The Work of the Marginalized…

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…is often to steal. Which really pisses me off. Not when it happens to me (I don’t care that much (so far I have lost four brand new pair of chones and my big red bag on rollers yesterday that I was bringing to GET CLOTHES TO GIVE AWAY – hahaha).

To hear the Republicans talk or the Fox News folks (and I’m not political I am just naming names) the poor and marginalized sit around eating bon-bons and wait for their “entitlements (look at THAT word).

Well I will report to you that being homeless takes twice as much physical effort and metal alertness than any job I have ever done. I start at 4 a.m. and go until 10 p.m. I have to watch my stuff like a hawk or it walk within 8-10 minutes to “serve” elsewhere (like my new underwear – some boney-assed kid is walking around wearing 2XL boxer briefs that I paid $20 for). Brand new..left them under my chair while I worked…lost attention for ten minutes.

That is all it takes over a 18 hour day…just a ten minute lapse. Gone.

I keep my most valuable stuff in my backpack with me at all time…I don’t even go to the bathroom without it.

The other day a preacher came out and back his car up to where The Great Reynaldo was sitting. His bumper sticker said “NO MO O!” simply signifying that he, like so many , has attached Gospel to American politics.

After The Great One had verbally dismantled and dispatched him (there were smoldering tennis shoes where the preacher had been and the Bible he wanted to give away laying there), The Great Reynaldo told me the story and we laughed. But as we did, someone came by and swiped the Bible…and we laughed even harder at that.

There is one guy here who can swipe your stuff from within a pile, or under a pile, leaving it in tact…right next to you while you talk!

Now that is funny (and if we ever catch him we want him on retainer for special missions of mercy) – but the other stuff is not at all. It is disheartening and kicks a man or women when they are already down and struggling. I liken it to throwing someone a heavy stone when they are up to their nostrils in the water. So it makes me angry and I announce this loudly when it happens to add some menace like (the sub-text being an animal “I will throttle you if I catch you in someone’s stuff.”)

Which, of course, I would never do…but this idea that snitching or that it is okay to steal is utter horseshit.

I am not an angry guy – never have been. When I do get angry, generally, I ask myself “where are you hurt?” because anger is a secondary emotion most of the time.  Where I am hurt here is that both the one stealing and the one being stolen from are really damaged in this process because they have no margin at all. I am empathetic – so it hurts to watch this crap.

*******

Most of us are used to functioning somewhere in the middle of the piece of paper. Oh we complain that things are tough, but get pushed out into the margins (or place yourself there) where you can feel the edge of oblivion and dead space and even in that margin there are HOLES that you can fall through – feel THAT. It’s different I can assure you. And you better have faith and be ready to work hard because getting out of the margin will be no easy task.

*******

I said it was harder work and it is. I have been a busy executive (Primagames.com, or editor of a newspaper) and I have been a creative content machine (maverickssurf.com), but I have never had to be so detail-oriented, so pre-planned and methodical as I have to be now. Every day is planned out and the sheer number of tasks is daunting. They cannot all be done. …hmnnn)

Medical updating; food stamp re-certification, getting the paperwork back up to their office,scheduling doctors appts with physician, retinal eye specialist, optomitrist, psychiatrist (must all be seen to get prescriptions renewed), public storage, meet with two different pastors – all of this while I can because next week is work push. And up until yesterday I had to lug all my stuff around with me or it would get stolen. Now it just might get stolen in the locked dorm because I don’t yet have enough locks (must go to dollar tree).

Yesterday I had the choice between hitting the health center (which my doctor called me and said was oddly located at my exact same address) for my high blood pressure medicine and to look at an infected right elbow…OR redeem my storage unit out near Soquel. No brainer. I’ll take my chances on not doing a Jackson Pollack on the wall for a few days and I went and process a mass quantity of stuff for Will the Supplier to sell of mine (to pay him back for paying my bill) and then I got my clothes, some clothes for others, but better backpack, my Indiana Jones bags…and a host of other great things (including a second pair of glasses.

But there is always a trade off. I missed two free meals. I stopped later to hit the nearby Chipotle…but the frugal in me drove me downtown to Trader Joe’s (on my bad left ankle) to buy supplies like oatmeal, dried berries and sea salt instead that will last much longer and many more meals.

My point is never “poor me.” I cannot allow that idea to invade my head space ever. It’s just that this is incredibly arduous work that has to be accepted and felt GOOD about.

You have to be smart and think ahead. Then you have to get about the REAL WORK of finding quick money from something like “workforce” where they pay you cash at the end of the day; then you look for the long-term job, or first job.

It’s not rocket science, but it takes planning and persistence and you talk it up with the few others who are doing the same (because they have all figured out the exact same thing).

The next time you hear anyone talk about someone sitting around on the Government “Teet” let me tell you…the few who do sit around don’t stay in the shelter long. They have to camp and live a very unsatisfying life. They have no tv’s and many are mentally ill or physically ill.

I’m not political anymore. I am not a Republican, Democrat or Independant. I really don’t care. I am a “Kingdom of God” kinda guy who thinks that the Sermon on the Mount is so vastly superior to any political statement ever made in America that I’ve just decided to go by that.

I like the politics of Jesus: “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s; unto God, that which is God’s.” (Turn over the salad?)

It focuses my energy on real people not dead-end diatribes of anger that lead nowhere because everyone already has their mind made up. I mean if you want to believe that people who receive food stamps are the cause of the loss of your wealth you are free to drink the Koolaid. It’s not my business. But I call things as I see them…and you might admit, currently it is not exactly a “bird’s eye view” (grins).

 

 

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Going Catholic?

It is easy enough to tell the poor to accept their poverty as God’s will when you yourself have warm clothes and plenty of food and medical care and a roof over your head and no worry about the rent. But if you want them to believe you – try to share some of their poverty and see if you can accept it as God’s will yourself!
– Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation, chapter 14, p. 107 (1949).

kitchen

I am a Protestant (though Lord knows what it is I am protesting) but the most influential theologian in my life has always been Thomas Merton, a Catholic. after that comes C.S. Lewis, then Kierkegaard, then the English Puritans, then Pascal. Other giants still roam the land of my mind but these are the true heroes of faith – and they tower. And I know them so well that I do not really even need to carry their books around with me anymore, or not often.

Today I once again tip my cap to my Catholic brethren who don’t just drop food on doorsteps, they actively feed people – usually about 200 or so people, a day in many a California community 365 days a year. I saw this first in San Rafael at St. Vincent de Paul in 2010, and I saw it today at the St. Francis kitchen here in Santa Cruz where I had, arguably, the best big bowl of split pea soup I have ever had, served up with some fish and a fresh salad,

I have thought of becoming a Catholic. The door creaked open when a close friend, Miles Saunders, switched over years ago. I have great respect for Miles and it was not a decision made lightly.

MY Protestant friends might be aghast at this, but I find myself more and more protesting current Protestantism with its self-absorption, consumer/marketing mentality and anti-mystical bent. The cult of personality and the pragmatism of “ME” and “betterment” has eclipsed the Glory of Christ, the mystical union that is the Body of Christ and various giftedness (now we give ministry callings by profession or social standing) and we have new ministries the Bible never mentions and ignore the ones it calls out loudly.

And then there is always Merton. Beyond Merton, as a writer there is Walker Percy who has influenced me as a fiction writer, and Flannery O’Conner too. Really, we have Lewis and then Beuchner for some whimsical shots. But for the long ball we are notoriously thin.

The Catholics have their problems too (theologically). Make no mistake. I am a very good New Testament student and decent with the Old. But in worship they seem to intuitively know to sing, do liturgy to God, and emphasize the Eucharist. All these things are God-centered. Once you do all that there isn’t a lot of time left over to talk about US.

We Protestants have seemingly endless amounts of time to talk about ourselves and very little time to talk about God’s glory, or nature and just revel in it. Personally I feel this is a big mistake.

But this is dangerous to say. 

I got kicked out of a homeless program in Portland basically because I was theologically and biblically educated. While I was generally quiet, occasionally I could not take absolute silence. On one occasion a guy was teaching a “sex” class (to a bunch of essential 25 year-old ex-tweakers who were decidedly NOT going to listen to a word). Worse, he was teaching flat out bullshit about dying with ANY unconfessed sin resulting in Hell.. My “patowan” (Robert the Gangl) saw what was going to happen about 2 seconds before it did.

“Mac NO!” he yelled out.

Too late. SPACK! (sound of the guys brain material metaphorically impacting the blackboard behind him from a single clean shot to the forehead).

Had to be done.

But to his credit, this man came back the next week and said to me “I went and studied my Bible all week long and met with my pastor and I had it all wrong. I really appreciate your challenging me on that point.”

Well you can see why they had to get rid of me. You cannot have a guy who reads Greek, has a college degree (I was the only one to my knowledge in the building who did), knows theology and the Bible AND who has a biblical sniper rifle slung over his shoulder walking around the halls – even if he is a sweetheart of a guy, open, and a servant. Nope…

You get him in a room with four other Christian guys and put him in an impossible situation when he is sick and weak – one that will surely end in his leaving. But it will be his idea. 

Fortunately for me, no one around here cares about stuff like that at all. I would have to be in a shelter that was “Christian” in order to be persecuted. No around here I get yelled at for laughing and I am just not going to take that seriously at all.

“Oh I see…If I was raging it would be okay or wanting to fight right?” I announce. “No, I think I will laugh as much as I want to and if you have a problem you can come talk with me personally,” I say (because they never say this to my face.

Ironic huh?

No here it is the law of the jungle, and I am one of the Big Men who nobody wants to tangle with (they have no idea that I am non-violent and how much more toughness being THAT takes than violence).

I like the cleanliness of that. I do better with those in the world than those who are religious.

*******

But I have ego too. (I suppose this comes as no real surprise to the reader). I had asked some local leaders for some small monies to dole out for bus passes and other small aid to people here as I cannot aford it. No response. This started to make me angry until I realized that was just ego.

No. I need to let go of that. I need those guys (why is it always “guys”? sheesh) because I am gonna have to go to them later and be an advocate for someone here for a used bike, or a bus ticket to another city, or to fill up a refrigerator full of food (and have it delivered) from a food pantry…and only they can make this happen. I gotta take my ego out of the equation. It doesn’t matter what they think of me (or how they want to fix things in me that are not actually broken).

And in the meantime I will just work 10% harder to make just a little more so I can buy those couple bus tickets (bought one today). I gotta believe (and do) that God will cover me in these small things.

Now I am off to my storage unit…Will report on that tomorrow.

For those of you who pray – keep doing so for everything. For those of you who do not, follow your own tradition. It is helpful.  

Heat

cool hand

I have bed 11, which along with S’s bed across the way are the two best petrie dish beds in the whole “Loft”. No ventilation, up high and in the darkest part of the place.

I am doing everything else I  can do. I have a near perfect diet (no sugar, gluten, dairy) and no active addictions to anything (alcohol, drugs, caffeine, sports drinks). I hydrate constantly, I walk (even with the heal spur) at least 2 miles a day. I take vitamins. I am dropping weight etc…blah blah blah.

But I really worry about an upper respiratory infection. There are 10 guys coughing all night long and I am in bed 11. Worse, it is HOT. I sleep uncovered all night long.

Now some of that is just me. I always have run a good 8 degrees hotter than everyone else. I am Scottish and Swedish – there ya go. I should be on “the Wall” in Game of Thrones, not cooking  in a tropical stew in Santa Cruz.

I lay there, sweating and think of Paul Newman – Cool Hand Luke – in that awful prison – and then in the BOX. Okay, this is nothing.

Today at 1:30 I finally am supposed to get assigned a permanent (30-day) bed so I do not have to do the nightly lottery. I am gonna ask for another bunk but I know the answer already – “you should be grateful you have a bed at all.”

Being educated is of no value at all around here except you get to see the bullet four feet out before it hits you, then realized what it is doing as it rips through you. But you have no real advantage at all. Irony…that is your only solace.

Well that and not making really dumb choices.

Because there is another kind of body heat here: people being bored have two past times: weed and sex. I am told that I can get either anytime I want . I do not want.

Not that I begrudge others these things – I just think it is not helping. It would not help me – in fact it would utterly disquiet and derail me. The first (weed) I could not do because ganga has a tendency to make me narcissistic and anyone who knows me understands I need no encouragement at all in THAT arena.

And in the second, I have already seen too much and understand too deeply that what we want is true and lasting connection. Or as I have written elsewhere, “If you are having ‘casual sex’ you are not doing it right.”

So that leaves me out on both. Thank God I am 57 and things start slowing up for a man (grins). Like not everything is a fastball (if you get my drift).

I will be in a relationship again. I can feel it. I have learned too much and come too far. I actually have a date on Saturday (obviously just tea) which I know sounds nuts but not if you sit with it for awhile.

I was once married and made a lot of money and as soon as that wellspring dried up I got dropped right quick. Currently I have nothing to offer but WHO I am. The money will come later (and I now feel confident it will because I got my “Lion” back). I’m just curious to meet some people (chances of meeting the right person are very slim…so please no “letters of concern”…”lighten up Francis” – it’s tea) while in my current situation – have some fun. And because I do not feel needy it is pretty easy for me.

I only suffer one of the “heats” – and it’s in the petrie dish – like good ole Cool Hand Luke at night.  

 

The Belief of My Youth

 

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I was despairing over more loss…all the rest of my stuff in the storage locker: my bed, furniture, my Heath dishes, all my books and my clothes (when I have none right now.)

I had gone to the storage unit the same day I met the two guts at the bus stop. In fact that was where I was going. When I got there my access codes yielded “Access Suspended.” I am $256 late and I don’t have it.

Andy (the preacher) had said I could choose to disbelieve and expect God not to show up. He said we often do that now in later life unlike when we were younger. I thought at the time how true that was – how in my youth I was constantly challenged, but how God always showed up. I remembered once Christmas when the kids (just Sean and Thomas) wanted to go to Disneyland and no way we had the money for that. I prayed with the boys for that and a week or so before Xmas vacation someone sent an anonymous $500 cashier’s check. I had not said a thing.

We went to Disneyland.

That is a silly example and all too typical for an American. Many toher times it was rent, or no car and someone would give us one – seriously. Once someone just gave my wife and  I a nearly perfect Volvo station wagon. Then she went off to seminary and now no longer believes in God. Go figure.

But I am not much better. I was pretty certain that the same God who holds the Universe together at every moment and Who raised Jesus from the dead was utterly unable AND unwilling to cough up $256 to save all of my earthly belongings.

That was before the sermon. During it I reconsidered.

One thing about being long in the faith is that you can “do the math” very quickly. I chose instead to go with Andy’s suggestion and CHOOSE to believe and expect.

At the storage place I suppose I could have found a way to sneak into my units but I didn’t. I decided to play the whole thing out. And I didn’t turn to the church that had already helped me so much financially. I knew they had done enough. No…I wanted God to show up.

Like in my youth.

That evening there was a guy passing out socks. Seriously…that is what he does every Sunday. It is his ministry. He is into supplies and his way of giving back given his sobriety and spirituality (which began seven years ago) is to come and give away socks and some other supplies.

We started talking and one thing led to another and I just got off the phone with him (it is Wednesday now) and we are meeting Friday and he is going to pay off the storage unit arrears and sell a bunch of my stuff at the Flea Market across the street. This is already what HE DOES as part of his livelihood. After he pays himself back for re-opening my storage…he will split the spoils from other stuff of mine 50/50, which means I will make money of stuff I need to unload. I also will be able to “lose one of the two units I have now that he will sell some and sin ce my ex-girlfriend removed her stuff – I only need one unit and Will will help me consolidate into one unit cutting my bill in half for future months.

What it means is I get to probably keep my stuff. And the stuff I lose via sales? I was going to lose IT ALL ANYWAY,

Now I get my clothes and access to storage…it’s an amazing grace and from a complete stranger on the same day as the sermon.

I did not even have to “wait.”

Now since then many other amazing stories have happened. They continue. I cannot write fast enough, and I write pretty darned fast. The Great Reynaldo and I continue to grow in friendship and fellowship – and that is a miracle to both of us – if you can imagine ME teamed with a mountain of a black man from Chicago who is a total extrovert, brilliant and a social activist. The two of us teamed together are formidable (when we are not trading whole sections of “STRIPES” and laughing hysterically). We’re like a street gang of two at a Ph.D level.

We went and terrorized Capitola today where TGR accused not once, but twice of pulling a “Larry David” on people in a cafe. And the first one was really funny because he did it out LOUD (sending me over the edge.). 

(TGR is really good for me because people are always trying to tone me down and I am so sensitive it really hurts and I take it far too seriously. TGR is from Chicago – HE DOESN’T CARE! He will laugh as loud as he wants and if you don’t like it guess what – it is YOUR problem. I love that.) Californians are sooooooooo repressed.

The reality is we both love God and people. It is a LOT of fun…a lot more fun than anyone should ever have in a shelter. .

Boots

boot

As I approached the bus stop two pretty weathered guys made a spot for me in the middle and welcomed me to their fellowship: Jeff and Donny.

Jeff was a sort of Portuguese Cheech Marin character hammering his brain a bit with beer and jabbering a bit – but fun. Donny (who, come to think of it now, did bear some resemblance to Tommy Chong) was in some pain and had just given up on lacing his big black boot.

“Do you mind if I give it a go?” I asked.

“What? You’ll lace my boot?”

“Sure, happy to…S’no big deal brother.”

“Let him do it Donny!” piped in Jeff.

So he gave me the long lace and I got down and started to lace up his boot.

*******

I had already decided listening to Andy preach that he was also right about speaking more plainly about Jesus. It was an aside but I have been wrestling with this. It’s okay to believe in almost anything in this world but don’t start talking about the reality of your experience of Jesus because people go apeshit.

Now some of this is really legit. Fundagelicals have ruined things for a whole generation with their politicization of “Gospel” (Good News) making it nothing but bad news. They have commercialized it too – making it a commodity to be sold and marketed. And I have to answer for their sins while also having to answer for my own foibles.

I also grew up in the Bay Area where pluralism is Queen and King. Except for Christianity…ah…see how that works?

Anyway…listening to Andy I thought “Hey…I don’t have a LIFE anyway…what difference does it make? I mean I don’t give a “skabula” (Paul used this word for his own righteousness and it means “shit”) about judgmental Christians – why am I so worried about holding back with everyone else?”

Especially since I don’t really have an agenda for them – only ME.

*******

“Man you are beautiful,” Jeff said as I kept lacing.

“No…I just learned this from reading about Jesus’ washing His disciples feet and I figure that if He, being God does that – well – this is a helluva a lot easier don’tcha think Jeff?”

They both started laughing. And I finished and stood up and Donny said …”I’m in pain.”

So I gave him three Tylenol and one of my water bottles (I would not be using it again.)

Then I sat down and for some reason I just started to riff – like the spirit of Robin Williams and Jonathan Winters was upon me (since I was in early teens I could do voice impersonations with deadly accuracy).

(I know…too early?)

So we had a really good time the next 20 minutes before the bus came with me riffing off the two of them and doing Sean Connery, Mel Gibson, and my East Indian “Manfred” character (“It’s all about particles from your past lives which come around,” says Jeff. Manfred retorts “It is all about the tiniest of particles which yoos can’t indeed by jove cannot see permeating from the beers via osmosCEASE! through a semi-permeable membrane into an area of lesser gradation sahib!!”) which sends them over the edge…

*******

Prior to church I had worked with the “Feeding the Spirit” crew who come and provide a truly near gourmet breakfast every Saturday and Sunday despite the fact that they are ritually verbally assaulted for their kindness.

My new friend Renaldo (who I call “The Great Renaldo”) said “Did you hear what they called him on Sunday?” Even I will not repeat it here but it was a typical “preacher slam.” The TGR says “and he was one of YOUR people!!” and laughs hysterically.

“”It’s always one of MY people – some turgig uptight white guy with an engrossed sense of entitlement and a deep root of bitterness.”

And we laugh again.

There were many other times in the day that I got to serve others in major ways. It will not take away from my core tasks and the long climb I have to make personally but I realize now that I am exactly where God wants me.

So this is my new life and I am starting to dig it.

 

 

 

Humility Against Despair

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My friend and, in many ways, mentor, Coleman Luck writes often of the End Times on Facebook citing various world situations. While I always take Coleman seriously, I have …er, occasionally “chided” him for being a little too quick on the draw and my basic argument has been “every generation thinks THEY are THE generation in which the End Times will occur. It’s a form of narcissism.”

This usually earns me a nice retort and so it goes. It’s how we became friends.

I was laying in my cubicle at the shelter last night thinking what an irony if I am some sort of precursor: I college-educated male who cannot get a job, get a roof over his head – who despite no addictions (I don’t even drink coffee anymore), a careful diet, the right meds and a fine mind, a good heart, simply is going to chronicle the beginnings of the coming mass breakdown in America.

I mean who better?

Naw…

God wouldn’t do that to me. That is my narcissism.

Naw…

One thing in for sure, He is gonna keep breaking my heart.

When I worked at the shelter one of the reasons I cracked was all the PAIN. Well now I am back as a client. You would think I would get to be shielded from it right?

No one is fooled.

This morning the overnight staff person was reduced to tears in our first conversation when she started talking about the loss of her eldest son last April. I wanted to flee the building. I mean…CAN I HANDLE THIS RIGHT NOW?

But I can’t flee or not care – and there is something about me that will make a total stranger open up in 10 minutes and start crying and tell me their life.

I did flee at 8:00…the whole complex. Get me the hell out of here! I start walking toward downtown. At the corner are Steven and William. after the long crossing over HWY 1 William says “Can I have just one minute of your time?”

I do the “Magnum head slump into chest.” I sit down with him and It’s 15 minutes and would have been an hour but I said “William you said a minute and it’s been 15 brother. I have no idea AT ALL what you should do. But I will pray and ask daily and if I get some direction for you I will let you know.”

I walked off and was very frustrated with God. I am NOT prepared for this. “You take me out to the desert and allow me to be beaten with pipes…send me through some 60’s insanity for four days and then I have to go hide from the cops in the redwoods to sleep illegally. Now you want me to deal with all my FEAR, get a job AND minister to people in immeasurable pain….GREAT.”

Oh and do all of it with a broken-heart and a well of sadness. Let’s not forget the best part.

I remember two things. One, that I once wrote an article on “Blaming God,” and how we as humans have an almost limitless capacity to do this (for our own damned mess). I would have to assume that despite my real frustrations right now and even anger with God, that I would have to fall under the weight of my own previous argument. In simpler terms: I must be mistaken no matter how I “feel.”

Second, Fr. Thomas Merton wrote a far more important essay called “Humility Against Despair” in his book, “New Seeds of Contemplation.” Put simply, only humility – true spiritual humility – can get lower than despair (my words) and therefore bring real freedom.

I admit, I am still wrestling with this myself – how do I become ego-less and yet have enough “stuff to go out and try and sell myself for jobs?

Anyway…my thoughts are then interrupted by the crazy guy two blocks back who has started up…

He’s preaching AT ME it seems.

Calling down judgment one minute and then blessing me the next. I just shake my head and keep walking. I am so tired of people abusing me with their tongues. I abuse no one with my tongue.

And when he passes me later at the cafe I say in a level and not unkind voice, “I’d appreciate your not yelling at me again.” He spews out some more directives about who I am and high fives some passing “Christians” who look at me like I am a hair on a biscuit and they say to me “God bless you.”

Oh He is…