Friday, March 16, 2007
If you have been reading all of my reflections to this point, you may have noticed that my reflections are getting shorter. Perhaps, I am just running out of things to say. I think the real truth is that I am getting tired. Though my body is feeling strong and alive and doesn’t seem to mind all the trekking from breadline to breadline, I have found that my mind is getting tired. The hot sun (predicted to reach 80 today) takes a lot out of this pasty mid-western bred pastor. I am used to spending all my time indoors working, doing counseling and typing away into a computer.
I would have thought that it would be less tiring to just lay about in the sun all day and to do whatever I please, but my mind is as foggy as a June evening in San Francisco.
This morning I did some panhandling at the BART (subway) station. I got an oversized set of wooden hands the night before that had been calling to me. They looked a lot like begging hands. So I held them out to those who were busily heading to work.
I figured that everyone needed a set of hands that were bigger than their own to hold what was too much for them to carry.
It was fun to see the looks on people’s faces when they saw my oversized hands. Some did a double take. Some laughed mightily out loud. Some put some change in it. Some put bigger bills. Some said I should go to the hospital and get my hands looked at. One man told me I should be sent to war (I don’t know what that meant, but I’m assuming it’s not good). Some people winked at me.
It’s amazing how easy it was to do something unexpected and how much joy it was able to bring to people who usually walk to work like expressionless zombies. Later I heard some of the members of the Faithful Fools talk about how they like to walk through the war protests backwards (against the crowd) holding a sign that said: “Fools for peace.” They said that marching the other way hadn’t got us very far in the war effort and they wanted to try something different.
One of the fools, whose clown name is “Afraid,” told me that he wanted to make a statement about some of the ridiculous things that we do for the sake of our fears. So, once he took his clown (minus the 4ft stilts) on the airplane. The airport security line brings up many fears, and lot of rules have been created because of these fears. Sometimes the rules are to make us feel better even if they are not really needed from a security standpoint (like taking off your shoes – only a few shoes meet the criteria to make them dangerous enough to need to be x-rayed). Some of the rules make no sense to anyone (like putting your toiletries in a baggy – even the security people can’t figure out if that is a real protection or not).
In wearing his clown outfit through security and being “Afraid.” He is now on the heightened security list. Some times having a little fun comes at a cost. Maybe airport security is not a joking matter. But, what good is it to be human if we cannot laugh with each other? If we were all able to laugh together, would we still be able to kill each other?
It seems like in our serious Lenten journeys that we sometimes forget to take some time to stop do something out of the ordinary. Lent is the time of shaking up our stale lives and re-orienting them towards God. After all, it seems to me that God(dess) had to do something out of the ordinary to shake us up so that we could receive the gift of grace. I hope you do something unexpected today (and every day) for God(dess)’s sake!
Today I remember the birthday of Jen Nagel, member of the ECP Roster who is awaiting call. Today I pray that we have another ordination soon - perhaps in San Francisco again!!! As I approach my last night on the street, I pray that the hundreds of millions of other homeless individuals across the globe could find shelter and sanctuary. I also pray that all the folk who have been working so hard to promote the life and ministry of Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries may find the end of their wilderness journey and find that we have become the church we wish to be in the world. AMEN.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Yesterday was a day of simple pleasures: a shower; warm hot chocolate; my toes in the grass, the UN water fountain; a visit from my girlfriend and a few kisses; all the children eating their lunch in the park; kettle popcorn from the farmer’s market; a visit from a clown who brought wine, cheese and crackers; watching people at the mall; almost getting kicked out of Bath and Body Works for using too many of the free samples; and lots of laughter.
All this fun I have been having is a good reminder that if I can give my body and my mind good self care on the streets, then I should not have a hard time when I am living indoors and working at the church. I can think of all the times that I have thought that I was too busy, or that the needs of the homeless are more emergent and need more focus than my own self care.
While it is true that grant and sermon writing has firm deadlines and the homeless are in desperate need, all people are entitled to quality care – even my self. Jesus is a good example. He was always taking his disciples off to retreats in the wilderness – even though every time he tried to get away people would still come and find him and surround him so much that he would get pushed into a boat and have to talk to them from the water. And he just kept on retreating to the wilderness for silence and prayer.
This morning the security guard who woke me up at the church (tonight sleeping on the cold concrete steps rather than on the soft grass below the tree in the back) gave me a dollar. So, now I have about $1.50 in my pockets. While there is not much that one can buy for $1.50, it’s great to have a little bit of money in my pockets so that I can dream about all the things that I could buy. He seems to be softening a bit each morning. I wonder what will happen today?
Today I remember the feast day of St. Longinus the Centurion (According to the Old Roman Calendar, also celebrated on Oct. 16th in the Orthodox Calendar). St. Longinus is known as being the Centurion that pierced Jesus' side and the Centurion who notes "surly this is man is the Son of God." Some scholars have also wondered if this is the same centurian that Jesus meets in the Gospel of Luke and cures his slave/boy.
As Fr. Johh O'Neill has pointed, there are several aspects to this story which might lend it to a queer reading. In the first place it seems somewhat odd that a centurion would be so caring about a slave, caring enough to risk ridicule by approaching a Jewish miracle worker for help. The underlying Greek text intensifies this suspicion of a possible same-sex relationship. Tom Horner, author of David Loved Jonathan: Homosexuality in Biblical Times, points out that in Matthew, the earlier account and directed to a Greek-speaking Jewish audience, the word for servant is "pais" - which means "boy", but can also mean "servant", and, given the rather greater than average concern for a servant demonstrated by the centurion, can also mean "lover". The word "pederasty" for instance derives from "pais". Luke, who was writing in a much more Greek milieu changes the word "pais" to the much more neutral "doulos" ("servant" or "slave"), presumably aware of its homosexual implications to any reader with a Greek cultural background. Jesus, clearly, does not condemn the centurion in this story of faith.
So, today I pray for all of the queer saints who may or may not have articulated their sexual or gender identity in a contemporary way. I pray that we could all become more fluent in the queer history of God(dess), the Bible and the God(dess)’s people. AMEN.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Though I have broken my vows a million times...
Though I have broken my vows a million times...
Though I have broken my vows a million times...
Last night I realized that in the past four years when I have been on street retreat I have only be living out my own stereotypes of what it is like to be homeless. When I believed that homeless people suffer all the time, then I spent 7 days suffering. When I believed that the homeless spent all their time going from food line to lines for other services, then I spent my time going from food lines to lines for other services. When I believe that being homeless was being miserable in the rain, then I spent my time being miserable in the rain. I faced hopelessness, I have become mean and snappy, I have hoarded items that I may need some other time. I dug through garbage cans to find bus transfers that had not expired to use the bus. I panhandled (more than $45 this retreat so far – all spent). I sang in the subways. I got smelly. I did all the things that I attributed to homeless people.
And while we all know street people who exhibit these characteristics, there are as many ways to be homeless as are homeless people. I know this from the last four and a half years that I have been listening to stories of the homeless and hungry and the Welcome Ministry and the time that I have spent walking with them.
But yesterday, I figured it out in my body. I kept wondering if I was having too much fun? But, I know homeless people that have a lot of fun. And of course I know people on the other side of the extreme as well, who are so depressed that they run from the things that haunt them into the arms of medications or mental illnesses that allow them to forget – for awhile.
So, today I acknowledge that I am living out my prejudices and that I can only see what I have eyes to see. I seek to let go of my expectations and experience the freedom of the streets. This is not all that there is to being homeless. This is not an exercise in what it would be like if I was permanently homeless – since I walk knowing my privilege. I have someone who will listen when I talk/type and I don’t have to only talk aloud to myself. I have the love and support of friends, family, congregations that have called me and the Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries. I have a condo a few blocks from where I sleep outdoors and of course an impatient kitty who does not understand street retreats.
Though I have broken my vows a million times...
Though I have broken my vows a million times...
Though I have broken my vows a million times...
Three other noticings: I can’t get the dirt out from under my nails no matter how many times I wash them. It reminds me of my grandpa’s nails. He is a mechanic and I never understood why he couldn’t clean the dirt out. I get it now. It’s a great Lutheran symbol for my simultaneous saint and sinner nature. No matter how much I try to make myself clean, I can never make it happen.
Second, I was amazed to see that there were about 50 people waiting eagerly for the library to open this morning. If only the lines at the library equaled the lines at Starbucks every morning. How different would our society be then?
Thirdly, our group of fools have seen different car accidents each day where a car has hit a pedestrian or someone on a bicycle each day for the last three days. I’m beginning to think that I am safer on the sidewalks then in the road. Two of the accidents were hit and runs. This brings us a couple of lessons – 1) watch out for your neighbor; 2) slow down (peace be still); 3) take responsibility for your actions (confess and seek justice)
Today I remember the Japanese Saint Ambrose Fernandez, who was imprisoned for his faith. I remember my own brother Robert who spends his last year in prison in
What if we all did what was written in Mark when Jesus asks the rich young ruler to give up all he has and follow? If we all did this, would we all be homeless? Or, would we be able to trust that when we were in need that our neighbor would do the same for us? Do we trust God(dess) enough to give up all our possessions, retirement funds, insurance policies, nest eggs, bank accounts and "securities?" Pastors that come out of the deep dark closet of the ELCA and come out or who work at congregations that call ECP pastors face the prospect of losing all of these things. Some pastors who are outed lose them too. I might get locked up to if I suggested that we all give these things up - since it is neither reasonable nor practical. Don't get me wrong, I deeply believe that we are only able to take care of others if we are actively taking care of ourselves. Yet, I/we must also be real and confess that I/we do NOT fully trust God(dess) to be our sole source of security.
I pray, trusting in the faith of the Saints who have gone before, that I may be able to live fully in the mystery of God(dess)'s creating love and that I may begin to trust the One who birthed me/us. AMEN.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
I am mindful today of the words of Maezumi Roshi: "Have good trust in yourself -- not in the One that you think you should be, but in the One that you are." I seek to strip myself of my external distractions, so that I can gain a clearer understanding of who I am, how I am called to walk in the world and how I can be a part of God(dess)’s work in the world.
I am enjoying the freedom that I have found on the streets: I get to walk slower, when I have no where in particular to go; I have only faith to rely on that I will be given my daily bread; I get to take the time to let others serve me (wash my feet), though it feels so much easier/better for me to serve others; I can do what I want at anytime, because I have no deadlines or people expecting anything from me (except maybe that I write in my blog every day); I can sit at the fountain at UN plaza and read a book; I can drink wine out of a paper bag in front of the church; I can do all the things that I am normally too dignified to do in my professional life (like pee outdoors); and I can lie in the sun with my bare toes in the grass and take a nap in the middle of the day.
I wonder why I don’t do these things all the time? Some of these things are wonderful bits of self care. Some of these things aresimply not done by “civilized people.” The real answer is that it all comes at a cost. I could do what I wanted anytime I wanted, or I could trade in my freedom for a (false) sense of control and a few comforts (like a warm bath, a soft bed, a back that doesn’t ache, the ability not to have to carry everything I own, the ability to be indoors and not get sexually harassed when people see that I am female, to not be considered a threat when people see me as male, to drink a warm soy hot chocolate).
If I eat dairy, I will get sick. So, thank God(dess) for Food Not Bombs! They serve vegan food that is yummy and healthy and I know that it will not make me sick. At their food line in the middle of UN Plaza they bring the food in big white buckets that are toted on the back of bicycles. They say there are not a food line, they are a protest to the way that the government spends its money. They have been around for decades, but their message seems particularly poignant today – particularly since the money that goes to food banks, welfare, librarys and other programs that feed the hearts, minds, Spirits and stomachs of the American people have been slashed in light of the war spending.
Food Not Bombs gets all the ingredients for the food they cook by going into the dumpsters of posh supermarkets, where they only put out the produce that are 100% beautiful and charge people 100% more for them. All that waste. Then Food Not Bombs takes the discarded, imperfect food to the discarded, imperfect people that have been cast out of society – our human litter that we call home-less.
What would happen if at the snap of our fingers the first would become last and the last first? What would happen in the home-less were suddenly home-blessed? Would things get any better? Would we have a world of more compassion? I guess it depends on if we REALLY are longing for the day when pain and suffering ceases and we are all able to eat at the same banquet/communion table? Do you still beleive it's possible?
Today I think of all the homeless that are eating at the Welcome Ministry today and remember that today I am called to be with them in a new way as I join them in the breadlines and as one more warm body on the cold concrete. I pray also for the homeless around the world, those in the Holy land, refugess, those ravaged by war and natural disasters, those who have lost their beloved, and who have lost hope.
Monday, March 12, 2007
What a wonderful thing to be able to sleep out under a tree in the middle of the city, especially because it was far away from the cacophony of anger that swirled around City Hall. However, it is not so wonderful to get kicked out of the tiny space behind First Unitarian today by the security guard. Technically he did not work for the church; he was hired by the Montessori school located there. But, they are only able to keep the guard because the church is complacent to it.
It reminds me of the story of the poor widow whose house is being devoured by the Pharisees. At the temple, she gives her money out of her poverty and goes. A cute little story about how much you can give. A good lesson in stewardship, but how often do we think about what happens to that poor widow after she leaves the temple. With no money and no home does she starve to death? Or, does she choose to sell her own fragile flesh in order to survive? Those would have been her only choices at the time.
That is a choice that is often made on these fragile streets. While the women clutch their purses tightly to make sure they are not taken, the men clutch their wallets. So much time and energy is spent controlling and protecting our futures (or so we think). We buy insurance to have assurance that the poor widows fate could never happen to us. I bet the folk who bought insurance for there houses in New Orleans have a story to tell about how all of our preparing cannot protect our precious things or guarantee that our insurance will be honored. I confess that I too am working towards preparing for my future – I am a member of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans (and not just because they support the Welcome Ministry).
We are not asked to prepare for our own futures. We are not asked to prepare for the future of the church. We are not asked to prepare for next years budget. We are asked to prepare the way of GOD(DESS)!
The streets are cold and cruel, the sun is hot. There are few places to rest and my yoke is heavy. As a “missionary to the poor in San Francisco,” as I am called at St. Francis, a “curate with the poor” as I am called at Christ church, I am indeed being with the poor and living the life of a missionary. I do not seek to bring the Gospel to people who do not know God(dess). I seek to affirm the God(dess) that is already with them. To help them to speak the Gospel that they already know. To remind them that they are God(dess)’s beloved. To remind us all that we are all human (saint and sinner) and that we are all dust. I seek to love and be loved (the greatest commandment). Today I think of the words of Maya Angelou who said that: "Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at it destination full of hope."
Today I remember the birthday of Jen Rude who is a member of the ECP Roster awaiting call and I pray for all of the members of the ECP who are without call. I pray for those who have ministry jobs and are sometimes even called pastors, but the churches they work at refuse to extend them a call and ordain them. I pray for those pastors on the ECP roster who have to work 2nd and 3rd jobs in order to keep the doors of their church open. I pray for those churches who could no longer afford a male pastor, so they looked at hiring a woman. When they could not afford to call a female pastor they looked into calling an ECP pastor.
Perhaps it is the pastors without a call that are the true homeless pastors.
Franciscan Benediction (originally posted at National Council of Churches) and found on the street during my retreat - I added the (dess) for my friends at herchurch.org who called me. I know that the Goddess is not used to being in parenthesis, but I do it in the Spirit of welcoming those whose understanding of God is masculine:
May God(dess) bless you with discomfort at:
Easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships—
So that you may live deep within your heart.
May God(dess) bless you with anger at:
Injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God(dess) bless you with tears to shed:
For those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
May God(dess) bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in this world;
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done. AMEN
Sunday, March 11, 2007
On Saturday morning I began my day with two 4 year olds making a fort out of discarded cardboard. Twelve hours later I was using discarded cardboard to build myself an urban camping fort, to make sure that my sleeping bag was protected from the dew of the morning and to give my tired back a small cushion. I slept behind First Unitarian (a church affiliated with the Welcome Ministry) under a tree next to the busy traffic, trying to sleep as the noisy buses ran every 20 minutes through out the whole night.
Unfortunately I didn’t sleep much since the food I had consumed at the airport on my way back to San Francisco made me sick. While it normally takes me a couple of days on street retreat to realize that I am not in control, my body left no room for me to wonder who was in control. It wasn’t me. It was my stomach. Sometime in the middle of the night my body got rid of what was offending it. This morning, it got rid of the rest.
Living on the streets there is a different rhythm to life. Instead of waking up to the alarm clock or hitting snooze, I got up with the sun hoping to get my space cleaned up before the police could come. There are no trespassing signs in each of the windows of the church where we are sleeping, so we could get a ticket or taken to jail at anytime for sleeping there. We sleep there in protest of the signs. What would it mean if their former minister of justice ministry, a nun and I got arrested for sleeping in front of the church? Why should it matter more that it is us then anyone of the other creations that God has made?
The laws about sleeping on the streets in San Francisco are much more foolish than my retreat. The city has been sued in court by the ACLU five times (and lost every time), because the right to assemble has been ruled to mean that you can assemble on the sidewalk and sleep there. So, many silly laws have been created to try to chip away at this right to assemble. For example: its’ illegal to sleep in your car, but not illegal to sleep on the sidewalk in front of your car; and it’s legal to sleep on the sidewalk, but not legal to block the cold wind.
Last night I was grateful that I had the ability to sleep under the no trespassing sign undisturbed (except by the frailties of my own body). If we would have gone across the street to St Mark’s (ELCA), we would have been moved by the night guard that patrols the outside of the church.
I don’t have it all figured out yet. I know that it is important to keep churches safe sanctuaries, just as it is important to care for the least among us.
I am thinking deeply about the experience of wondering in this wilderness of the Tenderloin during Lent. I only have my few scraps of cardboard and a sleeping bag, during the Exodus they had tents. Jesus even had tents when he and the disciples were in the wilderness. Peter offered to put up three when Elijah and Moses showed up. Yet, now the urban church is anti-nomads. We put lots of locks and security on our doors. We push away those who sleep in the wilderness (even during the time of Lenten alms giving!), even those who don’t even have a tent to sleep under.
What does it all mean? I’m not sure yet, but I will continue to walk with the questions, remembering the words of Jesus as recorded by Matthew (6:19-21): "‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."Prayers:
Today I remember in prayer all of the queer individuals and "throwaways" who have fled unjust, un-supporting and unkind families, communities and churches to come to the city of St. Francis in hopes that in this city known for it's queerness that they would be made welcome here. I pray for those who found a much harsher reality. Some found that they were only visible as long as they were beautiful, young, sexually available, high, tweaked, employed, able to pay or for sale. Some found they could not be employed during or after their transition. Some found that the value of property is sometimes more important then the value of community. Some found that they were stuck in the muck and mire that surrounded the webs of injustice that held them fast.
I pray as the Maccabean mothers prayed wailing for the destruction of it all. I pray to remind God(dess) of God(dess) promises. I pray for justice. I pray for peace. I pray for health (mine own and for all who are sick, afflicted or addicted). I pray that as I am on these streets, and when I move back home that I may be part of the unloosing, the unbinding, the re-orienting of the world toward the kin-dom of God(dess). AMEN
Thursday, March 8, 2007
I am currently in
Today I am noticing that I am starkly aware of all those who are worried about my safety while I am on the streets. Knowing that there are others, beyond just my mother and my grandmother, that worry about me speaks to me. What are they afraid of? If I were in my condo tonight I would be guarded by a security guard and locks on my door. That protects me from the cold unknown, but not from death, natural disaster, or other unknowns that I cannot be in control of. While I always know that I am not in control - God(dess) is - on the streets I am even more aware of how little control I have.
I know why people are worried about me. I even know that it may be a symbol of my youth that I am not afraid. But, I am not afraid of this swirling chaos called life. I am a faithful fool. I wonder how many other families are worried tonight for their loved ones that are living on the sidewalks, in cars or on the margins of life - their retreat is likely to have been more than seven days?
On Saturday, as I lay down to sleep in a sleeping bag on a thin bit of cardboard (which cuts the chill of the concrete), I will try to let go of all that separates me from God(dess)'s creation, from my neighbor and from God(dess). and I will remember Sogyai Rinpoche's saying: "Although we have been made to believe that if we let go we will end up with nothing, life itself reveals again and again the opposite; that letting go is the path to real freedom."Prayers for my first day on retreat (Saturday, March 10th):
Today I remember the feast day of St. Anastasia the Patrician (aka Anastasios), or "of
Saturday, February 24, 2007
This year, as I have done in years past, I will be living on the streets for seven days and seven nights with members of the Faithful Fools. Why would I want to go and sleep on the streets with the homeless, when I have a condo a few blocks away and a very comfy bed? Well, like the group I am going out with, it’s a bit about faith and a bit about being foolish.
In the first chapter of Corinthians, Paul declares that the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of humans. It could be said that Jesus’ commitment to the poor (especially in the Gospel of Luke), his eating with the tax collectors and sex workers and his own life as a homeless nomad, was/is as foolish as it was/is faithful.
Some would also say that it takes a strange mix of foolish and faithful to continue to long for the day when pain and suffering ends and all people are able to eat together at one banquet table. Yet, I/we continue to work diligently for an end to poverty and hunger.
How can living on the streets possibly make a difference? While I cannot truly know what it feels like to live on the streets, since I know I have a warm bed and an adorable cat to come home to, I do find that living on the streets helps me to gain a deeper bodily empathy for the homeless and hungry that I am in ministry with. Also, in utilizing the services that I often refer the homeless too, I get a chance to learn about the changes in other social service agencies.
But more importantly, I get a chance to be vulnerable. As a leader in the church, I spend a lot of my time creating safe space for others to be vulnerable, to grow and to deeply engage with God. Living on the streets is a way for me to intentionally strip away the comforts of my life and get to what is real. That is what the Lenten journey is about after all; stripping away the many layers of things that have distracted us so that we can re-orient our lives towards God.
So, please join me on my journey. Don’t worry; you don’t have to sleep on the cold hard concrete with me. Please send me your prayers through email or the postal mail that I can take with me on my retreat, so that I can take you with me and pray for you. Please pray for me March 10-17th while I am sleeping on the sidewalk and read my daily blog reflections. And if you are blessed not to know anyone who is homeless, perhaps you will get to know how it feels to know that someone you care about is homeless. Thanks for taking this Lenten journey with me.
P.S. On my street retreat we follow the model of Bernie Glassman in Bearing Witness. The book chronicles Glassman’s experiences on retreats on the streets of
You can mail your contribution to LLGM to: LLGM;