Tuesday Tuneup Ten

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Do you ever listen to my answer to that question?

Q. Why have you summoned me?

A. I guess not.  Well, I summoned you because I am disgruntled.

Q. Disgruntled?

A. Is there an echo in here?

Q. Why are you disgruntled?

A. Cognitive dissonance.

Q. Meaning?

A. I simultaneously hold to two conflicting systems of values.

Q. Specifically?

A. As a Christian, I believe in forgiving those who have wronged me.  As a guy who spent twelve years on the streets, I believe in rewarding loyalty and punishing betrayal.  

Q. Can’t you forgive them and punish them at the same time?

A. (nods) The concept of chastening.  I’m afraid only God has the rights on that one.

Q. But supposing your son or daughter had wronged you, wouldn’t you forgive them and still “chasten” them, as you say?

A. Sure I would.  But these people are not my sons and daughters, nor am I their father.  One of them is a 63 year old man.  Another is 62.

Q. What about their own fathers?

A. Neither of them is alive.  And if they were, I doubt they’d take my side.

Q. Then doesn’t that leaves the Father God to do the chastening?

A. But Father God might not be their father.   

Q. How can that be?  Is not God the father of all?  

A. Not necessarily.  According to Scripture, their father is either God the Father, or “their father the devil.”  Look what Jesus said once:

You are of your father the devil, 
and you want to do the desires of your father. 
He was a murderer from the beginning, 
and does not stand in the truth 
because there is no truth in him. 
Whenever he speaks a lie, 
he speaks from his own nature, 
for he is a liar and the father of lies. 
But because I speak the truth, 
you do not believe Me. 
“Which one of you convicts Me of sin? 
If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? 
He who is of God hears the words of God; 
for this reason you do not hear them,
because you are not of God.”

— John 8:44-47

Q. Do you really think it’s all that black and white?   Are there a bunch of liars that are children of the devil and another batch of truth-seekers that are, like, God’s kids?

A. (nods again) Black and white thinking.  I don’t like the concept much either.  But as the article I just linked to points out, a lot of times we engage those approximations because the language lacks wording that will sufficiently describe the “middle ground” or “gray area” without having to use too many words, thus impeding communication.

Q. What do you mean by that?

A. Well, take the word “God” for example.  Any intelligent person engaged in the vaguest search for a definition of that word will first have to admit that “God” is only a word.  Like all words, it has a meaning.  Many meanings.  Different meanings for different people, and so forth.  So one person will say, “I don’t believe in God,” based solely on their preconceptions as to what that word means.

To one person, “God” is an old man with a long gray beard sitting in the clouds somewhere.  Do I believe that meaning?  No, I do not.  But the same person who holds to that idea of “God” will often speak of a “force” or a “higher power” or even of the Universe.  Who’s to say that those descriptives are not of God?  And yet, they say they don’t “believe in God.”  To me, it seems that they do believe in God.   They just won’t use the word God, because it’s loaded down with stigmatic preconceptions.

Q. Then why do you keep using the word “God?”

A. Ease of use.  It’s simply easier to say the single word “God” than to keep saying, “Spirit or Power of the Universe or whatever you want to call it.”  I get tired of using too many words when one will suffice.  I use too many words as it is already without having to add yet more words to the mix.  

Q. But why does the single word have to be “God?” Why not use some other word, if “God” is so loaded down with stigma?

A. (frowns) I find they all fall short.  The other words “Spirit” or “Universe’ somehow lack sufficient power or personality for me — or maybe command or authority — something like that.  I don’t know exactly.  But really, Questioner dear, aren’t we veering a bit astray of the subject?

Q. And what, pray tell, is the “subject?”

A. The subject is the black-and-white codification of humanity into a batch of Satan’s babies as contrasted with the real children of God.   I believe the words of Jesus I quote run deeper than that.

Q. In what way?

A. In lots of ways.  For one thing, I think we’re all born “children of the devil” in the sense that we’re too unsophisticated to grasp the concept of a loving Father God apart from our own earthly fathers — who, let’s face it, might not be all that loving.  We’re innocent.  We’re vulnerable.  We’re easy to con, to manipulate.  I learned that on the streets.  The people who were pushovers seemed to be so faultless, yet in a very real sense they were the devil’s babies.   The hustlers, the thieves — they had them over a barrel.  In order to realize the authority of the True God, and to see yourself as His child, there has to be some kind of revelation, leading up to a transformation.  One gets to the point where one refuses to be hustled any further.  One says to oneself: “Screw these guys!  I’m a child of God!  I don’t have to put up with their garbage.”

Q. One says?  Or you say?

A. Both – along with a lot of other people who have managed to escape all the trappings of street life.  I’m a lot better off spiritually than I was earlier on.  I was such a pushover I believed all those lies I heard from pretentious preacher’s pulpits.   It’s like I always say, before the age of 51, I believed just about anybody who wore a badge.

Q. And now you don’t?

A. No, I don’t.  And obviously, in the passage I quote, Jesus didn’t either.  Those were Pharisees he was talking too — religious hypocrites very much like those who betrayed me.  Like I said, there’s a lot of depth to what the Master is saying here.  He speaks on many levels.

Q. Such as?

A. This.

(The Answerer takes a very deep breath.)

A. There are people who are so caught up in the game that they can’t tell lies from truth.  They lie so much and are lied to so often, they come to expect it from everyone.  You would think that the truth would stand out like an orchid in a petunia patch with people like that.  But somehow it doesn’t.  They are so used to lies, that when someone speaks the truth like Jesus did, they don’t hear it.  Their minds immediately begin to speculate and calculate.  

Speculate – by which I mean they speculate as to just what kind of a scam the truthful person is trying to pull.

Calculate – meaning they calculate a response designed to trap the one who tells the truth, and get them to say something completely inconsistent, to prove them a liar.

Q. And you are not one of those people?

A. Sure I am – in a certain context.  I test people all the time.  But the testing is of a different nature, because it follows an inward process of trying to dredge out the lies within my own heart.

Q. Are you lying to me, Andy?

A. Verily, verily, I tell you no lie.  But this is because I find myself lying to myself at times, and compelled to share that lie to others.  And when I do, I stop to examine my motives.  What am I trying to conceal?  Who am I afraid of?  Who am I trying to impress?

Q. Then what happens?

A. Then, when someone like that fellow who betrayed me lies to me, I don’t swallow his lies, because I see the same lies in my own self.

Q. Really?

A. Really.

Q. So the streets have made you sharper?

A. Can’t speak for my sharpness.  I’m an old guy, and my intellectual powers are naturally on the wane.  But I’m a bit more discerning between falsehood and truth.

Q. Andy, what is the bottom line?

A. This.

(Another deep breath is taken.)

Q. People seem to think that all those years on the streets are supposed to have crippled me to the point where I should have no higher goal than to sit in some meeting and raise my hand as an alcoholic or a drug addict, and then get down on my knees (and stay on my knees) and humble myself before every Tom, Dick, and Harry on the block.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

I came off the streets realizing I no longer had to take crap from just anybody.  I came off the streets seeing through all the Mainstream garbage that I swallowed so wholeheartedly before.  I came off the streets discerning that all those money-chasing money-hoarding money-worshipers who look down on poor people are the liars — not me.  They lie to their own selves, and yet they don’t stop to look within, to really see what’s inside them, to be able to discern with accuracy what’s going on around them.

So the bottom line is, I’m not going to get down on my knees before all those Mainstream robot clones, or to their “God,” whoever they think he is, or cow-tow to whatever they think it means to be a “Christian.”  I know what I’m about – or beginning to find out anyway – and on my spiritual journey, I ain’t taking no shit from nobody.

Q. Do you want to know what I think?

A. Shoot.

The Questioner is silent.

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Welcome to Homelessness

I make a point of remembering important dates in my life.  One would think that the first night I slept outdoors, inaugurating twelve long years of homelessness, would be a very important date.  That I don’t know the date is telling.  Who wants to know a date like that?

I do know that I was prescribed the psychiatric drug klonopin on the morning that my mother was to die (unbeknownst to me) on October 9, 2003.   I do know I was asked to resign my teaching job on February 17, 2004.   I know that I was illegally evicted from my place of residence on April 1, 2004.   Though I became legally homeless on that date, I still had enough money for motel rooms to keep me afloat for another month or more.

The day when I stopped using klonopin was certainly one that I remember.   I went off of 4mg of klonopin cold turkey on May 10, 2004.  I never even had the seizure they told me I would have, as they tried to convince me to keep taking that God-awful drug that had lost me my shirt.  I was so relieved to finally be free of that stuff.  My short-term memory returned, I began to speak coherently again, and I started to remember the names of the people with whom I was conversing.

Though my living situation by that time was sketchy — an illegally parked motor home in the back yard of a friend of mine – at least I was still indoors.  But then, by May 20, 2004, I had lost my reading glasses after sleeping in Golden Gate Park. It was that day that inspired the first piece of literature I ever had published on the subject of homelessness: A New Pair of Glasses.

So it was at some point between May 10th and May 20th that I sat on a bench at a CalTrain station all night long, sometimes nodding off, sometimes waking with a start — to the sound of a roaring engine, or laughter from late night carousers, or some other noise in the night.   Cops would drive by, and I feared interrogation.  But they never stopped me.  Eventually, the sky grew light.  I grabbed a coffee at a nearby doughnut shop, then walked up to the church where for several years, I had been the Director of Music.

Pete, the pastor, had known of some of my recent struggles, and we seemed to be on good terms.  I had visited with him more than once in the past few months, and I figured he might be able to help me get up to San Francisco, where my friend Tony had promised to help.   As I strolled to the church on that bright sunny morning, I pondered how easily I had made it through the night.  There was nothing so far about homelessness that seemed intolerable.

When I arrived at the church, I saw that the Hispanic minister was there, along with two friends.  He did not recognize me from the 90’s, where he had seen me at the church organ many times.  Walking up to shake his hand, I told him that I remembered him from all of those joint preaching sessions, where he and Pete would take turns behind the pulpit on days when the Spanish-speaking congregation joined in with us English-speaking folks.

But he eyed me cautiously, as though I were somehow suspect.  The others looked at me strangely, too.  It seemed they did not believe me.  I could understand if the Hispanic pastor would not have recognized me.  But I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t being believed.  That seemed strange.  I had provided at least enough information for him to have made the connection.

“Pastor Peter will not be in today,” he said, in a guarded fashion.  “This is his day off.”

“Oh that’s right,” I said.  “He takes Mondays off after preaching on Sundays.  Well — I’ll just come back tomorrow again at eight.   Just let him know that Andy stopped by.”

“He won’t be in at eight tomorrow.  He never comes in before noon, you know.”

“He doesn’t?” I asked, perplexed.  “I just saw him a couple months ago.  He was in at eight as usual, the same way he always came in at eight every morning for years, when I worked here before.”

“Please, no more, sir,” he said.  “I cannot help you, and Peter will not help you.   Please go back to wherever you came from.”

love thy neighborAt that, a strange mix of fear and anger ripped through my body.  The man had not only lied to me about Pete’s schedule, but he blatantly refused to even consider that I might have been telling the truth.  Moreover, I had recognized him; I knew exactly who he was, and I could not possibly have changed my appearance so hugely in the past seven years, that he would think I was anyone other than who I said I was.

“And you call yourself a Christian pastor?” I said, outraged. “I’ll have you know I’m a decent guy who’s down on his luck, and you’re treating me like a scum bag.”

“Go!” he shouted, as his friends joined in.  “Go!  Go!  Go away!!”

Talk about your Monday morning! 

I stormed away in torment.  Somehow I knew at that moment that the worst was yet to come.   The worst thing about homelessness, I somehow sensed, would have nothing to do with weather conditions, or malnutrition, or even sleep deprivation — or any of the other things that people always ask about when they find out that one is homeless.  It would have to do with something they never ask about: the way I would be treated.   I would be cast out like a leper, as though one would contract a deadly disease just from being in my presence.

But if nothing else comes of my recounting this horrible memory, at least I have finally learned the exact date.   After all, it was Monday.   There is only one Monday between May 10, 2004 and May 20, 2004.   So the first night I slept outdoors was May 17, 2004.

How could I forget?

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Flattering Lips

Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore;
those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.
Everyone lies to their neighbor;
they flatter with their lips
but harbor deception in their hearts.

May the Lord silence all flattering lips
and every boastful tongue—
those who say,
“By our tongues we will prevail;
our own lips will defend us—who is lord over us?”

“Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan,
I will now arise,” says the Lord.
“I will protect them from those who malign them.”
And the words of the Lord are flawless,
like silver purified in a crucible,
like gold refined seven times.

You, Lord, will keep the needy safe
and will protect us forever from the wicked,
who freely strut about
when what is vile is honored by the human race.

– Psalm 12

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Is Poverty a Choice?

I occasionally encounter the “poverty is a choice” mentality, but I can’t help but notice that those who say this often have never been poor and have no real idea what the details of poverty are like. There’s something a bit odious about a rich person trying to tell a person who has been poor and disadvantaged since birth that their poverty is a “choice.”

That said, I have chosen to remain poor at this time in my life, largely because I dislike the effects that having a lot of money has had on certain lifelong old friends of mine. I’ve watched them pursue money, property, and prestige — and I have not watched them become happy. Some of them are downright miserable.

I also dislike the effects that having had a lot of money has had on me. There have been times in my past when I had more money than I knew what to do with. I can sit here without money and dream about all the nice things I would do with a few thousand dollars, but the actual reality is that whenever I encounter money upwards of $5,000 or so, it has a tendency to vanish very rapidly. This leads to a lot of anxieties as to who my actual friends are on this planet. They sure do show up when I have money – whoever they are. I think I’ll remain poor, thank you.

As a poor person, I do not have to worry about who my real friends are. Nobody ever asks me for money, because I don’t have any. A rich person often wonders if somebody is actually his friend, or if they only want their money. I don’t have that worry. If somebody happens to like me, I know that it’s me they like – not my money.

wiser still though poorAs a poor person, I get to work on my inner spiritual issues around money without fear of spending a whole lot of it in the process. Nobody is advising me to go on an expensive retreat or pay for long-term psychotherapy, because both those options are financially out of the question. I find this refreshing, because an hour’s conversation with a caring friend usually works better than several sessions with a psychotherapist. Not to mention, the friend actually cares about me, whereas there’s a good chance the therapist mostly wants my money.  And of course, the friend probably won’t “charge” me anything more than the price of a cup of coffee.  

As a poor person, I actually enjoy running out of money on around the 10th of each month and challenging myself to live without money for the rest of the month. I have found that this is not at all an impossibility; and I believe that I have become a stronger person as a result of this challenge.

As a poor person, I have been able to sit down and write an entire musical — book, music & lyrics — about Homelessness in America. I wrote it from the heart, because I felt the themes I was putting into musical and dramatic form.  When I was a working composer, I wrote money for commission.  I felt forced to write songs, and the pressure of deadlines drastically reduced the authenticity of my work.   

My point? It has to do with integrity. As a poor person, I have developed integrity, and I am proud of the person I have become. When I had money, I had no integrity. I only had money.

When I say, for example. that I am looking for money to pay for singers, musicians, and studio costs to create a demo recording of a few songs from that musical, I mean what I say.  The money will not go into pocket, because I have trained myself to live on minimal means. This is a much happier choice than the earlier kind of choice I made, at a time when I had no inclination to detach myself from worldly concerns.  When I was well-off, my life was all about worldly stuff — passing stuff.  My life as a poor person is all about spiritual stuff — everlasting stuff. Does that make any sense to anyone?

If it does, I’m glad. At this point, I think it’s a lot more likely that 1,000 poor people will each kick down five bucks apiece for me to package this musical of mine, than it is that five rich people will each kick down a thousand bucks. When I talk to wealthy people about my ideas, I have to filter though all kinds of annoying perceptions that they think I’m some kind of a “con artist” or “scammer” or “hustler” trying to put one over on them somehow. When I talk with poor people about my ideas, they usually say: “Great idea, man! I hope that works out for you!” Which experience would you rather have? I think it’s a no-brainer, quite frankly.

Poverty in America is not, for most people, a choice. It is a condition. I myself have made the choice to remain poor, because I don’t care for the effects that money has had on myself and others. Therefore any money toward this project goes to my assistant Danielle — because I have a problem with money (obviously!) and she does not.

I will now cease these deliberations, lest I be construed for having a hidden agenda. My agenda is not hidden — it’s about as open as they come. Information on my project is on my home page, in case anyone’s interested in pursuing this theme a bit further.

I’m not a person who wants money or fame. Been there, done that, too old for all of that. I’m a person who wants to get an important message across about Classism in America. I placed my message in musical-dramatic form — because that’s where I’m strong.

Money is where I’m weak. So, while poverty may not be a choice in most parts of the world, it is my choice. Any other choice, in my 65 years of life experience, has led to disaster.

Thank you for hearing me out.

Note: this post was first submitted on the site Quora, which I am acknowledging in honor of their terms of service.  

 

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Homeless in the USA

On the site Quora, where I am considered to be a “Most Viewed Writer” on the subject of Homelessness, somebody recently posed the question: “How do people become homeless in the USA?”  I answered it quickly according to my experience, and later noticed that it had received over 3,500 views and 73 “upvotes.”  So I figured I’d share it here.  I hope you gain from it.

Having lived in a community of over 1,000 homeless people for five years, and having been homeless and borderline-homeless in other areas for seven additional years, I think I might be qualified to answer this question.

There are many ways that a person can become homeless in America. Let me list four that seem most prevalent:

(1) A sudden medical problem or family crisis that costs a person an unexpected amount of money, making it impossible for them to continue paying rent or mortgage.

(2) Socio-economic factors beyond the scope of individual control; e.g., a persistent rent increase over a period of time that far exceeds any increase in the renter’s income.

(3) A drug or alcohol problem resulting in job loss, eviction, and/or general inability to make rational decisions over the long haul.

(4) A mental health condition that goes untreated or is (as in my own case) misdiagnosed, resulting in one’s taking medications that work to one’s detriment rather than one’s benefit.

My experience is that, in larger urban areas, there is a greater percentage of people who became homeless as a result of socio-economic factors or circumstances beyond their control.

evictionIn smaller, more rural areas, such as the small college town where I now live in Northern Idaho, it is much more difficult to become homeless without sort of “asking for it” by displaying a serious drug or alcohol problem.

I do know that in the two years that I have now successfully rented apartments in my present city – first, a studio, then a one-bedroom, I have done every thing that would have “made me homeless” in situations that arose in the San Francisco Bay Area, where rents are on the average four times as high, but where my fixed income from Social Security has not varied.

Had I not moved to this small college town in the middle of the country, I would have died a meaningless death on the Berkeley city streets. I simply would never have been able to pay the rent. And because I was largely regarded as unemployable due to my mental health condition, I found it difficult to cut through that stigma in order to find a job.

After almost two years of successfully paying my rent every month, I am living a very meaningful and happy life.

All it took was a $200 Greyhound bus ticket to a distant State, and a loan on an apartment deposit, to end twelve years of seemingly inescapable homelessness in the Bay Area. I applied for a part-time job three weeks after I arrived in Idaho, and was hired. I even managed to keep the job for ten months before aspects of my condition caused them to ask me to resign. But by that time, I was established in the community with a church and a solid support group, and I knew how to make ends meet.

I hope this information has been helpful, and of particular use to someone who may be in need.

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The Eye of a Needle

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 19:16-23

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White Without Privilege

I like to post a youtube of my piano playing here each Friday.  Although I prepared something yesterday, by the time I got around to uploading it, I noticed that my screen was cracked.  I am now on my older, spare computer — but unfortunately have not yet determined an avenue to get the video onto this computer, and thus onto youtube, from here.  My apologies.  Here’s a Quora answer explaining my theory why there are more White homeless people per capita in the homeless populace in America than there are per capita in large urban areas where homelessness is prevalent.

Briefly, I am not certain (as someone suggested) that the question is “racist.” I believe that statistically, the homeless populace actually is over-saturated with the evidence of White people than those of other races, proportionately speaking.

My general feeling is that it relates to privilege and class distinction. In America, people of privilege are predominantly White, especially as we get into the upper middle and wealthy classes. I have found that among those of privilege, poverty (especially sudden and inexplicable poverty; i.e., such as may have resulted from an unrecognized or misdiagnosed mental health crisis) is often viewed as a sign of moral or practical failing on the part of the person who has fallen into straits.

homeless white man will work for foodIn such instances, there is a widespread feeling that the person can “pull himself up by his own bootstraps” and that this will “teach him” to manage money better, become more responsible, and so forth. This translates to less sympathy for the homeless on the part of the privileged classes, which are predominantly White.

In less privileged classes there is a greater saturation of people of color. Also, the “class gap” separating people in the middle and lower middle classes from those who land on the streets is not so wide. People in the lower classes are more likely to identify with the types of struggles that can lead to homelessness. Combining these factors, one will find that there is not nearly the degree of “blaming the victim” placed upon sudden victims of financial crises as there is among those who view the person in crisis as having “blown his privilege.” Therefore, there will be more compassion toward those who are struggling in the classes that are more multiracial.

I state this perception at the risk of coming across as a racist or a classist. However, I take that risk because I think it is a valid perception. It might explain in part why in a large urban area with a highly visible homeless populace, there really *does* appear to be a disproportionate number of Whites, with respect to the actual proportion of White people per capita, in that same area.

I’ll try to have the piano youtube of my song “Midnight Screams” posted later on today for your pleasure.  In the meantime, if anybody wants to kick down some filthy lucre to help me get a new computer screen, you know what to do. 

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