Monday, December 28, 2009

A Letter From A Struggling Soul

I received this email from someone who looked at the dehumanization section of the Anawim website:
http://www.nowheretolayhishead.org/dehumanization.html

He writes as follows:


Good afternoon,

My name is Wesley Flowers, and I have been homeless for the better part of the last 7 years. I have been completely dehumanised. I don't know where to go or what to do. I was in Portland for a little while in 2008, and I came across your website after reading the comments to an article that was written about me in the Mercury last year. http://www.portlandmercury.com/portland/without-notice/Content?oid=837161 I never got any of my stuff back or any kind of restitution. Go figure.

I am homeless in Toledo Ohio now, crashing on the couch of a community centre in downtown that I have been helping with, but the dehumanisation process continues on a daily basis. Classism is more embedded in our society than white privilege. I have been off the streets (not sleeping outside) for almost a year, but feel more homeless than I did when I was sleeping under a bridge. I have no homeless friends now, and the people who are around me are economically privileged, and noncognizant of it and unwilling to look in that mirror. Depression is crippling at this point.

I don't know how to get the people who are around me on a regular basis to stop dehumanising me. I've lived here since March, and I can't even get anyone to want to go "out on the town" with me. I've been basically confined by circumstance to one room, and I feel just like I felt when I was homeless. I am best kept out of sight and mind. I don't know what to do or think or feel anymore. I spend all my time giving up now. It doesn't seem like there is anything left to hope for.

I stay away from the Christian places because I am gay and quite happy not expressing my faith within a Christian context, as I have experienced quite a bit of psychological abuse from Christians throughout my life. I do believe in God, but these days it feels like God doesn't believe in me. Those places around here aren't really Christian anyway, they're Monetarian.

I've lived an extremely hard life. I have had everything taken from me in the worst way possible, and in some cases multiple times. I can't take any more. I need a break. Maybe this letter is a kind of prayer. I believe prayer comes in all different forms, and I am certainly pleading my bleeding heart here. I don't know what to do. Please help me.

I just want people to recognise that I am a human being. I want people to want to spend time with me, and I want them to want me to spend time with them. But I haven't been able to remain in one place for more than 10 or 11 months at most since 2003. Every place I've been to, as soon as the newness of "the cool combat vet intelligence officer who knows everything" wears off, I'm just some depressed bum who nobody wants to be around unless it is to answer a question. Keep me in the closet and use me as a human google. But by no means ever acknowledge that I have human needs or emotions as well. My existence is not strictly intellectual, I have a body and a soul too. No one wants to look at that. Everyone changes the subject immediately.

I haven't even had enough of a moments peace in my life to even begin dealing with the shit I went through in the military, much less the emotional stuff I went through that led me to homelessness in the first place, and the things that have happened subsequently which have exacerbated that cycle.

I am completely unemployable as a result of an untreated hand injury which requires specialty care (orthopaeidic reconstructive surgery) and I have no insurance. That was the reason I came to Portland in the first place. None of the hospitals there would treat me. The thumb of my right hand is dislocated and deformed and the tendons are snapped. I am right handed. Now, my middle, ring and pinky finger are the only ones working on my right hand and I am an insurance liability for employers. I don't even know why I'm telling all this to you all. You can't really *do* anything either. I guess I just need to vent, but I've vented and vented and vented and nothing gets done ever.

I am at the point now where I feel like there is nothing for me here in Toledo either and the best I can hope for is more of the same distant tolerance dressed up as friendship that I have received all my life. I don't feel that there is anywhere left TO go for me. I've been almost everywhere in the US and am prohibited from crossing any international borders by Homeland Security as a result of my veteran/economic/political status. I dohn't know what to do anymore. I feel like I'm out of options.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Tragedy

Mike Bighus has severe schizophrenia. He takes he medication on a regular basis—a shot of haldol every few weeks. After his shot, he sleeps for a few days and then is as normal as he can. A few days before his next shot is scheduled, he begins to decompensate and have emotional problems. Occasionally, he would threaten someone for an imagined fault, but his friends would ignore it, knowing that he’ll be better after he takes his medication. If he took oral medication every day, he could avoid these highs and lows, but he is just too unstable to take oral meds every day.

Mike is homeless, because he’s never been stable enough to remain in any home. He stays in Gresham, to be in an urban setting, but remaining close to his parents who lives in Sandy. The street community helped him when they could, but he never really made friends with them. It was too difficult to make sense of him, to track his moods. The street community often accepts those who are unstable, so they just worked around it.

This last holiday season, Mike was unable to get his medication on time. He was a little unstable, but he was still determined to stay with his parents over Christmas, because he doesn’t get much opportunity to spend time with them in their home. His mother is a nurse practitioner, so she understands some of what he’s going through.

We don’t know exactly what happened, but somehow Mike got a hold of the rifle that they kept in storage and he shot and killed his mother. On Christmas day. After this deed, Mike strolled around Sandy with the rifle, and then he wandered back home, where the police had blocked off roads and searched all over the town for him. Mike peacefully surrendered the rifle to the officers and he was arrested for the murder of his mother.

Why did this tragedy happen? Well, it happened because Mike had become too unstable. But this answer just encourages the wrong fear that many people have of the mentally ill. Most of the mentally ill are not dangerous, even the severely mentally ill and schizophrenic. The mentally ill, for the most part, do not deserve to be locked up or kept on such strong drugs that they no longer are able to think for themselves. Most of the severely mentally ill can work, can function in society and can live a decent, if alternative, lifestyle.

The real question that should be asked is: How could this tragedy have been averted? Perhaps if Mike had been living in a house he wouldn’t have had the extra stress that would have sent him over the edge. But we can’t really point our fingers at the parents—they had probably helped Mike for years and was at the edge of their patience and knowledge of how to help him.

Perhaps if Mike had been able to take oral medications every day, he would have been more stable, especially if regularly monitored by a doctor. That would mean that Mike would have to be in a group home. But would any group home have taken Mike in? Probably not, because he was too unstable to begin with.

The fact is, there is no place in our society to help people like Mike. Some think that the homeless should be more responsible for themselves, but there are certain people who need to be helped because they cannot help themselves. It is a positive thing that in our society we give people freedom, but when that freedom leads to tragedies like this, is the cost worth it? Wouldn’t it be better to have money in our society to help the severely mentally ill, to make sure that they all have housing and regular medication if they need it?

In the end, wouldn’t it be less expensive. Mike will either be imprisoned or hospitalized for the rest of his life, after a trial. Wouldn’t it have been less expensive to place him in a group home that assists those with severe needs like Mike? Certainly it would have been less costly than losing a nurse. Less costly than a man who has to live the rest of his life without his wife, knowing that she was taken at the hands of their son.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

My Sabbatical Rest

God is really sneaky. But I knew that for along time already.

So my plan for my sabbatical-- three months long, a miracle in itself!-- was to write my book, maybe two, and to set up a day shelter for the folks in Gresham.

First thing, these plans were fulfilled. I'm still working on cleaning up my book, and we still need to get at least one more church to get the day shelter going, but the tough work is done.

But the other thing about my sabbatical is to get rest so I'd be rejuvenated to get back to work. To not be so overwhelmed with weariness. That was a trickier project, because other than rest-- a very difficult thing for me to do-- I had no idea. Maybe a week long retreat away from everything.

The beginning of my sabbatical didn't go well on that last part. The day shelter was requiring some connecting-with-people work (my most tiring work) and the book was starting slowly. I was just so tired.

And then money ran out. That was awful. Bills were piling up and I had no way of paying them. And we couldn't pay for my medicine, due to my lack of testosterone. And I didn't have it for two months in the midst of my sabbatical. That meant my muscles started atrophying, I had to take naps in the afternoon, I had to watch what I ate because diabetes kicked in and other exciting prospects. And I had high anxiety, which was only increased by not having money to pay bills! My phone switched off, and all was not good.

Some folks helped us out in our need-- thank you David and Duncan! Just to keep electrcity on and food handy.

But, a week into December, we got our tax refund. It was less than we thought, but still, our bills were paid and we got my medicine and Diane's (who was on the edge of being out). After I got my testosterone shot, it takes about a week of adjustment. I get funny pains all over my body and my temper goes wacky and stuff. Then I took the time to get to a retreat center-- a Trappist Monastery, actually.

I just got back. Wow. I mean, wow. I feel so much better. My eyes are bright and my mind is back and I am reading again and I feel compelled to write again. I feel like myself.

I guess it was God's plan to not have me have my medicine. I've often said the only way I rest is if I'm sick, so God conveniently planned for me to be sick for a couple months. Then the money came just as things were coming to a head. Then I took the retreat which the final item snapped into place to give me my mind back.

Well, it's nice to be back. Can't say how it's permanent. That's up to God. But He is always faithful.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Homeless Now or In Eternity-- Ron Rohman

This is a response from Ron Rohman, a minister in Portland for many decades, both on the street and off to my open letter to church in East Multnomah County:

Greetings:

We do indeed live in a fallen world. All of these things do occur between those who have houses and those who do not.

And for those who are captives of such behavior there is the cross -- the death burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And there is the power of the Holy Spirit.

So there are those who are homeless in eternity and those who are not.

So for those who are houseless in this present life but not homeless in eternity there is the community of believers called the church which is on the earth.

May we each keep our eyes and ears open for our brother and sister in these difficult times. May we each be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and not be in such a hurry in this culture that we miss out on an opportunity to minister to Jesus as we remember His words in Matthew 25.

Mercy, grace, and peace be with us all during these dark and difficult days.

~ Ron R.

An Open Letter To Churches in East Multnomah County

I am sure that many of you, in your congregations prayed for the homeless this last weekend. As I sit here, writing this, it is 24 degrees in Gresham and the wind cuts the chill onto one’s skin to 9 degrees. Often, as we step out of our houses or offices we consider the homeless and their plight and wonder what they do in such weather.

I can tell you what they do. Some of them sit in coffee shops or the library during the day. Some sit in their cars with the engine running. Many of them stay in tents, just barely keeping the wind out, reserving energy for when they really need it. Some of these folks will go to the local soup kitchens to sit for an hour and get a hot meal and coffee. Others would rather not eat for the day because it is too difficult to get ready to face the cold to get the meal.

So we are right to pray for the homeless. But we would be more right to do something about it.

Right now, in Gresham, Fairview, Wood Village, and Troutdale there are no emergency warming shelters open for the majority of the homeless. There is no place for them to go even during the day that they might not get kicked out of. Just this last week, a few of Gresham’s homeless were kicked out of their camp, and in this weather they had to find and create a new camp.

Some folks would say that the homeless are somebody else’s problem. That they did this to themselves, and so they deserve what they get. Although the causes of homelessness are complex and can’t be determined by a simple sentence, or by a single finger pointing blame, the solution to the worst of this dilemma is easy: churches can open their doors. The homeless are our children, our brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, our fellow believers, fellow church members and most of all, they are people in need. Now. In this cold.

To house the homeless in Gresham—perhaps some 100 whose needs are not currently met by the current system—would be too much for one congregation. But if we worked together, the project would not be too difficult. If some churches opened their doors once or twice a week to allow 50 people to have a place inside during the day, then other churches could provided volunteers to staff that place, and other churches could provide coffee and blankets and socks. If a few churches would be willing to open their doors in the worst weather to allow the homeless to bring sleeping bags in and sleep overnight, then other churches could provide volunteers to watch over the facilities and to provide some blankets and a little bit of food.

If you or some of your church think you might be interested in helping in this project, then I would like to help us work together. I am Steve Kimes, pastor of Anawim Christian Community, a community church for the homeless and mentally ill in Gresham and Portland for 10 years. I have been working with the KEY Conversation on Poverty to try to provide temporary shelter for the homeless, while other groups have been working on more permanent solutions.

We’d like to ask you to be part of the answer to your own prayers.

Anawim will provide the training for volunteers and will provide some organization. Anawim has already provided a model for a day shelter in churches in Gresham for 10 years. But we are now asking all of us to participate. Let us be a model of church cooperation and networking to help a vulnerable part of our community.

If you are interested in helping, please contact me at stevekimes@aol.com or call me at 503-888-4453.

Please feel free to send this email on to anyone else who you think might be interested in helping or supporting.

Steve Kimes
Pastor of Anawim Christian Community

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Reminder for Me

"By becoming poor ourselves, by loving until it hurts, we become capable of loving more deeply, more beautifully, more wholly."

"We have to accept suffering with joy, we have to live a life of poverty with cheerful trust and to minister to Jesus in the poorest of the poor with cheerfulness. God loves a cheerful giver."

Mother Teresa

(whine)

I am so close to finishing my book (first draft) I can taste it. I'm trying to figure out publishing, but it is good to have it almost done. I just wrote about how God takes care of our finances, usually just right on time. But, just as I got home Diane told me that our tax check, which we were depending on, is still weeks away, and will be a thousand dollars less than we expected.

Unfortunately, we were depending on that check to pay our bills, to fix our car, to get our medicine. If we don't get our-- honestly, expensive-- medicine, I won't be able to work for Anawim and Diane won't be able to function at all.

I am honestly tired of the stress of not knowing what money we will have or when. I have been praying to the Lord for a regular income so we can figure out what we need to pay when, but the finances have been honestly much worse these last few months.

This week, I've been praying for the Lord to give us that tax check immediately, and He clearly told us no. He did give us a generous gift of 200 dollars from a friend, which helps us right now, but it does nothing toward our medicine or bills. I'm so worn from all this.

I can write this here because by the time people read this, something will be done. But I can feel like I've whined about this to someone. Keep reading if you want to find out how it works out.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Paradoxes

 



Another paradox is:
"We will solve homelessness by giving people housing."

Somehow, this doesn't work. Why? Because the problem isn't houselessness. It's a worldview difference that the empowered cannot accept.
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Homelessness and AIDS

Homelessness is a social disease like AIDS is a physical one.

To prevent each requires a love that is not intuitive.

To even treat the symptoms is complex and cannot be resolved by simplistic, naive solutions.

Living with it is difficult and effects every area of your life.

Just like a person with AIDS, the society that continues to live with homelessness will die. They may not know it ahead of time, but it will happen.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Moving the Homeless To One Area of Town

Laguna Beach is moving all of their homeless away from the beach to a parking lot:

Homeless Plan: Ambitious or Ridiculous?


That's the same thing they do in L.A. This is why they have such a serious problem in skid row. On the one hand, it focuses the services to one area-- that's good. On the other hand, cities who enact this plan tend to spend more money policing skid row than people that don't.

The main problem I see is that it is segregation. And the problem with segregation is that it increases fear, which increases dehumanizing acts. People who are afraid of others feel freedom to do to those they fear they wouldn't do to "normal" people. This is why it's just a bad idea, overall.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Desiree's Funeral

Today is Desiree's funeral.

She was 25 years old, and died of a suicide and we are supposed to comfort each other when we gather.

The normal platitudes don't really fit. Are we going to remember the good times, the laughter, the joys of her life? To remember her is to sorrow, at this point. To revel in our lapses.

The mother, who gave her life, but also caused her to be born with AIDS.

The grandmother who cared for her, but also let her slip through her fingers so she would live in the street for years.

The pastor (me) who would support her on the street, but was too busy to reach out and connect with her when she was spiraling.

The long term boyfriend who made sure she was taking the proper medication and in a safe apartment for a while, but who left her.

The caretakers who watched over her, but didn't make sure that she wasn't overdosing on her own medication.

On the surface, we all seemed to care, we all prayed for her, but in the end we all failed her. She had a terrible life, a difficult life and we did what little we could. But if one of us could have done more, sacrificed a bit more for her, perhaps she would still be alive.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tideland

I am absolutely stunned by this movie. It made me nervous at first to have Terry Gilliam give an apologetic for the movie just before it began. But after watching it for ten minutes I understood. The film is exposing this young girl to everything that parents want to protect their children from-- and some things we would want to protect anyone from-- and then observing her reactions. It is a wonderful, terrible feeling, watching this movie. On the one hand, you want to save this girl-- much like in Pan's Labyrinth-- but on the other, you are amazed at her resilience, her wonder, her determination not to be afraid at all cost.

And Jodelle Ferland is spot on. She plays the precocious child (of which I fathered at least one) with exactness. Nothing can phase her, for everything is new, and wondrous and whatever she doesn't care for, she will just reinvent. Jodelle was utterly believable, and I think that few could really pull this off.

In a way, this movie did what A.I.: Artificial Intelligence attempted and was unable to do. Both AI and Tideland are attempting to put children in very adult situations, to see them from their point of view. Curiously, although I love AI for what it is, that Spielberg film was too fantastic, but this Gilliam film was completely realistic. I believed that everything I saw was possible, no matter how outlandish it seemed. I know people just like Dickens and Noah (two excellent performances by Brenden Fletcher and Jeff Bridges), I know people who could be Dell. Put them in the right situation-- and my daughter (God forbid) in the lead-- and this story would play out.

One of the things it makes me think about is children living in an adult world. Although I protect my children a bit, I've always been a believer in safely exposing them to the adult world sooner rather than later. Part of that is just self defense, because as workers with the homeless and mentally ill, we have drunks, addicts, schizophrenics, bi-polar, etc. over to our house all the time. And these people sometimes become friends with my children (under observation) and then turn around and disappear, or change personalities, or die. While most people wouldn't consider this a great environment to raise one's kids, I think that overall, it's been good. Children really are resilient, as this movie shows. Rather than be damaged for life, they learn to be strong, to deal with people unlike themselves and to be who they are despite what their friends are like.

When Jeliza-Rose gets older, she will shake her head at the experiences she had when she was younger. She might even be ashamed at her ignorance. But because it gave her opportunities to experience what most people never would, she could take that and respond differently to life than others. With more strength, quite possibly.

One last thing to say. The ending was perfect. It was both a natural outcome of the story, and a complete finish. Just perfect.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Taking a Break

I'm working today on organizing my departure. I'm struggling with finding folks to take over some of my jobs. Who will be able to look at 400 pounds of food and determine what meal could be made from that? Who will receive donations and decide which of the four or five sites the donation would be best to go to? Who will keep the kitchens clean, and help people to cook according to the Oregon Health Department code?

I understand that things will be different when I leave for three months. I'm good with that. But I don't want to leave a mess that no one knows how to deal with.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mutiny!

So I invited a bunch of Anawim leaders to a prayer meeting and they said, "Steve, we're glad you're here. We'd like you to step down from leadership, as soon as possible." Neededless to say, I was shocked! And my wife was the head of the conspiracy!

Well, it didn't go down EXACTLY like that. I asked them to pray with me about whether the Lord was asking me to take Fridays and Tuesdays off for three months. After seeking the Lord, they all felt that I should take off all the rest of the days as well. Basically, they were giving me permission to take a Sabbatical-- read, "pushing me out the door."

I think this will be really good for Anawim, and a real turn around the corner that Anawim needs. As long as I'm around, it will be easy for Anawim to depend on me, and only me, for the running of the church. Now that we've got a group of committed folks for over a year now, it is time for me to let go and let God use them!

That is not to say this is easy for me. Besides reorganizing a few things, I need to trust that the changes that WILL happen to Anawim while I'm gone will be positive.

In the meantime, I'm going to look for some help. Who is willing to help out Anawim while I'm gone? The dates have yet to be determined, but I suspect I'll be dropping out sometime in late September. I also need to figure out some other stuff, like a week in a retreat center (Diane's forcing me to do that as well!-- she really wants to be rid of me!). Also, I firmly believe that the Lord is calling me to finish writing a book during that time and see about getting it published. We'll see what happens in the end....

Please pray for me, Anawim and my family as all this goes down!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dealing With Conflict

Something that happened last night might help people understand some of the difficulties of having large groups of the mentally ill or socially weak together.

Julie and Jim (pseudonyms being used here!) are a mixed race couple who have come to Gresham a number of times. I met them for a first time when we allowed people to stay overnight when the weather was so terrible. They were nice enough, good people, never causing any trouble. Julie was definately more friendly than Jim-- he definatly had a tough repuation to keep up, and we were a little different for him. At one point a rapper friend of mine-- Jesse-- showed up and he spent the whole time talking to Jim about rap music and various musical things. That was great for both of them.

So Julie and Jim showed up last night, ate, hang out during the movie, and they went out to smoke. No problem. Well, maybe a bit, because what they wanted to smoke was weed. In Anawim, we have a no drugs policy, and I want to make sure that we don't get in trouble for people having illegal substances. The last thing I want is the police around.

This is where John comes in. I really like John (what is it with these "j" names in this story? I guess it's just the way it is...), but he can be a real hothead sometimes. I've had trouble with him in the past with his anger, but it's always worked out. Lately he's really been seeking the Lord, realizing that God can really help him with his problems. He's been listening to the Spirit and receiving counsel from believers. There's been a huge amount of growth in him over the last few months.

Well, John was outside and saw Jim with his joint. John went up to him and said, in his slightly manic manner, "Hey, this is a church, and you shouldn't be doing that because it's disrespectful." Jim promply ignored him. So John continued, "You know that I'm trying to get clean and I don't need that kind of stuff around me." Julie's response is, "So, go somewhere else."

John gets pretty upset, so he comes in to me, whispering under the movie, "You know that there's these guys smoking weed over behind the church." I couldn't hear him well, but I caught at least that much, and I thought he was talking about a different guy, who has a medical marijuana card. I knew I'd have to approach him about it, but I also knew John. I knew that if I came right out, they'd feel judged. So give it some time and I'll talk to them next time. I told John, "Okay, thanks. I'll deal with it." And sat back down next to my daughter.

Well, that wasn't quick enough for John. So he went straight back out.

About ten minutes later, John comes back to me and says, clearly enflamed, "You know, you should listen to what I tell you. I had to go out there and deal with it myself and bitch slap that guy."

"What!?" I said (still kinda quietly, because of the movie. I walked out of the church and went to the back.

"They aren't there, now." Jeff says.

"What do you think you're doing? I'm trying to get this guy to follow Jesus, and you're going to use violence? That's a great way to bring someone to the Lord! I was going to bring it up to him gradually, so that we could have a peaceful situation-- but you just couldn't wait! You just need to let me deal with it!"

"Look, he was blowing smoke in my face, there wasn't anything I could do. So I yelled at them. I didn't touch them, or anything."

"So... when you said you 'bitch slapped' him, you were lying to me?"

"That's right."

I turned away, disgusted. Now I had a situation. I have some folks who may not want to come back because they might think that I sent Jeff out there to yell at them. And I've just yelled at John, and that might trigger his anger and he'll want to take it out on me. Great.

When I got home, Diver (finally, not a "j" name!) told me that he talked to the people involved, away from the church and explained that John just went off a bit. Diver said that they were okay. John called me today, and apologized for his overreaction. So I guess it's all okay.

I still have to deal with the weed issue, and I will. But at least I have a chance to do it, now, without losing folks who might be damaged by feeling judged for something they think is perfectly fine. Everything in Anawim is step by step, no huge leaps here.

Steve and Natasha's story

Steve Taylor showed up at the Gresham meeting one day. When I finally got his full name, I was amused because he has the same name as a Christian musician I loved as a kid. Once I could remember it was Taylor and not Tyler, I was all good.

Soon he came to the meetings regularly, both in Gresham and in SE, and he brought his pregnant daughter, as well. They were both homeless, and they were trying to be as responsible as possible. They sought jobs and Natasha got one, then two. Natasha was able to find a midwife who was willing to provide a birthing center for her, when it came time for the baby to be born. Steve kept getting them food from ministries like ours, and he kept seeking housing for them. They got on SSI, so hope was high, but it was difficult because Steve had a felony on his record, even though it was more than 5 years old.

Time was getting short, as the baby was a couple weeks from being due, and they still were sleeping outdoors. I knew the practice of the government, as I had seen it in the past. If they were outside when the baby was born, the baby would be taken away and they would not have another chance to get the baby back because the requirements for that would be too high for a homeless mom to meet. But they had a lead on an apartment and applied for it, using me as a reference.

I talked to the manager and he seemed like a good guy. He was friendly and asked me a couple questions, recognizing, "You're a minister, so I know that you won't say anything bad about them." I admitted that was true, but I thought I would push a bit more. "You know that Natasha is Steve's daughter, right?"

"Oh, I thought she was his girlfriend."

"Nope, his daughter. And you can see how pregnant she is. Let me tell you, Steve is a responsible guy, and Natasha is working two jobs to care for that baby. There is no way that Steve will let anything happen to that baby. Please, just give them a chance."

I guess the manager was impressed, because Steve said that they got the apartment, partly because of my reference.

However, the ordeal wasn't over. Although they had enough for rent, they were still trying to get enough for a deposit. On the day they were supposed to get the apartment, they had all of it but a hundred dollars. They asked the manager if they could move in on that, but the manager said if they didn't have the complete amount by 8 that night, then the next day they would offer the apartment to someone else.

We were able to help with 50 dollars, and Steve was able to find someone else who was able to help get another 50 dollars that day, and they moved in. Praise God!

We didn't hear from them for a while, except when Steve's SSI checks came to our house (he kept them coming there, for fear that they might lose the apartment). But a few weeks ago, they brought the two week baby boy, Sabriel, to Anawim. He is beautiful. And quiet (Dang! How jealous I am of these people who have perfect infants!).

The task of living is still difficult for them. But at least they are able to do what everyone should be able to do-- take care of their child.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Ya Never Know" by Jeff Strong

Guest column by Jeff Strong:

This morning when I open the bedroom door there was a host of cats awaiting me. Not because I am their favorite human, but because the food dish was empty. So flanked on all sides I was escorted to the kitchen and to the food bowl. I open the sack and it was almost empty. So I put a small scoop in the bowl and made my escape to the bedroom to get dressed. Then taking another small scoop I decorated the front porch bowl and made it to the truck. Fired up the engine and made the trek to Freddies to buy more cat food. Now this may seem silly to some but when you have a host of 17 cats it is not a good thing to upset them. Yes I said Seventeen.

After securing the food I began my journey back tohome when I encountered a body spanning the east and west bound lanes of Foster. Cars were swerving around him but no one was stopping, except me of course which angered some motorist for blocking traffic. I managed to get him to his feet and to the curb and then called 911. It took the police 20 minutes to get there. The paramedics never did show up. Meanwhile my charge, somehow got back to the standing position and stumbled back into oncoming traffic and I went with him and we made it to the other side and to a bus bench. Then a bus showed up and somehow he managed to get on the bus. Then the police finally showed up and began chewing me out for calling them which I fired back that if they had got there 20 minutes earlier he wouldn't be on the bus but in and ambulance. They said they didn't feel they needed to hurry for drunks. I said not your call you are sworn to protect the population as am I so when he gets off that bus and passes out infront of some motorist and they are freaked out because they just hit some body it is your fault right?

The younger of the two officers said they would go and pull the bus over and check him out and we parted company.

I just thank God that I had to do a cat food run. Not only are the cats happy, but there is a soul who at the very least has another opportunity to experience the healing power of Our Fathers Grace and Compassion.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Wendy and Lucy (pic)

 
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Wendy and Lucy: A Movie Review

Wendy and Lucy is an independent movie, without a music score, filled with wind and wandering and a woman just barely hanging on to hope. It is about a woman who is homeless, hopefully temporarily, looking to go from Indiana to Alaska for work, only to get stuck in Portland when her car doesn’t start, and then her troubles begin.

Where has this movie been all my life? Although this is fictional, I swear I know this woman and her situation with her dog, Lucy, has been repeated many times with people I know.

Below is a full synopsis of the movie. If you are planning on seeing it (and haven't yet), please skip the next two paragraphs:

Wendy enters “Willamette” (really Portland) at night and gets information from some young hobos which confirms her thoughts about going to Alaska for work. She spends the night in a Walgreen’s parking lot, and the security guard tells her she can’t sleep there in the morning. At that time, she finds that her car won’t start, and the garage down the street isn’t open. She counts her money to find that she has barely enough to fix the car, but none for food. She goes into a local store and tries to shoplift some dog food for Lucy, her companion, only to be caught. She is arrested, and Lucy is left tied up in front of the store. Wendy spends half the day at the police station, and when she returns Lucy is gone. She is frantic and begins to call for Lucy around the neighborhood. The security guard tells her about the pound a fair walk away. The next morning Wendy goes to the pound, but no Lucy—they tell her to keep calling. Wendy is told then that the repair of the car would be at least 250 dollars, including towing the car for 50 dollars down a couple blocks.

After using the security guard’s cell phone to call the pound, Wendy spends the night in a nearby woods. In the middle of the night, an older crazy man goes through her pack and begins talking to her. He goes away, but her fear of being attacked causes her to run off and stay awake the rest of the night. The next morning, in front of Walgreen’s the security guard tells her that the pound called. She checks, and the pound says that someone called with a description of a dog that matches hers. They give her the address. The security guard insists upon giving her money and puts it in her hand—it is seven dollars. She stops by the garage and they tell her that her engine is shot, it would cost $2000 dollars to repair. Then she goes to see Lucy, who is overjoyed to see her. Wendy plays catch with her for a bit and she says, “This is a nice yard. I’m sorry, Lucy, but I can’t fix the car!” Wendy leaves Lucy and hops a train to Alaska.

This is a very personal movie. Not only was much of this movie filmed in places where I have lived, but it is a story that I have experienced through others many times. My family and I have been homeless, “couchsurfing”, in the past, but we have been serving and helping the homeless in Portland for 15 years. I have met many people just like Wendy, in even worse situations—no car, no money, looking for work, but stuck in a strange town that has no work for them.

And I know of many people on the street who are deeply attached to their dogs, only to lose them. People on the street, for the most part, are lonely people, bereft of deep relationship. Family has rejected them, like Wendy’s, if only because the family thinks they are asking for something more than they can give. A dog can provide an excellent companion. They are with you, and can literally be your best friend, keeping you company during the day and warm at night. But others, like the grocery clerk in the movie, think that people on the street aren’t deserving of such companionship: “If you can’t feed a dog, you don’t deserve to keep a dog.” And so, if one is struggling, they feel they have the right to take an animal away. I know of three people on the street who have had their dogs stolen from them while they were going to the bathroom, or eating in a soup kitchen. I have had our dog stolen from us, when he jumped our fence and we went after her only a few minutes later. No one seems to understand the depression and grieving that follows such a loss. Perhaps they understand, but they don’t really care. Rather than helping, they would rather pour on sorrow on top of sorrow.

But what is most poignant in the movie is the second-class citizenship of homelessness. The “crazy man” hit the theme of the movie perfectly, as well as the theme of homeless life: “They are after us. They can smell the weakness.”

People sense the weakness of being homeless, the vulnerable position—and while some have compassion, most just have contempt. Wendy kept running into people who demanded money from her, and even the breaks she got were too small to help. The store required her to lose money and her dog, for the sake of a couple dollars of food she was taking. The sheriff’s department told her that if she didn’t pay the 50 dollars she would just have to pay more later, and if she ran away, they would transport her back to face the consequences (although this is what a sheriff’s department might say, it isn’t actually true. She’d only have to pay court fees if she were declared guilty, and a state wouldn’t request transport for a 50 dollar fine). The garage was willing to give her a break, given that she’s strapped-- $230 instead of $250.

Everywhere Wendy turned, there was no one who would really help. Even the security guard only gave Wendy the use of his cell phone and a few bucks—that’s as far as his compassion could reach. Not far enough to save the only friend who truly loved to see her, who truly loved her completely for who she was.

Don’t let anyone fool you. The sorrow of homelessness is not being without a home. It is being without a friend. And sad is the one whose friend is stolen from her by desperate poverty.

Just looking at this film objectively, I should give it four out of five stars. But this is MY movie. It is about my city, my people, my life. It is certainly reflects my experience. I don’t care, objectively, how great this movie is. It is most important to me. 5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Spirit Led Service

One Sunday a month our services are dedicated to being "spirit led." We ask people to just be silent before the Spirit and then whoever has something to say or to sing, they are welcome to share. It has worked out great. We have heard the Spirit tell us not to fear about our situations. We have had the Spirit lead us to spend an hour in prayer and encouragement for a couple of our folks that have cancer. We have had the Spirit lead us in worshipping the Father. It has been wonderful.

Sorry

I apologize for not having posted as much as in the past. Perhaps some of you are happy for the break. I've been feeling tired, a bit depressed, and when I'm a bit overwhelmed, then it is hard for me to write.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What to call the homeless we work with

From "Joan":
Should we really call the homeless we work with "friends". It looks to me that friendship involves trusts, reciprocities, and shared appreciation of having things in common with one another, whereas love is not dependent on, or limited by, such things.

From Angela:
I've had similar thoughts. In some ways, "friend" doesn't
apply. But in lots of others, it does. I'm thinking there are
different levels of friendship. I'd call this one type, even though I
don't run to one person for serious emotional support, or expect another to
want to talk about philosophy and stuff. But having not much in common
does make it different.


Me:
I am connected with a lot of people who call all the folks they know on the street "friends" and I was thinking that either they were seeing their relationship with the all of them as idealistic, or they didn't know what "friendship" means.

I really AM friends with a number of folks on the street. I really appreciate them, have feelings of warmth toward them and enjoy their company. Others, I certainly don't have that relationship with. I agree with the first post that to have a "goal" of friendship for everyone on the street is a high goal. Too high perhaps. I've known perhaps a thousand people on the street over the years, and I am not friends with all of them.

But what do we call the folks we work with? Some people call them "clients" or "guests" which seems too standoffish for me. My wife and I call them "the guys" although many of them are women. "Homeless" isn't he best term, not least because it is so often used in a stereotypical, derogatory way. I like "street folks" a lot.

UPDATE: A name that seems to be coming up a lot are "the Anawimers", for those who attend our church, Anawim Christian Community, but we also use it to summarize those who are like those who attend the church-- people who are a step down from "normal" society. "Oh, that guy's an anawimer for sure." But we like inventing new terms.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Reciprocity

How blessed is he who makes plans for the poor; The LORD will deliver him in a day of trouble.
The LORD will protect him and keep him alive, And he shall be called blessed upon the earth; And do not give him over to the desire of his enemies.
The LORD will sustain him upon his sickbed; In his illness, You restore him to health.
Psalm 41:1-3

Just as we do to others in need, the Lord will do to us in our time of need.

Widows and Orphans

"You shall not wrong an immigrant or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
"You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.
"If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest. If you ever take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious.”
Exodus 22:21-27

The widows and orphans are those who have no ability to bring their matter to court because they had no social or legal standing, just as a felon or the very poor do not in our society, because they cannot sue.

To do justice to the widow and orphan is, today, providing justice for those who obtain no justice in the "justice" system. For those who do not receive justice, the final appeal is to God Himself.

The American Dream

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Ultimately, all of the great American heroes were after one thing: The American Dream. George Washington sought freedom. Benjamin Franklin sought independence. Thomas Jefferson sought security. Alexander Hamilton sought financial freedom. Abraham Lincoln sought unity. Martin Luther King, Jr. sought equality. They all had a vision that together we can call the American Dream. The American dream was broad in its vision, and they all saw the United States as being a beacon for the whole world, an ideal for all the oppressed to hold to.
However, over time, the American dream evolved. It has been taken up by advertisers, real estate agents, television shows, and cigarette manufacturers. Rather than being a quality of life, it has taken on the characteristics of a particular kind of life—a life of a certain economic level, a certain kind of work, a certain level of materialism.

Freedom
The freedom of the enlightenment idealists was originally an opportunity for everyone to reach to their highest moral and spiritual self. But our society has taken this freedom to be to partake in the lowest common denominator of pornography, greed, violence, covetousness and gluttony, while causing only a limited amount of harm to others.

Equality
The ideal of the American dream is that of equality, so that all are treated with fairness and justice, no matter what society or culture or race they are in. Now equality is meant to limit one’s choices to hundreds of channels on television, but if someone wants to live a different lifestyle, they are punished by having their children taken away from them.

Financial security
The financial security envisioned is that of living according to one’s own means, at whatever level that means. But this has been transformed to greed, with even the poor wondering what they have done wrong to fail to obtain the riches promised them. The wealthy, meanwhile, must keep a serving class of minimum-wage workers (or below minimum wage) in order to maintain their wealth. The greed of the ruling culture is based on the poverty of the lower class.

Luxury
The comfort of the idealists was equally realized in Thomas Jefferson, the inventor and (writer of Walden), the creator of the simple life. There was a variety of lifestyles which kept one at peace with one’s environment and society. But our society has taken comfort to be that of material comfort, with a minimum of physical effort for that life. This has turned into a culture of entitlement, where we don’t just hope for a materialist lifestyle, but expect it and think that we all deserve it.

Freedom of employment
To have work is to be able to be self-sustaining, to pay for one’s own life and family, whatever lifestyle that might be. But now, in order to obtain the lifestyle of greed, we must go the avenue of seeking the patronage and goals of one whose purpose in life is to make money, which he promises to share some sparse percentage of with the one whom he employs. We are trapped in a job ethic that we hate, but we cannot escape.

Democratic ideal
The democratic ideal that was originally held is rule by the people for the sake of the people. But somehow this has been translated to a plutocratic republic—where the only “people” who rule are the wealthy, for the sake of the wealthy. Then this ideal of government is imported to other nations when the “people” there don’t want this form of democracy, but a religious republic.

Security
The Constitution says that the United States must “provide for the common defense”. Yet this “defense” has become a military complex and society that shapes the rest of the country in support of it’s world-wide mission to promote American welfare. The result of this is a constant fear of those who want to limit American influence to its own country, even if they have no violent intent.

Happiness
Ideally, Thomas Jefferson wrote, the American dream is the freedom to pursue happiness. But the American dream today is not the pursuit of happiness, but the direct injection of it. All we want for our children is that they be “happy”. But happiness is found so much easier in an injection, mental health meds, alcohol, television or escapist novels. The harder to obtain, but more content-producing happiness of service, charity, peacemaking and working for God isn’t sought first or even primarily. They are small parts of our life that we gladly surrender when more direct happiness appears or is offered by our cable companies, drug dealers or health care specialists.

Our salvation is limited to what our society can give us. Our opportunities are limited to what we think we should have. Our choices are limited by what everyone thinks is best for us.

Yet there is another option, we are not limited to what our society offers us. Because Jesus offers us a different lifestyle.

Freedom in Jesus
Jesus offers us freedom from our own limitations. He offers us freedom from our own limited morality. He offers us freedom from a pointless existence of self-pleasuring, self-serving, self-pandering. Jesus offers us the power of God and the lifestyle that He himself lived in order to make a powerful change for good in this country, in the world. Jesus calls us to be more than human, to live according to the Spirit instead of the flesh.

Security in Jesus
Jesus offers us all the resources of God, without typical employment, without serving a society of greed. Rather, we can trust in God’s provision, trust in unseen defenses, trust in God’s ways to make a road of security for us and our family in the midst of that which the world fears.

Peace in Jesus
Jesus offers us a peace that is borne by the Spirit, not by a false security of missiles, diplomacy and economic sanctions. He offers us a peace that comes from within, a peace that we can transfer to others and help others live in.

Community in Jesus
Jesus offers us a people who is in the midst of creating a society based on the revolutionary ideals of Jesus, instead of the lowest common denominator. Jesus offers us people to live with, to share with, to work with, to pray with, to rejoice with and to support and minister to. Jesus offers us a full life, instead of the half-life of the American Dream.

Joy in Jesus
Jesus offers us joy—not just entertainment. Yes, this is joy in persecution, happiness amidst suffering. But this is the life of richness, the life of fullness, the life of God.

Why is the American Dream what the church seek, when Jesus says the kingdom of God is found through the loss of the American Dream?
Why is the American Dream the primary option offered to our children, when it fails us in so many ways?
Why is the American Dream the only real option offered to the poor, as if that is the true salvation offered by Jesus?
Where are the saints who sacrificed themselves for the poor?
Where are the godly who knew that one could either have God’s kingdom or the world’s?

Ultimately, it is because our church has accepted the American Dream as the true salvation.

Let’s not go the way of the standard church. Let’s not be content with half-lives any more.

Seek the community of Jesus

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Middle Class Assumptions

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, thousands of people were stranded in the city, which was soon destroyed by wind and flood and filled with diseases. Because the great majority of people stranded in the city were black, it is assumed that latent racism underlying American society has taken its toll again. Racism is an easy card to play—it seems to be a problem everywhere from the LA Police to grandpa’s living room. There is the prejudice inherent in racism as well as the system in which groups are held back from positions of power.

Personally, however, I don’t think that the problem in New Orleans was racial prejudice. Yes, the far majority of folks trapped in the city, lied to and even shot at were black—but certainly not all. Nor do I actually think that the problem stemmed from authorities "not caring" about those who were stranded. Yes, I am sure that there are some who didn’t care about them, but I don’t think that is what created the situation.

I think, rather, that the horrors in the city were created from the assumptions those in power had about society in general.

The powers that be knew that there were many people who had no intention of leaving the city, no matter how many evacuation warnings were given. These were people who had ways of getting out of the city, but they chose not to. So, as many authorities were leaving the city, and they saw people staying behind, it was no surprise. After all, many people were foolish and decided to ride out the storm.

The real problem lay in what they didn’t think about. They didn’t think about the fact that there is a vibrant street culture in New Orleans who wouldn’t have the capacity to leave the city. They didn’t think about the many who were injured or elderly who were incapable of leaving, and without family to assist them. They didn’t think about the poor who rely on public transportation for their daily needs, and do not have money to pay to leave the city. They assumed that everyone could get out of the city if they wanted to. It was never a spoken assumption. If it had been spoken, it could have been questioned. But the assumption was still there, still and quiet in the minds of those in power.

And who could really blame them? They were under a tremendous amount of stress. They had to figure out how to take care of their families and property. They had extra responsibilities. They just never thought of those who wanted to be evacuated, but couldn’t be.

We mustn’t judge these authorities. It is easy to point fingers after the fact, "You should have done this!" Rather we should think about what we would have done in similar circumstances. Would we have thought of those who had no transportation? Would we have thought of those who had no reserve of cash to deal with an emergency? Would we have thought of those in nursing homes and mental health facilities and prisons, if we had no one that we personally knew in such circumstances? Would we have thought beyond ourselves to those who lack the resources we do on a daily basis?
These questions are easy to answer. First we need to ask, do we think of these folks now? This is not asking—WHAT do we think of them? If pressed on the point, I suppose that most of us would honestly say, "I never think badly about the poor and lowly." But the reason it is true is because the poor and lowly are so far out of our context, out of our lives, that we never actually think about them at all- either good or ill. If we don’t think of them now, how could we expect anyone else like us to think of them when they are facing a personal crisis? How can we expect anyone to assist the lowly in an emergency when they never thought of them on normal days?
The stranded in New Orleans weren’t put in a life-threatening position because of racism or even because of blatant prejudice of any kind. They were stranded because of middle-class assumptions.

What is a middle class assumption? It is what most of us who are middle class assume that "everyone" has in society, because everyone we know has them. It is what we assume is the minimum standard to live and function in our society. It is what goes thoughtless when dealing with large groups of people—from leading a church meeting to organizing a free concert to governing an entire population.

Having assumptions is not wrong. It is a part of the cultural baggage we all have. We learn it bit by bit beginning as infants, and our culture grows and is reshaped and is transformed as we get older. The assumptions, however, is just what we get used to—what we never see missing. If we have never (or have rarely) experienced a person speaking anything but Russian, then "normal" people speak Russian, and everyone who is not "normal" just doesn’t come to mind when we make plans. Sure, we can understand intellectually that other people speak other languages, that they are people who are just as important as us and that they have their own need that doesn’t include speaking Russian—perhaps they speak Bengali or use sign language. But in the normal course of day-to-day events, non-Russian-speakers don’t count because we have never experienced them.

And this is the case of the middle class with the lower class. Yes, most middle class people know—intellectually— that lower class people count as much as they do and have their own needs and issues that differ from middle class needs and issues. However, since the majority of the middle class do not "rub elbows" with those of the lower class, then the needs and issues of the lower class are unknown, not to mention the specific needs of individuals who find themselves in the lower class because they suddenly are lost without one of the things that they assumed was necessary to survive—but never really thought about it.

What are these assumptions?
Well, it is beyond my ability to list all of them. But below are a list of those that I and those whom I know experienced.

Ability to remain clean—The idea that everyone in our society has the capacity to a shower or bath with a change of clean clothes and proper hygiene items, such as soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. However, this is a huge assumption to make. To remain clean in this way requires many resources that people, especially those who live on the street, do not have. Think casually how much you pay for your cleanness—between water, a place to have privacy, all the various items to clean clothes and hygiene items. Even a quick overview can help us realize how expensive hygiene is. Now we can know that cleanliness is next to godliness because only the gods can afford such a standard!

Ability to gain identification—Most people assume that identification is simple to obtain. But if you had all of your identification stolen from you or lost in a fire, then you might find that you were in a grave situation. For legal state I.D. you need two pieces of identification. And you cannot obtain any other identification without identification. And without identification, you cannot even check out a library book, let alone get a job or cash a check.

Well spoken English with no or minor accent—This is an assumption that many immigrants face daily. It is assumed that because they learned English with a strong accent that they do not know English well at all. And this is a barrier to many avenues of our society, although bi-lingual services are being provided more and more frequently now.

Basic knowledge of national events—Most of the middle class assume that everyone has access to a newspaper or at least watch television news. However, for those who do not have televisions or who do not choose to pay attention to news, this limits conversation and the main source of knowledge of basic cultural information for the middle class.
Personal transportation—According to the middle class, "normal" people have access to an automobile, and thus can drive to places quickly as often as they like. However, the cost of an automobile is such that a large percentage of the lower class cannot afford to pay for the car, insurance, repairs and gas.

Ability to travel out of town—This is the assumption that stranded many people in New Orleans. It is assumed that if necessary, with some planning, anyone can leave to another county or state if they so desire. However, many people are limited to public transportation, which is limited to a metropolitan area. Or Greyhound, but if you can’t book two weeks in advance or have extra money, then you ain’t going anywhere.

Well dressed, (but not necessarily fancy)—This is the assumption that keeps many lower class folks from attending church services or weddings. It is assumed by most of the middle class that everyone has at least one set of "nice" clothes for special occasions. However, many people, especially those of the lower class, just do not have them.

Computer literate—It is an assumption being made more and more often that everyone has the ability to get on a computer and know what one is doing. Along with this assumption is the idea that we can send important information to people on the internet, or through email, and that is adequate for all who need it. However, not everyone can use a computer and a large percentage of people have difficulties accessing the internet.

Health insurance—Some assume that everyone has some kind of health insurance, although is it becoming widely recognized that most people’s insurance is extremely inadequate. Again, it is a large percentage of the lower class has no insurance whatsoever, and a growing group is being turned away from almost any medical care due to past unpaid bills.

No mental illness—This is the most widespread assumption and the one that is most wrong. Perhaps some 10 percent of people have a diagnosed mental illness. And perhaps another ten percent has a mental illness that has not been diagnosed. But every single one of us has a mental weakness that makes us inadequate in an area that most people are adequate in. Some of us are weak socially, some are weak in mathematics, some are weak in self-assessment. But more often than not, those of us who are strong in an area cannot understand or appreciate those who are inadequate in some area of mental ability. What we must remember however is that mental weakness is what is normal.

Disposable money—It is assumed and expected that everyone has some money, even if it is a small amount, that they can use for an occasional lunch out or for an emergency. However, those of low income, while they might have the occasional financial surplus, they cannot predict ahead of time when they will have disposable income. Thus, having a middle class friend ask if they want to do lunch together is just embarrassing.

Literacy—The education system of the United States has done a remarkable job of teaching most people to read. But there are many people—almost exclusively of the lower class, with some rare exceptions—who are not literate, except in some rudimentary ways. Yet our society is run on the presumption of being able to read warnings, street signs and newspapers. Hospitals and banks hand folks contracts and liabilities to sign that even us educated folks have a hard time reading. For the illiterate, or the functionally illiterate, they just sign what they need to sign, acting like they know what they are being handed and agreeing to things that they have no clue about.

Place to sleep—Most urban areas have some kind of anti-camping ordinance. This is to prevent people from just crashing in parks or benches, cluttering up our usually “beautiful” landscape. These ordinances and our assumption when we meet anyone is that they have had a decent night’s rest. If we knew that the person we were talking to didn’t sleep the night before, we might make allowances to their lethargy or their nodding head as we speak to them. But if we assume that they had sleep, and that they even had a place to sleep, then we don’t give them any allowance for hardship suffered. We all recognize that we need sleep. But we don’t all notice those who haven’t gotten any.

It is important for all of us to recognize these assumptions and to fight such ignorance, both in ourselves and in others. To know that many people do not have these culturally significant items for the middle class is important for all of us. It is especially important for those who organize events or lead large groups of people to recognize what assumptions are being made, for the more assumptions we make, the more people we are excluding. But most importantly, it is important for those in civil leadership to be aware of their assumptions, so that they could truly represent all of their people, and not just the middle class and above.

We also need to be aware of these issues when we establish ministries as churches. When we have a worship service, are we going to turn our noses up at those who don’t smell very good, or do we offer them an opportunity to clean up? When we have a benevolence ministry, do we demand that people give us their ID or Social Security number, or do we offer benevolence to everyone, without exception? When we see people nodding, do we assume they are strung out on heroin, or do we take into account that perhaps they haven’t slept that night? Are our worship services all based on people being able to read, or do we provide a way for the illiterate to participate?

In these and other subtle ways we make it clear that our churches are for “middle class only.” We may not have signs, but a white church in South Africa twenty years ago didn’t need a sign either—they expressed the policy through their actions. Even so, we can deny the welcome we offer to the lower class, homeless or mentally ill by insisting that they operate under the secret codes of the middle class.

Let us open our table to everyone, by making allowances for those who cannot be middle class.

Top Ten Acts of Oppression

As stated by the Hebrew Prophets:

1. Refusing to defend the needy-- Isa 1:17, 23; Jeremiah 5:28
2. Stealing from the poor-- Isaiah 3:14-15
3. Unjust judgments against the poor-- Isa 10:1-2
4. Not assisting the needy-- Eze 16:49
5. Taking interest for loans-- Ezekiel 18:15-17
6. Enslaving a people-- Amos 1:6
7. Excessive violence in war, especially against innocents-- Amos 1:13
8. Excessive rent against the poor-- Amos 5:11
9. Accepting bribes-- Amos 5:12
10. Turning away those who need shelter for a night-- Amos 5:12

Monday, May 25, 2009

Serving When Sick

I was sick this weekend. I hate being sick. Especially when I need to be working. Diane asked me on Thursday, "What are you going to do tomorrow?" I said, "I'm going to do what I must. People need to be fed."

I thought about cancelling the service Saturday, but a number of people walked or drove for miles just to come to the service. I was miserable, but I did it. People need to be fed.

Of course, we don't want all the street folks to get sick. So I washed my hands a lot.

After the service on Saturday, I tried to take a nap. I had just closed my eyes when a knock came at the door with a couple who wanted to talk. They had been driving from church to church, looking for a minister to pray with. The man, Fred, told me his story. He's suffered with mental illness for a number of months. He was telling me all of his accomplishments in life, and they were many. I told him, "God has put you in a place where you have to recognize your weaknesses and depend on Him. Cry out to Him, and He will strengthen you in as much as you need to depend on Him." We prayed together.

That was as much for me as for him. I hate being sick. But if being sick means that I cry out to God and let God show me that it is His ministry, not mine, then so be it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Created To Be Weak

Unlike the masses of animals, humanity has no clue as to why we exist. We have no skills to help us be who we are meant to be, ultimately, and all of our great plans have come to naught. We have tried to live our lives on our own terms, only to find ourselves impotent. We have tried to overcome our faults, only to find ourselves enslaved to them. We have gained the knowledge of success, of a good life, only to find that it was all a lie. We have loved, we have built, we have obtained wealth, we have planned, we have been empowered—only to have it all slip from our grasp. We are left with nothing. Our greatest achievements have ultimately been anthills—clumsy in design and as easy to topple. Our lives are but a leaf on a tree—quickly turned brown and withered and falling down, only to be crushed.

God is there, calling out to us, ready to meet our needs. Our relationship to God is not that to the harsh father, always wanting more from us than we can give. God knows our weaknesses, our helplessness. God made us helpless and hopeless on purpose. He created us weak so that we could recognize that we would never be complete without Him. So that, in the end, when we came to the end of ourselves, our plans, our hopes, our lives, we would turn to Him as the only fulfillment left.
But God also made us weak to prove something to all the universe. There are many powers in the universe, and God made them all. Some are less than humanity, and some are greater. But none are more helpless than the human infant. The human infant is more naked than any other creature, so helpless that he cannot even find his own food. The human infant’s only means of defense, expression and response is her cry. Almost any creature can destroy the human infant with a swipe or a bite. If an infant is left alone, it would die within hours.

Yet, amazingly, God pointed at that infant and said, “I choose YOU to rule the earth.” God’s most masterful creation, the ever-bubbling pot of life and creativity, and God put a helpless infant in charge of it.

How the great powers of heaven must have laughed! Had they the nerve to mock God, they surely would have. To place a baby in charge of the most complex system ever made is insanity, even stupidity. Yet this is what God did. God placed a small, helpless collection of gobs of cells to rule it all.

God did it, not to show humanity’s greatness. Their ability to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” (which, by the way, is a great way to fall on your ass). God chose humanity, with all its failings, with all its weaknesses, with all its helplessness, to show how great anyone can be when He is helping them.
The greatest power, God is teaching, is not power at all, but anti-power. The greatest strength is weakness.

But the other amazing characteristic of humanity is its blindness. Not only is humanity helpless, but it sees itself as strong. Humanity thinks that it can do anything. It thinks it can live on its own terms and succeed no matter what. What idiots we all are! So we continue to reject God, wanting to relate to God only on our own terms. Even the most saintly of us really only depend on God when we recognize that we absolutely can’t do it on our own. We don’t realize that we, no matter how old we become, are still that baby, that helpless infant unable to control our lives.

So God came to earth. He became that helpless infant Himself. And he did it to show us that the best life that any of us could live is a life of dependence. As Jesus was on earth, he had no food, but depended on the Father to provide. He had no power to help, so he depended on the Father to heal. He had no time to rest, so he depended on the Father to give energy. He had no place to sleep, so he depended on the Father to provide shelter.

And his is the best life ever. He is the only one to know—truly know!—why he was here on earth.

He was here to serve the Father. Not on his own terms, but the Father’s terms. He was here not to do his own will, but his Father’s.

To be an infant isn’t so bad. To be helpless is right where God wants us to be. Helpless and crying out to Him. Helpless and seeking His help. Helpless and not knowing where to go or what to do or how to do anything so we can just be leaning on Him.

The best we can be is dependent.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Living Cheaply

A couple weeks ago, I heard a podcast called, "How Much Does It Cost to Live?" Not only did they just give the governments level of income for poverty, but they also assumed that it was too low. From my persepective, this is crazy. Yes, we get a lot of donations as a ministry, but even before we received donations, we lived below the poverty line, paying for apartments, and we lived just fine.

The problem is, in the U.S., we get caught up in lifestyle. We don't think about what is really necessary and what is really inexpensive. We don't learn to pay attention to costs-- whether obvious or hidden. To live cheaply is to pay attention to the detail of cost and the bottom line. The bottom line is how much money you save, as much as spending as little as possible while still having a quality of life. Living cheaply isn't about living without pleasures. Rather, it is finding that one can live with pleasures on little or nothing.

Not everyone has to live cheaply. And there's nothing wrong with splurging. Some of us have to, because of low income. Others of us want to use our money for those who really need it to survive. Some of us have a low income in order to avoid paying taxes that go to war. Whatever the case, it IS possible to live under the poverty line. If we just learn how to do it.

1. Live Without What You Can
The main issue for living cheaply is doing without. Many things that were “necessary” growing up, or many habits we have simply are not necessary for our lives, if money becomes tight. Most of us in an urban area can live without a motorized vehicle. And given the amount of money necessary to purchase and maintain a vehicle, it makes good economic sense to do without one. Most of us have way more entertainment than is necessary, and whatever we lack we can usually obtain from the public library. We don’t need to go out to eat regularly. I could give you more, but it isn’t my place to tell you what you do or don’t need. Make your own list. And start cutting things out.

2. Always compare costs
The best way to live cheaply is to have a running cost comparison in your head for everything you buy on a regular basis. There is never one price for anything. There is a price that a store may have for a while, but that price will change and so the “cost” of anything must be constantly adjusted. For many items—like milk, cheese, ice cream, toilet paper, etc.—there is a range of prices that are pretty consistent. Those are good to begin a list in one’s head. So every time I look at a two block pound of cheese, for example, I might see a price that says six and a half dollars and I say to myself, “I can get that cheaper pretty much anywhere” and I won’t buy it. If I see a price about five dollars, I say, “Safeway has that for six and Winco has it for five, so I might as well buy it now.” And if the next week I see the same item for four and a half, I will snap up a few of those.

It is important to compare like to like. Don’t compare one package of cereal with another, even if they are the same type, because the sizes of the cereal might be different. Rather than comparing packages, one needs to compare weights of equal size. Usually grocery stores do this already. Comparing this way has no worth with toilet paper, however. You can compare prices of rolls in your head, but the rolls are different lengths in different brands. And a “double roll” may not actually be twice the size of a single roll. The only way to compare toilet paper is to bring a calculator and to compare the price per yard or foot. That sucks.

3. Check out different stores
If we are going to compare prices, the minimum one needs to do is to go to a few different stores to compare. Almost every store has items that are cheaper and items that are more expensive. You can’t look at one store and say “Everything is cheaper in this store.” For instance, Winco usually has the cheapest prices for food, overall. But their prices on medicines and hygiene items aren’t as cheap as other stores. A dollar store seems to be a good deal, but they have many items that actually cost less than a dollar in other stores. And they have many items whose quality is so poor that they would break if you looked at them funny.

4. Get Stuff For Free
There are many things you can get for free, if you would but look. In dumpsters, for example. People throw away perfectly good items for the shakiest of reasons. Some folks will get a new TV and rather than give away the old one to Goodwill, they will throw it away. Well, Goodwill’s loss can be our gain, if we are willing to look. Stores are not able to sell items past an expiration date, and they will throw the items away in the original packaging often neatly in a bag. So this means that we can pick up items on the expiration date that are still perfectly good for free.

Okay, not everyone is willing, like myself, to actually jump in a dumpster and see what fine items are available for no cost. But this shouldn’t stop one from looking at Craig’s List for free items or stopping at someone’s house who has stuff with a sign that says “free” on it. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Do a little work and save a bunch of money.

One thing that is a good caution, however, is don’t get carried away. Only pick up the free stuff you can actually use right then. It is best not to pick up stuff that you think you might be able to salvage if “I only did this.” Probably you will never fix it, and then you have just picked up someone else’s garbage to end up paying for you to throw it away yourself.

5. Live in community
It is just as cheap to have three people use a turned-on light bulb as one. And if you buy food in large quantities it is cheaper. It is cheaper to rent a house with others than it is to rent an apartment with a single family. Yes, living in community can be complicated. You have to figure out the agreed-upon rules of the house. You have to work out all the quirks of different styles of living. One’s privacy is more limited. But most of these issues can be worked out if you are willing. Just think of it as an extended family. We live with eleven people in our house right at the poverty line. We all eat and are happy. Not only is it cheaper, but it’s healthier for all of us, for we never isolate and we always have family.

6. Don’t get sucked into name brands
The name brands have a lot of ways to get you to buy their products even though they are more expensive. Some will offer coupons for forty cents off when the product is a dollar more. Some will pay to have their product placed in the store to make it look more attractive or to give it more attention. They can even use color and pictures to give their product more attention than others. Don’t be distracted. Focus on cost. If you just do the math, you can laugh at the name brands and how they thought they would trick you.

7. Cheaper isn’t always cheaper
Just because something is cheaper it doesn’t mean it will save you money. We have to remember, first of all, who we are buying for. I have a daughter who won’t eat meat except for hot dogs (don’t ask me why, I don’t know). But if I buy the cheapest, healthiest hot dogs (turkey franks) she won’t eat them. So, even if I save money on the hot dogs, I still have to buy more and that costs me money.
Also, some items are of such poor quality that you would have to replace it quickly. This is something to consider when buying items at a thrift store or a garage sale. If an item is going to break down within a week, it isn’t worth buying.

8. Some foods are more expensive than others
Every college student knows that Raman is the cheapest food out there. The noodles are filling and just ten to fifteen cents a meal. Most of us, however, are not content to eat salty noodles three times a day. But if we are concerned about cost, then we have to be careful what we choose to eat. Meat is typically expensive, but ground turkey is almost always cheap. Cereal is an expensive and relatively unhealthy meal because you are not only paying for the (overpriced) processed and sugared grains, but you are also paying for the milk you put on it. Hamburger Helper may be easy to use, but it’s cheaper to buy noodles and to get the recipe book out.


9. Watch out for poverty pimps
There are people who actually target the poor in order to obtain what little money they have. For instance, check cashing stores charge a huge amount of interest. If a person in a poor state need a loan on a check that is coming, they should look at the actual cost of getting that loan—a 250 dollar loan may, in the end, require a 50 dollar fee in interest, or more depending on how long one needs to pay it back. Banks also take advantage of the poor because their fees hit those who have little money in their account the hardest. “Free checking” is no such thing for a person who has a hard time keeping account of how much money is in their account. Just remember, if a business is trying to “save you money” they are doing no such thing. They are trying to make themselves money. We need to be aware of their tricks.

10. Buy in bulk and hide things
Buying in bulk is a great way to save money, for the most part. Check prices, and buy in large quantities. However, there are many items that I have found that if I buy large quantities and make them readily available, then they will disappear at twice the speed. Cheese and cream just aren’t worth the savings to buy in bulk because the more there is, the more it gets used. So what I do is keep a storage refrigerator where I can hide bulk items so they don’t get used so frequently. This is also good if I find a good price on meat, so I can freeze a lot of it for future use. If someone says, “We’re out of cheese,” I can reply, “No we’re not!” And like a magic trick I go to the basement and voila! More cheese!

11. Keep an eye out for hidden costs
When making big decisions that involve money, try to keep in mind everything involved in the cost. We got chickens to get eggs. And although our initial costs were subsidized, the chicken feed is probably equivalent to eggs we could buy. Winco might be a cheaper store for food, but it doesn’t make sense to use it as one’s only store if the closest one is many miles away. Gas costs money too. If the cheapest items are a distance, try to buy items when you are already going for other reasons. Travel is an expense, and so reducing long travel is a way of cutting costs. Many people love Costco, and it can be a good way to save money on many items—including an individual meal! However, if you wouldn’t use it frequently, it doesn’t save you money because of the annual fee. You would have to go to Costco at least a few times a year, buying

12. Fast food isn’t always expensive
Most people consider fast food to be unhealthy and expensive, however it is often an inexpensive alternative. It is usually possible to buy a hamburger with all the trimmings (lettuce, pickles, tomato, cheese) for little more than a dollar. If one were to buy all the ingredients for that item at the store, it would cost the same, and you’d have to cook it yourself.

Then there is the issue with health. “What about veggies!” some decry. First of all, almost all fast food places offer really nice salads now—even McDonalds!—with a variety of veggies, including carrots, tomatoes and cucumber. These can easily be exchanged for fries in a meal, and iced tea instead of a soda. However, this isn’t always the cheapest option. What we sometimes do is I would go out and buy some hamburgers and my wife will cook up some frozen veggies like green beans. There we have a decent meal with little prep and it is still inexpensive.

13. Splurge every once in a while
Everyone splurges. It is a part of our human nature to want something “nice” every once in a while. What could happen if we refuse ourselves splurges, is that we will binge and spend money that we don’t have. If, however, we occasionally give ourselves a splurge, allow ourselves a financial cheat, it will be cheaper in the long run. Just be careful that the splurge remains a splurge and not a habit.

14. Make a list of cheap or free entertainments
Everyone has different things they like to do: be active, watch TV or movies, eat out, read, etc. Every one of these activities, in urban areas, have equivalents that are free or cheap. Libraries are one of the best resources for inexpensive entertainment. If you are reading this, you have some access to the internet, and so you can access the free movies and books and tv shows that the internet provides. Go to a park. Find the local free meals for the poor and find the ones that are really good. Try this for a date sometime: go to a neighborhood in your city neither of you know much about and just walk around, looking at the houses and shops. Or just walk around a mall with no money in your pocket. In my city, the local zoo has one day a month that it costs only two dollars for the whole day. There's a lot to do that costs nothing. All it requires is imagination and using the resources that are readily available.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Zeitgeist

Future generations always demonize the ethical blinds of the past. It is easy for us to demonize the choices of Columbus or Andrew Jackson, because their culture treated other races as less than human. I am not excusing them, for there were others of their culture who did not accept those cultural blinds, but were able to accept all people as equal. Perhaps Stowe or Wilberforce had their own limitations, and were not as enlightened as, say, Archbishop Tutu or MLK Jr., but without the message and sacrifices of these, the latter would never have had the opportunity to speak.

All I am trying to say is that every age has their own cultural blinders that limit them from, what looks to outsiders, obvious moral choices. The ethical choices are always there, always a possibility, but the zeitgeist of each era causes a fog to appear, and only those who choose to clear the fog from their own minds are able to see it.

It would be easy, and probably profitable, to look back on history to see the zeitgeists of eons past to see how these limitations limit people’s obvious moral choices. What is more difficult is to apply this principle to our own age, to our own lives. What are our own cultural blinders that limit us to obvious moral choices?

In the United States, and probably the West in general, one of the most significant ones is the destructive result of our lifestyles. Because of our lifestyles, millions are impoverished, the resources of the earth are being diminished, governments are being toppled, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are being killed.

The obvious moral choice is to change our lifestyle. To change the way we look at our material wealth. To live in a completely different way, different from those who live around us.

And yet this change is so difficult. Impossible.

I’ve been teaching in my Sunday services about how Jesus requires all of us to be “anawim” in order to obtain God’s utopia. The anawim are the lowly and outcast who are seeking God. Jesus says that in order to be the type of anawim He wants us to be, we need to sacrifice our family and wealth; we need to be ready to be persecuted; we need to practice hospitality to all in need. Jesus demands a lifestyle change if we are going to be His disciples.

Perhaps we can’t do all that is necessary right off the bat. Perhaps we just need to be more bold in order to save our own souls. Perhaps we just need to start somewhere and then start again and again until our lives are in conformity to Jesus’.

So, two questions for us to ponder—what lifestyle choices can we make so as to escape the zeitgeist of materialism and empire? And what other zeitgeists are there that future generations will shake their heads in shame about when they read about us in history books?

Monoculturalism Destroys the World

Everyone wants to battle prejudice. To label people by their group, to stereotype an individual by who they look like or false ideas about their group is a horrendous crime. However, sociology teaches us that this is not a crime that we can just point at and jeer, but rather it is a sin within our own hearts. There is not a single person who has ever lived who has not made a determination of another’s personality, goals or vices based solely on one’s looks, one’s accent, one’s clothes or the people one is friendly with. Labeling on insufficient evidence is hardwired within us, and we will all stumble because we assume that our current experience with a person is based on a previous experience or story of an experience with someone we put in their same category. To confront a bigot, all we have to do is talk to the mirror.

It is for this reason that many Western societies have targeted certain areas of prejudice. We have laws against some forms of racism and sexism. We decry homophobia and religious bigotry. And so we should. Because to limit one’s rights or ability to survive due to one’s beliefs, one’s sex, one’s race or one’s sexual orientation is wrong. Every adult, without exception, should be allowed to make their own decisions about how to meet their needs, as long as it does not harm another. If one person has the money for an apartment, then all who can afford it and not harm others should get the same apartment. If one person can sit in a bar to drink, then all should be allowed. This is what Martin Luther King Jr. died for.

There is far to go in these focuses. Yes, an African American has been elected president, but fifty percent of all abortions in the United States are on African American fetuses. Yes, women are now able to succeed in almost any occupation men used to hold a monopoly on, but the second most popular entertainment application on an iPhone is iGirl—where an endowed cyber-woman can be manipulated by her male “master”. Most people have the freedom to worship as they please, but any Muslim appointed to a high government position will soon have to resign because of false allegations that they have associated with terrorist groups. With prejudice, the work is never done.

With as much work as must be done on the bigotry that has been targeted, there is a problem with speaking of racism, or sexism or whatever other focus one has. For every prejudice our society focuses on and tries to wipe out, a hundred are ignored and five more are created. Yes, our society has made great strides in sexism, but assumptions are publicly made daily about the poor who receive welfare—that they are lazy, are cheating the system, are taking advantage of the government. Racism has changed and in some ways gone underground, but social workers can manipulate and control the lives of the mentally ill because the mentally ill have been deemed unable to care for themselves, even when they are not under a court-ordered commitment. People are allowed to worship as they please, but people who have pot for their own use are thrown into prison, although they have harmed no one—not even themselves.

The list of prejudices go on and on—the homeless are treated like criminals for not having a place to sleep, an immigrant is treated like an idiot for having an accent, someone who criticizes democracy or capitalism is held at arm’s length, distrusted, a person over 80 is treated as unable to make their own life decisions. Why is this? Not because we haven’t been taught about tolerance. Simply because our teaching of tolerance has been limited to only a few categories. Thus, we who are white males feel guilty at just glancing at a young black man, but we can openly speak hatred against the same man if we find out he is homeless and speaks with an African accent.

The issue is not racism, or sexism or any other ism of limited scope. Our prejudice is against those who are unlike ourselves—of any other culture that is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. When one person or a group of people make a values decision that is different than one we would make—whether or not it would hurt another—that person is wrong and potentially dangerous. The different are not allowed to rule the society, because they will not uphold the cultural standards, whatever they may be. No matter how we try to attack bigotry, as long as we limit it to just a few issues, we will always fall behind our own unknown prejudices. I believe that our problem is not racism or homophobia—rather it is monoculturalism. The limitation of the “acceptable life” to only a few choices.

Our problem is not simply a lack of education. Certainly Americans would be more tolerant if they learned more about cultures, religions, and a variety of cultural mores and habits. But knowledge is not the answer to a monocultural outlook. The prejudice against women persisted because there was a mutual agreement between the sexes to not interfere with each other’s way of life, mores and areas of influence. Only when they began to live as equals, interfering with each other’s lives was there the beginning of understanding and a breaking down of the wall of sexism. The prejudice against African Americans persisted (and will continue to persist) as long as there is separation in neighborhoods, schools and cultural blocks. Only when there is a free and equal mixing between races will understanding and true hope come about.

I believe that the answer to monoculturalism is living in other cultures, being humble in a situation apart from that which we grew up. When I visited India, after living my whole life in Southern California, I was confronted and ashamed by some of the things I did which was acceptable in my own society. I learned that not only were different races, religions and languages acceptable, but so were different ways of thought. When I began to live among the poor, I learned that there was much that I had an instant revulsion to—dumpster diving, for one—that was not only acceptable, but actually a moral benefit to society.

Only if we live humbly among different cultures will we learn to accept other cultures. Only if we are forced to confront our prejudices face to face with those who we appreciate but run in the face of our prejudices will we change.