Cook: Laughing all the way to the Southside

Cook: Laughing all the way to the Southside

September 22nd, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

I hope you read about this idea and faint with delight. Laugh and not stop. Like you just won the Super Bowl and are headed to Disney. Like the Sullivan Show crowds that greeted the Beatles. That kind of joy.

"We're going to raise $700,000 and give it away," said the Rev. Bob Leopold.

Give away $700,000?

With no strings attached?

To almost anyone who asks?

"This is the start of something really big," said Leopold.

After hearing about a local church that erected three 100-foot crosses at the cost of $700,000, Leopold and his cohorts at the Southside Abbey -- he's the Episcopal priest at the Main Street church -- were inspired. Hmmm, they wondered: What else could we do with $700,000?

Days later, the congregation -- which worships on Friday nights, and is about to celebrate its one-year anniversary -- stumbled upon their answer.

"Jubilee," Leopold said.

The Old Testament book of Leviticus, not normally a page-turner, ends with a dramatic bang, as God commands every 50th year to be the Year of the Jubilee: Slaves are freed, debts are forgiven, the land and communities are healed.

The etymological root of the term Jubilee -- the original Hebrew -- is lost on me, but I've heard an early translation refers to the feeling a kindergartner gets when he laughs so hard the milk comes out his nose. Then teachers cancel math class and pass out free puppies and scoops of ice cream. With sprinkles. While balloons fall from the sky.

That feeling? That's Jubilee.

Like Johnny Carson meets Dr. King, Jubilee is one part laughter, two parts justice. Jubilee is the new-life feeling you get when the doc tells you the scan is negative. The $10,000 you find in your pocket on the day they're coming to foreclose your house. The letter that says all your kids get full scholarships to college. The key that unlocks the prison door after you've been wrongly convicted.

That's Jubilee.

"I know some people in our area could use a Jubilee," said Leopold. "Good grief, could they use a Jubilee."

Leopold; his wife, Lisa; Gregorian monk Bo Armstrong; and Nik Forti (theologian-in-residence at Southside) cooked up some guide-lines based on intense study of Leviticus and the Gospels.

The money they raise in the Southside Jubilee Fund will go to groups that are doing work along the lines of the following:

Feeding the hungry.

Welcoming the stranger.

Giving drink to the thirsty.

Clothing those in need.

Caring for the sick.

Loving your neighbor.

Forgiving your enemies.

Honoring widows.

Healing the land.

"Imagine the really great work that could be done with money raised under these guidelines," said Leopold.

It could fund college for seniors at the Howard School. Southside immigrants could be well fed. Job training programs for those out of work. Food deserts replaced by gardens. Nonviolence taught in schools. Sex trafficking interrupted. Light bills funded for months. Houses painted, yards cleaned, meals shared with widows.

Because you know, life can really bite some days. Half the time, the culprit is money. We've either got too much or not enough. The folks at Southside Abbey subscribe to a grand theology that says all this money doesn't really belong to us anyway. Like Redbox, we have to return it.

"In the Jubilee, we are reminded that our wealth is not really ours," Leopold said. "Rather it is on loan to us."

Applications for funds are found on the website (southsideabbey.org/jubilee) and soon will be passed around at rec centers, at other churches, and taped to telephone poles. You can donate to the Southside Jubilee Fund through the website or the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga.

"If 700 people gave $1,000, that's it right there," said Lisa. "Or 7,000 people gave $100."

"A new 700 Club," said her husband.

The fund stays open during this year and next, with money raised being distributed in 2014 for groups doing work in the Southside, a neigborhood the Leopolds define with generous borders: from Patten Towers to Alton Park to Holtzclaw Avenue to the Westside.

"I get goose bumps. The hairs on my arms stand up when I talk about this," Leopold said. "Joy is a perfect description. It is jubilous."

It'll be awesome. Huge. So big, you can see it from the interstate.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.