The King isn’t God

This was the homily from this week’s worship service, delivered by Hugh Hollowell. The text was from Matthew 22:1-14

I have to admit- I have some big problems with today’s parable.

I think it is partly because I love so much a similar story that Luke tells in his Gospel.

Here is Luke’s version:

Jesus replied with this story: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations.  When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’  But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’  Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I now have a wife, so I can’t come.’

 “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full.  For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’”

I love this story. And this is a story that tells us what God is like, because God is like the man who welcomes everyone at the table, with no one turned away.

But this is not the text we are looking at today.

Instead, this text is not about a man, but a king. And to be honest – this is not a very good king.

This king tries to force people to come to his banquet. And when some of them kill his messengers, he not only kills the ones who did it, he burns down their entire town. Then when he invites the common people, the good and the bad, and when he comes to the feast, he sees one guy dressed wrong, and has him tied up and cast into “outer darkness”, whatever that means. It does not sound good, regardless. I think this king has some issues.

Almost all the historical scholars want to make this king represent God. And the urge is high, since we think of God as like a king, and this king had a son, and so on. I get where they are coming from, but I just can’t see God that way.

In the 11th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence at the hands of the violent. But the king in this story does not suffer violence – he dishes it out. The quiet guest – the one who wears the wrong clothes, the one who does not belong – this is the one who suffers violence. He is accused; he does not respond to the accusations and is then punished and killed at the hands of a violent government.

Sounds a lot like Jesus to me.

And it sounds like what seems to me to be the normal experience of those who reject power and violence. The Kingdom of God experiences violence at the hands of the violent. Experiences it, not dishes it out.

The way of Jesus calls us to be on the side of the one who is neglected, the one who does not fit in, who is rejected, instead of being on the side of the King that uses violence to get his way.

Joint Statement of the Boards of the Love Wins Community Engagement Center and Love Wins Ministries

Over the last eight weeks, we have felt the support and prayers of so many people who have reached out to us. Thank you for that – we have been grateful beyond words. The Love Wins Community Engagement Center continues to be open and serving our community, those experiencing homelessness. We are grateful for new staff and dedicated volunteers who are so welcoming and caring every day, who help us create a safe place to be for those who have no place.

Now to address the recent upheaval:

Our Process. Following the April 17, 2017 public allegations made by then-employees Rev. Michael Raburn and Rev. Laura Foley, the Love Wins Community Engagement Center (LWCEC) Board of Directors in concert with the Love Wins Ministries (LWM) Board engaged in an extensive investigation. We have collectively spent well over 450 hours since April 17 in this process. We have consulted with outside experts as needed.

We are disappointed that the concerns raised by the disgruntled former employees were never brought to the members of the LWCEC or LWM Boards. The LWCEC Board routinely meets at the LWCEC, and all of us are available by phone and email to staff. We are confused as to why these allegations were made in the hurtful and frankly unprofessional manner they were, and in a way that jeopardized the ongoing mission of the LWCEC and relationships the LWCEC has with other community organizations.

Organizational Structure. To clarify: LWM is organized and legally established as a church, not a 501(c)(3) entity. The IRS does not require a church to have 501(c)(3) status in order for donations to the church to be tax-deductible, and the Board of LWM decided long before the LWCEC was a dream such status was not necessary for LWM.

As to LWCEC, the process of applying for that 501(c)(3) status was done by submitting a Form 1023 to the IRS. That application was received by the IRS on or before May 18, 2017. Meanwhile, the LWCEC has been operating since its inception as a mission program of Love Wins Ministries, the church. Anyone who has donated to the work of LWCEC has done so by donating to LWM, the church. Then the income that makes up LWCEC’s operating revenue is given by the church to LWCEC.

April 18, 2017 Statement. The LWCEC Board made a statement on April 18, immediately after the statement made by Revs. Foley and Raburn, incorrectly asserting that a “staff member” was responsible for failure to pay withholding taxes. We were wrong. The failure to pay withholding taxes was not her fault. The fault lies with the executive director of the LWCEC, Rev. Hollowell. The Board is very sorry for its mistake, and hopes she will accept our sincerest apology.

Current and Former Staff and Contractor Grievances. LWCEC Board members have offered to meet with numerous former employees and former independent contractors of Love Wins Ministries and the Love Wins Community Engagement Center. The Board has met with or otherwise heard from nearly a dozen former employees of both organizations. Others declined to meet or to comment. Several former employees do not have fond memories of working with Rev. Hollowell. At the same time, current LWCEC volunteers and staff are very happy to be contributing to the work of LWCEC.

Rev. Raburn and Rev. Foley claimed that Rev. Hollowell was “not an ethical steward of monetary gifts” and “may have misappropriated thousands of dollars of donated funds.” They gave the LWCEC Board copies of LWM bank statements with numerous transactions marked to indicate what these former employees alleged to be examples of unethical behavior or misappropriation. They did not provide any explanation of how they got these bank statements from LWM. Neither Raburn nor Foley had access to nor were they entrusted with the bank statements as part of their work with the LWCEC, a separate organization from LWM.

Nevertheless, the LWCEC Board Officers in concert with the LWM Treasurer conducted a thorough internal financial audit with counsel from an outside CPA and outside legal counsel. The Officers examined all questioned transactions for 70% of the period in question and randomly sampled questioned transactions for the other 30% of the 13-month period in question. We found the following:

  • As to the claim that, withholding taxes had not been paid; in fact, withholding taxes were delinquent in part, but were completely caught up by May 12, 2017. New procedures have been installed to ensure this does not happen again.
  • The Board found no evidence of “unethical stewardship” or “misappropriation of funds.” However, one instance was found in which Rev. Hollowell used the Love Wins Ministries debit card instead of his personal card to purchase coffee while on vacation. We determined this was a simple mistake. He has subsequently reimbursed LWM the $7.98.
  • As regards some of the other questioned transactions, some appeared to be reasonable concerns. For example, Rev. Hollowell uses a taxi from time to time to go from Love Wins to a work-related meeting when his wife needs the family car. While most organizations reimburse for work miles driven, LWM does not. Instead, therefore, Love Wins Ministries covers the cost of taxis as needed. This has always been LWM’s practice. While some may disagree with this practice, it is not illegal.
  • Some former employees also raised questions about Rev. Hollowell’s out-of-town travel. Rev. Hollowell speaks all over the country — nine events in 2016. Love Wins Ministries values engaging in dialog on issues of homelessness and housing vulnerability, and these speaking engagements serve that value. In addition, they enlarge the church’s potential donor base. Thus, covering such travel costs is an appropriate practice. Each out-of- town travel episode was examined, and confirmed to be appropriate, and related expenses were deemed reasonable.
  • Foley and Raburn flagged numerous restaurant meals as questionable. We do not understand why. Some of these meals were off-site meetings. Many, if not all of these meetings, were attended by one or both of the reverends. Some of these meetings were actually staff meetings. These expenditures were routine.
  • The former employees questioned three payments made to Duke Progress Energy. From time to time, Love Wins Ministries pays to keep the power on for housing insecure families. These transactions were examined and deemed appropriate.
  • By the same token, to prevent homelessness, Love Wins sometimes assists with rent to forestall eviction, or pays for a few motel nights under special circumstances, such as if one is discharged from hospital with no home to go to during further recovery. Again, no evidence of anything other than appropriate financial assistance was uncovered.

These practices were not a secret from staff of LWCEC. Rather, they were a routine part of the work of LWM. It is puzzling that these routine expenditures drew such concern from the former staff. The audit revealed that some finance-related systems, including the petty cash systems for both LWCEC and LWM, need to be improved. Steps for improvement have been identified.

Rev. Hollowell. We have seen instances where policies could be improved, to be sure, but we have found no evidence of financial wrongdoing. Instead, we find that repeatedly, Rev. Hollowell attempted to do too much by himself. Rev. Hollowell is a gifted preacher and storyteller and his vision for the healing power of community is contagious. He’s something of a prophet, speaking hard truths no matter how receptive folks are to them, and no matter what the cost to him, personally. That gift is a double-edged sword and it is an important calling.

Rev. Hollowell, however, is not a great manager. He has failed to delegate work to competent staff, failed to maintain sufficient staffing levels, and the organization has suffered as a result. As executive director of Love Wins Community Engagement Center and the pastor of Love Wins Ministries, ultimately, every shortcoming is going to be his responsibility – the buck stops there. As the Boards of LWM and LWCEC, we recognize the need to increase oversight to ensure that these lessons learned result in changes.

Conclusions. As a result of what we have learned, the following steps will be taken:

  • Just as the LWCEC has done since April 24, the Center will remain open a minimum of four hours per day, with paid staff and volunteers under the leadership and the supervision of the Boards.
  • Financial management and reporting will be improved. A member of the CEC board will meet with Reverend Hollowell monthly regarding finances.
  • Employee and volunteer relations will be enhanced through strengthened policies and Board supervision. A member of the board will be assigned as a staff liaison.

Prior to this upheaval, the LWCEC was open for 36 hours a week. Our greatest sorrow has been that the LWCEC has reduced its hours to 20 hours a week. Our greatest solace has been that our community, both housed and unhoused, has continued to show up and make this thing work now that we have reopened, even if we can no longer provide services eight hours a day.

Thank you so much for your interest in our community. Those of you who have provided faithful financial support have made it possible for the Love Wins Ministries and the Love Wins Community Engagement Center to continue serving this vulnerable community. And during this season of stress and change, your gifts are still greatly needed.

Love Wins Community Engagement Center

Sarah Jessica Farber

Carolyn McClendon

Al Reberg

Love Wins Ministries

Brian Ammons

Scott Bass

Chris Simes

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Never Alone

Hugh preached this sermon on April 30th 2017 at Raleigh Mennonite Church. The text was Luke 24:13-35.

Her name was Nina, and she was in her early 30’s. One of the first things you noticed about her was that she was beautiful. You would also quickly realize she had a 13 year history of opiate addiction, and of life on the streets, and of living the sort of life one leads when one is beautiful and lives on the streets and needs to finance an opiate addiction.

She had two daughters, by two different men. The oldest lived with her dad, who is some years sober now. The birth of the youngest had been the catalyst for the brief period of sobriety she was in when I first met her two and a half years ago.

She had gotten into a program for single moms in recovery, but then she got sick – her body was very frail after years of the abuse she had put it through – and she ended up in the hospital with pneumonia, and the state took her daughter. This put her in a catch 22 scenario – she was no longer eligible for the program that housed her, because she no longer had custody of her daughter, and she could not gain custody of her daughter until she had a place to live.

It broke Nina’s spirit. The life she was working for was gone now – the fairy tale of her and her daughter living a sober life together – and she relapsed. She relapsed hard.

She moved in with a guy who was her dealer. He was sometimes nice to her, and sometimes abusive, and whether he was treating her kindly or treating her as a punching bag or pimping her out to his friends, he was always providing her with heroine.

She would sometimes make the court-mandated visitation dates with her daughter, and sometimes she would not. She would call the foster parents late at night sometimes – drunk calls the foster mother called them – and sometimes she would show up at their church and sometimes she would do it while sober and sometimes she would do it while she was high as a kite.

During the 18 months or so following her losing her daughter, she was in and out of the hospital, as her lungs and her kidneys began to deteriorate. I would get a call from Rex Hospital – I was listed on her chart there as someone to call – and I would go sit with her, hear her stories, pray with her when she wanted it, and sometimes, I would just sit beside her and listen to her breath when she had drifted off to sleep.

And then, in the fall of last year, she disappeared. None of us knew where she had went. She quit making her visits. She missed court dates. I expected a call from Rex Hospital again, but it never came.

One day in February, I got an email.

Hello,

My name is Lisa, I am Nina’s sister.

I want to take a moment to thank you for all you have done for my sister.  Unfortunately we have some bad news. Nina is currently on life support at Wake Medical Center in Raleigh. She passed out on Tuesday with no pulse and went into cardiac arrest . They had to preform CPR for 25 min. We were told to prepare for the worst. I’m so very sorry for writing to you with such heart breaking news, but we thought you should know. My mom, dad, brother and myself will be visiting her within the next few days. I ask you to please say a prayer for Nina.

Thank you so very much for everything.

God Bless You

I wrote back right away, and learned that Nina had apparently overdosed and went into cardiac arrest. Her family was in New Jersey and in Florida, and none of them had much money, and none of them could afford to miss much work, so the doctors had told them to wait before they came, since they would probably only be able to come once.

Once again I was sitting at Nina’s bedside while she was unconscious, this time in a different hospital, the ventilator rising and falling, the nurses coming in and out. But this time, there would be no follow-up conversation when she woke up.

The tests were done, and our fears confirmed – she had failed the neurological tests, and was only being kept alive by the machines. She wasn’t going to make it.

Lisa asked me if I could be there with them when they took Nina off the machines. Of course I can.

They all came into town the following week – mother, father, father’s new wife, sister, sister’s husband, and baby brother – and they all stayed in two motel rooms at the Econolodge, because that is all they could afford.

The family dynamics were a mess. Mom and dad had been divorced for years, and this was the first time they had seen each other in nearly a decade. The sister had left home because she was afraid of falling into the life that ultimately consumed Nina, and so felt all sorts of guilt and “what if I had stayed” questions.

And we all met over the hospital bed of Nina, who was not going to wake up, and who we all loved, and who we had come to hold vigil with until she was gone.

Being there at death with a family is a holy thing. I prayed. Nina’s bed was draped with favorite childhood toys and family pictures. The family sang sing-along songs that they had all sang with Nina on childhood road trips. And then the nurses remover her ventilator, and dimmed the lights and we all said our goodbyes and we waited for Nina to die.

It isn’t like in the movies. She lingered for hours. It would be nearly 21 hours before she would breath her last, and in the meantime we sat there, telling stories about Nina, sharing memories, looking at pictures. Sometimes it was light-hearted, like when mom showed pictures of a birthday party where Nina as a toddler was covered in cake and sometimes it was serious, like when Mom asked me what I thought happened to people after they die.

I don’t care who you are, when you are watching your child die, you are probably going to be mad at God. You are going to have anger. You are going to have doubts. You are going to have questions.

Somewhere around 4am, Nina began to decline. Her heart slowed and her breaths dropped and it looked like it was finally the end. We roused from our drowsiness and prayed and sang again. It would be another 11 hours though, before she was finally gone.

But we were all wide awake again, so someone went to the cafeteria and bought pastries and coffee and we sat around that bed in the ICU unit and had a serious conversation about life and death and afterlife and all of that. There was room for doubts and room for anger and room for cursing. And then we prayed and, in the midst of all of that hurt and pain and anger and loss and heartbreak, over a shoddy meal of tepid coffee and stale pastries, our eyes were opened and the presence of God was made known to us in the midst of the tragedy.

We sang more songs and maybe it was the exhaustion, but the family finally let her go. Eleven hours later, she finally passed, entering more fully into the love of God and more completely into our memories.

In the midst of all of that pain and loss, God was made known to us in the breaking of the bread.

The two men walking in the scriptures we read today were also in the midst of tragedy. They also had their own stories of loss and pain, and were filled with doubts and fears about what is next.

They had watched, just days before, as Jesus rode into town, triumphant, palm leaves scattered before him. The crowd wanted to crown him king.

They had watched as Jesus flipped the tables in the Temple, calling shenanigans on the ways that money and religion interacted then, and continue to interact today.

One of them may have been in that upper room as Jesus broke the bread and drank the cup that gave us the Lord’s Supper, and felt the breath of Jesus as he invited the Holy Spirit to come upon them.

But maybe they were also in the garden when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus. Were they in the courtyard with Peter when he denied knowing Jesus, and did they see the flush of shame on his face when he heard that rooster crow for the last time?

Had they watched Jesus stagger enroute to his death, carrying his own cross across bloody shoulders? Had they watched him get nailed to the cross, had they stood on a distant hill and watched this Jesus, who they thought would be king, die a horrible death?

Today, all around the world, Christians will wrestle with this text. There will be a lot of discussion about what it means and what we can take from it, but here is one thing that stands out to me:

As the disciples walked the long road to Emmaus, as they tried to make sense of the pain and the tragedy, Jesus journeyed with them.

Even though they did not recognize him – they were not alone.

Just like in Nina’s hospital room, as we gathered around her and prayed and cried out to God, we were not alone. Jesus journeyed with us. And he was made known to us in the breaking of the bread.

And when they ate together, suddenly, they knew Jesus had been there all along. They knew as they went to Emmaus that they had not been alone.

The whole time they were on this journey of escape, Jesus walked beside them. Jesus taught them, showed them how to make sense of what they had been through and gave them hope to go on.

And I believe that Jesus still does.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen

Resurrection is a Team Sport

This is the Lent 5 A sermon Hugh gave at our Wednesday Prayers service on April 5, 2017.

Text: John 11:1- 45

Sometimes, we reach a point where things have to change.

Sometimes, the path we are on is one that is guaranteed to destroy us, and we have to change course. We have to change direction, we have to stop – to really stop. And when that happens, the person that we were, the person who was doing those things, their ego – it has to die. And then you have to start again.

For the last few weeks, we have seen various examples of this.

When the rich man Nicodemus came to Jesus in the middle of the night so no one would see him and asked Jesus how to change, Jesus told him he must do nothing less than be born again.

When the woman at the well wanted to know how to end her perpetual thirst, Jesus told her she needed living water.

Last week we learned about a man born blind who then met Jesus and began to see for the first time, giving us hope that one day we too can learn to truly see.

With this week’s story, it’s as if the writers were tired of playing with metaphor and decided to get very literal: We are going to talk not just about new life, or going from blind to seeing or perpetual thirst – we are going to talk about what it means to come back from the dead!

Lazarus and his family were friends of Jesus, and Jesus wept when he learned of Lazarus’ death. Lazarus’ sisters believe Jesus can bring him back to life, even though he has been in the grave for four days.

So Jesus stands at the door of the tomb and shouts, with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And he does! Lazarus, still bound up in the shroud that bound him in the grave, comes to the door of the tomb, alive!

And that is where we often stop the story. Lazarus was dead, and now he isn’t. Jesus has healed Lazarus, brought him back from the grave, so let’s talk about something else.

Often we do that in our own lives, too. I quit drinking, so let’s move on. I stopped living with the man who hurt me, so let’s move on. I got a place to live now, so let’s act like nothing happened.

But the dirty secret is that it isn’t just about being born again, or getting spiritual water, or learning to see again or even about coming back from the grave. It’s about what happens next.

Because there is Lazarus, who is now alive, but still bound up. And Jesus tells his friends, his community, those who love him to unbind him, and let him go.

Jesus tells us that resurrection is a team sport. That while Jesus breathed new life into Lazarus, it lies with his community to free him, to unbind him from the things that hold him back, to pull him from the tomb and give him a second chance.

Because when we are in the midst of things going to hell in a handcart, the question that lies in front of us isn’t can we come back from this – because almost always, we can. We can have a fresh start, we can be born again, we can learn to see anew, we can have our thirst quenched. We can even come back from the dead.

No, the question isn’t can we do it – the question is, who is going to help us do it?

Asking What Next Instead of Why

This is the sermon Hugh gave in our Prayer Service on Wednesday March 29, 2017 during the fourth week of Lent.

The Jewish Rabbi Harold Kushner had a son – a son that meant the world to him, a son that was his everything. And then, one day, the unthinkable happened – his son was diagnosed with a horrible disease, and then died while still in his early teens.

As a result of his trying to understand this senseless tragedy, in the early 80’s he wrote a popular book with the title, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” But that isn’t the way most people remember the book’s title – most people actually believe it is “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.” Because that is the question we all want the answer to.

Why? Why did this happen?

Why did my mom die of cancer? Why did I lose my job? Why did that man hurt me? Why did I lose my child?

Why? Why? Why?

To run the risk of disappointing you, I don’t really have an answer for that. I don’t know why bad people prosper and good people struggle. I don’t know why my friend Nancy died at 35 and left behind a beautiful daughter who loved her while men I know who have fathered bunches of kids they ignore have what seems like great lives.

But I do know that you and I are not alone in wanting to know why things happen.

In the short story Laura just read, the disciples come across a man born blind. They see this man, who in that time was pretty helpless, was unable to have a trade, was utterly dependent on others for his survival, and they ask Jesus why. Why was this man born blind? Who sinned that he deserve this? What happened to cause this?

“What, Jesus, is the root cause of this man’s trouble? And whose fault is it? Who can we blame for this?”

When people who don’t know any people who are homeless come to volunteer here at Love Wins, sometimes they have questions. And one of those questions is often, “Why?”

Why is he homeless? Why doesn’t she have a job? What happened that he can’t seem to get ahead?

Why, in other words, have bad things happened to these people? And is it their fault? Who can we blame for this?

And I tell them what Jesus told the disciples, when they wanted to know why tragedy had happened to the blind man, and wanted to know who to blame. I tell them they are asking the wrong question.

The question to ask is not, “Whose fault is this tragedy?” Because that is ultimately unanswerable. The question we can ask and actually get an answer to is, “How can God be glorified in this? Where is hope in this? What can I do in this to make the world better?”

There are things in life that don’t make any sense. Sometimes, crap just happens. I once knew a lady who lived in her car for several years. She had had a pretty good life until a series of tragedies happened, resulting in her husband dying, her son going to prison and her losing her house. And now she was living in her car.

I asked her if she was mad at God for the way things had turned out. She looked at me like I was stupid.

No, honey. I don’t waste any time like that. I don’t ask God how I got here – Instead I just ask what I can do now that I am here.”

Join Us for Ash Wednesday

Last week I sat with a friend as she died.

It was a long, tragic story that I will have to write fully about one day, but for now, let’s just say that drugs robbed her of her family, her children, her lover, her hope and finally, her life.

From the time we turned off the ventilators until she passed was 20 hours of singing, praying, crying, silence, remembrance, storytelling and regret. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever been a part of. It is also far from unusual.

Nearly every winter we bury people who die outside from exposure to the elements, and people experiencing homelessness have much shorter life expectancy then the general population. But regardless, we are all going to die. Life is short, and none of us have any guarantees, and death is no respecter of class.

And remembering that we are going to die, that life is short and not guaranteed, can and should affect how we live.

So every year on the first Wednesday in Lent, Christians all around the world gather, have ashes put upon their head and are told to, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Our worshiping community at Love Wins will be doing exactly that at noon this Wednesday, in a joint service with our friends from Raleigh Mennonite Church. We invite you to join us – first for lunch at 11:30am, or for the service at noon, or both.

824 N Bloodworth St
Raleigh, NC 27604

When It Gets Cold, People Die

The Winter Makes You Colder Than You Are

It’s been a warm fall for us here in North Carolina so far. Last night was the first really hard freeze, hitting the twenties.  Over the next eight days, that will happen five times.

I know – it probably gets colder than that where you live. I know – y’all have “real winters.” I know all that.

But I also know that hypothermia kills people, and hypothermia can happen when the surrounding air gets to 50 degrees or lower. When it gets cold, people who are living outside – especially people who have compromised immune systems from the trauma their bodies have endured, who are at subpar nutrition levels, who are insufficiently rested, who have drank alcohol, or who lack sufficient clothing or cold weather gear – those people sometimes die.

It happens every winter. Every single winter I have done this work, someone I know dies outside.

Before you ask – yes, they do open the shelter doors to everyone on those nights it gets below 32 degrees so, theoretically at least, they can go indoors and be warm. They call those White Flag nights. I say theoretically, because there are a number of reasons you may not want to go into the shelter.

For example, you may not want to seek shelter if:

  • You are part of a heterosexual couple, as there are no co-ed emergency shelters. Maybe you are fine with going into a shelter 2 miles away from your partner, that they have to walk to get to on the coldest day of the year so far, but most folks are not. So they stay outside, where at least they can be together.
  • You have PTSD (which is extremely common in the homeless population) and people screaming in their sleep, being crowded into hallways to sleep on glorified yoga mats and zero privacy is triggering to you.
  • You have lost everything you own multiple times (which is pretty much everyone in the homeless population) and the last three times you stayed at the shelter, your stuff was stolen because there isn’t secure places to lock up your things – especially on a white flag night when they far exceed capacity.
  • You are afraid to leave your things at your campsite unattended, because you have had everything you own stolen the last time you did that.
  • You have a history of trauma (which is everyone who is experiencing homelessness) and as a result, are plagued by insomnia on the best of nights. You believe that you are more likely to actually sleep if you stay in your tent, and remember, there is no sleeping in, or taking a nap later to catch up. In the City of Raleigh, it is illegal to sleep in public.

Those are only a few. In the last ten years, I have heard dozens of reasons, and all of them make sense to the people who name them. Heck, most of them make sense to me.

But still, none of that changes the fact that when it gets cold outside, people die.

The City Council Approves Purchase of the Oak City Center!

Supporters were asked to stand, and nearly two thirds of the room rose.
Supporters were asked to stand, and nearly two thirds of the room rose.

We did it!

Tuesday afternoon, the Raleigh City Council met, and approved the purchase of the building for the Oak City Center. In doing this, the City of Raleigh kept a promise it made back in 2013, when it promised the establishment of a one stop center for those experiencing homelessness. It now goes to the County commission, where it is anticipated to pass without issue sometime in January.

The huge turnout of supporters who came to the meeting to show community support for the Oak City Center was astounding. We asked people who came to wear green, to show their solidarity with our cause, and even the Mayor was wearing a green jacket! Before the Council voted, the Mayor spoke, and said that while it was not up for public comment, she would like it if those who were here in support of the Center would stand – and easily two thirds of the room rose as one.

If I live to be 100, yesterday will be one of my proudest days. We asked for you to stand with us on behalf of those whose voices are all too often silenced, and you did – in a huge way. Calls, emails and letters poured in from across the country, and even Red Hat, the software company, wrote a letter of support of the Oak City Center.

This is a victory for those who are experiencing homelessness, making it easier for them to have access to food and services and a place to be. And it’s a victory for the City of Raleigh – the unanimous vote in favor of the city keeping its promise speaks of the progressive city it is, and that it aspires to be.

And yes, this is a victory for us, at the end of a long fight that began a Saturday morning three and a half years ago when we were threatened with arrest for doing a thing that the City has now agreed to spend three million dollars to promote doing.

But the big winners in this are all of us. We spoke up, we exercised our voices, we showed up – and we changed minds, we changed hearts and we changed how a city addresses homelessness and food insecurity. That is huge.

There are people who will tell you that the way things are is just the way things are going to be. They will tell you that your voice does not count, that you have no power to effect change, that the fix is in and the best we can do is try to survive in a broken world.

Do not listen to those people. When we work together, our ability to move the marker toward the better world we all dream is possible is near endless. If the last three and a half years teaches nothing else, I hope it shows that.

This is not the end of the fight to make Raleigh more fair and just. It isn’t even the beginning of the end. But to quote Churchill, who was talking about another fight, when things seemed far more hopeless, it may just be the end of the beginning.

There is still the fight for affordable housing. The fight for access to healthy food, the fight to streamline the bureaucracy that prevents people from accessing services, the fight for a living wage.  So this is not over.

But I am not quitting, and I hope you won’t either. Because together we can make this City far more just and equitable for its most vulnerable citizens, and make it a city that is truly great.

Will Raleigh Keep Its Promises To The Homeless and Hungry?

biscuits-promises

They Made a Promise

In August of 2013, the City of Raleigh used the Raleigh Police Department to try to stop us, and people like us, from sharing food with vulnerable people. And we asked you to help us get the City’s attention, and you did. And as a result of that attention, a task force was formed of concerned citizens, and that task force made recommendations to the City, which they enacted.

One of the recommendations of that task force, agreed to by the City on December 3, 2013, was the development of a “temporary” location to share food. That was the Oak City Outreach Center.

But another recommendation, also agreed to by the city on December 3, 2013, was that of a long-term solution, a “one-stop shop” location to deliver services to people who are experiencing homelessness or are food insecure. This was designed to be the successor to, or the fulfillment of, the Oak City Outreach Center.

In the years since, many of us have worked tirelessly to not only make the Oak City Outreach Center a success, but to bring about its successor, the Oak City Center – a multi-services intake center where vulnerable people can access the help they need, where community can be built and where meals can be shared.

Now its Time to Keep That Promise

And we are really close to making that place a reality. It’s important that it be near downtown, and its important that it have a lot of space. The biggest hold up has been finding the right spot, in a place that can be purchased, at a price that is workable. After an exhaustive search, that place has been found.

Tuesday, December 6th, nearly 3 years to the day after the City promised to move toward this long-term solution, they are meeting again, and this time on the agenda is whether to approve the purchase of the proposed site.

We had been assured many times of the City’s commitment to this project, but over the last few weeks, we have heard murmurs of weakening of that support, with one councilor, Kay Crowder, going on record as being against the location.

Since that article, we have reached out to a number of members of the City Council, asking them to affirm their support. Some of them have been super-supportive, others are noncommittal and some, like Ms. Crowder, are downright opposed.

I am asking you to help me remind the City of Raleigh of its promises, and to ask them to keep that promise.

Here is what you can do to help: Reach out, show up, and share.

Reach out

Contact the Mayor and members of the Raleigh City Council, and ask them to vote yes to approving the purchase of the location for the Oak City Center. If you are local, mention that. And if you are not located here, please let them know if their decisions around how they treat the most vulnerable citizens here will affect your future vacation or business plans.

The mayor’s office and city council members share a phone line: (919) 996-3050.

Here are their email addresses, Twitter, and Facebook pages. Be kind, but firm. If they don’t answer, leave them a voice mail and try back later.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane

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Council Member Russ Stephenson

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Council Member Mary-Ann Baldwin

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Council Member Kay Crowder

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Council Member Dickie Thompson

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Council Member David Cox

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Council Member Corey Branch

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Council Member Bonner Gaylord

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Show up

We need people to show up on the afternoon session of the City Council at 1:00PM on Tuesday, December 6th . 

The address is 222 W. Hargett St., Raleigh, NC 27601. If you are coming, we ask that you wear a green shirt to show your support.

The session begins at 1:00PM, but we really need you there at least 30 minutes before hand, and 45 minutes before would be better. How many people show up in support of this matter, and we need to show the Mayor and the City Council that we are watching to see if they keep the promise they made three years ago.

 

Share

I need you to share this with your networks – all your networks. Please forward this link via email, via Facebook, twitter. Share it with your church, your small group, your Bible Study, the kid working the counter at McDonalds.

And that’s it – We need to get the word out, get people there on Tuesday, and let the City Council know that we are watching to see if the City is willing to keep the promise it made three years ago to it’s most vulnerable citizens.

Three years ago, when men with guns forbade me to feed to hungry people who were waiting on the food I had brought, I made a promise – I told them I didn’t know what was going on, but that I would fix this, and make sure they would never be denied access to food in this city again.

I take that promise very seriously. I hope the City takes its promise to those same people as seriously.

Miz Katie Does the Dishes, and Loves Us

Sink with clean dishes

She is perhaps 60, and she has a mother with Alzheimer’s disease and a daughter with a daughter of her own, but Miz Katie doesn’t live with any of those people regularly. Instead she will stay with either of them for a week or two, especially in inclement weather, but other times she stays outside, or at the shelter.

Early in her adult years she was married to a man who was a career soldier, who is her daughter’s father, but she left him because he was abusive to her. As a result, she doesn’t tend to trust men, especially men in power.

She sometimes has manic episodes, and sometimes she is paranoid and suspicious of people, and sometimes she thinks that a person she has never seen before is spying on her for the government, because her ex-husband once worked for the government, and he has connections.

And sometimes talking to her is disorienting, because she will begin to share a conspiracy theory with you, and it will begin to ramble, and then she will stop, look at you and say, ‘but you were in the military, so you know what I mean” and then will walk off.

Everything I just told you about her are facts, by the way. But none of that tells you that she is perhaps the most genuinely nice person I know, or that she worries about hospitality and propriety in a way I have never seen before, or that she sees washing the dishes at our Community Engagement Center to be her special gift to us.

None of it will tell you that she remembers birthdays with an aggression that would make Hallmark proud, or that if she ever hears of your desire for anything she will find you a coupon for it.

I once was riding the bus, and she got on at the next stop. She asked why I was riding the bus, and I told her it was because my wife and I only own one car. She brought me every car dealership flyer she could find for months.

And none of it will tell you that she loves sweets, and will go to the food pantry to get a cake that she then brings to the Community Engagement Center to share with everyone there. And that she loves to hug people, “as long as they aren’t creepy.”

If you weren’t actually in relationship with her, you wouldn’t know any of those things. You would just see a black lady in late middle age that sometimes mumbles to herself.

And that would be a huge loss, and your life would be poorer for it. Because she is amazing.

But the reality is, there aren’t many places she is allowed to be herself, where she feels safe enough to tell people about her fears, where she can contribute and is appreciated. Where she can express love, and feel loved back, and share her gifts. Where someone like you could get to know her.

In order to have those relationships, we first need to have spaces where those relationships can happen. Places where people like Miz Katie, or perhaps people like you, can belong, can be themselves, and can be known.

I wish there were more places like that.