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Activism bible Christ Christianity Classism

The Eye of a Needle

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ ”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

–Mark 10:17-24

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Music Musical Musical Theatre Performing Arts Piano

A Place for Us

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Activism Classism Homelessness Sociology stigma

Homeless Shelters

Note: this post was first written here in an answer to a question posed on the Q&A site Quora, which I am acknowledging according to their terms of service.   The question, as posed, was “What are homeless shelters like?”  Of course, I could only answer according to my personal experience.  But I did my best.  

During the many years when I was homeless, I stayed in a number of different shelters, as well as in other group situations that were even less favorable and less appealing to me than the preferred choice to sleep in a secluded spot outdoors.

I did get a good feeling from one or two of the shelters, but most of them gave me the creeps. Even in the one where I felt most “at home,” it was still assumed that I was of a criminal mentality, and that I had a criminal record. I had a hard time believing that all of us who had fallen into homelessness were “criminals” – and of course I gravitated toward those who clearly were not.

I eventually realized that part of the reason why this mentality was so widespread was because the people who ran the homeless shelter were themselves ex-convicts or criminals in varying states of reformation, rehabilitation, or recovery. So from the top down, it was pretty much assumed that one was comfortable with the criminal element.

A great plus was my being able to get a free breakfast with unlimited coffee refills in the morning; in fact, Peet’s coffee was served, which I loved. At night, there would be dinners brought by organizations in the community who desired to help the homeless. Usually these were religious organizations having a strong bent in the area of converting the homeless to their particular brand of faith. That I already had my own religious preferences was usually dismissed as irrelevant, since it was assumed that if I had a true “relationship with God,” I would never have wound up homeless to begin with.

The preponderance of religious zealotry mixed in with a criminal mentality made it almost impossible for me to feel “safe” in the shelter. I slept on a fold-up cot that sank down very low in the middle, inducing backaches, and not conducive to a good night’s sleep. When the night manager shouted: “Lights Out!” at ten at night, all that this meant, literally, was that the lights were turned off. It did not mean that people kept their voices down or made an effort to stay quiet.

In close proximity to my cot was a large T.V. where a number of the men who had rented pornographic movies stayed up and watched porn flicks all night, reacting as men would do in private to the various suggestions of these movies, while I was trying liberty-safetyunsuccessfully to sleep.

I constantly feared for the theft of my laptop and cell phone. I kept my backpack attached by one of its straps to my body at all times, even while I slept (or tried to.) Although there were lockers in the shelter, one had to fill out a lengthy application in order to obtain one of the lockers, and there was a long waiting list to get one. I often declined to take a shower in the morning after I watched a young man’s Ibinez custom electric guitar be stolen during the five minutes he was allotted to shower. But at least they had showers, and it was also a good place to shave and brush my teeth, both of which activities were frowned upon in the library bathrooms, as well as in the bathrooms of local cafes and restaurants. It was nice having a bathroom right nearby during the night, and this was one advantage that staying in the shelter had to sleeping outdoors.

I also was able to do my laundry on Tuesdays and receive razor blades on Wednesdays. There were several other perks. In general, however, I felt “safer” sleeping outdoors in a secluded place known only to me. But I must put the word “safe” in quotes, because the concept of “safety” is meaningless on the streets. We did not think in terms of “safety;” and whenever anyone made references to our “safety” (or the lack of it) we were generally baffled. Homelessness was best regarded as a wild adventure, where one had to be ready for anything at any time, almost like being in a war zone. The word “safety” has very little relevance to that manner of life.  

I must also disclaim that in this brief exposé, I have tried to describe only the shelter I liked best. The last one, the one I liked least, was the one where I was kicked out for catching a flu, even though I had obviously caught the flu in the shelter itself. There followed an awful scenario in which I was denied a stay in a hospital because I was homeles and kicked off of the all-night bus (where several homeless people regularly slept) because of my having the flu. Having a bad flu and being forced to stay outdoors was the catalyst toward terminating my homeless “adventure” of twelve years. But I owe that termination to prayer and to my God. Homelessness is a hole so deep, one really has to have lived it in order to understand how next-to-impossible it can be to climb out of it. I consider myself therefore lucky and blessed. 

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Activism Christianity Homelessness Spirituality stigma

(Talks 2018) – Talk No. 2

Here’s the second talk in my Talks 2018 series, intended to illuminate the realities of the Homeless Experience to those who have not yet been there.   This talk shows how a person having found themselves winding up homeless more often than not might eventually make a conscious choice to live outdoors, rather than inside an untenable situation.  

Homeless by Choice

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Creative process Musical Theatre Performing Arts Playwriting

Tuesday Tuneup 17

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Yes.  You are a part of me.

Q. Why have you summoned me?

A. Quick, spot-check tuneup.  I know, I know — it’s Thursday, not Tuesday.  I’m two days late.

Q. Why so late?

A. Exhaustion.  Sleeping round the clock ever since July 4th, for eight days barely fitting in all the things I’m supposed to be doing in this world.

new-beginning-quotes-picturesQ. What happened on July 4th?

A. Independence.

Q. Independence from what?

A. From Eden in Babylon. 

Q. You were — enslaved by Eden in Babylon?

A. I was indeed.  Enslaved by my own work.

Q. And now you are free?

A. In a very real sense, yes.  I need no longer belabor this script.   It’s as good as it needs to be, in order for me to submit it.

Q. Don’t you need the demo in order to submit it?

A. The demo is on its way.   The pieces for the final mix are coming in.  Listen to this one, the first one — you gotta admit it’s not bad:

Q. Who’s the singer?

A. Her name’s Erika.  Very good singer, classically trained with a degree in Voice, and having musical theatre experience.  Obviously, she put her whole heart into it.  I acknowledge her in full, along with the sound engineer, on the credits.

Q. But don’t you need more than one song on the demo?

A. They’re on their way.  I’ve heard drafts of the mixes.  The engineer is in the process of preparing a final mix.   It won’t be long now.

Q. And then what?

A. Then I package the show, of course.  I send out packages to theatre companies who accept submissions of new musicals.  And also, to theatre companies where I’ve worked in the past, or where I know people with whom I’ve worked, people who might think well of me from the start (as opposed to hearing from a total stranger.)   

Q. Won’t this cost money?

A. Gee, I thought you’d never ask.  Of course it will cost money.  And this could take a long time.

Q. Won’t that be a drag?

A. Maybe.  But the way I look at it, it’s all part of the process.  It could take a long time, or it might not take very long at all, depending on how it’s meant to be. 

Q. What if it’s not meant to be?

A. Oh, it’s meant to be all right.  If it weren’t meant to be, it wouldn’t have gotten this far. 

Q.  But once you’ve sent out your script and your music, won’t you have to wait to hear from these companies?  For months on end?  Possibly years?  What if you never hear from them at all?

A. Then there’s another alternative.  Rather than put most of the money into submissions, put only a little bit of the money toward that aspect.  Say, 20%.  The other 80% will go toward funding a trial production — a local production, renting out a local house that will be ideal for the show.  And then — inviting key people to the production.

Q. So then you can invite the people to whom you’ve submitted the show to come to this local production?

A. Yes.  And not only them – but all kinds of other people.  We’ll run the show for six nights only, over three weekends.  

hartungQ. Can you get this venue for three weekends in a row?

A. If I start soon enough, I can.

Q. How much does it rent for per night?

A. Two hundred bucks.

Q. So that’s $1200 you need already?

A. More than that.  Add an extra four nights for tech week, and make it $2000.  Plus, they provide the technical staff, and I have to pay them $15/hr.

Q. And won’t there be other costs?

A. All kinds of costs.  I need to print out scripts.  I might need to rent a rehearsal space, some building on campus somewhere, a space to use only to rehearse.  Then of course I have to hold auditions somewhere, and get a cast together.  Prior to that, there will be advertising costs.   This thing could cost me hella money, let’s face it.

Q. Won’t there be some kind of return?  Or profit margin?

A. I wouldn’t say profit.  But a partial return, in terms of box office receipts.  Even for the trial production at the perfect 400-seat theatre I have in mind, there will be ticket costs.  I won’t let people in for free.

Q. So some money will be coming back?

A. To somebody, yes.  Maybe that can go to the investor, or investors.

Q. Investor?  Investors?

A. Yeah.  That’s what I’m thinking,.  Some detached person with little more than a monetary interest, might kick down some reasonable sum of money in exchange for box office receipts, and a small profit.

Q. But will that be enough to produce the show?

A. Naw, it would only be a jump start.  A drop in the bucket, maybe.

Q. Where will the rest of the money come from?

A. Grants.  Loans.  Financial aid.   LP sales.

Q. LP sales?  

A. Yes.  First off, I’m trying to sell my LP.  I’ve managed to sell over 15 CD’s – you know, hard copies, to people in the hood who like my stuff.  But online, last I checked, only two people had bought one.  And they were both, like, friends of mine.

Q. Isn’t that discouraging?

A. I try not to think in those terms.  I just have to push harder.

Q. But doesn’t this all go against your grain?

A. What grain?  You gotta do what you gotta do.  And relax in the process, knowing that the outcome is inevitable.

commitmentQ. Inevitable?

A. Inevitable.  It’s meant to be.

Q. How can you say that?

A. I just can.  I just know.  It has something to do with the nature of complete commitment, and forging forward continuously, despite obstacles.  

Q. But how do you know that your commitment is complete?  I mean, if you did nothing but sleep for eight days after you finished your script, that hardly indicates the kind of commitment that suggests hard work and fortitude.  

A. Maybe not.  But it shows how much work went into that script, and why an eight day crashout would be warranted.   And besides, there’s a universal nature to all of this that plays upon my very laziness, the very burnout of which you speak.

Q. How so?

A. It’s like this.  Whenever I sink, whenever I crash, whenever I begin to feel that the whole project is random, and senseless, and pointless, and useless, and doomed to failure from the start, something happens in the Universe that alerts me back to the program.

Q. What do you mean?

A. Take for example when this demo came about.  I had all but given up on the project.  I had turned my attention to other things, more tangible, lucrative ventures.  But at that very moment of disillusionment, the sound engineer appeared, willing to provide his services for free.   This revitalized me.

And then, the money for the singers manifested at the exact time when we could do the studio work, and I could actually pay them.   Saving up for months to pay competent, trained singers, actually worked.  It was frustrating having to scrimp and save, while former associates of mine, people with money to spare, were only laughing at me and scoffing at me.  But they too were a provision of the Universe.

Q. How so?

A. They provided the Resistance.  Without resistance, there is no creation.  Without an enemy, there is no battle.

Q. Then this whole thing is a battle?

A. Yes. I am at war.

Q. At war with whom?

A. With you, to be truthful.

Q. Why me?

A. Because you always question everything I do.  

The Questioner is silent. 

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Christianity fitness gratitude Musical Theatre Playwriting

Gratitude List 853

1. It’s great to have my own shower and be able to change into clean clothes, and lay on my own bed, and feel as though I am an honored guest in my own home.

2. Good exercise today, a brisk three mile walk in the warm breeze, between around six and seven.

3. There is a wonderful woman in my life today who loves me.

4. God loves me. He doesn’t see me according to my past, or my sin; but according to my future, and my righteousness in Christ.

5. Nice hanging out with R. today, and having him over for conversation with me and Jan.

6. It is great that Echo found a room on the Delta, and that she’s going to have a dog.

7. I finished Eden in Babylon on July 4th, and here it is again linked to you, formatted as best I can. It’s a much better script, thanks to the MFA playwrights at the critique, and very special thanks to Jan.

8. Stats are booming:

booming

9. Jan gets to visit our friend Sippa for a few days, and this is a very good thing.

10. God is Love.

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Activism bible Christianity Classism

Dives and Lazarus

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.  At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

lazarus“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

   — Luke 16:19-31

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Artist Music Performing Arts Piano

The Long and Winding Road

Hey, it’s Friday, and I got some piano for ya.  This one’s an old Todd Rundgren tune I kinda like:

This one here’s a Christian tune I heard in the 80’s.  (I had to google for the name.)

And finally, the famous Beatles song:

Usually I use a high-end Motorola smartphone, the property of my lady friend, to record these piano vids.  But she’s housebound with a bad knee, so I used the low-end Motorola of my Pastor Norman (the guy I’m talking to at the beginning of “Torch Song.”)  Its quality is not quite as crisp.

If you want even better quality, feel free to make a contribution.  The O.G.’s coming off of twelve years on the streets, and it’s not as though his net worth is anything bigger than Zero Point Zero at any given moment.

That said, still very grateful to for the blessing of indoor living.  I’m putting it to the best use possible, in God’s good time.

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Activism bible Christianity Classism Homelessness

Compassion and Complaint

Lately I’ve encountered some pretty disturbing questions on a certain forum where I am expected to provide intelligent answers. One such question was this:

“Why are poor people so much more compassionate than rich people?”

Another Deteriorating Bridge...Obviously, the question contains a covert statement; i.e., “Poor people are more compassionate than rich people.” How do I answer such a question? After all, there are plenty of poor people who aren’t very compassionate at all. Moreover, there are plenty of so-called rich people who have lots of compassion. So the question, as posed, is unfair.

But even more disturbing were some of the answers offered. Several people, like me, objected to the rhetorical nature of the question. But unlike me, a number of them contended that “rich people” are more compassionate than poor people. They also gave their reasons why they thought so. One such answer was as follows:

“Poor people do nothing but complain, and this lacks compassion toward those who have to hear their complaints, since nobody likes to hear people complaining all the time. Rich people hardly ever complain, so this is more compassionate.”

In examining this answer, I cannot help but recall a statement I made yesterday in this speech. I related how, when I was first becoming homeless, I didn’t seem to be able to express any of the details of my situation without coming across as though I were “complaining.” People who had never been in my shoes, and who were baffled at how a man like me could possibly have descended to such a depth, interpreted my explanations of the homeless condition as “complaints.”

But when I was hurled into Poverty Culture, and I discovered the refreshing candor with which poor people discuss their common obstacles with remarkable honesty and openness, I began to understand how such a level of untainted, clear communication could easily be construed to be a “complaint.” After all, these obstacles were of necessity negative in nature, and to delineate them in detail would necessarily constitute a negative statement. Moreover, since the “negativity” of homelessness is even more pronounced than that of sheltered poverty, these communications will bear even more of the aura of “complaint” to those who don’t wish to hear such “negativity.”

FIRST HOMELESS GUY: “Man, I really tried to get a shower before the job interview, but I waited in line at the Multi-Agency Service Center for three hours before a shower opened up. By that time, I was afraid I would miss the bus and not make it to the interview. But I really needed a shower. So I showered as quickly as I could, and shaved and put on my best clothing. Then I literally ran half a mile to the bus stop, only to find that I had missed the bus, and that there was no way I would have made it to the interview on time.”

SECOND HOMELESS GUY: “Dude, I feel for you, but you gotta get a load of what happened to me! On the night before my interview, I was sleeping at my Spot when all of a sudden, two rookie cops woke me up at one in the morning, ran my criminal record, searched my backpack for drugs, and then told me to move on, after they found out I didn’t have any drugs in my backpack and didn’t have a criminal record. It rattled me just enough that I couldn’t get to sleep. I got showered and got to the bus stop on time, but I fell asleep on the bus, missed the stop, and missed my interview!

RICH GUY: “Would you both just quit whining? You spend all your time complaining, it’s no wonder you never can find a job. I bet both of you wouldn’t have even been able to keep a smile on your face throughout a 45-minute interview.”

Here, to me, the schism is obvious. The “rich guy” interprets the empathy with which the two “homeless guys” identify with each other as “complaints.” But to the homeless men, that conversation is simply a communication — not a complaint. They are relating to each other on the basis of their common ground, and such a conversation actually affirms their common dignity.

FIRST HOMELESS GUY: What do you mean, “smile?” Are you trying to tell me for one minute that the phony plastic smile you have on your face is genuine? Sure, I can put on a smile at a job interview or on a job. That’s what we call a work façade. But you’re smiling even as you rip us to shreds, and that’s nothing more than hypocrisy.

SECOND HOMELESS GUY: That’s right, Rich Guy. I bet you’re not even a happy person. If you were happy, you wouldn’t feel the need to put us down, when you’ve got everything you’ve ever needed in this life, and we’re busting our guts every day struggling to survive.”

RICH GUY: See what I mean? Both of you have a lousy attitude. It shows in all this negativity you keep throwing at me. Neither of you will ever be able to hold up and roll with the punches day after day in the workplace.

Here we have another schism. The well-meaning smile of the ignorant “rich guy” is being interpreted as hypocrisy by the homeless guys. Add that to the fact that their mutual affirmation of common dignity is being interpreted as “complaining,” and what does this tell us?  How about this:

And besides all this,
between us and you a great chasm has been set in place,
so that those who want to go from here to you cannot,
nor can anyone cross over from there to us.
– Luke 16:26

While the above Scripture pertains specifically to the “chasm” set in place between the heaven and hell, one does not have to delve very much further into the substance of the 16th Chapter of the Gospel According to Luke, before one realizes that it is the rich man who is in hell, and the poor man in heaven.

This is yet another instance of what I said in yesterday’s speech, and what I say continuously to all who would undertake an objective study of the Holy Bible. Despite the Prosperity Gospel and the modern-day deception that equates material gain with spiritual fulfillment, the Bible in general does not hurl warnings at the poor. It hurls warnings at the rich — all throughout the Book.

And as far as that smile we’re supposed to plaster on our plastic faces every morning before we sign our lives away to the daily grind, are there any particular references in the Bible to Jesus having smiled? None whatsoever. But there’s a reference to what Jesus did, rather than smile:

Jesus wept.

And that’s the 35th verse in the 11th chapter of John, in case anyone wants to look it up and actually read the Book (hint hint).

I get tired of smiling myself. Lately I’ve been looking at my picture here, and all I can think of is “Wipe that smile of your face, you phony hypocrite! This message is serious business, and you look like you’re trying to sell me a used car.”

I’ll change the picture. I’ll change it — because this is serious business. The chasm between heaven and hell might be a gulf we will never be able to bridge. But we need to bridge the Class Gap in America — and soon. If we don’t, we might just lose our country.

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Activism Classism Homelessness public speaking stigma

(Talks 2018) – Talk No. 1

A while back, I mentioned I was going to try to start posting a speech here every Wednesday.  Well, I never got around to doing it.  That is, until now.   Happy Independence Day — and God bless America.  

Homeless by Condition: Part One 

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