Monday, April 13, 2009

Trouble Will Bury Me Down

Hear "Trouble Will Bury Me Down"
Sermon Preached at the San Francisco Swedenborgian Church on April 5, 2009 (the second day of my seven day street retreat).
Scripture readings: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 and Mark 11:1-11

My Street Manifesto

We are all equally in need of food to live.

We all require a good night's sleep in order to be our best.

We all go to the bathroom.

Food, shelter, bathrooms and showers are a need, not a privilege. And though we may not be aware of it, we are all equally dependent on others for access to these rights. Those who work are dependent upon people buying goods and services, banks that recognize their pay as legal tender and to the government that requires they receive a minimum wage. Those who shop in grocery stores are dependent upon countless farmers, truckers, and the stores that recognize their cash, credit or check as worthy of exchange for food. Those who live under a shelter are dependent upon governments who recognize their right to be there and others who honor their ownership, vacancy or rental agreements.

There are some who are said to have less right to food, shelter, bathrooms and showers. Others choose not to recognize what they have to offer as a contribution worthy of the vital nutrients and care that their body needs to stay healthy and alive. Others decide what type of food, shelter, bathrooms and showers would be best for them, allowing them no choice or ability to honor the particular needs of their body.

Yet because we are all dependent, none of us can be sure of the future or if others will someday decide that our contributions are worthy of access to food, shelter, bathrooms and showers (let alone the other things we require).

Bodies come in a variety of abilities, shapes, sizes and colors. Whenever possible it is best to let people choose what is right for their body. That is why we must not only ensure that all people have access and choice about the food, shelter, bathrooms and showers they use, but also share skills and listen to those whose needs are different from our own.

Join the Welcome Ministry, a life changing community of San Franciscans responding to poverty one person, one sidewalk, one city at a time. Together we can acknowledge and celebrate the ways we are independently dependent upon one another.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

April 11, 2009 Last Day Reflection

When Kay laid bleeding in the street, she broke the final barrier between our perceived sense of safety and the reality that chaos, unknown and lack of shelter is a reality for all of us.

Trained as a clown and circus performer, she is the most qualified among us to take that trip down the rabbit hole. Mended with two staples and a bit of glue, she bears the physical mark of bodies hitting the concrete the rest of us will be discovering our internal bruises for long after this retreat.

For me, the reminder and remembering of violence and harassment towards women and the way I can be polite to those who abuse me but jump in front of a cane that's being swung like a baseball bat towards another.

Where do the generations and cycles of abuse find that famed space of "enough?" It is after all this illusive "enough" that we are all chasing: to be people with out want for less or need for more; to be people who help others find the "enough" we ourselves are still working, bleeding and crying for.

There are no easy answers or even easy questions. Though after seven days living on the streets and in the shelters, in the priceless joy of free and found parties and in the agony of abuse, addiction and loneliness I have in the fact had enough.

At least until next year.

to be continued

Will post final thoughts on Saturday as I just got home from the ER because of a freak stilting accident that caused a head ( not mine) and sidewalk collision.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Day 6 April 9, 2009: be thou my feet

Today is Maundy Thursday, so I not only had my feet washed, but I also had them massaged by the Care Through Touch Institute that provides healing touch for the poor. Yet, today was more than just a day of beautiful metaphor and calling to help and serve one another, it was also a day when my anger about the lack of safety for others turned into anger for the lack of safety for myself.

I'm not talking about physical safety (grandma, please take a sigh of relief). Rather, I'm talking about the emotional abuse and harassment women are taught to face daily and required to respond with kindness and passivity. The kind of thing that happens on a full moon. I have been noticing that the manic kindness and hostile anger that the shelter staff hurls towards the residents of the shelter are the same as an abusive parent. At least they put me in the space of being a scared five year old around my alcoholic father, hoping that if I didn't move or wasn't noticed that things would be fine.

The emotional trauma of a shelter, meant to be sanctuary, that entrenched the abusive dynamics which lead many of these women to be here in the first place, is not charity. It is not something for which they ought to be grateful. Nor is it anything anyone ought to endure for a roof over their head.

The prayers of Judith come to mind tonight. The wail of Legion, whose trauma upon trauma keep him home captive and alone, yearning for healing and companionship.

Feet that are not dirty, need not to be washed. So, bring your tired, your weary, your muddy and bloody to the water that seeks to prepare you to face the death that stalks us all.

We sing:
Be thou my feet and guide my walking
Be thou my eyes that I might see
Open my heart give me compassion
Hear my cry and answer me

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Day 5: diva of God(Dess)

"I'm interested in diamonds, not this chaos," said the woman at the shelter observing two woman fighting in line for breakfast. I've begun to notice that all of the fights and drama I've witnessed at the shelter have been insighted by the inconsistancy of staff "rules." Last night a woman was removed from the shelter loudly and in the midst of the cold night because she has nightmares and eats in her sleep. The yelling caused by this incident caused several women to have nightmares and several others to yell as well.

This was counterbalanced by the evening worship service that the women had celebrating Easter. Two women and a man came to lead a service one a pastor that was recently laid off. The sermon was surprisingly touching, but my desire for a bit of hope in this space must have helped. The sermon had great messages to encourage the women to look in their hearts to see what types of behaviors and relationships they needed to let die so that they could be healthy. I confess I was surprised that I didn't hear a litany of sins they should address. Normally on street retreat I discover that the only people actually talking about faith with the homeless are much more conservative and literal than I happen to be. The creepy part of the service is that the man took the women aside in corners where they couldn't be seen for a hugging prayers that seemed a bit creepy (but possibly well intentioned).

This afternoon we also had a wonderful celebration of Carmen's 25th year as a Franciscan sister using things we found or begged for on the streets. From condom balloons to inflatable ostrich costumes it was an amazing time. It's the kind of creative celebration that is always possible, but doesn't always happen I'm such a busy world.

My feet (still on the same pair of socks) are very angry with me. They feel like the are going to crack each time I move them. Taking a shower this morning felt amazing, though it was hard to enjoy since I had to keep an eyeon my clothing so they didn't get stolen. While I'm still in the same clothes a new pair of underwear makes me feel clean. Publicly accessible bathrooms am showers are a vital health need for our communities. But this week I've learned that bathrooms aren't enough- toilet paper is also required!

One of the most needed items from our guests is bags: duffel bags, rolling bags, purses, backpacks. Carrying a bag all day and seeing the wear and tear a bag can go through helps me to see how crucial this necessity is. So got extra bags you don't need? Bring them or mail them to the Welcome Ministry (1751 Sacramento St, San Francisco CA 94109) along with adult clothing of all types.

Tonight I pray for everyone working towards recovery from addiction, affliction, health problems, failed relationships and failed thinking. God(dess) help us to let go of the past and to live in the present trusting firmly in support of the earth below us. Blessings upon blessings (Happy Passover)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Day four, April 7, 2009:

Snores flooded the shelter last night. At 5am the cook woke us up to let us know, she wasn't going to wake us up. She also let us know a little girl who was missing was found molested and in a beer barrel I the middle of a lake. Good morning to you too. At first I wondered if she just didn't know how to wake people up without insighting trauma. Then I realized that the terror obsessed news cycle wakes every morning news watcher up in the same traumatizing way.

I spent some time at the hospitality house where the community can make art for free. Partly to avoid the rain and partly because I wanted a quit space to sit. I forget this wonderful place is so near to my condo, and forget to make time for art in the midsts of my busy schedule.

Yet my cultural contemplation as an intersex resident of the shelter is getting yelled at, but it's hard to tell what for. If I were going to yell, I'd yell about the lack of toilet paper in the bathrooms, the missing stall door in the communal bathroom, the fact that they don't even give soap to the 20 or so women who stay here (for hand washing or showers). You can get a towel if you give them your ID. Perhaps we should have a bill of rights that say all people are entitled a respectful place to go to the bathroom.

Each time you go to a hotel save collect the toiletries each night and donate them to the local organizations that serve the homeless. And if you buy those ginormous packs I toilet paper at a bulk warehouse type of place donate a roll or to to the organizations that work with the poor. Oh how happy I'd be to come across some two-ply about now.

Tonight I'm saying a special prayer for all the musicians who play music in the subways. I sang in BART tonight and got some love and some cash. May God(dess) remove the scales from our eyes and the earphones from our ears so we can hear the music that is all around us. The rhythmical snoring is a prayer of a few women safe enough to sleep tonight, out of the rain - for now.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Day three April 6, 2009:

This morning at 5am I awoke to the words of a woman gesturing a butcher knife as she spoke. She told us we were sleeping in a cafeterina. Like all the other workers the night before, she told us we shouldn't be there and how much of a burden we were to her. Then she told us we should be grateful.

My mom and grandmother are afraid that something will happen to me in the streets. And it is in the "shelter" where I ought to be safe that I'm confronted with a knife and told what to do. This all triggered my childhood memories of abuse and yelling at night. Trained in helping people heal from post traumatic stress disorder I have a release for these feelings, and I wanted to fight for others who don't have the same resources.

Women's shelters tend to be places where women with bruised and broken histories come to rest. But in a space where the staff communicates only by yelling with rules that are ever changing, how can anyone rest. Let alone the fact that the tv and lights are left on. Or that male staff members come through the space, only bother yelling "man on the floor" if you meet their eyes as they state at the women.

My body and got yearn to create a true sanctuary, where peoples bodies are honored, their traumas are healed and their stomachs and Spirit's are fed. Perhaps this is a much greater longing for peace my fully expressed as shalom.

Today I pray for and remember the saints who have put their bodies on the line so their children won't get beaten, for the anger management classes that seek to calm storms and for those who enforce restraining orders. And for those who are so desperately alone (which may be a space that lives deep within all of us), I pray for connection. May the mother earth hold us and keep us anchored. May father time be gracious moving us on. Thanks for heartbeats, the ever present miricle.

What is the thing you have, that the world needs? Would you share it, if I asked?

Also, please donate socks (white with athletic gray), two days in my current pair and my feet have started to sting. I hope to find some tommow if I can.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Day two: seeking shelter from the shelter

I'm writting from inside the shelter. After a long day that began with preaching at the Swedenborgian congregation. Palm Sunday's beautiful combination of glory/honor and impending suffering seems the perfect pairing of my day. I am highly aware of my privledge on this journey. In fact I'm getting paid to do this and got paid to preach this morning. And I'm aware from the pain on the other women's faces that there us a world of difference between my experience and theirs. And yet the pain in my back, neck and feet is still very real. So with humility I write tonight out of the experience that is mine in hopes that it sparks compassion and new insights in others.

Tonight I was aware that I was entering something beyond my comfort. Upon arriving at the shelter I got nothing but yelling. The staff was angry we had been sent there and made the physically younger of us carry our mats downstairs. The yelling caused me to flee. I had to get out and take a break before the 10:00 curfew. Don't get me wrong, I'm used to getting yelled at. And I can certainly take it, but I couldn't take it that in the midst of such obvious fear and vulnerability that there could be such anger from those charged with keeping us safe.

Yesterday two of my friends from the Welcome Ministry burst into tears when they saw me, because they said everyone else was mean to them. I think tonight I would burst into tears if I was able to get a hug from Pastor Megan too. I know there are others out there who work with compassion and kindness in unimaginable conditions, but tonight on this mat it doesn't really feel that way.

Sleep well tonight all. Prayers to all (indoors and out) that don't feel safe as they try to sleep tonight. May the God(dess) who steals horses to ride through town on the way to greet a lynch mob protect us all - from the lowest mats, to the highest astronauts!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Day One: clean feet head for the dumpster

I was already exhausted when I began my time on the streets. I had only been home for one day after a trip to South Dakota to lead a training at a church in Vermillion. My street retreat began differently this year, I found myself with a small group of homeless in front of the Welcome Ministry and I just listened as they told me what I should do in the streets. Then I saw Dominics feet, with dirt so hardly enmeshed between his toes. So I began by washing his feet. I scrub with warm water collected on the top of a take out tray, some soap found in a dumpster and an old t-shirt as a towel. As I rubbed his feet and covered them with lotion he told me about his dreams for communitee. His desire that everyone play music and experience joy. He ministered to me as I tenderly admitted the dirt could come of with just one washing. And after I dried each foot I kissed them as a symbol of peace to guide his walking.

Then dominic took me to his favorite dumpsters, should me where the good cardboard is waiting like money. Behind the guitar center he thought we might find the parts we would need to make a guitar. Later Morgan and I went with him as he brought discarded items he found along the road to friends who lived in single room occupancy (Sro) hotel rooms. And we waited in line at Glide for lunch. Allergic to dairy, all I could eat were French fries (that tasted like bacon) and oranges. We also got sack lunches, because no one feeds on Friday nights.

I'm trying to figure out how to sign up for a shelter. The city changed everything as budgets got slashed. I think I can't even try to get in until Tuesday. So I gathered some cardboard from the spit dominic showed us and we're getting ready to bunk down for the night. I'm preaching in the morning (palm Sunday) at the swedenborgian church. So I hope to get a goo nights sleep and that my peanutbutter sandwich sustains me through the night!