Eleventh Hour Appeal

Wrote this yesterday in a spontaneous reaction to the Spokesman-Review having endorsed Donald Trump for President. This morning, Tracy Simmons published it on Spokane Faith and Values — all 1829 words of it — and did not change one word. This appeal is directed at fellow followers of Jesus Christ who may still be undecided as to which way their vote will be cast tomorrow. I hope it helps.

Will 82% of Evangelicals Really Vote for Trump? 

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Paralyzed

Meant to get this to you earlier.  It was first published in the October “special issue” of Street Spirit and subsequently submitted to the International Network of Street Papers, where it has been published elsewhere.   And now, here as well.   Hope you enjoy it.  

Paralyzed: The Demons That Prey on the Homeless
by Andy Pope

When one is homeless, one is by definition exposed to all kinds of elements that escape the confines of one who lives indoors.  Weather is only one such element.  There are also predatorial elements — people who invade the space of someone who has no physical barrier to separate them from intruders of the night.

There is also another kind of predator sometimes encountered in the darkness.  This is the supernatural predator, often colloquially referred to as a “demon” — an entity that invades one’s dream states, or states of half-sleep.

Homeless friends of mine reported being “hassled” or “attacked” by malevolent entities that seemed to hover over various outdoor spots where we tried to sleep.  I sometimes sensed these invasions as well.  Typically, I would become paralyzed, and suddenly feel as though an invisible hostile creature was grabbing me and rubbing or scratching me with things that felt like paws or claws.  Sometimes I would feel as though I were being pounded on.  I would hear abusive voices as this happened: “Andy, you scum bag!! You are a total piece of shit!!!!”

Whether these were truly alien invaders from outer space, or merely the subconscious reflection of my own low self-esteem, I cannot say.

I learned that these attacks have a name: sleep paralysis.  Sleep paralysis is a condition where one is awake to one’s surroundings but lacks motor control.  In other words, you’re not awake enough to move your body, but awake enough to know what’s going on.  It often strikes during times when the usual patterns of sleep have been disrupted.  In my experience, very few things have disrupted my normal sleep patterns as much as the overall conditions of homelessness.

As a person who has had sleep paralysis since the age of 14, I am among the 8 percent of the population for whom this condition is commonplace.  When I was homeless, I noticed that these intrusions would be different depending on when and where they occurred.  For example, intrusions in Ohlone Park were different than those that took place on the steps of St. Joseph the Worker church or outside the Rubicon building.  I always sensed that I was being assaulted by some kind of invisible entity, but the nature of the entity would differ according to where it was that I was trying (unsuccessfully) to sleep.

If I were to take a daytime nap on Bart, however, I noticed that I was free of these mysterious assailants.  However, when the train would stop, sometimes they would attack.  This gave rise to the theory that they lived in a reality that intersected the normal Earth-based reality at certain spots, but that they were unable to traverse the surface of the Earth — at least not at speeds corresponding to those of rapid transit.   This theory is reminiscent of the concept of the “tesseract” expounded in the book A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine l’Engel.  

Another theory had to do with the veracity of these demon-riddled reports.  How plausible were they really?   How credible were those who reported them?   And most of all, who was most likely to believe them?  I could not help but notice that those who were impoverished, homeless, on disability, working poor, or low-wage blue collar or assembly line workers were the quickest to embrace and believe my reports of sleep paralysis.  Often, people in the lower socio-economic brackets would share their own similar experiences of encounters with “demons.”  But people in the scientific community, upper level academicians, white collar workers, and corporate business people seemed often to scoff at our accounts, writing them off the same way that they wrote off all of our statements.  To be sure, this is another type of paralysis — one that is relentless, and occurs in broad daylight.

Whatever the cause or effect of these widespread stories, one thing seemed most disturbingly clear.  There were legions of demons haunting the realm of the disadvantaged, the underprivileged, the unprotected, and the abandoned.  Whether they meet us in dream states or in harsh reality, there are far more homeless demons than meet the eye.

Andy Pope is a freelance writer who lives in the Pacific Northwest, and the author of Eden in Babylon, a musical about youth homelessness in urban America.   

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Fourth Column Published

At some point, I slacked on getting these Street Spirit columns posted on Thursdays in a timely fashion.   Here’s my 4th column, as it was published in the November issue.  More to come.   

The Homeless Habits that Followed Me Indoors
by Andy Pope

One of the many unexpected challenges that arose during my transition from homelessness to indoor living stemmed from the fact that I had simply gotten used to living outdoors. This caused many of the practices that worked for me when I was homeless to be carried over into the context of indoor living. While some of these lingering habits clearly didn’t apply indoors, others of them worked fairly well, both inside and out. In any case, all of them were surprisingly hard to shake. These hard-to shake habits fell into four main categories: Sleeping, eating, livelihood, and self-esteem.

Sleeping

When I was homeless, I got used to sleeping on two or three layers of cardboard placed over a hard surface.  I often slept on sidewalks, stairways, ramps, and cement alcoves positioned beneath awnings.   To off-set the hardness of such surfaces, I would pile on layers of cardboard until it simulated the effect of a mattress.

The problem with this, as far as my transition is concerned, was that I found I needed to use the same set-up in order to functionally sleep inside.  I tried sleeping in the bed that was provided in my first indoor room, but it just didn’t feel right.  I wasn’t used to sleeping in a bed.  So I set up three layers of cardboard on the hardwood floor, piled on an ample amount of blankets, and found I went right to sleep.  In fact, I slept much better than I’d ever slept outdoors.  I had combined the comfort of my preferred set-up with the added security of sleeping inside, where I was no longer vulnerable to the numerous assailants that roam the outdoor nights.  So I got the best of both worlds.

Another thing: Even though I had moved far away from Berkeley to a place where the temperatures were often below freezing in the winter, I found that I had to leave my window wide open at all times.  I had gotten so used to sleeping in the open air, I felt suffocated if I wasn’t getting a huge blast of fresh air in my face.  Also, for a long time I had to visualize one of my former outdoor sleeping spots in order to calm my mind enough to get to sleep at night.  This eventually faded with time, but evidenced an overall nostalgia for the homeless experience that flew in the face of reason.

Eating

My ideas around food, its availability, and one’s ability to feed oneself also changed radically as a result of my years of homelessness.  When food came my way while I was on the streets, I cheerfully shared it with those in my midst, assured that others would do the same for me.   Generally, I was right.  This is one of the small ways in which people on the streets take care of each other.

But without a street community to share resources with, managing my grocery shopping and eating habits was a struggle.  Having a kitchen for the first time in years, and being on a fixed income from Social Security, I naturally stocked up on food after I had paid rent and other bills.  But with this surplus of food available to me, I found myself overeating, using up my food supply long before the month was over, and thus gaining weight.   It took some time for me to become comfortable with stretching my groceries to last all month.

Livelihood 

I had also become accustomed to flying a sign on a sidewalk in order to accumulate pocket change to get through the day, as well as an occasional sandwich or other form of foodstuffs.  But in my current situation, there weren’t any panhandlers, let alone “silent sign-flyers” as I would have characterized myself.  Had I showed up on Main Street with my sign, I’d have stuck out like a sore thumb.  The local cops would have been on me in a heartbeat.  But I missed flying a sign for many reasons, not the least of which is that I simply was used to that means of livelihood.

In fact, I so missed flying my sign that on two occasions I invested over $50 on a round trip bus ticket to the nearest large city, when I hooked up with the homeless people who hung out by the station, and flew my sign until it was time for the bus to leave.   Unfortunately, I made less than $50 each time, so it as not even a cost-effective venture.  But it did satisfy my enormous urge to earn money in my customary fashion, if only for a day or two.

The overall inability to panhandle in a small rural community resulted in a form of food insecurity I had not at all anticipated.  After all, it was difficult to experience true food insecurity in Berkeley, where there were up to four free community meals each day.  Now, without community meals or the ability to fly a sign, I found myself suffering midway through each month.  I scrambled to make more money without the option of having a “street hustle,” and found that my job-related skills had suffered greatly as a result of years of unemployment.

Seeing the people in my midst who seemed not to have a problem feeding themselves, jealousy burned within me.  Whereas before, I had been jealous of practically anyone who had a roof over their head, I now found myself jealous of homeless people who were able to feed themselves more readily than I was, such as many of the homeless people in the city of Berkeley, where so much free food is abundant.

low self-esteem.png

Self-esteem 

By far, however, the most difficult transition to navigate was in the area of my self-esteem.  As much as I despised seeing the way that privileged people who lived indoors treated homeless people who were suffering, I had simply gotten used to being treated like a piece of shit.  Unbelievably, when people began to treat me humanely, as though I were “one of them,” I found I couldn’t handle it.  

For example, I had been quietly hanging out out at a local coffee house for a couple of weeks before one of the baristas extended her hand and asked what my name was.  Afterwards, I literally had to go into the bathroom and cry.  I could not believe that an employee in a public business establishment cared what my name was. I had gotten so used to being viewed with suspicion, as though it were assumed I could only be a troublemaker, that the experience of having an employee actually treat me with dignity was almost too much for me. While I soaked it all in with a natural delight, it also caused me to wonder why on earth I and my homeless brothers and sisters had put up with such pejorative treatment to begin with. 

The closest I’ve come to an answer is that we all simply got used to it. We didn’t think things would ever be any different or any better. The overall message that society gave us was that we would always be homeless, and that we were without hope in a world where an uncrossable gulf was fixed between those who were within and those who were without. We even got the feeling that we should always remain homeless – that we belonged, not in the privileged world of renters and homeowners – but in the leprous realm of the ostracized, the abandoned, and the untouchable. For we were not such as were worthy of dignified indoor living.

When such a bombardment of dehumanizing messages is blasted at a person day in and day out, it messes fairly severely with one’s head. Had I not known the amazing community that existed between me and my fellow homeless people, I would never have found the strength to come out alive.

Homeless No More is a column that features the stories of people making the transition from homelessness to housing.  Andy Pope is a freelance writer who lives in the Pacific Northwest, and the author of Eden in Babylon, a musical about youth homelessness in urban America.   

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The Homeless Inequities

Happy Thanksgiving — to those to whom it applies.   Here’s a little talk I created yesterday.  It’s about twenty-five minutes long, explaining how my recent “Inequity Series” came about, what it means, and what we probably should be doing about it.  I’d be happy if you gave it a listen.

The Homeless Inequities 

We who live indoors have a lot to be thankful for.  I say, let’s give a “hand up” to those who could use it.  God bless you — and God bless America.

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Inequity (Part Four)

Apparently, some people don’t think I know how to spell.   I’m referring to my recent use of the word “inequity.”  Some think I am referring to “iniquity.”  Others believe I am talking about “inequality.”   Neither is the case.  The truth is that I have spelled the word correctly: “inequity.”

inequity.JPG

Of the three nouns cited, the second one corresponds to the usage of the word as it pertains to this series.   The first “instance of injustice or unfairness” has to do with how homeless people are assumed to have done something terribly wrong in order to have become homeless, and that therefore homelessness is their due.  The second has to do with the notion that the homeless person is not qualified to engage in normal conversations or activities that people who live indoors are permitted to indulge.   The third has to do with privacy — how homeless people are deprived access to it, and regarded with suspicion if they seek it.

Today I would like to discuss a fourth inequity: how it is assumed that the homeless person does not have a job.  In some cases, it is even assumed that he could not have a job, and in other cases, that he should not have a job.  This is all part of the Overall Homeless Inequity.

A 2017 report by the Washington Council of Governments concluded that 22% of single homeless people, and 25% of homeless people in families, are employed.   These figures are remarkably similar to a report citing that 22% of homeless people are drug-addicted.  While it is often supposed that nearly all homeless people are drug-addicted (and no homeless people are working), the two statistics have a striking commonality.  Both of them equate homelessness with something that homelessness is not.

Homelessness is not the same thing as drug addiction.  Yet many people assume that a homeless person is an addict.   It is not the same thing as unemployment either.  Yet people will pass a homeless person on the street, and shout: Get a job!   Having been homeless for a number of years, I can tell you why I think people are content with these misconceptions.   Simply put, they justify the idea that the person is homeless because of some factor that that they can control; and that therefore, homelessness is their choice.  These comfortable fallacies free people from having to sympathize with the homeless person’s plight.

Now when I became homeless by choice, it was a choice made after seven years of struggling in and out of homeless and borderline-homeless situations, all the while finding my entire set of options for personal progress completely negated by the detrimental effects of any living situation I was able to afford.   While people assumed my main problem was something other than this, the fact of the matter is that I was making $50,000 a year and doing quite well before circumstances led to homelessness.  I then found homelessness nearly impossible to escape.

Many people have no idea how deep the hole of homelessness is dug.  Again and again, I tried my hardest to climb out of it.  But in the urban Bay Area reality, where studio apartments often rent for $2500/mo. or more, I could not get back on my feet.  The situations I could afford were limited to shelters, halfway houses, board-and-care homes, and (if I got desperate) psych wards and rehab facilities.  All of these resorts were undignifying, the last two were downright dehumanizing and criminalizing, and every one of them wound up leading me back to the streets.   Finally, I figured I better start learning how to be a functional homeless person, since that is where I continually found myself landing.  So on April 15, 2011, I left the last of numerous lousy living situations in order to join an intentional homeless community in Berkeley, California.

In Berkeley, where there were over one thousand visible homeless people on the streets, it wasn’t generally supposed that any of us were capable of working.  Combine that with a “progressive” quasi-socialist climate, and one was more likely to be encouraged to seek government aid through mental health disability than to get a job.  In short, it was assumed that I was unemployable.  This is another facet of this inequity.

Only once did someone shout at me: “Get a job!”  And when he did, I was damn near ready to go to the Social Security Office and ask them to cancel my disability paychecks.  It was so rare that someone believed I could work that what was intended to be a demeaning insult was actually refreshing.

Then, when I left Berkeley and moved to low-rent district in the Pacific Northwest, I found that within five days, I was able to secure a one year lease on a studio room, within three weeks, had secured a job, and was employed part-time shortly thereafter.  This was after being considered unemployable for years in Berkeley!   And as I always am quick to say, despite what many of my old associates in California believed, I did not change at all on a 48 hour one way bus trip.

What this points to is that when dealing with homeless people, we need to consider the socio-economic factors first and foremost, before we make judgments as to their personal character and choices.   The exact same person who secured a lease and a job as soon as he moved to Idaho was the one who flew a sign on a sidewalk for five years in California.

To those who still think people generally become homeless because they are drug addicts, alcoholics, nut cases, losers, or lazy bums, I say, please think again.   While this is sometimes the case, it is more often true that prolonged homelessness brings about any or all of those factors.  Please think a lot.   This culture gone awry needs the best thinking of us all.

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Inequity (Part Two)

Another function of long-term homelessness — at least of the kind of homelessness that I and others experienced in an urban environment as part of an intentional homeless community — was that it was hell trying to get off the subject.   Of homelessness, that is.

Phrased positively, it was always refreshing when I found myself engaged in happy small talk, say at a McDonald’s or a Starbucks early in the morning.  These were spots where those of us who were homeless would eagerly gather come daybreak, these being the two places that opened the earliest.   Of course, our motive was to get out of wandering mode and become situated within a seemingly normal context.   If we were lucky, we might even blend with the early risers having themselves emerged from the indoors.   After all, what was to distinguish us from those who dwelt inside?   Maybe an unkempt appearance, possibly a smell.  But we were usually pretty good about taking care of that stuff.  And in a college town?   You didn’t really expect everyone to be doing the three-piece business suits.

Now, the Starbucks was a different scene than the McDonald’s.  I needed more money to get in, and it opened a half hour earlier (at five in the morning, rather than 5:30.)   There was no such thing as a Senior Cup for 65 cents.  I had to at least get a tall coffee, and probably spend $1.75 at the time.   But there was also the advantage that, once I had consumed the coffee, they were in no particular hurry to kick me out.  The McDonald’s, however, had a twenty minute sit-down limit — obviously targeting the myriad homeless people seeming to invade the joint upon opening.   And while others were permitted refills, they had an unwritten policy not to give a refill to a homeless person.   So obviously, the MacDonald’s was the less savory — though less expensive — of the two options.

At times, I had the advantage of owning a laptop I could plug in at the Starbucks.  Once I was working away, I differed in no discernible way from an older student, or perhaps a professor.   If I happened to be at the counter, and no one was around to “out” me, I stood a good chance of blending.   I recall once a fellow sat near me on the counter with a newspaper.  He nodded at me, “Good morning!”  I did the same.  I liked that feeling.  No wall had yet been erected between us.   We were just two human beings, and the homelessness of one of the two human beings had not yet been so imposing as to have erected one.

“You following the Warriors?” the man asked casually, looking up from his paper.

“Not a big basketball fan,” I replied.  “I hear they’re having an unusually good season.”

“Yup.”

So far so good, I thought.   Waiting a moment or two, I decided to comment on the music being piped through the Starbucks speakers.

“I love this Wagner, Symphony in C Major.   Seems to match my mood swings somehow.”

“Oh really.  How so?”

“Well you hear it — it’s almost dissonant, then lands on these big blasts of major chords — you enjoy classical music?”

“Not so much.  The wife always gets me to go to the San Francisco Symphony.”

“Ah, Michael Tilson Thomas.”

“I guess,” he replied softly, looking back down at the paper.

Returning to my work, I felt a clear sense of satisfaction.   Almost ten minutes had gone by.  I hadn’t managed to out myself, and nobody else had come by to — uh, oh here comes Hunter, I thought, literally worried that I was thinking too loud.

“Hey Andy, do you have any change?”

“Am I going to change?” I replied, dodging the question.  “No, I wasn’t planning on it.”

“No, I mean, do you have any change?  Have you even been at your Spot yet?  Oh, never mind.”

Obviously having displayed some familiarity with me, my friend walked away quite randomly.  But it wasn’t random at all to the fellow with whom I’d been chit-chatting.

“You’re HOMELESS??!!” he cried out.  

“Well, uh, yeah,” I admitted, still trying to keep things “low key.”

“Aargh!” he barked.  “Well, here’s what you do.  You dial 2-1-1, you do know about 2-1-1, don’t you?”

Of course I knew about 2-1-1, but that’s beside the point.  The wall had been erected between us, that wall has proven to be virtually insurmountable, and it would be downhill from here.  I’d thought I’d been going to get away with having a normal conversation for once.  But I thought wrong.  As soon as I was outed, and my homeless credentials revealed, the subject reverted back to the usual topic of homelessness.   And it might have been very fresh for the one who picked up that ball, possibly even an exciting first-time conversation.  But to us it was one we’d heard all too often. It was one thing to be living it 24/7.  It was quite another to be expected to talk to every Tom, Dick & Harry about it, total strangers that we would literally meet off the streets, daily.

“You know, you don’t look homeless.  I’m having a hard time believing you’re really homeless.   It just seems like you don’t belong there, and there must be something you can do to get yourself out of it.  Ever think of that?”

Nope, never thought about it once at all!  I mean, really!  Can you imagine if I had been Black, or Hispanic, or any other easily recognized minority in such a context?   Would a stranger, on realizing my ethnicity, immediately launch into a monologue about my being Black or Hispanic, and what I ought to be doing about it?  Of course not!  But that’s the extent to which homelessness is unrecognized.   When one is homeless, one is not generally recognized as representing a legitimate minority in our culture.  This is why a stranger with no true knowledge of the homeless person’s individual circumstances will often feel qualified to lecture the homeless total stranger on how they are to go about living.  It stems from a lack of respect for the obvious human fact that the homeless person has a right to govern their own life, no more and no less than any other kind of person in society.

Until we honor this basic human fact, and respect each homeless individual’s right to have made choices that have seemed most prudent to them under the circumstances, no real progress will be made in solving the “homeless problem.”  This is because the essence of the problem is in the dehumanization of a massive group of human beings in our culture, those being they who are without homes in society.   If many of us extended to a homeless person the same courtesy and dignity we might extend to one of different race, gender, genetic culture, or sexual orientation, we might be surprised at the results.

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The Refuse of the World

For who makes you so superior?
What do you have that you did not receive?
And if you did receive it,
why do you boast as though you did not?

Already you have all you want.
Already you have become rich.
Without us, you have become kings.
How I wish you really were kings,
so that we might be kings with you. 
For it seems to me that God has displayed us apostles
at the end of the procession,
like prisoners appointed for death.
We have become a spectacle to the whole world,
to angels as well as to men.

We are fools for Christ,
but you are wise in Christ.
We are weak,
but you are strong.
You are honored,
but we are dishonored. 
To this very hour we are hungry and thirsty,
we are poorly clothed,
we are brutally treated,
we are homeless. 

We work hard with our own hands.
When we are vilified, we bless;
when we are persecuted, we endure it; 
when we are slandered, we answer gently.
Up to this moment
we have become the scum of the earth,
the refuse of the world.

–1 Corinthians 4:7-13

Pitfalls of Forgiveness: Part Two

I wanted to subtitle this one: “How NOT to forgive somebody.”   I got this crazy idea that  if somebody whom I have resented would only answer a few questions for me, I would finally “understand” the situation, and therefore finally “forgive” the guy.   After all, isn’t there a French proverb that reads: “To understand all is to forgive all?”   Sure there is!  Therefore,  if I could only understand this fellow’s baffling behavior toward me, then naturally I would finally arrive at a moment like this:

“Oh!  I get it!  That’s why you said all those weird and totally hurtful things!  I understand now!   It all makes sense!!  Finally, I forgive you, man!!!”

Believe me, this is not the way to approach the matter.   To illustrate this, I’ve prepared a fictitious email, sent to someone named “Tom” who hypothetically had offended me.  The nature of the offense is based on truth, though the names and variables have been altered and mixed, for the sake of discretion and taste.  Observe the absurdity of such an entreaty:

Hey Tom –

As you know, I’ve been having a very difficult time forgiving you for nearly two years now.    Largely, this is due to a single conversation in which you suddenly decided, among other things, that you were not really my good, close friend, but only a “casual acquaintance.”

Being as we have had many close conversations over a twenty year period of time, this demotion seemed a bit unfair.  Come to think of it, however, it was only I who kept revealing all kinds of personal information to you, thinking you were one of my very best friends.  Perhaps this explains why you would often take the information I conveyed to you in confidence and freely distribute among your many associates.  Had I been your friend, and not just some random guy, you might have been more loyal.

It appears that either you are one of the most malicious people I’ve ever met, or one of the stupidest.  I sure hope the latter is the case.  If you are stupid, then you simply don’t realize the implications of your statements, and therefore it is more difficult for me to find fault with you.

I have therefore provided you with a 12-point questionnaire, designed to determine whether or not you are an evil genius or a stupid idiot.  Once I know the answer, I will understand you perfectly; and therefore forgive you.  

Best Regards,

Andy

Do you see how ludicrous that would be?  If the situation were reversed, and I knew that someone hated me, and the person who hated me was insisting that I alter my behavior in some form or another, until he would no longer hate me, how would I feel?

I would be incensed!  It is not my purpose in life to adjust my behavior to please him who hates me.  That person who hates me is not God, and has no right to insist that I change in any way.

Scrummaster Needed Desperately at LAST Conf 2016 in ...

But the aphorism above comes to mind and is wise.  This person whom I am calling “Tom” also had a way of lecturing me.  Lengthy dissertations on how to live my life, flavored by little gifts he would buy me — running shoes, a cell phone, and lunches.  It took me a while to realize that he must not have been all that bright.   People who give a lot of advice generally mean well.  They’re just not smart enough to realize that they shouldn’t be doing it.  

Of course, this begs the question: “Why on earth did I listen to all these uninvited lectures in the first place?

The answer is this:

When you’re homeless, and you’re out on the streets, and you’re not sleeping very well, and you’re being treated left and right as though you are a totally worthless scum bag with no clue how to live your life, you eventually begin to believe it.

So you turn to those who appear to be doing well, and you eat up their worthless advice as though it were manna from heaven.  Somehow, you don’t realize until you finally get inside that their advice pertains only to the world of the wealthy.  It has no relevance whatever to the world of the underprivileged — the world where you actually live.

As far as forgiveness is concerned, as Bryan Wagner has pointed out, it has nothing to do with the other person at all.   The idea of requesting that someone alter their behavior in order that you might forgive them is absurd.   Had they been willing to do something like that, you’d have never resented them in the first place.

Forgiveness is an inside job.  It can only be accomplished in that place inside you where you meet your True and Highest Self.  It can only be accomplished in the heart.

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A little bit goes a long, long way.  

 

Auditions Tonight

Auditions for Eden in Babylon begin tonight at 7pm at the Lionel Hampton School of Music.   There will be further auditions Monday at 7pm, with callbacks Tuesday at 7pm, at Moscow First Presbyterian Church.

I have waited seven years for this moment.  If you know what it means (or even if you don’t), please feel free to comment with the words “Break a Leg.”

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Bigger and Better than the Streets

I wrote this, like the one last Thursday, on request from Alastair Boone, the editor-in-chief of Street Spirit.  There might be a similar entry next Thursday.  

When I was homeless in the San Francisco Bay Area, I relied to a large degree on the moral support of lifelong friends and family who were not. For one reason or another, it was not feasible for any of them to let me stay in their homes for any substantial length of time. Still, they frequently provided me with encouragement, and on occasion sent me money. While I was often upset that nobody was “letting me in,” I nonetheless was dependent on their emotional and financial support in order to endure the ongoing conditions of homelessness.

One of the reasons why I delayed the decision to leave the Bay Area for so long was because I was attached to my support group. I felt that my old friends and family members were just about the only people who knew that I was a competent guy who had landed on the streets as the result of a costly medical misdiagnosis. They were the ones who knew that a mistreated health condition had led to a mental breakdown, as my inability to properly manage a health condition threw me into first-time homelessness at the age of 51.

They were the ones who watched in horror, as one by one I lost all my accounts, and could no longer keep up with the high cost of living on the S.F. Bay Area Peninsula. But still, they believed in me, and they did what they could to help me get back on my feet. The only thing they didn’t do was to let me stay with them. Ironically, to have offered me housing, even temporarily, would probably have been the only thing that could have possibly helped me to get back on my feet. The depth of the gutter where the homeless are consigned to dwell is really that deep. For me, at the time, it seemed inescapable.

So I continued to live outdoors, where I found myself gathering with other homeless people at “feeds” and at places like the Multi-Agency Service Center (MASC) in Berkeley. Though I and my fellow homeless people had arrived at homelessness by a variety of different paths, we had one thing in common: we were homeless. To the social workers who tried to help us, there was no distinction between a man who had been an elementary school music teacher, and a man who had been brought up on the streets, taught by his parents to steal laptops from an early age. Graphic artist and con artist were one and the same. We were all in this boat together.

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We were all homeless – and we indeed bonded together. After all, the laptop thief was my equal, no more or less endowed by the Creator with inalienable human rights like my own. But the only people who still saw me as a competent, employable human being were the ones who had known me prior to my “fall.” My fellow homeless people saw me as a homeless person — as one of them, an equal. Social workers and police officers saw me as a homeless person, though by and large they did not see me as equal, but as someone who was somehow below them in the hierarchy of human rights. My old friends and family members saw me as Andy, the guy they’d known and loved all their lives, whether homeless or not. Of course I needed their support!

But were they helping me with the one thing I needed? That is, to “get inside?” No – they were not. They had their own concerns. Meanwhile, I watched while the sordid conditions of homelessness gradually transformed me from a naive, overweight singing teacher to a scrawny fraction of my former self. Gradually, I got to be half-crazed from protracted sleep deprivation. Often, I became fully crazed from feeling that I was treated like a sub-human mutant, rather than an equal. Passersby sneered at me in disgust. They viewed my visible poverty as an unsightly blot on society, a piece of garbage to be swept off the streets, along with the rest of my fellow eyesores. Were it not for the bonding with my fellow homeless citizens, I’d have lost all shreds of human dignity.

In order to cope with this massive sense of ever-increasing dehumanization, I turned at first to marijuana, though I’d smoked no more than twice since the 80’s — certainly less than most of my friends who still lived indoors. Then, during the last three years of my homeless sojourn, I turned to a harder drug. I used speed to desensitize me from the cold – both the physical coldness of temperature, and the spiritual coldness of the condescending mockers in my midst. One by one, my old friends and family members, with rare exception, abandoned me. One of them recently told me: “We were all just waiting to read your obituary.”

Finally, in June of 2016, I picked up my check and walked out of the city of Berkeley without saying a word. “If the drugs won’t kill me,” I told myself, “the thugs who dispense them will.”

For a month I wandered the other side of the Bay in search of a permanent answer. But nothing seemed to work. In a shelter, I caught a flu, and was kicked out for that reason. The hospital wouldn’t let me in, because if they let me in, they’d have to let all of us in. They gave me some pills and told me to rest in bed for ten days. But I had no bed! I got kicked off of the all night bus for fear of contaminating the other homeless people, who relied on the all-night bus as a shelter.

Finally, in desperation, I got down on my knees. I told the Universe that all I wanted was “a lock on a door, a window, and a power outlet.”

Then I took action. I began googling keywords until I found a place in the Pacific Northwest that rented for only $275/mo. – something that would easily have gone for $900/mo. in the Bay Area. It was a tiny room in a converted hotel — but it would do the job. I called an old associate, someone whom I’d worked with long ago when he was a music teacher at a middle school. Hearing my story, he agreed to front me $200 for a one way Greyhound ticket to a new life. After that, I told my story to the prospective landlord, whom I called while still in San Francisco. To my amazement, he agreed to hold the place for me until I got there! Forty-eight hours later, I was sleeping in my new room — and it had a window, two power outlets, and three locks on the door. Four days after that, I signed a one year lease. Three weeks later, after years of being considered unemployable in the San Francisco Bay Area, I landed a part-time job as a piano player at a small town church.

A part of me still wishes I had made the decision earlier. It would have spared me the last three years of psychic hell, as the pain of my homelessness was doused with street drugs, and the combination threatened to plummet me toward an untimely death. But had I made the decision earlier, I would have abandoned the bulk of my support group. How thankful I am to have lost their support all the same! For at the moment when I finally decided to leave the Bay Area for a low rent district in a distant State, I had no one left to lose – and everything to gain.

Though the sheltered world does not know it, homelessness is not the same thing as alcoholism, drug addiction, or incompetence. It’s not the kind of thing where one needs to “change their ways” in order to overcome it. In order to overcome homelessness, what one needs is dignity. It doesn’t matter whether we were music teachers or laptop thieves. We are all created equal; we are all endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are all bigger and better than the streets.

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A Light for the Nations

Here is My Servant, whom I uphold,
My Chosen One, in whom My soul delights.
I will put My Spirit on Him,
and He will bring justice to the nations.
He will not cry out or raise His voice,
nor make His voice heard in the streets.
A bruised reed He will not break
and a smoldering wick He will not extinguish;
He will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow weak or discouraged
until He has established justice on the earth.
In His law the islands will put their hope.”
Thus says God the LORD—
He who created the heavens
and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and its offspring,
who gives breath to the people on it
and life to those who walk in it—
“I, the LORD, have called you
for a righteous purpose,
and I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and appoint you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light to the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring prisoners out of the dungeon,
and those sitting in darkness
out from the prison house.”

–Isaiah 42:1-7

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A Light to the Nations

Here is My Servant, whom I uphold,
My Chosen One, in whom My soul delights.
I will put My Spirit on Him,
and He will bring justice to the nations.
He will not cry out or raise His voice,
nor make His voice heard in the streets.
A bruised reed He will not break
and a smoldering wick He will not extinguish;
He will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow weak or discouraged
until He has established justice on the earth.
In His law the islands will put their hope.”
Thus says God the LORD—
He who created the heavens
and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and its offspring,
who gives breath to the people on it
and life to those who walk in it—
“I, the LORD, have called you
for a righteous purpose,
and I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and appoint you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light to the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring prisoners out of the dungeon,
and those sitting in darkness
out from the prison house.”

–Isaiah 42:1-7

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.

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.

Unbeknownst 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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Tuesday Tuneup Thirty

Q. Where would you like to be?

A.  In California.

california
California

Q. Why on earth would you ever want to be in a place like California?

A. I get tired of not being allowed to have a problem.

Q. What’s that supposed to mean?

A. My experience with the State of California, having lived in a number of different cities there, is that in California, I was permitted to have a problem.

Q. What do you mean, “permitted to have a problem?”

A. Down there it was okay for me to have a problem.

Q. And it’s not okay up here to have a problem?

A. Not really.  Nobody seems to have any problems up here.  Or, if they do, they certainly don’t show them.  Me?  I’ve got problems.  I’ve got issues.  And when they arise, they stick out like a sore thumb.

Q. So you’re saying you don’t feel like you fit in up here?

A. Not when I have this many problems, no.  Down in California, it seems like everybody’s got problems.  So I blend right in.

Q. But haven’t you solved a lot of your problems since you’ve been up here?

A. Some of them, yes.  I’m paying $450 for a one bedroom apartment that would have been $1800 down there, at least in the Bay Area.  I’m not on the streets anymore.  I’ve got a decent place to live, and privacy.   And being around happy people has boosted my morale.  Just today, the Personnel Director at my church said twice that he believes I was meant to be here.  That God had something to do with it.  And it was encouraging, but still — I kinda feel like I’m just about the unhappiest one in the bunch.

Q. Why do I find that hard to believe?

A. Probably because I have a reputation of being a happy-go-lucky guy who rises with the song of the lark and wants very little out of life except to write his writings, speak his speakings, and compose his composings in peace.

Q. And are you not precisely what your reputation suggests?

A. Usually I am.  But right now I’m not.   Not the past three months anyway.  Too many problems.

Q. Would going back to California solve these problems?

A. Of course not.  But it would put me in a place where everybody else had at least as many problems as I do.  I wouldn’t feel so alone.

Q. Could it possibly be that you are only having a bad day?

A. Maybe.  And just maybe it’s in a financial area.  Now I don’t personally mind being poor or encountering setbacks.  It’s a lot better to be poor, and to live inside and have food in the cupboard, than it is to be poor and have to live on the streets.  But what happens is that when setbacks are encountered, it aggravates my class issues.  

Q. Class issues?

A. Yes.  All the things that I get paid by people like Classism Exposed to write about.  And while these events may indeed bolster my writing eventually, I tend to have to wade through a wad of resentment against “rich people” in the meantime.

Q. You have resentment against rich people?

A. Well, I try not to.   And I eventually get over it.  But I gotta just tell you, some of these rich people — I don’t care about their money.  It’s the lectures.  They lecture me about things they’ve never been through and can’t possibly understand.  And they expect me to kiss their asses every time they do me the slightest favor, even though it’s totally no skin off their backs.  And they, they —

Q. They what, Andy?  And who are they?   Isn’t this supposed to be about you, and not about an abstract group of invisible “rich people” who are always lecturing you expecting you to kiss their asses?

A. Three questions at once?   Really, Questioner!  You seem almost as uptight as I am.

Q. Then why don’t we both slow down?

A. Sounds like a plan.   I’ll answer the first question.   They — whoever they are — expect me to be able to do the things that they can do.  This is because they, unlike me, either have either the money to do them, or the mental health to do them, or both.

Q. And who are they?

A. Just a bunch of phantoms from my past whom I never see anymore, never talk to, and yet still fly around like bats in my brain.

Q. Isn’t this supposed to be about you and not about them?

A. Yes, but I am just too upset right now.

Q. Why?

A. Financial.  It’s the end of the month.  I’m on a fixed income.   A couple unexpected charges came in, and it threw me into a state of insecurity.   When I was feeling kinda low about it, I made the mistake of mentioning it to somebody.  I went into some detail, and they only said: “that’s life!”  In California, they would have commiserated.   They would have all shared stories about similar insecurities, and how frustrated they all were.  And then, my depression would have been validated — not dismissed.

Q. But rather than seek validation for your depression, why not accept that this is a fact of life like the happy people do?

A. Well, that’s where my mental health comes in.  I’ve got some kind of problem that makes me over-react to stuff like this.  They say — bipolar.  I don’t know.  I get tired of it all.  Which is also a part of my mental health problem.

Q. Come on now — is it really your mental health?   Are you really that crazy?

A. No – I don’t like to think so anyway.  I mean, what are you driving at?

Q. Do you really want to sacrifice the things you do well in order to correct the things you do poorly?

A. Don’t make me laugh!  Have you listened to my piano playing lately?  There’s rage written all over it!  If I treated a human being the way I treat that piano, I’d be in jail for Assault and Battery.

Q. So these psych meds will make your music more placid?  Less threatening?

A. I wasn’t going to put it that way!

Q. Are you ready to play hard ball?

A. Probably not.   Do I have a choice in the matter?

Q. How many laptops were stolen from you in California during the last three years you lived there?

A. Five.  Four in Berkeley, and one in Oakland.

Q. How many laptops have been stolen from you in the past 2 1/2 years you have lived here?

A. Zero.

Q. How many cell phones and headphones were stolen from you in California?

A. Too many to count.

Beautiful Fall colors in Boise Idaho.  Beautiful Fall colors in Boise Idaho.
Idaho

Q. Has anything at all been stolen from you in Idaho?

A. No.  Not one thing.

Q. How many jobs did you get the last three years you were in California?

A. Zero.

Q. How many jobs have you had since you’ve been up here?

A. Two.

Q. When was the last time you signed a one year lease on an apartment in California?

A. Gosh, I don’t know.  Probably in the 70’s in college, when my dad cosigned.

Q. How many one year leases have you signed on apartments in Idaho?

A. Two.  Go on.

Q. How many people called you “crazy” when you were in California?

A. Just about everyone I know.  Close friends even.  I was like — a curiosity piece to them.  Always the odd man out, the weirdo.

Q. How many people have called you “crazy” in North Idaho?

A. Zero.  Go on.

Q. How many years were you out on the streets in California?

A. You know the answer to that.  Twelve years, barring scattered rentals here and there that never worked out.

Q. How many days have you spent on the streets since you’ve been in Idaho?

A. Zero.  Please continue.

Q. How many people whom you know from California think that you experienced a total psychic change on a 48-hour bus trip to Idaho?

A. Quite a few.  If one more Californian tells me that I “found God” on that bus trip, I think he’s going to find a right cross in his mug that came straight from the devil.  Go on.

Q. How many people in Idaho believe that you experienced a total psychic change on a 48 hour bus trip?

A. Zero.  Of course, they have no idea what I was like before the 48-hour bus trip.  But I can guarantee you that I did not change one bit during those 48 hours.

Q. How many drivers have flipped you off in Idaho?

A. Zero.

Q. How many grown men and women have you encountered in Idaho who blame all their problems on their parents?

A. Zero.

Q. Have you met anyone in Idaho who refuses to call their mother on Mother’s Day?

A. Not yet.  Go on.

Q. How many people accepted you for who you are in the State of California?

A. Not too many!  They were always trying to change me into something I was not.

Q. Are you accepted for who you are here in Idaho?

A. Totally.  Nobody tries to change anybody up here.  It’s refreshing.

Q. When your ex-wife came back to you after thirty years, what was the overall reaction among people whom you know here in Idaho?

A. People were thrilled!   They encouraged us.  They thought what we were doing was fantastic – we got nothing but positive from every single person here.

Q. And how did people in California react?

A. They thought I was crazy, as usual.  If they said anything at all, it was something along the lines of: “I’m gonna stay out of that one!”

Q. Are you ready for the Big One?

A. There’s a bigger one than that?  You gotta be kidding.

Q. How many people complimented you on your typing speed in California?

A. Not many.

Q. How many people in California told you that you were typing too loud?

A. Innumerable.  It happened three times a week.  Sometimes three times a day.

Q. How many people in Idaho have told you that you were typing too loud?

A. Zero.

Q. How many people have complimented you on your typing speed here in Idaho?

A. Shucks, I don’t know.  Twenty or thirty maybe.

Q. And what does all this say?

A. It says that, due to a variety of factors, some of them cultural, some of them socio-economic, people in Idaho seem to have a tendency to emphasize the positive.  People in California, unbeknownst to them, appear to have a tendency to emphasize the negative.

Q. Which do you prefer?

A. The positive, of course.

Q. Then why don’t you start emphasizing it?

A. That, sir, is the $64,000 question.

Q. May I be excused, then?

A. Not so fast, buddy.  You gotta feel my sarcasm first.  I’ve got issues.  And they’re a hell of a lot deeper than financial.  I’m as positive right now as I can possibly be, or as I even should be, in the eyes of an all-knowing God.

Q. Do tell – what are these deeper issues?

A. They’re none of your damned business.  Get outta here.

The Questioner is silent. 

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Classism in the Schools

I wrote this essay on request from Denise Moorehead, the blog editor of Classism Exposed, where some of my other work is featured.  

Students begin to experience the effects of classism in our education system as early as kindergarten, or perhaps even nursery school.  Elementary school playgrounds reveal the effects of classism on a child’s education.

A child from an impoverished family will find that her parents cannot readily afford the latest toy or gadget that might be all the rage on the playground.   When all the other kids are excitedly exploring the newest electronic recreational device, the kid who is without feels excluded and somehow “less than” the others.   Sadly, that child cannot possibly grasp that this awful feeling of inferiority is caused by something called classism – an archaic system of values that favors the wealthy and punishes the poor.

EducationalInequalityposter-thumb.jpgWhen I found the kids in my 11th grade class making fun of me, I myself did not know that classism was the culprit.   My dad was a Navy man — an enlisted man who had just been stationed in a new town after a tour overseas.   Because my parents wanted to assure their children of a “high quality education,” they bought a modest house in the richest of four unified school districts in that city.   I remember that we barely made the border between that district and the next one down.

The kids at that school basically didn’t talk to me for about six months.   I was mocked and ridiculed for the way I dressed, the way I carried myself, and the way I talked.   Interestingly, all of that changed overnight when they happened to hear me play piano at a party.   Because of my piano playing, I suddenly became a popular man on campus — so popular, that I was advised to pretend I had been born in that community, since it didn’t look right for me to have that much on the ball socially, and yet have actually been born in a small “hick town” up in Northern Idaho.

For the next several years, my world was an environment where the indicators of privilege tipped people off as to who was “cool” and who was not, and appearances were more important than reality.   It was then that I learned how to schmooze with the jet-setters, and appear to be one of them, even though I was not.

Because of my musical aptitude, I was encouraged to apply to a Conservatory of Music at a nearby high-tuition private college.   Because my dad was going to school there on the G.I. bill at the time, and both of my parents had jobs at the University, I was eligible for a 90% tuition discount.   I received a very high score on the music placement test, and was accepted as a junior after having completed two years at another school.

Of course, I was overjoyed.  But when I got there, I found once again that I somehow didn’t fit in. It turned out that all of the other music students were from wealthy families who could afford the full tuition.  Moreover, most of them had done fairly poorly in high school, otherwise they’d have attended a lower tuition school such as a State college that would only accept students with higher GPA’s.  To top it all off, the professors seemed to take a special liking to me right off the bat, due to my musical prowess.

While it seemed that the faculty was oblivious to matters having anything to do with class, the student body was another story.  I was considered to be a “home town boy,” and the obvious fact that both my parents had low-level positions in the language lab and the library revealed that I was not exactly of the upper crust.  While I tried to “talk the talk and walk the walk,” the contrast between my background and that of the other students overwhelmed my effort to feign the social cues of privilege.  Discouraged and feeling alone, I dropped out of school after the first semester.

Although I never received a degree in Music, I was asked years later to work as an independent contractor for a public school that needed an accompanist.   The school was on the “other side of the tracks,” and the majority of students were Hispanic.   When asked about their professional aspirations, I could not help but notice that very few of the kids had any thoughts of ever “climbing up the ladder.”  Most seemed content to continue in agricultural or blue collar jobs, following their parents’ footsteps and guidelines.  

As I continued to take my skill set to schools of all kinds, I eventually received a high-paying job as a music teacher at a high tuition private elementary school.  There, by contrast, it was generally assumed that the kids would be pursuing leadership positions involving creative problem-solving and other specialized skills.  Why is it assumed that those of privilege are to become the leaders of tomorrow, while those who lack are supposed to be the flunkies?  Shouldn’t our nation’s leaders be comprised of those who have vision and fortitude, not of those who have wealth?

Classism is a venom that seeps through every crevice of what some still dare to call a Christian nation.  People of privilege are shown favoritism at every level — or if they’re not, those who are have to hear about it — as was the case when I was at the Conservatory.   On the other hand, poor people are made to feel that there is something wrong with them — like the child whose parents are too poor to afford to buy her the latest toy.  

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Tuesday Tuneup 26

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. In a place of greater confidence.

Q. In what areas do you lack confidence?

A. In many areas.  But only  one area is important to me at this time.

Q. What area is that?

A. It has to do with integrity, as we discussed last week.  I lack confidence that I will be able to act according to my integrity, and not according to hypocrisy.

Q. Why should you ever prefer hypocrisy over integrity?

A. I don’t, in my heart.  But at certain moments, I find myself choosing a hypocritical course of action, only because I lack confidence that I can find a way to act according to my integrity at that same moment.

Q. Can you provide an example of that?

A. Sure.   Say I’m at an idle moment.  I’m bored at that moment, and I don’t quite know what to do.  I see before me a certain door.  I am compelled to open the door, because on the other side will be people who will alleviate my boredom.  But the only way that these people have ever been known to alleviate my boredom is that they provide me with an audience for the Entertainer in me.  I will proceed to entertain them.  They will laugh when I say  funny things, and do comic imitations of people, and put on humorous expressions and mannerisms.  And then, I will be gratified.

Q. Who are these people?

A. That’s a good question.  They could be just about anybody, I suppose.  In this case, they were a number of people I saw sitting behind the back door of the Recovery Center where I have been volunteering, that back door being made of glass.

Q. Did you then go inside and entertain them, in order to alleviate your boredom?

A. No, I did not.  I turned and went next door, to a cafe where it was quiet, and I would find a way to alleviate my boredom, without having to entertain anyone.

Q. How did you manage that?

A. By doing what I am doing right now.  I am sitting down at a quiet table in a quiet cafe, among many quiet students studying, and professors preparing their lectures.  To entertain these people would be to interrupt their work, which would be quite rude.  So instead I logged on my laptop to do my own work, and therefore blend perfectly into the atmosphere.

Q. But aren’t you still being an Entertainer?

A. How so?

Q. You’re entertaining me, aren’t you?

A. It’s not my intention.

Q. What about your readers?  Aren’t they being entertained?

A. I hope not!

Q. And aren’t you still a hypocrite?

A. No!

Q. But what you’re doing right now – sitting in this academic cafe the way you are — isn’t this just as hypocritical as ever?

A. I think not!  I’m not hypocritical at all right now.

Q. You’re not?

A. No I’m not! I mean – what makes you think I am?

Q. Well, you’re not a student are you?

A. No – not in the strictest academic sense, as in pay tuition, take classes, and all that.

Q. And you’re not a professor, are you?

A. I am neither student nor professor, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have work to do on my laptop.

Q. But by trying to blend in with all the academics. aren’t you trying to pretend to be one of them?

A. I see your point, but no I’m not.  Plenty of people come in here to work on their laptops who are not students or professors.

Q. But still, you’re trying to look like a student or a professor — and isn’t this hypocrisy?

A. I don’t believe so, no.  Even if I’m not an official student, I sort of feel like one.  I’m always studying, doing research of various sorts.  Especially, I research classism, and inequality, and poverty culture, and homelessness.  This is who I am right now; it’s not hypocrisy.

Q. But haven’ you been an entertainer for most of your life?  How is it hypocritical to keep being who you are?

A. Because I don’t think the Entertainer is the real me.  The real me actually is more of scholar than an entertainer.  Besides, a spiritual scholar is one who is seeking the truth.   That describes me to a tee.  But an entertainer?  An entertainer tries to take people’s minds off of their troubles.  In a way, the Entertainer keeps people from looking for the truth.

Q. But haven’t been there entertainers who also were spiritual truth-seekers.  What about Dick Gregory?

2012 Summer TCA Tour - Day 1
Dick Gregory

A. What about him?

Q. Wasn’t he a comedian?

A. That he was.

Q. And didn’t he going on numerous hunger strikes, frequently fasting for forty days and forty nights for the sake of social justice?

A. That he did.  But he was different.  His comedy was about social and racial inequality.  Observe:

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I understand there are a good many Southerners in the room tonight. I know the South very well. I spent twenty years there one night.

Last time I was down South I walked into this restaurant and this white waitress came up to me and said, “We don’t serve colored people here.” I said, “That’s all right. I don’t eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken.”

Then these three white boys came up to me and said, “Boy, we’re giving you fair warning. Anything you do to that chicken, we’re gonna do to you.” So I put down my knife and fork, I picked up that chicken and I kissed it. Then I said, “Line up, boys!”

Q. Well then why don’t you do like Gregory did?

A. What do you mean?

Q. Why not use your social activism in your comedy routine?

A. I sort of do that already.  Among friends, that is.  But what I’m trying to say is that, I am not a comedian at heart.  I’m not an Entertainer at heart?  I’m a spiritual man, and an Artist — a man of integrity, at heart.  The Entertainer is just a facade.  It’s just that I lack confidence I can ever shed that facade.

Q. Why bother?

A. What do you mean, why bother?

Q. Just what I said – why bother?  Isn’t the Entertainer a part of who you are?

A. Maybe.  This is all becoming very confusing.  And a wee bit annoying, I might add.

Q. But aren’t I just asking logical questions, spinning off the things you’re saying?

A. I suppose you are, but it’s still kind of irritating.

Q. Should we adjourn till later?

A. Probably.  I really do tire of this.

Q. Well, at least you’re not bored anymore, are you?

A. Get out of here!

The Questioner is silent.

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The Prosperity of the Wicked

For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

They have no struggles;
their bodies are healthy and strong.
They are free from common human burdens;
they are not plagued by human ills.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
they clothe themselves with violence.
From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
their evil imaginations have no limits.
They scoff, and speak with malice;
with arrogance they threaten oppression.
Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
and their tongues take possession of the earth.
Therefore their people turn to them
and drink up waters in abundance.
They say, “How would God know?
Does the Most High know anything?”

This is what the wicked are like—
always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

–Psalm 73:3-12

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The Homeless Buzzwords

There were a number of words used predominantly by those who lived indoors that had a precarious ring in the ears of those of us who lived outside.   These words often had a way of revealing our homelessness in a situation where it would have been wiser to conceal it — for example, when one was seeking a place of residence among numerous applicants.   

homeless still humanEven if the situation were such that there was no reason why our homelessness couldn’t  remain  “out in the open” (so to speak), these words still had a way of making us feel that we were in some way distinctly set apart from the rest of the human race.  At times, the words suggested that possibly we were not even truly human.  After all, the humans who lived inside never used these words in reference to them. 

So let me list four of them.  Conveniently, the first two are what I will call the two “s-words.”  The last two will be the two “h-words.”  And I assure you — we who have been forced to live outdoors for prolonged periods of time could easily  come up with numerous similar “buzzwords,” possibly one for every letter of the alphabet.  But these four will suffice — for now.

1. SHELTER

Once on Facebook, a friend of mine announced on his timeline that “Andy was looking for shelter.”  Now, of all the friends on his timeline, how many of them would have known that I was homeless?  Probably only him, his wife maybe, and his kids.   Does a person who isn’t homeless ever look for “shelter?”  No, they don’t.  They look for a place to live.

I asked him to remove the post.  Although he was trying to help, he didn’t realize that the revelation of homelessness in this fashion would work against me in trying to secure residence.  I knew from experience that if there were ten applicants on a rental application, and one of them put down that he had been homeless, there would soon be only nine applicants on that application.

2. SERVICES

This one wasn’t nearly so bad as the other “s-word.”  But it still pointed to certain stigmata associated with poverty and disability culture that could conceivably work against us in many circumstances.  A person trying to find residence, for example, is generally reluctant to say that he or she has had to have access to “services.”  A prospective landlord would much rather hear about “gainful employment” than “services.”

Even in the context where no discrimination would be involved, there was still the inner sting of feeling that we somehow weren’t employable, able, or competent.  Nobody likes to think of themselves as incompetent.  We all want to think that we are at least capable of earning our own way in life, even if circumstances — personal, medical, or financial – are temporarily preventing us from doing so.

As I wrote in an earlier post, in all the years when I flew a sign on a Berkeley city sidewalk, only once did a person walk by and shout: “Get a job!”

It was just about the most refreshing thing I’d ever heard.   It was very common for passersby to point me to where all the services were — as if I didn’t know already — and the overall effect, after a number of years, was to drill deeper and deeper down into the depths of my psyche the disconcerting notion that I was somehow “less than” all the more worthy sorts of people — those who were capable of holding down jobs.

And I’m pretty sure that I speak, if not for all of the middle-aged homeless men and women in my position at the time, then certainly for a vast majority of them.

3. HOUSING

The first of the two “h-words” is akin to that of the two “s-words.”  Who needs to be “housed?”  A person who doesn’t already have a house, of course.   So when a social worker would refer to finding us “housing,” it only served to remind us of the essential difference between us and that other kind of human being, the one who was so privileged to be living indoors, who could conceivably delight in having moved to another place — a place of their choice, and more to their liking.

We could take no such delight.  The homeless person, even when told to move (which we very often were told to do), doesn’t really get to move to a new place.  Wherever we “moved” to, we were still homeless.  If a homeless person did find a place to live, it was because we had been “housed.”  It almost felt like we were animals being assigned to cages.  Compare that feeling to that of a person who had lived in a rental and who then succeeds in buying a house.   Possibly he moves out into the suburbs, or even into a gated community.  He gets to do what he wants to do, and take his pick of places of residence until he finds the one he likes.  That’s the sort of person who actually gets to move, and gets to move up in the world. 

Homeless people only need to be housed – and quickly.  It was a huge obsession of many of the indoor-dwellers in our midsts, especially of the ones who were trying to help us.  Something had to be done with us — hopefully as soon as possible  — and our own personal say-so in the matter was of limited importance in their minds.

And that says nothing of the kind of indoor dweller who didn’t even care if we were ever “housed.”  They only wanted us out of their neighborhood – and fast.  

4. HOMELESS  

Now for the big one.

I have probably used the word “homeless” ten times as much in the past two years indoors than for the past twelve years outdoors.  Even now, I prefer to use words like “outside” or “outdoors,” rather than “homeless,” whenever possible.  Partly this is because I feel called upon to emphasize that the main difference between those who are homeless and those who are not is that the homeless person lives outdoors — exposed and vulnerable to all kinds of external influences, human or inhuman, foul or fair.  Whoever is not homeless lives inside and is as such protected from the vast array of such external elements.

But the word “homeless” for some reason carries a number of unrelated connotations that obscure the real issues of those who live outdoors.   For this reason, many homeless people do everything they can to conceal their homelessness from those who live indoors.  The word “homeless” carries so much stigma, it drives the average homeless person into the realm of invisibility.

These kinds of homeless people, though far from the most conspicuous, are undoubtedly in the vast majority.  When I was homeless, any amount of money I was able to secure at in excess of my usual $17/day quota was considered to be license for me to take a bus or a BART train to someplace far away from places where I typically slept and attempted to earn my keep.  I did this so that I would not have to deal with the annoying barrage of repeated questions and irrelevant information that was sent my way as soon as someone figured out that I was “homeless,” or heard that word used in the context of my person.

Typical connotations on the word “homeless” include”drug addict,” “alcoholic,” “nut case,” “loser,” “lazy bum,” and a whole plethora of stigmatic labels that serve amazingly well to obscure the more essential information about the homeless condition.  As I said, these labels are unrelated to the real issues of those who live outdoors.  Plenty of people who live indoors could easily have any one of these labels attributed to them, and the homeless person may in fact have none of them attributable to his or her identity.  Even if these attributes are part of the homeless person’s experience, it serves no purpose to dwell upon them, other than to create a diversion from dealing with their true top-priority issue; that is, to find a place to live.  A dignified place to live.  A place to call their own, just as an indoor person buying a house can call their house their own. 

So to avoid having to cut through the quagmire of all this unrelated labeling, I had to start by avoiding the label of “homeless” in the first place.  For it would be from that label that all the other distracting labels would spring.  If instead I somehow managed to be seen only as a fellow human being, in as many situations as possible, and not as a “homeless” person, then my chances of attaining a place to call my own were greatly enhanced.  And in the end of my homeless sojourn, that was exactly how I found a place I could finally call my own — by leaving all trace of “homeless” out of my persona, and finding a landlord who had no reason to see me as anyone other than a fellow human being.

Perhaps you saw the episode of Northern Exposure in which the character Maurice approached a disadvantaged man on the street and asked: “Are you homeless?”

The man replied: “I prefer the term hobo.”

And before I had gained more savvy in the realm of outdoor living, I once asked a man if he were “homeless.”  He replied: “Homeless is just a word.”

Not to mention, when somebody asked me recently, after I’d been living inside for almost two years, “Are you homeless?” — my reply was published in the post that bears that name.  

So when I finally succeeded in achieving the dignified dwelling place I had long sought, how many times do you think I used any of those four words, the two s-words and the two h-words?   Of course, the answer is zero.  I avoided all four of these words completely.  I hope that by now, you understand why.  

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It Is What It Is

There was this sense, when I was homeless, that my personal achievements were not as important as the achievements of those who lived indoors.   On the other side of the coin, my misfortunes were not as worthy of sympathy as those of people who lived inside.  If I achieved something wonderful, it was dismissed as irrelevant.  If I suffered something horrible, it was shrugged off as unimportant.  Yet if the same wonderful thing had happened to someone who lived inside, people would have smiled and offered their congratulations.  And if the same horrible thing had happened to someone who lived indoors, they would have received due sympathy.

I’ll never forget how, when I was house-sitting for a friend of mine, I took a twenty-five mile bus trip to a homeless feed, and I left my wallet on the bus.  I was more than inconvenienced by this.  It threw me into a completely discouraged state.  The house-sitting had enabled me to replace my stolen photo I.D and a lost debit card, obtain a library card, and (last but not least) store needed cash in a single place.  In this case, the dollar I needed to get back to my friend’s place on the bus was a critical component of that cash.

Naively, I figured that that the social workers at the feed might have helped me with a dollar to get back to my friend’s house.  Instead, what followed was a demeaning event, in which one by one, every single person I asked for a dollar bill assumed I was a hustler working a sophisticated con.  Not one of them believed I had actually lost my wallet.  

When I told one of them how I had lost my wallet, my cards, and all my money, she replied by saying: 

“It is what it is.”

At that point, I finally exploded.  

“How would you like it if you had lost your keys, and couldn’t get into your car, and couldn’t get into your house, and were desperate for help and support, and somebody responded by saying: ‘It is what it is?'”

I guess I had raised my voice a little too loudly with that question, for it was then that the security guard approached me to inform me that I was no longer welcome at the feed.

A far worse assault is something I find myself reluctant to share, for fear I might relive the trauma.  It happened at about four in the morning, when I stopped to ask a buddy of mine for change to get onto the BART train from the Downtown Berkeley station.   While my friend and I were counting the change, I casually set my backpack down behind me.  My backpack, at the time, contained a Mac PowerBook, two years worth of CD’s of music I’d written, headphones, and various and sundry life-aids, survival devices, and creature comforts.  In other words, it contained everything I owned.

While I was not looking, a nearby kid poured lighter fluid all over my backpack and set it on fire.

My friends saw it first, and started to scream: “What the hell are you doing!?  This guy’s a friend of mine!”

But the kid, apparently having been up for five or six days on crystal methamphetamine, only laughed.  He thought it was funny and fun.

Badly shaken, I forgot all about my BART trip and began to seek the emotional support of friends.  First, I called my best female friend in Georgia.  When she heard what had happened, of course she gasped, and cried: “That’s horrible!”

But when I approached a certain fellowship in the vicinity, and I related the story to a member who was standing outside, she only said: 

“Aw, who cares?”

This triggered a chain reaction involving a number of the members dismissing my trauma as irrelevant.  The message I received was essentially: “Well, if you weren’t homeless, these kinds of things wouldn’t happen to you.”

I was upset enough that I later approached the president of the church council, only to hear:

“Well, how did you expect them to react?”

I wanted to tell him that I’d expected them to say something similar to what my friend in Georgia had said; i.e., “that’s horrible!”  I wanted to tell him that I had expected there to be some sympathy for the condition of a guy who had just watched all his possessions burnt down by arson before his eyes.  But instead, grasping the incredulity of the scenario, all I could say to the council president was: “That’s a good question.”

seeking_human_kindness-homeless-hub-york-uniA better question would have been: “Why didn’t they react with normal human sympathy for a person who had just been so violated and traumatized?

The answer is simple.  My friend in Georgia was treating me like a human being.  The people at the fellowship were treating me like a homeless person.   Apparently, in a lot of people’s minds, there’s a big difference.

This is to say nothing about the achievements I managed to accomplish when I was homeless.  When I lived outdoors in Berkeley between 2013 and 2016,  I composed all of the music on the Berkeley Page of this web site without the aid of a laptop or music notation software.  I walked about town like a madman, singing “bop bop bop” and playing drums on my pants legs.   And when I was able to get inside with a laptop in 2016, I scored and sequenced all of that music with Finale music notation software.

The total strangers in the cafe here in town where I scored all that music recognized it as an achievement.  But what kind of response did I get from the townspeople?

“Shut the f–k up, you wingnut!”

And from church people?


“So what?
You act as though your music is more important than your God.”

But do you know who did appreciate the songs I was writing?

The homeless people.  They clapped whenever I found a piano to play it on, or when a homeless friend and I sang harmonies, while he strummed on his guitar.

And you know why?

Because homeless people see each other as human beings.   People who live indoors, by and large, see homeless people as homeless people.

There’s a big difference, you see — and don’t you forget it.

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(Talks 2018) – Talk No. 5

In this talk, I try to show how the dynamics of outdoor living provoke the dehumanization of homeless people, consciously or unconsciously, by those who have always lived indoors, and how this phenomenon is a biproduct of a much larger spiritual malaise that, in one way or another, has affected us all.  

Homeless and Human 

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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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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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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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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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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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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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(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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Eden in Babylon Demo — First Song: “Midnight Screams”

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve received the first song for the demo of my new musical, Eden in Babylon, exploring the effects of homelessness on the youth of today’s America.

Three more pieces coming, soon.

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In Spirit and in Truth

There is something in the human spirit that makes people want to feel that they are moving forward in some way.   No one likes to feel as though they are stagnating.  We all want to feel as though we are somehow progressing.  When we feel that we are progressing, it seems that our lives have meaning.  When we feel that we are stagnating, it seems that life is meaningless.

Moreover, it seems that different people have different ideas regarding personal progress.  Some people view progress in terms of their monetary advancement; that is, their financial growth.  The more money they make, the better they feel about their progress in life.

Others view progress in terms of their spiritual growth.  Are they becoming better people in some way?   Are they more responsive to the needs of others?  More giving?  More honest?  Less self-serving?  More capable of standing tall in the face of adversity?  More courageous?  Wiser?  More patient?  Or, most of all, more loving?

The latter seems to me to be the higher view of personal progress in life.   But it eludes many people.  People become trapped in the worrisome cares of this world.  And many of those anxiety-ridden concerns are centered around the love of money.

Consider the words of Jesus:

“No one can serve two masters.
Either you will hate the one and love the other,
or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.
You cannot serve both God and money.”
– Matthew 6:24

I’ve always wondered why the two poles chosen were those of God and money.  Why not God and sex?  God and drugs?   Or God and (heaven forbid) rock ‘n’ roll?

Having reflected quite a bit on this dynamic throughout the past two years, I believe I am beginning to understand.  To pursue financial gain as one’s top priority in life is energetically incompatible with the pursuit of personal, spiritual growth.  

God and moneyThis is not to say that a person whose primary focus is on making money cannot do good things with their money. But the good uses of one’s money can take place without there necessarily being any positive change in that person’s character.   A money-hungry person, after all, could conceivably find themselves at a loss for true friends, since people are naturally put off by the energy of greed.  That person might then reason that if they were to offer all kinds of goodies to a less privileged person whom they happen to like,  then that more impoverished person might cling to them as though a friend, and they would not be so lonely.

But money cannot buy friendship any more than it can buy true happiness.   The money-focused individual in this case is not really giving of his essence as a human being.  Rather, he is giving of his excess – and perhaps even getting a hefty tax write-off in the process.

It is also not the case that if one is primarily focused on spiritual growth, then prospects for financial betterment will elude them completely.  It only means that the spiritually-minded person does not base their self-worth on their net worth.  They do not identify themselves according to their financial stature, but rather according to the actualization of their true selves.

People like these feel no need to lavish pricey gifts upon others in order to secure the loyalty that only true friendship can secure.  Rather, they seek out like-minded people, people with whom they would naturally best relate, because they share similar values and interests.  As a Christian, I further believe that the Father of Life also seeks out such like-minded souls.  

But the hour is coming, and is now here,
when the true worshipers will worship the Father
in Spirit and in Truth,
for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
 

God is Spirit,
and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and Truth.”
 

– John 4:23-24

It is a mistake to think that the presence of money will necessarily negate the possibility of true moral character.  Many wealthy people are legitimately concerned for the plight of those who are suffering.  But it is also a mistake to think that one’s primary aim ought to be the acquisition of great wealth, rationalizing that some of the money will be offered to tax-exempt charitable contributions.  My experience has been that the more I stay focused on the actualization of my true self — the person whom God desires me to be — then the more my needs are adequately met.

The more I love God, and the less I love money, the better off I am.  It is then that my words and my music best reflect my concern and my hope for humanity.  And while it may cost me some money to render these gifts, the ultimate value of this form of genuine self-expression is far beyond that which money can buy.

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Beasts That Perish

Hear this, all you peoples;
listen, all who live in this world,
both low and high,
rich and poor alike:
My mouth will speak words of wisdom;
the meditation of my heart will give you understanding.
I will turn my ear to a proverb;
with the harp I will expound my riddle:

Why should I fear when evil days come,
when wicked deceivers surround me—
those who trust in their wealth
and boast of their great riches?
No one can redeem the life of another
or give to God a ransom for them—
the ransom for a life is costly,
no payment is ever enough—
so that they should live on forever
and not see decay.

For all can see that the wise die,
that the foolish and the senseless also perish,
leaving their wealth to others.
Their tombs will remain their houses forever,
their dwellings for endless generations,
though they had named lands after themselves.
People, despite their wealth, do not endure;
they are like the beasts that perish.

This is the fate of those who trust in themselves,
and of their followers, who approve their sayings.
They are like sheep and are destined to die;
death will be their shepherd
(but the upright will prevail over them in the morning).
Their forms will decay in the grave,
far from their princely mansions.
But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead;
he will surely take me to himself.

Do not be overawed when others grow rich,
when the splendor of their houses increases;
for they will take nothing with them when they die,
their splendor will not descend with them.
Though while they live they count themselves blessed—
and people praise you when you prosper—
they will join those who have gone before them,
who will never again see the light of life.
People who have wealth but lack understanding
are like the beasts that perish.

–Psalm 49

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Classism, Stigma and Mental Health

If a white collar worker is diagnosed with a mental health disorder, the medications given are intended to make it easier for that person to function in the mainstream workplace. But if an impoverished person is diagnosed with that same mental health disorder, the same medications are given with the idea that the person will be directed toward disability culture, and never work again.

If a person is arrested for a non-serious crime in which alcohol is involved, the Courts order daily attendance at A.A. meetings, where the paradigm of the Twelve Steps is geared toward reacclimating such people into the mainstream of modern life.   These meetings, by the way, are free of charge.  But if a person with a mental health problem is arrested for the same crime, the Courts will direct that person toward a community counseling center with a “sliding scale.”  In other words, the support is at cost.  In fact, the options for cost-free mental health support groups stop at the level of a MeetUp.  Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) groups, for example, are difficult to find without paying good money.  A one-to-one Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) counselor will certainly expect to be paid.  Those in poverty culture can’t possibly afford the fees for mental health support, and often wind up finding them in psychiatric facilities only, where the price they pay is complete loss of freedom.

Step Two of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous reads: “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”  Note the use of the word “restore.”  This implies that the alcoholic was, at one time, sane, and that through the application of the Steps, they may again become sane, and thus able to reintegrate themselves into mainstream culture.    So, even though the condition of active alcoholism is regarded as “insane,” a path toward sanity is indicated.

But for a path toward sanity to be recommended for one who has a mental health diagnosis, that person must have privilege from the start.   People of poverty with such diagnoses are considered to be unemployable.  This is pure stigma against those who have mental health conditions.  People of privilege with those same kinds of conditions are routinely encouraged to keep their jobs, their families and their social lives; the idea being that the very same treatment will enhance their ability to function in mainstream society.  But impoverished people with identical diagnoses are thrust into disability culture, made to subsist on minimal income, classified as “legally incompetent,” and threatened with loss of their cost-of-living income if they even try to go out and get a job.  This clearly amounts to class discrimination, when it comes to treatment of the mentally ill.

To understand why such discrimination is directed toward those thought to be “mentally ill” but not toward those considered to be “recovering alcoholics,” I think we need to examine the grounds on which mental illness is determined.    My theory is that one is considered to be “mentally ill” as soon as one displays an inability to function healthfully within the “box” of the status quo.   Those who flourish within normal expectations based on the work ethic and success model are considered to be mentally healthy.  Those who are focused on “climbing the ladder” are considered to be “successful,” and as role models for others.   But a person who thinks outside the box is somehow seen as a threat to society, and therefore limited to confinement within the realms of those labeled “incompetent’ and “unemployable.”

I would not doubt it if well over half of those who have mental health diagnoses are actually quite eminently sane, even perhaps brilliant, perhaps luminous visionaries.  Such people often focus, not on scaling the ladder of “success,” but on actualizing their own true selves, to make the most out of their own innate design and potential.  They often develop ideas and visions that would truly benefit society if given a chance to bloom.  But how can one be in orchid in a petunia patch?  The Powers That Be will continue to uphold the status quo, despite classism and social stigma on the grandest scale.  How sad it is that those who have vision are seen as pariahs by those who do not!

different drummer

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Piano Album & Recently Published Pieces

This will be brief.

I’ve been posting samples of my piano playing every Friday for a few months now.   Jan and I have now finished preparing an LP of the most popular of these tunes.  We’re going to sell CD’s, and have also posted the album on  BandCamp, where it is far sale for only $10.  Also, individual songs can be purchased for only one dollar.    We will apply the proceeds toward the production of my musical Eden in Babylon, which explores the effects of homelessness on the youth of today’s America.

If anyone is interested in obtaining a CD and assisting me toward this cause, please drop $10 into the pool by clicking on the donate button below.   Then leave me info as to how to get the album to you in my Contact Form.   The online version of the album may be found here.  

Other news is that I have now been published 25 times in Street Spirit and twice on Classism Exposed, after having escaped twelve years of grueling, demeaning homelessness in the San Francisco Bay Area — and after never having been published before in my life!  The most recent such articles may be found on the link below:

STORIES ABOUT HOMELESSNESS, CLASSISM AND CHRISTIANITY

Although I try to post something substantial here every Thursday along the lines of the causes about which I am passionate, the “Thursday Blog of Substance” will have to wait another week or so.  I’m trying to prepare a detailed post examining the effects of classism in the behavioral health industry, and hopefully it will be ready soon.

Thank you all for your love and support.   May the Force be with you — and by all means, be a Jedi, and not a Sith.  ;)

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Tuesday Tuneup Thirteen

Trigger warning – portions of this Tuesday’s tuneup are not for the faint of heart.  If your stomach is strong, read on.  If not, it’s a long one, and you might as well pass it by.

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. I don’t know, man. Some kind of gadfly I can’t swat.

Q. Why have you summoned me?

A. Because I’m a hypocrite.

Q. You? A hypocrite?

A. You heard me.

Q. Whatever makes you think a thing like that?

hypA. Revelation. Revelation of my own hypocrisy. You might say, my hypocrisy has been revealed to me.

Q. Why are you repeating yourself, in so many words?

A. Because it will probably take a lot of words to drum the Revelation of Hypocrisy into my own thick head.

Q. As though you don’t quite believe it yourself?

A. Exactly. I mean, look at it! Who wants to be thought of as a hypocrite? Let alone, by one’s own self?

Q. Do you expect me to answer that?

A. No – but I can. The only person who wants to think of their own self as a hypocrite is a person who doesn’t care. A game player. A sociopath. Someone who puts forth one face in front of one fellow, and another face in front of another.

Q. And you do not do that?

A. I didn’t say I don’t. I actually do. Especially when I’m — loose. In a good space. On a roll. Enjoying the sunshine. Having fun. You ought to hear the kind of b.s. that comes out of my mouth when I’m feeling good.

Q. Do you mean that you have to feel bad in order not to be a hypocrite?

A. That’s a good question. I would guess that ultimately, the answer will be no. I will eventually be able to accede to a place of Zero Hypocrisy without losing my ability to have fun in life. But in the meantime, I might have to go through some hell.

Q. What kind of hell?

A. This kind. The very kind in which you and I engage. The hell of ruthless self-examination, with an eye toward facing the bitter truth.

Q. Why is the truth bitter?

A. Because of what it tells me about myself. For example, consider the theme of social stigma. It’s all over my blog, and practically everything I’ve written throughout the past two years. I hate being stigmatized. I hate to be thought of, for example, as some kind of low life tweaker scum bag, just because I was homeless in the Bay Area for all those years. And I hate it when my fellow homeless or formerly homeless brothers and sisters are thought of that way. I will defend my family to the hilt.

Q. Doesn’t that sound rather noble of you? As though you have integrity? And courage? And not hypocrisy?

A. It might sound that way. But things are not always what they sound like. For one thing, as much as I abhor being stigmatized, I myself stigmatize whole huge groups of people. Not homeless people, of course. But other social groups.

Q. Like whom?

A. Like doctors, for example. I have this insane idea that all doctors are money-making control freaks who act as though they hold the keys to my Divine Human Body. The nerve of those damn doctors acting like they own me!

Q. Has a doctor recently acted like he owned you?

A. Maybe. Maybe not. The point is, I *think* that he has. And why do I think that? Because I stigmatize all doctors. I lump them all into one bag. They’re all a bunch of fat cats driving Cadillacs, for all the slack I give them. But the point of fact is that there’s a doctor in this very town who has performed the one good thing that a doctor has ever done for me, in all of my 65 years of wandering the surface of this mysterious planet.

Q. And what did that doctor do?

A. He yanked out my toenail.

Q. And this was a good thing??

A. Yes. Because he did it the right way, so that it wouldn’t grow back the wrong way.

Q. Had somebody else done it the wrong way?

A. Yes. I myself. I yanked it out myself one day. Didn’t feel a thing, by the way (thanks to the local anesthetic of choice.) Felt fine the next day too. But it grew back the wrong way.

Q. So this one doctor did something the right way?

A. Yes. There is therefore at least one good doctor on the face of the globe. Or at least, he’s good on a good day.

Q. And on a bad day?

A. Prescribed me an antidepressant which you’re not supposed to prescribe to people who have Bipolar One disorder. Almost lost my job on it the next time I tried to play piano at the church.

Q. You play piano at a church?

A. Not any more I don’t. I eventually lost the job anyway. Or quit, or something like that. I think it was mutual.  But that’s besides the point.

Q. And what, may I ask, is the point?

A. The point is that not all doctors are insensitive fat cats driving Beemers treating my Divine Human Body like a set of nuts and bolts. And not all homeless people are worthless low life scum bags. In fact none of them are. Yet homeless people are stigmatized by the society. And doctors are stigmatized by me. Doctors – and whole other groups of people.

Q. Like whom?

A. Technocrats. Rich kids. Trump Supporters. Juggaloes. All kinds of people. Even gang bangers.

Q. Um – how can you *not* stigmatize a gang banger?

A. What do you mean?

Q. Aren’t gang bangers by definition a bunch of mindless thugs?

A. Not necessarily. Let’s take Arthur for example. (Not his name.) Brought up on the streets of Oakland California, gang affiliations, twenty year old kid who followed me from my spot on Shattuck near the Berkeley BART station one day, him and his buddy, knocked me on the head with a gun, threatened to kill me, and barreled me over the head (him and his buddy) about ten or twelve times while shouting: “I’m gonna kill you, White Motherfucker! I’m gonna kill your fucked up white ass, bitch!”

Q. And you survived?

A. Obviously I survived.  All they wanted was my Chromebook.   I gave it to them and they ran off, looking back at me.   They didn’t really want to kill me.

Q. But still, how can you not stigmatize people like that as heartless scum bags?

A. Oh don’t get me wrong.  I could.  Sure I could.  But not after a couple years had rolled by, and I’d had quite a few serious conversations with the deluded young chap.

Q. What did these conversations entail?

A. Lots of things. Ideas how he could better his life. How he was happier when he was with his girlfriend. How he was actually a pretty intelligent guy. And on his end, how he wished he could help me get inside – because he was inside –

Q. Inside?

A. Means, living indoors, like a non-homeless person.

Q. But wasn’t he brought up on the streets of Oakland?

A. Yes, but eventually fell in love, met a gal, moved in with her. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened. In any case, he came up one day to tell me he was “in house” and that because he knew I was an Old Guy and I still had to live outside, he wanted to help me in any way he could.

Q. And you believed him?

A. Yes and no. I didn’t believe he could help me. But I believed that was what was in his heart.

Q. But couldn’t he just have felt guilty?

A. Sure! But that in itself is a good thing. It’s the thugs who never feel guilty that you have to worry about.

Q. Why did you keep hanging around this guy?

A. (laughing) Oh brother, you do not know the streets! Down there, you have no choice but to keep hanging around with everybody. It’s not as though there’s any escape from anyone else out there. People stalk you, they approach you in the dead of night, they wake you up to ask you for cigarettes, and they don’t believe you when you tell them you do not smoke. They are always engaging with you, one way or the other. Best you can do is try to be on as good terms with everybody, and be ready for anything.

Q. How did you put up with it for as long as you did!?

A. That’s an easy one. I didn’t believe I had a choice.

Q. Seriously?

A. Seriously. The message I kept getting, from all sides, was that I had no choice. I was homeless, I was therefore a mere mutation of a true human, with defects so severe that I was consigned to permanent, everlasting homelessness — in this world and the next.  Not only would I not ever be anything other than homeless, *could* not be anything other than homeless, and should not be anything other than homeless. I was regarded this way with such unanimous agreement, I figured they must all be right. How could they all be wrong?

Q. But how could they all think such a thing?

A. Ha – you drive a hard bargain.  Let me correct myself.   They did not all think these things. Some of them even thought the opposite. They thought I had as much choice, as much privilege, as they did. They thought that the easiest thing in the world should be to pick myself up by my bootstraps and pull myself out of the damn mess. Yet it wasn’t nearly as easy as some of them thought.

Q. But who were they? I mean, who were the ones who thought you had no choice?And who were the ones who thought you had all the choice in the world?

A. In general, the homeless social workers were the ones who figured I didn’t have a choice, and my old friends who still lived inside were the ones who thought I had all the choice in the world. But you ask me to stigmatize, which is the very thing it has been revealed I must avoid. So I won’t. I will instead generalize – as I just did.

Q, Generalize?

A. Generalize.

Q. How is that different than stigmatize?

A. Big difference. Stigmatize is when you judge an individual based on general characteristics of a social group to which it is perceived they belong. That individual may in reality have none of those characteristics whatsoever. Generalize is when you correctly assess the overall characteristics of a social group, and describe the group according to that generalization.

Q. Do you have a degree in Sociology?

A. Don’t hit my sore spot!  You know I can’t read worth beans. I tried a music degree but couldn’t get through the Music History reading load, though I tried four times. And my philosophy major? You can only imagine how poorly that one went! But don’t press my buttons, please.

Q. Consider them unpressed, or depressed — or something like that — and I promise not to repress them — but really, if you have no trained educational certificate, however did you come up with this distinction? And what gives you the hutzpah? The daring? The audacity to presume that your perceptions are valid?

A. Look, dude. When you sit down on a street corner flying a sign on a sidewalk for five years, you have a lot of time to think things over. You also have a lot of time to watch people. I thought things over. And I watched.

Q. What did you see?

A. People. All kinds of people. And you know what I noticed about them all?

Q. What?

A. Every damn one of them was an individual, with unique characteristics unseen in any other. Sure they belonged to groups and factions. Sure there was stratification. But one thing I knew for sure, is that they were all unique, and distinguished by bonds of flesh from one another.

Q. Even the gang bangers? Even the thugs?

A. Hey – a couple of gang bangers were walking up one time looking tough when I was sitting with a bunch of Street Kids on a sidewalk playing a guitar. As soon as they heard me, they both broke into dance. So they had something in common other than the fact that they used drugs, dealt drugs, and occasionally engaged in violence to get what they wanted.  They had a natural feel for the rhythm of Music.  They all had it.  What a beautiful thing!  So how can I stigmatize them?

Q. But even in your saying that, doesn’t one still get the feeling that they have more in common as a social group than they have separately as individuals?  How can you answer that?

A. By going back to the example of Arthur. (Not his name.) Have I ever told you the story about running into him at the Au Coquelet cafe at around 1:30 in the morning?

Q. I don’t know – have you?

A. Probably not. So here goes.

coq

A. I walked into Au Coquelet late at night one night and Arthur was sitting alone at one of the tables, looking glum. As he noticed me, he motioned me to sit with him. Reluctantly, I complied.

Q. Reluctantly?

A. Well let’s face it. The Kid had knocked me over the head with a gun about three years before and threatened my life. I didn’t exactly love running into him.

Q. But you sat with him anyway?

A. Didn’t want to offend him. But that’s all beside the point. It’s what he said at the table that got to my heart.

Q. What did he say?

A. He said:

Arthur: Andy, I think I have brain damage.

Andy (gulps): Why do you think that, Arthur?

Arthur: I’ve been hit on the head too many times with too many guns.

Andy: Uh, er, yeah. Well, uh, I myself have been hit on the head with a gun or two in my day.

Arthur: (warmly) I know you have, Andy.

Andy: And I don’t worry about me having brain damage. I just figure — the wounds heal.

Arthur: Your wounds maybe. Mine are way too deep.

Andy: What do you mean?

Arthur: All my life, my whole fanily, whenever they needed to get a point across, they hit me on the head with a gun.

Andy: Damn man, that sucks!

Arthur: It gave me some deep wounds. Too deep. It’s hard to find where the actual hurt is, but I know it’s damaged my brain.

Andy: Maybe. But I can tell you what part of you it hasn’t damaged.

Arthur: What part is that?

Andy: Your heart.

The Questioner is silent.

Before you leave this page, please say a prayer for Arthur. God put a burden on my heart for him this morning. And no, it’s not his name, but God will know who you mean. After all, people have called God all kinds of names over the centuries, not all of them very kind.  And God took that hurt, and loved them anyway. And so did Arthur. Pray for him, please, in God’s Good Name.

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Broken Bows

The wicked draw the sword
and bend the bow
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose ways are upright.
But their swords will pierce their own hearts,
and their bows will be broken.

Better the little that the righteous have
than the wealth of many wicked;
for the power of the wicked will be broken,
but the Lord upholds the righteous.

— Psalm 37:14-17

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Homeless and Sick

Recently I’ve been answering questions pertaining to homelessness on Quora, a site dedicated to the distribution of useful, factual information.  Below is a transcript of my answer to the question: “What do homeless people do when they get sick?”

I would like to address this one in a hopefully unbiased way based entirely on my own personal experience as one who once spent the better part of twelve years on the streets.

The short answer is: they don’t. E.R. rooms in hospitals are not accustomed to accepting someone who has caught a severe cold or a bad case of the flu and doing anything other than providing them with medicines and advising them to rest in bed for 7–10 days. The problem with this, for the homeless person, is that they like-as-not don’t have a bed to rest in.

I watched five people die of hypothermia overnight when a mere two dollars would have afforded any one of them an all night stay on a bus, in order to get warm. Bus drivers in my area were notorious for showing no mercy to homeless people when they didn’t have proper fare, even if the bus was only sparsely populated on a graveyard run.

Myself, I am fortunate enough to have been gifted with an unusually strong immune system. Throughout the twelve years, I only caught a flu twice.

poor and sickThe first time was roughly nine years into my homeless experience, in December of 2013. When my friend on the East Coast (3000 miles away from me) found out I was ailing, she immediately sent me $700 off of her credit card, asking me to pay it all back at the beginning of the month, when I got my government check. The idea was to put me in a hotel room for 7–10 days so I could recover in full.

I did recover, and I did pay her back, though it took most of my government check. It was worth it, to spare my life.

The second time was different, and much worse. I had gotten a bed in a homeless shelter, where I am pretty sure I caught the flu. I went to the doctor, who said it was “viral bronchitis,” and that I was to rest in bed for ten days. When I went back, and they saw the thing that said “viral bronchitis,” and that it was contagious for the first three days, they freaked out and kicked me out of the shelter. I’m pretty sure “viral bronchitis” is just a high-fallutin’ name for a kind of flu, but they kicked me out anyway. In retrospect, they’d have probably kicked me out even if I said it was a flu.

The mistake I made there was honesty. Lots of guys in the men’s dormitory at the shelter were heaving and wheezing and coughing like mad. I was the only one who went to the doctor to try and do anything about it, and who let the shelter managers know what was up. So out I went into the cold.

Returning to the hospital, I implored them to let me stay there overnight. They declined, on the basis that homeless people came in all the time requesting overnight stays on various pretexts. So, they reasoned, if they let me in, they’d have to let the whole lot of us in. No can do.

After that I tried an all-night bus. But the riders on the bus complained so much about my obviously sick condition, they got the driver to kick me out.

Left out in the elements with the flu, the rest is history. My story is told on my blog Eden in Babylon under the title “Somebody Gave Easily.” (It has also been published in Street Spirit.) If you’re interested, you can find the pertinent stories and read them.

The upshot was that I fell down on my knees and pleaded with God to put an end to twelve years of totally unpredictable, totally unreliable, anything-can-happen-anywhere-anytime Homelessness. That prayer was answered.

Two weeks later I had an apartment in another State, and three weeks later I had a job — after being considered unemployable for over 12 years in the San Francisco Bay Area. Prayer works, when it is delivered with fervency, from the heart.

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Judges with Evil Thoughts

For if a man wearing a gold ring
and fine clothing
comes into your assembly,
and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in,
and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say,
“You sit here in a good place,”
while you say to the poor man,
“You stand over there,”
or, “Sit down at my feet,”
have you not then made distinctions among yourselves
and become judges with evil thoughts?
Listen, my beloved brothers,
has not God chosen those who are poor in the world
to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom,
which he has promised to those who love Him?

-James 2:2-10

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The Marathon Race to Hell

There are values within American culture that are often lined up side to side with positive moral values, but that contain no moral component whatsoever.  Among these values are what, for the sake of this essay, will be referred to as “industry” and “competence.”

Industry is what comes about when one is industrious; that is, when one works hard.  We all tend to admire people who are hard-working.  On the other hand, we are often disdainful of those who do not work, even labeling them “lazy” or “losers,” before we bother to sufficiently examine the facts.  A disabled person, for example, may actually be unable to perform work for reasons that are entirely physical or psychological in nature.  Yet we may write such a person off as  “freeloader” who feels that he or she is “entitled.”  This exemplifies what sociologist Erving Goffman calls social stigma — the instance in which a common preconception about a group as a whole spoils the perception of a person as an individual.

The idea that a person with a severe physical disability might think of themselves as “entitled” flies in the face of the facts.   Enormous tax breaks are granted to the super-rich.  But disabled people who make a modicum of $900/mo., while condemned by the wealthy for “not paying taxes,” barely have enough money to get by even without having to add taxation to their hardships.

hustler

On the other hand, a person who works very hard will often be acclaimed for their industry.  The hard-working person might themselves look down upon those who seem unproductive, using words like “lazy” or “crazy” to explain their lack of tangible progress.  But does it ever occur to any of these people that, while hard work is certainly in line with the Puritan work ethic, it bears absolutely no relationship whatsoever to moral stature?

I was on the streets for many years.   I observed the hustlers and con artists in my midst.  Many of them would spend at least eight hours a day doing nothing but accosting one person after another, asking them “can you spare a dollar?” repeatedly.   At the end of their day, their dollars would be lined up.  Law of averages!  Now —  this may be morally reprehensible, but one cannot claim such work is easy.   Hustlers work hard at what they do.

The con artists operated in similarly high gear:

“Excuse me, my car just broke down and I need two dollars for the bus to get back to Daly City.  Oh thank you, sir!   Thank you.” (Brief pause.) “Excuse me, my car just broke down and I need two dollars for the bus to get back to Daly City.  Oh thank you, sir!   Thank you.” (Brief pause.) “Excuse me, my car just broke down and I . . .”

That’s only to cite the low end of the socio-economic spectrum.  On the high end, I know a guy who was making in excess of $150,000 a year prior to his retirement.  He wound up getting both a huge retirement and a rather hefty inheritance.  One would think he’d have relaxed after that, and spent some time with his family.  But what did he do instead?

He began to work even harder, accepting odd jobs and gigs in all kinds of places, boasting that he was making much more money after retirement than he was before.  But anyone close to him could tell that the main reason he was doing this was to get out of the house, since the idea of having to spend more time with his poor wife was of no appeal.  That, and the sheer force of workaholism, wherein his entire identity was wrapped up in how hard he worked, often at the expense of common courtesy to family and friends.

A hard-working woman in a similar bracket kicked her own mother out of the house at a time when she felt her aging, struggling mother was nothing but an invasion of her space.   Her mother was of course heartbroken and devastated.  But did her daughter bat an eye?  Not in the least.  She kept on chasing the bucks, oblivious to the moral depravity of her actions.

In neither of those cases could “industry” be logically equated with a high moral standard.  Yet our society, in so many ways beyond the mere monetary factor, routinely rewards industry and punishes what appears to be “laxity.”  But things are not always what they seem.  What may seem “sloth” to the hard-at-work is often nothing other than the lack of workaholism.  People become addicted to work.  As with any other addiction, this affects those close to them.

I’m all in favor of going out and getting a job, especially if one is prone to sitting on one’s rump doing nothing and getting nowhere in life.  But the way that we exalt the value of industry in our society is, to my view, missing the mark.  Many people work hard to feed their families, save up for hard times, and contribute to worthy causes.   But hard work in and of itself is not a moral value.   Criminals work hard, and hard-working people often become criminals in the process.

The same goes for the value known as competence.  I am a person who has been declared “legally incompetent” by the United States government.  I am not only seen to be incompetent, but — (try not to laugh) — legally incompetent.  The reason for this verdict is a combination of two mental health diagnoses, usually labeled “bipolar one hypomanic disorder,” and “severe adult attention deficit hyperactive disorder.”  In other words, I’m a space case.  No one wants to hire me, because I have a hard time concentrating on anything outside of my own head.

This is a legitimate mental health disability.  It rears its head every time I am required to focus on an external task that is time-dependent.  The greater the time pressure, the less likely I will turn the work on time.  It can be maddening.  Because of it, I have lost many jobs.  But is it a moral failing?   Not at all.  Not even the bosses who fired me saw it as anything other than a condition.  It’s not even a moral choice.   

Fortunately, there are a couple of things I do very well.  I am a decent piano player, and I also type very fast, in the area of 120 wpm.  If I’m writing an article like this, or a song, or a musical play, I am able to organize my thoughts with a fair degree of clarity.  But these are my thoughts — not the thoughts transmitted to me by an external employer.  It’s pretty easy for me to channel my own thinking in ways that are constructive, as long as I do it on my own time, and in my own space.  But try to get me to keep track of items in a workplace, or to function normally in the face of an pressing deadline, and you might not even think I’m the same guy.

Another thing I am incapable of doing is to juggle two or more tasks at once.  Everything I do well involves only one task, and to do it well, I need to be alone.  But I have met people who can multi-task effectively in the presence of multiple human influences.  These are the valuable workers of this world.  And yet, at least one of these highly competent people has left his poor, ailing wife alone at home all alone; and another one kicked her own mother out of her house.

Like industry, competence contains no moral component whatsoever.  Great thieves and even serial killers are competent.  So why do we place such a high value on competence and industry?  Why do we not place a similarly high value on unconditional, self-sacrificial love?

In my opinion, it all boils down to classism.  A competent person who works very hard naturally tends to make more money than one who is incompetent or who can’t seem to find work.  Water seeks its own level, and so someone making $150,000 or more usually finds themselves in the company of the upper class.  And there is where all the self-congratulating and mutual admiration reeks of what Jesus called the “deceitfulness of riches”.

In our society, if someone is steadily making more and more money, they often hear the words: “You must be doing something right!”  Then, convinced that they are indeed “doing something right,” they naturally make no effort to change their modus operandi, even if, in fact, they are doing something wrong.  Conversely, they may find themselves befuddled by the lack of productivity of some who are in the lower social classes, and shake their heads in incredulity.  “They’ve got it all wrong!” they are quick to declare, when in reality, in God’s eyes, many of those poor, self-sacrificing people are the ones who are doing things right.

If there is a God in heaven – which I fully believe there is — can you imagine the sorrow He feels when He looks down upon those whom His Providence has blessed, and beholds their utter refusal to return the blessing to those of their own families?   A mother brings a woman into the world, cares for her, nurtures her, packs her lunch, holds her hand on the way to school, tucks her into bed at night, and sends her proudly to the finest schools.   Why cannot that person take care of her mother in her old age?  Why can she not return the favor?

“Through sickness and through health, till death do us part,” is the wedding vow shared by a man and his bride.  Forty years down the road, where is the healthy, vigorous man when the bride is lonely and sick?   Where is the man who made her that promise?   Chasing the dollar, at world record pace, running on empty — to nowhere.   How I pity the one who runs after money!  Who will be there to cheer his victory, when he crosses the finish line of the Marathon Race to Hell?

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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 to — 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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