The road to housing and safety

As I have continued my evening prayer on the street corner I have learned more and more about systemic gaps.  We have a good system, with a lot of good options to help people in need of safety or shelter.  However, there are gaps. Places and times when there is a mismatch between available beds an people in need because at some point some policy wonk decided to place requirements on the the bed occupants.  

It starts out well intended.  Someone does a study and says we need more beds for single men, they are our largest population in need.  They set out to make that happen, and their funders say sure we’ll help you house men… but only if they have male genitalia.  The intention is safety, concern that a woman might be harmed in the shelter. That for their safety and our liability, we have to limit rape and molestation.   That shower facilities are not mixed-gender friendly….its all so we’ll meaning.  But good intentions don’t allow service providers to respond to critical needs.  Like the day a transgender male-identifying person still physically with female genitalia presents.

Or when a cis-gendered woman presents?

And either of them is in danger of molestation on the street. But there are no beds for women, because we are hand-tied to a system unable to respond the the needs of the day. The person in front of us is in need, and in danger.

Another study says we need a domestic violence shelter, so we just our buys to create programs with those beds.  But the transgendered male-identifying is in danger from the street, not from an intimate partner.  They are on the street because the lost their job and got evicted.  The cis-woman, does qualify based on a violent episode, but was also arrested. She pled out because she got poor legal advice and is disqualified because of the record.

So there are perfectly good beds, and really well meaning people, and yet two people remain on the street tonight because a policy says who may occupy the bed.

The road to safety and housing needs prayer, and the funders who mean well need prayer and discernment about their restrictions.  How Lord may we include and qualify, rather than exclude and disqualify, so that we may truly love them and serve you within the them?  Guide us. Amen.

Street Corner Evening Prayer

So, outside St. John’s there is a steady stream of people affected by addiction, homelessness, hopelessness.  It is after all a city building.  It’s colocated with in a block of several of the major social services in our city.  This has all been true for some time.  

Recently, I experienced something which shook me to put my faith into my actions in a new way. I arrived at the parish hall to return the soup pans from a meal we had made for the Domestic Violence shelter.  In the doorway a man jumped out. He had khaki pants, one leg rolled up, no shirt.  He was angry, and yelled incomprehensible. I returned to my car, and called our priest.  He had me go in to the narthax door, when i came back out, the man had passed put half in the sun and blazing heat.  His friends could not revive him.  His breathing was labored. One of them alerted the caseworker from the halfway house across the street.  We called the police and an ambulance.  

What happened next, stunned me.  After nearly 20 unresponsive minutes he revived. The officer called his name, and I was floored.  I asked if his last name was what I thought.  I then realized, I knew this man.  He was a cousin by marriage, 20 years my junior.  He looked 20 years my senior.  To say that the years of drug addiction and street life had taken a toll was an understatement.  In his angry, probably drug induced state, I saw the demon of drug addiction that was eating him alive.

Later I wept for the boy I had known, and I wept because I had missed recognizing him.  I could not help but feel the Lord had literally delivered him to my hands, and my response had been fear rather than faith.  If this was a test, I had failed.

Praying since I have asked God for guidance on how to respond now.  I have felt drawn to that corner, drawn back to that group of people on the street, drawn to bring prayer to that space.  And thus began a new practice.  Daily evening prayer, every day after work, on the corner amid these.  Sometimes a few stop to listen, sometimes they pay me no heed.  But each day I am called back, and I know I need to return. Reading the prayers aloud in this space, on a cement bench, on a street corner.

Returning to the COM

Tomorrow I will speak for the second time to the Commision on Ministry of the Diocese of Springfield.  It’s interesting that I am no longer nervous.  

I’ve spent more than a year at study, and had a huge job change which has had challenges, and what seems like a lot of personal ups and downs.  Yet, I’ve emerged not nervous, not doubtful, just called.  It’s as if the angels appeared and once again spoke the words, “Be not afraid.”

Looking back a few years now to the beginning of this process, a different scene existed.  One where I was the living embodiment of Exodus 4:13 constantly praying “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

Was it the education, the practice, the daily office, the Sunday school teaching?  Of all of the ministries I’ve engaged these last year’s two have stood above the rest Eucharistic visiting, and serving in my role as Executive Director of a Faith Based nonprofit.  I pray that each will continue as a part of my path.  The other truly exciting thing has been the change in my husband who has always embraced service, but now embraces service ministry.  God has been at work in both of our lives.

May his work in us continue.

Amen.

A Homily on being a Community

Today I delivered my first homily.  Good Shepherd Sunday, Easter 4a, 5/07/17.  I hope that in some small measure it touches you.

Today is often called “Good Shepherd” Sunday, referring to the wonderful pastoral images of how God comes among us to lead incarnate, in spirit, and in majesty. Yes our triune God is indeed a Good Shepherd.

However, if we look only at that aspect of today’s lessons we may have missed an essential part of the mystery being revealed, community.

Have you ever wondered why in Matthew 18 we are told: “(Mt. 18:20): “Where there are two or three gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.”   Why two or three?  Why not just one? I have. I am really a bit of an introvert, not in the sense of being shy, but in the sense of being recharged by quiet and solitude. Perhaps that is true for some of you as well.

Maybe it’s not so much that you want to be on your own, maybe for you it’s just that the covers are really comfy, and getting out of bed, dressed and venturing out of the house is all such a hassle.  Perhaps you own that coffee mug that says don’t talk to me until … and it has the markings indicating when you have been safely caffeinated and are ready for social interaction.

If any of this sounds familiar, you are not alone. Solitude can be quite a temptation. Why do I need all these other people? Don’t I just need me and my personal relationship with Jesus?

Back in the mid 13th century, even  St. Thomas Aquinas  wondered  whether solitude (living like a hermit) might not be just as good as community for religious folk,  even sometimes better while he was writing Summa Theologica. However, when he turned to the scriptures, the highest authority of Christians, he quickly realized that complete solitude is not God’s plan for the religious.  In fact Aquinas concluded that there are only two really good reasons to be fully alone:  beast-like uncouthness of mind, or being a God, wholly divine and superhuman.  Well I’ve met us and I’m fairly certain that none of us are beasts or Gods.

In today’s lessons we see a glimpse of how our loving father expects us to live – in community, with all that that entails.  In our first lesson from the second chapter in Acts, we learn a bit about the honeymoon phase of early Christianity. The Holy Spirit has just come, the people have started sharing the story of our risen savior, Living together they worship and develop a strong community which is growing by hundreds and then thousands. They eat together, pray together, and work together. In Acts we see a wonderful spirit-filled communal life, with “glad and gentle of hearts” having “goodwill of all people.”  

This is all made possible because of Jesus. You see our God has provided the Holy Spirit to mankind and one of his main jobs is to give us glad and gentle hearts, not to placate us, but because we recognize our role as parts of the living body of Christ, and we recognize that same image of God in the others in our lives. Our first lesson is about a community which has fully embraced this style of living.  Sounds like a nice place.

When we humans don’t lean on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that’s when the troubles of community living begin.  

Most of us have lived in a few of communities even if we have never left Decatur, small ones like families, medium sized ones like Decatur or Central Illinois, big ones like the entire country, even global ones, If you open up the paper or your favorite device this morning and look at the news, it doesn’t take long to see that we humans don’t always rely on the Holy Spirit completely to guide our relationships with one another. Imagine what our communities could look like if we did.

Turning to our second lesson this morning. Flash forward just few years and decades from Acts 2, the honeymoon period is over and the people have made community more challenging,

there have been some complaints

as we see in 1 Peter.  The people of Asia Minor are experiencing some challenges because they are once again thinking of their individual needs, trying to rely on themselves, and not the Holy Spirit. No one really knows what the people of Asia Minor had told Peter that prompted this response, but I imagine Peter reading it, and, were he transplanted to today, muttering something like “first world problems.”  First world problems, for those who may not know the expression, refers to the complaints of people who have no just reason to complain.  In fact the circumstances of their complaint are really very good

Here are a few examples you might have heard,

  • “ I need a vacation from my vacation.”  

  • “One pillow is too low, and two pillows is too high.”

  • “I’m so cold, somebody set the AC on 72.”

  • “I got a splinter from my hardwood floor.”

The trouble with first world problems is that you can only have them if you are already in such a great situation that if we see ourselves in relationship and community with all of humanity it should seem as if there are no problems in our privileged world.  After all, many people work for such low wages that they can never take a vacation, many people have no pillow, and even no bed.  Many people live in harsh climates like deserts and tropical forests and have never had air conditioning, and still others live in areas where 72 is warmer than a mid-summer day.  Not to mention that if you can afford AC, you can probably afford a sweater.  And seriously, seriously a splinter?  Your God came to earth and dies a horrible death on a cross to redeem you.  I think you can handle a splinter.

Many a parent has tried to teach this humility to our children.  How many of us recall complaining about being made to “eat our vegetables” only to be told about “starving children in” Africa or Appalachia or some location.  As adults we sometimes need to be reminded of the larger community as well.  So, Peter reminds us that the vast majority of the strife and difficulty we encounter in our communities are a product of not fully abandoning ourselves to community, not listening to the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Or as Aquinas put it being uncouth. And if we have to endure the consequences of those choices, we don’t have the right to complain.

He also reminds us that there is real suffering in our broken creation.  Real problems like starvation, cancer, hearing loss, mental illness, autism, blindness, seizure disorders, loss, loneliness, war, famine, poverty. Problems which you didn’t create and suffering which you do not deserve. To those of us who suffer from these very real concerns, Peter has a message. God sees you, God knows you. God loves you, and God calls you to be an example for others in our community as Christ provided the ultimate example in his Grace upon unjust persecution and crucifixion.     

Several centuries before Peter wrote his letter or Jesus came to redeem us, the psalmist provided us with a similar picture.  Not a life of no suffering, but a life when God walks with us through just suffering and through communion.  Mixed in with the beauty of the 23rd Psalm there is death, evil, and enemies to be contended with.

But this is something we never have to face alone.  For he is with us. Not only that, he is carrying a rod to protect us and a staff to guide us.

So how do we find our way back, back to this communion and community which is our Lord’s vision of how humans should live in this world show to us in the first lesson this morning?  And how once we are there do we keep the communion and community going?

As we see in today’s gospel reading from John, Jesus gives us two parables about knowing and trusting Him.  Perhaps we can find an answer in there. In the first parable we learn

The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.

10:3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

10:4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

From this parable we see how our flock needs to behave. we must know and trust God to do what is his to do.  God should be like the good friend who doesn’t have to call first and comes straight in through the kitchen door to join us for a cup of tea,  We should know him by his voice, we should trust him for his honest and direct simplicity.  

Houses like mine also have another door, that door where you know it’s a stranger because anyone who knows you would never have come to that door.  Much less would they come through a window.  Just as Jesus tells us in the gospel lesson anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.

Those thieves and bandits, who are they?  Could they be people like us?  

To stick together, we need to know and trust the others in our community, and be knowable and trustworthy community members ourselves.  We cannot steal others trust, or let our friends or ourselves be culled from the flock.  There will be times when our community struggles and it’s easy to feel that the grass will be greener somewhere else. But the gospel warns us, those feelings will “only to steal and kill and destroy”  

We are stronger together, when we come together, when we are gracious to others for the sake of the whole body of Christ. With the help of the Holy Spirit he sent to us, gracious radical hospitality to everyone is how we prepare for the future when he returns, because when Christ comes to us and for us as ou Good Shepherd, As he describes in today’s Gospel, note that we are not alone.  We are members of a flock, a community, prepared to love one another through the spirit and ready to trust and follow Him.  

In the name of the father, son and holy spirit Amen.

Please advocate for VAWA

Dear Friends,
I am concerned about a report today from the Heritage Foundation which has been released by the Trump team with plans to remove Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) funding.  VAWA provides services for our rural and downstate victims of domestic violence. Dove
is a recipient of these funds for a five county region of central Illinois and while I cannot speak for Growing Strong I believe is also a part of their structure for the same region. The funds are not tax dollars, they come from the court fines assessed in
federal cases of violent crime.  These dollars provide shelter, counseling, hotline, legal advocacy for people who have had their lives shattered.  For nearly half a century Dove has fought hard for the tremendous gains achieved for victims of domestic violence
and sexual assault. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed with bipartisan support and was designed to develop the nation’s capacity to reduce domestic violence, dating violence and sexual assault.

We have witnessed the life-saving support that VAWA has provided for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault locally and all over the country.

Please join me in advocating for the reauthorization of VAWA. Click the link below 

http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/51013/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=19850 

Truth

Truth is a real thing. It exists. We have many ways of discerning truth. Sometimes objective data is the measure, sometimes spiritual discernment, sometimes revelation.

Yet here today, so many people in the world wish to throw out all of the tests and tools. Is it evil, laziness, demonic possession? Why are so many content with lies and willing to be spun? Like Obamacare, the truth is being repealed without a replacement. The result is chaos and fear.

The good news is that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the light.  Look for him in all things and be strengthened. Fear not, for he is with us. Search for truth is the search for our sovereign Lord. Seek him for he wills to be found.

Get it all wrong 

The US is felling quite devisive today. As we bookend a week with celebration of a civil rights hero and an alt-right hero.  It is an environment where conversation is replaced by resentment and growth and understanding is replaced by calls to arms.  

No move in this environment is seen as universally independently right. A pendulum swings, and it may in fact go well beyond the boundaries of decency in proclaiming right what history and God will judge as just another vanity in a lengthy list of vanities. 

 So I suggest that instead of being of the world, we get it all wrong.  Pray in earnest despite claims this is tacit acceptance. Listen to understand despite claims that listening gives credence to bad ideas. Love as we are commanded to love.  Go ahead, get it all wrong in public perception. Live into our alien nature as citizens of the Kingdom.