SWWJ Chapter Illustrations

In "Streetwalking with Jesus: Reaching Out in Justice and Mercy", artist Brian Bakke illustrates each chapter with a sketch that speaks to the chapter it begins, but also has a story all it's own.  Here are the stories behind each chapter illustration in "Streetwalking."

 

Chapter 1

Looking In to Get Out

Etching

 

In March 2010, my wife and I started a renovation project on our 110 -year old row house.  The goal was to finally correct internal moisture problems in the walls and ceilings – especially along the exposed alley side and back wall of our house.  After a day of demolition, I got a call from my buddy on the block (a liscened contractor) who was doing the demo work, “You gotta see this.” After a consultation with my friend and other men on the block who work in the building trades, Lisa and I came to agree on two things: the hand of God kept the house from falling in, falling over, bursting into flames, and taking other houses on the block down with it. And we had to tear out most of the existing structure.  The first week saw the entire back wall, and 2/3 of the sidewalls, and 2/3 of the roof taken off.  The brick on the back of the house was taken apart without any tools as the bricks were so rotten and the mortar had long ago turned to sand.  The nephew of the contractor worked as a laborer for a couple of days.  One morning as I was visiting the site, I caught Damion watching a couple other men tossing brick as they dismantled the guest room of the house. I took a couple of photos of Damion in foreground shadows; looking out at the emptiness of our once two story row house.  The way I crafted the etching has led some people who look at this to comment that it appears as though the young man is in prison.  I knew that would happen and took great care to get his facial silhouette just right, so that there would not be any doubt that this was a young African American male.  According to Search and Destroy, Young African American Males in the Criminal Justice System, young black men and young white men commit crimes at the same rates.  But black youth (of the same economic and education background in the same neighborhoods) are arrested at twice the rate as whites. Then they are given undereducated and overwhelmed public defenders.  Their government sponsored legal council urges them to plead guilty to lesser charges. This is a way to avoid going to trial and risk being wrongfully imprisoned for a long term sentence. So the black youth cops a plea, and gets a reduced sentence.  A couple of years later he gets paroled after spending time among older, stronger, hardened men.  This hell is reality for more than 70% of the African American males of my city.  Seeing the impact of the prison industrial complex on the African American family and then seeing Damion peering out at the construction allowed for some visual irony.  Is the young man in jail?  Is he at home? If he is at home, it is being torn apart and the security of the roof and sense of shelter has been literally ripped off.  His body language suggests he will have to make a decision, step out into the unknown or step back into the darkness.  It is at this juncture that many young men turn to hustling.

 

Chapter 2

Cathedral

Drawing

 

When I grew up in Uptown, I learned about this one street that had this amazing canopy of steel above it.  On the east side of this street ran a series of slum apartment buildings, whose tenants could reach out their back windows and almost touch the EL as it raced by.  On the west side of the street was a graveyard.  In the rough and tumble days of Uptown in my youth, this is where car thieves would strip stolen cars.  It was also the best place in the neighborhood to dump bodies of victims that were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The irony of this setting is that Graceland Cemetery on the right hand side of the drawing is the final resting place of the industrial giants that built Chicago. These famous and powerful families have crypts, tombs, and memorials that are remarkable. Some of the tombs are world famous architectural landmarks. For years, the living that looked out over the cemetery has lived lives of quiet desperation. For many years, any person walking this street would have to be very careful. One day it dawned on me that the dead on the right live better than the living on the left. 

 

I think it fitting that when the EL comes by overhead, it gives such a roar that it seems to me, that the combined shouts of the poor and dispossessed shout at the rich and their fancy tombs.  And the bones of the rich yell back at the poor on the other side.  Architecturally speaking the 3 blocks of this street are a steel and iron workers dream.  Fine works of art are on either side of this street, both living people made in the image of God on the left and the fancy seplecures of the rich on the right.  But the set of utilitarian support beams in the center remind me of the naïve of a gothic cathedral.  A side note, it is my deepest desire to hijack an 18 wheeler and race down this street – pushing it to get to 100 mph by the end of the cathedral, just to see if I can make it and not plow into the steel and iron girders. Even though the buildings on the east have been renovated and there is now a ribbon of a park that runs alongside the west side of this street, the ominous steel gives you a real sense that this is one street that that you could easily lose your life, if you chose to walk it alone on a dark night.  It is for all of these reasons, that this is my favorite street in all of Chicago. 

 

Chapter 3

Freedom

Etching

A few years ago, I was in Houston, Texas, visiting a number of churches and ministries on behalf of the Mustard Seed Foundation. A local pastor was giving me a tour of the city’s roughest housing projects.  At one point, we were talking and walking in tunnel towards a set of heavy wrought iron gates.  I stopped.  My friend had no idea he was leaving me behind.  He just kept walking and talking, which was great.  I soaked up the image of a man walking into the light, but also towards what seemed to be an impenetrable gate.  There was an empty shopping cart on the left, and then this amazing shadow - trailing behind my buddy like a vapor. It was an amazing scene. 

To me, the empty shopping cart symbolizes the vacuous lies of materialism.  Chasing after the riches of the world, has led many young men to chase after the latest ‘must have’ item, which causes one to loose money and their souls. And at the end of use, all of the glittering objects end up tossed in an alley, out the window in the back yard, or in this case, abandoned in an entry tunnel.  My friend’s shadow reminded me of the prophetic word, “Man is but a vapor. Here today, gone tomorrow.” In this image, my buddy represents ‘everyman,’ and is walking past the material garbage of his past.  He is leaving his old self as he walks toward the light.  There is only question that remains. Is the gate locked?

 

Chapter 4

Smoked

Etching

 

Within a few minutes drive from my home in Washington, DC, I can visit over 20 different drug treatment clinics.  Drug addicted people wander throughout this neighborhood. For 6 years I worked to befriend and walk alongside some amazing people who are being choked by life-controlling issues. Some are good friends.  It tears me up to see someone I care about getting high.  Worse still is finding a friend flat out in an alley or falling in front of cars as he tries to walk down the block. A family member has been carrying an addiction for most of his adult life. The rest of us in the family have been suffering his on again off again cycles for years.  We are exhausted by his “one step forward, two steps back” lifestyle.

 

Each time I visit the slums of Latin America, I pass many adults and youth that are doing drugs, or who are high on drugs. Paco is changing the way in which kids grow up in the slums of Latin America. This drug is made from raw cocaine base cut with chemicals, glue, crushed glass and rat poison. It is highly addictive. It is also very cheap to make. Pastors told me that a single puff paco cigarette costs about $1.50 USD. Interestingly, this is the going rate for a ‘date’ with a local prostitute in the same slum.  As my pastor friend and I passed through one neighborhood of Sao Paulo now nicknamed “crackalandia,” we saw literally thousands of adults and little children lighting up.  After sundown, the streets were filled with so many people staggering around unable to control where they were walking, that we had to stop our car so that folks would harmlessly bump into our car and only then change directions and make their way past us.  Ours was the only car I saw out driving in crackalandia, as proper people do not like to drive such streets late at night.  Even on visits to some slums at 4, 5, or 6 in the morning, I still see adults and little children smoking paco.  Because of this drug, youth have become more violent and abusive.  And a growing number of pastor friends of mine have been robbed – in the middle of the afternoon – by gangs of gun totting youth that take money, watches, and cell phones. They steal anything valuable to sell for money to buy more paco. When robbing no longer seems the way to go, many young boys hit the streets to hustle.  In Buenos Aires, they are called ‘taxi boys.’  These are young men who sell cheap dates for drug money.

 

In this image I wrestled with whether to have it all in a blur as from the perspective of the addict’s point of view, or as if the viewer has just walked up on a buddy who is smoking drugs.  I chose the latter.  In this perspective, the drug user does not seem to care that he is being seen smoking.  He is at peace.  It matters not whether the person whose shadow is cast next to him is coming or going, or whether he is about to be harmed in any way.  It does not matter in this moment that his right arm is gone.  The drug induced accident that cost him a limb does not matter now.  Nor does his having a family.  Not now.  Now it is the haze.  Peace. Until this hit wears off…

 

Chapter 5

Ecce Homo

Lithograph

This print is based on a person whom I knew from my old church, who had the gift of attacking leadership.  He went after men, women, young adults, elders, persons of color and Caucasians.  We were relentless. He knew he could wear people some down, intimidate others, and suck every waking moment from others who stood up to him.  For years, he would deflect any critique of his behavior turning it back on his victims.  After a few years of his out of control behavior, he managed to tie up the entire leadership of the church into a chaotic mess.  Due to my responsibilities overlapping with his agenda, I was verbally abused and had ministries disrupted by the brother for three years. There were a number of other deeply wounded people in his wake. Some folks left the church as a result of his attacks. He was finally publically rebuked and removed from the church for his behavior.  He did not go quietly, firing back at the elders, calling them ignorant of the Bible, calling them “a bunch of immigrants.”  Every step of the discipline process, he would shout, “I am a man!”  

A wise prayer partner of mine, who works with recovering addicts, taught me that this behavior is called the ‘king baby syndrome.’  He wants what he wants when he wants it.  That’s when I connected the dots, including his answers to elders when he was being rebuked, “I am a man!” He wanted to be treated like a respected man, an elder, and a wise handler of the Biblical text.  But his actions screamed, “I am a child!  Please correct me before I hurt myself and everyone around me!” 

Ecce Homo is a common Latin title to prints and paintings that depict the arrest of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.  In English, “Behold, the man!”  In my experience with this out of control brother, I saw a frightened boy that desperately needed correction and wanted unconditional love, but was unable to trust anyone around him. Behold the man/boy looking out through the fence, has been interpreted to be a child in a refugee camp; a homeless kid at a shelter; a kid watching others play at a school playground; or a curious boy watching a parade or a ball game.  Sometimes, after I translate the title into English for friends, it is a boy watching men behaving like men.  This is a universally approachable piece and one of my most successful. Almost every person who looks at this piece sees something different and something valid that speaks to their own personal experience.  As a way of personal therapy for myself, I developed this print, and then as an act of redemption, and printed an edition that allowed me to give one of these to each of the key leaders of the church who had been beaten senseless by this brother. I also gave a copy to Godly men whom I met with for prayer, as their stories reminded me that my story was not unusual for a leader involved in front-line urban ministry.

 

Chapter 6

Hoagie House Doorway

Drawing

This drawing is of the chained front door of the now abandoned sandwich shop in my neighborhood in Washington, DC.  It is the quintessential blighted building - a rattrap and an infested dump. It is a building that is an arson fire in waiting. When I see this building in my new neighborhood, I think back to an abandoned apartment building in Uptown (my old neighborhood in Chicago) that had been scheduled to be renovated for new use as affordable housing for families.  It was ironic that for years, homeless people squatted in the Uptown building. One day, a peculiar smell led police to check in one of the ‘empty’ units.  They found the corpse of a man named Terrence Alexander.  He had broken into this building to get out of the cold.  And sometime during the night, he had a seizure. He froze to death. Before the cops found his body, rats had eaten the deceased man’s eyes out.

Some in the Uptown neighborhood organized against affordable homes as a way to swing the balance of the neighborhood from affordable to gentrified. I spent half my time as an outreach pastor on staff of the Uptown Baptist Church, working with other community groups to get places like the Uptown apartment building converted into safe, affordable homes for families. We organized ourselves. Then we organized residents of local HUD properties, CHA apartments, and privately owned buildings whose residents paid their rent through the Federal Section 8 subsidized housing program.  In the name of Jesus and using scriptures throughout the Old and New Testament, I lobbied, argued, and worked for the rights of my low-income neighbors. We won some battles and lost many more over the years.  Now as I stand outside on the sidewalk of this building in DC, I am again struck by the new irony.  This abandoned building has been sitting vacant for years.  It was purchased by a local non-profit (that my wife and I support each month) for conversion into a 3-story afterschool ministry center.  This amazing Christian ministry has been raising funds for the renovation of the old Hoagie House for a couple of years now. Across the street from this three-story row house with its commercial first floor storefront is a set of newly constructed row houses.  These are newly minted condos with high price for purchase.  Currently in this ‘empty’ old row house, there is a colony of at least 15 cats that live in the property. My prayer is that no corpses will be found here - at least none with deep gouges where eyes used to be - when the building project begins.

 

Chapter 7

Hustler

Etching

I have walked the streets of the Lakeview neighborhood in Chicago, and the Montrose neighborhood in Houston. Spending a night on the streets of neighborhoods like these is an eye-opening experience that will challenge and even overwhelm anyone. These areas are also a destination for mixed up youth that have run away. These youth are looking for a fun night out, or an escape from ‘boring’ suburban enclaves. In the middle of the barhopping singles, walk young men who are hustling. Emmaus has street and bar outreach teams that regularly visit these and other neighborhoods in both of these cities.

I am humbled by the ministry of these outreach teams as well as the groups of men and women who prayer walk these neighborhoods.  And I am repulsed by the men who prey on others. It sickens me. I stood behind a young man in DC whose body language and dress were a signal to those who are looking. “I am available.”

Most of us walk by.  Drivers might glance once and then look back to the traffic lights and other cars.  But the signal is received clearly by those who are reading the street. These drivers make slow circles around the neighborhood.  In Houston, I watched as drivers came back around a couple of extra times just to be sure that they were reading the signals properly and that there was, in fact, a ‘date’ for sale.

As a printmaker, I have to think backwards both in values (from light to dark) as well as in ‘right reading,’ so that when I create the plate, I am on course for the finished print to read correctly by the viewer.  Every once in a great while, I forget the basic tenets of the etching process, and make a mistake.  In other words, I draw on the plate in such a way that it reads properly - on the plate.  But when I pull a print off of the plate, the image flips.  So any lettering needs to be scribed on the plate backwards. Or in this case, I drew the lone driver in a car on the last approach of a hustler on the plate in right reading and not backwards.  Most people do not notice this at first, as the viewer is drawn to the man on the street, whose body language is subtle to many but clear to the driver that he is open for business.  It was only after I finished the image that I realized that this print would make sense in London, but not Chicago.

 

Chapter 8

Chinatown

Drawing

This is just a picture of a man on corner holding a bag.  But the context is everything. A block west of this corner is the center of a bustling tourist and entertainment district. Two blocks northeast is one of the city’s homeless shelters.  Around the corner a couple blocks further southeast is the city’s biggest homeless shelter.  The Washington, DC Chinatown district is bustling with shoppers and tourists; as well as homeless, mentally ill, crack heads, youth looking to be seen in the latest overpriced urban wear, and white professionals running to their offices cradling their lattes. And hustlers.

It is easy to miss the hustlers. Not so much so the crack heads and mentally ill.  Money is clearly driving the development of this part of the city.  It used to be a thriving shopping district that fell into decay.  A visionary entrepreneur decided to build a new sports stadium in the center of this district.  This was, in effect, a very large rock in a small pond as the ripple effect of this stadium sent local property values soaring. The empty or burned out storefronts were converted into stores and restaurants. Run down apartments and porn shops were torn down for new condos for the professionals that are pouring back into the city to enjoy a new ‘walkable community.’ This is means that it is a place with bars, clubs, restaurants, and art galleries – and free from long commutes.  In an area that was once home to bums and hustlers once night fell is now one of DC’s hot spots.  What cracks me up is that this area is called Chinatown.  But it is a fake Chinatown.  It is all a façade like a movie set with only the faces of buildings in view to dazzle and impress tourists and ignorant visitors.  Very few actual Chinese people live here.  Most that do live in a couple of large apartment buildings that house people that work in the restaurants that crowd all of 2 blocks. The funny thing is that the city leaders decided that all street names should be in English and Chinese.  All businesses should have signage in both languages as well.  This means that Murphy’s Irish Pub has a badly translated Chinese name.  Hooters in Chinese reads as “the owl restaurant.’ Weaving through all the shoppers, professionals, and tourists are older men and women who are in a haze of illness and addiction.  In and among these older street hardened people, are younger more energetic and in many cases more careless and carefree teens.  This shopping district has seen over $1 Billion USD in development since my wife and I moved into a nearby neighborhood 10 years ago. More money is still flowing into this area as this city reaps the benefits of a huge and rapid expansion of the Federal government.  DC is now the home to the hottest job market in the nation.  The housing prices in DC have gone back up and will climb even higher still. I find it a cruel irony that this man (and many others like him) walks through this neighborhood carrying all of his worldly belongings in one hand.

 

Chapter 9

Steppin’ Out

Etching

I was inspired to create this image after the city of Washington, DC started transforming select crosswalks – from the traditional parallel strips of incandescent paint for pedestrians to walk through – into huge multi-stripped affairs that a driver can see over a block away, even at night.  The idea is that when a pedestrian is inside these big new crosswalks, the vehicles in the street are supposed to stop and let the pedestrian cross.  This is a law few DC drivers obey.  Since these new crosswalks appeared, and after many people were nearly run over or actually hit by cars ignoring the law, the city started putting signs at the edges of these walks telling drivers to stop.  A few started obeying this law, only to draw the ire of other drivers who almost rear end any driver dumb enough to stop his car.  As of this writing, the safe passage across these busy multi-lane streets (where drivers can get up to 60 MPH) is only negotiated by a quick series of visual cues that give the pedestrian a hint that the driver does intend to slow down and might even stop, if the pedestrian is fool enough to risk it.  I was out sweeping the streets of my neighborhood one night and looked up the block and caught the sight of a young man walking through one of these new crosswalks. The streetlights gave off a series of halos up the street that made the scene memorable for me.

I have been a printmaker since 1984.  I studied and worked in the studios of some master printers who poured their wisdom and experience into me.  Most of the printmakers I know place an etching plate into a box that is filled with ground rosin.  They agitate this rosin dust in such a way as to create a misty light powder that falls evenly across the surface of the plate.  The plate is then heated until the dust hardens into tiny crystals.  Rosen is acid resistant.  So when a printmaker places such a plate into a bath of nitric acid, the acid eats around each individual drop of crystallized rosin.  The longer one leaves the plate in the acid, the deeper the etch.  The deeper the etch, the more ink that dot will hold.  The more ink, the darker the value of that dot.  My plates spend a lot of time going in and out of the acid as I bite deep into my plates. What I do not want to get any texture must be protected.  I do this by blocking out that area, using a dark colored acid resistant material, called asphaltum. It looks and smells like road tar. Whatever I paint out will be lighter than the areas left open.  Simply put, what is dark on the plate will be light.  What is asphaltum free will be dark. I also use a host of other techniques to get a variety of different textures on the plate – to approximate brick, wood, stained glass, rusting metal, clothing, or burned skin on the face of a little kid. As homage to my neighborhood and the medium of choice, I decided to use spray paint as my acid blocking mist, rather than rosin, since graffiti is ever present in my context.  My experience with a spray can served me well in this image as I sought to capture the halo effect in the misty night air of my neighborhood that night.

 

Chapter 10

Sister Lyle Takes a Bath

Lithograph

This is one of three portraits of my dear friend, Sister Lyle.  I first met her at the Third Street Church of God Morning Prayer Breakfast.  For over 30 years, this church served ‘the least of these’ a full hot breakfast, juice and coffee – as well as offered a contextually appropriate word from the Bible. This is not to be confused with the National Prayer Breakfast. The NPB is hosted by the powerful and elite and is attended by Christian leaders from around the nation and the world. The President of the United States has attended the NPB every year since it was started.  Both prayer breakfasts have been held in the same city for about the same amount of time. I joyfully volunteered at the Prayer Breakfast for six years, until the church decided to stop the ministry. For those six years this was my church.  I was a member of Third Street Church and even taught Sunday school classes for youth.  But my real church experience was in the basement with my friends among the ‘least of these.’ I enjoyed the dedicated volunteers who gave of their time and talent to make the Monday through Friday ministry happen effectively. Every Wednesday I would bring a highly contextualized Word to the street saints.  This prayer breakfast is closed but many of the street people still hang out in my neighborhood.  I cannot count the number of times I have been out sweeping the streets on an early Saturday or Sunday morning and have been stopped by a friend whom I made at this breakfast.  We talk and encourage one another.  We pray, laugh, and remind each other of God’s grace and His hand on our lives.

I met Sister Lyle at the Prayer Breakfast. She is a shy, joyful woman of maybe about 60 years of age.  She got my attention in several ways.  First, I noticed that she would always wait until all others were served their food and then she would quietly walk up and ask for something to eat.  After about 6 months of volunteering at this ministry, I noticed that she was the only one to give an offering. She would do so by reaching into one of her huge bags and pulling out some coins or even a dollar or two and then carefully wrapping her offering in a scrap of fabric.  She would then wait until all other street people were gone, and then she would ask for Pastor Green (the director of the ministry) or when he was not around, she would hand it to me – to give to Pastor Green.  Slowly I began to hear her story.  Slowly she allowed me to share mine with her.  She had an amazing gap toothed smile.  She confessed that she dreamed of going back to work a farm in her native Alabama. She wore shoes that she cannibalized by cutting out the back. Then she used strips of fabric for shoelaces. As with many other people who live on the streets for years, her exposed legs looked like elephant hide. One Wednesday morning, I caught a glimpse of her taking a bath in the small women’s bathroom.

Since I created this litho, the Prayer Breakfast has closed down.  And I have not seen Sister Lyle in about 3 years.  I don’t know if she passed or if she made it back to Alabama or not. And so far, I have not attended the National Prayer Breakfast. 

 

Chapter 11

Bad Ass

Drawing

I was walking down a street in New York City one afternoon, and caught a glimpse of this young man. He was staring down everyone on the street.  I know this look. From my years of growing up in the inner city, and my work with homeless in Uptown (in Chicago) and Shaw (in DC), as well as working with street youth and gang members in the Miracle League (a sports outreach in Chicago), I know this look well.   This is a ‘mad dog’ stare. This nonverbal communication is quite effective to all who spend time on the streets of the inner city. His demeanor and body language lets everyone know that he can take care of himself.  Without words he shouts, “If you even look at me wrong, I will kick your ass!” I learned (the hard way) to mark the guys in my neighborhood who had this look.  I grew up in Uptown. I went to a local public school.  There were several bigger guys who had it out for me. Each of them found it an enjoyable sport to hunt me down.  And if they caught me they beat me senseless.  Thing is, as I grew older I got bigger and stronger. I averaged an inch and 20 pounds per year from age 13-18.  And getting chased and beaten made me mean.  In high school, I adapted my own version of the ‘mad dog.’  And I played football.  It was the only activity available to me where I could physically attack and tear at another person without going to jail.  My coaches loved me.  I got scholarship offers from all over the nation to play Division I football. By the end of my freshman year in college I was 6’6” and weighed almost 250 pounds. I lived with my folks in their house in Chicago for each of the summers throughout my college years. One day, I decided to head back to my old school yard, the sight of many beatings. I was hoping I would see one of my old tormentors.  I hoped that the bully would recognize me, and fall on his knees begging for mercy.  I imagined him soiling his pants.  I imagined myself slowly pounding him into a bloody messy pulp.  This thought made me smile.  As it would happen, one of the thugs in the neighborhood who struck fear into my heart when I was a kid was there.  Joe Garcia. I walked up to him. I stood there waiting, my fists at the ready.  He did not recognize me! He asked me, “Can I help you?”

I was dumbfounded!  I stumbled away talking to myself.  I went for a long walk. I shouted at God.  It was during this walk/rant that I realized that I had been in prison for years.  My lust for revenge had made me a bitter and violent person.  And for all the evil things that Joe did to me (as well as too many others in my old school) the least he could have done was to remember me! But no.  Joe was free from his memories of the past. And I realized that even though I had been physically lifted out of this neighborhood, Joe, Travis, Gene, and Troy were still chasing me.  And I had not forgiven them.  There is a great expression that my street friends use a lot, “Don’t let someone else live rent free in your head.”  My mind was a multi-unit apartment building for thugs. Somehow between this drawing and the finished print, I hope to convey the sense of how a bully can impact those he terrorizes, and how hard it is to forgive those who have caused so much pain and suffering.

 

Chapter 12

Sleeping

Drawing

He looked dead.  Not one sense that he was breathing.  Not one twitch or shudder of an REM induced deep sleep. But the shoes gave me the clue that he was very much alive.  If he were dead his shoes would not be neatly placed in front of him.  They would already be on the feet of the person who stole them off his warm lifeless body. Many of my friends who have spent any length of time on the street have also had their shoes stolen.  Many would never do what this man did, setting them out as he did.  If a person who is living on the street takes off his shoes, he would usually tie the loose shoes together. He would wrap the shoelaces around a leg or an arm, or use them as a pillow. This gives him a chance of fighting for them if another person is trying to pull them out from underneath his head.

Fighting for your belongings is an everyday concern for those that live on the streets.  In downtown Los Angeles, the city government has waged a low level war against the homeless living in “the nickel.”  The city will send police to round up all the folks who might be on the street and put them into lock up in jail for the night.  Then while the ‘least of these’ caught on this ‘clean and sweep’ action are off the streets, city crews come out with bulldozers and truck away all their belongings.  So along with the large cardboard shacks and sleeping bags and blankets will be identification papers and cards, legal documents and personal information that will be tossed into the city dump. The city knows that they are doing this to people who have desperate need of these things.  And the city knows full well that it will take a focused person months of hassle to get replaced.  But the city does it anyway. 

There is precious little sleep that comes from a sound deep refreshing sleep on the street or in most shelters.  So much noise: people yelling and acting crazy; and others snoring loud enough to be heard in another time zone would prevent anyone else from getting any sleep. So when it is a lovely sunny day, not too hot, and not too cold, and when one finds an open bench – it is an invitation to come and get caught up on some much needed sleep.  This man, due to his weight and his struggle with diabetes, can fall asleep at the drop of a hat (or in this case, his shoes). This amazes me.  Especially when this friend is sleeping in a small traffic triangle park, which is surrounded by horns, sirens, and a steady parade of heavy trucks and buses using their air brakes. 

I hoped that when he finally woke up, this brother would find his shoes would where he left them. 

 

Chapter 13

Dance Party

Drawing

I have had the terrible fortune of witnessing some really harsh beat downs, most all of them on the streets of Uptown.  One time I walked out the door of the Uptown Baptist Church as I heard the unmistakable screaming of a young woman in distress, and saw something that truly sickened me: eight older girls holding a young girl down on the sidewalk, while their leader sat on the victim’s chest and literally bit her eyebrow off her face.  The attacker got up laughing and licking her lips as if to savor her lunch. Another time, four older teenage girls were kicking the crap out of a frail looking older woman.  This attack happened on the corner of Sheridan Road and Wilson Avenue.  At least 15 people sat and watched this horrible beating without making a move to intervene. By the time I walked into the fray, one of the teens was bashing the older women (now on her knees) in the head with a U-shaped bike lock.  I stopped the beat down and took away the lock.  It was only at this moment that three men jumped in - to confront me.  They demanded to know who the hell I was to get involved.  And there were several men in the hood who made it their business to lure mentally ill women out of one of the group homes, “Hey sweetheart, wanta have a free beer?” only to beat and then rape these women in the alley around the corner of the building.

I have seen men getting stomped on as well.  This can be expected when one lives on the dividing line between the Black Gangster Disciples and the Latin Kings.  There have been wars waged between these two groups, where baseball bats, empty beer bottles, screwdrivers, bricks, and guns have been used – right out on the street in front of my door. After an event like these gang fights, the neighborhood can expect some sort of violent revenge on the offending party – or his friends, or someone that looks like someone that might have done something to somebody.  

But the worst of the beat downs happens by police who attack citizens.  I have seen so many examples of police brutality all over Chicago, especially in Uptown, ever since I was a young boy.  I say that the police are the worst because it is only in very rare occasions that there is any justice done to the attacker.  Time after time, a cop jumps on a youth, pounds the crap out of him, and then has the nerve to arrest the kid for mob violence. The cop smiles as his fellow officers stuff the poor guy into a cruiser or paddy wagon and not one of these attackers have met up with justice. In some cases, the police actually called ahead to have an ambulance on site at the ready because a group of cops planed to ‘have a dance party’ on a young man’s face.  This is what I think of, and of a dear friend (a totally innocent young man) just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, when the cops arrived.  When I asked the police what happened, one said to me with a grin, “Nobdy saw nutin.”

 

Chapter 14

A Second Chance

Drawing

There is a beautiful part of a ministry like Emmaus.  Men gather together to have a meal together.  Some help to prepare and others help to clean up. The men and Emmaus ministry team members sit together, like a family, and eat together.  This is such a gift to a person who usually eats at a shelter or soup kitchen. In the other places, people are treated like cattle or a number.  Sit down, shut up, and eat.  Then get out. 

But in ministries that truly care about people, a person is treated as an invited guest, with a smile, respect, and compassion.  Even better when the guest is invited to participate by helping to set up the table, cook, scrub pots and pans, or mop the floor after the meal is over. Most of the men (and women) that I have talked with have wanted to help out in a meaningful way.  I once took an unscientific pool, asking every one of the folks I knew on the street if they were given a choice would they pay for their meal at a soup kitchen or drop in center.  Two thirds said they would happily pay.  The other third told me to go screw myself.  In my opinion, the ministries that truly love a person – give that person a clear direction to get involved and work for their meal.  I was in Sao Paulo, Brazil visiting various ministries. After getting an official guided tour of a children’s ministry, I wandered into the kitchen.  This particular ministry served children three meals a day and provided them with safe day care and schooling. These are the kids of prostitutes, or kids that have been abandoned by their crack head parents.  I struck up a conversation with the guys who worked in the kitchen.  Each one of these hard-working men wanted to work, and they did so with joy, all day long.  Their pay was seeing joy on children’s faces. To a person, they did this work because the ministry allowed them to so.  By doing this work, they were not only serving little kids, but were rebuilding their own broken lives, one day at a time.  These men where learning, for the very first time in their lives, how to get up and go to work each day.  The ministry had given them a second chance to get back into society. 

On my way out of the kitchen, I took one last look and caught one of the guys (a repeat sex offender and recovering drug addict) standing in the doorway, looking out into the sunlight.  I remember the image well.  It reminds me of the men (and women) who have ventured out to the back doors of the ministry center in Uptown and quietly remind themselves that they are taking back their lives, one day at a time.  And they are thankful for the opportunity to act on this today.

 

Chapter 15

One Mo…

Drawing

I have seen men sitting on low window ledges, on the church steps, or out in the park, with their head in their hands.  Sometimes they are just thinking things over.  Other times, their hands seem to be digging out their own eyes, as if they want to gouge the visual memory of a terrible night, out of their memory. “I cannot believe that I feel for the lie – one more time!”  It is an awful feeling to be alone out on the street, having the full weight of what one did the night before crashing in.  In my conversations with ‘the least of these,’ I have heard many stories that start and end with the same phrase, “One mo.”

The ‘one mo’ is the new, for real, LAST TIME I am going to do ----- again.  This is the last time that I take a hit of crack or smoke a joint.  This is the very last time that I get in a stranger’s car.  This will be the last time that I walk into the alley with a stranger.  Over and over again, I have heard the same phrase, “I swore to myself that this was going to be the very last time I was ever gonna do this, and then I got caught up by the ‘ol’ one mo – one more time!

There is a hard pull that keeps each and every one of us, from stockbrokers to street hustlers alike, coming back to our secret sins – one more time. Maybe it is the self-deception that I will not feel like dirt after I do this one more time.  But the lies are just that, lies.  The shame hits and the cycle of self hate kicks in and the cycle twists downward – one more circle downward – one more time.

 

Chapter 16

Like a Rock

Etching

My wife Lisa and I live two blocks north of Dunbar High School In the past, this school of black students outperformed white students at DC’s elite private schools.  But times have changed.  Dunbar is no longer known for the quality of its education. It is a school known in DC for its sports teams and its chaos in the classrooms, stairs, and hallways. In advance of the Fourth of July parade in the city, the marching band practiced its routine and formations by marching around our neighborhood in the sweltering summer heat. Their percussion section announced that they were coming long before we could see them.  When we did, my neighbors and I were treated to an R-rated dance routine by the dance corps that led the band. At random places the whole ensemble would stop and play a song and the move off down the block – coming round again about 30 minutes later. These were kids that, because of the discipline required of the precision marching and music – might actually make it out of the hood.  Maybe.  At one level they are simply amazing.  They play so well and can really draw a crowd.  And this band has the ability to lift a crowd of strangers to dance and sing along with them.  They are really good. So good that I have a photo of the leading crack dealer in the neighborhood giving them a military style salute.  He loved the music so much. 

My eye caught the gaze of a teenage boy who played the trumpet.  He looked like he could do anything he wanted to do.  Full of energy, strength, and intelligence.  I remember watching him and his buddies as he took a break from the marching and listened to the band director bark out critique and instructions.  Over the past two years, I have seen this young man, full of promise, devolve into a life of running, selling, and using drugs.

The odds are against him in this context. According to the book Search and Destroy, Young African American Males and the Criminal Justice System, young black men are over-pursued, over-arrested, over-charged, under-defended, and over incarcerated compared to white males his age. A youth pastor in New York City told me one teacher in the city’s public schools often told students that their future was Rikers Island (a NYC prison).  Their only choice was whether they would be guards or inmates. At least this teacher was honest. 

By the time this young man (and most of his friends) hits 18 years old he will have dropped out of school, been in and out of the joint a few times and is being primed to re-enter the criminal justice system yet again, as a repeat offender.  For the short time while this young man has his good looks, his best options for a job will be selling drugs or hustling.

 

Chapter 17

Shadow man

Drawing

He has what some call ‘the skinny disease.’ He has finally gotten himself tested and now knows the truth.  He is HIV positive. Standing on sidewalk in morning sun, from a distance, he seems to be OK.  Maybe he is waiting for a friend to come and pick him up as they have a ride share agreement.  Maybe he is waiting to catch the bus to go visit family members.  Or maybe he is thinking about stepping in front of the bus, hopping to put himself out of his misery. Mulling over his options in the sunshine, he sees few alternatives for him, now that his face has gone hollow and his arms and legs are so thin.  All the johns that seek cheap sex with young men in this neighborhood would instantly know by the skinny arms and the look on his face, that this young man is walking death.

As a setup drawing for an etching, I have given myself a lot of room to play with texture in this image. From many years of printmaking, I know that I can get a variety of textures on the man’s face and arms to show the hell that he has been through, and the current state that he is in.  Or, I can give the viewer a subconscious tour of the man’s life by wreaking havoc on the foreground.  Or I can give a glimpse of what his next days will be by tearing up the background.  I can leave the man’s exposed skin sickly white, or give a texture that looks like he is covered with puss filled lesions – all through different textures that can come from dry point, aquatint, white etch, sugar lift, or my electric engraver. 

I have pulled the skin off youth and burned their faces.  I have chopped, cut, scraped and even drilled holes in my etching plates.  Sometimes I expose a large section (or even the entire plate) to the nitric acid.  This is called an 'open bite.' The open bites tend to drop the plate a level or two, but in an uneven manner, that also has random bumps, fissures, and cracks.  In this scorched earth approach, my goal is to convey to the viewer that this image is an invitation to enter into a story that is about pain. In some very real ways, printmaking has been therapy for me as I take out my anger and frustration about the injustice I see around me, on a piece of zinc or copper.  I vent on the plate.  And at the same time I seek to push the boundaries of shade, value, form, shape and texture.

 

Chapter 18

Cop

Drawing

My travel on behalf of the Mustard Seed Foundation took me to New York City for about ten days. I love this city!  It is my favorite city in the US.  I can walk or ride the subway anywhere and move from neighborhood to neighborhood with ease.  I love hearing and seeing what God is doing in this megacity.  One summer I led a group of younger cousins and extended family members on a visit to the city for a week. It was a chance for the youth in the family who are involved in the Foundation’s Junior Board to get into one of the world’s greatest cities and meet some street level pastors who are doing amazing things for God.  Emmaus provides overnight versions of the plunge for college students, youth groups, and interested adults who want to see the city through the eyes of gifted street ministers.  Like the saints who visit the Emmaus plunges, the youth in my family are always blown away.  I love leading these plunges as I get a huge block of time with the next generation of the Harvey and Bakke families before they make decisions on where to go to college; what profession to pursue; and where to live. 

On the NYC plunge, with about 8 youth and two adult volunteers, we dropped in on Canal Street to rub shoulders with the crowds of people at the open-air street market in lower Manhattan.  This place is amazing.  One can buy knockoff designer watches, purses, shirts, shoes and so on, for a few bucks. I always take my camera and I go to watch the people. 

It was on this visit to Canal Street that I saw this cop. Strolling through the crowds like he owned the street was a cop unlike I have ever seen. Dude had a Mohawk! And he was covered with tattoos! I had not known that a city would hire such a person and put him out in public in uniform.  But there he was, trolling street, obviously looking for action. I could tell by the look on his face that he was enjoying the shock value that his hair and tattooed arms had on passersby. His look said, “This is MY street. I run it.  I own it.  Nothing happens here without my permission.”

There are some police officers that look to help people who are in distress.  I have not met many of these.  Most all of the cops I have met enjoy tossing a person face down into the street, or on top of the hood of their car, inflicting pain and humiliation on the person that they have taken an oath to “serve and protect.”

 

Chapter 19

Taxi Boys

Drawing

In Chicago the young men and teens that walk specific streets known by johns are called hustlers.  In Buenos Aires they are called ‘Taxi Boys.”  These are not gay young men. These are people that commit sex acts in order to get money to buy drugs or to rent a place to flop for the night. Spending a night on the streets of The Montrose in Houston with Emmaus staff was an eye opening experience for me.

On behalf of the Mustard Seed Foundation, I have been blessed to have the gift of traveling to the major cities of the United States as well as to the megacities of Latin America.  Emmaus Ministries reaches out to young men who are involved in hustling on the streets of Chicago and Houston.  I celebrate and support the amazing men and women who have joined together to be Jesus to these damaged men.

I have been traveling to Latin America for the past 10 years.  I have had the honor and horror of walking the streets of the worst barrios, favellas, slums in the hemisphere.  In all of my time with pastors and ministers in Latin America I have not yet heard of a ministry that reaches out to the tens of thousands of ‘taxi boys’ of Buenos Aires, or the young men who prostitute themselves to tourists from Europe, Canada, and the USA in the pedestrian streets and plazas of Mexico City, Lima, Santiago, Rio, or Sao Paulo.  Maybe it seems dirtier than traditional prostitution.  I don’t really know.  But this is the sense I get when I ask friends of mine that are street level pastors and outreach workers in South and Central America.  The facial expressions of my pastor friends give me a clue that a young man that turns a trick is so dirty that he cannot believe that a Christian would embrace such a person in the name of Jesus. 

I keep looking, praying, and hoping that maybe I might meet such a pastor in the cities of Latin America.  And I pray that his church will support him in his calling.  The awful truth is that few churches in Chicago’s neighborhoods, where hustlers do their work, actually give volunteers or money to help Emmaus do the work of this ministry. I do not understand why a church would not help Emmaus or a like-minded ministry.  Not one bit.

 

Chapter 20

Deep in Prayer and Meditation

Drawing

I visit a lot of churches when I travel for work.  I love visiting the older city center cathedrals as well as the churches that meet in slums and favellas across Latin America. In most all of these downtown Cathedrals, I see maybe one or two people in prayer. There are tourists that circle through to look at the icons, prayer chapels, and artwork.  But in each of these cathedrals, I do not see a lot of prayer or worship.

In each of these cathedrals, I do see young men sleeping in the pews. A church pew in a city center church is one of the few safe places that ‘the least of these’ have to get off the street.  The priests I talk with tell me that they do not disturb anyone sitting in a pew. “The person might be in deep in prayer and meditation.” 

At another level this image (when it is a completely finished etching) will be a source of prophetic irony for me. I see in this scene a man who is sleeping – in a church building – being warmed by the gentle sunlight filtering through the stained glass windows above.  Yes, he is a person who is spending his life on the street.  And yes, he is most likely sleeping. 

But to me, this sleeping man represents the church - in the city of Chicago and across the US – that has comforts unknown to much of the rest of the world. The rich of the US are sleeping in comfort – oblivious to the needs and challenges that stare down the faces of the majority of our brothers and sisters in the slums, barrios, and favellas of the world. I often search the Scriptures for a word from God for nations like the United States.  God has much to say about cities and nations filled with well-fed Christians, with so much ability, resting in comfort…and asleep in the light. To me, the Word is so very clear. God hates out arrogance and ignorance. And it is a deadly combination for the leaders and for the people of the cities and nations, when one reads what God did to other cities and nations that lived as we do now.

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