The Wilderness of the Sea

The oracle concerning the wilderness of the sea.
As whirlwinds in the Negeb sweep on,
    it comes from the desert,
    from a terrible land.
A stern vision is told to me;
    the plunderer plunders,
    and the destroyer destroys.
Go up, O Elam,
    lay siege, O Media;
all the sighing she has caused
    I bring to an end.
Therefore my loins are filled with anguish;
    pangs have seized me,
    like the pangs of a woman in travail;
I am bowed down so that I cannot hear,
    I am dismayed so that I cannot see,
My mind reels, horror has appalled me;
    the twilight I longed for
    has been turned for me into trembling.
They prepare the table,
    they spread the rugs,
    they eat, they drink.
Arise, O princes,
    oil the shield!
For thus the Lord said to me:
“Go, set a watchman,
    let him announce what he sees.
When he sees riders, horsemen in pairs,
    riders on asses, riders on camels,
let him listen diligently,
    very diligently.”
Then he who saw cried:
“Upon a watchtower I stand, O Lord,
    continually by day,
And at my post I am stationed
    whole nights.
And behold, here come riders,
    horsemen in pairs!”
And he answered,
    “Fallen, fallen is Babylon;
and all the images of her gods
    he has shattered to the ground.”

–Isaiah 21:1-9 RSV

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(Talks 2018) – Talk No. 4

Here’s the fourth talk in our Talks 2018 series of talks on the Homeless Experience. In this talk, I share my personal story of how I finally escaped twelve years of homelessness and for the past two years have effectively maintained a dignified place of residence in a favorable climate.  

Homeless No More

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Tuesday Tuneup 21

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Not this again!

Q. Why have you summoned me?

A. Because I’m getting tired of hearing these first two questions.   

Q. Why are the questions tiring you?

A. Isn’t it obvious?  They’re the same every time.  No variety!  And besides, I’m running out of clever answers.

Q. Why do your answers have to be clever?

A. Because I need to entertain my readers.

Q. Why do you need to entertain your readers?

A. Because I’m an entertainer.  It’s what I do.  If I don’t entertain people, then I fail.

Q. And if you do entertain people?

A. Then I succeed.

Q. You equate success with entertainment?

A. If I’m in the entertainment business, I do.

Q. How long have you been in the entertainment business?

musical prodigyA. Since I was a little boy.

Q. You were an entertainer when you were a little boy?

A. Yes.  I was expected to entertain everybody.

Q. And if you didn’t?

A. Then they got bored.  They shrugged and frowned and said: “Oh boo!  You could do better than that!”  And then, they walked out.

Q. How did you feel when they walked out?

A. I felt — abandoned.  Abandoned — and worthless.

Q. And then what happened?

A. I cried.  I waited till they were all gone —  and when I was all alone, I burst into tears.  And if I couldn’t stop crying, I had to run and hide.

Q. Why?

A. So my dad wouldn’t find me.

Q. What would happen if he found you?

A. I’d be punished.

Q. Why?

A. Because a man wasn’t supposed to cry.  

Q. How did that make you feel?

A. Pressured.   Pressured to perform — to always be entertaining, in order to gain their interest, and their acceptance.  

Q. Do you mean to suggest that when you were little boy, you were judged on the basis of your performance?

A. Yes, I was. And guess what?

Q. What?

A. So are you.  You are being judged on the basis of your performance.  For even as I was judged, so do I judge others.

Q. How are you judging me?

A. I’ll tell you how! If you don’t come up with two new questions by Tuesday Tuneup 23, then you fail.   My judgment will be chiseled in stone.  There will be no forgiveness.  Only condemnation.  

Q. You mean – you’re going to do away with me??

A. You got it.

Q. But isn’t that a bit severe?

A. Well how do you expect me to react?   If you cease to entertain me, I have no further use for you.

Q. Are you saying you’re going to abandon me?

A. What else can I do?  Be with you till the ends of the earth?  Of course not!  I am going to leave you and forsake you.  For even as I have been abandoned, so do I abandon others.

Q. But – but – don’t you feel like you’re putting too much pressure on me?

A. Of course I do. Even as I have been pressured, so do I pressure others.

Q. What if I fail?

A. Then you’re gonna get a whoopin.’

Q. You’re not going to resort to — corporal punishment, are you?

A. I wish I could.

Q. Why can’t you?

A. Because all you are — is words.   Baseless words, without feeling or flesh.  And that’s how I felt when I was a kid.  My feelings didn’t matter.   My body, my flesh — didn’t matter.  The only thing that mattered — was that I entertain.   And if they didn’t clap for me when I played the piano, and if they didn’t laugh at my jokes in between songs, then I failed.  And if you don’t start entertaining me again, man —

The Questioner gulps.

Q. Then I fail?

A. You said it.

Q. But — what other two questions can I come up with?  

A. That’s for you to decide.  I’m not your Director.  I’m only your Creator.

Q. But – but – but what if — ???

A. No buts!   You have till Tuesday after next.   On Tuesday, August 21, 2018, I expect you to start off with a new pair of questions.   Do you hear me??

The Questioner is silent.  

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Restorer of Streets with Dwellings

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”

–Isaiah 58:6-12

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Tuesday Tuneup Twenty

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Does it matter?

Q. Why have you summoned me?

A. You didn’t answer my question.

Q. Am I to provide the answers?

A. Yes.

Q. Then why can I only ask questions?

A. Because that’s how the answers come.

Q. Through questions?

A. Through questions.

Q. Such as?

A. Such as why.

Q. Why what?

A. Why not?

Q. What kind of an answer is that?

A. A frivolous one, I suppose.

Q. Frivolous? Or evasive?

A. You suddenly seem to challenge me. I would say — frivolous, and evasive. I did have a question looming in my mind. A question that begins with “why.” But it doesn’t end with the word “not.”

Q. Why not?

A. Because it’s deeper than that. And larger. And more germane to my recent struggles.

Q. What was the question?

A. The question was: “Why can’t I let go of past hurts, and enjoy the blessings of the present?”

let-goQ. Was that your question?

A. Yes, it was.

Q. Then why didn’t you ask it in the first place?

A. Because no sooner did I form the question, than I had already realized the answer. And then I didn’t need you any longer.

Q. But — but — what is the answer?

A. Ask me the question, and I will tell you the answer.

The Questioner clears his throat.

Q. Ahem.  Why can’t you let go of past hurts, and enjoy the blessings of the present?

A. I can.

Q. You can?

A. Yes, I can.  And, in fact, I have.

Q. You have??

A. Yes, I have.

Q. When did this happen? 

A. About a half hour ago.

Q. Are you trying to tell me that a half hour ago, you let go of past hurts, and began to enjoy the blessings of the present?

A. Yes.

Q. How did this happen?

A. It’s a miracle.  It’s the Miracle of Life.   The hurt was huge, and I prayed, and I prayed fervently, even after accusing God of never answering my prayer.  And then, I can’t explain it, but the hurt was lifted from me.  The hurt of an entire year or more, the way I was mistreated by — by someone whom I loved.   Somehow it was removed.  Completely removed.   And the whole world opened up to me.  I am no longer angry, or afraid.

Q. You aren’t??

A. No.  I’m not.   

Q. Will this last??

A. Does it matter?   All any of us have is today.

Q. But what about tomorrow?

A. We know not what it brings.

Q. And yesterday?

A. Gone.  All gone.

Q. Are you honestly trying to tell me that you have let go completely?

A. Yes.  And there are tears of joy streaming down my face.  All the anger: all the inner rage; has been replaced with inner peace.  This is one of the greatest days of my life.

Q. Then what more can I do for you?

A.  Not much, I’m afraid.  But I do appreciate your indulgence on this matter.   It’s just that — I have no further need of you — for now.

The Questioner is silent.  

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Gratitude List 869

(1) I was able to finish the remake of my new speech last night, even though it kept me up till 4:30 in the morning.  Grateful for the space and privacy to do such things without disturbing others, or being disturbed.

(2) Jan loves me.

(3) A great way to overcome the bitterness of a troubled past is to indulge the blessings of a promising present.

(4) Somebody made a nice, detailed comment on my piano playing over the weekend.  Grateful to have been trusted enough to be given a key to a church building with a Baldwin grand piano.   There was a time where any effort to play a church piano was met only with concern over “insurance issues” — implying, of course, that I was the type of guy that would do damage to the property.

(5) Nice strong coffee.  Grateful to have my own place of residence and my own coffee-maker.  There was a time when the only reason I went to a 7am A.A. meeting was because it was the only way I could figure out how to get a cup of coffee in the morning.

(6) It was suggested last night that every morning when I wake up, I can “dedicate the day to God.”  It took a while, but I’m thankful to have done so.

(7) Glad to hear that the heat wave will be over on Thursday, which is great timing, since I get paid on Friday.  Thankful for the promise of double blessings, back to back.

(8) Happy to have heard from Alistair Boone, the new Editor-in-Chief of Street Spirit, with the news that I’ll be kept on as a regular montly contributor, in the wake of Terry Messman’s retirement.  

(9) Extremely grateful to no longer be homeless in the San Francisco Bay Area.   I honestly thought I would never be able to live indoors again.

(10) Extremely thankful for the State of Idaho, where my experience has been that people treat each other decently and respectfully — like equals.   Thankful no longer to have to be lectured, ridiculed, dimissed, ostracized, vilified, and looked down upon as though I were not even fully human.  It is incredible to no longer be regarded as a piece of worthless homeless scum.   Thank God for my new and remarkably better life.  I never dreamed it possible — He loves me, after all. 

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Gratitude List 866

(1) Something tells me this is going to be a very productive week.

(2) I slept incredibly soundly last night.

(3) Just now awoke and noticed immediately that I was back in my “usual good mood” — no more of that funk I was in for a few days there.

(4) Coffee was ready without even having to flip a switch.  Tastes good, too!

smiling computer(5) My computer is right here where I left it.   Turned on my tensor lamp and voilà –  the O.G. is ready to roll.

(6) Had a really nice Skype with Howard last night — noticed once again how insightful and good-natured he can be.  This is especially illuminated over the Skype interface, where one can actually see the guy.   Will wonders of technology never cease.

(7) Nice of Norman to have dinner with me at the Co-Op.  Another very insightful and compassionate man.

(8) I am not at a loss for true friends at this time in my life.

(9) This honestly is the best I’ve felt in ages.

(10) I get to meet Jan at the station tonight and walk her back home.  It sure is nice having her around.   The Lord has blessed me so much.   And I can be whom I’ve always wanted to be.   Thank God for the good things in life.

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