The Urban Grind

Corner Boys will always be with us


The Corner. What comes to mind? What images are conjured up at the incantation of this infamous locale?

I would let you answer but I’d thought that I would refer to some resident experts on the corners of South Chattanooga. Here in the Alton Park The Corner is inescapable. Obviously, you have to drive around them to make it through the neighborhood. Perhaps not so obvious is how the corners dictate life in the community. Not sure how this can possibly be? Confused as to why people can’t run their own blocks? Frustrated by the inability of some people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make a positive change?

The Corner leaves a negative impression on the entire community because of dope dealers, junkies, and homeless people who kick it there all day long. On The Corner girls & women are sex trafficked (yes, even here in Alton Park), shootings are commonplace, and parked police cars are regularly present. The Corner is the primary location for business transactions in Alton Park where drugs and guns can be found almost as easily as the candy and chips on the racks inside the liquor store. Fights happen on The Corner. The Corner is littered with trash and issues of trust.

Innocently, I was talking with Mark about the pressure they have faced throughout childhood which would eventually consign them to The Corner. We discussed taking back The Corner from drug lords, pimps, and drive-bys. I mentioned the desire to claim space on The Corner for Bridge City - equal representation is in our American blood after all. Toward the end of our lament I somberly noted that if we take five boys off The Corner there will just be five more to take their place. Mark agreed, “Yeah, but that’s inevitable."

Gazing at the cemetery across the street from the rec center, overwhelmed with families honoring their deceased mothers on Mother’s Day, the Wind carried the words of Jesus to my ears: “For you will always have the poor with you…”. Mouth full, (What? Jesus stuffed his face too.) Jesus spoke to his disciples during a meal at the house of Simon the leper. At some point during the meal,

... a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her… Mark 14:3-9

SPOILER: Jesus was referring to his upcoming betrayal, death, and burial.

Out of all the accounts of Jesus communing with outcasts like lepers and defending the cause of the oppressed (like the woman here) this is my favorite. Why? “And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” This particular dinner theater program has survived history and fulfilled the words of Jesus - what she has done will be told in memory of her. Instinctually, this woman busted up a whole flask of some extremely expensive nard and offered it as a sacrifice on the head of the soon to be crucified Messiah.

{ Pause >|| } I know what you’re all thinking right now - what the heck is nard?!

{ Play > } Some of those who witnessed the power of this event missed the point focusing instead on the wasted money. Perhaps you agree that it was poor stewardship - Dave Ramsey would be pissed! Jesus was right, though, he usually is. She did a beautiful thing by anointing the King’s head that would be replaced with a crown of thorns and blood, not nard, would flood his eyes, evaporate into an irony stench in his nostrils, and drip down his torn beard watering a parched earth. Aside from the legacy of this woman who deserves for her story to be told once again Jesus says something in passing that I find to be interpreted out of context quite often.

For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them.

Jesus highlights the inevitability of the poor. No matter how hard we try no one will ever alleviate poverty entirely. The profundity of this statement is overshadowed by the subliminal mandate to do good for the poor. That the poor will always be with us doesn’t mean we should ignore their plight but struggle with them toward liberation because in doing good for the poor we anoint the body of Christ. In Matthew 25 we hear Jesus reference that the naked, hungry, poor, thirsty, and imprisoned are Christ - whatever we do for one of them we do for Him.

However, in this endeavor some will ask why we waste precious resources on something that will never end. We should help the poor, but only to a certain point. To go farther, walk alongside for a generation is bad stewardship of the resources God has blessed us with. We face some of the same criticism at BCC. Yes, the poor are among us and always with us on the corner and in our congregation. So are the Corner Boys - young men drafted to dope dealin, trafficking women and trading guns. Mark answered this question for me and unknowingly prophesied the words of Christ to his disciples that evening: the Corner Boys will always be among you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. Some have asked and more will ask us why we waste ointment on a wound that will just keep bleeding from generation to generation.

Unlike the woman, we don't have Christ to honor and anoint. Instead, we have the Corner and its Boys who are Christ among us. It’s quite possible that we won’t adequately fight the poverty on The Corner but we sweat, bleed, and lament an opportunity for change to come in future generations. It might not immediately convince these oppressed boys but we pour expenses upon their heads, invest time to eat and talk wth them, and break the flask of selfishness in the Wind so that, hopefully, their boys won’t be resigned to, or recruited by, The Corner.

And who knows — wherever the gospel is proclaimed in Chattanooga, perhaps what we have done will be told in memory of our Corner Boys.

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