Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Mark

Cain killed Abel.  A pretty well known fact, it’s true.  And most of the time we focus on the “why” of it.  The text doesn’t really give a good answer for that.   Cain had a problem, I suppose, with controlling his anger.  But while Genesis doesn’t give a “why”, it does explain a “therefore.”  What happened to Cain because of his past sin?  He was eternally marked.  He displayed for all, for the rest of his life, a mark that showed his sin.  Why is that?  Because he refused to repent of his sin.  Just like his parents before him, he offered excuses, refusing to admit his sin.  So he was marked.

                The homeless are also marked.  They are marked by their peculiar style of poverty.   By the layers of clothes, by the long beards and hair, by the daypacks and shopping carts.  They are marked.  And just like Cain, they are rejected by other due to these marks.  They stand out as “the Other” and so they are repulsive to the rest of society.  When the police see them, they make sure to take down their names to see if they have any records.  When shopowners see them, they make sure they get what they want and leave quickly.  When they come into churches, certain members cringe inwardly, avoid contact with them and hope that being ignored will keep them from contacting any of them. 

                Why do the homeless have such a mark?  This mark is the mark of the society they have joined, the fellowship that they are partnered with.  But such a fellowship is not often sought or hoped for.  How did they join?  Different reasons…

Sam became homeless because his mother committed suicide while he was still living with her.  The trauma caused him to lose his job and his housing.  He’s been homeless for more than ten years now, nursing his wounds, wandering from meal to meal, because he has no energy or reason to do anything else.

Frank was a methanphetamine abuser for many years, from his childhood.  He pulled himself together long enough to get married to someone who nominally belonged to a restrictive cult.  They had two children. As he became stronger in the Lord, he began to teach his kids about the Lord and what the Bible says.  Their mother got deeper into the cult again and eventually the cult forced her to divorce her husband and not allow the kids to ever see him again.  This event drove him back deeper into drugs.  Now he’s been clean for a year and a half, but because of the damage the drugs caused him for so many years, he is unable to stay at any one job, wandering from ministry to ministry, seeking to serve and to hear the word of the Lord.

Joe had various jobs throughout his life—construction worker, volunteer fireman, shopkeeper.  He loves to quote his father’s pithy quips.  But the main thing he learned from his family is drug abuse.  Both of his brothers died due to some combination of drug abuse and cancer.  He is proud that he uses no illegal drugs, but he freely admits that he is an alcoholic.  He also has cancer.  He can’t handle regular treatment, and so he doesn’t know how long he’ll live.  So he doesn’t bother trying.

The stories go on and on.  Trauma.  Hopelessness.  Disconnection.  Lack of trust.  Just like Cain.  And they are marked like Cain, by the society we are a part of. 

How did Jesus treat those who were marked?  Because many in his society had the mark as well.  In Jesus day, prostitutes and tax collectors, Gentiles and “sinners”, beggermen and cripples, they all had the mark.  The mark of separateness.  The mark of not belonging to “righteous” society.  How did Jesus treat them?

Jesus ate with them, a cultural symbol of partnership.  Jesus called them to repentance.  Jesus healed their wounds and cared for them.  Jesus gently offered them hope.  He offered them God.  He offered them himself.  He was the servant to those with the mark.  And that is what Anawim does.  They minister to one of the groups in our society that have the mark of Cain.  They feed them.  They clean and dress their wounds—both physical and emotional.  They offer hope in the midst of misery and tell the marked, “Jesus is for you.  Jesus came for you, more than for the people in the churches.  Jesus has strength for you.  And Jesus will bring you close to God.  And God will heal you of who you are and where you have come from.” 

The question is not: "How do we get rid of the mark?"  The question is whether we will forgive them for that which is not a sin.

Paintings by Michael Sherriffs Hall.  Find more here.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Permitted To Be Nowhere

The cities of Multnomah County are like a lot of other cities throughout the United States.  They like to look like they are helping the homeless when they are actually oppressing them.

According to The Oregonian,  the owner of some private property has decided that he would temporarily allow the homeless to camp on his unused property in downtown Portland until he sells it.  "I'm willing to let them out of doorways," says Michael Wright, pointing out the benefit to the community.

The city of Portland, however has a problem.  There is no permit for it, they say.  And no one is allowed to camp, not even on private property.  Of course, that is the city ordinance.  That camping outdoors without a permit is illegal in Portland.  Remember that when your kids decide to camp in your backyard.

Or, perhaps, the activists of Occupy Portland should be informed as well.  They have been camping in public areas, not just private.  I want to make it clear, I am not opposed to protest.  I am opposed to the city's hypocrisy.

Or let's take Gresham.  There is at least two police officers, on city time, that have been going to homeless camps and ripping up their tents, sleeping bags and tarps.  They are vandalizing private property.  This is nothing new to the homeless in Gresham.  Those that lived on the Springwater Corridor would have their personal possessions ripped up and thrown in a dumpster by a county paid official.  Or there is the camp under a bridge in Gresham that came back to find their possessions thrown into a pit and burned up.

Many of the homeless are given tickets by a variety of Gresham police.  These tickets are sentences to leave Gresham and not come back.  Yes, they aren't binding by a court, but some homeless just follow it so as not to cause more trouble for themselves.  Many homeless claim Gresham as "home" and have no where else to go.

Okay, okay.  The homeless get the idea.  They aren't wanted here.  Somehow they are considered criminals just for living outside and trying to survive.  Look, if you can arrest them for drug use or for violent activity, no one is really complaining.  But the fact is, the homeless are being targeted as criminals because of what they don't have, not what they do.  They don't have four walls and a roof and that makes them criminals.

Oh, sorry, the camp in downtown Portland on Mr. Wright's property DOES have walls.  Made out of doors.  The City of Portland says that it is not according to code and must be torn down.

Look, here's the point.  You don't want the homeless to be hanging around on the streets?  THEN GIVE THEM A PLACE TO GO!  It is not enough to deny someone a place.  A body takes up room and space.  The cities of Multnomah County have basically denied the homeless the right to exist.  Can this really be legal?

The city of Portland just built a facility that houses 130 homeless and shelters no more than a hundred more. Where are the thousands of other homeless supposed to go?

Let's be completely frank.  The majority of homeless in Multnomah County have lived in the county since before they were homeless.  They became homeless here.  This means that these homeless are our responsibility.  We cannot deny them the right to exist.  The right to sleep.  The right to live.

We must work on a plan to live with the homeless because they aren't going anywhere.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Worst Case Senario

A month ago I met a couple named Rian and Kim.  Like many people, they were moving from Texas to Oregon in order to have a better shot at jobs and a better life.  And like many people making that move, the cost of housing and the difficulties finding economic stability surprised them.  They thought they could get housing easily, but it wasn't so easy.  So they ended up homeless.

The difference between them and others is that they are deaf.

This may not be such a big deal, but think about it.  In the middle of the night, you can't see anything and you can't hear who's coming.  This couple could only communicate through sign language and writing, so they couldn't get information easily.  If the police caught them in the middle of the night, what would happen to them?  What if someone attacked them?  They were especially vulnerable.

But at least they were in a car.  Oh, until it got taken from them as a repo.

We were able to bend a couple rules and let them in a house over the weekend, and they were certain that they could get housing on the Monday after through disability services.  However, on that Monday, the apartment manager (to whom they have already paid application fees, been accepted, and given a deposit), refused to give essential, basic information so they could get the apartment.  Disability services couldn't pay their rent if the apartment wouldn't give this information.  So they were stuck homeless for the rest of the month until they received their next checks, for two and a half weeks.

What were we to do?  So I wrote a letter (which I almost never do) giving them permission to sleep on our property for the rest of the month.  Then I left for two weeks on a long planned trip to Pennsylvania, praying that they be safe and that they don't take advantage of others.

In the middle of the first week, they did have to move from the hidden porch I put them on to the back of the church building because the rain on the porch flooded them out.  But when I saw them again, they were safe, healthy, and had just moved into their new apartment.  The two weeks they had spent at Anawim they were very helpful, cleaning up and assisting Linda when they could.

It was a terrible situation, but all worked out in the end.  Praise God.