One of my greatest joys through the Servant Year program has been discovering the people and culture of breaking in Philadelphia. In my Servant Year placement with the Southeast Philadelphia Collaborative, I oversee the Houston Center Teen Lounge, an after school drop in center for youth ages 10-23 years old. The Teen Lounge’s genesis as an undefined space for teens has been shaped by the desires and creativity of neighborhood youth to ultimately become one of the proving grounds for the breaking community across Philadelphia. In my brief exposure to breaking, most commonly known as ‘break dancing’, I have come to realize how much deeper this improvisational culture goes. Much more than someone in parachute pants doing the ‘worm’, breaking melds together various cultural influences not limited to Spanish salsa, African American Soul music, Irish step dancing, Asian martial arts, and Brazilian capoeira.
Breaking breaks down into four different categories of moves. Toprock represents anything preformed from a standing position. Footwork is anything done on the floor involving feet and hands for support. Power moves are more acrobatic maneuvers that utilize momentum, speed, and strength. Finally, freezes are any position where the breaker holds a pose and does not move, often supporting themselves with their hands or feet. In this framework, b-boys and b-girls craft together routines and rounds that build off a foundation of commonly known moves and integrate a person’s own unique style and inventive maneuvers.
Due to the closure of a major high school located near the Teen Lounge, our program’s focus has shifted from high school aged youth to local middle school and elementary school students unengaged in traditional after school programs. A lot of these students have not fit into the formal regimented after school programs funded at most public schools. Most of the students who we serve now, we met playing in the streets outside our center. They wanted their own freedom and choice after school rather than following another schedule of snack-time, homework help and club activities. I strongly believe that breaking has been an ideal fit for these students’ desires. They want to learn, they want community, they want to express themselves, but they do not want to be told how by an adult. They want to discover. They make me think about jazz and it’s similar origins as an improvisational art form that came out of the desire from African-Americans to reimagine classical European instruments into new vehicles for self-expression by blending various cultural influences and breaking the existing structures of music. Each day in the movements of our budding b-boys and b-girls, I see my heroes like Coltrane, Miles and JJ perfecting their craft.
Being in this laboratory of expressive experimentation and improvisational creation, I could feel my soul being tugged back to the creative arts I have been blessed to receive in my life. In the early months of my year I had a stronger desire to practice my trombone than probably any of the twelve years previous when I tangled myself in jazz bands and concert bands. Something about being around that creative energy was contagious and pulled me back to that part of our God-given identity that calls us co-creators made in the image of a creator. We are creative beings designed to create and share of ourselves with others. We just need to find our vehicle of self-expression and sink our roots into the river banks of our Creator’s flow. The great fantasy author, J.R.R. Tolkien emphasized the idea of “sub-creation.” In producing his fantasy works he sought to develop a coherent, consistent secondary world. He described this process of sub-creation “as a form of worship, a way for creatures to express the divine image in them by becoming creators.”
This past holy week, a great friend and I took part in a Good Friday tradition of pursuing another one of our shared creative vehicles. We took our addiction to winter sports exploration to one of the remaining wildernesses for snow schussing in the Northeast. Nine hours of driving and two hours of hiking brought us to the Shangri-La of spring east coast shredding, Tuckerman Ravine. It was my fifth journey into the glacially carved bowl that snuggles up to the tallest mountain peak in the Northeast. Here a series of gullies and snow fields hold on to the last canvases of winter awaiting the brush strokes of the few ski and snowboard junkies looking for a final space to carve out their masterpieces. We channeled our creative energies and painted a few lines down two of the rock walled gullies to seal our final memories of the 2014 winter season. We left exhausted, but filled with a sustaining sense of satisfaction that has stayed with me through these past two weeks. It encourages me in light of our over-worked and over-stressed society, the importance of remembering whose image we are made in and to embrace the worshipful life-giving activity of creating!
Nate's Ministry Placement is as Community Outreach Associate with The Southeast Philadelphia Collaborative.
By Pauline Samuel
In the gospel of Matthew, chapter fourteen, Jesus had heard that his cousin, John the Baptist had been beheaded and he withdrew to a deserted place to be alone. But a large crowd, who also heard the sad news, had followed him. He had compassion for this large crowd. He put aside his own grief and pain and healed and cured their various sicknesses. He took the time to minister to their pain. The hour was late and his disciples urged him to send the people on their way so they could feed themselves. However, Jesus saw this as yet another opportunity to be compassionate. He didn’t turn them away as his disciples were quick to do. (How often do we turn a blind eye to those in need?) He instead told his disciples to feed the people.
The disciples brought him five loaves and two fish and Jesus fed 5,000 men and countless women and children. That does sound miraculous that that many people ate and were filled on such a small amount of food! The miracle is not necessarily the amount of people that were fed, but rather who was called to feed them.
Time and time again we are faced with situations where God is calling us to have compassion and help those in need, to “feed the people”. Like the disciples, many of us respond by telling God how limited our resources are. God knows what we have and what we don’t have. Our job isn’t to present to God our list of limitations. Our job is to simply trust; trust that God will take what we do have and use it and multiply it.
Every day we are confronted with human need and challenges and that means that every day is an opportunity for a miracle. That miracle could be praying for someone in pain, feeding a homeless person, starting a food pantry, volunteering at a shelter, visiting the sick or shut-in, etc. Don’t think that God cannot use your “limited” resources. God’s hands are your hands, his feet your feet. You are well equipped! Be aware, be compassionate and remember you are a miracle waiting to happen.
Pauline's Ministry Placement is as a Ministry Resident at St. Mark's Church.
By Don Hopkins
In the past month I had the exciting opportunity to visit The Crefeld School in Chestnut Hill to organize a food drive for the food cupboard and give a presentation on poverty and the Saint Mark’s Outreach Ministry. I always enjoy the chance to educate people on the moral crisis of need in my home city and to highlight what we are doing here at Saint Mark’s to alleviate it, in hopes of provoking other people to take part. I believe part of our ministry to the poor should be to work to build up a community devoted to service on the part of the marginalized and vulnerable.
We live in an era in which cynicism and complacency often seem to be the pervasive mood of the time. I often find the cure for this heavy atmosphere of cynicism, which often masks itself as realism, is to work with students, who in the midst of their adolescence, still feel free enough from the bonds of every day adult life and toil, to engage in a search for authenticity and are often still willing to take a chance and pin their hopes on some sort of idealism. Young people, trying to find their own identity as distinct from their household, are often more willing to take a chance and risk embarrassment, disappointment, or failure in the pursuit of something grand.
In this regard, the Crefeld Students did not disappoint. They were very eager to learn about the nature of poverty in Philadelphia, the rate of homelessness, and the profound physical and spiritual hunger that can be found all throughout our city. Not only were they excited to learn, they were inquisitive about ways they could get involved to help. Questions about where to volunteer, what kind of items were in demand, and whether there were larger, more abstract issues of justice and ethics, were at play in our discussion of poverty and need. Some might be a bit put off by their willingness to dream up big ideas, considering that poverty is a concrete concern for so many but I was inspired by their enthusiasm.
It is easy to get cynical and bogged down by the seemingly unending hunger in our city. With rising costs from healthcare to housing, a public education system that doesn’t seem to offer an avenue of opportunity, and the ever growing numbness to the pain and suffering of the marginalized and vulnerable by those in positions of power and wealth in our society, we can lose sight of the call to us by Christ to pick up our cross and follow him. To be a Christian is to make one vulnerable and there is a great vulnerability that comes with idealism, with putting oneself out there for the sake of a big idea, for a big dream. The road of radical hope is through a narrow gate, indeed. However, please remember, the words of our lord: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” May these words remind to remain ever hopeful for a better and more just world. God Bless.
Don's Ministry Placement is as Outreach Coordinator at St. Mark's Church.