Then he turned to the host. “The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be—and experience—a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned—oh, how it will be returned!—at the resurrection of God’s people.”
Tonight was my last meal at 9th Street ministry “Taking it to the Streets.”
It was a strange feeling.
I really don’t want the journey to end.
Most of my good friends on the streets have been informed of my real identity. All of them took it well…and we actually drew closer as friends.
Georgia and Jesse have been like brothers. I would do anything for them.
Once the meal was over, Jesse and I took the bus to our bridge area near downtown. The minute I got on the bus, a women shouted with joy “You are the Pastor on the News!”.
I froze. So did Jesse. Actually he started to laugh.
The woman saw the clips of my journey on WOAI and was moved by the experience. She had a lot of questions and made sure the entire bus knew what I was doing. It was very humbling.
The woman was homeless herself, or at least in poverty. However, after talking with her, she pulled out $2 dollars and leaned over to kiss me on the cheek.
I tried to refuse the money. But she would not have it. She wanted it to go to me and my ministry.
I was moved.
She does not have anything….
But this woman gave a lot.
Maybe everything she had.
Woman, here is your son.” Then to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”
Community matters. At some point or another we all need someone to care for us when we are incapable of taking care of our own lives.
This has been a major theme of my journey. Sometimes I needed my friends to survive. Sometimes they needed me.
The Christian Faith calls us, even challenges us, to care for each other just as we would care for ourselves.
Jesus takes it a step up from 10%. He says to give all to the poor and broken hearted.
If we did…what would our community look like?
When Jesus was dying, his mother Mary and The Beloved Disciple (along with others) were at the foot the cross mourning his execution. Before he passed, Jesus had one more lesson to give to his disciples and his own mother.
While the soldiers were looking after themselves, Jesus’ mother, his aunt, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the cross. Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her. He said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that moment the disciple accepted her as his own mother.
Jesus understood the importance of caring for others. Now, he passed the care of his mom into the hands of John.
And she was to care for him in the same way she cared for Jesus, James, and her other children.
Her family was expanding.
Her family, faith, and her community became one in the same.
For Christ, relationships and spirituality cannot be separated.
Through Jesus, God is calling us to live the same way as Christ did…
sacrificially loving others despite the desires of security and self interests.
Its a Relationship…not a Religion…
Jesus said, “Don’t worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise.”
Here we get of glimpse of Jesus’ real mission. He was not just a teacher—not just a prophet. He was our Savior.
His ministry never ceases—-even during execution.
After hearing one of the men being crucified next to him seek God’s Kingdom, Christ offered it to him for his simple act of faith.
Printed over him was a sign: this is the king of the jews.
One of the criminals hanging alongside cursed him: “Some Messiah you are! Save yourself! Save us!”
But the other one made him shut up: “Have you no fear of God? You’re getting the same as him. We deserve this, but not him—he did nothing to deserve this.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.”
He said, “Don’t worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise.”
Jesus knew what was about the become possible—-Eternal Life. Worry was no longer a problem. Fear was about to cease.
Salvation was at hand.
And he offered it unconditionally to a criminal who at the last moment accepted God’s love in his life.
But it’s still a choice.
One criminal clung to his “self”.
One criminal revived his “self” and gave it over to Christ.
One criminal experienced Paradise.
For the remainder of Holy Week I will post the last seven sayings of Christ while on the cross.
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
Jesus had just been beaten, spit on, whipped, mocked, paraded down to the hill, made to carry his cross and hung by two other criminals.
He didn’t fight back. When he was arrested Peter attempted to fight and cut off the ear of a Roman guard. Jesus told Peter to put down his sword and healed the man’s ear before being arrested and unjustly tried by the Jewish and Roman leaders. He remained quiet…
Hanging on the cross…the guards and people were mocking him and his ministry…but instead of cursing them…Jesus found the deep love to forgive them. Because they did not know what they were really doing. It was a bad case of group think and bigotry.
Not only does he offer forgiveness through his action of non-violence….he even petetions God to forgive them.
How in the world can someone love like that?
How can we begin living and participating in the same kind of forgiveness?
During my 40 days I have met some amazing people.
As I said before, the diversity within homelessness is much larger than I anticipated.
There are people with full time jobs.
There are people with temp jobs.
There are travelers who love to hop towns.
There are drug addicts unable to skip their fix.
There are the mentally ill.
There are scholars.
There are students.
There are believers.
There are non-believers.
There are people who are single.
There are people who are married.
I have to be honest, meeting married couples in the homeless community was not on my radar. It’s not like I was unaware of homeless couples, but I was not really looking to find it.
During my journey, I have met 3 married couples around town living in shelters and on the streets. (There are more…but these are the ones I met.)
The first couple was married in a ceremony during the Church Under the Bridge service on a Sunday I visited. It was a sweet service that took place during normal worship. I like that. Why do we make such a big deal about weddings? Let’s start making a big deal about marriage. I posted their photo below.
The second couple I met have been living in the outdoor shelter together for quite some time (although they are not allowed to sleep in the same section or
any contact deemed “purple.” They have been married for 9 years and have been on and off the streets. They have their common fights (usually in public due to the lack of privacy in the outdoor shelter) but always seem to stick together.
The third couple is the couple I know the best. Georgia (whom I have mentioned before) has been married to his wife for just over a year. Due to their circumstances, they sought out the shelter (even from out of state) to help take care of his wife.
However, this was not Georgia’s first marriage. He was married for over 15 years to his first wife. When Georgia and his first wife were pregnant with their first child, both she and the baby were tragically killed in a car accident. They were taken away from Georgia and this world.
Georgia was broken. And rightly so.
Why would God take them from this world?
Years passed before Georgia began to date again. The sting of the deaths were too much to handle.
Then he met Denise…
They dated and got married. They have been married for 2 years and are deeply committed to each others needs.
Denise struggles with deep depression and PTSD—so they hand picked the San Antonio shelter to receive the best care possible.
Being homeless and married creates a hard situation.
For Georgia…that means sleeping outside for months until his wife gets out of the shelter.
Gives a whole new meaning to the vow
“For Richer and For Poorer”
The last few Monday’s have seem to be hard days for me on the streets.
Monday: Tornado Warning
Monday: Abuse and Detained
I arrived at the homeless shelter just after I had dinner with some of my Young Life students at Edison High School. (I think it’s great that I work with students at both Alamo Heights and Edison…those two schools are not getting along right now…)
Once I arrived, I waited in line to be checked by security but before I got to the front I realized that I had forgotten to organize my backpack. At the shelter, you cannot bring in medication of any kind without informing the authorities and allowing them to administer the drugs 1-3 times a day.
I decided to risk it…and sneak my meds in…
As I entered the gates I was chosen for a pat down after my belt set off the metal detector. I was pulled aside for a pat down. Bad News.
After the pat down was over, they found out that I had a bag of antacids in my pocket.
They were not happy to say the least. They pulled me aside to interview me about my medication and to see if I had other drugs hidden in my bag. They were not very understanding.
After my bag was deemed clean, they still needed to find out if I had told the truth. Through a simple google search of the pill number, they realized I was telling the truth and gave me a stern warning. (I could have been kicked out for the night…)
Once inside, I ran into Georgia just before he laid down his mat to listen to music on his player. Here is where I leaned that our good friend Jesse was checked into the psychiatric ward at the Baptist Hospital downtown.
Jesse is a nice guy (26 years old) but is wild by nature. Bi-Polar would be a good way to describe him…however, one thing Jesse does not do is lie. Even if it gets him in trouble. Over the last few weeks, apart from William and Robert (who live in the barn…), Georgia and Jesse have been solid friends…despite their crazy ways. One thing is for sure…they are loyal…very loyal. I needed that on the streets the past 40 days.
Jesse is a cutter.
Meaning…Jesse cuts his arms with a razor to feel the pain (and make marks) on his body. I am not an expert on cutting…but some of my youth have struggled with this destructive habit. There are many reasons people cut themselves…but for Jesse…he cuts himself so he can “feel something” in his life…even if it hurts. Despite the harm, the pain is that something. Cutting makes him feel “alive”…and feel some emotion in his life. The twisted practice is not too far off from how monastic monks used to flagellate their bodies as an extreme form of mortification of their own flesh (penance)… by whipping themselves with various instruments.
Regardless, it’s an extremely harmful way to justify feeling and emotion….both for Jesse and the monks.
Earlier in the night, Jesse cut way too deep into his arm. It was bleeding everywhere…so when he arrived near the outdoor shelter, Georgia told him to go to the ER and receive help. Jesse listened to his friend and checked himself into the psychiatric ward at the hospital near the shelter. That is when I arrived and learned from Georgia about Jesse’s problem.
It was a bad week. In just seven days…two of my four friends were no longer able to be free. Jesse was in the hospital and William was in jail. It was just Georgia and I that night… hanging in the outdoor shelter. My friends were being depleted.
To get our mind off our problems, Georgia and I watched a movie on a laptop he traded for his phone. We watched the X-Men Prequel. It was really good. Just for kicks… Who are the mutants in our society?
After the movie, we went to bed…so we could wake up early, find work for Georgia, and visit Jesse in the hospital.
We got up at 6am and had breakfast. It was really basic….but we ate the food anyway. Beggars can’t be choosers.
After we ate, we walked outside to unlock Georgia’s bike so he could ride around and find work. We quickly realized his bike was stolen overnight.
Georgia was very mad. Actually…really, really mad. We went to the shelter security and they said they would review the cameras and locate the thief. I doubted their commitment. However, they eventually tracked the guy down and kicked him out for 7 days. That did not ease Georgia’s mind.
To calm down, Georgia and I went to buy a few cigars and then went to take showers at TriPoint. It helped…but Georgia was still hacked…and depressed. The bike was his transportation. It meant a lot to him.
Just before we were about to walk down to visit Jesse, my church worship leader called and reminded me (and the other pastoral staff) of a commitment we had made to attend an Easter banquet for women in the Rehab Center that we support. The men of our staff had planned to escort the ladies around the room in an Easter Parade during the banquet. It is good old Baptist fun! But I was late!!!
Georgia said we could delay the hospital visit and take care of the banquet….so Georgia and I ran a mile to the church to make the parade just in time. In fact…Georgia became one of the escorts. He even wore a top hat and cane while leading a lady around the banquet room. It was classic Gavin…pulling a friend into a random activity they woke up never dreaming they would do that day…but it was awesome. For a moment, Georgia was able to help someone else in need and forget about his own problems! It was a God Moment.
After the Easter Parade, we headed down to see Jesse but the hospital did not allow us to visit him. He was still on Suicide Watch and could not see unapproved visitors….even though I am a Baptist Minister visiting a Baptist Hospital. Rules are rules.
So we went to find a job. Over the next few hours we looked for work. But nobody was hiring…it was a depressing journey.
But I learned something…if you say on your application that you live at the shelter…they will not hire you. The shelter is where many of my friends receive mail…and paperwork…but they will be blocked from employment due to the fear of homelessness.
I was now even more depressed.
Are we really that shallow?
A few days later…Jesse was released. We spent the entire day today hanging out around San Antonio. I even took him to our church’s community center and allowed him to take a long shower at the YMCA. It was good to see him clean…but his scars were bad.
It made me think…
Christ death offers us to experience and feel true life. His sorrow offers us true joy. Tomorrow we mourn how he allowed his body to be cut and broken so we don’t have to experience the pain and cuts of death that we deserved to feel. I hope Jesse learns to trust in God more…so he can feel the Love that will last forever…and not trust in the pain of cutting that will only be felt for a moment.
When Jesse and I (along with many others) were raided by the SAPD, I was amazed by how many people were coming out from under the bridges and bushes nearby. (You can read about the raid in the post called “Detained.”)
Why were so many people sleeping under the bridge? The area was not very clean. It was trashed out, damp, and smelled like a mixture between motor oil and urine. The shelter is just down the street…why would they not sleep in the indoor shelter…or the outdoor shelter?
I was surprised to see so many of my friends (who regularly sleep at the outdoor shelter) around the bridge that night and the next morning during the raid. They usually are sleeping on mats…why would the go sleep in the bushes?
Then… one truth was revealed.
“We are human. We got to make love somewhere— my friend Jesse honestly confessed.
Oh my gosh…they were rolling in the hay…literally…rolling in the hay.
I was surprised to hear that…but I don’t know why…after learning more…it began to make sense.
Personal connection and touch is a real human emotion. We all have the same bodies. We all desire love and physical connection. Despite one’s view of sex and marriage…many have the freedom and liberty to choose how to participate in sexual behavior.
If we want to…we have homes for privacy…not bushes or bridges.
If we want to…we can stay late at our girlfriends and boyfriends house…and only risk our parents wrath…
If we want to…we can sleep around…and only risk the destruction of our marriage, current relationship, and faith….not our civil freedom.
In everyone of these situations..there is a common freedom. Freedom to make good choices and freedom to make bad choices—-and many are very bad choices…!
However, most of my homeless friends are limited to no freedom when it comes to personal touch or physical encounters…married and not married.
In the indoor shelter (for good reason) the dorm buildings are separated and not co-ed. Only a few couples qualify for married housing…until then you are separated with no place to go.
In the outdoor shelter (for good reason) the courtyard is separated into men’s and women’s sleeping areas. Members of the opposite sex are not allowed to enter the other’s area for any reason. No sitting together on the mat…no snuggling…and definitely no sexual contact.
I don’t blame the shelter for the rules…they need to be in place. However, when there is a lack of common freedom within a community…the members of that community will usually find ways to gain some of that freedom back at any cost…
Even if it’s destructive to their body, other people, or property.
The cost: a trespassing ticket…or jail.
Freedom…its a tricky thing.
Love is even tricker.
I don’t have any good solutions yet. However I know that the lack of liberty and lack of places of shelter for the homeless to find privacy is a big problem—- even when the problem seems as simple as making out with your beau.
What are your thoughts?
Jesus was betrayed by one of his 12 closest friends. Judas was the bad guy. But I don’t put all the betrayal on Judas. In the Gospel of Matthew,after Jesus was arrested, the writer states “all the disciples cut and ran.”
Even Simon Peter, the Rock, betrayed and denied Jesus three times before the rooster made a sound the next morning.
Judas put the betrayal into motion….but others were soon to follow.
The deference….Judas never turned back around to experience God’s unconditional grace. He took his life.
But for a moment. All of Jesus’ friends, apart for his Mother, neglected him when he have his life for all humanity.
They knew this day was coming. Jesus warned them…but they were caught off guard.
In fact. We are all to blame. We all have betrayed Jesus at some point. We all have allowed our self interests to get in the way of God’s Love.
We can easily be caught off guard.
It’s not all Judas.
A Dark Night
Leaving there, he went, as he so often did, to Mount Olives. The disciples followed him. When they arrived at the place, he said, “Pray that you don’t give in to temptation.”
He pulled away from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, remove this cup from me. But please, not what I want. What do you want?” At once an angel from heaven was at his side, strengthening him. He prayed on all the harder. Sweat, wrung from him like drops of blood, poured off his face.
He got up from prayer, went back to the disciples and found them asleep, drugged by grief. He said, “What business do you have sleeping? Get up. Pray so you won’t give in to temptation.”
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than a crowd showed up, Judas, the one from the Twelve, in the lead. He came right up to Jesus to kiss him. Jesus said, “Judas, you would betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”
When those with him saw what was happening, they said, “Master, shall we fight?” One of them took a swing at the Chief Priest’s servant and cut off his right ear.
Jesus said, “Let them be. Even in this.” Then, touching the servant’s ear, he healed him.
Jesus spoke to those who had come—high priests, Temple police, religion leaders: “What is this, jumping me with swords and clubs as if I were a dangerous criminal? Day after day I’ve been with you in the Temple and you’ve not so much as lifted a hand against me. But do it your way—it’s a dark night, a dark hour.” (The Message)
Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. That other disciple was known to the Chief Priest, and so he went in with Jesus to the Chief Priest’s courtyard. Peter had to stay outside. Then the other disciple went out, spoke to the doorkeeper, and got Peter in.
The young woman who was the doorkeeper said to Peter, “Aren’t you one of this man’s disciples?”
He said, “No, I’m not.”
The servants and police had made a fire because of the cold and were huddled there warming themselves. Peter stood with them, trying to get warm………
Meanwhile, Simon Peter was back at the fire, still trying to get warm. The others there said to him, “Aren’t you one of his disciples?”
He denied it, “Not me.”
One of the Chief Priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?”
Again, Peter denied it. Just then a rooster crowed.
A friend showed me this link: San Antonio will allow campers during the Easter Weekend at local city parks. Looks like the homeless can camp without getting arrested for a night.
|You probably already know about this…but just in case you don’t. http://www.woai.com/news/local/story/San-Antonio-to-open-city-parks-for-Easter-camping/zD1rceF__EqiryqpYN72Ug.cspx?rss=68
Looks like you can “camp” over the weekend and not get arrested! Might be a fun experience!