing into the distance. While the forces of wickedness are difficult to master — especially regarding Detroit’s painful history that has left people on both sides of the 8 Mile divide with psychic wounds — it seemed undeniable among trainers and spectators of the match that goodness had prevailed, at least for this day.

Billy Mark’s “Wrestle” took place at 8 Mile and Mitchelldale (Detroit) on May 28. 

A Walk With the Naturalist

Every act of spiritual wrestling needs a Naturalist.  Susan Goethel Campbell and I walked down the 8 Mile median. Her in a green jacket and jeans, armed with binoculars, field notes, and an endless, active curiosity; me in my singlet and headgear.

We measured the length of the median in multiple locations, noticed the variety of grasses, trees and soil, investigated the body of a fallen tree, and noted the patterns of wilderness and control on the median between 8 Mile.

Early in our walk, in the middle of our conversation we saw out of the corner of our eye, a police officer pulling up from behind us on our right. He turned in the Michigan left lane, 10 feet in front of us, his left hand holding a phone covering his face. We stopped, unable to move further without hopping in the back seat of his car. But he continued his u-turn with his left hand blocking his vision of us. We crossed the cement and continued on our expedition.

In the wilderness of the median a tree is trimmed, its branch removed by a powered saw. Grass is left to grow in pockets. A tower is implanted into the earth. Trees grow. Trees fall. A shopping cart stands alone without an explanation.

Every force leaves a trace.

Our Block

 

Jump roping goal for the week:

2 sets of 3 minutes. Mon-Thurs.

Location:

On the sidewalk, under the streetlamp in front of our house.

Monday:

Barely made it through the first set when I saw Gmoe walking toward me down the sidewalk. After I finished, he asked me how long I had been jump roping. “Three minutes” I gasped. “Oh” he said, shocked. By the way I was panting he probably expected me to answer something more along the lines of 30 minutes. Two minutes into the second round I stopped.

“You got to keep going! One more minute!” he said. “One more minute!”

One more minute?! That’s like saying to someone who’s about to drop out of school, “One more year! You can do it.”

But I started jumping again...and finished. Barely. It wasn’t pretty.

Tuesday:

Just me this time. I quit both sets with 30 seconds left to go each time. Afterwards, I thought it would be wise if, next time when I felt like quitting, I should count to 30.

Wednesday:

When I felt like quitting, I started counting to fifty, by 10’s. Finished both sets.

Thursday:

Now that I knew I could complete both sets, I shifted my attention away from time and focused on form. When I began jump roping, my butt would stick out and my heels would touch the ground. It was awkward. Today, however, I began to focus on a more erect posture, and tried to be as light on my toes as possible. I isolated different muscle groups and tested their strength, and tried to listen to my body and trust in its ability to discern the right form. And in this moment of peace and exertion, as my body grew tired but continued, my mind began to drift to the civil rights movement. A movement, whether it's jumping rope or confronting an oppressive force, happens in time. I thought about their endurance and what MLK Jr. calls the strength to love. I thought about how much training is required to love someone who willfully disrespects you, threatens you, hurts you. That's not a race that is won overnight. You need to build up your wind. You need to build up your heart so that when the moment comes you can be ready and your heart can open up, widen with each pump, allowing God an access to reside in that moment of your body. For many, resistance isn't a matter of preparing for an unfortunate unforeseen occasion in the future; it's a daily pressure. Which reminds me that strength is all well and good, but what is it without endurance?

I started fading. My jump rope form loosened. Weariness started to set in…and remembering my plan, I began to count to fifty in sets of 10. Bite size, doable pieces. By the time I had counted to thirty I was done.

I walked briskly to the end of the block feeling exhilarated. I walked back to the car, clapped my hands and yelled outloud “One more, baby!” I yelled it twice, just in case my point wasn’t made to the night. But instead of picking up the jump rope I kept walking west down my block, which is a weird thing for me to do. Although its 30 feet from my front door, I rarely go there on foot. West is where the new, fresh sidewalk in front of the beautifully rehabbed homes ends. West is where, at the edge of the light from the street lamp, the sidewalk transitions into crumbled concrete in front of a stretch of empty homes. At the end of the block is where the long term residents live: Martin, Ms. Carol, Stephen. Between us and them are uninhabited houses without electricity that remind me of how our block looked and felt only 3 years ago.

After the raids last year, the only people who are left on that 3rd of our rapidly changing block are people my age and older. The young black men aren't there anymore. Most of the neighbors who are left are people with whom I have enjoyed friendly conversations and dinner. Before the raids, I remember the warnings not to mix with them from an older resident on the block. But I also remember giving each other "what's up" head nods. Once in a while I would walk by with the kids and we would briefly talk. I never felt in danger, but I also felt like it was hard to have a reason to go down there. But even now, a year after the young black men stopped coming by, there still is a boundary in my memory, in my heart, and on this block with its clean new line of sidewalk.

I walked west, and as I crossed the line on the ground I felt the truth of my thoughts and a rush of embarrassment, freedom, and peace came over me.  My eyes welled with tears as I looked at the block from a different perspective.

Our bodies and where we take them are connected to our hearts, minds, soul and environment. Our block is a living thing. Whatever was keeping me from walking down the street had been released after jumping rope for six minutes, four days in a row. Endurance in one part of my life opened up endurance in another.

I stood at the end of our block, and as the traffic from the Lodge swelled with its slow oceanic pulse, I saw, standing quietly across the road: Herman Kieffer. The Herman Kieffer is a former hospital that was sold to NY developers for a song and is now a gigantic development project. A development that, as I write this, many of my friends are engaged in a creative conversation with its developers concerning the trajectory of their plans...or...and… actually I don’t really know what’s going on. I looked at the building with a couple dozen of its hundreds of windows lit. My eyes drifted up and I saw the dusk sky floating above it, its clouds tangled like the intestines of angels. I smiled and headed back into the block.

 

 

 

 

Our Children

At a school, one block south of 8 mile, I teach theater to 6th and 7th graders. With five minutes left in class, a group of six girls enact a scene wherein a guide, amidst a terrible sandstorm, gives a young woman a tour of the pyramids only to be found and chased to their assumed death by four mummies wrapped in brown paper towels.

It got a big laugh. But the bigger laugh came when they ran into a pole in the classroom at the end of the scene. Huge laugh. The pole was actually a casing for wires so that there could be an outlet in the middle of the room. So now there’s a pile of middle school girls near a mess of live electrical wires dangling from the ceiling in the middle of the class, but as I’m moving everyone away from the threat of electrocution, I begin to sense a distinct lack of urgency around me.

“Don’t worry. It happens all the time”.

As the kids saunter back to their desks, the bell rings. Well, the bell would ring if there was a bell, or if the clocks worked, or if the clocks were accurate when they did work. Instead of a bell the office plays a recording of classical musical to notify the change over. At least they play the music “when they remember”, my classroom teacher says. There wasn’t any music today, just kids casually walking toward the door waiting to be excused.

Meanwhile, I start stuffing the black, white, and copper wires back into a 3 inch by 3 inch square casing that runs from the floor to ceiling, hoping to not die.

Towards the beginning of the next class I noticed the students were taking a long time to open their books and pick a city or country in the continent of Africa as a setting for our next scene. When I asked them how I could help to answer any questions they may have about this project, or about writing and theater in general, I began to hear a question beneath their questions...

“Why are you here?”

They understood we were going to be making a play together, and we had bonded, but my presence wasn’t fully understood. Most kids don't like coming to school, but these kids were confused as to why I would come to their school.

I told them that I cared for their individual growth and the development of their minds because I believed in them. The class that two minutes before couldn’t seem to focus were beginning to open their books.

For the record, I am not a teacher. Teachers show up everyday. Teachers grade papers, and design rubrics, and go to professional development meetings, and shed their time for kids on a daily basis.

They wrestle against the loss of our children. Knowing everyday that there is such a thing as OUR children and that our children are who we will be.

At a 99% black school, the teacher of this class tries to incorporate black history into her social studies and history curriculum, not just in February, but also in each lesson block. I find that so deeply moving. What were my ancestors doing while the important things of history were happening? Answer: Something important. They were making me and my wife and my kids and my neighbors.

I repeat the word “important” because it is easy to forget that you are when the clocks don’t work, and the stories of your ancestors aren’t included in your education, and the wires are dangling around you, and the classical music plays, sometimes, and your parents were surrounded by or caught up in the crack epidemic, and you’re a 7th grader reading at a 3rd grade level, and they have built a jail down the street and the computers are from the 90’s, and the TV in the room is from the 90’s, and the desks in your class are literally the same desks that your homeroom teacher sat in the 60’s when she attended your school as a girl, back when she heard her mom and dad referred to as "Boy" and "Girl" when they would head north of 8 mile. It’s hard to remember you are important. Even though saying the word over and over is an admission of the pain’s effect on your mind, you try to remember to say it anyway, like your teacher when she was a girl, because you know, just like she knew, that your Dad isn’t a Boy and your Mom isn't a Girl. You know that they, like you, are important.

Why are you here?

What does that 7th grader see from her desk? What does she see when she looks at the state-of-the-art school across 8 mile? What does she see in the face of her teacher? Does that 7th grader see the dynamics of the school’s administration? Does she see the school board? Does she see politics? Does she the budget? Does she see the hearts of people in power?

We tell her to get out of her seat and line up at the door. We tell her to wait because the music isn’t playing (but we don’t know if it will). We tell her to stay away from the wires. We tell her to pick a setting in Africa.

What does she see?

The Dark

 

I haven’t prayed in two weeks. Each day has felt like I am two steps behind each commitment. I have begun to feel as if shalom, wholeness, and a shared peace is dangling just outside of my grasp. When I try to reach for it, my arms, my body and my heart are too heavy. I can’t bring myself to jump rope, to endure.

“Read Ephesians 6:10. Consider the foundation of this endeavor and in whose power and strength you will rely on to wrestle the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly realms.”
                                                                      -Soul-Trainer

I am realizing that wrestling with the spiritual world is not another project with a tidy start and end date. These forces move through time, yes, but also beyond time and have distinct and specific dynamics that have plagued people since the beginning. How long has envy been around? How long has fear roamed our hearts?

“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood. This battle isn’t just about people not getting along at some point in history.”
                                                                    - Soul-Trainer

There is a scary moment after I recognize the power of my opponent's force, but before I experience the faith that there is something greater than that force. That dark moment is quietly extended when there is a laundry list of other important things to do. An unrecognized dread grows as I gloss over the struggle by making more appointments and busying myself.

I sat down with the trainers, and we plotted a way forward to win the match. I was honest with them about where I was at and they decided to have a meeting the next day without me. I thought this was wise.

But even before I shared my state, Gmoe said with a smile at the beginning of our gathering, “Freedom”. And he said it in that way in which everyone knows he would like to speak on it.

Now, in my mind, as we sat on the porch overlooking our street, preparing to map out a strategy, “Freedom” was not necessarily on topic. But it seemed he sensed that it was late on Sunday night and people needed to get home to bed, so he didn’t elaborate further on the point, but afterwards he sent me a text with the following training instructions:

“Go in a dark room (pitch black), meditate and feel comfortable in that place. Get rid of all fears. Make movements. Focus on the Lord and whatever he tells you. Feel comfortable in complete silence.
Direction: For freedom in mind spirit body and heart.
Do this daily…”

So I did it.

In the silence of the darkened attic space, moments after the self conscious movement of my body transitioned into a comfortable prostrate pose with my hands reaching toward the ceiling, which later transitioned into 30 pushups, which later transitioned into an upward rubbing of my chest that resulted in several unintended gags, I realized that I had stopped trying to fight time.

In the prostrate pose I experienced a connection to my inability and the rest of God.

In the pushups I experienced a small addictive taste of endurance through action.

In the upward rubbing of my chest I could feel a ruler and power moving up out of my body. I thought I was going to throw up, twice. But I didn’t.

The lessons seemed backwards:

Tired? Work out.

Too busy? Lay on the floor in the dark.

Wrestling darkness? Try darkness!

I had spent two weeks afraid of wasting time, reaching outside of myself for a distant peace, but on the floor in the dark, those fears loosed, and I felt God in the time I had been trying to save.

 

Where 8 Mile Turns into Brys

If you head east along 8 mile, toward the water, toward the Points, there is a side street marked 8 mile that you can follow through the neighborhoods. Along it you will see small two bedroom homes along tree-lined streets. At one point the street curves right and then left again, and in this process 8 mile becomes something else: Brys street.

Drawn to a broken fence where this version of 8 mile ends, I began to film the flow of cars navigating this awkward stretch of road until I noticed voices emerge from inside a small garage. The door opened and a white man and woman in their late 50’s appeared. I asked them if we could talk about the fence. They agreed and began to recount the numerous incidents that had occurred on this curve over the years.

Sandy moved from Detroit and into this home at the edge of old 8 mile in 1986. Her house is two blocks from Mack, a fact she says, that people on the other side of Mack - “the people close to the water” - do not let her forget.

The broken fence surrounding Sandy’s yard was hit by a man on heroin who had lost control of his vehicle on a morning in late November. In addition to this incident, Sandy recalls a bag of money and a gun thrown onto her lawn by someone escaping the law, another drunk driver who smashed into the side of their garage, and one time, two men followed her car home and parked in front of her garage and waited. Eventually the mystery car left.

“I thought that crime was supposed to go down once we left Detroit”, she laughs.

When I asked Brian and Sandy about 8 mile, they said there was, “Nothing interesting down here.”

When I asked them about the stories I had heard regarding 8 mile being a line of division and tension, they said that “those issues were in the past and if it did occur now, most of that tension probably happens farther west. Out near the businesses. Here there are just two lane streets with houses. Nothing worth taking pictures of.”

I was taken aback. I had spoken to so many people who don’t live on 8 mile, that I had to wonder, maybe the people who actually live on the street see it differently then the people who live miles away from the border. Perhaps it’s less of a metaphor or a symbol for the people live on the street. Maybe for them, and people like Sandy, 8 mile is simply the place where they live. In Sandy’s case that just happens to be a curve in the road where 8 mile disappears and becomes something else.

“O.k.”

As I put my camera away and began to thank them for their time, she elaborates on a theme she briefly mentioned earlier: Coleman Young.

“Basically, all of the division that you think of when you think of 8 mile comes from Coleman Young.’If you don’t like what’s happening in Detroit, you can move’ “, She quotes. ”And so people did. In a flurry”.

She goes on to describe how incredibly corrupt he was, to the point that, when she worked in law enforcement, the people she worked for were going to move in on The Mayor but were notified by the President of the United States to “not touch him”.

She speaks about him so many times throughout our conversation, that at one point I ask her, somewhat incredulously. “So all of the white people moved because of this one man?”

“Yep.”

In the first of hour of our two conversation, crime is the central theme. Her neighborhood doesn’t see too much crime, which is part of the reason she says 8 mile isn’t that interesting. “Most of the crime is in the wealthier neighborhoods”.

“People are confused. They’ve never locked their doors and they wonder why they are getting robbed. They’re not used to it. Crime is spreading throughout metro Detroit. There’s no one left to rob in Detroit so they are coming up here.”

She talks about the different cities in Metro Detroit and how they are changing. She mentions how there are no African Americans in Livonia and how the people of Livonia are proud of that fact.

“Why?” I ask. Her answer wasn’t clear so I asked her a question I have heard raised on a couple occasions in Detroit:

“Why don’t they want to be near us?”

“Why do people take pride in not having black people in their city?”

“Why do people want to move when they see black people?”

“Why does your neighbor, who by your account has never had a bad experience with black people, look out of her blinds in contempt at a mixed race couple?”

“Fear.” Brian stated plainly. And then he searched for more words until he found them…

”Fear of the unknown.”

“Is the fear just of crime?”, I ask?

“If a middle class black family moves into the house across the street, if they have a steady job and enough income to afford a 300k house, is it really crime that the neighbors are worried about?”

“Nope. It’s this…”

He pinches some of the loose skin on his forearm.

“It’s the color of their skin. People are just scared about the color of the skin.” He was becoming emotional.

Sandy says that she misses living in Detroit. She has lived in her house since 1986, for 30 years, and doesn’t talk with any of her neighbors. “The only reason I talked to my next-door neighbor was because her tree fell on my house. Back in Detroit we knew all our neighbors. We used to always have block parties.”

I propose that a lack of community is a form of poverty, and add that if you look through different lens, a lens that our cultural rarely looks through, you could see a poverty stricken landscape in a wealthy neighborhood. A ghetto. She agrees.

“In the rich suburbs, things may look nice on the outside, but with more money comes more problems. And the problems are bigger, on a bigger scale. I’d rather not have a lot of money, but have good relationships.” I agree.

With exasperation and shame, Sandy mentions her neighbors who recently, after seeing some young black men playing basketball in the neighborhood have already begun saying that it is time to move. One of her neighbors in particular is deeply concerned over any house that posts for sale on their street. She’s worried that it might be sold to someone black. A mixed race couple moved in across the street and she would peek through her blinds in confusion and disapproval.

“These people are 70, though”, Sandy says. “It’s the young people who are moving into the city and aren’t afraid to mix. I know a woman”, she continues, “that when her children turned 16, she forbade them to drive in the city. If they did, she would take away their car.”

“When I was younger, I danced with a young black man, and my mother yelled at me furiously, ‘I don’t ever want to see you do anything like that again!’. I said, ‘Mom, that’s only Keith!’, but she couldn’t hear it. They were an older generation: Depression, World War II. It’s just going to take for the older people to die out.”

As she was talking my mind briefly drifted to that 16-year-old kid who was forbade from driving into the city. I thought about the voices and patterns that animate our daily lives, and how tricky these habits are to:

A. See  
B. Identify
C. Transform.

How does a limit like, “You can’t drive into Detroit or you will lose your vehicle” affect the way you see people on the other side of the border? Even if you never agree with the command, how does the fact that it comes from your parent’s affect your view of others?

When Sandy worked in Detroit, when she was younger, she would take the bus to work. One day, she recalls, a gang boarded the bus and broke all of the windows with bricks.

“I have friends who are scared to go downtown to a baseball game. A baseball game! I tell them ‘You’re surrounded by 40k people!”. You know, there are parts of the city you don’t go to, places over near Gratiot. You just don’t go down a block that doesn’t look good. It’s just like any other city. Every city has crime. You just have to keep your eyes open and be smart.”

After two hours of a far ranging conversation, Brian proposed that we are more alike then we are different and that this: talking in the driveway with strangers was part of the solution.

I thought of their first two answers to my first two questions:

“Yes. We can talk, and
“No. There’s nothing interesting about 8 mile”.

 

Things in Our Eyes

 Yeji Jun

Yeji Jun

"Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.


My wife is white. The daughter of a doctor, she grew up in the same Northern California home until she graduated. I am bi-racial (black and white), raised by a single mom until she married when I was 8. When it was just me and her we moved often, lived in women shelters and small roach filled apartments and lived off of food stamps and government cheese.

Sarah and I met, dated and married in L.A. She designed clothes, I wrote poems. We have been together for more than 13 years. Although we have grown as a couple - the richness and depth of our life and love together is a daily miracle - occasionally a single comment can touch something deep in us, awaken a quietly held pattern of thinking, and threaten to divide us.

We were at our dining room table, going over the calendar and our finances when the issue of trips to visit our families came up. I thought the trip to her folks was too long. Then, I thought that the trip to see my folks was too short, and that, actually, we rarely see my folks. When I brought this up, she said:

“Maybe if we make more money we can visit your folks next year.”

The comment felt so out of line, that I didn’t feel very hurt by it.

But our back and forth intensified as a shift began to take place. What had started with me feeling pretty in the right began to slip into a conversation about my relationship with my family. Danger zone. My smug piousness began to enter into the unspoken heart space of my family. I tried to regain footing in the conversation, tried to bring it back to her comment, but my face changed. Warning bells clanged amid the distant locking doors of my heart. I began speaking in a way I didn’t recognize as myself; my pain was in full voice.

I have to preface the retelling of this story by admitting that I am borderline estranged from my family and have been since I left the house at 18. I rarely initiate a phone call. I visit, primarily when I am heading back to L.A.; there isn’t a lot of contact between myself, my mom and step-dad, and my 5 younger siblings (ages between 14 and 26). For years, in my mind, and occasionally out loud, I would attack Sarah and anyone else that said a word remotely disrespectful of my folks. It had become a sad, explosive ritual, a theater piece over-demonstrating my care for an abandoned family.

In those few moments over the years, you would hear a dark mixture of love and shame that arose from such a deep place in me that I wouldn’t call what came out of my mouth speaking, as much as emanating.

But now, amid the weird balance of trying to not say really hurtful things, but trying to say hurtful things to my wife, I began to realize that I had taken what she said as a slight, not only on my ability to make money, but moreover, a dig on my upbringing, family and overall economic worldview. It brought me back to our first trips to visit my folks where I was left with the feeling that she found my family distasteful.

I remember the first couple of times I brought Sarah back to my folks house, back when my 5 siblings were still young (2 autistic kids under the age of 8!). The house was messy, unorganized, cluttered, chaotic, kids running all over the place. I could feel Sarah feeling uncomfortable in their home and it made me angry to see my loving, creative, wise family looked down on by her. Instead of addressing the issue, I chose to argue with her while I, sub-consciously, over the years, gradually made the decision to sit back and pretend that Sarah’s family is our only family. It was so much easier.

My wife and her folks seemed like they had a perfect relationship. They talk on the phone weekly, her parents fly out to Detroit, they fly us out to Northern California where they live, they would pay for everything, they’re sweet, no one yells. I wondered, is this the life of all doctor’s families? Does money really relieve pressures on a family to this extent or is it just them? Or is my family just bonkers? Either way, all I have to do is swallow a little pride, let them pay for things, make the decisions and voila: peace.

This was never my single line of thinking, though. I had fought accepting any money from them for years. I didn’t want to be the black husband who married the white daughter and took money from the white parents. No thank you. I had lived without money my whole life, and I had chosen the path of a Christian and an artist (poetry and experimental theater! Yikes) and both paths, I felt, prompted me to explore the challenge and vitality of a life where money is not held as the primary security.

A while into our marriage, I found out that Sarah’s parents had set aside money for her and her sisters when the girls were young. Even after both of her sisters and their husbands had taken out the funds and spent them, I remained hell-bent on viewing that money as “God’s Money”. I figured there could be something that we would spend the money on someday, but in my mind, if we spent it on anything, it would be closer to an orphanage (or something in that painfully heroic neighborhood). It wouldn’t be a house.

But then we moved to Detroit and bought a four unit apartment building for $4,000. And as everyone who has lived in Detroit for more than 3 months knows, $4,000, after all is said and done often means $100k or even $200k.

Although the property, through passive income, would help us pay our bills, we had wanted it to be something more than that. We wanted it to be a place of community. But the deeper we got into the project, and the deeper I learned from the community on our block and the ethos of the city as a whole, the more I realized that if this space was going to be about community, I had to let go of the sense that I could build and pay for everything myself. Again, that already wasn’t the case. The seed money and alot of the ongoing support came from Sarah’s parents. We were, essentially the trust fund kids coming from L.A. and there was a part of me that couldn’t allow that reality to make it’s way into my consciousness. I didn’t think of myself in that way. But building this house with dozens of people changed me. I was humbled by the scope and reality of the work before me. I was too exhausted to care about my image.

One day amid the re-build I walked up into our attic (which we had intended as a prayer space) and I said to myself, “We need all the help we can get.” In that moment, it was no longer about me, through a liberating embarrassment my limits were exposed, pushed to failure, and opened to a larger work that existed beyond my capacity. Now, the only true way forward was through community. That being said, being humbled is all fine and good as long as, afterwards, no one says anything that hurts my pride.

So when my wife says “Maybe if we make more money we can visit your folks next year.” I hear division. I hear hierarchy of value. I hear her family is better than mine. In an instant, surprisingly, I was a poor colored kid from a lower middle class family being looked down upon by an upper middle class white girl.

“That money’s not even yours”, I shot back. “That’s your dad’s money”. “But that money bought this house”, I thought. I was stuck. Trapped. Disrespected. Humiliated. And there, in the moment, a decade long relationship with her parents, getting to know them, overcoming all kinds of issues between us, all of their love and generosity over the years, the mutual growth, my spiritual and economic development melted away before my eyes as this deeper insecurity and pain mounted up through my body. Everything they had given us was tainted. Generosity had become an ugly charity and I felt trapped by other’s mixed motives, other’s humanity. As we sat at the table, I wanted to get out; I wanted to separate myself from this feeling, from these things, these gifts, these people.

“You and the kids can go to your family. I won’t go.”

The truth is Sarah’s family is not perfect, but by holding them up to a place above my family, I unfairly turned them into an idol. A part of me felt like I was too good for struggle, that I deserved an easier life. My proof was my easier life. The recipe was simple: I wanted the artistic chic of poverty, buoyed by creative capital, with just enough resistance to drive my creativity. And secretly, I wanted upper middle class status and comfort. I didn’t want to be rich. Rich is cheesy.

There is nothing wrong with being a part of Sarah’s family. Love is the goal. The trouble is pretending to not be a part of mine. The trouble is pretending. Pretending as if I had been born into the wrong class, as if what I have in my life today is not a vast collection of gifts and influences from others, pretending like I can do it by myself.

I have tried for the last 20 years to distance myself from the pain and struggle of my family. But at that table, across from my wife, after all this time, I realized that it was me who was ashamed. I was ashamed of my family. I was the one who found them distasteful and if anything, I married someone who I thought wouldn’t disrupt my escape from them. Even if my wife felt similarly, her relation to these people she didn’t know very well was a speck to my log.

I dig at “rich” people for their white wine and their sunsets, for their lack of real talk, but in my own way, I have my own white wine, my own cool, relaxing drink that helps me forget the struggle in my roots, gentle sips that help me feel at home in a mansion.

And as far as my family, my judgment was unjust. Unexamined judgment has the power to distance hearts and distort reality. I had unfairly compared two different families at two different seasons in their lives and walked away with a simplistic assessment that I let fester in my heart and spiral out into patterns of being.

I don’t fear for lack of money, my mom raised me better than that; and I work hard like my dad. My mom and I didn’t have anything of material value when I was young, only the love that led a 19 year old white girl in rural Wisconsin to reject the advice of her older sisters and keep the baby after she was raped. What don’t I owe her? And my white my step-dad, my Dad, he married a white woman and accepted and raised a little black 8 year old boy as his son. What kind of love is that?

 

 

 

 

February, My Beloved.

February is a hard, hard month. Ideally, it’s only 4 weeks. In a mild winter, like the one we had this year, when in mid January snow still hasn’t covered the ground, the sense that February will be bearable this time around cautiously begins to emerge in hushed tones throughout the city, like fragile spring buds peaking through the dirt. We’re almost there. We can do it this time. We can make it through! Well, February proved once again, that it’s pull inward is not something to be fought. Only admired…through tears.

My wrestling training suffered as well. What began with a deep confidence and energy was buried beneath tight deadlines, new jobs, watching the kids, trips across the city, bible studies, doodle polls, administration, and meetings. In January I was praying and reading for 4 hours in the morning. Each person I met that day had time and space in my prayers. In those hours, the path that lay ahead was clear and the trust to take each step was firm. But then the snow fell, and the grey began to wear me down. Prayer was sporadic. My diet: random.

I began to feel my weakness. After the clarity of the beginning when anything is possible, when the opponent does not make itself clear, a shift occurs, sometimes quick, sometimes not, but it’s when the excitement, the personality of the moment fades, and time begins to encroach with its long arms and its sleeper holds. The kids need to be loved, read to, wiped, bathed, kissed. My wife, deep in her sunless depression needs care, patience, time. My different jobs each require 110% (self-imposed), my friends need friendship. When Christmas ends, and the daily grind of winter silences the city, spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places seem too much to recognize, much less defeat. How do I care about systemic and spiritual struggles when I feel completely overwhelmed by the smallest house project? How can I befriend anyone else, much less love an enemy? How can I fight forces of division without abandoning my family?

After 10 years of marriage, In February I was shocked to find my heart hard toward my wife. The first sign of this condition was not being able to express the love that I knew I felt for her. I just figured I would snap out of it at some point. Somewhere in the center of my being I can still see her, this incredible woman who through her loyalty, wisdom, and strength makes everyone around her better. But even though I could rattle off all of the wonderful things about her, in our February, a long slow slipping division had become clear and she was on the other side of a divide. I couldn’t see her. All I could hear were the rattling hamster wheels of my responsibilities. I tried to fight it, but all that would come out of my mouth were reasons why I should be the one to get a break from watching the kids.

I tried. I knew somehow this was wrestling. That it was happening. Now! On one hand, I felt like I could confront the world forces of this darkness, on the other hand, sitting across from me, on our comfortable couch, was Sarah, an unloved wife. And then it hit me: She is my city, all of her constituents, my Beloved. When we married 10 years ago, we believed that we were bound together, and became, mystically, one. And though divorce is not on our table (it is a ripping that we, frankly, may not be strong enough for), the slow steady widening apparently is.

As I caught a glimpse of the one person in the world I vowed to never leave, I saw the weight of patterns on our life, a mixture of voices and choices mingling inaudibly in our apartment. I felt the deep rhythm of the season; I felt the ways in which I approach work and challenges. I felt the spirals of parenthood. I felt the patterns of our relationship, cycling silently beneath the surface.

Someone recently asked me, “Why wrestling?”  I told them “Because it takes the body seriously.” It requires the full exertion of our selves. It’s not just an idea. Wrestling is a relationship between two forces that have come together in agreed opposition. In a match, two people are surrounded by rules that influence the direction of their movements, what they can and cannot do. These patterns in our apartment, the ones that keep me on the couch, the ones I’ve designed, the ones I’ve allowed, the ones that we don’t see, they spill out into the street. And wherever these patterns pool, they become a system, an institution, a conduit of choice and power.

She is my city, my Beloved for better and for worse.

Vision and The Utter Chaos of Vulnerability

I used to think vision was seeing the future and making an executable plan. I thought vision was trying to see what others didn’t see. That is why, at every turn of this training I have had to come back to the empowering center of my ignorance. My not-knowing. It feels good. It reminds me that in order to experience something new, a revelation, I have to first not know something. My pretending to know had stunted my growth. This has been utterly liberating and the world, as a result, is refilling with wonder.

A couple weeks ago, at a wrestling performance in Southwest Detroit, I freestyled poetry after listening to people in the room speak on 8 mile and SFOWIHP. The day after the event I met with Geronimo (Trainer of the mind) and he challenged me to freestyle, to wrestle with my eyes open. He noticed that I tend to close my eyes and drift off among the words that arise in the room. I go to a place. While I drift, others, feeling free to go to their own place as well, contribute language to the larger poem that happens in the room. It’s a beautiful thing. I love it. I’ve been doing it for about 17 years.

But Geronimo said, almost in passing, “You should open your eyes”. Whereas I was most comfortable in an environment of mutual independence that leads to the production of something collaborative and wonderful, Geronimo was asking me to look at people while I made up words. After 17 years, this would change the whole thing. It would restructure the way that I produce language. To do this is to agree to be transformed by the gaze of another, bound by the context of another person’s humanity.

All of my insecurities laid bare. My real hopes, not just the script that I practice communicating. My real desires. My real sexuality. My really real. My brokenness, my power, my God. But as I train and become healed enough to make eye contact, those places of connection make space for other people to be themselves, wholly, and for us to overcome the patterns that wear us down and away from each other.

This vision is not a new way of doing things. It is an old way of looking at one another. In it we can see powers and forces; faint echoes of patterns, somebody.

Two weeks ago I drove down 8 mile with a camera, looking for something to corroborate the stories I had heard about 8 mile. As I headed West I looked for beautiful buildings on my right, and dilapidated businesses on the left. I squinted my eyes in search of abuses of power, neglect, barrier. I looked for something that would make for a good picture, something that would prove an idea: there are spiritual forces of wickedness at play on 8 mile, forces that must be overcome. How sweet and well meaning I must have seemed, driving down 8 mile in a green Toyota Camry, a borrowed camera on the passenger side.

Block after block passed, and while I noticed a slight difference in the businesses north and south of the street. Nothing screamed out at me, “Forces!” Sure, there’s a dispensary every other block, but that wasn’t what I was looking for. After noticing that I was, once again, crusading instead of training, I leaned back in my leather seat and tried to listen with different ears, look at the street without judgment or expectation.

It was the first 64-degree day of the year. I rolled down the window and stuck out my arm as if it was dog feeling the wind in its mouth. Rev. James Cleveland sang to his congregation in my car, “I’ve had my share of ups and downs, God’s been good to me and the downs have been few.” He goes on to remix a Gladys Knight song “Jesus is the best thing that ever happened, Jesus is the best thing that every happened, Jesus is the best thing, that ever happened to me”. It was a glorious moment. His appropriated words pierced my privileged heart. God HAS been good to me. I was overcome with this fact and moved to tears, and 100 feet later I noticed the first strip club…then another… and then another. With my hand still out of the window, I realized my dog was in another dimension. It wasn’t simply wind that he was feeling in his mouth. My hand was in a posture of praise. Howling for a Lord, Cleveland continued “Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to me” I was, and I don’t know how it happened, worshipping God in front of strip clubs.

A few weeks ago, the trainers and other wrestlers gathered together to listen to more than an hour’s worth of Detroiter’s answers to the question, “What is 8 mile”. In that space, many people talked about the strip clubs on 8 mile. Strip clubs. Strip clubs? Strip clubs were not on my radar. It didn’t seem as pressing to me as other social and spiritual forces that I thought were at play. But here I was in tears with my hand out of the window in front of Ace of Spades.

Conrad, a young man who lives across the hall from me, and I came back a week later to shoot a training video in that area where I had the experience. It was my intention to shoot the video in the median. Which as artist Susan Goethel Campbell calls  “The last wilderness in the city.” The median is an overlapping of outskirts. It is a forbidden garden in between 8 lanes of traffic. It is the line, the fence, both, neither. And as Conrad and I listened to the song again on our way to film, I drove down 8 mile with different eyes. Instead of searching for proof of evil, I felt the question rise up within me “Is God here?”.

Conrad, who is 21, told me he had a lot of experience with filming and that he is very particular, and so I tried to give him as much space as possible. That can be tough for me. After a few minutes though, we were comfortable enough with each other and he suggested that I jump rope in front of the strip club. That I was not comfortable with. I enjoyed the median, the space between, the no country for old men. But I relented in trust. The plan was for me to take my outer clothes off around the corner of the club and walk out in my wrestling gear to jump rope. When I was done, I would walk back around the corner and put on my clothes again. This, we thought, would maximize the time we had before someone tried to intervene. I first pulled off my shirt, and then I slid my pants off around my gold shoes. And then I readjusted my nuts and piled my clothes next to the wall. As I walked around the corner and began to jump-rope, I prayed for a present God to overcome division. As I did, I felt a connection to the women on the other side of the wall.

I’ve never been in a strip club, but I have had friends who stripped. The revealing of love and the revealing of skin is a holy matter. And revelation is the uncovering of God and also the business of God. Vision isn’t always something new, glinting far on the horizon. Sometimes it’s seeing someone on the other side of the wall that you have never seen. Sometimes vision is stripping and waiting in the utter chaos of vulnerability until you realize that your nuts have never been so close to God.

 

Submission

 Image by Geronimo

Image by Geronimo

Geronimo and I sat at my dining room table.  We were trying to make sense of what it means for him to be a trainer preparing me to wrestle spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places on 8 mile. We knew that his role was focused on preparing me mentally for the match, but as we scrolled through his artwork on his Facebook page, we weren’t sure of what that would look like in real life.

I initially asked Geronimo to be a trainer because of his capacity to make connections between the heart, the spirit, and art in ways that never cease to surprise me. Whereas I have been in the arts for 15 years, have gone to an art school, and have developed a thick aesthetic vocabulary, Geronimo doesn’t rush to identify himself as an artist, but nonetheless, has one of the most creative minds I know.

I wanted him to inspire me on an artistic level, to shake up my art-making, but instead, once he started to see what his role as a trainer was, he challenged me by sharing his experience with mental illness and spiritual warfare. He's a true wrestler who has made it out on the other side with a beautiful mind. He has seen it. He's been there. And now he says things like:

“I had been fighting, but I didn't know how to fight."

and

“If you're filled with pride no matter how many people are around you, you’ll be alone."

 

I wanted an art boost. I got a gut kick.

After a few more pointed, convicting truths, I began to realize that training wasn’t going to be quick and that I really did NOT have an answer. Mental and spiritual growth, like physical growth, isn't simply a concept that can be parroted, it is a process of transformation. In order to become a better wrestler I have to find some way of believing in my ignorance. It’s one thing for me to say “I don’t know about xy or z”, especially if that seems like the wise thing to say. You know, like Socrates. But it’s another thing entirely to feel that emptiness, way down deep in my guts, where I really, truly don’t know. That type of growth is a state of continual humility. Empty on one plane, expanding on another.

(Which seems exhausting)

As Geronimo and the conversation started to shift away from cool art projects about 8-mile and moved more toward his actual wrestling experience, deep and hidden weaknesses within my character began to resonate like untouched piano strings. His speech became one part sharing and one part conviction. I couldn't tell whether he was talking about his life or mine.

And in a tone completely devoid of judgment he talked about arrogance and pride. As he did, I began to slowly feel an invisible thumb pushing inside of my chest. I crossed my arms and slunk back into my chair; breathing became an endeavor.  Somehow my slyest of inner thoughts felt exposed and I started to feel something in me begin to push back against the thumb, against the pressure. But as I did, I could feel my mind activate and little justifications begin to sprout. In that moment I made the difficult choice to suspend my push back against the thumb. And in the halting of my defensiveness, I felt a strange, heady mixture of humiliation, relief and hope. It felt like a victory.

It was nice to listen to my friend, to make space for his wisdom, to submit my attention. I hadn’t planned on submitting to my friend at my dining room table that night. I hadn’t, as has been my habit throughout my life, planned on submitting at all. But as I did, as we drank tea, I realized that this wrestling endeavor didn't have to be in vain, that beneath my words, in a place that we shared, there was room. There was power.

Root Canal

 

The dentist said that my root canal needed to be fixed. There was a dark spot on the x-ray.

-Fixed? As in, the whole thing needs to be done again?

-Yep.

-Does Medicaid pay for that?

- Nope. Here’s a referral for a consultation.

 

            A few weeks into my wrestling training I had begun to wonder if there were going to be any challenges. It had seemed, up until this point, that every uncertainty about the process, or any potential challenge, or any need that had arose had been met almost immediately. I was starting to think that this was going to be easy. I started to think that we had cracked a code and were going to be whisked away to a full and complete love that filled our bodies and our neighbors bodies, and the bodies of everyone in the region. If God is the ultimate, and if, as I believe, His self-giving love is the most powerful force in the universe, then maybe we just hopped on the right team at the right time and no force of evil can oppose it. Or me. Or us. If God is for us, who can be against us, right?

            Then this root canal business happens. Somewhere deep down inside my gums, I’m told exists a tiny darkness. This tiny darkness is apparently feeding on bacteria, bacteria that thrives (if I’m honest) because of my inconsistent tooth brushing and non-existent flossing habit. I need to realize that flossing 20 minutes before seeing the dentist doesn’t count and an extra tooth brushing before seeing the dentist is sweet, but doesn’t fool anyone. And so the darkness beneath the crown, inside the canal, within the gum remains; a nerve that reminds me, occasionally, that something is wrong.

            The first phase of training had been spent focusing on the power of God’s love to combat anything. I was overcome with a deep sense of confidence. To be filled with prayer and hope is a beautiful and powerful feeling. There is a sense that, even when things go wrong, it’s not that bad. That in reality, everything I have, down to my abilities and breath are on a limited loan, and that when I dust out they, in some form will return to their maker. All is well. All is good.

            In the second phase I realized that the best way for me to lose this wrestling match was to wrestle forces that I don’t understand and to wrestle them alone. I don’t believe we’re designed to exist autonomously. I know I’m not. After setting out on this path to wrestle spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places, I was quickly introduced to the vast mountains of my ignorance. They rose around me like black shadows touching the sky.

            What happened over the next month happened fast. The direction for the wrestling endeavor, the people and the resources all materialized in way that I have, in all my years of art making and event production, never experienced. It felt like I was sitting front row to something incredible. I have felt that feeling while playing music, or writing, but never in this corporate sense. It was miraculous.

            So at this point, I wouldn’t say that I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I’m starting to question what is happening. Maybe moving toward love really is just a cakewalk. But then Yvette hurt her hand while working on a piece for the wrestling endeavor. Yvette has been dedicating years of her life creating art that uncovers and expresses the spiritual dimensions of Detroit. Whether through her ongoing series the 10 plagues of Detroit, or by creating art on the border of Detroit and Grosse Pointe. I’ve been listening closely to her experiences. She has been confronted before. But there is still something that I hold back. I’m not prepared to assume that bad things that happen while I’m trying to do something “good” or “for God” are attacks. I still don’t fully know what the spirit realm is (or rather how to know it responsibly).

            But her injury did spook me a bit. It reminded me that resistance is a force to be understood. It reminded me of the first day that Dan and I went up to 8 mile to take pictures of me stretching out in my wrestling singlet. As we were unrolling a long line of white trash bags in order to “do some line work”, an unmarked police vehicle rolls up and tells us to pack it up. I oblige cordially thinking that this is neither the time nor the place to engage this officer or the institution or the forces behind this institution. At that point we were just beginning and unprepared. But I do motion toward Dan to get a couple more shots of the whole scene.

            The cop backs up and tells Dan that if he doesn’t help clean up that he will take Dan to jail. Now Dan is, how do I say it, well, him and authority, police, government, spiritual forces…let’s just say they don’t exchange Christmas cards. But when Dan (who is white) was confronted with this officer telling him that he was going to take him to jail, Dan froze.

            Afterward, in the car, after we had cleaned up, Dan processed. It was a mixture of anger, frustration, and shame. Anger and frustration from the police officers disproportionate threat, and shame for not being able to respond quickly enough. Afterward in the light of reflection, he realized that the officer was in an unmarked vehicle, so Dan had every right to ask to see his badge. But that’s not an easy ask when the moment strikes you out of nowhere. Authority seems like it knows what it’s doing. It seems right even if it seems wrong.

            In the very first minutes of the very first action of this wrestling endeavor we were met with opposition. Recently Dan and I were talking and he said, at that point, he didn’t know if he wanted to be a part of it. I get it. I realize too, that as I step into the role of the wrestler and move toward a struggle that I not only open myself to forces, but also those around me. I fear for that place in me where confidence in the enduring power of love meets nonchalance. I’m concerned about how my benefit can dim my vision of other’s pain. Even when I am in community with others, and we are working together towards a common goal- in this case wrestling the spiritual realm on 8 mile- it is easy for me, in my comfort, to slowly lose my sense of solidarity with my brothers and sisters.

            There is a bond between people who struggle together. It is powerful. I have found it to be a bond strengthened by prayer; a bond enhanced by sitting in a chair and praying for people for an hour. It’s weird to think about people for that long! It’s even weirder to believe that God knows them more deeply then I can conceive, and that this weird silence that I enter into, somehow requests this God to move, positively in their lives in a way that I will never understand. But I’ve been doing it, and it’s the only thing that, at this point, gives me any sense of peace for the well being of my friends who are struggling with me.

            So I get this cavity. And I begin to think, “Is this it! Is this finally some resistance? Is this the spirit world lurking up through my gums and manifesting itself? Is this an attempt to get me off my game and to lose focus, to grow sullen and distracted? But then I thought of Yvette and her inspiring preoccupation with the person of Jesus. She has been training me to look at Jesus and to see how he wrestled with the institutions, powers, and spiritual realms in his day; how he wrestles with them now; and how I can look to learn from his action.

            I thought about this as I was pulling out of Covenant Care, where I have been receiving subsidized dental care for two years. I thought about Jesus in the desert being tempted by the devil. The devil didn’t say, “Hey Jesus, do you want your tooth not to hurt? I can make that happen for you if you just bow down to me. He didn’t say, “Hey Jesus, do you want your kids to shut up and let you work on an art project? I can do that for you if you just worship me a little.” He didn’t even say, “Hey Jesus, who’s bothering you? Who are your enemies? Follow me and I’ll take care of them.”

            No. That is not what was said as Jesus was fasting in the desert. The devil, in his big, explicit moment in the gospels, tried to come at Jesus through his ambitions. He promised Jesus power, wealth, and honor. In short, he offered Jesus a good deal: a chance to live the dream. And boy, I feel that. I feel that deep in my bones, deep down in my teeth. I feel like Jesus is a dentist. And he’s like, “Your teeth look great, but we’re not done. There’s some more we’ve still got to remove. But it’s really small and it’s really far down, so we’re going to have to head down the same path you thought was fixed, covered, over. I say, “Are you sure?” And he says: “Yep. Just because it has a crown doesn’t mean there’s no decay. You need to floss. All your teeth. Everyday.” 

            I hate flossing. I consider it a distraction.

Warm Up

“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
                                                    Ephesians 6:12


In May 2016 I will engage in a wrestling match, on 8 mile, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (SFOWIHP). At this point, what I will be wrestling remains unclear.

What has become clear is that while the match itself is important, matches are also won and lost in practice. Therefore, physical, artistic, and spiritual disciplines will play a key role in my training.

I will begin training Jan 1st. and the training will last for four months, with the match taking place in May.

Because of my relative lack of knowledge on the subject of 8 mile, spiritual wickedness in heavenly places, and wrestling, I will rely on training partners.

Think of my training as an open source performance liturgy: On the blog that I will use to document the process, anyone moved to contribute can share wrestling moves, wrestling videos, stories about 8 mile, stories about wrestling with power, spiritual insights, videos, audio, scripture verses, poetry verses, rights, facts, books, whatever will help toward the goal of winning the match against SFOWIHP in May.

Out of these contributions, every week, I will compile and share a new performance liturgy that will serve as my training schedule for the week. It will include the times that I will be engaging in prayers, meditations on texts, wrestling practice videos, workout schedule, etc.

Your support, encouragement, and partnership in anyway will be greatly appreciated.

love,
Billy