Monday, May 16, 2011

Write, children, write!

This week is the last week of our Education programs at CitySquare. Not just for the school year...but this time it's forever. Forever sounds so long and final, though. So, I refuse to believe that something else won't come along where we will be able to have a big impact on kids again. I simply refuse.

Regardless, though, for this season what we've done with children, teens, and college students comes to a close. It seems like things keep cropping up that make me realize why I love working with, being around, admonishing, and celebrating children...youth...young people.

As I watched Jill Scott do her poetry in this video, her piece about children particularly moved me (2:07-4:39). I pray that every child I've ever known and those I haven't will follow her pleading. Our kids have so much to say. We need to encourage them to write...for themselves...for us...for the world...for the youth around them that don't know to write...for the youth who will come behind them. Our kids have so much to say. Our kids have so much to say! I pray they all come in contact with at least someone who will convince them of how much they have to say and how important it is. And I pray we listen.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Tenderloin National Forest

I love anything that demonstrates true community spirit...something that develops from the approach to build on the richness that already exists in our low-income communities...exists to build on that richness...and adds more life to the community.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Woodcutter's Wisdom

I've always liked this story. It keeps me humble when I have a good day where I might get too excited about how things are going or a bad day where I might get frustrated about everything that's happening.

The Woodcutter's Wisdom

by Max Lucado
Once there was an old man who lived in a tiny village. Although poor, he was envied by all, for he owned a beautiful white horse. Even the king coveted his treasure. A horse like this had never been seen before—such was its splendor, its majesty, its strength.

People offered fabulous prices for the steed, but the old man always refused. “This horse is not a horse to me,” he would tell them. “It is a person. How could you sell a person? He is a friend, not a possession. How could you sell a friend?” The man was poor and the temptation was great. But he never sold the horse.

One morning he found that the horse was not in the stable. All the village came to see him. “You old fool,” they scoffed, “we told you that someone would steal your horse. We warned you that you would be robbed. You are so poor. How could you ever hope to protect such a valuable animal? It would have been better to have sold him. You could have gotten whatever price you wanted. No amount would have been too high. Now the horse is gone, and you’ve been cursed with misfortune.”

The old man responded, “Don’t speak too quickly. Say only that the horse is not in the stable. That is all we know; the rest is judgment. If I’ve been cursed or not, how can you know? How can you judge?”
The people contested, “Don’t make us out to be fools! We may not be philosophers, but great philosophy is not needed. The simple fact that your horse is gone is a curse.”

The old man spoke again. “All I know is that the stable is empty, and the horse is gone. The rest I don’t know. Whether it be a curse or a blessing, I can’t say. All we can see is a fragment. Who can say what will come next?”

The people of the village laughed. They thought that the man was crazy. They had always thought he was a fool; if he wasn’t, he would have sold the horse and lived off the money. But instead, he was a poor woodcutter, an old man still cutting firewood and dragging it out of the forest and selling it. He lived hand to mouth in the misery of poverty. Now he had proven that he was, indeed, a fool.
After fifteen days, the horse returned. He hadn’t been stolen; he had run away into the forest. Not only had he returned, he had brought a dozen wild horses with him. Once again the village people gathered around the woodcutter and spoke. “Old man, you were right and we were wrong. What we thought was a curse was a blessing. Please forgive us.”

The man responded, “Once again, you go too far. Say only that the horse is back. State only that a dozen horses returned with him, but don’t judge. How do you know if this is a blessing or not? You see only a fragment. Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge? You read only one page of a book. Can you judge the whole book? You read only one word of a phrase. Can you understand the entire phrase?

“Life is so vast, yet you judge all of life with one page or one word. All you have is a fragment! Don’t say that this is a blessing. No one knows. I am content with what I know. I am not perturbed by what I don’t.”

“Maybe the old man is right,” they said to one another. So they said little. But down deep, they knew he was wrong. They knew it was a blessing. Twelve wild horses had returned with one horse. With a little bit of work, the animals could be broken and trained and sold for much money.
The old man had a son, an only son. The young man began to break the wild horses. After a few days, he fell from one of the horses and broke both legs. Once again the villagers gathered around the old man and cast their judgments.

“You were right,” they said. “You proved you were right. The dozen horses were not a blessing. They were a curse. Your only son has broken his legs, and now in your old age you have no one to help you. Now you are poorer than ever.”

The old man spoke again. “You people are obsessed with judging. Don’t go so far. Say only that my son broke his legs. Who knows if it is a blessing or a curse? No one knows. We only have a fragment. Life comes in fragments.”

It so happened that a few weeks later the country engaged in war against a neighboring country. All the young men of the village were required to join the army. Only the son of the old man was excluded, because he was injured. Once again the people gathered around the old man, crying and screaming because their sons had been taken. There was little chance that they would return. The enemy was strong, and the war would be a losing struggle. They would never see their sons again.

“You were right, old man,” they wept. “God knows you were right. This proves it. Your son’s accident was a blessing. His legs may be broken, but at least he is with you. Our sons are gone forever.”

The old man spoke again. “It is impossible to talk with you. You always draw conclusions. No one knows. Say only this: Your sons had to go to war, and mine did not. No one knows if it is a blessing or a curse. No one is wise enough to know. Only God knows.”

The old man was right. We only have a fragment. Life’s mishaps and horrors are only a page out of a grand book. We must be slow about drawing conclusions. We must reserve judgment on life’s storms until we know the whole story.

I don’t know where the woodcutter learned his patience. Perhaps from another woodcutter in Galilee. For it was the Carpenter who said it best:

“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” (Matthew 6:34)
He should know. He is the Author of our story. And he has already written the final chapter.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

A Portrait of Christ

A Portrait of Christ from Jeremy Cowart on Vimeo.

What does Christ look like? Is Christ male? What ethnicity?

All of these questions were very cut and dry for me as a child. It wasn't that anyone told me those answers, necessarily. We just knew. He's male. He's white. He has long, brown hair.

This video is a much better representation to me of who Christ really is. Christ is not a he or a she. Christ cannot be limited to a pronoun. Christ is Christ. Period. Christ represents us. And in representing us, Christ is a combination and compilation of every single person, no matter what color of skin, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic level, region of the world, etc.

I love that thought.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Getting rid of Stigma

I've mentioned that I love working at CityWalk@Akard. The diversity is amazing. To me, CityWalk is an ideal community because of it's diversity...something the large majority of communities don't have.

Ethnicities ranging from White to Black to Asian to African to Hispanic? Check.

Education levels from low adult literacy levels to college degrees? Check.

Talents from musicians to engineers to aspiring attorneys to nurses? Check.

Multiple socioeconomic levels...and multiple stages of life? Check.

Older, retired and/or disabled as well as young kids? Check.

It's a neat community to meet and connect with people. Every person I have met so far is trying to do matter what their situation. They're trying to help out, earn more money, manage what they have, get involved, build their community...

Yet, the part I hear a lot of people focus on most is, "So there are homeless people?" Sometimes it is said with the best of intentions. The person saying it seems to be excited that there are homeless people that can be "helped." Other times, it is a frustration by someone who maybe has moved into the building unaware that there are "homeless" people who also live there.

First of all, let's get one thing straight...

Someone who has a home is no longer called "homeless!"

Second of all...

"Homeless" does not equal "dumb," "irresponsible," "addict," "crazy." Homeless is just that... HOME-LESS..."One without a home."

A person who was teaching one of our classes the other day made a statement that truly bothered me. The person seems to be a truly wonderful person...and has done a great job with the class. As the class got started, the instructor explained to a new observer of the class, "These people are really smart!" and went on to say, "I don't know why they live here." More than a little offended at a comment that seemed to imply they didn't think the participants would be that smart and shouldn't have to live in a place like CityWalk if they were, I quickly responded with, "Because they want to!" Now, I know that this person did not intend any harm in that statement. In fact, this same person had even expressed the desire to move into the apartments themselves (I assume they were serious).

So how can I explain what we have at CityWalk and in many of our low-income communities?? Allow me to try...

Yes, some of the people who live at CityWalk are fighting addictions. Some are working on stabilizing their mental illness (which is fine once they can access and stay on the right kind of medication). Some are trying to overcome debt that has accumulated over the years. Some have health problems that exacerbated when they were on the street...or in an apartment that cost way more than they could afford because of their small income and, therefore, their health care took the cut instead.

I can't understand why these things are met with paternalism, condescension, or stigma. Yes, sometimes people have messed up. Other times...and for some people, that messing up has been entirely out of their control. CityWalk is and should be a place where anyone can come and be around "family" no matter what their situation.

I know rich people who have mental illnesses. The only difference is that they have a support system around them to help them take their medications on time and ensure they are as well as can be.

I know people of all ethnicities and socioeconomic levels who don't manage their money well and would be better off having taken our YWCA Financial Education class.

I know stubborn people of all sectors who refuse to see doctors when they should...and sometimes make things worse as a result. The only difference is that they have the insurance and money to pay for the care once they get to that point.

I know people in my own family who have used drugs and even got busted. They, too, had some tough life situations that led them down that path. The ultimate difference? They had a family structure with enough connections and credibility to keep them out of jail and help them feel loved and supported until they could turn their situation around.

The people at CityWalk are no different than any other place!

The only difference is that at CityWalk we are working to create a community and help build a support system for anyone who lives there. Oh wait...there is one other difference. The other difference is that at CityWalk, life is more visible. People are willing to admit that they need help...or maybe they're just not willing to cover up something that we've always tried to tuck away so that no one sees (like mental drug financial insecurities). And it's a vertical community so it's kinda hard to enjoy a few beers on your front porch without it getting attention. People see and hear everything you do because you are in a vertical apartment complex.

My frustration with the comments and the stigma people place on CityWalk is that there are still people who live in CityWalk who aren't willing to be vulnerable yet. They are trying to overcome different situations. They may not be as secure about who they are and where they are in life. They do not want or need any more stigma on their life. They have endured enough. They deserve that space...and they deserve the dignity and respect of others who don't patronize or talk down to them...which makes it much harder to suck up that pride.

It is for them that I ask people to please stop stigmatizing!! Please stop referring to people with homes as "homeless." Please stop snidely talking about those with drug addictions and, instead, talk with them (you'll find that they have similar interests and ambitions as you do!). Please stop rolling your eyes at and being scared of people who talk to themselves and, instead, learn more about their some research...attend some workshops...and learn how you can support the numerous people in our communities who are affected by these illnesses.

In my mind, what makes an ideal community ideal is when all of God's people...with all of our perfections, flaws, talents, and idiosyncracies...are all in one place and we love each other because of and in spite of them. That is CityWalk!