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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.

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.

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.

Dealing With Loss

Homelessness and loss

I have often said that homelessness is best understood as a series of losses. Even so, our community has been dealing with so much loss this week it takes my breath away.

There was a hurricane that wrecked devastation on our friends who are living outside. We have spent the week handing out blankets and tent and sleeping bags, and listening to stories of that which was lost and cannot be replaced.

Or our friend Danny, who was once a regular part of our community before he moved to Portland, came back to be with his Mom, who is in intensive care after having a stroke.

And, perhaps most devastatingly, the death of our friend and community member Mike.

Doing this work – relational accompaniment of those who are experiencing homelessness – is the sort of thing that is extremely simple, but is not easy. Building relationships is not hard work – almost all of us do it all of the time. But to accompany people who live in dark places, who have more than their share of troubles, requires a commitment of time and emotion that can be exhausting and, if you are not careful, debilitating.

So, it is inevitable that some of us connect more with certain community members than others, in the same way that you connect more with certain people in your church or school than others.

Mike connected best with Laura, the Director of Operations of our Community Engagement Center. So when we learned earlier this week about his death, it rocked us all, but especially her. This is what she shared with our worshiping community on Wednesday at our prayer service.

My friend and our community member Mike ( AKA preppy Mike) died of an overdose Thursday, October 6th.

I am beginning to believe one of the saddest things we do to one another is talk about or label or refer to or think about one another as one thing, often a not so good thing. We so often don’t let each other stand as representatives of really beautiful stuff, or even better – find the complicated mix of it all beautiful. We wait until folks pass to add that into the picture. We let each other’s shadows overcast the sheer miraculousness that is a living human being. To be born, to breathe, to grow, to learn, to fall, to triumph, to fall in love, to work, to hurt, to need, to get lost, to be found, to need to escape, to create, to desire, to be held in community…

Mike loved cars, Mustangs particularly. He also – often to my dismay – loved Axe Body spray. He hated having the wrong shoes on for the wrong event. He was serious about looking nice – hence the comment distinguishing him as “preppy” from the other 30 Mike’s around here. He wanted to go to school to learn to build and work on the cars he loved. “All you need is a big exhaust, bigger tires, and get it a little lower” – he’d say about every vehicle we saw.

On our many trips to the dump over this past summer getting our community center here in better shape, he’d talk about longing just to have a little place of his own, be able to join a gym, keep a job, get back in school. He missed his family in ways, often feeling hopeless about ever earning a spot back. He loved nice things. It was a daily, complicating matter with his life in the shelter.

There were many times over the last year I saw Mike proud. Two that are worth noting are when he had finally received Triangle Family Services emergency funding, gotten himself a bedroom of his own, and showed up to church in a fully ironed yellow polo shirt, tucked into some nice clean jeans with brand new stylish thick plastic frame glasses… Finally, Mike was getting to be Mike.

The second time was when he had been helping out our friend Pam at her garage and out of the blue there was a snake in the shop. Mike was called upon to “solve the situation” – I’ll spare you the details but the conversation involved continual phrases like “only one willing” “showed em who’s boss”…

As Hugh reminds us each time there’s a death in our community – there are always 2 deaths – the one when a person breathes their last and the one when we stop saying their name.

May we remember Mike for all his AMAZING miraculous human-beingness and may we be reminded to think more about one another that way, now.

As Laura notes, it isn’t just those who are experiencing homelessness who deal with loss. Being in community with them means that losses are shared, and sometimes – all too often – we are the ones who mourn.

Image via Creative Commons

Help Us Recover From Hurricane Matthew

Hurricane Matthew flooding near downtown Raleigh, NC

Photo by Randy Bryant, via Facebook.

On Saturday, the 8th of October, North Carolina was hit by Hurricane Matthew. We didn’t get it as bad as South Carolina did, but it was still significant. Raleigh is a good 2 hours inland from the coast, so mainly what we got here was rain.

Lots and lots of rain.

Somewhere around 7-8 inches across most of the city. That picture at the top of the page was taken about a mile away from our Community Engagement Center.

Creeks flooded their banks. Intersections flooded. Power went down in patches, and in some parts of the city is still out 24 hours later as I write this. Seven people died in North Carolina as a result of the storm.

And for some of our friends who live outside, it was devastating.

My friend Danny and his girlfriend Mary had just went to the thrift store this week and bought blankets and clothes to replace the ones destroyed in the thunderstorm from a few weeks ago.

It’s all gone now, washed away after Hurricane Matthew, when the creek overflowed, taking with it the tent we gave them and pretty much everything they own.

Gone.

Danny just sat on the bench this morning at the Oak City Outreach Center, covered in mud from where he had been trying to drag things out of the creek this morning, weeping to himself. Mary said he had been like that for the last few hours, and that they weren’t sure how they could go on.

“You just get tired of fighting, Hugh,” she told me.

I made sure Danny and Mary got hooked up with some folks who could help them today, but I know over a dozen folks in exactly the same situation, and will no doubt hear more stories when we open up Monday morning.

Help our friends recover from Hurricane Matthew

Here are our biggest needs right now:

  • Blankets
  • Sleeping bags
  • 2 man and 4 man tents
  • Or the cash to buy them ourselves.

If you are in the Raleigh area and want to bring these items by, please bring them to our Community Engagement Center, located at 824 N. Bloodworth St, in Raleigh. (map). If you are out of town, it is probably more efficient to donate funds so we have the flexibility to purchase the things we need to most effectively help people. This is also dramatically faster than your shipping it.

You can make a financial donation by clicking here

Thank you for helping us to help our friends and community members. Thank you for sharing this post on your social networks. Thank you for your prayers. And, of course, thank you for helping us prove, once again, that, well, that Love Wins.

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.

our little community experiment

img_7309This was Rev. Laura Foley’s homily at our Community Engagement Center’s Wednesday Community Prayer Service today, Sept. 7, 2016. 

So, truth be told, I should probably let you in on a little secret. And maybe you already know this – but what we’re doing here at the Love Wins Community Engagement Center – this bizarre little community experiment we seem to be doing between 9-5 Monday-Thursday (and on Friday’s come October 14) is not actually anything new. Like not new at all.

In ancient Israel, at the time of animal sacrifices and desert wandering, it (this little community experiment) looked sort of like this: everyone lived in tents, not just some, and there were often issues around food and who was in charge. A wise one gifted the community with 10 rules to help cut down on some of the madness.  (But to be fair 10 rules eventually became 613, because rule setting as we all know is a slippery slope.)

Rule 1 was no getting distracted by another higher power – not Ba’al, not the neighboring tribe’s gods, not money.

Rule 2 was not to create another higher power – not some really pretty golden statue – not nothing.

Rule 3 – do not blame things on God or pretend God told you something when God did not. Only be truthful when talking about God.

Rule 4 – take the day off! My goodness. Every six days just stop trying to accomplish something and rest. If this were just a suggestion and not a rule it would never happen – something would always come up and you’d never just rest. So in order to insure it happens there’s a rule about it – you have to take a day off every week and rest!

Rule 5 – honor your parents. Nobody said you have to like them or even talk to them all the time but at least hold them in high esteem. When you do speak about them – speak respectfully.

Rule 6 – no killing another person.

Rule 7 – no sleeping with anybody who’s married and if you get married no sleeping with any other person other than your spouse. That shit gets messy quick. (Side note – in most familial or tight knit communities – most crimes are crimes of passion – not premeditated psycho stuff but someone gets mistreated and they get enraged. So yeah.)

Rule 8 – no stealing. If this group thing, this community experiment, is going to work people must not take other people’s stuff.

Rule 9 – don’t lie. Lying is nothing but bad, bad energy and we all need to be able to trust each other.

Rule 10 – no yearning for what others have. Be grateful for what YOU have, work hard, earn more, be content. Otherwise happiness will scarcely come to you.

Moving along a few thousand years, at the time Jesus was walking around and shortly after he wasn’t anymore it, this “not new community experiment thing,” looked like tent dwellers again except – there were no tents, just the original instructions to travel around and stay at people’s houses. And if at all possible avoid buying anything with money and avoid receiving money for anything. Don’t even bother taking a bag or extra stuff just let the people you encounter share with you and you share with them the exciting news that everything’s about to get a lot better.

For those whom life is hard, life will soon be good.

For those who are deeply sad, they will soon find comfort.

For those who are sweet and gentle, they will soon no longer be walked all over but will eventually be the ones in charge.

For those who desperately want to see justice and the right thing happen, they will soon see it.

For those who are willing to forgive even when it’s not deserved, they’ll soon be set free also.

For those who do the right thing when no one’s looking and truly want the best for everyone, they will soon see God.

For those who try to keep the peace they will soon be honored for who they are.

For those who are punished, whether sent to jail or thrown out of something or somewhere for merely doing the right thing – they will soon have their day.

Today’s text, which from scholars best bet, is from some community maybe 20-30 years after Jesus’ little community, and they’re just basically trying do the same sort of community experiment thing. Their description sounds pretty lovely: Remembering some of the words I read earlier:

Hebrews 13:1-16

Let mutual love continue. 2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 4Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” 7Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by regulations about food, which have not benefited those who observe them. 10We have an altar from which those who officiate in the tent have no right to eat. 11For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. 13Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. 14For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. 15Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Then fast forward another couple (give or take) thousand years and it (this little community experiment) looked like a house (sometimes a farm) started by these two Catholics Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day. It was 1933 – in between these two huge World Wars. Their 6 beliefs were:

  1. gentle personalism of traditional Catholicism. (I think you can probably have a cup of coffee with Mike later if you want to know what that means.)
  2. personal obligation of looking after the needs of our brother
  3. daily practice of the Works of Mercy (feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, bury the dead, shelter the traveler, comfort the sick, and free the imprisoned).
  4. Houses of Hospitality for the immediate relief of those who are in need. (These were houses that provide hospitality without charge, and without requiring religious practice or attendance at services.)
  5. establishment of Farming Communes where each one works according to his ability and receives according to his need.
  6. creating a new society within the shell of the old with the philosophy of the new.

And now, today, at the Community Engagement Center we’re trying to do the same thing. Secret’s out. What we’re trying to do is not new. Many of you may not know it but there are 7 principles/values that Hugh jotted down when we were officially starting up 5 years ago or so: They are this:

Hospitality

We invite people to come into our lives and our spaces, not to convert them to our side or to change them, but to create free space where we can become friends with each other based on who we each are – not who we wish they were. Hospitality means creating spaces for people to be themselves.

Relationship

Life is, at its core, about relationships. It is the people who give our lives shape and meaning, and nobody has their best day alone. The relationships we strive to achieve must be real, based on the realities of who people are, and not agenda driven, or based upon who we wish they were.

Downward Bias

History has taught us that when there are two groups of people, policies and decisions tend to bias upward, benefiting the group in power. The people in our community have often been on the wrong end of this power dynamic, so we seek to bias downward whenever possible. Asking ourselves, “Does this benefit the people in our community, or just the people in power?” is a useful decision-making filter.

Grace

Grace is the decision to forgive people in advance of their being proved worthy of it. Forgiving them in advance of their being proved worthy of the forgiveness creates space for people to live into being their best selves. Grace is also aspirational – we extend grace because we wish to be recipients of it.

Bearing Witness

No one is voiceless, but there are voices that cannot be heard because the rest of us will not be quiet. Therefore, we will use our privilege and platform to bear witness to the goodness we see, the hope we encounter and the pain we share, and amplify the voices of those who cannot be heard. By doing this work in public, we seek to stoke the imagination of the watching world about the sort of goodness that is possible.

Agency

Agency is the right of people to exert power in their own lives. It is a fundamental human right, and to the extent we take away that right, we dehumanize them. People get to make their own decisions, they have the power to choose. Honoring their agency means honoring their choices, even when that is not the decision we would have made for them.

Mutuality

Most outreach work is predicated on the idea that “we” can meet “their” needs. We believe that we can meet each other’s needs, if we are willing to enter into a relationship based on the belief that we all have inherent value and worth. Mutuality involves seeing people as your peers and not as students to be taught or children to be monitored.

I will agree this is not a typical homily. Most of the sermons/homilies I’ve written in my life are fancy and have pretty stories in them. But honestly what we’re trying to do here – day in and day out – in our day center is the most important thing I know to talk about and I think it IS the gospel, the good news, the word of the Lord, the teachings of Jesus, and the kingdom of God come close. As we pray, Our Father, who are in heaven…