Wednesday, January 17, 2016
Poetry From Prison: From Jail to Yale
Wednesday, January 17, 2016
Poetry From Prison: From Jail to Yale
Saturday, September 5, 2015
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy
I came across this interview with Bryan Stevenson by Charlie Rose by accident last evening, and this man is my new hero… what a beautiful, humble human being. It is riveting television, and I think he has it exactly right about race in America. I hope you’ll take the time to watch it.
If you have trouble with the link, go to http://www.hulu.com, search “Bryan Stevenson + Charlie Rose” and click on the first video.
Bryan Stevenson’s book is called Just Mercy.
Friday, August 7, 2015
Building an Oasis in a Philadelphia Food Desert
This story is so inspiring! We’ve become familiar with the extreme difficulty that people living in poverty face in accessing fresh produce and healthy food, and also with the barriers faced by those who have formerly been incarcerated in securing employment after release. Here is a wonderful man — a grocer — who is solving both these problems in an exceptional way.
Saturday, May 23, 2015
Servant? Leader? Both.
“Ministry is… a mutual experience… [Jesus] wants Peter to feed his sheep and care for them, not as ‘professionals’ who know their clients’ problems and take care of them, but as vulnerable brothers and sisters who know and are known, who care and are cared for, who forgive and are being forgiven, who love and are being loved.
Somehow we have come to believe that good leadership requires a safe distance from those we are called to lead… Someone serves, someone else is being served, and be sure not to mix up the roles! But how can we lay down our life for those with whom we are not even allowed to enter into a deep personal relationship!
We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.
Therefore, true ministry must be mutual. When the members of a community of faith cannot truly know and love their shepherd, shepherding quickly becomes a subtle way of exercising power over others and begins to show authoritarian and dictatorial traits. The world in which we live — a world of efficiency and control — has no models to offer to those who want to be shepherds in the way Jesus was a shepherd. Even the so-called ‘helping professions’ have been so thoroughly secularized that mutuality can only be seen as a weakness and a dangerous form of role confusion. The leadership about which Jesus speaks is of a radically different kind from the leadership offered by the world. It is a servant leadership — to use Robert Greenleaf’s* term — in which the leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as they need their leader.”
~~ Henri J.M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus, Reflections on Christian Leadership
*Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Lent: I’m Not Much, But I’m All I Think About
This evening I sat in the beautiful Church of the Incarnation and listened to a wise, direct, and very profound sermon by our rector, Bishop Anthony Burton, on preparing for Lent.
In speaking of the temptations that Christ experienced during his forty days in the wilderness — which we symbolically replicate through our observance and celebration of the Lenten season — Bishop Burton clarified them in a way I hadn’t previously understood: Christ, he said, was tempted to become the star of his own show — the centerpiece of his own movie. He refused.
As I sat through the service, surrounded by the majesty of a church I’ve loved for decades, I observed how often my thoughts are centered upon myself. Briefly, I can be fully present within the momentous mystery and magic of what is going on around me, but quickly and automatically, I am back to… assessing myself, critiquing myself, speculating about myself… which then turns in an equally automatic way to quick and sometimes even scornful and petty judgments of people around me.
To quote a friend who has spent decades successfully working twelve-step programs, “I’m not much, but I’m all I think about.”
Referring to the unremitting humility of Jesus and of His unwillingness to become a person of consequence and importance — or, perhaps in today’s parlance, one could say His unwillingness to become “relevant”, the bishop said, “I want that.”
So do I.
Church of the Incarnation incarnation.org
Thursday, January 29, 2015
Bored & Brilliant
Those who know me even a little know I’m a fan of unplugging from technology — mild understate. I’ve gone so far as to ban electronics for a week on family beach vacations… if I felt I could get by with it. Slightly autocratic I admit, but the results in calmer grandchildren who let their creativity shine amidst this “boredom” and wonderful conversations between adults — not to mention just gazing out at the scenery as opposed to down at the electronic device — was impressive. Of course, this does not mean that one can’t be creative with and through technology. Still… Needless to say, I was interested to hear this interview on the BBC World Service.
Slight conundrum: participating in this project of unplugging from technology requires an “App”! (It’s only in the last couple of years that I figured out what that word even means.) And this project comes through a website called “New Tech City.” But even a luddite was impressed with and intrigued by this interview. Also, yes, I am aware that, once again, I am putting this “out there” on a computer through WIFI.
Wednesday, February 13, 2012
I’ve just been invited by my daughter, her family, and a wonderful friend who is a nurse serving the homeless community in Boston to attend services at Common Cathedral one Sunday in the next few weeks. Can’t wait!
Sunday, December 16, 2012
While cleaning off a bookshelf today, I found a bookmark with this printed on it in one of my mother’s old prayer books. Not so easy to do, but worth trying for… KS
Prayer for Peace
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
“Where there is no vision the people perish”
In talking with more and more youth there seems to be a lack of vision for their generation. Many are meandering through life without purpose or goals. With this mindset it should come as no suprise that many find themselves in bondage to drugs, alcohol, cutting and abusive relationships. In other words they are perishing. And adults are no better in that they suffer from the same emptiness. No vision. Thats where the church stands in and and cast the vision of God before His people in order that they may get a vision for themselves, their marriage, their family, etc. If we want to stop the perishing in our communities then we the church must begin to cast the vision of God but before we can do that we must first have a vision of God ourselves.
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Journal Archives: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Cookie-Free Zone. Or Maybe I’m a Luddite?
I’m staying in a New England coastal town. It’s the off season, which I like — no crowds, little traffic, but there’s the company of friendly locals so that one doesn’t feel isolated. The weather is beautiful: sometimes sunny and mild — and sometimes chilly, blustery and raining.
Today I’ve returned to the spot where I come every day, and many other people seem to feel about this particular place the way I do. The few tourists that are here at this time of year, as well as ‘year-rounders’ — retired residents out for a stroll, workmen at lunch or on their way home at the end of the day, teenagers out of school for spring break — every few minutes people pull into the car park where I’m sitting overlooking the sand bars stretching out into the Atlantic Ocean beyond us.
Some, mostly tourists like myself, take pictures. A few people descend the stairs to the beach to walk their dogs, search for shells, fly kites, play catch or just amble. Others sit in their cars or stand on this bank above the beach and gaze at sand interspersed with sea that expresses itself in some inexplicable combination of ease and power.
A few point at the beach and ocean, turning to their companions and discussing… what? Whether that is a gray seal or just a log way out on the sand bar this early in the year? (Seals!) Anticipating the unusual appearance of the Great White Sharks that have come in recent years to hunt the seals and wondering if they’ll appear this season — is there a chance that’s a fin way out in the water?
Earlier in the week, I spoke with a man who comes here weekly from a nearby town simply to see how the shape of the sand bars has changed.
A minute ago, a middle-aged man came up from the beach. It’s cold today, but he was barefoot! Well dressed, balding, tidy jeans rolled up. I said to him, “Like your shoes!” He laughed and gave me a ‘thumbs-up’.
There are dunes to the right of here, then, beyond, more ocean. Far down the coast are shoals — nicknamed ‘Turner’s Terror’ — which caused the Mayflower to turn back in 1620 while it was attempting to reach the Hudson River to set up a settlement in the New World. These shoals are the primary reason that New England was started first at Provincetown on Cape Cod, and ultimately at Plymouth [Plimouth] rather than on what is now Long Island, New York.
During a hurricane a few years ago, this was one of the places which was charted to be ground zero. I remember seeing a television reporter standing on this very beach, being almost blown away by the near gale-force winds, trying to anticipate with some accuracy what was to come within the hour. Fortunately, the hurricane moved off its expected course and spared what lies in front of me now.
It is mesmerizing, calming, yet moving to be here. It is peace. Along the coast, and particularly in this spot, are the only places I’ve been in a long time where people just come, sit, look and think. There is no intermediary here between oneself and the natural world — — no one interpreting, screening, collecting your ‘cookies’ in order to send you Google ads that fit your profile.
One almost never sees people here driving around speaking into their cell phones, nor do people in restaurants talk on their mobiles or text. Instead, they talk to each other animatedly over dinner or while sitting in a pub over a pint. I don’t know why it’s that way, but I like it.
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Today I was driving to lunch with one of my daughters when we saw an elderly man walking along a road in East Dallas carrying a plastic trash bag full of what I assumed were his possessions. He looked very much in need of a good meal, so we turned the car around and went back to find him, pulling over at a cross street as he came to the corner.
“Hi,” I said, “Do you need some money?” My daughter looked at me quizzically and asked quietly, “Would anyone ever say ‘no’ to that question?” But in fact, street people often do refuse help if they don’t need it, and the question genuinely reflected the information I was seeking. “Yes, I do,” he replied, “I could use some food.”
My daughter opened my billfold and handed me some cash. The man certainly wasn’t begging near an ATM or gas station — in fact he wasn’t begging period — so no panhandling laws were being broken, not that it would concern me much if they were.
“I’m Karen,” I said, “What’s your name?” It was a simple name, the same as that of a famous R&B singer. “So how’s it going?” I asked him as I handed him the money, leaning out my car window.
“Well, I recently got hit by a car, and it smashed my hip. I was in the hospital, right next to a woman who had been burned over 50% of her body. Here she was, in such bad shape, but she was happy! She was going through so much [he described her injuries], and I had only my hip to worry about, but I was so sad about my condition. Yet here she was, like I said, happy. I just couldn’t get over it.”
Now this man, mind you, was quite thin and weathered and appeared to have very little in the way of possessions. His eyes were cloudy from what I’m guessing were cataracts. His walking was slow and labored.
He continued. “So, seeing the way she was, [in such bad shape], but happy, I made up my mind. I said to myself, ‘My hip is well — it’s not going to bother me any more.’ And I left the hospital.”
And he, in turn, was happy, inspired by the lady in the next bed. He had decided that it was so.
People are just remarkable, aren’t they?
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
A little over a decade ago, I had the serendipitous good luck to find myself staying in a small village in France called Ermenonville after a wedding I attended in a nearby town. At the time, I had no idea that the [very inexpensive but lovely] chateau hotel where I was lodging was the location where Jean Jacques Rousseau had, in 1778, spent the last months of his life.
I fell in love with the village, with the castle itself, and with Parc Jean Jacques Rousseau across the street from the chateau, where I went hiking many times. On my hikes, I carried along a journal and a sketch pad, and stopped to write and to draw various sites in the parc. I still can’t believe my good luck in spending a week in those lovely surroundings.
The odd thing is, on one of my hikes in the park, I was grappling with the question of my own at-times-competing needs for solitude and company, and I was able so resolve some of these vexing questions while in that extraordinary natural setting.
I had read Rousseau in school but remembered little about his writing, so when I came home I purchased a book or two of his, one of which is Reveries of the Solitary Walker. Here is an interesting quote from the chapter entitled ‘Third Walk’ on the subject of solitude, a subject with which Rousseau grappled as well.
“It is from this time that I can date my total renunciation of the world and the great love of solitude which has never left me. The task I had set myself could only be performed in absolute isolation; it called for long and tranquil meditations which are impossible in the bustle of society life. So I was obliged to adopt for a time another way of life, which I subsequently found so much to my taste that since then I have only interrupted it for brief periods and against my will, returning to it most gladly and following it without effort as soon as I was able; and when men later reduced me to a life of solitude, I found that in isolating me to make me miserable, they had done more for my happiness than I had been able to do myself.”
~~ Jean Jacques Rousseau, Reveries of a Solitary Walker, “Third Walk”
Parc Jean Jacques Rousseau
Thursday, April 19, 2012
Lessons Learned in a Rowboat
[Rowing With My Grandchildren]
c Karen Shafer, 4/2012
1) It’s important to work as a team.
2) Every crew member has something special to give to the effort.
3) If you don’t appreciate the way someone is rowing, try, just for a minute, to row along with them.
4) Never underestimate the power of the Young.
5) Sometimes there’s chop, and sometimes there’s smooth.
6) If you’re drifting off course, correct your direction as soon as possible.
7) At some moments, even on a good day of rowing, things can feel a little dicey.
8) If you have a choice of when to row against the current, do it when you feel fresh.
9) It’s really nice sometimes just to drift.
10) Each time of day has its own kind of rhythm and beauty.
11) The appearance of the boat doesn’t determine how ‘yare’ it is.
12) Never underestimate the power of the Old.
13) Rowing with a lot of effort increases your level of endorphins; so does just sitting in your boat on the lake and feeling the peace.
14) Just because brush obscures the shoreline doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
This Pretty Planet
[A Song Louis and Anna Learned at School for Earth Day]
This pretty planet,
Spinning through space —
Your garden, your harbor,
Your holy place.
Golden sun going down,
Gentle blue giant,
Spin us around
All through the night,
Safe till the morning light.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
To Tech or Not To Tech? There’s a Different Answer for Everyone
Friends sometimes ask me, ‘Why aren’t you on Facebook??? How do you keep up?’ I realize we are coming from different perspectives and that it may be hard to explain.
I want less internet, not more. I see the online world as an invaluable tool but also as a kind of necessary evil. It seems to me that it can be addicting, yet that it is somehow inherently unrewarding. Maybe I’m looking for some sort of response there that I never get. Could the response I’m missing be the three-dimentional experience, either from human beings or from the natural world? (Or, if you’re a particle physics fan who’s interested in String Theory, that would be more dimensions than three!)
Another way of saying it: ‘I want to smell the actual-not-the-virtual flowers and to pull the three-dimensional weeds.’
I want to sit and stare. At the trees, the sky, the birds and butterflies (and at this time of year, the shower of pollen!) Not at a computer screen or a handheld device. It’s taken me so long to start to learn to ‘be here now.’ I hate to voluntarily give it up any more than is absolutely necessary. My ‘lights’ will flicker and dim soon enough.
As a news junkie, I prefer to get my info from the BBC World Service on radio, the television evening news, and PBS Newshour. As it is, I think often enough of, for example, of what’s going on in Syria, that I have a friend who lives in Damascus — and that I have no way to know if he and his family are OK. I don’t really want my newsfeed to be more frequent than that it already is.
It may seem disingenuous to say this, given that this blog is on the internet. The worldwide web has it’s uses, without a doubt. An extremely positive one is spreading the word about certain crises in the world that need our attention and care. I just somehow feel that sharing and caring about what time of day a celebrity ate a piece of pizza is definitely TMI.
I even think that it’s probably harmful to the human brain to experience the world increasingly through ‘screens’. I recently learned of a study which found that electronic devices are addicting to the brains of children. But am I a retro freak who’s behind the times and way out of touch?
Along comes an interview with writer Paul Theroux to save my reputation (the word ‘reputation’ is hyperbolic in relation to myself, but please indulge me)!
The Atlantic Monthly: What does the advent of the e-reader mean for reading — for the health of narrative storytelling as a form, for the market for fiction, for the future of books? E-readers certainly make it easier to tote lots of novels and other texts while traveling. But don’t we lose something — in sustained concentration, or in a sense of permanence, or in the notion of a book as an art object — in the migration away from the codex?
Paul Theroux: Movable type seemed magical to the monks who were illuminating manuscripts and copying texts. Certainly e-books seem magical to me. I started my writing life in the 1940’s as an elementary student at the Washington School in Medford, Massachusetts, using a steel-nibbed pen and an inkwell, so I have lived through every technology. I don’t think people will read more fiction than they have in the past (as I say, it’s a minority interest), but something certainly is lost — the physicality of a book, how one makes a book one’s own by reading it (scribbling in it, dog-earing pages, spilling coffee on it) and living with it as an object, sometimes a talisman. Writing is one of the plastic arts, which is why I still write in longhand for a first draft. I can’t predict how reading habits will change. But I will say that the greatest loss is the paper archive — no more a great stack of manuscripts, letters, and notebooks from a writer’s life, but only a tiny pile of disks, little plastic cookies where once were calligraphic marvels.
TA: Does the migration to e-readers increase access to good stories or diminish it?
PT: Greatly increases access. I could not be more approving. But free libraries are full of books that no one reads.
TA: What has the Twitter-ization of our attention spans, and the hyperlinking of our storytelling, and the Google-ization of all our knowledge meant for imaginative literature as an art form and a vehicle for transmitting ideas?
PT: In a hyperactive world, the writing of fiction — and perhaps the reading of it — must seem slow, dull, even pedestrian and oldfangled. I think there is only one way to write fiction — alone, in a room, without interruption or any distraction. Have I just described the average younger person’s room? I don’t think so. But the average younger person is multitasking. The rare, unusual, solitary younger person is writing a poem or story.
Crawling into bed and picking up my hard-bound copy of Henry James’ The Golden Bowl is the most peaceful and satisfying part of my day. I feel like he’s my ‘friend,’ even though neither of us has a Facebook page, or, if he does, I’m pretty certain he’s not the one who put it up!
Saturday, January 28, 2011
Racism, Our Familiar Companion
Last Sunday, I was sitting on the patio of a Dallas cafe having lunch with my nine-year-old granddaughter and one of her friends. The friend had gone to climb on some nearby play equipment, and my granddaughter leaned over and whispered to me, “Grandma, do you know the ‘n-word’?” “Yes, I know it,” I replied, wondering where this was going — this granddaughter is mixed race, partially of African-American descent.
“A boy at school came up behind me this week and said, ‘Hey, N – – – – -, get out of the way.'” I didn’t try to hide my astonishment. “What????? I am really shocked to hear that,” I told her. I asked for more details: whether she’d told the teacher and how things proceeded from there. “Yes, I told the teacher, and she made him come all the way across the room and apologize.” “How did you feel about all of this?” “Well, it really hurt my feelings.” “I can well imagine.”
We began to discuss the ‘n-word’ itself. She was obviously well aware of the ‘not-OK-ness’ of people calling someone of a different race the word, but I said, “You know, in the rap community, people sometimes use that word towards each other, and they feel that’s OK.” “Yes, I know.” It seemed clear that the distinctions between the differing usages were evident to her from our discussion that followed.
I didn’t want, at that point, to know the race of the name-calling child — let’s call him Howie, and I specifically refrained from asking, not wanting to add to the ‘divide’, nor to begin stereotyping the child in my own mind. I just wanted to process the transaction, which over the next many hours and days I inevitably have done.
When I picked up my granddaughter at school on Monday, she said, “I was partners with Howie in class today.” “Really,” I asked, “And how did that go?” “Fine, he has trouble reading and can only read little words, like ‘it’. He’s in a special group.” “Well,” I said, “that must be hard for him.” “Yes, but he’s the one who called me the N-word!” “Oh, yes, I remember. So how did your work together turn out?” “Well, at the end, we were supposed to shake hands, but he would only shake with his elbow.” I guessed at what that action represented in his mind, but to her I said, “Hmm, why do you think he did that?” “I have no idea,” she replied.
I have stewed about this day after day. The incident presents itself to me in the odd hours — quiet times, the middle of the night. I admit it took me very much by surprise. I raised a biracial daughter who is now thirty years old, and, to my knowledge, this racial epithet throwing didn’t happen to her. It is not that I’m naive enough to believe that people don’t think in these terms. Perhaps any of my daughter’s school fellows who had these thoughts were just too well-mannered to express them.
The anguish of knowing that someone you love as much as I love this grandchild has to put up with this kind of garbage gets me right in the solar plexus. I have processed it layer by layer as the days have passed, and I still am — and I’m sure will continue to do so. It’s so troubling that it took me days to discuss it with friends or family. But after a lot of reflection, I’ve at least been able to find some positives.
1) My granddaughter seems to be handling it well. I’m not sure about the teacher’s motive in having her and Howie work together, and I want to find out. But my granddaughter seems to understand that it’s about his belief system and not about her value as a human being.
2) The reality that thirty, forty, fifty years ago or more (and probably in some places today), a white person (and this boy is white, it turns out) could put violence behind their words towards a person of color with impunity, and that today the justice system and the public consciousness has begun to come to terms with these issues successfully — that they produce outrage and legal repercussions — shows that, although racism is alive and in many ways has only changed it’s form, a lot of progress has been made.
3) What kind of words is this child hearing about race at home? I can’t be sure, of course, but guessing at the possibilities, I feel frightened and extremely sad.
4) Such an experience could prepare one for the world as it is, if handled properly.
5) This is my predominant thought: what kind of courage did it take for those African American parents in the deep south during desegregation to send their precious children off to a white school? How must it have felt for them, not to mention their children, to meet not only the jeering and vitriolic hatred of white parents and fellow students, but to face angry, self-righteous politicians, armed local lawmen and attack dogs with the same kind of hatred in their hearts and on their faces — and wearing as well the absolute certainty that their bigotry put them in the right?
It seems that bigotry and racial hatred aren’t going anywhere. All one has to do is listen to national and international news become aware of that. But at least, if the light is made to shine on them, if they aren’t allowed to fester in hidden places and are called out and held to account, that is not just something — it is a very great deal.
Monday, January 9, 2012
Coercion or Cooperation?
Pine Street Inn in Boston, Massachusetts, New England’s largest resource for homeless men and women, sends Outreach vans onto the city’s streets 365 nights per year — in the cold, snow and rain — offering homeless men and women help in the form of warm blankets, hot meals, clean clothes and transportation to shelter. The journal below allows us to follow a van on one night’s journey and details some of the experiences of the shelter’s outreach volunteers.
Imagine just for a moment that you are one of the homeless women or men described in the article. As you read, ask yourself whether you would respond better to the approach used by Pine Street — one of respect and trust building — or to the methods used by many other cities, which often includes this choice: “Do you want to go to a shelter or go to jail?” KS
Every night, Pine Street Inn’s Outreach vans head out, loaded with warm blankets, hot meals and clean clothes, offering rides to shelter. Through the cold and snow, the Outreach teams crisscross the city from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., serving people in need.
Here are just a few of the situations that Outreach counselors Nelson, Vincent and Maggie encounter during one night on the vans.
10:05 p.m., Financial District
Outreach counselors find two homeless women in their 60s, Susan and Annie, huddled together in an alley. Susan was assaulted the previous night, and Annie is determined to stay by her side “to protect her.” Maggie offers the women hot soup and a sandwich. She listens as they tell their story, but senses that it will take time to build their trust before they will accept a ride to the shelter. Reluctantly, the Outreach team moves on, but they will check on Susan and Annie again tomorrow.
1:30 a.m., Washington Crossing
Outside a coffee shop, the Outreach team finds Donald, whom they have encouraged to go to shelter before. Tonight, he accepts a ride to Pine Street. On the way, Donald tells the counselors that he has been sick. By the time the van arrives at Pine Street, Vincent has arranged for Donald to see a doctor the next morning.
3:45 a.m., Boston Common
It’s cold and raining when Nelson spots a light coming from under a bridge. There, Nelson finds James, who is trying to stay dry. Nelson has known James for three months and is slowly trying to build his trust and convince him to spend the night at Pine Street. James has not been ready in the past, but tonight when Nelson asks if he’d like a ride to the shelter, James says “yes.”
A warm bed and a hot meal were his first steps on the road to a better life. Today – with the help of Pine Street – James has a full-time job and is living in his own apartment.
5:00 a.m., Pine Street Inn
The outreach vans return to Pine Street and the counselors meet to talk about the individuals they spoke with the night before and prepare for the next night’s journey.
Video link: “Human Dignity is Paramount:
Monday, December 19, 2011
Small Things With Great Love
My son-in-law sent me this story today. What these two people are doing is not small, but the love they express — each in her or his own way — is great indeed. It reminds me, despite the difficulties in the world, that there are people out there quietly doing wonderful things every day. KS
Austrian chef, Catholic nun are spirit behind Trinity Cafe
Monday, December 19, 2011 01:16:00 AM
Dec. 19–TAMPA — Alfred Astl frets a lot.
And with good reason: He’s the chef at Trinity Cafe, a restaurant that serves the homeless and working poor in downtown Tampa. He operates on a razor-thin budget, stretching pennies instead of dollars, in order to feed the growing throng of hungry people who come for a free noontime meal Monday through Friday.
“He always thinks he’s going to run out, which he never does,” confides Sister Maureen Dorr, the 81-year-old Franciscan nun who stopped in to volunteer 10 years ago and never left.
“I tell him not to worry. I happen to know another man who multiplied. He really had a way with loaves and fishes, and so does Alfred.”
That’s how it is with the Austrian chef with the serious demeanor and the fun-spirited Catholic sister who’s a bit of a flirt. They are the yin and yang of Trinity Cafe. He does the nourishing — creating innovative and well-balanced meals from soup to dessert at about $2 a serving. She does the nurturing — walking among the homeless guests to dispense hugs, give counsel and offer prayers.
“Sister Maureen is an angel on earth. And Chef Alfred is a grizzly with the heart of a teddy bear,” says Cindy Davis, program director. “They are the heart and soul of the cafe. To have them working here together is a real blessing for us and every guest who works through the door.”
Neither seeks out attention. But they got it anyway last month.
Sister Maureen was named a local hero by Bank of America, which came with a $5,000 check. Astl, 61, was chosen as a community hero by the Tampa Bay Lightning — an honor that came with a $50,000 award. Both directed their winnings to the cafe’s food account.
Davis says the windfall came at a time when the nonprofit needs it the most.
The cafe’s $455,000 annual budget — which depends on donations and grants — is being challenged by an increase in the number of people it serves. The limit was supposed to be 200 meals a day; that’s jumped to about 230. And looming in the future is a $650,000 project that will allow the cafe to relocate from its current cramped quarters at the Salvation Army to its own permanent building in the V.M. Ybor neighborhood.
When the cafe eventually moves, it will be open seven days a week. And it will keep that same “dining with dignity” tradition, using volunteers from churches and community organizations to serve patrons at tables covered in white cloths and set with silverware.
That’s a touch Astl insists upon.
Before coming to Trinity Cafe, he spent 35 years in the hotel and food industry, honing his skills as a chef in exclusive settings from Aspen to New York. He worked at a Four Seasons, country clubs, high-end inns and corporations. He owned his own continental restaurant in Tampa with wife, Sandy. He worked for the late George Steinbrenner’s Yankee Trader at Bay Harbor Inn. For four years, he served as division chef for five Rusty Pelican restaurants.
But for all the prestige and money that came with his career, Astl got burned out. He missed out on seeing his two sons grow up. Working six or seven days a week, sometimes 18 hours a day, took a toll on his health.
Then he saw the help wanted ad for a chef to work “five days a week, lunch only.” He thought it would be a nice break for a little while. That was 10 years ago.
Obviously, there are differences. He doesn’t deal in ahi tuna or Kobe beef anymore. He haggles with food proprietors on the cost of odd-shaped chicken breasts. $1.34 a pound? I’ll give you 60 cents.
Good quality food is a must, he says, “but I have to get it cheap.” And nothing is wasted. Today’s leftover braised corn is tomorrow’s corn chowder. Every meal starts with salad or soup, a healthy portion of protein, a starch, a vegetable, a dessert and a piece of fruit. That same gourmet style he developed when working in exclusive restaurants is reflected here.
“I approach this the same way I did everything else — I come in and do the best with what I have,” Astl says. “Only I know this is the only meal of the day for these guests.”
While the chef is working his magic in the kitchen, Sister Maureen is making the rounds in the waiting lines and at the tables. Some of the faces are familiar; once a week, she’s at the jail, counseling and ministering to those who ran afoul of the law. She has a special fondness for the men, and often offers herself as a dance partner in the middle of the dining room.
“Stay with God,” she whispers to a bearded man, sitting forlornly against the fence while waiting for the cafe to open. “He won’t abandon you. Don’t give up. He’s here.”
For 40 years, Sister Maureen worked in education as a teacher and administrator. She says this is just another extension of what she has done since entering religious life at age 17.
“St. Francis taught us about living out the gospel and serving the poor,” she says. “But truth is, I don’t minister to them. I minister with them. I firmly believe there are such good people who have had bad opportunities. They show me the way to God as much as I try to show them.”
She acknowledges her advanced age, but quickly dismisses any notion of retirement. “Nuns don’t retire,” she says with a laugh. “We just get recycled. As long as God gives you the health, you keep on moving.”
Yes, Astl and Sister Maureen admit, their personalities are different. He’s all business, quite serious about the balance between pinching pennies and providing a substantive meal. She’s quick to crack jokes and wrap her arms around a lost soul who needs a human’s touch. Both agree that those differences don’t matter. The bond they share — their compassion for the poor — trumps everything.
“She is marvelous,” Astl says with admiration. “Just marvelous how she connects with everyone.”
“And he is a God-centered man,” Sister Maureen says. “Though he doesn’t think he is, I know it’s true.”
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Change — even change for the better — is often approached with apprehension. “In giving up something,” people think, “will I be left with nothing?” It takes courage to renounce the known for the unknown. It is not easy even to renounce a famliar pain for an unknown, and therefore uncertain, happiness. The mind is like a horse that for years has pulled its delivery wagon. The horse grows accustomed to its daily route, and cannot be convinced easily to walk a new one. The mind, too, will not lightly abandon its old habits, even when it knows they cause only misery.
Beneficial changes should be embraced with courage. As long as one’s hope for better things are opposed by fear of their attainment, the mind can never be at peace. Accept change, therefore, as life’s only constant. Our lives are an endless procession of gains and losses, of joys and sorrows, of hopes and disappointments. At one moment we find ourselves threatened by the storms of trials; moments later, a silver lining brightens the gray clouds; then, suddenly, the skies are blue again.
~~ Paramahansa Yogananda, The Wisdom of Yogananda, Volume 5
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Meditation and Anger
To sit [in meditation] is not enough. We have to be at the same time. To be what? To be is to be a something, you cannot be a nothing. To eat, you have to eat something, you cannot just eat nothing. To be aware is to be aware of something. To be angry is to be angry at something. So to be is to be something, and that something is what is going on: in your body, in your mind, in your feelings, and in the world.
While sitting, you sit and you are. You are what? You are breathing. Not only the one who breathes — you are the breathing and the smiling. It is like a television set of one million channels. When you turn the breathing on, you are the breathing. When you turn the irritation on, you are the irritation. You are one with it. Irritation and breathing are not things outside of you. You contemplate them in them, because you are one with them.
If I have a feeling of anger, how would I meditate on that? How would I deal with it, as a Buddhist, or as an intelligent person? I would not look upon anger as something foreign to me that I have to fight, to have surgery in order to remove it. I know the anger is me, and I am anger. Non-duality, not two. I have to deal with my anger with care, with love, with tenderness, with nonviolence. Because anger is me, I have to tend my anger as I would tend a younger brother or sister, with love, with care, because I myself am anger, I am in it, I am it. In Buddhism we do not consider anger, hatred, greed as enemies we have to fight, to destroy, to annihilate. If we annihilate anger, we annihilate ourselves. Dealing with anger in that way would be like transforming yourself into a battlefield, tearing yourself into parts, one part taking the side of Buddha, and one part taking the side of Mara. If you struggle in that way, you do violence to yourself. If you cannot be compassionate to yourself, you will not be able to be compassionate to others. When we get angry, we have to produce awareness: “I am angry. Anger is in me. I am anger.” That is the first thing to do.
In the case of a minor irritation, the recognition of the presence of the irritation, along with a smile and a few breaths will usually be enough to transform the irritation into something more positive, like forgiveness, understanding, and love. Irritation is a destructive energy. We cannot destroy the energy; we can only convert it into a more constructive energy. Forgiveness is a constructive energy. Understanding is a constructive energy. Suppose you are in the desert, and you only have one glass of muddy water. You have to transform the muddy water into clear water to drink, you cannot just throw it away. So you let it settle for a while, and clear water will appear. In the same way, we have to convert anger into some kind of energy that is more constructive, because anger is you. Without anger you have nothing left. That is the work of meditation.
~~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace
Friday, November 26, 2010
Here’s a beautiful letter and appeal from Brian Burton, Executive Director of The Wilkinson Center. It speaks for itself.
Brave people walk through our doors every day. Listen for five minutes to the wide ranging narrative of stories shared by the newly poor, working poor and homeless people, and you will agree.
One of my first awakenings here was walking through the hallways and asking people waiting for food, “How are you today?” Their consistent response surprised me. Despite a life lacking in possessions, safety, security, employment, health or even shelter, I heard them reply to my question over and over, “I’m blessed.”
Often the statement rolls off the tongues of bodies crippled by years of neglect and abuse. Some manage to smile or raise their hand above their head, as though they have discovered a place of solace and hope.
No matter how bad things get for the “I’m blessed” crowd, their attitude transcends circumstances and plucks hope out of thin air. “Tomorrow will be better, things will work out,” they explain to my disbelieving face.
The State of Texas is about to balance much of its galactic deficit on their backs, and yet these “I’m blessed” neighbors will, as they always do, forgive and love the rest of us. Mitigated by faith and our best attempts to “serve” them, they will make their own way with God, step by step, day by day, facing hardship and struggles inconceivable to me.
Indeed, they have discovered a place of solace and hope. It is a place accessible only when all else has been stripped away: a deep overflowing reservoir of faith in God and an implacable belief in a better tomorrow.
This Thanksgiving, given the anxiety that hangs thick in the air we breathe, it behooves us all to tap into that place of faith these neighbors have found so abundantly. In return for guiding us there, the least we could do is to thank them by sharing the resources we have that will make their hopes for a better tomorrow come true.
Thanks for giving,
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You are invited to attend …
Thanksgiving Dinner for the Homeless
We are serving a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, distributing coats & blankets, and joining in worship to celebrate the Savior on Thanksgiving day 11/25 from 1-4pm. The dinner will be at the Temple of Prayer Christian Fellowship which is located one block behind city hall at 1508 Cadiz. We will need help from volunteers to decorate the church banquet hall (on 11/24) and setup before the event opens (8am-12) on 11/25.
At this event, “Table Hosts” will bring their best place-settings and host a family meal with homeless friends. They are our honored guests and we will serve them in style.
We need your help!
We need your help. Please RSVP by clicking the “ATTEND” button below. If you have questions, please send us a message or call 214-444-8796 (extension 2) to tell us how you can help!
Thursday, November 25, 2010 from 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Will you be attending?Attend Event
Monday, September 20, 2010
The Stewpot ‘In House’ Art Sale Is This Saturday!
You are invited to attend The Stewpot “In House” September Art Sale on Saturday, September 25th, 3 pm – 8 pm in the 2nd Floor Gallery at The Stewpot.
This is a unique opportunity to view and purchase our homeless and at-risk friends artistic creations including acrylic paintings, water colors, oil pastels, mixed media works, jewelry, ceramics and more.
Most of the work will be on sale, with a portion of the work priced between 50% and 90% off!
90% of each sale goes to the artist with 10% going to buy more art supplies.
The “In House” September Art Sale will be at The Stewpot, 1822 Young Street, Dallas, TX 75201, across the street from 1st Presbyterian Church Dallas. Free parking provided.
Questions about the Sale or the Art Program? Please contact Stewpot Art Program Director Cynthia Brannum, email@example.com, 214-746-2785, ext. 235.
Director of Volunteer Services
The Stewpot & Second Chance Cafe
– a community ministries program of 1st Presbyterians Church Dallas
214-746-2785, ext. 320
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Conversations In Brief
I have a friend who is unhoused, and I fear he always will be. He’s been given a ‘diagnosis’ — a label for a mental disorder — but he doesn’t necessarily know this, or prefers not to acknowledge it. To get housing, he’d have to sign away his sanity in order to qualify for disability payments, and this is something he’s either unable or unwilling to do.
When I read comments on blogs about ‘the homeless,’ and hear them described bitterly — ‘bums, no-goods, get-a-job’ — I think how my friend would be someone the commenters would be referring to if they just saw him on the sidewalk. Except he worked all his life. He also attended two elite universities, excelling in physics and chemistry, and served in the military. But somewhere along the line his mother died, and things in his mind and emotions began to unravel. His last job, which he did faithfully, was drinks manager at a drive-in restaurant.
The fog deepened. Before long, he was on the street.
I think about him often, worry about him, too. When the homeless-haters talk about the drunks and addicts on the street, I think of how my friend is clean and sober. When they talk about the thugs that are the homeless, I recall his gentleness and nonviolence.
I brought him a new coat during the cold winter weather last year, and as he was transferring his belongings from his filthy torn jacket to the new one, I saw that he had one possession — a tattered pocket-sized New Testament.
How does he survive out there in the hellish land of street life? It’s hard to imagine and painful to ponder. I question him about it, but his answers, as always, reveal little. They, and he, are enigmatic to a point. I asked him recently if he felt safe. ”Not really,” he said. Not too long ago, he had a bad wound on his forearm, and I wanted to know what happened. ”I don’t remember,” he replied. But I can’t push for more. He can’t tolerate a lot of conversation. This summer I asked, “How are you in this heat?” ”Hot,” he said. Last winter I wanted to know, “How were you during the snow last week?” ”Well, cold,” was his reply — two words rather than one! That’s an improvement. I’ve known him about four years, and it’s taken our conversation that long to progress to this level.
Today I sat beside him in a meeting where our county’s public hospital was being discussed. ”Do you use Parkland Hospital?” I leaned over and whispered to him. He must not have heard me right, because he turned and looked me full in the eye [he usually communicates only sideways and in murmurs] and replied, emphatically and perhaps a little testily, “PARKLAND. MEMORIAL. HOSPITAL.” He apparently thought that either it was a vacuous question or that I was hard of hearing. I didn’t give up, though: ”I know, but do you use it?” (One has to hold one’s own.) He went into a brief and mumbled explanation — something to do with ‘phases’ — but the words trailed off and I couldn’t hear them.
His fingernails today were long but very clean (a first), but his t-shirt was quite grubby. I’d luckily brought along a new t-shirt for him from Target in a dark gray, because it will probably need to go at least a month without washing.
“Where do you eat?” I asked him recently. ”Nowhere.” ”Well, how do you get by?” ”Oh, Pepsodent helps.” [Three words!] I burst out laughing, and he did, too. Eating toothpaste? A little street and gallows humor. So once in a while I bring along a sack of fruit cups and those little tins of tuna salad with crackers. Today I had some fresh organic bananas, which he pulled out and ate on the spot. One day, I stuck in a couple of croissants. ”Oh, croissants!” he said, delighted. Two words again.
I feel very powerless about my friend sometimes, because I am powerless. I often fall back into the old trap of wanting to ‘fix it.’ I can’t, though. On a good day, I can take that step beyond fixing it and fall headlong into Grace — landing on banks of beautiful, towering, white, fluffy cumulus clouds, like the ones on greeting cards that talk about Heaven — and I can genuinely trust that everything will be fine.
Other days, I repeat to myself (not necessarily believing it and certainly not being able to live by it), ‘If you pray, don’t worry. If you worry, don’t pray,’ a misquote, I believe, of Martin Luther.
On yet other days, I realize that to be near my friend — in his presence — is to know God directly. I don’t have to do anything — just show up and realize that Love has shown up, too.
The hard part of being his friend is accepting that I can do nothing — letting go of expectations, forgetting that he’s a genius with unfulfilled ‘potential’, not expecting ‘progress’ on some sort of pie-in-the-sky bar chart. ’Progress’ may come, or it may not. However, it is not up to me. But our culture doesn’t really allow for the possibility of not ‘moving up,’ does it? Not ‘taking the pills’ in order to ‘get well’ or at least ‘function at an acceptable level’ in order to ‘fit in’? Most of the time, neither do my own built-in biases. This friendship constantly challenges me to see life… not in gradesABCDF… or dollars1to7figures… or positionsdirectorofsomething… or contributionsinkindfinancialgivingofyourtalentsandabilities — but as something that can just be still, and be more than OK — be holy and sacred.
Friday, June 11, 2010
Wayne Walker and ‘Our Calling’
I first met Wayne Walker a number of years ago on the parking lot of the then-city-shelter, The Day Resource Center. It was a Friday night, and, as they did every Friday night, he and his group of fellow church members were serving a delicious hot dinner to around three hundred of Dallas homeless citizens. They’d allowed me to join them to give away some gently used clothing I’d collected.
After dinner and the clothing giveaway, we all joined hands for a prayer circle, as people took turns praying aloud — for help with housing, with mental illness or addiction challenges, with family problems, or intercessory prayer for loved ones not present. Everyone seemed to feel free to pour out their hearts with unfettered honesty, because it was clear that here — among this group that went by the name ‘Our Calling’ — people who were accustomed to being judged harshly in society were accepted and loved for exactly who they were.
It surprised me, because Wayne and his group were prosperous-looking, middle-class folks, many from North Dallas, and I wasn’t accustomed to seeing this kind of unconditional love for my street friends from folks who were ‘housed.’ In the coming months, I too would pour out my heart in prayer in front of this extremely diverse group, would (to my embarrassment) begin to cry in front of them over some private heartache, and would find myself lifted up in love by many hands on my shoulders — some weathered from living outdoors and some smooth.
It didn’t take long to realize: here was Christian Love-In-Action — the way it’s ‘spozed to be’ [to borrow from the title of a book I like a lot.] All my [unjust] stereotypes of North Dallas churches were swept away. These people weren’t doing what they did for ‘flash’: during and after dinner, I’d see them sitting quietly at picnic tables on the parking lot talking caringly to people who were struggling with homelessness, treating them with an equality, lack of condescension and sense of friendship that is rare.
During these years of Friday nights on the Day Resource Center parking lot, we invited then-mayoral-candidate Tom Leppert to come and serve dinner with us, which he graciously did. I watched as Wayne took Mr. Leppert aside and asked him the ‘hard questions’ about homelessness and how he intended to help. I was impressed by Wayne’s candor.
Wayne — a happily-married father of four and a trained theologian — was at that time employed to head up the media department of Dallas Theological Seminary. As I got to know him better over weeks and years, I continued to learn more of (and be moved by) his knowledge and understanding of ‘street culture,’ the very personal relationships he had developed with people living on the streets, and his unbending compassion and advocacy for the struggles and challenges in their lives.
For as long as I’ve known him, Wayne has expressed a deep longing to help and serve full-time among the ‘poorest of the poor’ living on the streets. It is such a joy to see him doing that now and getting the recognition he deserves.
Here’s a recent clip about him and his ministry from Channel 8:
Friday, May 28, 2010
What Makes a City Great?
~~ a description of street life in 1788 Paris, France ~~
“Summer arrived, and in Paris the life of the boulevards went on as pleasantly as ever. Pleasure seekers gathered in the warm evenings to stroll along the broad walks under the huge trees, the roads were filled with carriages, the tables crowded at the outdoor cafes and gardens, where musicians played and people paused to rest and refresh themselves. A visitor from England admired the ‘cheerfulness and whimsical variety of the spectacle, the confusion of riches and poverty, hotels and hovels, pure air and stinks, people of all sorts and conditions, from the Prince of the blood to the porter.’ Ordinary Parisians put on their best silk breeches and ruffled shirts and came in groups to stroll or dine, dandies paraded on horseback, fashionably dressed women sat at the little tables surrounded by their admirers. Footmen, enjoying an evening’s liberty, sat and drank beer, old soldiers lounged and smoked, and talked of long-ago campaigns, shopwomen in their chintz gowns flirted with hairdresser’s assistants who courted them, hat in hand.”
“The buildings are very good,” the English traveler went on, “the walks delightful…” There were amusements in abundance, from plays and acrobats… magicians and rope-dancers… There were puppet shows and concerts… and dancing dogs. And there were many things to buy, cakes and fruit and flowers, prints and fans and lapdogs. Peddlers ran along the roads… jumping up on the steps of the fine painted carriages to offer their wares to the elegant ladies and gentlemen inside…. There was much political talk, and the street orators held forth on the evils of the tax burden… but for the most part the worries of the day were forgotten.”
~~ To the Scaffold, The Life of Marie Antoinette, by Carolly Erickson, p. 198
The description of 1788 Paris above reminds me very much of Paris today in terms of its lively culture, and of why I love it. It’s exhilarating and beautiful — architecturally stunning, but fascinating in its diversity as well. The thrilling, dizzying mix of all sorts of people — on the streets, in the crowded cafes, rushing into the Metro, old men and kids bowling in the parks, people reading, walking, cycling — make it a vigorous, animated city, and I fell for it the first time I was driven through it’s environs by my future son-in-law about a decade ago.
When I’ve been fortunate enough to go there, I like most to walk in the evening to the Champ de Mars, the park in front of the Eiffel Tower, in order to watch the activities there: families picnicking, dogs chasing Frisbees, people of every description playing games or music, or even juggling fire! It is LIFE — vibrant, diverse, thrilling. The people gathered at day’s end out in the large open space are poor, rich, dressed down, dressed up. And — imagine this — no one is arresting homeless folks for lying on the grass of the park because everybody lies or sits on the grass — talking, laughing, singing, sleeping. No ‘Quality of Life’ ordinances being enforced, yet, somehow — voila! — a spectacular quality of life!
One night at 1 A.M., the police blocked off the city streets to make way for over a thousand roller bladers who whizzed past the Eiffel Tower as those of us on the sidewalk whooped and yelled and clapped, cheering them on. It was a night I’ll remember always.
Begging (panhandling in our terms) is a way of life for some in Paris, and even a profession for a few. I remember my first ride on the Metro (subway). To my surprise, a father and son came through the train car asking for money. They were polite, low-key, almost matter-of-fact about begging. Many people ignored them, some people contributed, they moved on, and that was it. Not everyone likes begging, not everyone gives, but one can ignore it if one chooses.
What makes a city great?
These are the sorts of things which make a city fantastic and which draw people to it from around the world. Successful downtowns are not hothouses designed only for the rich and well-heeled. A great city is a place where all kinds of people can live, as well as just ‘be’, in open, green spaces — not just people who look or dress a certain way — EVERYONE.
The question of what makes a great city is a topic of heated debate in Dallas right now, particularly in terms of the question of where within the city to place affordable and permanent supportive housing. Generally, in downtown and in outlying neighborhoods, the attitude towards permanent supportive housing and formerly homeless individuals who might be housed there can be tagged by the acronym NIMBY (not in my backyard.)
Cities across American continue to develop and implement strategies to ‘get the homeless out of sight’, both on a daily basis and in particular for special tourist events like The Olympic Games [see a recent article on Vancouver in The Street Zine, May, 2010.] These include passing ‘special’ laws that target them — ‘sleeping in public,’ ‘criminal trespass,’ ‘blocking the sidewalk,’ as mentioned above — so-called ‘Quality of Life’ ordinances for which a person in business clothing would not be ticketed but which allow police to pinpoint those who ‘look homeless’ and try to hustle them from view.
We all know how the story concludes: tickets that cannot be paid by the homeless individual, warrants for their arrest, jail terms which make their complicated life situation even more challenging, the filling of jails with people who are in fact generally not a social threat. This much-written-about practice of shifting the homeless from emergency services to prison to back on the street is not only the costliest way of doing business, it’s utterly inhumane, because so many of the homeless are mentally ill and do not belong in jail. So the people authorities want to get rid of haven’t gone anywhere, only now they have more obstacles to overcome in order to get their lives together. It makes no sense at all.
Rethinking: Let’s Have A Productive ‘Identity Crisis’ in Dallas!
It would be wonderful if this discussion precipitated an identity crisis for us as a city and led us to look at ourselves both deeply and objectively [but I’m trying not to get my hopes up.] What if we took several steps back and reinvisioned the Dallas of tomorrow with new eyes? Does our vision really need to include having our streets free of everyone who doesn’t ‘look like us?’
The desire for homogeneity in communities used to manifest itself primarily in terms of skin color: Jim Crow laws, segregation. While racism is still a significant problem in our country, now it seems that we at least pay lip service to the desirability of racial diversity, and civil rights laws are in place to enforce equal rights and give access to the judicial system when they are violated. Whether you believe that racism has gone underground or has actually decreased to some extent (I think it’s both), it’s still apparently acceptable to shun people in terms of their economic situation, especially when it comes to individuals who ‘look homeless.’ What is wrong with having people on the streets of our cities who may be dressed in clothing and groomed in a manner that is not ‘up to’ our middle class standards?
Take a look at the debate over where the EVERgreen Residences, a beautifully-designed permanent supportive housing project put forward by First Presbyterian Church Dallas and The Stewpot, will/ will not be built and the at-times rabid opposition by the Expo Park / Deep Ellum business owners and residents. When providing people access to safe, clean, well-designed permanent supportive housing is supposed give way to the ‘artistic ecosystem’ that is said by residents to be developing in an area where bars and entertainment are a large part of the social scene, maybe it’s time to seriously reconsider our priorities and the power that affluent neighborhood associations have to scuttle much-needed projects in Dallas.
Small groups with large opinions should be a part of policy making, but they should not be allowed to dominate it. When they do, nobody wins — except the influential neighborhood groups in the short run, and perhaps the particular council person in the area in the next election. What is lost is the greater good of the city, its moral fiber, its wholeness, its ability to address and solve hard problems such as homelessness. So far in Dallas, in terms of housing, we have valiant efforts being undercut for the most part by powerful, affluent localized forces — a stalemate.
Where is bold, morally courageous, visionary leadership at the city government level? If it’s going to show up, this would be a good time. We have a lot of homeless and working people to house. And housing is the only way we’re ever really going to get them off the street.
A recommended read by Jim Schutze in The Dallas Observer: “City Hall’s Desire For A Fancy Downtown (Without Too Many Poor People) Costs Developers $30 Million”
This from the comments: * JimS 05/08/2010 9:53:44 AM • There is an important element in this story which I neglected to get into my column or the subsequent blog item. The decision by Lockey and Mackenzie to obey the HUD rules and provide the amount of affordable housing called for in HUD’s national guideline was in good part a market decision. They told me they looked at what had been built already downtown and saw way more high-end capacity than the market wanted to absorb. They were well aware of the weaknesses in several of the completed projects and could see, for example, that Prudential would foreclose on the Mosaic, as in fact it did this week. They said to me, Why provide more chocolate cake when the market already has more chocolate cake than it can eat? So they saw a project that was more than half affordable as a good market play – something that would rent up quickly instead of going belly up. I get the impression both of them also are people who think working people and young people are good for downtowns. And think about it. If you went to the quarter in New Orleans and all of a sudden it looked like Snyder Plaza in Highland Park, would you go back? Downtown Dallas is frozen and sterile because the people running it are afraid of anybody who isn’t rich. It would help if they were white, too. But that’s a suburb. Actually even our suburbs are more diverse than what has been created downtown. What we really see is an attempt at a replication of the Park Cities, where most of the decision-makers probably live. It’s their idea of cool. But they’re not cool. And they’re also not moving into it. To work for them, downtown Dallas would have to be Carmel. Which would suck. Anyway, I see a lot of comment here about listening to market forces. I think MacKenzie and Lockey would agree. They listened. The market forces said, More affordable. And City hall said, You’re toast.
Friday, May 14, 2010
It’s a Good Question, Isn’t It?
I first heard this song on a CD given to me by my friend, Sandy, and it’s one of my CD’s now: Give Us Your Poor: 17 New Recordings To Help End Homelessness (Appleseed Recordings). Have you ever asked yourself this question? We need to keep asking it. KS
Here and Now
by Mark Erelli
Ten below zero
Sleeping on the street
Someday we all will have a home
A place to come in from the cold
Somewhere so high above the clouds
Why not here
Why not now
Pastures of plenty
For the tired and poor
Still too many hands empty
Behind the golden door
Someday we all will have a home
A place to come in from the cold
Somewhere so high above the clouds
Why not here
Why not now
Someday we all will live the dream
There’ll be no cracks to fall between
Somewhere where everyone will have enough
But here and now
It’s up to us
Someday we all will be at peace
And all of our suffering will cease
There’s more than enough to go around
Why not here
Why not now
Why not here?
Why not now?
Monday, February 8, 2010
My good friend, Nancy Johnson, just sent me this poem by Thich Nhat Hanh, one of my two or three favorite sages, and the only one who is still living. I want to share it with you. The thing about Thich is, he himself has lived through hell-on-earth during the Vietnam War era, yet has always been and remains a man of peace. What an inspiration. KS
Please Call Me by My True Names
by Thich Nhat Hanh
Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.
Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.
My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.
Monday, January 25, 2010
I’ve often observed that, if one has a sandwich or a blanket to share with our friends living on the street, there is a grateful response, but a hug, eye contact and a smile are the things that are most appreciated. We all need to know that we matter. KS
“The moment has come to talk about our brokenness. You are a broken man. I am a broken man, and all the people we know or know about are broken. Our brokenness is so visible and tangible, so concrete and specific…. There are many things I would like to say to you about our brokenness. But where to begin?
Perhaps the simplest beginning would be to say that our brokenness reveals something about who we are. Our sufferings and pains are not simply bothersome interruptions of our lives; rather, they touch us in our uniqueness and our most intimate individuality…. Our brokenness is truly ours. Nobody else’s. Our brokenness is as unique as our chosenness and our blessedness….
Although many people suffer from pysical or mental disabilities, and although there is a great amount of economic poverty, homelessness, and lack of basic human needs, the suffering of which I am most aware on a day-to-day basis is the suffering of the broken heart… In the Western world, the suffering that seems to be the most painful is that of feeling rejected, ignored, despised and left alone. In my own community, [L’Arche Daybreak Community in Toronto, Canada], with many severely handicapped men and women, the greatest source of suffering is not the handicap itself, but the accompanying feelings of being useless, worthless, unappreciated, and unloved. It is much easier to accept the inability to speak, walk, or feed oneself than it is to accept the inability to be of special value to another person. We human beings can suffer immense deprivations with great steadfastness, but when we sense that we no longer have anything to offer anyone, we quickly lose our grip on life. Instinctively we know that the joy of life comes from the ways in which we live together and that the pain of life comes from the many ways we fail to do that well.
How can we respond to this brokenness? The first response… is to face it squarely and befriend it. This may seem quite unnatural. Our first, most spontaneous response to pain and suffering is to avoid it, to keep it at arm’s length; to ignore, circumvent, or deny it. Suffering… is almost always experienced as an unwelcome intrusion into our lives, something that should not be there.
I am convinced that healing is often so difficult because we don’t want to know the pain… The deep truth is that our human suffering need not be an obstacle to the joy and peace we so desire, but can become, instead, the means to it. The great secret of the spiritual life… is that everything we live, be it gladness or sadness, joy or pain, health or illness, can all be part of the journey toward the full realization of our humanity… real care means the willingness to help each other in making our brokenness into the gateway to joy.”
~~Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved
Friday, December 4, 2009
Dallas International Street Church Celebrates It’s Twelfth Anniversary
Last evening, the Dallas International Street Church and Ministries celebrated it’s Twelfth Anniversary, and the event at the church at 2706 Second Avenue was great fun, quite moving and extremely inspiring. Founder and Senior Pastor Karen Dudley got the ‘call’ twelve years ago to minister to her sisters and brothers who are living on the street — truly out of options — and she has, from then to now, answered that call with a love, persistence and dedication few could emulate.
The music, as always at the DISC, was of the ‘make-you-wanna-get-up,-dance-and-shout-hallelujah’ variety. You can’t not clap and sing along, and, if you’re not careful, you’ll soon find yourself on your feet, even if it is a formal do, like last night. My favorite entertainment was the Praise Dance, reminiscent of Martha Graham done with great reverence.
Needless to say, the most moving part of the night was the series of stories and testimonies from the church Discipleship relating how Pastor Karen’s love and faith have helped them to relinquish the darkness in which they were living and to begin walking a clean, clear path of faith and action in Christ. The stories are stunning. One of the women began her testimony with the words: “My background is in prostitution and crack addiction.” When she described how Pastor Karen once walked into a local drug house to get her and said, “You’re coming with me,” I doubt there was a dry eye in the room.
City Councilperson Carolyn Davis attended the party, and she seemed moved by what she learned of the Street Ministry. In her speech, she said, “When I’ve driven by this building in the past, I’ve had no idea of all that was going on here. I’m committed to helping you in any way I can. This is what church should be: helping the poor and needy among us.”
I don’t know how Pastor Karen does it, but she seems to go forward on the rocky and extremely challenging path she’s chosen with a humility and lack of ego that are rare in the nonprofit world. But, if you ask her, she’ll brush aside the question with the quick answer, “It’s not me doing it.”
The event was organized by Pastor Karen, the church Discipleship, and church Business Manager Judith Sturrock, and they all did a superb job. We had delicious barbecue dinner and a wonderful time, and, as always when I show up at the DISC, I took away with me a peace and a joy which pass all understanding.
To read about a recent experience Dr. Janet Morrison (Central Dallas Ministries Director of Education) had at the Dallas International Street Church, click here:
Saturday, November 21, 2009
As you may know, the stereotype of the adult Trust Baby who lives on the street by choice because he or she doesn’t want to obey society’s rules is, if not a downright myth, then at least a rare exception among those experiencing street-dwelling homelessness, particularly on a long-term basis. At a Homeless Advocacy Meeting I attended this week at The Stewpot, as I looked around the room, I asked myself, as I often do: “What is the profile of a person who is homeless?” My answer, after years of pondering the question, is that there is no profile. As with the ‘housed,’ each person’s story is unique. However, I have observed that a history of family poverty and an interruption in the process of formal education seem to be a common themes among many individuals experiencing so-called ‘chronic’ homelessness that I’ve come to know over the past six years.
So, when I hear someone offering solutions to problems of poverty, disease and a lack of education on a global scale, and offering them in a clear-headed and practical way, I tend to listen. That happened last week when I caught an interview with Melinda Gates on the Charlie Rose Show on PBS (KERA.)
It was later than I like to be awake, but I couldn’t quit watching and was riveted to the interchange within the first couple of minutes, because I saw in Melinda a passion and conviction which I’ve come to recognize in those who are committed to positive action on a deep level. A statement she made — “That mother in Africa whose child is dying of malaria cares just as much about her child as I care about mine” — shows me: she’s been ‘on the ground,’ engaged in frequent and genuine contact with people who are suffering. For her, it’s no longer ‘us and them.’
What struck me first of all was her manner. When asked a question, one could tell she had so much information to give in reply that she had to hold back some of it in order to respond to the question within the timeframe allotted. That kind of interest and accumulation — not to mention synthesis — of data, comes only from a deep and impassioned curiosity.
A few things stood out from the interview.
~~ She said that the money she and Bill have put into the The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (many billions) was a drop in the bucket towards solving the problems they address. In particular, she mentioned the goal of the complete eradication of certain diseases from the planet — malaria, polio, smallpox, HIV-AIDS — and the improvement of public education. It was Warren Buffet’s donation of tens of billions more that allowed the Foundation to ‘go much deeper’, in her words, in addressing these problems.
~~ She could answer the hard questions, but never in a contentious and divisive way. When asked about the diversion of aid funds by corrupt governments in the developing world, she answered, with practicality but without blame, that she and Bill had learned that the work was best and most successfully carried out in certain countries where they could work well with accountable governments — in other words, tried and true solutions based on experience.
~~ The solutions to large, global problems lie, not in one segment of society alone, but rather only in partnerships between private philanthropy, government funding and cooperation, and faith-based organizations. That’s why, when I hear opinions put forth with monolithic solutions — and most often government participation as an evil is mentioned — I realize that these comments are based in ideology rather than in reality. The massive problems of hunger, homelessness, poverty, and global disease are indeed only amenable to large-scale partnering.
~~ The Gates Foundation sticks with it. They’ve been working on public education for a decade and are just now coming up with really workable answers to the question of what can make it succeed. At first they tried organizing smaller communities within the larger ones so that troubled kids could feel a sense of connection, but what they’ve learned over time is that the really important variable is — guess what? the particular adult individual teacher within the classroom. (How does that make you feel about the Dallas Independent School District laying off experienced, gifted teacher during its budget problems?) So now, they are trying to quantify exactly what are the characteristics of successful teachers, so that those can be taught and mentored to others. They are doing this through transparency in teaching methods and outcomes in pilot programs a couple of states — so that success can be shared, passed along, and hopefully instituted across the country.
~~ Something I observed in her manner was a presence of deep caring coupled with a lack of sentimentality. It may sound strange, but, as I’ve learned myself — sometimes the hard way — sentimentality about an issue can sometimes cloud its reality, and I believe its takes away from the dignity of those experiencing the problem. There is a fine line between these two, shall we call them ‘values?’ — compassion and sentimentality. But it’s probably an important line to learn to identify, in order to keep ourselves from enabling on the one hand and becoming cynical on the other.
Regardless of our situations, we are all human beings made of the same flesh and blood as well as emotional and spiritual components, and we are in this together. Not only is ‘right action’ a moral imperative, it is the correct practical option to try and solve these problems that plague our world.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: All Lives Have Equal Value
The Living Proof Project
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Mutuality of Ministry
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep.” ~~ John 10: 14-15
“…the same Lord who binds us together in love will also reveal himself to us and others as we walk together on the road.” ~~ Henri Nouwen
I read the following passages recently and felt they challenged, in important ways, certain commonly-held cultural assumptions about ‘helping’ and ‘serving others’. What do you think? KS
“Ministry is not only a communal experience, it is also a mutual experience… [Jesus] wants Peter to feed his sheep and care for them, not as ‘professionals’ who know their clients’ problems and take care of them, but as vulnerable brothers and sisters who know and are known, who care and are cared for, who forgive and are being forgiven, who love and are being loved.
Somehow we have come to believe that good leadership requires a safe distance from those we are called to lead… Someone serves, someone else is being served, and be sure not to mix up the roles! But how can we lay down our life for those with whom we are not even allowed to enter into a deep personal relationship?
We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.
Therefore, true ministry must be mutual. When the members of a community of faith cannot truly know and love their shepherd, shepherding quickly becomes a subtle way of exercising power over others and begins to show authoritarian and dictatorial traits. The world in which we live — a world of efficiency and control — has no models to offer to those who want to be shepherds in the way Jesus was a shepherd. Even the so-called ‘helping professions’ have been so thoroughly secularized that mutuality can only be seen as a weakness and a dangerous form of role confusion. The leadership about which Jesus speaks is of a radically different kind from the leadership offered by the world. It is a servant leadership*… in which the leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as they need their leader… a leadership that is not modeled on the power games of the world, but on the servant-leader Jesus, who came to give his life for the salvation of many.”
~~ Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus, Reflections on Christian Leadership
*Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
A Night to Remember: Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers
An Evening of Bluegrass and Banjo Benefitting Central Dallas Ministries
One of my daughters and I attended the above concert at the Meyerson Symphony Center last evening, and we had a great time. The hall was sold out, and the concert was not only fun, the music was terrific. Of course, Steve Martin told his share of funny jokes and played a masterful banjo, and the Steep Canyon Rangers are excellent musicians and vocalists. A fine concert supporting an extremely worthy organization.
After the concert, my daughter and I were talking to the fiddle player, and I was telling him that Bluegrass music is close to my heart, since I’m from Tennessee. “Eastern Tennessee?” he asked. “Oh, yeh!” I said. “Our band lives in Asheville,” he told us. We high-fived. “You know,” he said, “East Tennessee and Western North Carolina are a separate state unto themselves.” “Yes,” I said, “no more beautiful place on earth.” “Absolutely,” he replied, “a well-kept secret.” A band after my own heart.
Monday, October 19, 2009
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” ~~ Isaiah 41:10
“Pain is inevitable, misery is optional.” ~~ Mary Shafer
The Shafer clan lost a radiant light when Mary Shafer died this past Wednesday in my hometown of Knoxville, after a 14-year battle with recurrent breast cancer. A book could be written about her accomplishments, but I like thinking back to when I first met her.
I was going through Freshman Sorority Rush at the University of Tennessee, and, when I walked into the Phi Mu room at the Panhellenic Building, Mary, then the sorority’s president, met me at the door. She took a look at my name tag, and her eyes opened widely. She put her hand on my arm. “Are you related to Bo Shafer?” she said, her face alight with what I took to be hope.
As I answered Mary politely, “Yes, he’s my cousin,” and she, becoming even more animated, said to me, “We’re dating!” my first thought — which I obviously kept to myself — was, “Uh-oh, I can see that this poor girl is already in over her head.” My second: “Please… don’t get your hopes up,” which, fortunately, I also didn’t share, and next, “Ah, well, another one bites the dust.”
I don’t mind telling you, her question was one I got often, because, in addition to being tall and handsome, my older male cousin was frequently in the news. He’d played varsity football for Tennessee and had met Mary when she was cheerleading there, but his philanthropic work and business acumen were what kept him in the public eye.
This cousin of mine was a quintessential illusive bachelor in our town. How many beautiful women had set their sites, and their hearts, on him? I’d met a couple of them at family gatherings — rarely did I see them again. It’s not that Bo was an intentional heartbreaker — it’s that he was looking for the Real Thing. I realize now that he’d know it when he saw it, and it turned out to be Mary Gwyn, because the next thing I knew, they were married.
Bo wasn’t looking for a trophy wife, but rather for a partner in life, and he surely found it in Mary. He was quoted on KnoxNews.com this week as saying, “I was so old I didn’t think I could fall in love, but I fell head over heels in love with that woman,” he said. “We never had an argument. Her goal in life was to keep a smile on my face, and my goal in life was to keep a smile on her face.”
A number of years ago, when Bo was International Kiwanis President, Mary traveled the world with him, even though she was in and out of cancer treatment at the time. I could never figure out how she had the stamina to keep up the fierce pace of their commitments, and she never, ever complained. Instead, she called her battle with cancer ‘an adventure.’ A devout Christian and active member of Second Presbyterian Church, her faith never seemed to waiver.
It was Bo who told me throughout my life: “As middle-class Americans, we are in the top 2% of fortunate people living in the world. For most of humanity, life is entirely different and much, much harder. We are extremely spoiled. It is our privilege and our obligation to give back.” In Mary, he found someone who lived this philosophy at his side, day in and day out.
Bo said that, during the year of his Kiwanis presidency, he and Mary lunched with the King and Queen of Thailand and spent time in the most poverty-ridden villages in Africa. It surprised no one that Mary was equally at home in either place.
During one of my family’s trips to Knoxville in recent years, each time we were with Mary, I knew I was in the presence of someone who was truly living the moments of her life to the fullest, cherishing her family and her life’s work. The phrase ‘Seize the day’ describes her way of being in the world. She was the kindest, the friendliest, the most caring individual one could ever meet, with an incisive intelligence. She was also incredibly fun-loving. As close as she and Bo were, her description of their recent wine-tour of France, with her imbibing a glass with every course, and Bo being a teetotaler, was hilarious.
At their house on the lake, where they spent every weekend, they have a tire swing in the living room. Not too many women would think that went with their decor!
Mary and Bo sent out yearly Groundhog’s Day cards, which were always upbeat and inspiring. In recent years, their greetings contained business cards for an organization called water.org., as Mary had developed a passion for finding solutions to the problem of clean water scarcity in developing nations. Together, they built wells in Ethiopia and Guatemala.
The message of this year’s card was that life is so precious, we should never complain about small things. She truly and fully took her own advice. I am in awe of the life she lived and the legacy she leaves us all.
Looking back to that week of Freshman Rush when I first met Mary, I recall that at the end of the week, Phi Mu did a pageant in which she played the lead. The title of the presentation was “Starlight.” All these years later, it fits more than ever.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
A friend of mine moved ‘off the street’ today and into housing, and it was big news. His was a high-profile ‘success’ story, because this particular friend has been living a life of street-dwelling homelessness for quite a long time — fifteen years — and he has often been in the news, being a person who doesn’t mind being interviewed and is frequently poetically eloquent.
However, as is often the case, there is more to the story than its public version. Isn’t there always? The ‘more’ in this instance is that a couple of people — well, actually a person and a dog — got left behind when my friend moved into his new home.
I got a phone call from my friend’s ‘street wife’ of twelve years yesterday afternoon, saying that her husband had been informed by his employer, who had arranged for the housing, that he was to move into his new home early the next morning — only sixteen hours notice. Initially, both husband and wife had expected that his housing would include a place for her, too. When they recently found out this was not the case, they thought they’d have a week or so to try and make arrangements for her safety and well-being. Additionally, his dog — his constant companion and best friend for eleven years — turned out to be over the weight limit for the housing and would need to stay behind. And, in his new home, my friend will not be allowed to have visitors.
When the wife called me yesterday, she was distraught. Media had been at their camp as well as at the new home. Yet, even though his wife was present during the media visits, no mention was made of the her in any news report, nor of the fact that the dog (who did make it into the story!) and she are to remain behind in the ‘cardboard condo’ under the bridge.
The wife is frightened to stay out in the open camp without her husband and protector, with good reason. So some of her ‘housed’ friends banded together today and came up with the money to pay for a two-weeks’ stay in a motel for her and the dog — a temporary fix, but better than sleeping alone under the bridge.
On the phone yesterday, she said she couldn’t understand why she couldn’t go with him — had the rules at the housing unit been made purposefully to exclude her? I reassured her that no, I didn’t think that was the case. Rather it was more likely to be an issue of funding-raising on the part of the charity providing the housing. Generally, at least in this part of the world, any sort of housing subsidy for homeless couples requires that they be legally married, which these two people are not. They would like to be, but there are intransigent problems with his obtaining a divorce from a wife he’s been apart from for decades.
I’ll refrain from discussing how her husband made the decision to go ahead with his move, but I spent the afternoon today with my friend, the wife. As we ran errands in my car, we cried together, laughed together, and visited two of my close friends who have been consistent and steady friends to people who are homeless — both very kind, wise, forthright and resourceful women. Each of them gave the wife good counsel and support.
I believe that, God willing, she will be all right, and, hopefully, more than all right. She has skills and resources way beyond what most of us possess after living on the street for over a decade, and there are a number of people who are willing to help make accessible to her tools that will help her move out of her current plight. But her situation raises a number of hard questions, because there are many long-term, stable couples on the street in the same situation — unable to marry for one reason or another; unwilling to separate in order to get into housing.
Is there a way to make peace between our religious beliefs and morals, and the urgent need to help people — especially women as the most vulnerable parties — move from street-dwelling homelessness to a more stable life of being housed? What is our priority?
How do those of us who are advocates and service providers share the story of someone experiencing homelessness or poverty with the public in a way that still presents him or her as a person with dignity? How do we raise funds and practice public relations in ways that will help people move out of homelessness and poverty, without inadvertently falling into the inglorious category of helpers referred to as ‘poverty pimps’?
How do we hold people up as examples of our hopes, dreams and plans for our own organizations without exploiting them?
Where does the line get drawn between the landscape of our plans for them and that of their plans for themselves, and how do we gracefully and honorably navigate the overlapping territory? How do we do things that we believe to be truly valuable in helping other human beings without falling into the trap of believing we are their saviors?
Whose highest good is being served in this situation, when the cost of housing a husband is that his street wife and dog are left living under a bridge?
Link: See Dallas Morning News Photographer Courtney Perry’s blog entry, “Complexities,” in response to this post at http://courtneyperry.com/pblog/index.php
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Available On a Street Corner Near You!
Today the October, 2009, issue of StreetZine was put into the hands of licensed street vendors downtown and around the city. As usual, StreetZine is chock-full of fascinating articles and tidbits, and this month you will also find an important article by Pat Spradley, Editor, on the pending court case against the City of Dallas, defending the rights of groups who wish to feed people on the streets of downtown who are hungry and homeless. [http://thestewpot.org/streetzine.asp]
There is also a recent interview I did with The Gardeners from the Dallas International Street Church ministry’s The Garden: South Dallas, Texas. In it, you will get to know some of them personally and see what gardening organically has come to mean to their lives. Included are lovely pictures by Mandy Mulliez of a few of The Gardeners and of the Fall Garden at the DISC.
Special kudos and big appreciation to Pastor Karen Dudley, Founder and Senior Pastor of the DISC, not only for her soon-to-be twelve years of dedication and commitment to helping people salvage their lives from the ravages of street living, but also for continuing to pay the water bill on The Garden throughout this long hot summer, when it appeared as if the total yield was going to be somewhere around a single cherry tomato and ten green beans! [www.kdministries.org]
Here are some quotes from the interview:
ks: Noting that many of the people in the Dallas International Street Church have experienced homelessness in the past, do you think that having a Garden has any special meaning for people that have been or are homeless? Does having experienced homelessness give people a special appreciation for having a place to grow their own food?
Luis: Yes. Do you remember the first time we planted and we used those community service men and women from the City of Dallas community court program? You know, last week, two of the guys who did community service came back just to see the beds they had helped build!
ks: How did that happen?
Luis: They just came! I was out at The Garden in the morning, and I saw them, and one of them said, “I just came to see my garden bed,” and I said, “Cool! Come on!” He was surprised, he said “Wow! This is OURS?” I said, ‘Yea, look!’ It was great.
He was telling me about when he was in jail and stuff like that and when he got out, and The Stewpot brought them over here to do their community service. And he was really surprised at how The Garden grew. He said, “I didn’t think it was going to grow!” And I said, “Yea, but look at it now!” I mean, it’s our pride and joy.
ks: What keeps you motivated to continue working in The Garden?
Raymond: Getting the fruit from the plants! Getting the tomatoes…
Luis: Yea, that stuff. [Pause] The best and the most important thing is to be WANTED, to be needed by something that — it grows. Cause it’s not just the plants that are growing, but US, TOO.
I hope you’ll pick up a copy of the October StreetZine from a licensed street vendor (or at The Stewpot, 408 Park Avenue, Dallas, TX 75201) and see the beautiful garden pictures, as well as the expanded interview. Selling StreetZine provides a sustainable living for many of these men and women and is helping them get off the street and regain their independence.
For Mandy Mulliez’ slideshow of The Garden, see:
For background on The Garden: South Dallas, see:
Wednesday, September 17, 2009
‘And after the fire a sound of sheer silence.’ I Kings 19: 9-18
“This verse is often taken (not inappropriately) to suggest that we draw apart from the noisy bustle of the world to listen for the voice of the Lord…
But drawing apart from the world is not enough if we take the noise of the world with us, ‘that inner dialog with self that is a jumble of frivolous thoughts, worrisome cares, and negative feelings,’ as Thomas Merton put it. You don’t put all that behind merely by going off to a quite place — unless you intentionally let go of it, and that is not easily done. It takes practice.
When you hose a concrete floor pools of water collect in the low places. You sweep the floor, but the water returns to the low places. You sweep again. And Again. Finally, perhaps the fiftieth time you sweep the water away, it has evaporated and does not return. So it is with the cares of the world. Let them go. Let them go again. And again. Eventually, they will not return. Then you can listen for the voice of the Lord.”
~~ Forward Day by Day, August, 2008
Monday, September 14, 2009
St. Teresa of Avila: The Bookmark Prayer
Let nothing disturb you;
Nothing frighten you.
All things are passing.
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Nothing is wanting to him who possesses God.
God alone suffices.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Standing in a Circle
Imagine that each of us who cares about and works to solve the problem of long-term, street-dwelling homelessness in Dallas is standing in a circle. In the center of the circle is the problem — one that is enormous and complex: it is a given that each of us sees it and its solutions from a different perspective because of the position in the circle which we stand.
Some of us sit at desks inside nonprofits and make policy. Maybe we ‘make the rounds’ to see how things are ‘on the ground’ within our organization, or maybe we don’t. This alone will help determine our perspective. Those who do make the rounds and who attempt to be the link between the employees on the ground, the homeless guests, those who sit upstairs making policy, and the public have a particularly hard job.
Others inside nonprofits work closely with the homeless population in a direct way, talking to them, touching them. Some of us befriend them; others think we should keep our distance. Friendship is vital to those on the street who have nothing: so are boundaries. Which looks more vital depends on where we stand.
Some of us take our homeless friends into our churches and homes for meals and prayers when no one else wants them. Others of us go out on the street and offer hungry people food and drink people. All of it matters.
Some of us go out, from time to time, and talk to people where they live in cardboard boxes under freeway overpasses, or where they sleep, as best they can, out of sight in the city. This is one of the things I occasionally do (there are others who do much, much more.) I listen to and try to understand their problems and struggles; I bring them clean, dry clothing; I drive them to the doctor. I go home and research what services are available to help them, and I share the possible solutions with my friends under the bridge, offering to aid them in getting through the system. Sometimes I plead with them to get help a particular kind help if I think it’s vital. But they are human beings and are free to choose what is best for them.
For one of my friends, her place ‘in the circle’ this week was at the gates of a highly visible and well-funded nonprofit serving the homeless population in Dallas. There, she observed and documented abusive language by guards directed towards homeless people trying to gain admittance to the property. Not every guard. Not every homeless person. But any is too many. This verbal abuse by some employees has been a common and persistant practice since this facility opened. Why is it still happening, my friend wants to know? She shared this information with the staff of the nonprofit itself and with others in the service community.
Others ‘in the circle’ criticized how and why she did what she did. Why didn’t she do it differently? Better still, why didn’t she ask them how they wanted her to do it? The answer is that she stands at her own place in the circle, and it’s a place very few have the ability or fortitude to stand. She is one of the very few people who successfully brave the often thankless role of ‘linking person’ between the ‘powers that be’ regarding homelessness in Dallas and the extremely vulnerable people on the street. I don’t know anyone who could do what she does. I most certainly could not.
How things look when I stand with my friends who are living under the freeway overpass is quite different from how things look sitting in an office making policy that determines much of how they live, but that does not mean my view is more right or that it’s better. It simply means that I have information — in my mind, in my heart, in my soul, in my experience — that someone who has not been there doesn’t have.
It is equally true that someone sitting in an office in a nonprofit agency or at City Hall may have a great deal of information that I don’t have — an overview, or an awareness of the scope of certain problems. From this, perhaps they design a policy that seems good and even vital, but that policy may look untenable from where I stand.
I try to carry forward with me as I go along my path the assumption of good will from everyone in the circle toward our friends on the street. It is easy to become cynical as I listen to expert public relations and know full well that what happens in practice is quite different from how it seems in a sound byte, and that how it sounds is going to have a great deal more impact on public policy and opinion than how it is — because the people experiencing the results of policy generally don’t have a voice.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
The Soloist: Friendship and Freedom of Choice
“Let your good deeds be like drops of water into the ocean, which then disappear.”
If you have not seen The Soloist, I hope you will. A friend who has worked among people on the street for over a decade highly recommended it, saying it changed her view of things. “I’ve been trying to make them like me,” she told me, “but that’s wrong.”
I’ve just watched it, and it utterly reinforced one of the most challenging conclusions I’ve come to in knowing and caring about some of the people who are ‘chronically homeless’ in Dallas over the last six years: one cannot have an ‘agenda’ for people who are experiencing homelessness. And not having an agenda — yet still knowing them, loving them, being somewhat involved in their lives and trying to be of assistance to them in resolving critical, and sometimes urgent, issues in their lives — that is a very fine line to walk.
This past week, someone that I know, care about, and stay in touch with who lives outdoors under a bridge — we’ll call her Mary — became seriously ill. I’ve become increasingly close friends with this woman and her husband this year and see them from time to time. She didn’t call me until last Monday night, when the critical part of her illness, which had lasted several days, had passed. Fortunately, they’d had the money for a motel room for three nights when she was sickest — wracked with pain, drenched in sweat, up all night trying to get her fever down with Tylenol with cold baths. “We thought I was going to die Saturday night,” she confessed. “We were really scared.”
By the time she phoned me Monday, she had improved but was still in a considerable pain, and they were back in their outdoor camp. She thought she could make it through the upcoming night, but asked if I would be available to take her to the emergency room the next day if the pain became intolerable again, because her husband had to work, and, of course, they have no transport, their lone bicycle having been stolen a few months back shortly after they acquired it. I said I would. I offered them money for a motel room that night, but they declined.
The next morning, I got busy trying to find out what emergency medical services are available for homeless individuals besides the ER — information I felt I should have known but didn’t. I called and e-mailed friends who are staff members at The Stewpot and an acquaintance who’s a caseworker at The Bridge and learned the following:
~~ Parkland Hospital has a mobile medical unit (‘HOMES: Homeless Outreach Medical Services) which is at The Stewpot on Wednesdays and every other Monday.
~~ Parkland also runs a medical clinic at The Bridge each weekday.
~~ The Stewpot has a medical clinic in-house on Fridays.
~~ If one calls the City’s Crisis Intervention Team, there’s now a streamlined procedure set up to process a person with the medical emergency at The Bridge quickly, short-circuiting any expected wait in line which might occur. But this would only be an option, for me at least, if the friend who is homeless agreed to it, and they are often unwilling to involve city government in their situation for fear of being ticketed.
When I was unable to get in touch with Mary by phone all that day, I drove to their camp in the late afternoon, armed with cranberry juice for a kidney infection she thought she had, a bag of ice to combat the heat, and dog biscuits for their dog. I was shocked at how much thinner she’d become, noticeable just in the few weeks since I’d last seen her. She’d never had cranberry juice before, but loved it, and we made plans to go together the next morning to the Parkland Mobile Unit at The Stewpot. This time when I offered to loan her and her husband the money for a night out of the heat in the motel, she accepted.
The next morning when I drove up to the camp, she came walking down to the car and got in. I handed her the breakfast I’d brought her to eat on the way and another bottle of cranberry juice, but now, suddenly, she was hedging about going to the Parkland Mobile Medical Unit. She was really feeling OK and was no longer in pain, she said, and she looked better. But I urged her to let me take her to the clinic anyway. I knew that she has only one kidney with functions fully, and I so much wanted her to avoid another crisis. As we sat in the air conditioning of the car and the morning outside heated up, I tried again to persuade her to go see the doctor. I knew she’d be back out in that August Texas heat all day, barely recovered from her illness. “Shouldn’t we just get you checked out, get you in the system for Parkland? Then, if you have another crisis or if you need medicine for your kidneys, that will speed the process up for you when you go in.” But she didn’t want to go — it was as simple as that. I could see that she was grateful for my help but that she wanted me to support her decision.
And then… there was a moment… believe it or not, that I almost drove away with her in the car. I had been worried about her, on edge for two days; I had put things on hold to help her deal with her medical crisis; I’d canceled other plans I’d had for that morning in order to drive her downtown. I. I. I.
I argued with myself silently, and the inner monologue was pretty simple, going something like this: “Are you insane? This is a grown woman with children and grandchildren! OF COURSE YOU MAY NOT take her to the medical van at The Stewpot if she doesn’t want to go.” End of monologue. I hugged her goodbye, and, bag of breakfast and cranberry juice in hand, she climbed the hill back up to their camp.
I know better than that ‘friend-napping’ impulse implies, and it surprised me about myself. It was my choice to try to help Mary when she was ill. It was her choice, then, to say, “I’m OK now.” Would I have had the same impulse with a friend who is housed and lives in the suburbs to drive away with him or her in the car?
We cannot have an agenda for those people to whom we want to offer assistance. Suddenly, in that moment in the car when I had a momentary impulse to drive Mary to the Parkland Mobile Unit to get the medical care I thought she needed, I seem to have flown into maternal — or maternalistic — mode. I remind myself that the life Mary is living requires strengths, skills, nerve and wisdom which I myself don’t possess.
There are very to-the-point discussions in The Soloist about just this sort of issue. Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.) tries to get a shelter director to force homeless cellist Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) into psychiatric care, medication and housing.
Lopez: “I want you to help him, because he’s sick and he needs medication and you have a team of doctors here. Tell him to sit down with them. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?”
Shelter Director: “Nathaniel’s made it quite clear he’s not ready to speak to a psychiatrist.”
“That’s not what we do here… Look, even if I did want to coerce Nathaniel into psychiatry… which I don’t, I couldn’t force him to take medication. The law’s the law. Unless he’s an imminent danger to himself or someone else…”
Later, Lopez’s ex-wife wisely tells him, “You’re never gonna’ cure Nathaniel. Just be his friend and show up.”
I think The Soloist gets it very right. We can’t fix people, nor is it our job to do so. We can love them and do our best to offer them opportunities that we hope will make their lives better — if we so choose. And they, as sacred human beings in their own right, have every right to accept or decline our offers of assistance.
And then there’s this optimistic bit of science at the movie’s end which one may view as a form of Grace, when Steve Lopez says of his friendship with Nathaniel Ayers:
“There are people who tell me I’ve helped him — mental health experts who say that the simple act of being someone’s friend can change his brain chemistry, improve his functioning in the world. I can’t speak for Mr. Ayers in that regard. Maybe our friendship has helped him, but maybe not. I can however speak for myself. I can tell you that by witnessing Mr. Ayers’ courage, his humility, his faith in the power of his art, I’ve learned the dignity of being loyal to something you believe in, holding onto it, and, above all else, of believing, without question, that it will carry you home.”
Thursday, June 11, 2009
It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work.
It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your own heart.
(Thanks to Dee Schore for the quote. KS)
Friday, June 5, 2009
Warning that this story contains graphic content
Early this week, I went to the two fire stations that responded to the 911 call to help the stabbing victim in the previous post, and learned that the team on duty that Tuesday would also be working a shift yesterday.
Returning to the station yesterday, I was able to speak at length to the paramedic who was driving the fire truck that day, discovering, to my great joy: this young woman survived the attack and is recovering in a nearby hospital!!! This is really amazing news and lightens my heart about the incident considerably.
I’d prepared myself, as best I could, for the idea that she might not have made it because of the severity of her wounds. This kind paramedic told me that indeed it often happens that those you don’t expect to make it do (and, unfortunately, vice versa.) He also said that Dallas Fire Rescue is so often called out for very minor things like ‘stubbed toes’, that it’s a joy to actually help someone who really needs it. That’s a pretty great attitude, isn’t it?
The perpetrator was her husband or boyfriend, and her ten-year-old son was with her when she was attacked. The child ran home. Her attacker was running from the Dallas Police Department at the same time that those of us at the scene were bending over the young mother, trying to help her.
The knife-wielder then cut his own throat and wrists, and continued to run — a great distance, as I understand it — over fences, through some people’s backyards, leaving a trail of his own blood, until he was apprehended by the Dallas Police. Quite a dramatic story, and, obviously, quite a disturbed individual. He is recovering from his self-inflicted wounds in the hospital, and will then be going to jail.
I will continue to think of and pray for all concerned and to be extremely grateful for the wonderful, kind and skilled paramedics who showed up in a matter of minutes and saved this woman’s life.
The Garden Is Growing!
Update on The Garden: South Dallas, Texas
The Garden: South Dallas, Texas — a community garden for, by and with people who are homeless or formerly homeless in Dallas — is thriving under the leadership of the Discipleship of the Dallas International Street Church at 2706 Second Avenue near Fair Park. Team Leaders from the DISC took charge and led a work force of forty people from The Stewpot’s Community Court Project in a successful and fun Garden-Raising Day on Saturday, May 2, 2009. On April 2 we had a lovely but trash-littered field behind the church; by day’s end of the Garden-Raising, we had seven fully-planted organic raised garden beds!
All of us involved that day were tremendously joyful and proud of our accomplishment. Not only did these energetic and hardworking crews clean up the field and dig the turf out of the seven 4’ X 12’ garden beds, they hauled and laid concrete block borders, carried organic soil by wheelbarrow from the soil pile to fill the beds, trimmed trees, dug a flower bed, built garden benches and tables, and — the best part — at day’s end, everyone celebrated their labor by planting all seven beds with vegetables, herbs and flowers.
To view a slideshow by Mandy Mulliez of the the garden site, planning meetings,
and the Garden-Raising Day’s events, look here:
For a video clip of The Garden Team Leaders speaking on television about their experiences, look here: http://dallashomelessnetwork.blogspot.com/2009/05/garden-south-dallas-video.html
For many of us, the best thing about the day was the way that teams of homeless and formerly homeless individuals from the two programs, the Dallas International Street Church and the Stewpot Community Court Project, pitched in and worked together in a spirit which was more than harmonious — it was truly joyous! So many of us came away from the day elated with not only the significant physical accomplishments of the six crews, but the spirit of love, unity and camaraderie that we discovered working together.
More than once during the day, people came up to me and spoke of how hard it can be for people who live or have lived on the street to work together because of the challenges that each faces in his or her life. They expressed happiness both in their creation of The Garden and in the way they were able to cooperate in order to create it. Barry, one of the Stewpot supervisors, shared an observation of how people talked about their lives and their challenges with each other as they dug weeds, shoveled soil and planted seeds and plants.
Since the Garden-Raising, I’m proud to report that the six Team Leaders and their teams at the Dallas International Street Church have taken full responsibility for the care and nurture of their garden beds, watering them diligently, adding new plants, and reporting excitedly at our Garden meetings about which seedlings are emerging, what plants are producing, a couple of plants that are having problems and possible organic solutions. We already have a burgeoning crop of green beans! I quickly learned at our first full-church Garden meeting that we had many very knowledgeable and skilled gardeners in the congregation, and that knowledge grows and is spread around as people work side by side and share their expertise day by day. A Friend of the Garden has even donated a hammock where the hardworking gardeners can rest from their labors!
Here are some of the things we are growing this season: bush beans, Swiss chard, collards, Japanese eggplant, cucumbers, yellow crookneck squash, lettuce, onions, sugar-pod peas, carrots, okra, tomatoes, several varieties of peppers, strawberries, cantaloupe, watermelon, Italian-leaf parsley, cilantro, citronella, roses, marigolds, dianthus, zinnias, nasturtiums and about five other types of flowers — many of them tucked decoratively into the spaces in the concrete blocks. One of our gardeners is creating a special butterfly and bee garden bed. The gardeners have not only worked hard, they’ve been very creative in their garden design.
Something exciting and completely unexpected happened a week ago: just as we had exhausted our initial Seed Money Fund, an Anonymous Angel left an envelope at my house. On one side was written: “DON’T ASK WHO… PLEASE. IT IS A GIFT. KEEP UP WITH YOUR WORK.” On the other side, it said: “FENCE FUND. GOOD FENCES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS.” Inside was… $500! We are very grateful for such kindness, and this Saturday, May 17, the Stewpot DART Community Court Project is sending us another work crew, and we will install our new fencing!
If you are currently or formerly homeless, this is your garden, and you may become a gardener now or at any time by joining one of the teams at the DISC. (The church office telephone is 214-928-9595.)
Although we are going to wait until fall growing season to invite groups of volunteers to come in from outside the community and work with us, everyone is ALWAYS welcome to visit us — just knock on the Dallas International Street Church door and ask someone to show you the path. The Garden: South Dallas is a magical and serene place and one where we already love to sit with friends or alone, to talk or simply and quietly ‘find our peace.’
Special Thanks to:
Bruce Buchanan and the staff of The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church, Dallas
The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, especially Martha Lang, Outreach Director
The Garden Advisory Committee
Friends of The Garden for financial support and in-kind donations
Mandy Mulliez for photography
The Dallas Morning News and Michael Ainsworth for a photo spread of The Garden in the Metro Section on Sunday, May 3
Nancy Baker of White Rock Coffee for great coffee
Aaron Hardwick and Mindy of Breadwinners Restaurants and Catering for breakfast pastries for 100
Sandra Davis of SoupMobile for providing lunch for 100
Soil Building Systems for special pricing on Organic Growers Mix
Lowe’s at Northwest Highway & Jupiter for materials at cost
Louis, Cora and Anna for inspiration
and, OF COURSE, Pastor Karen Dudley for her great leadership, compassion and kindness to us all!
a bird bath
a bat house
concrete blocks for additional beds
cash for additional organic soil purchase
any and all healthy plants
any and all seed, especially heirloom varieties
gardening tools and gloves
limb loppers and pruners
a pole tree trimmer
a subscription to Organic Gardening Magazine [http://www.organicgardening.com/]
Saturday, May 2, 2009
The Garden-Raising Day, May 2, 2009
As of today, The Garden: South Dallas, Texas exists on the ground and not just in our minds, hearts, spirits and to-do lists! And it’s beautiful.
We had a wonderful day. Thanks very much to every single person who was involved.
Particular appreciation to The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church, Dallas; The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation; and The Garden Committee, all of whom made this possible.
Many Blessings, Karen
For a look at pictures of The Garden-Raising Day in progress, see the inside front cover of the Dallas Morning News Metro Section for Sunday, May 3, 2009.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Dallas International Street Church Gospel Choir
My friends Sandy and Oliver have given me, over the last 5-1/2 years, literally carloads of clothing, blankets, shoes, and toiletries that I’ve given away to our friends who live on the street and under the bridges in Dallas. They are the most ongoing and prolific donors imaginable for people experiencing homelessness in our city. Oliver, a chef, works many Saturday nights, so Sandy and I go out to dinner then from time to time, and last night was one of those times.
When Sandy and I met to go to dinner last evening, she’d brought with her a clothing donation (no surprise) for the Glory Thrift Store at 2704 Second Avenue (75210), the thrift shop of the Dallas International Street Church. “Let’s go down to the Thrift Store right now,” I told her, “and I’ll show you the site for The Garden: South Dallas, Texas, which is nearby!” She was game.
We arrived at the Street Church, and two men I know from Pastor Karen Dudley’s discipleship were standing out front. I’d forgotten about their live televised church service every Saturday at 7:30 P.M., which I’d attended several weeks ago and really enjoyed. “We missed the bus to the TV show by two minutes,” the guys told me. “We’ll drive you!” I told them, and we headed over to the Access 34 Television studio.
Inside the tv studio, we said hi to everyone, and, before the broadcast, Pastor Karen got all of us started singing — the choir, the audience — “When the Saints Go Marching In”. Every time I’m in the presence of the DISC Gospel Choir, I can’t help singing, clapping, practically shouting along with their joy-filled sound, and last night was no exception. By the time the broadcast started, everyone in the studio was swept up in the Love and the Spirit carried around the room by the choir’s beautiful voices and the sense of celebration in each face. By the time they’d stopped singing, they had, as usual, brought me to tears.
Next time WFAA Channel 8 has its Gospel Choir Competition, we could all write in and support them in being part of it!
Thursday, April 16, 2009
“The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein;…” ~~ Psalm 24
The Garden: South Dallas, Texas
On the morning of April 2, 2009, I blithely put up a blog post here about gardens (“The Magic of Gardens”.) I quote myself from that article: ”The idea [of a community garden] is something that’s beyond my purview to [help] organize … right now,” – and I was convinced of that at the time. However, by the same afternoon, I had received e-mails from staff members of two of the best nonprofit agencies benefitting people who are homeless in the City of Dallas saying that they were interested in being involved.
Janet offered the possible involvement of some volunteers. Pat informed me that Pastor Karen Dudley, Founder and Senior Pastor of the Dallas International Street Church in South Dallas, had been wanting to start a community garden for years, and, most importantly, that she had access to land where it could be done. [http://www.kdministries.org/]
I realized that perhaps… a community garden with and for Pastor Karen’s congregation and neighborhood and the street people of Dallas and was an idea whose time may have come.
Pastor Karen is a friend and someone I deeply admire (see “Miracle on Second Avenue”), and by the next afternoon, she and I were in the meadow adjacent to her church property, looking at a possible garden site. A week later, several people met at the Street Church to discuss what was involved in undertaking such a project. By the end of the meeting, these generous women, including Pastor Karen, had taken out their checkbooks and given us a significant start on a “Seed Money Fund.”
Driving home, I phoned my church, The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, and asked Outreach Director, Martha Lang, whether they might be willing to contribute to our community garden’s Seed Money Fund. I sent her a proposal that night and received a reply that she thought they could help. Miracle of miracles, it is two weeks to the day since “The Magic of Gardens” was written, and… The Garden: South Dallas, Texas (so dubbed by Pastor Karen) seems to be coming to life.
Generosity of Friends
~~ Our Seed Money Fund is up to $550.00, raised from the Garden Committee and Church of the Incarnation. $300 of this money will go to purchase organic soil from a Dallas company; the rest will go for concrete blocks to construct the four raised beds for the first phase of The Garden. (The soil on the land is not tillable.)
~~ We are incredibly blessed to have a work force of homeless individuals coming for a Garden-Raising Day (remember old-time barn raisings?) the first week in May to clean up the land and construct the beds. This has been arranged by The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, and the group will work alongside Pastor Karen’s congregation (most of whom have also come from the streets of Dallas). Our nonprofit friends are also providing work gloves and some tools!
~~ The Garden is being planned to be wheelchair accessible: one of our Garden Committee members, also an experienced gardener, uses a wheelchair, and she will advise us. Many individuals experiencing homelessness, whom we hope will come and work with us, use one as well.
~~ We have received invaluable input, research, information, donation of materials and enthusiastic support both from our Garden Committee members and from friends. All of this is much appreciated.
What Do We Need?
~~ To increase our Seed Money Fund in order to buy hoses to reach The Garden and soaker hoses for the beds to save water, to put a second level of concrete blocks on a few of our beds to make them higher for those in wheelchairs, to afford to construct additional raised beds beyond the four that our budget allows for now
NO DONATION IS TOO SMALL (unless you want change for a penny!)
~~ Donation of new or used fencing to enclose The Garden in stages to ward off theft or vandalism
~~ Donations of healthy plants or seeds from other gardeners (we’d love to try some heirloom seeds)
~~ Gardening tools of all kinds, garden carts or wheelbarrows for transporting soil and plant materials, or anything else you can think of!
Who Is the ‘Community’ in ‘Community Garden’?
‘Who Is the Community’ in the ‘Community Garden’ called The Garden: South Dallas, Texas? It is Pastor Karen’s church congregation and the friends and neighbors who live around the church (a neighborhood which would benefit greatly from fresh produce, as there are few supermarkets nearby), but also the true and full sense of community for The Garden: South Dallas, Texas, extends beyond geographical borders to include the entire homeless community of Dallas. One may not typically think of people spread across the city in different geographical locations as such, but a community it is –
it is a spiritual network of human beings spread across Dallas, the members of which sometimes stay in shelters, sometimes in alleys or behind dumpsters, sometimes under bridges in cardboard homes.
If you wonder whether this is a community, ask a person who is homeless on the streets of downtown whether they know a person who lives under a particular freeway overpass in a cardboard home several miles away. Percentage-wise, I’m guessing they are more likely to know that individual than many of us would be likely to know someone on our own block in the suburbs.
Our mission, our vision, our commitment, then, is a little different from that of the typical community garden, and also includes the desire to bring together people from disparate parts of the city with differing backgrounds to help us all come to know each other and to realize: we are the same — not ‘us and them.’ So come and work with us!
Possibilities for the Future
~~ We would like for The Garden to include benches, picnic tables, and walking paths for the enjoyment of gardeners, congregants, friends, and neighborhood families. Our dream is that it can become a beautiful and peaceful refuge for the community, with flowers, berries, fruit trees and herbs as well as vegetables.
~~ In time, we would love to have a produce stand out front that the gardeners can operate as a small business.
~~ We hope that a second phase of The Garden can contain raised beds for neighborhood families to rent for a nominal fee and manage on their own, such as is done in the East Dallas Community Garden and others. Our first four beds will serve the Street Church, the neighborhood, and the homeless community at large across the city.
~~ Perhaps in the future our gardeners can attend Master Classes in gardening at a community college, or go to work for landscaping companies or garden centers. Thus The Garden could come to help with job skills training.
For Now, a Hope for Healing
In a time of ’food insecurity’, growing what can sustain you has real power in and of itself. Along with this, perhaps someone who is in transition in their lives will come to dig or weed or plant in The Garden and remember… she or he had a garden as a child with their family, and it was a good thing. A healing reconnection to the past could be made by someone who has been alienated from his or her loved ones. Perhaps someone will realize, after feeling for a very long time that he or she can do nothing right in society’s eyes or their own… they have a skill, a gift and can make a contribution. Few things are more powerful than feeling that we matter and that we have something to give.
P.S. Within 48 hours of writing “The Magic of Gardens”, I received this e-mail from my grandson, Louis, who is six (Cora is his cousin, also six):
“i herd about the homeless garden wen you get started can we help? and is cora helpeng. love, louis.”
Good news travels fast!!!
“…What I do you cannot do: but what you do, I cannot do. The needs are great, and none of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.” ~~Mother Teresa
Link: Dallas Homeless Network Blog [http://dallashomelessnetwork.blogspot.com/2009/04/garden-for-homeless-community.html]
Thursday, April 2, 2009
The Magic of Gardens
(Someone, Please Steal This Idea!)
I love to garden in the winter, and in our North Texas climate, that is probably a good thing. One has to get an early start on the Texas heat, and it’s always tricky striking a balance between getting a jump on the drought and blistering sun with plants that are liable to bolt, and trying to ‘cheat’ our freeze date of March 17 by planting tender things like potatoes early — then remembering to cover them if we get a late freeze. There was one year when my kids were little — by the first of April, I had a burgeoning garden over which I was blissfully prideful, only to watch a late freeze take it down in mid-April!
This year, my son-law-law and grandson beat me to the punch. They had their onions in by mid-February, and now theirs are way ahead of mine. Still, by the second week in March, I could see the beginnings in my small vegetable patch of sugar-pod peas, carrots, Swiss chard, onions, tomatoes inter planted with nasturtiums, Italian parsley, radishes and bibb lettuce — all planted with the help of my three grandchildren. And in the perennial bed, lavender, rosemary, lamb’s ear, echinacea, artemisia and perennial marigold had over-wintered successfully and were leafing out.
Then my granddaughter found some potato plants growing out of small pieces of potato skin in the compost pile, and she pulled them out. One already had teensy baby potatoes growing on the roots, not an eighth of an inch long. She and I were pretty thrilled with this discovery and stuck the plants into the dirt at the end of the veggie patch. Four out of five are still going strong!
Today, she and I found a cloves of garlic sprouting in a basket in the kitchen, took them outside and stuck them in the ground. Later, we were thinning the lettuce plants, and she asked, “Do we take these and put them somewhere else?” “We can eat them if we want to, since we didn’t have salad for dinner.” Her eyes widened with tremendous excitement after a lifetime of being told she absolutely could not eat plants she picked up in her nature studies! We were washing dirt off lettuce sprouts and popping them in our mouths for the next half hour.
And what of my rather fatal tendency to research seed catalogs in the dead of winter, make detailed lists, shop for seeds, plan, diagram, plant, and chart a garden fervently in late winter / early spring, set up elaborate systems of hose hookups for watering… then get busy with other things and skip the rather vital part of actually doing the watering for several days at a time in a climate where three days without water is a death knell to many plants? Hallelujah! My grand kids as almost-first-graders are responsible enough now to head straight out to the garden, grab the hose, and give things a good soaking themselves.
When my girls were small, Steve, their dad (an expert gardener who puts me in the shade) kept a really marvelous and large organic garden. We literally had three or four varieties of fresh vegetables for dinner most nights during peak season. One mild winter day, my daughters and I went out to sit in the garden plot and ‘watch nature.’ All the vegetables from the previous fall had long been harvested and consumed. Then one of us noticed some carroty-looking sprouts coming out of the ground and pulled them up. There were several sweet, cold carrots that had managed to winter over! We wiped the dirt off and ate them on the spot. My girls are twenty-eight and thirty-one now, and we still talk about that day and how good those carrots tasted.
These days, as soon in the afternoon as I get a chance, I head out to the garden. It is such a tonic. There is something healing about being there that helps me leave everything behind — something that goes beyond words.
Recently, while I was out there deadheading winter growth off of some perennials, I began to think of the healing effects of being in the garden, ‘watching the lettuce grow,’ and I thought how great it would be for people in homeless shelters to be able to plant and manage a community garden, while they are in the process of transitioning from the street into housing. My fantasy spun off into all the elements required to grow strong plants: getting the proper soil balance and consistency, providing the right combination of water and sun to help a particular plant thrive, finding a healthy harmony between management and ‘letting things be’ — just like the right balance of elements for a happy and successful human life. Gardening seems to be art as well as science.
I thought of the sheer magic of sticking a seed into the ground and seeing it transform itself into a flower, herb or vegetable that can be enjoyed for its beauty or brought to the dinner table (or eaten on the spot, like my girls and their carrots, and mine and my granddaughter’s lettuce sprouts!) I thought of how people in shelter settings could learn to work together — and of how the healing power of being in a garden would facilitate that.
Then I pictured a stall at the Farmer’s Market in downtown, where the good people of Dallas were lined up to support formerly homeless individuals who had grown prize-winning organic produce and were offering it for sale. All of the things that had gotten them to that point with a garden would be part and parcel of a skill set that could help them toward self-sufficiency in their lives: cooperation, organization, planning and executing a project, seeing it through to completion, a bit of ‘prayer and magic’ for an auspicious result, and earning some cash off it all to boot.
The idea is something that’s beyond my purview to organize and pull off right now. But I wish someone would steal it and run with it — maybe someone at the Bridge or other shelter facility or non-profit agency downtown. If it happens, I’ll come and help with the weeding, and I’ll be the first in line at the Farmer’s Market stall, cash in hand!
Saturday, March 21, 2009
I clipped this out of The Angelus, my church’s newsletter, several years ago. Knowing it’s Lent now rather than Advent, still it can speak to us poignantly. KS
With No Conditions
“The day after Thanksgiving the New York Times told [the story] of a 33-year-old local cab driver… About five years ago, this cabby ‘prayed to God for guidance on how to help the forgotten people of the streets who exist in life’s shadows.’ As he recalls it, God replied: ‘Make eight pounds of spaghetti, throw it in a pot, give it out on 103rd Street and Broadway with no conditions, and people will come.’ He did, they came, and now he goes from door to door giving people food to eat.
I am not asking you to stuff the Big Apple with spaghetti, but a New York cabby can bring light into your Advent night. He prayed to a God who was there; he listened; he gave the simple gift God asked of him; he gave ‘with no conditions’; and people responded. Here is your Advent:
Make the Christ who has become a reality, a living light, in your life and in some other life. Give of yourself… to one dark soul… with no conditions.”
~~Written by Walter J. Burghardt (from The Angelus, Newsletter of Church of the Incarnation [Episcopal])
Monday, March 9, 2009
When we have solved the problem of homelessness in Dallas, we will know it. We will not need to ticket, arrest and harass homeless people for being on the streets of our town in order to get them out of sight. They won’t need to be on the street, because they will have access to housing, social programs, and jobs which pay a living wage.
Our programs serving the homeless will not be averse to criticism, because they will be good, fair, evenhanded and effective. They will work, and, if they do not work, we will listen to those who ‘know how to,’ and we will change them. Therefore, they will be funded.
Take the example of the Stewpot. When the Stewpot puts out an appeal, people generously respond. Why? Because this is an organization which has credibility, viability, integrity and staying power. Rules are rules, and the homeless clients they serve know this; the rules are for everyone, and they don’t change every day. A client may or may not believe that a rule is fair; nonetheless, trust is built with the organization because those living in the perilous and shifting sands that street life offers know what to expect at the Stewpot, day in and day out. Donors have the confidence that their donations, in-kind and monetary, will be directed efficiently to the targeted population. There is a strong, trusted, and experienced leader at the Stewpot [Rev. Bruce Buchanan], and there is accountability among the staff to him.
Clarity. Consistency. Transparency.
Here is a conversation I had with an intelligent and well-educated ‘chronically homeless’ individual recently in response to my question, “Do you use the [homeless assistance center and shelter system]?”
“I tried it for a while, but I gave up. If I want craziness, I can get it out here [on the street]. I don’t have to go there to get it. They want me to give up whatever drugs I might want to use, but then they want to put me on their [prescription] drugs in order to sedate me into being a person who can fit into their way of doing things and be compliant.”
I am not an advocate of ‘recreational’ drugs — don’t use them or champion their legalization. I think they are almost wholly destructive. But this point of view makes sense from a certain perspective.
What is the element that is missing between this homeless individual and the organizations built to facilitate her or his getting off the street? Trust. I’m not sure I would trust the system much either if I were in his or her position, and I understand the viewpoint even from the privileged perspective of being a property owner and a taxpayer [although, as we are seeing, even these privileges are quite tenuous in uncertain times.]
But when one is utterly powerless and living on the street, it is not likely that one will give up the little power and comfort one has in order to put oneself in the hands of authorities which are perceived to be unreliable, unpredictable and whimsical in their exercise of power, at best. Not one of us would choose that, would we? Is it a character flaw to choose independent living, rough as it is, over the perception of a dangerous surrender? We have squandered an opportunity to win the trust of some chronically homeless individuals in recent months, and I hope it can be rebuilt.
“If I want craziness, I can get it out here. I don’t have to go there to get it.” A concise and eloquent statement.
When we have solved the problem of homelessness in Dallas, we will know it. There won’t be hundreds to thousands of homeless individuals living in the woods, hiding from Dallas authorities. We won’t have to dissemble, harass, prosecute, and hound people into shelters and treatment. Our programs will be open to constructive criticism, and our responses to the same will be forthcoming, measured and rational.
As my friend, David Timothy, says of his organization, the SoupMobile: “I don’t want us to just look good. I want us to be good.”
That is a goal worth striving for, and it is the only one that will succeed.
Link on Pegasus News:
Link on Dallas Homeless Network:
Monday, February 16, 2009
While Dallas city officials have been busy this winter enforcing ‘quality of life’ ordinances by ticketing and arresting homeless citizens during the bitterest cold weather, other cities have found more humane solutions to the question of “Where will homeless people be during cold weather?”
Here are some links from various cities around the United States which have employed the use of ‘warming stations’ and ‘hypothermia vans’ to help those without homes get out of the cold:
Charlotte, North Carolina
“Warming shelters open for the homeless”
“Charlotte leaders activating emergency homeless shelters due to the anticipated cold”
Las Vegas, Nevada
“Warming stations for homeless opened”
“As cold hits, city makes sure homeless OK”
“City of Middletown says warming station in church breaks zoning laws”
“Warming Stations Open For Homeless”
Rochester, New York
“Poor People United, Emergency Warming Station kicks off!”
“Volunteers needed tonight for warming centers”
San Luis Obispo, California
“Prado Day Center offers SLO’s homeless a second shelter from cold”
“Riding cold: Hypothermia van rescues homeless from frigid nights”
“Cold has agencies helping the homeless”
“Winter blast leaves 17 dead”
I am beginning to wonder: are we going to be able to get it right here in Dallas?
Remember, we have less than 2000 shelter beds for around 6000 homeless individuals. Let’s spend some of the money we have spent on policing this winter on warming stations (other than the jail) and hypothermia vans.