Archive for January, 2009

31
Jan
09

A Little Money but a Lot of Dignity

Just got back from Tent City 3.  Last time I was there, the coffee pot was on the fritz.  I had told them that the next time I was there, I would see what I could do.  So I went to the camp today to recruit some help at the store (I’m on a crutch and didn’t think I could manhandle a large pot).

Well…Fred Meyer’s doesn’t carry the large multi-gallon coffee makers.  So I figured, if I was prepared to spend the money on that why not just have a little shopping spree?

I picked up a nice 12 cup coffee maker, 3 packs of Seattle best at $5.99 each, 6 bottles of different flavor syrups, 2 gallons of coffee creamer, filters, 5 12packs  of soda pop, and 5 gallons of juice.

The response was amazing!  All around people were saying things such as “Man, we’re living good now.  Creamer and coffee syrup, we’re like rich folk!  We can have juice AND soda for dinner, we’re living it up!”  The feeling of dignity swept through the encampment.

They insisted I stay and eat dinner.  They rolled out the red carpet.  People were fixing me food, pulling up the 1 padded chair for me, and as I sat down to eat, I was surrounded by folks.  Everyone, it seemed like, wanted to talk to me.  Many were puzzled and amazed at this guy (me) who said “that if it was good enough for me to have at my house, it was good enough for me to get them”.   Their responses blessed me.  They gave me more than I could ever give, they gave me their love, their friendship, their stories.

I spent $100.  $1 a person.  So very little but such a huge impact.  Even if its only for a short time, they were allowed to feel “rich”.  To them, they were living the good life.  We take things for granted so often.  A nice coffee pot, soda in the fridge, electricity, warm water, heat, a bed.  You’d have thought I had just given them something of great value…and I guess I did.  I gave love, friendship, and treated them as equals.

Thanks to Andy who before going out to Tent City 3 kicked in $20 and offered to help out when needs come up.  Bro, I wish you could have made it down and seen just how far $20 can go.

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29
Jan
09

Reflection on Homelessness for Lent

I was asked to provide the weekly reflection on homelessness for the MSA Lenten Guide produced by Dr. Christine Sine.  Here is an excerpt in its unedited form:


“Once more. Who is the judge and the law-giver to whom we are to be accountable at the last? It is God, indeed; but God as present in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the sinful, these are our law-givers. In them God is immanent; in the cry of their struggling spirit His Law is proclaimed, in their deliverance and salvation his will is accomplished.”

-George Tyrrell

Imagine with me, if you will, one day standing before God and being shown the faces of the people in need that we pass by every day in the streets without notice. To be shown the faces in our lives of those that we’ve passed that were starving as we made our way to dinner. Those that were freezing as we walked by snuggled up in our scarves and jackets. Those that had no place for their families to lay their head as we rushed home to enjoy our warm bed and covered roofs with our own families. Those that were hurting and simply needed a friend to talk to as we chatted away on our cell phones, talking about nothing. Those who needed the dignity of being treated as brothers and sisters in Christ as we speed by without making contact on our way to church.

Mother Theresa said, “In the poor we meet Jesus in his most distressing disguises.” I believe she was right. I remember when the movie The Passion of The Christ came out, sitting in the theatre and noticing the vast number of people who turned their heads, averting their gaze during the scourging and crucifixion because it was too dark, too messy, and too uncomfortable for them to imagine Christ like that. I have had the privilege of sitting with homeless friends outside churches on Sunday mornings as vast numbers of parishioners turned their heads, averting their gaze because this image of Jesus can also be a little too dark, too messy, and too uncomfortable for us.

From 1 Corinthians 4:9-13

Sometimes I think God has put us who want to be like him on display, like prisoners of war at the end of a victor’s parade, condemned to die,
on stage in a theater in which no one wants to buy a ticket. We’re something everyone stands around and stares at, like an accident in the street.

We’re the Messiah’s misfits.

You might be sure of yourselves, but we live in the midst of frailties and uncertainties.

You might be well-thought-of by others, but we’re mostly kicked around.

Much of the time we don’t have enough to eat, we wear patched and hand-me-down clothes, we get doors slammed in our faces, and we pick up odd jobs anywhere we can to try and make a living.

When they call us names when they see us on the streets, when they hassle us for trying to sale newspapers or looking for food, we respond back,

“May God bless you.”

When they spread rumors about us, We put in a good word for them.

We’re treated like garbage, potato peelings from the culture’s kitchen. We have become the scum of the earth.

28
Jan
09

Can’t a Brother Get a Sandwich?!?

Sorry I haven’t posted this week.  Had bronchitis then on top of that this past weekend I caught the stomach virus that’s been going around.  I was one sick puppy.  Tomorrow I’ll be sharing the story of my friend Chris and our trip to the hospital today and how he was treated.

I read a story in Real Change‘s News while waiting in the ER about a 62 year old homeless man arrested for stealing a $7 sandwich at a grocery store.  The guy was hungry.  I cannot imagine having to feel a sense of starvation as you live on the streets surrounded by Safeway’s, McDonald’s, etc…knowing that no matter how much food they have none of it is for you.

St. Thomas Aquinas said:

“If there is an urgent and clear need, so urgent and clear that it is evident that an immediate response must be made on the basis of what is available . . . then a person may legitimately supply his need from the property of someone else, whether openly or secretly. Strictly speaking, such a case is not theft or robbery.”

What do you think?

I’ll close with my thought for the day:

“When we administer any necessities to the poor, we give them their own; we do not bestow our goods upon them. We do not fulfill the works of mercy; we discharge the debt of justice . . . what is given to us by a common God is only rightly used when those who have received it use it in common.”

-St. Gregory the Great

21
Jan
09

Jennifer’s Story

Jennifer grew up in a broken home.  Her mother changed boyfriend’s like most people change their socks.  Jennifer grew up with lots of abuse, both physical and sexual.  Jennifer’s mom was an alcoholic.  Jennifer’s sister became an alcoholic.  Jennifer became an alcoholic.

Jennifer left home at young age and married as soon as she turned 18.  The problem is Jennifer’s husband was also an alcoholic with severe mental problems due to suffering sexual assaults as a child.  He was also an abuser…

Jennifer left him several times when things got so bad that she feared for her life.  They had recently come to Seattle where they stayed for a few months with his father until he kicked them out.  They had been homeless for 3 months when I met them at Nickelsville.

I knew they were struggling, I could hear the name calling and the fighting which came way to often from their tents.  I saw the tears in her eyes when we talked about abuse and how to overcome it at our weekly church service at the camp.  A few weeks later they were barred from the camp for smoking marijuana.  I didn’t know if I’d ever see them again.

I went to Nickelsville at an unusually early time for me to meet up with another resident for coffee.  That person never showed up.  As I was about to leave, Jennifer came up.  She came to Nickelsville to find me.  She really needed to talk, so we went over to Cafe Trabant.  I could tell something was up and after 30 minutes she began to break down and cry.

She told me that they were staying at TC3 but were banned for alcohol/marijuana.  They were staying in a park close to TC3.  One night her husband got drunk and sold Jennifer to another old homeless man with bad Parkinson’s who brutally violated her while he watched and pleasured himself.  That night, with nothing but her ID and the clothes on her back, she fled.

She had no idea where to go or what to do and hardly knew anyone in the area, so she came to find me.  Providentially, I was there.  After a few hours of counseling, (and much consultation on how to handle this with Rick R.) Jennifer agreed to allow my wife and I to take her to Harborview for a rape kit.  We were there for 12 hours when they discharged her at 3:30am with nothing but the clothes on her back.  All the domestic violence safe-houses were full.  She hadn’t even had a chance to shower off the sense of filth that she carried from the traumatic experience.

Rick R. had saved her a bed at a local shelter but she would have to be up and out in 2 hrs, so we took her back to Nickelsville.  We picked her up that morning and bought her some clothes and toiletries and various things to try and salvage some of her femininity, anything to make her feel normal.  We found a place she could shower at.  We called ever safe-house from Olympia to Mount Vernon/Bellingham.  No one would take her, they were all full.

We would spend the day’s with her, taking care of her, counseling her, and loving on her and drop her off at a women’s shelter in time for check-in so she wouldn’t have to be alone because the word on the street was that her husband was looking for her.  During that week, Jennifer kicked alcohol.  She also transformed her life.  We talked alot to Jennifer, who is a Christian, about her purpose.  The usual stuff that God created her for more than this, that she was worth more than this to Him, that He loved her.  That the abuse she experienced throughout her life was NOT her fault.  It did not make her dirty or a bad person as she previously had convinced herself of.  My wife and I shared of our own troubled childhoods’ and history of abuse.  We prayed and cried often with her….

Jennifer’s transformation was amazing.  We came up one day to pick her up and could her talking to another young girl from the street’s with a similar story that “She used to be just like her.  She used to think she was worthless and dirty because of everything that had happened to her.  She used to think that it was all her fault and only now, for the first time in her life did she realize that it wasn’t.  That she was created for something more.  That God had a plan for her and loved her and wanted more from her”.

It was one of the best moments of my life.

I connected Jennifer with some long lost family members out of state.  Together we found her a recovery home and got her a ticket the hell out of dodge.  I picked her up from the shelter and put her on a plane.  She’s in a safe place now.

So many still aren’t…

20
Jan
09

Monica’s Story

I have a friend, let’s call her Monica, who has been homeless since she was 13. I have known Monica for a few months now and meet regularly with her for coffee.

Monica left home due to numerous abuse’s that would turn your stomach if you ever heard.  Pretty bad stuff for a 13yr old to say “my life would be better living in the street than living at home”.

Monica is now 17yrs old. She has had numerous run-ins with the law.  She can be loud and boisterous on cuss es like a sailor when she’s on the street.  It’s all just an act to stay safe on the streets as a young woman who is subject to physical and sexual violence when forced to sleep outside.

However, when I spend time with Monica alone, she’s a sweetheart.  She is soft spoken and gentle with a heart for her friends on the street.  The past month has seen her undergo a huge transformation.  I have been blessed to watch her not only get one job but two.  Monica, for the first time in four years, is off the streets.  She now has her own apartment.  She is stable.  She seems like a different person from the girl I met 4 months ago.  All she needed was someone to care for her, to believe in her, to encourage her, and reaffirm her.

We walked down the block last week to show me where her new apartment building was.  Her smile was contagiously heart warming as I told her that I was proud of her.  I doubt she has ever had a male compliment her without wanting something in return.

As I left, she stopped me to ask, “Dustin, can I give your number to some friends?  They really need some help.  Would you hang out with them too?”

I would encourage you to take time for one person a week for one hour over one cup of coffee.  It may not mean that much to you but could be the difference in that  person’s life.

06
Jan
09

The Abandonment of the Gospel by the White Church

From Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the ministers, priests, and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” …. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely otherworldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

…I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches  …Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips for Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

The atrocious thing is that this still happens.  A friend of mine was recently denied a position with our state Baptist association.  After interviewing he was told that “you’d be great for the position, but don’t you know you’re black?”.

I remember growing up, the huge uproar whenever black families visited our church (the largest church in the city).  I have been told subtly by elders in churches I’ve served to not have any black kids at events and have seen numerous churches deny black guest preachers at our “house of God”.  I have grown up being told interracial marriage is wrong because blacks are cursed people.  I have been asked in job interviews at churches if I would intentionally reach out to people of color with the understanding being that that would not be acceptable.

I almost titled this post, “The Abandonment of the Social Gospel by the White Church”, but then caught myself.  The Gospel is a Social Gospel.

God forgive us as Christians of White Privilege for Abandoning our brothers and sisters of color when they needed us.  And God forgive us of perpetuating the Triple Evils of Poverty, Racism, and War.