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Hungry

11:30pm – I’m trying to get to sleep but it isn’t easy with this persistent discomfort. I’m three days into a long fast from all food (something I do yearly) and this is one of the parts I like the least. Trying to fall asleep while hungry is no fun at all. I usually take this occasion to think of and pray for people who are – not of their choosing – also going to bed hungry. Thanks to the relationships I have developed at the Love Wins CEC, this year I think of many more specific names in this moment. They are dear to me and I’m glad to experience this in solidarity with them, though I wish they weren’t hungry. Outside of an ascetic practice like this, there’s just no reason for anyone to go to bed hungry, especially not in the richest nation in human history.

I wish I could explain the feeling to you. If you’ve ever had to refrain from eating overnight for a surgery or medical test, you have some idea. But hunger feels a lot different after a couple of days than it does after a few hours. Headache. Body aches. Hunger pangs that feel more like a stomach ache. Tired. Restless. One of the things I’ve learned to be careful about is standing up too fast. Makes me so dizzy I can lose my balance. If you read about fasting, you’ll come across the idea that after several days of a long fast (usually 5 for me), the pains and pangs subside as the body calms down and the stomach goes into hibernation. I found that true to an extent (some fasts are easy than others) but it depends on total abstention. One meal is enough to crank up all the discomfort.

And that’s more the reality some of my friends experience. You can only fast for so long and then you have to eat and eat regularly to be healthy, so a fasting peace is a luxury enjoyed by those who can control when they eat or don’t eat. Being food insecure means going a few days at a time with no food, then having something to eat, maybe even a few meals in a row, then another day or two of nothing. So you’re constantly wracked with the same sort of pain that is keeping me awake right now. Not good.

2:15am – The baby just woke up to nurse. Amy and I have had this arrangement for five kids now, I get the baby, change the diaper, and bring them to Amy. She nurses and gets them to sleep. It’s a good system that has worked for us for years. Normally, I’m back asleep within minutes. I can change a diaper in near total darkness. But tonight (or this morning ugh), I’m laying here in pain, thinking and praying myself back to sleep again. My friends who sleep outside get woken up many times per night by various lights or noises. My friends who stay at the shelters get woken up a lot too by snoring or night terror screams. I’m grateful this will be the only time for me (probably). I don’t really have anything else to say right now, it’s too late/early.

5:00am – I finally thought and prayed myself to sleep; at some point being tired just takes over. Another thing that is not my favorite is waking up hungry. You probably think you know how that feels. We all have experiences of waking up especially ready for breakfast. But unless you went to sleep as hungry as I was last night, you don’t know. I was talking about this in support group at the CEC yesterday and a friend commiserated, “If you’ve never been there, you don’t know. It hurts.” Yeah it does. Feels the same as when I went to bed only with everything cranked up a notch or two. Plus all the pains and cricks from sleeping in a weird position (thanks to a certain 7 year old crawling in our bed at some point and kneeing me in the back). I’m sure it would be worse if I had slept on the ground like some of my friends did. They undoubtedly don’t love the hard ground like I love that hard knee.

Part of this pain is my body telling me I’m dehydrated, which happens a lot faster with an empty stomach. I get some relief by standing up (slowly, gingerly), walking to the kitchen, and drinking a glass of water. The pain subsides and my belly feels “full” for a minute but it doesn’t last. I think about my friends sleeping outside and hope they were able to bring some water to where they’re sleeping. I’ve been told that’s a real chore and can’t always be done. This would be unbearable if I didn’t have some water to drink. My alarm isn’t set to go off until 6:00am. I don’t know why I woke up. No one else is awake. I’m still tired. The only obvious answer is my hunger woke me up. And there’s no chance I’m getting back to sleep now. So I’m up and alone with my discomfort. I think about my friends at the shelters who are getting up now too because it’s time to leave for the day. They have to start the day with a long cold walk. Ugh.

Speaking of cold, being hungry makes me cold. I don’t usually feel cold. But after just a few days with no food, my hands and feet feel cold pretty much all the time. I don’t prefer going around the house in socks but I wear them constantly while I’m fasting. And I use those hand warmer things when the cold outside and my cold hands are just too much. Hand warmers are one of the things we get donated sometimes and we keep for when it’s really cold. They are nice for taking the edge off a biting cold. They only provide limited relief but they are better than nothing.

9:30am – I’m at the CEC now and grateful to see some of my friends (and worried about the ones I don’t see). We talk over coffee (I’ll go off caffeine next week but it helps me make the transition off food) and I can tell we have some specific things in common this morning. The aches from not having a good night’s sleep, the persistent headache and dulled energy from lack of food, the nearly unshakable feeling of cold. But we’re here together now. We have the central heat and coffee to warm us. Stuff from the medicine cabinet can help with the headaches. And thanks to a generous food drop off at the end of the day yesterday, our open kitchen is well stocked. I’m glad my friends can eat today. I regret this may increase their pain later, but I try to focus on this moment, the relief side of that persistent cycle. I will pray for them again tonight as I share again in their experience of going to sleep hungry. And I’m going to send them out with extra hand warmers this afternoon, because I know how they feel.

Lent Practices from the Temptation of Jesus

This is a sermon given by the Director of Operations of our CEC, Rev. Laura Foley on March 8, 2017.

It’s week 1 in Lent or the Lenten Season.

A little Wikipedia to get us all on the same page: Lent is the preparation (for Easter) of the believer through prayer, doing penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial. And then everyone does it kind of different. Think about it like the “holiday season” except this might be the “unholiday” season. So just like once Thanksgiving hits there’s 4-5 weeks of a “holiday season” ending in Christmas, with Lent – Ash Wednesday hits and then there’s 40 days of, “prayer, doing penance, repentance, almsgiving, atonement, self-denial” until Easter.

So it is of course only appropriate that we begin our Lenten season in the temptation narrative. Jesus was just baptized and it was, by most accounts, a big deal. After which it then says, “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.”

Let’s pause for just a minute on the baptism story. It “being a big deal” is indeed key to understanding the temptation experience. Jesus’ baptism essentially begins this “new way of living,” ushering in the kingdom of God. It’s literally the inauguration of his three year revolutionary journey. And from what we see in the story, something amazing happened.

Some of you may be familiar with the work some scholars have done on explaining just why exactly Jesus’ baptism was a big deal. To “become a rabbi” basically you must have two senior rabbis sign off on you. Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist can be read, at least literarily, in this way.

John the Baptist obviously signs off on him giving him major props and credit in front of everyone, saying he’s not even worthy to tie the shoelaces of Jesus and then just to top it all off – the skies part open and another rabbi, YHWH, essentially adds the ultimate signature to the whole event. It would seem all this, even down to details, is certainly key to understanding TONS about Jesus’ temptation and life as a whole but if nothing else we ought to understand that Jesus’ baptism was a BIG, SIGNIFICANT EVENT, in front of people that mattered.

One of those things times when “YOU ARE THE SHOW.” You are the reason people are applauding. And so yes, very directly, very intentionally, very naturally, the Spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness. Many scholars agree, the temptation Jesus experienced in the wilderness was 100% about his ego and the literal temptation to make his purpose in life ultimately about himself and fulfilling the common, maybe even innate, human desire for fame and fortune. (Sidenote: It’s like my favorite past-time to reference “scholars” whose names and even book titles I can’t remember but I know I read them during the three years I was in school and I caught their point, just not their name.)

Whether you choose to read the devil in the story as a literal flying devil, some dark tall hooded Satan character without a nose (see the Passion movie), some dark side of himself, his ego, etc. – whomever you understand “the questioner in the temptation narrative” to be, regardless, the questions are clear. They are about Jesus’ decisions and purpose. First one – make bread, feed the people, be a hero. Second one – throw yourself down, let the angels catch you, be invincible, be a superhero. Third one – standing at the top of a very high place, “forget about everyone else, do all things above else for your own power and control, and if you do, you’ll own and be greater than all this. Trust me.”

These are, very literally, the temptations of the human psyche. I’m not saying we all exactly experience them in quite the exact same language or divine interactions – although we may, I’m just saying these are VERY, VERY natural and human temptations.

And I think, when I look at this story there are three things I can really sink my teeth into as take aways; lessons to be learned from Jesus here. Because after all, according to the story, he resisted – and I don’t know about y’all, but I’m always trying to figure out how to live better, how to live more wholly and lovingly, how to resist the evil stuff. I am a big believer in looking at the stories about Jesus and trying to find some things I can concretely practice.

  1. And when I look at this temptation story and what Jesus did here’s what I see.
    Jesus took himself, his role, his contribution in the world, seriously. He understood himself to be a part of an important movement of love and justice and he took himself seriously. He believed he was important and could make a difference in the world. He didn’t succumb to temptation on the other end of the spectrum by answering back – “It doesn’t matter what I do, I’m not good enough. I’m not important. In the big picture my life doesn’t matter.” Jesus DID believe in himself and the difference he could make which is a very important distinction than believing it was all about him and for his own gain and glory. Richard Rohr says, “You know after any truly initiating experience that you are part of a much bigger whole. Life is not about you henceforward, but you are about life.”
  2. He grounded himself in a spiritual practice. It’s real easy to forget in this story that Jesus was fasting. This means there was an intentionality to the way Jesus was living at that moment. It was not just willy nilly, like the devil came and tempted me on my way to the well today. Jesus followed the Spirit and took on the hard work of investigating himself and his desires and motivations for why he was doing the work he was going to be doing. I think this played a huge role in his ability to resist. He greeted this difficult self-investigation with discipline and intentionality. Spiritual practices are endless in number. They can be anything from traditional fasting, to committing to do something ten minutes everyday, to refusing to shop at certain places because of their business practices. Spiritual practices are about being grounded in such a way that keeps us awake.
  3. Jesus knew what he was saying – like head and heart knew – because he had immersed himself in the wisdom of those who went before about what was right, and true, and good. Each time he answered he said, “It is written.” He didn’t say, “well I think… blah, blah, blah.” He located himself in a wisdom tradition that was older and wiser than that one current conversation he was having. This would therefore imply he had spent time immersing himself in those older, wiser, writings. He placed himself in a lineage – not out there free floating pulling out “truth” like a seedling that just popped through the soil today but instead found shade under a massive oak tree that predates everything around it… especially simply what we may think or feel today.

And then naturally what does Jesus do next… once he’s been confirmed as a rabbi, dealt with the questioning of his Spirit, he goes and gets a posse. But that’s another story for another season…

Socks

Our sock bin

Socks are really valuable to us here at Love Wins. They are one of the few items we keep behind a key. We give them out to anyone who asks, but only a pair or two at a time. With no reliable opportunity to do laundry, our friends who sleep outside often wear a pair of socks until they are ruined, toss them out, and get a new pair from us. Experience has taught us that we need not to run out of socks and that some of our friends have hoarding issues (often borne out of long-term desperation), so as much as rationing goes against our ethos, it is necessary when it comes to socks.

Each of us has at most two feet, so you could say one pair at a time is all we need. But most of us have a drawerful of socks. Tall, thick socks for wearing boots. Short, thick socks for sneakers. Thin, dress socks for dress shoes. Decorative, fun, festive (BBQ!) socks. Even socks for wearing around the house on a chilly day with no shoes at all, like the ones that have nonskid bottoms. All that adds up to that drawerful of socks. We like socks. For people sleeping outside, socks are more than nice, they are a scarce and valuable commodity. Even folks who don’t have a drawerful of socks or a drawer to put socks in or a house to put a dresser in still like to have more than one pair. If you’ve ever walked around in wet socks, you can easily imagine why. We all like socks.

Still, those of us fortunate enough to have a drawerful of socks routinely visit stores that sell socks without buying any. We like socks, we often have the money to buy socks, but we pass on buying more. Why? Because we have enough socks. We still have at most two feet. We usually only wear one pair at a time. A person only needs so many socks. Some of us could, if we wanted, wear a new pair of socks every day and then toss them out. We could go through 365 pairs of socks a year. But most of us would call that wasteful. And there’s something to be said for a favorite pair, even a lucky pair, of socks. But even if we were so wanton in our sock consumption, it’s still limited to the number of feet and days in a year.

A recent donation

Imagine a person that kept buying and storing more and more socks. Not to wear. Not to share. Just to have. If a friend told you they had 1000 pairs of new socks stored, wouldn’t you ask why? Maybe make a joke about the sock apocalypse – the sockalypse? What if they had 10,000 pairs or 100,000 pairs or 1 million pairs of socks? Socks piled up to heaven. Wouldn’t we say that person had a problem? An obsession? That something was strange and wrong? Think of all the trouble and expense they would have just to procure, store, and maintain their hoard of socks. What if they also took steps to ensure their trove of socks was passed on exclusively to their child? Don’t you imagine the daughter or son would respond with some version of, “No thanks?”

A person only needs so many socks (even awesome BBQ ones, or maybe at most one pair of BBQ socks). Maybe more if you live in Maine or less if you live in Florida, but only so many. And not that many. We only have at most two feet. And only so many days until laundry.

Perhaps our sock drawers and bank accounts have more in common than we have considered. And perhaps we are too often led by, and take moral cues from, people who have hoarding issues.

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.