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?
-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.