Tuesday Tuneup 41

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. In a place of greater efficacy.

Q. What do you mean by that?

A. I would like to be more effective.

Q. In what way?

A. In many ways.

Q. Such as?

The Answerer takes a breath.  

A. Such as in my ability to help people.  To make a difference in their lives.   I mean, a positive difference — not a negative one.   Sometimes I just feel like my influence, try as I may to be helpful, winds up being hurtful.  I stick my foot in my mouth at some juncture along the way, and I wind up feeling — I don’t know.   Like a failure, I guess.

Q. Are you a failure?  I mean, objectively speaking?

A. I suppose that depends on what it means to succeed.

Q. What does it mean to succeed?

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A. Very good questions, these.  I think that success must mean different things for different people.   And our notions of success must be somehow wrapped up in our ideas as to life-purpose.   We have this American idea of success here — seems to be dwindling a bit — but it’s the notion that success is related to some kind of worldly advance in monetary gain, accumulation of property, or perhaps a surge in prestige, clout, power, or influence over others.   I don’t know.  A bunch of things that I never really think about.

Q. Then why are you thinking about them?

A. I lied.  Who am I trying to fool?   I think ahout them all the time.  But usually, it’s with  aghast exasperation.

Q. Aghast exasperation?

A. Yeah.  I drop my jaw, and stand aghast at what they all seem to expect of me.  I become exasperated —  not because I don’t have those things (money, property, clout, etc.) — but because people seem to think I’m supposed to have those things in order to be “happy.”  Drives me up the wall!   How would you like it if a bunch of people were always telling you how “unhappy” you are, just because you don’t have all the things they have, even though you don’t want them anyway?  (Not to mention, you’re probably happier than they are.)

Q. Why do you care what they think?

A. I don’t know.   Seems I get asked that a lot these days.   

Q. Do they care what you think?

A. Evidently not.

Q. Then why should you care what they think?

A. Again, I don’t know.   Golden Rule, maybe?   I mean, what is this modern-day hogwash about how we should all be completely indifferent to what other people are thinking?  I get so tired of everybody telling me I care too much about what other people think.   What am I supposed to do?  Stop caring?   That seems — unloving.   Did Jesus stop caring when He went to the Cross?

Q. But isn’t there a difference between caring about them, and caring about what they think of you?

A. No!  They ARE what they’re thinking!!  Whether they think it about me, or anybody else, or the fencepost!!

Q. But do you KNOW what they are thinking?

A. Yes!  It’s obvious what they’re thinking!   They even tell me what they’re thinking!  They do that all the time.   How can I not know what they’re thinking?   They’re always telling me that I’m this worthless, no good, lazy impoverished bum who made “poor choices” throughout this poor life, otherwise with his talents and abilities he’d be living in the frickin’ Taj Mahal, or in some big mansion like that one place where I lived a long time ago.   As if I care to live in a mansion.   I’m just grateful I’m not flying a sign and sleeping under an overpass with a boatload of tweakers.   

Q. You once lived in a mansion?

A. Yes.

Q. What was it like living in a mansion?

A. Freaky is all get-out.  My landlord had more money than he knew what to do with.  He gave me this huge upstairs flat with a private bathroom and a marble floor on the shower.  The guy had two Steinway grand pianos, recording equipment  . . .

Q. Why was that freaky?   Why not beautiful?

A. I don’t know.  I just didn’t belong there somehow.  The guy had a Jaguar, a Cadillac – expensive Belgian furniture you weren’t even supposed to sit on — I just felt like it was out of my league.

Q. And what, pray tell, is your league?

A. Wrong side of the tracks, man.   Poor but thrifty parents.  Neither of them left a will.  Neither of them had anything to leave.  I’ve gravitated toward poor people all my life.  I feel a kinship with people who are impoverished, and I feel out of place among people of greater means and privilege.

Q. But why is that side of the tracks the wrong side?   Why not just — another side?

A. Because of the very thing I said at the top of this whole page.  

Q. Refresh my memory?

A. I said, I wish I could be more effective.   And it just seems like, in this society, if you don’t have at least some means, at least some privilege, you’re not effective at all.

Q. But can’t you be effective in other ways?   Like say helping a friend of yours with a personal issue?   It doesn’t cost money to do that, does it?

A. But that’s my whole frustration!   I don’t help people right.  I say the wrong things.  I get the feeling they should be talking to a professional, and yet — every time somebody’s told me that they couldn’t help me, and I needed a professional, I took it as personal rejection.

Q. Do you feel like a hypocrite?

A. Yes.  If I feel rejected because a friend is telling me that my issues are “too much of them” and that I need “professional help,” then what right do I have to suggest that some friend of mine needs professional help, rather than to talk to me?

Q. But if they talk to you, won’t you just stick your foot in your mouth again?

A. Yes.   And that very well could be the reason all those other people told me that I should see a professional.   They meant well, but they didn’t have the facile or expertise to help me.

Q. Would you consider seeing a professional?

A. I already do.  And I got a stack of bills higher than the ceiling.

Q. Andy – what is the bottom line?

A. You keep asking me that.

Q. Andy – what is the bottom line?

A. See what I mean?

Q. Andy – what is the bottom line?

Andy takes a breath.  

A. The bottom line is that, for a variety of reasons ranging from my being a social imbecile, a dork, a clutz, an unemployable space case, disabled, scraping my nuts off trying to keep up with the rising cost of living, not being able to get around, not having a car, and just generally being a weirdo,  I just don’t consider myself to be very effective.  And I would like to be more effective.

A. So with all that working against you, how can you be effective?

Q. By doing one great thing before I die.  By doing one great thing that will reach people — and that will make a positive difference in their lives.

A. Wow — do you have any idea what that thing might be?

Q. I know exactly what that thing might be!  And by the way, so do you.   Daylight’s burning.  Time’s wasting.  Money doesn’t grow on trees.  LET’S GET THIS SHOW ON THE ROAD. 

The Questioner is silent.

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The Challenge of the Wealthy

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, 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.

–Matthew 19:16-24

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Shedding the Streets

“Shedding the Streets” is a 21 minute impromptu talk in which the speaker expresses the necessity and difficulty of abandoning tired old values acquired from years of living on the urban streets. If you like my work, please feel free to share it.  

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Tuesday Tuneup 37

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. In a place of greater ease.

Q. Is something making you uneasy?

A. Many things make me uneasy.

Q. Like what?

A. Well, for one thing, I made a New Year’s Resolution.  I’m keeping it, but it just seems forced.  It’s not easy.

Q. Are resolutions ever easy?

A. Probably not.

Q. Then why fret?

A. Because of — the nature of the resolution, and the specific temptations to break it.

Q. What are you tempted to do?

A. I’m tempted to continually contact my old friends in California, in order to try to prove myself to them.   In fact, I’m tempted to scream and yell at them, and to call them very nasty names.

Q. You haven’t actually done that, have you??

A. Not recently, no.  In times past, perhaps.

Q. Then can’t you just relax, knowing you’ve kept your resolution?

A.  No,  I can’t.  That’s the whole point.  I’m not at ease.   How can I relax, when I have all these horrible feelings toward my old friends?

Q. What horrible feelings?

A. Anger, resentment, bitterness, rage, and hostility — to name a few.

Q. You feel all those things toward your old friends?

A. Yes.

Q, Why?

A. Because they think they care about me, but they don’t.  This thing that they call “caring” is actually disrespect.  

Q. But how can caring be confused for disrespect? 

A. All right.  Let me explain.  Take this one guy I’ll call Richard.  He keeps insisting that he cares deeply about me.  But all his caring is only a put-down.  No matter how positively I express myself, he always finds something negative about it, and then acts as though illuminating the negative is caring.   

Q. Would you call this chap a bubble-burster?

A. I would call him names much worse than that, were it not for my resolution.

Q. Why do you think he is finding fault in the things that you think are positive?

A. Because he’s a fault-finder. 

Q. But what specifically does he find faulty?

A. Well – I think he objects to the pace at which I proceed.  Recently he suggested I ought to “slow down.”  He also said I come across as though I’m trying to “make up for lost time.”

Q. What’s so bad about that?

A. Look what it suggests.  First off, he assumes that all my years of homelessness were “lost time.”  Those happen to be the years that have provided the entire impetus for my work.  “Lost time??”  What the hell kind of concept is that?  Is any time ever lost?  Isn’t all life experience valuable?

Q. But you do see what he meant, don’t you?

A. Sure I do!   And that is what’s so insulting.  This guy has actually gone so far as to say things like “Forget about all those homeless people!”  Forget about them??  What am I supposed to do, wipe out twelve of the most meaningful years of my life, and all the many conversations with the numerous fine individuals I met on the streets?  How dehumanizing!  It’s the exact attitude I so fervently oppose!

Not to mention, Richard never recognizes that I wrote my finest music when I was homeless.  Sure, I couldn’t sequence it — I couldn’t hang on to a laptop down there, or to music production software.  But I wrote it, didn’t I?   So how does that make my time “lost?”

Q. Well, wasn’t it just a figure of speech?  Don’t you think he probably meant it was lost for the very reason that you lacked those resources?

A.  Figure of speech?   P.O.T.U.S. told Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes that he “loves” Kim Jong and then wrote off the word “love” as a “figure of speech.”  And as far as time being “lost” because of my having been disadvantaged and underprivileged, that’s only a typical dismissal of the dignity and humanity of human beings who happen to be homeless.  They call homeless people “lost” because they lack advantage.  As though anyone who lacks privilege is “lost” — as though they got that way because of “poor choices they made” — as though it’s a moral failing to be down and out.

Q. Wow – don’t you think you’re reading a lot into it?

A. No, I don’t!  You see, I know this guy.  I know him better than he knows himself.  And not just him, but everyone like him.  All my old friends.  They have so much privilege, they base their self-worth on it.  And they look down upon people who lack privilege, because that’s the only way they can live with their absolute emptiness of spirit.  

Q. Emptiness of spirit?

A. You heard me!  When it comes right down to it, they’re basically going to hell.  They cannot possibly manifest Everlasting Life, because there is no true life in their spirits.  

Q.  But – but – aren’t a lot of these people Christians?

A. They say they are.  And they may even think they are.  But so what?   What does calling yourself a Christian have to do with the Real Life of the Spirit?   I know plenty of people who don’t identify as “Christians,” and I can tell for sure that they have Life.  

Q. In the, er, fervor with which you make such claims, can you not grasp that there is a very real sense in which you truly are “making up for lost time?”  

A. And what sense is that, may I ask?  “Making up for lost time” makes it sound as though I’m on a mad rush to get things done quickly, as though the grave were just around the corner.  To frame it that way completely overlooks the joyfulness of the process!  I don’t write all these words and music and make all these speeches because I’m a stress case, for crying out loud!  I do it because this is what I love to do, and it is what I am called to do.  

Q. But — but — if you’re not a stress case, why are you so stressed out?

A. That’s a rhetorical question.

Q. But it’s true, isn’t it?   Didn’t you begin this very dialectic with an admission of your not being “at ease?” 

A. All right, you win.  Yes, there’s stress.  I’m not going to deny it.  It’s why we’re here.  I wish things were a bit more certain, and I weren’t having to shoot so far into the dark.  I know I have the calling, I hear the call clearly — but I often can’t tell where it’s headed.  And yes, this uncertainty results in stress.  

Q. Uncertainty?  How can you possibly claim to be uncertain?

A. What do you mean?

Q. Isn’t it obvious?  Don’t you clearly come across as one of the most convicted, self-assured people on the planet?  What could be more certain?

A. My path.  My direction.  Where I’m headed exactly could be much more certain.   Much more easy on my spirit.  

Q. Now why do I find all this so hard to believe?

A. I don’t know.  Why do you?

Q. Well, didn’t this blog post come pretty easily to you?

A. I suppose it did.  I’ve been hammering out pretty rapidly with very little editing.  It’s been a joyful process.  Can’t exactly say it came hard.  

Q. Well then, what is the essence of the dis-ease?   Why are you still uneasy?

A. It’s — it’s those guys again — my old friends — the people with whom I wish I could share my current joy, the way I always used to share it with them.   They’ve either disappeared on me, or they come back at me with assault and vitriol.   They — they — they don’t get it — they don’t see me for who I am — and it’s frustrating because — these were my lifelong friends — they weren’t supposed to just abandon me like this . . 

Q. But have they truly abandoned you?  What about this fellow Richard?  Isn’t he actually very much engaged with you?   

A. Engaged, yes — but in the wrong way.  They only keep criticizing me!  They sit around and gossip, and smoke their weed, and place bets as to when I’m going to have my first heart attack.  

Q. Then why do you remain so attached to these unsupportive old friends of yours?

A. That’s the whole problem.  It’s why I’m not at east.  These are birth bangs.  The woman in Revelation Chapter Twelve cries out with travail as she is about to give birth to the New Child.  And the dragon awaits her, right outside her womb, to devour it — if it were possible.

Q. Who is the New Child?

A. In Scripture, we know this to be the Christ Child.  But anybody with a calling, with a life-purpose, has their own baby.   In my case, it’s my musical.  It’s going to fly.  I can feel it!   The Woman is bringing birth to it, even as we speak.

Q. And who is the Woman?

A. (chuckles) I need not say.

Q. And the dragon?

A. Symbolically, in this case, the enemy.   The Resister.

Q. But don’t you need the Resister in order to move forward?

A. Yes!  That’s it!  I need these guys!  I need their criticism in order to move forward!  I need these gossipy, lame-ass old friends of mega-privilege who don’t even have purposes in life other than to guzzle down more and more money, faster and faster, as though their lives depended on it.  I need them.  You’ve got it once again.  Perfect!!  I need these guys.  How could I have been so blind?

Q. Uh — you say you need these guys??

A. I do!  I need to prove them wrong.  I have to fight them in all their money-loving arrogance with all my impoverished Art-loving, Christ-loving heart!   And that’ll show ’em!

Q. Show ’em what?

A. What do you think?

The Questioner is silent.  

When They Ignore You Quotes. QuotesGram

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Gratitude List 1007

This one was from Saturday morning.  It looked interesting & unusual enough to be worth posting.  So I posted it.  

1. Slept about 5 hours, a little after 10 till around 3. Slept deeply.

2. At some point yesterday, I became really tired, in a good way. Tired of always feeling like I have to prove myself. It felt good not to need to prove anything to anyone.  It made me feel as though I was already all right.  

3. Apologized to a couple people I’d gotten upset with.  I don’t know that they were necessarily “in the wrong” but it still seemed right to apologize for my overreaction.

4. Felt better after I apologized, and like I could move forward now.

5. There’s a kind of hatred in me when I’m trying to prove myself to people, especially to people I knew from California, or to sheltered people of privilege, or both. Tired of hating on them, tired of returning stigma for stigma.  Tired of the whole thing. It felt so good to let go, when I did let go, and I knew I’d let go.

6. I didn’t have to prove myself anymore to this one guy I ran into the other night, somebody who intimidates me, because he has every positive quality that I lack.  So what?  He’s got his, and I’ve got mine.   The same God created us both.

7. Did all right at the Open Mike and may have made a new friend in this one lady Hanna — or at least a fan. Sang “The Word from Beyond” and it kinda seemed dumb that I’d ever felt I needed to change those lyrics, as though to prove myself, or prove that I’m not New Agey, or whatever it is that makes me weirder than most Christians.  It’s just a damn song in a show, that is to say, a show tune.  And I wrote it.  It speaks for itself.  Tired of proving myself.

8. Woke up and I was different. Tired of sending all these emails to everyone. I want to read, I want to run. Tired of talking all the time, I just want to listen.

9. It felt good to just notate the score last night and make progress and not have to prove that my work is good. My work just is good, it felt good just to do the work and not worry about what anybody thinks of it. If they didn’t think my music was good, they wouldn’t be trying to help me produce my musical.  It felt good just to relax about it all for once.

10. Met an interesting spiritual guy who knows Norman from Campus Christian Center, a Zen kinda dude named Seth. He gave me a ride home from the Open Mike. We probably disagree about prayer, but I didn’t feel like I had to win an argument or anything. Tired of proving myself.

Tired of having to prove myself to money-worshipping money-guzzlers.  Tired of feeling like I should have anything to prove to people of privilege who go around lecturing us poor people on how to live — as if they have any idea what it’s like to be poor, and as if I had any inkling I’d ever want to be rich and become like they are.

Tired of getting pissed off at privileged people’s put-downs and all their hypocritical kick-downs.  I’ll stay poor, I’ll stay starved, I’ll stay complaining to them all.  And the day when they realize I’m not complaining about my lot in life, but only complaining about them — will be one Great Day on the Planet.  Some of these kooks kick down a couple of bucks and expect you to kiss their butts for the rest of your days.  They kick down five, and you’re supposed to change your entire hard-earned value system.  Ten bucks and there goes your political philosophy. 

I’m just tired, I’m done. It feels good. I don’t care about money-lovers, the seeds they plant are rooted in evil.  They’ll get theirs. 

And I’ve got mine!!  I just want to die to self and live to Christ. From now on. Tired and done.

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The Homeless Christmas Day

This piece was originally posted on my Facebook timeline on December 23rd, 2015.  It has been edited for coherence, and for the relative removal of bitterness and rancor, being as the overall conditions of homelessness were, at the time, affecting both my brain and my heart.  “The Homeless Christmas Day” has been published in the December issue of Street Spirit.  

It looks as though we’re closing in on Christmas again, folks. That’s bad news in my book, and (I daresay) in the corporal book of homeless people everywhere. The good news is that I haven’t flipped out yet. Last year at this time I thought I would “err on the side of caution” and do everybody the favor of at least deactivating my Facebook for the holidays, so that people wouldn’t have to endure too many posts like this on my timeline. Meanwhile, I would be free of that awful combination of outrage and jealousy that so often overtook me when I had to see all the “likes” on all the cute family pictures, often with lavish gifts being opened beneath their highly decorated Christmas trees.

Last year my departure was quick and easy: “It’s that time, folks! See ya after the Super Bowl!” Probably the shortest Facebook timeline post of mine in history. Somehow it didn’t go over too well.

The year before that, I was spending Christmas Day stuck out in the rain, with services closed for those of my ilk, not to mention the usual five-in-the-morning “indoor resources” being closed (Starbucks, McDonald’s, etc.) After all, social workers need to celebrate Christmas too, and baristas need a day off as well. Of course, government buildings were closed, and it wasn’t possible to hide out in the library all day.  So I wandered around aimlessly in the rain, eventually realizing that the only other people doing so were about twenty-five other angry homeless people. Our natural exchanges of commisseration began to depress me.

homeless christmas“Well, I do have a laptop, and friends on the Internet,” I mused, as I crouched underneath the awning of the Starbucks at Oxford & University, copped their Wi-Fi connection, and began to plead my case to a number of old friends who no doubt saw the intrusion upon their warm family gatherings as a bit rude.

Describing my situation, I implored a number of people for a PayPal grant of $60 or so, hoping to be able to get out of the rain and set up shop in a cozy motel room somewhere. I figured, “Geeze, it’s Christmas! You’d think somebody wouldn’t mind giving the poor homeless bloke a well-deserved Christmas present.”

Of course, it was short notice. Quite to my hurt, I mistakenly banked on the combined compassion of the chosen few. But alas, the constant bombardment of pictures of old friends on Facebook basking in decadent bursts of Christmas Day galore – stockings, ornaments, grandchildren, the whole works — did nothing for me other than to arouse the ol’ Green Eyed Monster who forever grumbles dormant within me — perched, poised, and ready to pounce.

Well — pounce the Monster did indeed! The results were none too pretty. One of my friends was so aghast at my approach (which no doubt must have been rather ghastly), that his response was quite a shock. Rather than consider helping me out in any way, he sent a joint email to me and the closest member of my family he could think of. In the email, he recommended that I be “institutionalized” — evidently as a viable solution to this chronic homelessness business that obviously wasn’t being dealt with effectively.

psych ward stockingUnbeknownst to him, that was my biggest fear. Not that I have any particular dread of the techno-torture of this Age. It’s just that they don’t let me plug in my laptop in those types of dives, because it can “conceivably be used as a weapon.” They do the same thing with my shoelaces, which makes jogging around the building a bit difficult. And of course they don’t let you out of the building so you can go on a run of decent length, if you happen to be (as I am) one of those. I remember once when I even alluded to the fact that I was training for a half-marathon, they wanted to put me on bipolar meds because I was exhibiting what they called “excessive goal orientation.”

In short, the instutitions, both short-term and long, are rather dreary places to be. Arguably, Christmas outside in the rain would be preferable.

As I read my friend’s well-meaning recommendations, all I could do was shake my head. “What we have here is a failure to communicate,” I mumbled, mulling over the text in amazement. Knowing I could never get my point across to my old friend through Internet typing alone, I implored him that I reply with an oral presentation to consist of approximately thirty minutes of persuasive speech.

It worked! Not only did I succeed in explaining the Facts of Homeless Life to the guy — but he actually poured accolades upon the technical and aesthetic details of my Spoken Word piece. Naturally, my attitude of disdain toward him was replaced with great approval. This fellow actually had an MFA in Voice and Speech, and here he was telling me that I was a good speaker? The same person whose opinion I had poo-pooed now expressed an opinion I found quite delightful. You see, I had enormous professional respect for this person, and I took his praise to heart. It was as though I had discovered a new hidden talent, hidden among all the other hidden ones — not that I’m about hiding any of my alleged strengths, but only that the society at large, in continuing to view me as a scum bag, essentially doesn’t see what I’ve got to offer even as I offer it. They see what they want to see.  It doesn’t matter how brightly the homeless person’s light may shine. Between that shining light and the eyes of the beholder there is a dark cloak that obscures the accuracy of their view.

And the name of the cloak is Stigma.

Ah, Stigma. Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? What are we to do with You? Should I make the same move as I made in 2014, in order to avoid yet another Facebook Christmas? It’s tempting, but something gives me pause. It’s already the 23rd, and like I said, I haven’t flipped out yet. So let’s push this puppy to the limits. Take ‘er to the max. Shoot for the moon! Let’s keep my Facebook active, and push the envelope just a wee bit further. Let’s all see for ourselves just what exactly happens on Christmas Day.

Come on, Christian America! What do ya think Christmas is all about? Why are we washing our hands like Pontius Pilate of the validity, the legitimacy, the dignity, and the humanity of an estimated 8% of our nation’s urban population? Even among those who are not homeless, statistics still reveal that one sixth of America struggles for hunger on a daily basis! Do you think Christmas will be any less of that struggle!?

Come on, people! Let us in! Stop looking at us as though we’re all a bunch of worthless druggies and boozers and losers and vandals and varmints and thieves! We take showers, we wash our clothing — it just takes us longer to do so because we have to wait in big lines at service centers to get into the shower, to access the washer, to get the toothpaste and toothbrush and razors and shampoo — while what do you do? You can do these things in a moment’s time, and you look at us patiently waiting at places like then Multi-Agency Service Center in Berkeley, California, and you frown and shake your heads and say: “Look at those lazy bums, sitting there doing nothing!”

Le us in for once! It’s Christmas, for Christ’s sake!! Let me show you I still know how to play the piano and crack my jokes and get you to holler and laugh and do requests! You think any of my gifts have changed just because I happen to sleep outdoors and you happen to sleep inside? I can give you the same Christmas gifts you used to enjoy so much back when you were glad to have me over for a dinner on the holidays! And those are only my gifts. We all have our gifts to give you! Isn’t Christmas about giving? Then let us give you our gifts — on Christmas Day. Let us in.

Tears of love will fall from my eyes when I am finally able to tell you that I love you in a manner that no email nor Skype call nor timeline post could ever touch. And great will be your reward in heaven. For the King whose birthday you claim to commemorate will reply: “Whatsoever you did for the least of my brethren, you did also for Me.” 

Andy Pope
Berkeley California
December 23, 2015

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