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Ain’t No Grave

I went to a funeral recently for one of my homeless friends who had been killed by a drunk driver.

Like all violent deaths, it had not come at an opportune time. She had two small kids by two different fathers and had just moved in with her mother in an effort to “get herself straightened out” and to be with her babies. Things were just looking up when she was walking across the street and a drunk driver sped over a hill, 20mph too fast and hit her, dragging her half a block.

She was well liked in the circles I travel in, so her death was all anyone talked about for several days. Talk included speculating over the fate of the drunk driver, the fate of her babies, and whether she was in heaven or not. It took up most of my time that week.

The day of the funeral was a hectic one. She was buried by the city, which means no wake at the funeral home, no viewing of the body the night before, none of that. There was just a graveside service, an open casket, a boom box playing a hip-hop re-mix of “In The Garden” and some ratty looking artificial flowers.

And the church people. That is what my homeless friends called them, anyway. They belong to a suburban evangelical church. They come downtown and pass out food and judgment every weekend to all who show up. They came to my friend’s funeral, passing out free tickets for a “Judgment Play” they’re going to have Easter Weekend. One told me they are “praying for 1000 decisions for Christ” at this extravaganza. And then they left, right before the preacher started up. I was standing there with my mouth open, shocked at the nerve.

I have no doubt they thought they were doing outreach. In reality, though, they missed the best chance for outreach they could have had. They left before the preaching started. They were not there when before the mournful wails made by a mother who lost her daughter to a senseless act of stupidity. They were not there when the bereaved boyfriend bared his soul, when the friend said gave the eulogy, when the childhood friend read the passage from Ecclesiastes.

They missed out on all of that. If they had stayed and heard the good news, the echoes of the promise of resurrection, in the lament, in the eulogy, in the hearts laid bare, perhaps they would have made a decision a 1000 times better than the one they peddle. We’ve decided on grace not judgment, on presence not programs. The faith that informs what we do at Love Wins, the container for community we seek to build, is deeper and stronger than the grave because it rests not on individuals deciding to agree to certain theological perspective, but on God deciding that God has a plan and that plan is us.

Nothing You Can Do

This was the text of the homily given in our worshipping community by Hugh Hollowell on July 24, 2011. The Scripture text was Rom. 8.31-39.

I was in Moore Square the other day, talking to a friend of mine – let’s call him Mike. He’s a chronic alcoholic, and was on a three day drunk. On the first day, Mike had run into a would-be evangelist, who wanted to tell him about Jesus.

Now, my friend knows Jesus, and tried to tell the street preacher that, but the street preacher would not hear it. He told my friend that because he was drunk, it was obvious that God had turned his back on him. He said that the reason Mike could not quit drinking was because he was under God’s curse, and that until he cried out to Jesus for salvation he was going to continue to be punished by God.

Personally, I think that’s a bunch of crap.

A guy I grew up with is in prison for a five year stretch – he tried to bribe a judge on a custody case. His brother was my brother’s best friend. He is in prison for life, without parole, for killing a guy in a drug deal that went bad.

Their father spent a fortune on attorneys for them both, visits them both in prison, writes them letters, prays for them. He is very realistic – he knows that they did what they were charged with, and while he hopes that they are becoming better people as a result of their incarceration, he isn’t counting on it.

He loves them because they are his sons, and nothing can make him not love them. He does not love them because they are good, or because they make him happy or because he gets something out of the relationship. He loves them because they are his children.

I know that not all of us have had relationships with our parents that were filled with that much love. I know a lot of us have had parents that rejected us, or that put us out or that don’t talk to us anymore.

But all of us know how a parent is supposed to act, right? I mean, I have never met anyone who says “If I have a kid, I plan on drinking too much, beating the crap out of him and then falling asleep in front of the TV.”

No, all of us imagine ourselves as parents who will love our children. Parents who would still love our children when they do horrible things, when they betray us, when they use us. Even when we cannot live up to that ideal, we know how it is supposed to be.

If we know how a parent is supposed to love their child, how can God love us any less? The passage today says that nothing – not hard times, not stress, not being arrested, not being threatened, not the government or the police department, not anything at all can separate us from the love of God.

Hear the good news I am saying here – You may have heard that God is angry at you. You may have heard that God is cursing you. You may have heard that God is trying to teach you a lesson.

Bull-fish.

God loves you. God is on your side. God is fighting for you, not against you. And there is nothing you can do – nothing at all, that can change that.

Creative Extremists For Love

We’ve been sharing memes all week with short quotes taken from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which deserves careful, repeated, and regular readings. About three-fourths the way into that missive is this longer quote that pretty well summarizes what we’re up to here at Love Wins in our little community experiment. We want nothing more, less, or other than to be the sort of creative extremists for love that Rev. Dr. King suggested the world is in dire need of.

mlkI have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime – the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

If we’re all extremists of some kind or other, that’s the kind we want to be, extremists for love and the extension of justice, using all the creativity we can muster to love each other well and advocate for each other. And we’re always glad to invite friends along with us on this journey.

Meet the Staff: Maddie

View More: http://cynthiaviola.pass.us/lovewinsHello everyone! My name is Madalyn Schulz and I am the newest face here at Love Wins. I grew up in Wake Forest and had the pleasure of being homeschooled with my three siblings. Last spring I finished up my associate’s at Wake Tech and I am currently at NC State getting my bachelor’s in social work. I got involved at Love Wins during the fall of 2016 when I needed volunteer hours for a class. To my amazement, they liked me enough to keep me around. When I am not working or doing homework, my husband Micah and I love hanging out with our furbabies Sophie and Zelda or enjoying a good drink with friends. My apartment is bursting with plants that definitely receive more affection than your average greenery. I aspire to live simply, but my sentimental tendencies tend to frustrate that ambition.

I am the Executive Assistant of Love Wins Ministries. Basically I will be keeping track of LWM business, which means if you want to schedule a meeting with Hugh, book us for a conference, or find out more about our worshipping community, email me here or call me at 919-289-9805. My goal is to increase LWM’s bandwidth by taking on scheduling, booking, and logistics.

I am genuinely thrilled to have the opportunity to work with these truly amazing, one of a kind group of people and I can’t wait to see what this year brings.

For More Info on Useful Links

For more information on the links we share or to submit a request, email Mike, our Director of Communications.

Tipping the Balance Towards Friendship

This work is all about humanizing, which is both the easiest thing and the hardest thing to do at the same time. Easy because it means just treating other people normally, talking to them, really listening, looking them in the eye, showing respect, letting them make choices, drinking the same coffee and eating the same peanut butter sandwiches, laughing together, finding joy in small moments together. As I grow into relationships with our community members, it gets easier and easier to do all these things, even for a deep introvert like me.
But it’s also hard because the circumstances we find ourselves in routinely work to dehumanize, not just people experiencing homelessness, but all of us really. We have to look through all the not-normal and really focus on each other in order to relate in what I just said was “normal” but isn’t really a more common occurrence than anything not-normal. I guess what I’m saying is “just be yourself” turns out to be quite an achievement for most of us most of the time.

This is a picture from the internet, not of either of the actual campsites.

This is a picture from the internet, not of either of the actual campsites.

I wrote before about how people experiencing homelessness often need a letter of verification to access certain services. If a person sleeps at a shelter, the shelter will provide verification. But things get harder for people who sleep outside. Because we don’t need those letters here at Love Wins and we focus on building trusting relationships, we are an organization who can provide letters for those who sleep outside. This involves one of our staff members going out to visit the person’s campsite. I did that twice this week and I felt this easy/hard tension then.
It was easy because it was just me driving my car with a friend to where they live. I’ve done that hundreds of times. It’s always a good chance to have a quiet conversation. There’s something personal and friendly about riding in a car together. And they feel empowered because they are giving directions and I’m going where they say. Makes for a nice, very quotidian moment. On both trips, another driver did something questionable (because Raleigh) and we got to complain about Raleigh drivers and traffic, which created a bit of solidarity too.
But it was hard at the same time. There are a lot of things we want people to just take our word for. When I tell people I have 5 kids at home, no one ever asks me to prove it. Sure I’m quick with the baby pictures, but not because I need to prove anything. Most of the time, when I give my address for something, that’s just taken at my word too. Sometimes not, but the verification of looking at my driver’s license is so seamless, I tend not to notice that I just got checked. There’s a not-friendly vibe to having to prove things, and the harder the thing is to prove, the more that unfriendliness, that dehumanizing, grows. Neither person seemed at all offended that I was going to inspect their campsite but I still felt the need to apologize. So I did. And I blamed it on the government. I said it was really about the federal and state governments not trusting each other and us being caught in between. I’m not sure how true that is but blaming the man creates solidarity like griping about a bad driver.
The other thing that made it hard was trying to keep both campsites a secret. People who sleep outside work hard to find good spots and drawing too much attention to those spots can cause problems for them. We did our best to be as inconspicuous as possible, but sneaking around isn’t very normal for grown men so that didn’t feel very humanizing.
And that’s the nature of the work, balancing out all the inherent dehumanizing with as much intentional normal human decency as we can muster. We push back as hard as we can and hope the balance tips to toward friendship and community. I know a couple more stories than I did when the week started. And I can visualize where a couple of friends are as I pray for them. So on the whole it was a good week and love notched a couple of nice wins.

Honoring Veterans Experiencing Homelessness

It’s not uncommon for one of our guests to be a veteran. We’ve heard about tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam, and then the war that continues at home.978px-street_sleeper_8_by_ds

Veterans make up a surprisingly high percentage of all homeless folks, and nearly half suffer from mental illness and substance abuse.

As Veteran’s Day rolls around, it’s as important to recognize the vets with homes as the ones without… and that not every vet has someone to thank them.

Swapping Shoes

This is the homily given by Rev. Laura Foley in our Wednesday Prayers service, Sept. 28, 2016.

Luke 16:19-31

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’

This story, truly, is already a sermon. There’s not a whole lot of need to add anything. I have asked Mike and Katherine to help me add to our time of reflection on this text by sharing when, how, where, in our world today do we see this story or stories like this story. And I thought I’d share one too and then ask what y’all think.

Mike (from the introduction of The Poverty Industry):

Alex was taken into foster care at age twelve after his mother’s death. Over a six-year period, he was moved at least twenty times between temporary placements and group homes. Soon after losing his mother, Alex learned his older brother might be able to care for him, but then his brother died. There were also hopes that Alex could go to live with his father, but then his father died as well. Unknown to Alex, he was eligible to receive Social Security survivor benefits after his father died. These funds could have provided an invaluable benefit to Alex, supplying an emotional connection to his deceased father and financial resources to help with his difficult transition out of foster care. But without telling Alex, the Maryland foster care agency applied for the survivor benefits on his behalf and to become his representative payee. Then, although obligated to only use the benefits for the child’s best interests, the agency took every payment from Alex. The agency didn’t tell Alex it was applying for the funds, and didn’t tell him when the agency took the money for itself. Alex struggled during his years in foster care, left foster care penniless, and continued to struggle on his own. And after taking Alex’s funds, the agency hired a private revenue contractor to learn how to obtain more resources from foster children.

Katherine:

I remember seeing their eyes widen when they first saw the large baskets of chocolate truffles before them. The truffles had been donated by a local chocolatier, intended for an end of year celebration for local high school students that had overcome academic probation and made the honor roll. For many of the students, this would be the first time they would experience the richness of these chocolates, normally reserved only for wealthy tourists visiting the area. The youth group that came to volunteer that day were working to package the truffles into small boxes and write congratulatory notes to the students. The smell of chocolate filled the air, the small gems of truffles stretched before us, filled with fruit or nuts or ganache. The delicate dusting of cocoa stuck to our gloves as we placed them in their boxes. It was intended to be a fun and easy experience of service, a simple way for this privileged group of youth to give back.

As the day came to a close, the group gathered in the parking lot and I caught the eye of one young girl. She looked uneasy as her eyes darted away from mine. Concerned, I slowly made my way over, pulling her aside and asking what was wrong. She hesitantly pointed at two of the boys in the group, and in a hushed voice said, “Check their pockets”.

Along with the adults in the group we gathered the two boys and instructed them to empty their jacket pockets. After some tense back and forth they conceded, and produced the handful of truffles they had hoped to keep for themselves. “Why?” we asked, confused and disappointed. “Because we packaged them, we deserve them. Those kids probably wouldn’t even be able to appreciate something like this.”

There were the people of downtown Raleigh. There were many who wore Chanel and Armani suits and dresses, with beautiful ties or scarves or handbags. Their walk had that powerful, distinct – click, click, click – of heels hitting the pavement. Walking on, walking on to some meeting or lavish meal about how to keep the skyscrapers high, the spending low, this All-American city full, but Moore Square empty… of people taking a nap. Empty of tired feet and sweaty tee shirts. Empty of the many who’ve been in this city, 5-10-20 years longer than the new clicks of those new heels.

Then they all died.

And when they did the suits and dresses and ties and heels reached out to Jesus and said send “those people” up there with you – to come help us!

Jesus throwing his arm around his friends who are no longer tired, but rested, no longer sweaty or wet, but clean and dry, no longer having unsatisfied hunger, but just having eaten – Chicago deep dish pizza, fried chicken, chicken wings, t-bone steak, mashed potatoes, new potatoes, baked potatoes, dumplings, cornbread, collards, beans, beans and rice, corn, cream of corn, corn on the cob, fruit – fruit, all the fruit, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, chocolate pie, hot brownie with a scoop of ice cream and a cherry on top – Jesus said to them – that can’t happen now, like it could have back then. This chasm in this here after life is fixed. Before you died there could have been helping and handshaking, mutual affection, friendships and shoe swapping (…walking in one another’s shoes). But now it’s done.

Well then send them to our families, they cried out – warn them about this.

Martin Luther King Jr., 1929-1968:

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’

Mother Teresa, 1910-1997:

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.

Muhammad, 570-632 C.E.:

None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.

The Buddha, 6th-4th century B.C.E.:

Ardently do today what must be done. Who knows? Tomorrow, death comes.  

Give, even if you have a little.

For, truly, we have been warned.

Police and the Oak City Outreach Center

hugh-ococ

Last week, we took part in a meeting of the Congregations for Social Justice, which describes itself as, “a coalition of Raleigh faith communities committed to advocating for public policies that create a better Raleigh for all people; working for social justice in solidarity with our most vulnerable neighbors; and building a sustainable, diverse network of relationships across our faith communities and with other partners.” The meeting was held at Oak City Outreach Center (OCOC), the designated space where these congregations can serve these ‘vulnerable neighbors’ on the weekends. As Catholic Charities (the coordinating agency for OCOC) explains: “The mission of the Oak City Outreach Center is to provide a place of hospitality on weekends where people can gather to receive and give nourishment that comes from sharing of food and fellowship. As one of the leaders of the churches providing food said, we hope it will be a place ‘where everyone knows your name’ and everyone is welcome.” Oak City Outreach arose out of #Biscuitgate (which we were at the epicenter of) and continues due to “the continual efforts of these organizations, churches, and individuals.” Hugh shared the our story and the principles of hospitality that guide our work, including training organizations that serve at OCOC. Then Tosheira Brown, Coordinator of OCOC, shared about present operations at the Center. One thing Tosheira told us really stood out in light of the strained relationship between police and the African-American community across the U.S.

Oak City Outreach has a uniformed police officer on site the entire time the Center is open. The City of Raleigh provides this service as part of its contribution to the work we’re doing. According to Tosheira, there is sign up two months in advance for the OCOC beat and once posted, it fills within 5 minutes. And some of the officers signing up are detectives and other plain clothes officers who only wear a uniform when on duty at OCOC. The officers who have served at OCOC report that they have developed relationships with the folks who come there for food and fellowship. They learn people’s names and stories and folks get to know them better too. Then when they meet outside the Center, there is increased mutual respect and trust and decreased tension and fear on both ‘sides.’ As we get to know each other, we come closer to understanding that there aren’t sides, there aren’t nearly as many reasons to be afraid as we imagine, there’s a lot we can figure out when we take the time to become friends and work together. 

Community contains all the things necessary for us to live a good life. It seems to us that the way forward for police and civilians is more of what we’ve seen at Oak City. More friendships, more knowing each others names and stories, more trust (and less fear).  

Papers please

social_security_card_john_q_publicMany of our community members work regularly. Sometimes it’s short term contract work. Other times they work as day labors or field hands harvesting local crops. They canvas for political campaigns and clean state prisons. They work at restaurants, the State Fair, ball games, and they volunteer at many events.

For most of these, they have to present the same documents and fill out the same paperwork you have when you’ve started a new job. That might seem straightforward to you but everything becomes more complicated once you don’t have somewhere reliable and safe to keep your stuff. Most of us don’t carry around our birth certificates or passports. Social security cards can be carried (though identity theft experts tell us not to anymore) easily and state ID cards are made to be carried around, so we tend to use those when new employers ask us to verify we can legally work. The same is true of our community members.

Problems arise for any of us when we lose those documents. Ever lost your wallet or had it stolen? Replacing all the contents is a real pain in the neck. It’s even harder for someone who can’t drive down to DMV or the Social Security Office, doesn’t have access to a copy of their birth certificate, and can’t use a utility bill or other common means of proving identity and residence.

Last night, one of our community members had their wallet stolen while they were sleeping at a local shelter. This happens sometimes. Walking them through the process of replacing those important documents is something we do a lot. It’s complicated because Social Security wants to see two of these three to replace their card: state ID, birth certificate, and/or passport. But DMV (who issues state IDs in addition to driver’s licenses) wants to see an original (not a copy) Social Security card and birth certificate or passport in order to get a replacement copy of the state ID card. You need one to get the other and the other to get the one. DMV and Social Security don’t mind this staring contest, they can go on forever without blinking. There is a way to get further around this conundrum, but we won’t bore you with the details. Trust us, you’d go cross-eyed reading all the hoops we jump through to get that done. Just thought you’d be interested to know that we routinely walk that winding road with our folks because it’s hard navigating the bureaucracy. Our folks are just like everyone, they want to work, but no one wants to be stuck at DMV all day.