Wanna Help Me Change the World?

Once upon a time, I wrote on this here blog so frequently that mere mortals had a hard time keeping up. Strangely enough, all that writing never turned into the massive money-making machine one would assume. Sad though that is, it’s fine because I’ve found a new money-making venture that’s sure to lead to the fame and financial windfall which, I’m sure we all agree, would be mine in a sane universe: feeding homeless people!

OK, OK, so feeding homeless people doesn’t exactly sound like a great money-making venture but that’s because you just haven’t seen the way we’re feeding homeless people. It’s new! It’s revolutionary! It’s going to get me the money to buy that new car I’ve been needing for like 20 years and pay for plastic surgery to remove these two weird bumps on my nose. Just you wait and see.

So, all joking aside, I do need to tell you about this crazy, brilliant thing I helped build called LoveTalks, Baby! And it really is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s the brainchild of my sister Linda and her husband Adam. There’s an entire movie and several books worth of background story to how LoveTalks, Baby! came to be, but for our purposes, let’s start this spring when the lock-down began. For years Linda and her family have passed out food and spent time with people experiencing homelessness in the Old Town area of Portland. They had paused while Linda and her grandson recovered from COVID-19 in early March, but while driving to the hospital for her grandson, Linda and Adam witnessed an encounter between a homeless man they knew and police that left her very disturbed.

ltb2The thing about Linda is she can be a bit . . . extra. She follows her heart, does everything BIG and once she sets her mind to something all you can do is follow along and hope she doesn’t get hurt. She’s the sort of person who witnesses an accident and gets out and shuts down traffic on the expressway while she pulls the people out of a burning vehicle. After seeing this encounter between the police and one of her homeless friends, she worried that with the streets empty the homeless were even more vulnerable to abuse by those cops who are bad actors than usual. So she and Adam went home, made meals for 40 people and went out in the middle of the night to pass them out. She knew that people needed food, but as importantly she wanted the cops to see housed people around to signal that the homeless weren’t actually alone.

ltb8While on the street, Linda learned that the bathrooms and water fountains in the area had been turned off. The restaurants were closed and even fast food places were inaccessible except by car. Social services agencies were either shut down entirely or had limited operations. It was the end of winter and the elderly, disabled and sick were too weak to even get up and move. People were relying on each other to bring back what food and water they could find. Alarmingly, Linda saw that all of the windows in the area were boarded up. Other than an approaching hurricane, the only reason to board up all the windows in an area is when violence is expected. And really, if you leave impoverished orphans, widows, autistic, mentally ill and severely traumatized people to die on the street without access to food, water, bathrooms or human connection under the supervision of police whose interactions tend towards violence and humiliation, violent outbursts are inevitable. It had all appearances of a set-up. Vulnerable and potentially volatile people who are already widely despised would lash out and their behavior would be used to justify subjecting them to violence and forced confinement by the government.

So, Linda did what Linda does and intervened. She told me, “I may not be able to stop terrible things from happening, but no one’s going to say that when a holocaust was brewing on the streets of my city, the body of Christ failed to show up.” She contacted the mayor’s office and got categorized as an essential service so they could be on the street every night, serving. It started with making large quantities of food at home to pass out ltb21in take-out containers, along with water and whatever blankets, tents and other supplies they could get their hands on. Soon, they got a rig to cook food right on the street. The smell of cooking food attracted a crowd. And just like at home, people needed something to do while waiting for dinner to be finished. So Linda and Adam brought a rug for people to sit on, then some chairs, tables, music, art supplies and sometimes even a TV to watch movies together. They provided charging stations for people’s phones, tents and other supplies for those who needed them, vitamins and supplements for the elderly and sick and most importantly, love and boundaries and acceptance, regardless of difficult behavior, questionable appearance and whatever baggage people had. A Street Family started to form.

Linda and Adam are not rich people – she’s on SSI and he’s been out of work since being laid off from eBay 2 years ago. They put every penny that came to them into food and supplies for their evening gatherings and when that wasn’t enough, took out a $20K loan to get through several months of lock-down. The homeless themselves gathered donations from each other. While the world was shut down, the homeless were having parties on the streets of Portland. When they were forced to move from a sheltered location near a parking garage, party tents and lights were brought in along with more seating and decorations. Their gatherings took on the appearance of a fancy party happening on the street, except all of the attendees were homeless people.

ltb10For the longest time, no one except the cops and their friends even knew they were there because they came late and cleaned up before leaving. The cops kept their distance and didn’t interfere. Occasionally one of them would privately thank Linda and Adam for sparing them from spending their nights dealing with the problems that homeless people in mental and physical crisis tend to create on the street. Not only did a violent showdown between cops and the homeless never happen, crime rates in the area remained consistent with historical levels rather than going up as one would expect given the conditions.

83586444_10220356242309666_1940147078197936128_oWhen the protests started in late May, Linda and Adam rented cotton candy and snow cone machines and provided a safe haven for their people in the midst of chaos. When the noise and chaos threatened to overwhelm, they played soothing music and sat with everyone to help them remain calm and in control of themselves. Sometimes passing protesters stopped to share food, often leaving donations and thanking them for what they were doing. A couple of local police told Linda and Adam privately that without them the protests would almost certainly have been even more explosive and violent than they were.

So now it’s July and the nightly gatherings are still happening. The loan money is gone so we’re operating hand to mouth and donation to donation each day with the help of a few generous individuals. We’re hard at work creating partnerships with local businesses and charitable organizations to meet the need. We’ve formed an official registered charity (501c3 status pending) with a fancypants board and everything, built a website and are about to start selling merchandise to raise funds. We’ve met with a city commissioner, been given official clearance to keep using the city sidewalks for the gatherings and are working with her team to start integrating what we’re doing into the city’s efforts to serve the homeless. We met with US Senator Ron Wyden and his state director who will be visiting the gathering in the near future. Next month, Linda and I will complete training curriculum for people who serve vulnerable populations on issues like trauma, autism, deescalation, safety and building trust which everyone we encounter has told us is desperately needed. That training will become workshops which will create the revenue stream needed to fund the street operations.

ltb6I started the story with what happened this past March, but really, Linda and I have been laying the groundwork for this for years as part of a larger vision. The lock-down forced us to launch rather suddenly and unexpectedly, but we were able to make such a heavy lift so quickly is because we’d already laid out the vision for a model that can be replicated in other places to bring fundamental change from the bottom up. Once we get this pilot in Portland self-sustaining and solid, the plan is to train people in other cities to do the same. And as important as it is to make sure homeless people are ok, by getting the community actively involved and invested in providing people with a safe, healthy place to just rest, relax, dance and sing and share a meal together, the divide between the community and the people in the community who are unhoused can begin to heal.

Beyond that, our real mission is to trigger a fundamental shift in the way that we treat each other generally. Homeless people – even the difficult, troubled ones – are fellow image-bearers and deserve to be treated as such. It’s why we feed them good food in an attractive setting and treat them like valuable human beings who deserve good things. Because when homeless people have standing to be treated as human beings who matter and belong, then we all have standing to be treated as human beings who matter and belong. Which is a shift that very obviously we desperately need in this country.ltb13

So I’m asking for donations, not for my new car or to remove those weird bumps on my nose, important though that may be, but to keep us up and running through the end of the summer. By then we should have rustled up enough community and government investment to keep us going until we’re self-sustaining. You guys have come through in the past to provide clothing for naked grannies in India, medical care for injured children in Pakistan and even to help me pay my family’s rent. So I know you’re the sort of people who will pitch in for a good cause when you can.

We need at least $5000 to fund operations for the next 6 weeks. It’s more than I’ve ever asked you folks for, but seeing as only the very best people read this here blog of mine, I believe we can do it. Pray about it and if you feel lead, chip in whatever you can – it all adds up. Pass this on to your family and friends. Share it on social media. Stand on a street corner with a sign and a can if you want. Whatever we need to do. I really do believe that working together, we have what it takes to change the world. After all, the world is on fire and if we don’t show up and do it, who will?

You can make a donation using the button below or at our website where you’ll also find more pictures and videos from our gatherings. If you’d like to do something more personal for our Street Family, go to our store and pick items to meet specific needs. While you’re there, be sure to leave your email address so you can receive notifications when LoveTalks, Baby! Merchandise becomes available and to receive a monthly newsletter sharing what we’re up to. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with what’s happening on the street. Or, just click on the donation button below to make a cash donation today and know that we’ll put it all to good use. All donations are tax-deductible. And when we make our goal, I’ll be sure to let y’all know. Come on – let’s change the world. You know you wanna! Donate button

A Bunch of Noah’s in Nashville

Do you know what I don’t like doing? Arguing with conservative Christians. I used to do it. But it’s pointless. Sometimes someone is so many different kinds of wrong that it’s hard to know where to start. And why bother? Arguments have been made, the sides staked out and scripts provided to all involved. It’s just the same conversations over and over again. As is so often the case when it comes to controversies grounded in scripture, we tend to come down to two fairly plausible readings of the text. As much as we want to argue over minutia and details, when you get right down to it, we’re just picking the interpretations which seem right to us. Which means all we’re doing is using the scripture to reflect our own hearts.

Sometimes what’s in our hearts is ugly. Like the recent appallingly timed release of an anti-LGBT statement by an appalling list of right wing charlatans who use the fear of God and man as a weapon to maintain control over much of the white American church. (If you are fortunate enough not to be in the loop about these things, it’s called the Nashville Statement. Google.) Now, not only am I openly biased about this statement, but I haven’t even read it. I’ve just read what other people who are appalled by it have said about it. That’s how flagrantly biased, unfair, bigoted and close minded I am.

Except I’m totally not. I haven’t read it because, again, what for? It’s not like we don’t already know the script they’re working from and it’s not like a bunch of “leaders” who long ago lost my respect are entitled to the time and brainpower it will take for me to read it. But because of the prominence and proximity to power which the signers hold as well as the fact that these morons thought we needed to hear them formally recite their opinions – AGAIN – about other people’s genitalia while we’re in the midst of several human, ecological, political and social catastrophes, it’s a thing people are talking about.

So, to start off with, contrary to what these jokers claim, the bible is not nearly as clear as they’ve made it out to be when it comes to LGBT people’s genital pairings. There’s an excellent case to be made that the bible passages which forbid homosexual activity have been completely misunderstood and misrepresented. If you’re not familiar with it, here are some good places to start looking. And here. And here.

But even in the absence of a scholarly case for LGBT acceptance, scripture provides us with ample room and cover for re-examining the old prohibitions against homosexuality. Go back to Noah. In Christian lore, Noah is held up as a righteous man who obeys God’s commands without question. A hero of the bible who saved life on the planet. The Jewish people, however, have tended to see things differently. In their eyes, Noah is not particularly admirable and, despite being a literal forbearer to the Jewish people, according to the text, has not been accorded the honor of being recognized as a Jew at all. The reason? Because he obeyed God’s commands without questions. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, certainly no liberal, explains this Jewish perspective of Noah thusly:

The Bible says that Noah was a righteous man “in his generation.” He was only a righteous man compared to the others who were far worse than he.

Now, why wasn’t he righteous? Because righteousness is all about what you do for your fellow man. And Noah does NOTHING for his fellow man. He doesn’t care, he has no compassion. He executes God’s commandment to the letter. So when God says “I’m going to kill everybody,” Noah says, “will you save my skin? Oh, I get an Ark? Okay, fine.” . . .

[Noah] failed in the greatest mission of all. He failed to protect human life. And failed to fight with God when he wanted to take human life. He refuses to wrestle with God. . . God says “everyone will die” and Noah says nothing. But this is not what God wants. God wants people with moxie! God wants people with spiritual audacity! He does not want the obedient man of belief. He wants the defiant man of faith.

It isn’t until Abraham, when God says “we have the rainbow and I promise not to destroy everyone, but I will destroy these two cities Sodom and Gomorah,” Abraham does something audacious. He says “will the judge of the entire Earth not practice justice?” He lifts his fists to heaven! He raises a cudgel to Heaven! This made him the first Jew. A Jew does not just accept a divine decree, he does not just bow his head in silent obedience. [Source]

Jesus was a Jew in the tradition of Abraham, not Noah. We see it in his proclamation that “the sabbath was made for the man, not the man for the sabbath”. That is to say, the rules do not take precedence over human beings and their needs. It’s up to the rules to serve human needs, not the other way around. This idea is further re-enforced in Acts 10 where God tells Peter to stop dividing between clean and unclean. Those rules which had been put in place long ago for the Jewish people would no longer define what was acceptable and unacceptable. Real Jews wrestled with God in defense of their fellow man. And going forward, Christians would no longer bind people to the rules which had previously defined everything Peter knew about right and wrong, good and bad, clean and unclean.

The fact of the matter is that those who continue to declare homosexuality unclean, forbidden and a violation of Christian morality are like Noah. They are obedient, but fail at the most basic requirements of caring for human life. Regardless of our understanding of what God has declared his intention or desire to be, LGBT people have made it clear, in word and deed, that they are being deeply hurt by the teaching that their innate sexual inclinations are defective and acting on them an affront to God. The traditional teachings regarding human sexuality have resulted in suicides, addictions, destroyed families, people being cast out of communities, mental health problems and intense rejection and hostility for LGBT people. So even if we believe that it is, in fact, clear that God condemns homosexuality, that is not a good enough reason to continue promoting a teaching which is hurting the people who are subject to it.

Jesus told us, flat out, that we can judge a thing by its fruit. The fruit of the teaching against LGBT people has been consistently bad. To ignore this because we believe that the teaching was handed down by God doesn’t actually honor God. As 1 John 4:20 says, if we don’t love the human beings who we can see, we CANNOT love God who we cannot see. Insisting on feeding people fruit that poisons them is not love. Saying that the fruit that poisons them is from God and must be eaten for our own good only makes it worse. Pointing to the very rare person who is able to tolerate the fruit without being obviously poisoned by it does absolutely nothing to help those who the fruit would kill. God’s ways bring life, not death.

At the end of the day, we do have a choice to make. It’s much the same choice that Noah and Abraham had to make. Do we just go along with what we’ve heard God has said he desires, or do we push back in order to defend our fellow man from destruction? The writers of the Nashville Statement have chosen the path of Noah; they will accept the salvation of being right for themselves while others continue to perish. I and many others are choosing the more faithful option of refusing to continue imposing death, suffering and rejection on LGBT people in God’s name. And I am not remotely worried that God will condemn or reject me for following in the footsteps of father Abraham.

All People Are Real

I’ve mentioned a couple of times now that I have a dissociative disorder. A derealization disorder, in fact. Which means that when my dissociative disorder is triggered, nothing around me seems real. Sometimes things literally look like movie sets and sound stages to me. I can’t even watch movies when it’s bad because when everything already looks fake, bad acting takes on a whole new meaning. When it comes to dealing with people, it’s like being locked inside a glass bubble where sounds can get through, but they’re muffled and removed from much of their meaning somehow. I read an article about it once which described disrealization as the loneliness disease. Obviously you can’t connect with anyone when you have a hard time even seeing them as real.

Because my dissociative disorder started by the time I was 17 months old, I grew up with no conscious experience of being able to consistently see other people as real. I just assumed that this was what it was like to be human. It certainly explained the way people treated each other; if the people around you feel like objects, then you’re going to treat them like objects, right? But I knew that other people actually are real, even when they don’t feel real. And I knew what it was like to be treated like objects. I didn’t want other people to feel like that, so I decided that part of growing up and being fully alive must include learning to see other people as real rather than as actors in my environment.

Probably around age 11 I started just watching people, trying to imagine what it must be like to be them. I would watch the way they reacted to things and think, “why did they have that reaction and not a different one?” After I became a committed Christian in early adolescence, I became more intentional about it. I’d pick out people who seemed the least real, the most scary or the least appealing and think about what it might be like to be them. I’d look for things to love about them. In the process, I learned to see people as real. And to this day, whenever I notice that they don’t seem real to me anymore, I make myself really look and think about and try to imagine loving them.

Of course, I wasn’t diagnosed with the dissociative disorder until the summer of 2014, so I didn’t know that the rest of y’all didn’t need to spend nearly so much time thinking about other people in order to remember that they are real. Apparently it’s happens instinctively and unconsciously for some people. Who knew? Thankfully, I was motivated by the teaching to love our enemies and the least to really work at dealing with the problem. And then some, because I am an American after all. If a little is good, more must be better. Continue reading

Let’s Be Real About What We’re Looking At Here

I didn’t mean to make this an all Trump Monday, but I suppose it’s appropriate given the electoral college vote this morning. Which I’ll probably have something more to say about tomorrow. But now that that’s done, we have a very serious issue to grapple with that I think we’d be fools not to take seriously. It boils down to three straight facts that probably 90% of American can agree are true:

  1. A white nationalist leader ran our president elect’s campaign and is acting as his personal adviser.
  2. People bought a shit ton of weapons over the last 8 years.
  3. We have seen the development of a branch of media which devotes serious time to explaining why people should distrust, fear and flat out hate libraturds, feminazis, black power movements, intellectuals, the media, educators, lgbt people, immigrants, scientists and other sorts of people otherwise known as your neighbors and fellow countrymen.

There is such a thing as evil. And in other places when evil has shown its face, this is what it showed up looking like. Lots of weapons, hostility towards “the other” and a media campaign which stoked hatred and fear of “the other” has lead to massive blood shed more than once. I keep trying to think of examples where the above ingredients lead to something else, but none come to mind. Feel free to give me ideas in the comments, because there’s a lot of stuff to know and I can’t know everything. But my concern is that we already know the worst case scenerio and it’s ugly.

Now, this is certainly a dangerous situation – too dangerous to sit back and hope for the best about. There’s a very good reason the bible says to avoid the appearances of all kinds of evil; people aren’t required to wait until it’s too late to respond to the appearance of evil. We have to be realistic about the fact that within living memory open white supremacists were in charge of the country. It’s foolish to think that their will to power disappeared so quickly or that they have developed morals and a respect for fair play over the last few decades.

While all of that is genuinely scary if we let ourselves think about it, we do have advantages that people in places where things have gone way south under these conditions didn’t have. Probably first and foremost, we have a history of freedom in this country. Even the most oppressed American feels free to say what the fuck they want on a regular basis. So we have voices. And not just one voice, but many different voices. The upside of our individualistic culture. Which means diversity, which is going to serve us well.

We also have a solid contingent of people who are committed to love, peace, non-violent resistance, organizing, solidarity and the like who are already activated and networking owing to the BLM and Standing Rock movements. I am consistently impressed with the quality of leadership behind BLM. They have studied the history of various protest movements through out history and have been learning from what worked and what didn’t. The fact that the movement’s still a movement even after everything that’s happened ought to tell you something.

And the Standing Rock movement is not just tapping into, but grounding itself in a deep, deep spirituality. I have friends who have been to the Oceti Sakowin Camp and they say there is just prayer room after prayer room after prayer gathering going on. These people are praying without ceasing. Literally. And I don’t care if you’re a believer or not, religion is a powerful, driving force in human affairs. And the people involved in both of these movements are training people constantly.  So there’s this network under the surface already of people committed to activism and resistance.

And we have technology. Social media. I have a friend who actually marched with Dr. King against the wishes of her very racist family. She was active for years in social justice issues and has been disappointed to see that we’re apparently not nearly as far from where we started as we ought to be by now. But when I asked her what sort of difference it would have made to have had access to today’s technology and she got excited at the very idea of it.

Now, it would be wonderful if Trump turns out to be merely incompetent and not the president who tries to unleash the wrath of hell on us. But those three basic facts mean we need to be fighting now, before things have a chance to start going south fast like they have in other places. I truly believe that whatever happens, we the people of the United States of America and our friends around the world can make it better. And we can do it without returning hate for hate or violence for violence. I’ll talk more about all of this over the next few days and I hope that if you’re reading this, you’re brainstorming about what you can do from where you are and with the voice you have. Because I’m just having a hard time seeing a path forward that isn’t going to require us to fight. And, while I hate to be an I told you so, this situation is exactly what I was warning was coming way back in 2014. So don’t be too quick to write me off here, k? This is not a drill, peeps.

 

Pay Now or Later

Everything has a price. It’s a rule of the universe. The problem we have is that love demands payment, up front and in full at the most inconvenient times. But once the price of love is paid, everything else comes easy. Fear, anger and cruelty, on the other hand work like a massive balloon payment that start off easy and then suck us dry before taking away what we wanted to begin with.

Welcome to the Apocalypse, Peeps

I’ve been seeing this meme floating around and it’s incredibly apropos for the times we live in. The Greek word for “apocalypse” is to unveil or reveal. Welcome to the apocalypse, peeps. We’re going to be alright. It just takes a bit to work all the mucky stuff out of the system. Be good to each other, k?

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If you really want to love people . . .

If you really want to love people, probably the most important thing you can do is learn to recognize when someone is in pain. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Pain often sounds like anger, like a bad attitude, like defensiveness, like hostility, like self-pity or withdrawal. But if you respond to the pain underneath and offer patient grace for the anger, attitude, hostility and the rest, you will be one of those rare individuals who loves people when they need it most.

Operation Saris for Grannies

So one day I will write what passes for a normal blog post around here again. But I am happy and I am content and I’m not entirely sure how to write when I am happy and content. But I’ll work it out eventually.

In the mean time, I wanted to ask your help with something. For a while now, I have had the good fortune to message via facebook with a Christian minister working in a section of southern India somewhere in the vicinity of Bangalore. He’s told me a bit about his ministry which involves outreach to the poorest of the poor. Which in India, is really poor. (That’s him above sharing a meal with some he caught lurking around one of his outdoor services.) But mostly we discussed spiritual and theological matters. He and I differ on some trifles here and there, but the good news he preaches as gospel is actually good news. Which is no small thing. Anyhow, yesterday, for the first time since I’ve known him, my friend asked me for some help.

You see, the picture below is from one of his services in a very remote village where most people basically live off the land and in make-shift shelters, if even that. He says that they don’t even have the standing required to qualify for help from the government or to engage in normal trade and work activities with other communities. These are the poorest of the poor in this world.

11080320_639158589548435_2610841887315575710_oIf you look closely at the picture (or others from this day), you will notice that there are no old women present. This is because many of the old women living in this area have no clothing. While my friend went out into the brush to talk with them, they will not attend his services and cannot participate in normal community life because they live naked. My friend asked if I might be able to send clothing for him to give them. I suggested that it might be better to just send him money to buy clothing locally. He said that $65 US dollars would allow him to buy clothing for 30 women. And I said that while I happen to have exactly $19 to my name just now, I was pretty sure that I could arrange to get him $65.

So, I am now asking you, my intrepid reader, if you would help me gather $65 to clothe some naked grannies. There are a fair number of us, so I’m thinking there’s someone who is able to help with this. (If you can’t – that’s fine. Perhaps God decided to trust someone else with the resources to help this time. Nothing wrong with that. 😉 )

The link below will take you to a donation page for Operation Saris for Grannies. I will send on whatever donations I have collected by Thursday July 30th at 5 pm. If you’d like your donation returned if the $65 has already been raised, just put that in the note section and I will make sure that happens. Otherwise, if more is raised than my friend has asked for, I will send it on to my friend. He’s a good man doing good work. He’s never asked me for anything before. So . . . did God entrust you with the resources (or a portion of the resources) needed to provide these women with clothing?

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