Saturday, October 23, 2010

Day One: 95 theses on poverty

Today, was day one of my working street retreat. If you haven't read my previous blog, I'm working during my retreat this year to bring attention to the growing number of working poor in the United States. And since it is the week before Reformation Sunday, I'm also incorporating a reformation theme into my writing and meditations throughout the week.

My writings below are certainly not all theses, complete sentences or even statements. Some are questions, some are bits of thoughts and some may not even be that important. But there are 95, which is a lot harder that I thought it would be.

I hope it captures your attention enough to want to read my Reformation week blogging about my life living on the streets for 7 days and 7 nights in San Francisco's Tenderloin. I'll post at least one blog each day from October 23-30. Be sure to hit "refresh" or "reload" on your browser each day to see the new blogs.

1) in addition to daily bread, all people ought to have access to healthy food
2) communion meals that offer crumbs to a hungry world, lack the nourishment of the original Eucharist meal
3) communion wafers are not food
4) food allergies were knit into us by God in our mother's womb. Failing to provide safe alternatives for those with wheat or grape allergies does harm to the body and soul.
4) communion that only has alcoholic wine, ignores the sin of addiction - a disease that the church has not found ways to adequately live with, create boundaries around and speak openly and honestly about
5) Matthew 25 tells us that when we see someone naked, we should clothe them. when we see someone hungry, we feed them, etc. This does not require a committee.
6) the same crisis that plagues our countries housing and mortgages, also plagues our churches - the number of churches whose life or death relies on their ability to afford their building or who are living solely of the income of their building is astounding.
7) all people deserve pastors, even people who cannot afford a church building, a home or to attend Synod or Churchwide Assemblies
8) if we live long enough we will all become disabled
9) as long as the poor cannot afford dental care (or the only dental care available only pulls teeth) and we shop at stores where only people with a full set of teeth work - we will always have an unemployable class of citizens in the US
10) Luther's last words were: "we are all beggars." Yet, begging is not allowed at ELCA gatherings (unless coming from videos or approved messages at a microphone)
11) if we were able to create 4 community gardens on unused church space, for free and grow more than 2,400 pounds of food in less than 8 months with all the unused lawn space around churches across the country, we could end hunger.
12) those who say it's better to show up and volunteer, than to write a check have never tried to raise money to fight poverty (p.s. you can send checks to Welcome, 1751 Sacramento St, San Francisco 94109 or donate online at
13) socks (white ones with gray athletic toes and heals) are probably the only thing a person wouldn't sell to get something else
14) it is unjust that prison and war are often seen as better than living in poverty - and yet both lead to homelessness and unemployment
15) When Jesus' mom asks: "what's wrong with you? were you born in a barn?" Jesus answers: "yes." Perhaps that's why some of his most ardent followers are smelly, don't follow social convention and thus the church ought to have an open door policy.
16) if someone you loved knit you a scarf, you'd take care of it right? then how much more ought we take care of all the ones God knit in their mother's womb?
17) consider the lilies...
18) the greek word for dove is the same word as pigeon. If we imagined the Holy Spirit to be a pigeon (and overwhelmingly everywhere), would we still think justice had to wait for heaven?
19) education should be free for all - and teachers given a higher status in society.
20) the only solution to homelessness is housing.
21) are those with more money and power able to sin the most boldly and proclaim their beliefs more bolder still?
22) how much money and power do you have to have before you can be seen as enlightened for experiencing the same things that get others put in a mental hospital?
23) I wish Jesus would not have said: "the poor you will have with you always." What was that about? If only had had talking-points!
24) the practice of gleaning is now called stealing
25) more grain rots than is needed to feed all the hungry people in the world - in part because the US cannot figure out how to export it without it rotting at sea or get other countries to accept genetically altered crops.
26) The meek may inherit the earth, but those living in poverty need someone with a voice to not only call for justice, but to make it reign.
27) When we convince ourselves and others that the little that we can do to help end hunger or poverty is enough because it is the best we can do, we are lying to ourselves... at least I am.
28) No matter how much money you make, there is still no way you can pay enough to experience how much better food tastes when you grow it yourself - unless you actually grow it yourself.
29) only when we stop believing that those living in poverty or in homelessness must "earn" food, shelter or compassion, will we (as a society) fulfill our ability to feed, shelter and have compassion for all.
30) Just because we have no fair formula of making reparations (I'm not even talking monetarily) to the native Americans, former slaves, abused individuals, interned Japanese, and countless, endless list of others - doesn't mean we shouldn't try, or that we can justify racist economic systems.
31) God moves without seconds and I don't recall God ever giving prophets the opportunity to vote before prophesying.
32) I am so privileged to know when my time of living on the streets will begin and end (Oct. 23-30)
33) 95 theses is a lot, good for you for continuing to read these. I hope you'll add to the comments below to add the theses that I forgot.
34) this week I heard someone wonder why food pantries gave out canned foods but no can openers. how many other ways is the food we try to share unconsumable?
35) Bonhoeffer believed that if we all ate at the same table, there would be no hunger because we would share and wouldn't be able to eat if the others around us were going with out. He's right. But, this generation would have to reverse a lot of its individualistic trends in order to pull of large banquets.
36) are people more likely to eat unhealthy food when it is expensive (and prestigious) or when it is cheap and the only thing many can afford.
37) if you are watering anyway - would you rather the water feed grass or people (through a produce garden). Though we should remember gardens require much less water than lawns.
38) How much effort would you go to for a meal with someone beloved to you who is departed? Then why not go through that much effort when you eat with Jesus (ie when you eat with one of the "least).
39) if you give less money to organizations that feed the homeless during lean times, they will have less money when they have more work to do than normal. What if you're boss paid you that way?
40) why do we assume something is wrong with people who don't want to follow our rules. Are we more interested in protecting people or rules?
41) How much food do you throw away each week because it spoils in the fridge, it's inconvenient to carry/save or simply because you can.
42) If you are someone seeking to hear the voice of God. Know that if you succeed, you could be diagnosed as mentally ill.
43) What if people were paid based for the wear and tear on their bodies as a part of their salaries. Not simply the stress of working on the job, but when we know a job causes cancer, breaks backs, kills, or scars shouldn't we compensate people in the same way that people are charged for damage on a rental car?
44) salt is salty, except for when it's not salty. salt. (a joke for those who read biblical greek and wonder what Jesus is talking about in the strange section about salt in the Gospel of Mark).
45) three things are true: death; taxes and it's really hard to find a public restroom if you look poor in San Francisco.
46) poverty is a state of mind.
47) I'm thinking about Sojourn Truth. She was so moving a preacher that no one believed she was female. Reports are that she flashed her breasts to disprove the charge. The surprise that women can be powerful justice advocates, is silly. After all an overwhelming number of the participants in all the Great Awakenings were always women.
48) There is also of course the famous Timothy text encouraging young folk to speak out. We often say that the youth are ahead of their time. Why don't we instead say that older folk are behind the times. I say the answer is somewhere in the middle. Young folk need the wisdom of those who have lived through the latest trends and older folk need younger folk to uncomfortable and unretire them.
49) voting can never resolve -ism's (racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, classism, etc), yet not voting entrenches -ism's.
50) If law is on the side of business, and helping the poor is not profitable, how can we ever expect the law to be on the side of helping the poor if we do not seek to change the laws?
51) we ought to pray for what we have done and left undone around issues of poverty.
52) why are we so much better at responding to global poverty as a country than homelessness and hungry within the US?
53) why do the excuses about not being able to help the homeless and hungry always start with sentences about the safety of children? Particularly, since 1 in 4 children go hungry in the US each day. In your childhood think of the number of times you were hurt by a random stranger. Now, how many times were you hurt by family and friends? The overwhelming majority of crimes come from the 2nd group.
54) If you had infinite amounts of money what would you buy? Would you buy for yourself first or those with the "least"? How much would you give away?
55) rain, rain go away. Don't come back until after my street retreat is over!
56) If we demanded universal access to mental health care - care that was holistic and not only based on psychology, one of the biggest barriers between the homeless and finding a true home would be lifted.
57) If it was true that people would not work if everyone was given equal pay, why is it so hard for retired people to stop working?

58) A man knocked on the door of Old First Presbyterian Church, after being turned away from 7 other churches. The secretary listened and learned he wanted to do work at the church in exchange for a place to live. Some of the wealthiest members of the congregation let him live with them while he died of AIDS. Turns out he invented the style of painting with stencils above and painted on church ceilings all over Italy. The painting is now the symbol of the church. How many churches have lost what could possibly redefine them, by not listening to the stranger at the front door?
59) Read Bernie Glassman's Bearing Witness. It guides the street retreats that I go on with the Faithful Fools.
60) Last time I was on a rainy street retreat, I heard a man in the Glide food line say: "forty days and forty nights of rain, I can barely stand three."
61) When we pray for daily bread, who do we think will actually provide the bread. Not just on a spiritual level, but on a physical level?
62) In California bottles and cans are guaranteed to be worth actual cents. Despite paying a fee when buying drinks, most people throw the cans away or recycle them from their home rather than redeeming the money back that they paid for the can or bottle. This means people are literally throwing away money. When others without money try to take the money out of the recycling bins, they can be charged with stealing. So, we literally live in a society where people have a legally protected right to throw away their money and those without money are asked to watch others throw away money and do nothing to improve their lives. Makes no cents to me.
63) How much does it cost to attend your church? Think about: the type of clothes you must wear; how much you have to put in the offering to not have people look at you; the cost of remembering someone through the flowers; the kind of job required for a position on the council; the cost of going on the yearly retreat or on a youth trip; etc.
64) How often do you pray for the homeless away from church?
65) Would you be able to ask for help before it's too late? Many of the homeless (particularly the seniors) I work with cannot avoid time living on the streets. Often times there are options that they can access to avoid life on the streets (I'm talking about preventing homelessness), but by the time the individual comes to me it's too late to do anything because they waited too long to ask for help.
66) Would you rather sleep on the streets or in a shelter? On the streets you're vulnerable to the elements and to hooligans. In the shelter you live with people with mental illness and trauma and always feel confused by staff who frequently change the rules and yell at you.
67) How much would you spend to prevent a family member from becoming homeless? Do they know that? Would they ever ask you for help?
68) At most churches I go to I hear the stories of people who have children with severe mental illness or drug addiction who have or are currently experiencing homeless. There are also a good number of people who have been homeless for a time when they lived in a car, on the streets or on someone else's couch. If you don't know anyone at your church with these experience, I wonder why your church is not the kind of place people feel comfortable sharing these parts of their lives.
69) There is no "right" thing to do when someone begs you for money. Do what you think is best, then hope for a day when you can do more.
70) The disciples had to take nothing with them and stay in the homes of the first house they saw. Would you have let them stay with you if they knocked on your door?
70) The amount of money it costs for one night in a medium priced hotel could be used to feed 300 people. Consider a staycation - where you vacation in your own home or at friends/relatives house and donate the money you would have spent on the hotel to a homeless/hungry program.
71) If you do stay in hotels, collect the toiletries that come each day and donate them to homeless programs. They are the perfect size for the for the homeless and organizations are always running out.
72) One of the most exhausting parts of my street retreats is the back pain.
73) The Canticle of the Turning (a fantastic hymn) has a line that makes me cry every time: the hungry power will weep no more for the food they can never earn. There are tables spread, every mouth is fed, for the world is about to turn."
74) Mark 6:23 - "You Feed Them" This commandment from Jesus comes before questions about resources. And even then, the commandment remains along with the expectation that people will be fed.
75) In the greek, the word "minister to" and "feed" is the same, at least for modern translators who translate the word "koinonia." Typically this is part of sexist translating as the same used talking about men is translated "minsters" and when talking about women is translated "feeds." If we get rid of the sexism we have a great example of how evangelism and ministry require us and always have something to do with physically feeding people.
76) There are 3 times in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus miraculously feeds people. The number of people fed gets lower each time (from 5,000 to 4,000 to just the disciples in the boat), yet even with less to do the disciples think feeding people is impossible. Perhaps this problem still exists in some churches today.
77) Money doesn't grow on trees, but food does.
78) In San Francisco it is against the law to sleep in your car, but not to sleep on the sidewalk in front of your car.
79) It is my experience that when I finally have the courage to ask for the help that I need that people typically thank me fore asking for help and then do the best they can to help me. Yet, my perception is that if I ask for help it is a burden on others. I wonder where I learned that?
80) Poverty is as poverty does.
81) FDR said that we should seek not for an end to wars, but to an end of the beginning of wars. I wish we could do the same for homelessness.
82) In the Jewish tradition, individuals get mitzvah's or blessings for doing good deeds (among other things). However, the idea is not that you do a mitzvah for the sake of others. Rather, that it is a gift to the one doing the deed to do it.
83) Current political ads talk about "entitlements" and budget slashing like it is a way to balance books and has no effects on real lives. It's hard to believe people would put on tv the fact that they thing elders and the disabled should receive less than minimal funds they get that barely provide for safe housing.
84) If you only had $25 every 2 weeks, as those on General Assistance in San Francisco do, what would you eat? Consider that you may need to buy things other than food (like tampons, ladies?).
85) What would Jesus buy?
86) Many homeless people have foot problems because they leave their shoes and socks on 24/hrs a day - to prevent them from getting stolen.
87) The best book of the Bible to ready when you are angry at God for all the injustice in the world, is Isaiah.
88) Then, you should read Job to be reminded that God is God, and we are not.
89) More than any other group, Jesus says that the prostitutes will go to heaven before us.
90) I like the parable of the lost coin as a metaphor for God's care and salvation. I also like it because it is God who did the losing, not anything we did. A coin cannot lose itself. The message is that even if it was true that God outcast someone, that God is one who changes and grows (like us I hope) and will search and search for God's precious lost ones.
91) If you still are uninterested in helping the homeless or those in poverty, I wonder what it would take. What if I said: pretty please?
92) Neither death nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, can ever separate us from the love of God ... and yet we let so many tiny things separate us from our neighbor.
93) Yes, I know that sleeping on the streets, particularly in the rain is bad for my health. But more than 4300 other folk will also be sleeping on the streets in San Francisco tonight. And I bet you care more than you ever did before, because you know me (in real life or virtually). I spend most of my time as a pastor affirming people and helping them heal. This week I hope to provoke you into feeling deeply for those you may rarely think about the rest of the year.
94) Food is a human right.
95) It is not possible to leave poverty if you are not allowed your dignity.

Location:Out on the rainy streets of San Francisco

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