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.