Infinity

For a couple of weeks I've been trying to get the bat of my shoulder to comment about the Right to Survive Ballot Initiative being put up for a vote here in Denver. I haven't had the guts to swing, I guess because the terms of discourse are so narrow as to be utterly useless to anyone trying to make sense of the issue.

Together Denver, the campaign organization backed by real estate developers and the downtown business district, has framed the issue like this: they argue it's cruel to pass a law which allows people to live on the street but offers no way out of homelessness. In all of Together Denver's campaign literature, in their TV ads, in their mailers, in their online material, they claim to have the best interests of "the homeless" in mind. Vote no, they say, for the true moral stance is not to make it more comfortable to live on the streets. No, the true moral stance is to craft policy that helps people get off the street.

This false piety is so smart it makes me sick.

For someone who supports the Right to Survive, the reasoned response within this framing is to point out that making life on the streets more humane, on one hand, and offering resources that help people get off the streets, on the other, are not mutually exclusive.

But I'm tired of the reasonable response.

The unreasonable response is this: there are people living on the streets right now who will never get off the street. There are people living on the streets right now who will die on the street. There are people who are not yet living on the streets who will die on the street.

Here's the thing. Right now, there are people living on the streets for whom LIVING IN PUBLIC IS THE BEST POSSIBLE OPTION. It isn't the wrong option. It isn't a bad choice. It isn't a choice that shouldn't be possible. It's the best. possible. option. for the day-to-day survival and overall spiritual health of many individuals who live on the street.

Homelessness is such a fraught issue for our country because it is an axe that smashes the frozen sea covering so many of our cultural sins.

The fact of homelessness in our society implicates many things: it implicates our economy, our healthcare system, our ideas about what's possible in government, our education system, our understanding of public and private space, our churches and other religious bodies, and our existential wellbeing (or lack thereof).

That homelessness itself is so dangerous to the people caught up in it and that it is so controversial to those who view it from the outside reveals our lack of imagination about the way a human life ought to be lived.

We may be able to develop the capacity to really reckon with ourselves as a society. But not by voting 'no' on the Right to Survive Ballot Initiative.

A 'yes' vote on the initiative is a vote for possibility: the possibility that someone living on the street right now might live another day, the possibility that someone may feel encouraged to seek out resources available to her to get off the street, the possibility that as a society we might really see what it takes to survive on the street and to investigate why someone might need to make that choice in the first place.

But more than all that, a 'yes' vote on the Right to Survive Ballot Initiative is a choice for the possibility of surprise. A 'no' vote doubles down on the poverty of the unexamined present. If we only had the courage to look, we would find that the present is pregnant with future possibilities, but a 'no' vote forecloses on the possibility of the future available to us at every moment.

To vote 'yes' is to vote not only for the defeat of Together Denver. To vote 'yes' is to choose that there might be more choices available, not only to our homeless friends but to all of us, unfolding into infinity.

When Someone is Covered in Shit

While sitting outside talking to Anne, I see Cindy look at me from across the porch and know she's going to come over and ask for something. Her floral dress hangs down to the ground with a brownish smear, a stain, and she quickly gathers the fabric forward to hide it.

"Do you have any extra pants?"

There are no extra pants but I tell her I'll go and look. I do this sometimes when I don't want the first thing I say to someone to be, "No."

"What size are you honey?" Anne interrupts.

Cindy tells Anne her size and Anne goes into her bag and pulls out rumpled pair of pants, saying, "These are too big for me." She also pulls out a t-shirt and hands it over to Cindy.

Cindy thanks Anne and shuffles toward the door. It's obvious she's also made a mess of the back of her dress and her shoes and her socks. Inside, the bathroom is blessedly in a rare unoccupied state.

By the time Cindy retrieves what she needs out of her pack, the bathroom is occupied again. Cindy looks through the little tub of donated hotel soaps and shampoos we set out for showers. One night someone walked in off the street, picked a thick bar of soap out of the tub and took a bite out of it like it was a cookie.

I can smell Cindy now. I ask Cindy if she's going to be able to clean herself up. I tell her she's number twelve on the shower list and we usually only get through ten showers on a shift. I don't stop to listen to her. The words are tumbling out of me.

I say, "I want you to be able to take a shower now. Is that okay with you?"

She says yes. I simultaneously feel like a Very Good Person and want to get her into the shower room and be finished with her.

She chokes a little and starts crying as I turn away. "I'm so embarrassed. I'm sorry to be a bother and make a mess. I'm so embarrassed."

I'm finally listening to her now. I see her, for the first time, as a child. I encounter her now as a person, not a problem.

Cindy emerges from the shower room after her allotted time and takes a seat at a table. The next person on the list calls me over and says, "Uh, can you guys clean that up?"

Poop is smeared on the floor, on the radiator, on the toilet.

As the mop bucket fills, Shani, a regular volunteer, pops her head in and asks if wiping up the mess with paper towels first might be best. That's what I was thinking too.

"Okay, hand me some gloves and I'll get started," she says.

The mop bucket is full now and Shani is crouched down wiping up poop and putting dirty paper towels in a bag. This is a radical act of love for Network, for Cindy, and ultimately for Christ, which Shani undertakes like it's nothing.

Our humanity lives closer to meekness than to strength. Vulnerability and mercy make us transparent to ourselves and present to our neighbor, while security and confidence conceal. We are children, all of us, reaching out and up, only asking to be embraced by love.

We Would Like to Work with the Poor

To: loganrobertson@poors.org
From: beagoodperson77@jcisafriendtome.net
Subject: Volunteering
Date: May 24, 2018 2:14pm

Dear Logan,

I’m part of a local church group that is looking to do some volunteering. We’ve heard Poors Incorporated is doing great work in the city and we’re excited to connect. Our group would like to work directly with poor people, and we understand that you serve them. Since all of us work regular jobs we are looking to volunteer at your organization every other second Saturday starting in four and a half months. We’re planning ahead because we have a trip to help poor people in Honduras at the end of next month and the beginning of the next and the month after that we’re doing something in LA! :-)

We’re excited to work with your poor people. Looking forward to hearing back.

Sincerely,
Chryle Lorbers

To: beagoodperson77@jcisafriendtome.net
From: loganrobertson@poors.org
Subject: Re: Volunteering
Date: May 24, 2018 2:38pm

Chryle,

I’m glad your group is looking to get involved in our city. You’re in luck, our organization has a whole group of poors here ready for you to help them. Before we schedule your group I’d like to get a little bit more information. What would you like to work on with our poor people? Do you have a sense for how long your group would like to be involved with the poor people at Poors Incorporated? How many people are in your group?

All the best,
Logan

To: loganrobertson@poors.org
From: beagoodperson77@jcisafriendtome.net
Subject: Re: re: Volunteering
Date: May 25, 2018 9:17am

Hi Logan,

I guess I’m not really sure that we have something specific in mind to work on with the poor people at Poors Incorporated. We were thinking if there’s a program or something already in place where most of the work is already done, maybe you could plug us into that or whatever. We’re up for anything but we’d like to have direct contact with poor people. In the past, some organizations have had us come do filing, and we’re not really into that so much. There are 24 people in our group. We’re hoping all of us can volunteer together at the same time every other second Saturday of each month as I said below.

Can’t wait to get started five months from now.

Peace,
Chryle

To: beagoodperson77@jcisafriendtome.net
From: loganrobertson@poors.org
Subject: Re: re: re: Volunteering
Date: May 25, 2018 10:43am

Chryle,

Thanks for the info. Unfortunately all of the volunteer positions where you can walk in the front door and work on a predetermined task for 2 hours before going out for lunch with your group are filled up! I was excited when you said you wanted to work with poor people, because I thought maybe you wanted to work with them on, like, coding CSS, HTML, and JavaScript or fixing cars or something like that. But never fear! we do have an intake process. Let me explain it before we go further.

Before you come on as a regular volunteer, we require that you spend 4 hours once a week, every week for a full calendar year at Poors Incorporated. During that time you should get to know the names of at least five poor people. Also, in that period of time the following events must occur for you to be considered as a regular volunteer: the police must be called once, an ambulance must be called at least twice, a fight must break out between two or more poor people during your shift involving a weapon of some kind—bonus points for a knife or steel pipe. Cleaning up blood, vomit, or other bodily fluids may be substituted for any one of these events. If you haven’t burned out before a year is up we’d be happy to take you on as a regular volunteer.

We can accommodate two people from your group.

Cheers,
Logan

To: loganrobertson@poors.org
From: beagoodperson77@jcisafriendtome.net
Subject: Re: re: re: re: Volunteering
Date: May 27, 2018 9:22pm

It sounds like maybe Poors Incorporated won’t be such a good fit for our group.

To: beagoodperson77@jcisafriendtome.net
From: loganrobertson@poors.org
Subject: Re: re: re: re: re: Volunteering
Date: May 28, 2018 1:06am

No kidding.

The Absent Church

Last week at Network Coffeehouse I spoke to a man who had been released from DOC (Department of Corrections—aka prison) the week before. He was released with all his earthly possessions in a backpack, a list of services around Denver, and a voucher for clothes. After he was released, he hooked up with a woman who quickly disappeared with everything he owned.

My impression was that he knew no one, had no real connections in Denver, and wasn't sure what he would do next except check in with his parole officer.

Two things occurred to me while speaking to him.

First, the irony of his experience. For many people living in homelessness, the major factor contributing to their condition is an inability to connect and attach to other people. Ironic, then, that this man had trusted someone who immediately contributed to making his condition worse.

Second, except for his short time at Network the night we spoke, the Church was absent from his life. He didn't indicate how long he spent under the tutelage of the state and I didn't ask. But I wonder, if he had had a relationship with a church while he was behind bars, would he have found himself in the predicament he did a week ago? Perhaps he still would have found himself on the street. But with a community to turn to, maybe a lost backpack would not have been such a concern.

To visit the prisoner, the stranger, and the poor is called righteousness by Jesus. According to the author of Matthew, to fail to visit these is to invite eternal fire (Matthew 25:31-46). And yet, the church is largely absent from the people and places Jesus calls it to be.

Of course, some efforts to visit the poor do exist. Network Coffeehouse is one. United Methodist Committee on Relief works worldwide to ease the suffering of people experiencing disaster. Denver itself is host to several efforts by churches to feed the hungry and clothe those in need. But these groups serve to highlight the absence of individual Christians and organized ecclesial bodies in the public sphere, witnessing, encountering, and bearing up under suffering.

Where the Church is clearly called by Jesus Christ to be, there instead exists a sucking vacuum. Into this conspicuous absence the most vulnerable people in our society are pulled. There, they are preyed on by demonic forces: drug dealers and cartels pushing meth, crack, and heroine, sex traffickers enslaving adults and children alike, pay day loan organizations and their capricious usury, day labor centers doling out work without appropriate wages, jails that increasingly charge fees for the most basic amenities. And then there's my friend at Network who simply needs a pair of pants. Standing against this force we have burned-out case managers, parole officers, a few people compelled by religion to serve their neighbor, and the odd person here or there who cannot help but find themselves among the poor and suffering. It is not enough.

The bulk of the Church, the living body of Christ, Jesus' hands and feet supposedly animated by the Spirit of God? A barely audible whisper at best. Unaccounted for, unseen, and unheard. Absent.

Michael Marshall: Noise

For some background, you may want to read my two previous posts (1 and 2) about Michael Lee Marshal.

Narrative Power

In my post published January 22nd, I wrote that language had failed. Except that isn’t what has happened. Mike is dead and we are left with competing narratives: the injustice of Mike’s arrest, police brutality, what is “necessary,” the worth of black lives, homelessness as a social issue... So it goes.

This is how people make meaning in reaction to events and ultimately how they exert power.

Recently, I have found in myself a skepticism about my own thoughts. I don’t quite trust that my patterns of thought, prejudices, or reactions are really my own. I’m not saying there’s some other personality at work whispering in my mind. But I question whether my opinions about public events (especially events as fraught as Mike’s killing) are generated within me or whether I simply default to whatever narrative happens to have been convincing enough to gain power over me.

Of course, this is also a narrative I tell about myself.

Noise

Working with homeless folks, I’ve sometimes noticed and grown to suspect that speech is a distraction from true presence. In part this is because with people experiencing homelessness, you’ll often find yourself buffeted by a stream of words that frankly don’t make sense. I find myself nodding and smiling and thinking to myself “I don’t know what this guy is talking about.” I’ll look at the volunteers who work with me and we just sort of shrug and shake our heads. “Who knows?”

But other times, when I feel particularly grounded or, more often, when I’m just too tired to put on the stupid play of active listening, I have experienced a deeply spiritual connection with the person who is speaking. In these moments of revelation, speech becomes exactly what it is: noise. I wish I could explain the uncovered fullness of another person I’ve experienced in these moments, like the envelope containing the world has been opened for a moment to something cast just beside us, always there at hand but hidden by our narratives about how the world “really is,” but of course I can’t.

Opportunities for this kind of encounter with Mike are over. His narrative has ended. As a single individual, one must resist the tempting offer to take up the easy narratives offered by competing powers.

The truth is language really has failed. It failed before the sheriffs who killed Mike restrained him so brutally. No dumb narrative will bring him back to life. There is no justice for Mike, only silence. To claim anything else is to attempt to make meaning out of his meaningless death, and to use his story to wield power.

Michael Lee Marshall

How much a dollar cost?

My friend, Mike, was recently killed by sheriff’s deputies at the Denver jail. “Homicide,” said the county coroner, which just means he didn’t kill himself, not that anyone did anything wrong.

Mike was picked up on suspicion of trespass and disorderly conduct and held on $100 bail. He had an incident with another inmate and was restrained. Choked on his own vomit. Suffered a heart attack. He lived until his family had him removed from life support.

If I was someone without experience with mentally ill, addicted, sometimes aggressive, often erratic people, I might think it wasn’t unreasonable for sheriff’s deputies to restrain Mike to the point where he died. Except I have weekly experience with people just like Mike. If I can resolve erratic, psychotic, drug-induced behaviors nonviolently, then a Denver sheriff’s deputy sure as shit can.

But on November 11th 2015, Mike’s life was worth less than a hundred dollars.

All Real Living is a Meeting

Check out the rest of Logan's series on friendship.

Through conversation over the past week, I've been led to continue reflecting on the concept of encounter that I touched on in my previous post, Encountering Poverty. Specifically, I will look into the concept of friendship and how it functions practically, philosophically, and theologically as a relationship. This will be a multi-post exploration, and I thank you for humoring me.


The word friendship shares etymologies with the word "freedom" in English, "freude" (joy) in German, and "philia" (affectionate love) in Romance languages and Greek.

For the sake of illumination, let's take a longer look at "philia." Philia is defined by Aristotle as, "wanting for someone what one thinks good, for his sake and not for one's own, and being inclined, so far as one can, to do such things for him."[^1] Discussing the same, John M. Cooper writes, “the central idea of philia is that of doing well by someone for his own sake, out of concern for him (and not, or not merely, out of concern for oneself).”[^2] It is important to note, in both of these examples philia is directed toward and concerned with the other over the self.

With this etymological understanding in mind, friendship is not merely affection, but a relationship which contains freedom, joy, and affection within mutual responsibility and solidarity.

Becoming

The edges of friendship are fuzzy and imprecise. Friendship is fundamentally a relationship of becoming. Svetlana Boym writes that friendship is not an object of analysis but a process. It is a process of coming to know the self, another person, and the boundaries of a relationship. Roland Barthes calls it a “miraculous crystallization of presence." Friendship is a site of action where need an desire are joined.

The process of friendship is always imprecise and non-prescriptive. It opens into the universal and cannot be wedged into preconceived models or easily understood tactics of marketing, mission, or outreach. Rather than a relationship of increasing closeness and a fusion of individuals, friendship defies symbols of fulfillment. Instead, friendship has no measureable object but friendship itself—the continuous development of two people into a life where friendship is more and more possible. The only goal of friendship is its own continuous becoming and the becoming of its constituents as selves.

When this process ends, we say people have "fallen out" of friendship.[^3]

Thou

Martin Buber traced the full weight of friendship in his formation of the relationship between I (one, as an individual person) and Thou (another person). For Buber, to relate to another person is to become a person, a self, an "I." And as a person becomes more and more a self, she likewise increasingly understands that another person is himself an "I." But Buber goes beyond the impoverished, individualistic understanding of "I" we commonly hold.

Buber reveals that to relate to another person is to relate to the divinity of that person—her total otherness and transcendent quality as a human being. Another person is not "you," or "they." She is "Thou."[^4] Only this formulation of friendship can contain the fullness of freedom, joy, and affection within the bounds of mutuality, responsibility, and solidarity.

Truly and freely encountering another as a friend rules out coercion, violence, utility, and possession.

It is with this understanding that we will continue our investigation of friendship. And throughout the series, we shall keep in mind Buber's poetic wisdom: "All real living is a meeting."[^5]

  • [^1]: Nicomachean Ethics, 1380b36–1381a2
  • [^2]: "Friendship and the Good." The Philosophical Review
  • [^3]: Svetlana Boym's reflections on friendship play heavily into the previous two paragraphs. I found out today that she died on the 5th of this month after a year of living with cancer. I am thankful for her and her work: “Scenography of Friendship,” Cabinet Magazine
  • [^4]: The Christian theological tradition formulates this as the Image of God (or Imago Dei) in every person.
  • [^5]: I and Thou

Garbage Homes for Garbage People

How America Could End Homelessness in One Year With Something We All Throw Away Every Day

Yes. The solution to ending homelessness in the United States is taking people who live without housing and asking them to live in garbage. Homelessness is so bad and homeless people are so desperate that they would live anywhere, even in a house made of garbage.

Look, I get that this is a creative solution that has the nice benefit of crossing over into eco/green/recycling/earth-friendly territory. Some people might like to live in, like, a regular house made out of wood or whatever, but I’ve concluded that the people who think this is a great idea must assume that homeless people live garbage lives already so they would probably be pretty comfortable living in garbage, too. Right? After all, if wishes were houses beggars wouldn’t have problems attaching to other people and end up on the street addicted and vulnerable to the capricious whims of the homed and their police force. Also, if wishes were houses people might have a house. But why would they want one when we built them this nice one made out of trash?

I guess it’s not such a surprise that this seems like a viable solution to enough people that I see it in my social media feeds twice a week. We already pawn off the excess of our consumerism on the poor as it is. Why not build it into shelter for them while we’re at it? A garbage house is better than no house, after all.

Except that it’s a bandaid applied and applauded with such breathless enthusiasm that there’s surely little thought being put into its implementation. We can be sure the thoughts and feelings of those who we expect to joyfully accept their new pile of refuse have not been considered. And the root causes of homelessness either go unnoticed or are actively ignored. Homelessness is a problem not only of economy but also of power, privilege, culture, society, psychology, and family history. It differs from person to person, life to life, individual to individual.

The garbage homes “solution” to homelessness arises from a mindset that sees homelessness as a inexplicable phenomenon and people experiencing homelessness solely as a problem. This disregards the humanity and individual identity of folks living lives which do not conform to the majority of the population of a given society. To offer simple solutions to homelessness, even with the best of intentions, not only further marginalizes and dehumanizes the people experiencing it, doing so reifies the matrix of causes that lead to homelessness in the first place.

A person is not a problem to be solved. The task, then, is to treat people not as objects, but as the subjects they are. In other words, don’t treat people like garbage.

It's All Holy Communion

(Please also see Mark's timely post on this issue.)

My reaction to city government restrictions on serving food to homeless individuals in public? Let's fight the laws and spend some time with the homeless doing something other than giving them food.

Things to do with homeless people in public not involving handing out food:

  • Share Holy Communion
  • Go to a restaurant and order food
  • Ask if they have special skills or secrets to teach you
  • Do random acts of kindness for strangers together
  • Watch funny videos on YouTube
  • Hug if you both want to hug
  • Ask what they want to do
  • Sit and talk about rights
  • Sit and talk economics
  • Sit and talk theology
  • Sit and talk politics
  • Care for a community garden
  • Start a guerrilla garden
  • Do an art project
  • Sing a song
  • Tell stories
  • Listen to music
  • Watch a movie
  • Watch a TV show
  • Share a cigarette
  • Give out sleeping bags
  • Give out toothbrushes
  • Give out wash-clothes
  • Give out conditioner
  • Give out toothpaste
  • Give out underwear
  • Give out shampoo
  • Give out tampons
  • Give out lotion
  • Give out pads
  • Give out combs
  • Give out tissues
  • Give out water
  • Give out tarps
  • Give out socks
  • Give out shoes
  • Give out soap
  • Give out hats
  • Play a game
  • Play checkers
  • Play chess
  • People watch
  • Read a book
  • Shake hands
  • Take a walk
  • High five
  • Laugh
  • Smile
  • Listen
  • Cry

I get that the first thing on the list involves sharing food. But it's all Holy Communion, isn't it? If you're arrested for sharing Communion, it's a whole new ballgame.

Only Three

Please also see Logan's post on this issue.

I'm sure you've seen the news lately. It's been in the Facebook news feed sidebar thing, so don't lie and say you haven't seen it. You have. It's the story of a 90-year-old Florida man and two pastors being cited for breaking Fort Lauderdale law by feeding the homeless. There are a lot of emotions at play in a story like this, and there's no reason why that shouldn't be the case. However, it makes it difficult to form rational thoughts about the event and the issues it raises that are more nuanced than "Wuuuuut. Nuh uh. Nuh. Uh."

So rather than offering an intense examination of the effects of marginalization on the wider social fabric, the economic factors that lead to homelessness and keep people there, the political structures that offer success for cruelty to and dehumanization of the least of these and political doom for those who actually want to make things better…instead of all that, let's keep it simple.

Regulated

Arnold Abbott, a 90-year-old WWII veteran, now a chef, has been serving the homeless meals for 23 years. In 1999, he faced opposition and subsequently sued the city of Fort Lauderdale to allow food service at a public beach. He won, and has been serving weekly meals to the city's homeless ever since. On October 22, at a past-midnight session, the city passed an ordinance "regulating" such activity. According to the Sun Sentinel, the measure "limits where outdoor feeding sites can be located, requires the permission of property owners, and says the groups have to provide portable toilets, hand-washing stations and maintain the food at precisely regulated temperatures."

At the beginning of November, Abbott and two members of the clergy who were assisting him serve food were ordered to stop and immediately issued a citation carrying a potential $500 fine and up to 60 days of jail time. A few days later, they were again ticketed for serving meals (though the police at the scene allowed them to serve food for about 45 minutes first). No one has been jailed or arrested as of this writing.

That's where we are. We've got a guy serving the homeless food, and a city punishing him and others like him for doing so. It's important to keep in mind that this isn't a unique story. According to a report from the National Coalition for the Homeless "since 2013, 31 cities across the United States have attempted to pass new laws that restrict organizations and individuals from sharing food with people experiencing homelessness." They've passed in 21.

So maybe we're paying attention to this particular story because it's an old guy, a reportedly good old guy, getting hassled by the government. He's not hurting anyone. He's trying to help, and the MAN won't let him. People are upset with the city of Fort Lauderdale. They've written letters to the mayor (and gotten form letters back), been outraged on social media, and righteously skewered the situation because they're named Stephen Colbert.

Something interesting happened

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this story, thinking about the social, political, economic, and theological implications. I've tried to think about it from a lot of angles so that I could form an intelligent opinion and write a comprehensive look at the situation that might cause you to say, "Pretty smart, book-learn'd guy." But here's the thing—I couldn't. I couldn't weave together all the threads without feeling overwhelmed. Part of what made it difficult was that I was angry at the city for passing something I saw as so amoral. It struck me as so vile that I all I could do was throw my hands in the air and say "Well what the hell do you do with that?"

But then something interesting happened. When I calmed down, I realized that I was still upset—but not with the city. Yeah, it's awful that feeding the homeless in 21 cities is illegal, but governments aren't moral or just. We'd like them to be, and we should do all we can to hold them to the highest ethical standards, but let's be real. Governments are corrupt and amoral because people are corrupt and amoral. Ruling bodies are human institutions, so flaws abound. Jesus knew that about Rome, and we know it now. What's keeping me upset, the really bad thing here, is that Jesus said to look that reality in the eye and follow him anyway.

So where was everyone? Only three people were cited. An old guy and two pastors. Why not more? It's not like this was a new setup. Abbott has been running these weekly meals for fifteen years. Also, I highly doubt those two pastors are the only ones in the area. Why isn't this a story about an entire community of pastors and lay persons each receiving a citation for civil disobedience? They didn't show, because getting people to do the work of Christ involves asking them to dig through muck, mire, pain, suffering, sweat, and frustration for someone else. For not-them. A call to that kind of binding to another, that kind of fellowship, won't be as sanitized and safe as the latest renovated sanctuary offering individual communion packets. And because it's tough, the turnout's bound to be low.

There were only three, and I wasn't one of them. I feel shame for all that I've not done for my neighbor[^1], for all I've failed to do for those who need help, my help. There have to be more than three. I can at least be the fourth. It's as simple as something Arnold Abbott said: "Why do I keep doing this? Because these are my people and they deserve to be fed."[^2]

Rejecting Christ

In Toronto there's a sculpture of Jesus depicted as a homeless person just outside Regis College, a Jesuit school, at the University of Toronto. But it found its home there only after being rejected by St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. It has been reported that rectors of both cathedrals were enthusiastic about the piece but higher-ups in the New York and Toronto archdiocese chose not to install the sculpture.

Timothy Schmalz, the artist, was told that the sculpture could not be installed because it was "inappropriate." The word "inappropriate" suggests offense.

Except those churches, the one in Toronto and the one in New York, being Roman Catholic, have multiple depictions of Christ inside the building where he hangs, dead or dying, from a cross. Do the decision makers in the archdiocese of New York and Toronto not take offense at Christ crucified?

Is the humble depiction of Jesus as a sleeping homeless person more offensive than Jesus on the cross? That depends on why the sculpture is offensive in the first place. Perhaps it's the depiction of Christ as less than divine, a simple human, and a homeless one at that. The sculpture says more about the viewer than it does about God. The sculpture challenges what we think about ourselves, and about those around us who we may not see or who we chose not to see. It is personal. Meanwhile, the cross has come to challenge what we think about God more than it personally challenges we who stand before it. But our reaction to the cross is what faith is all about, and we have lost the ability to really see it.

The Impossibility of Offense

Perhaps the men who rejected the sculpture in question stand before the cross and, through a work of faith, do not choose offense. Soren Kierkegaard tells us that "the possibility of offense is precisely the repulsion in which faith can come into existence—if one does not choose to be offended."[^1] It is possible that the same people who reject Christ depicted lying destitute on a park bench do not reject Christ in his abasement on the cross, but it ain't likely. It's likelier that something else entirely is going on.

The sculpture is genius because it delivers the possibility of offense back to us. The image of Jesus, the Christ, the anointed one, the Human One, the beloved one of God tortured, hanging from a bloody cross is not offensive to us not because of our faith but because the offense of the cross as been obliterated by time and the ubiquity of an image that says "here is a church."

Christ says, "Blessed is the one who is not offended at me." But it is not a blessing to find oneself in a situation where offense is impossible. To bring in Kierkegaard again, one must be confronted with the possibility of offense, must move through it, in order to have faith.

So I ask myself: why do I accept the sculpture of Jesus as a huddled homeless person? Does my acceptance come from a genuine belief that God is truly incarnate in the least among us? Or does acceptance come from a knee-jerk, right-headed, progressive liberalism in which Christianity is "stirred in as a seasoning"?[^2] Or is the possibility of offense impossible, because the existence of God has been rendered impossible in this secular age?

The Poor Don't Need PB&J

Since moving to Denver I've been active in a church called AfterHours Denver (AHD). It's weird. We meet in a bar three times a month for fellowship and to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to be included in sack lunches. Every day AHD and its partner groups meet in Civic Center Park to distribute up to 150 lunches to the people who congregate there or who are passing through. Communion is also offered in the form of bread and grape juice.

That's it. It's weird. There's no building. There's no paid staff except Jerry. There's service and there's fellowship in the name of Christ.

A common criticism of AHD often comes in the form of a question: "What are you doing to address the root causes of homelessness? The poor don't need a peanut butter and jelly sandwich." It is an important question. It is a question that I, myself, have asked. It is also a question that can be cynical. When I have heard it, it is often delivered in a tone that says, "so what?"

The answer is, 'nothing.' "What are you doing to address the root causes of homelessness?" Realistically? "Nothing." So, if the answer is nothing, then who cares? Why continue to do it? I mean, other than the fact that most people like to have something to eat for lunch?

What I intend below is a quick look at AHD and its mission as a movement of Christian hope.

Hope

I follow Soren Kierkegaard's (SK) expansive treatment of hope in his book Works of Love. In it he deals with hope not as a feeling but as action. For SK, hope is "to relate oneself expectantly to the possibility of the good" (249). Importantly, SK points out that hope cannot be put to shame. Even if what is hoped for does not come to pass, still, hope remains intact. This is because the action of hoping for the possibility of the good, a good which may not exist in present time, itself creates the good (296). In the face of crushing poverty this is perhaps not quite satisfying. But hopefully the sandwich adds some tangible satisfaction.

Hebrews 11:1 teaches that faith is the constancy for what is hoped for. To ask the question alone, "do the poor need a PB&J," and not to participate in hope is to hope nothing at all, is to lose faith, and indeed is to sink into despair (248).

Going out into the park every day, sustained by the Spirit, in communion with homeless women and men, springs out of a constancy of hope. It is a work of love from love, an act of faith from faith. Far from doing nothing, this daily action creates out of nothing a new reality, community, and awareness.

Consciousness

Without public meetings among the poor, the root causes of homelessness will not be addressed. Awareness is the very beginning of the movement to address social problems. In a society in which most wish not to see the poor, in which individuals dismiss an area as dirty or off limits because homeless women and men sleep in doorways -- some actively go to the poor, ask them to gather together, and interact with them as individual human beings and blessed creations of a loving God.

The best case scenario is that those who gather are brought to a new consciousness. They come to be awake. If the Spirit of the divine is involved in the least then their being is transferred into a state of aletheia: unconcealedness, disclosure, all truth. Their world experiences an apocálypsis, not a literal destruction but a revelation that destroys preconceived notions, an un-covering, an end to a time in which the reality of the world as it exists was hidden to them. They may experience a re-birth and perhaps take a step on the road toward Christian Discipleship. They may ask, "why do these conditions of poverty exist," "why have I not come to terms with them until now," "why have they been hidden from me?" This new awareness may lead toward action addressing homelessness itself.

Worst case scenario? Someone who's hungry gets something to eat.

Eggs

Today was an interesting day, church wise.

I'm a member at St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Denver, Colorado where I'm also the volunteer coordinator for the Sunday Meal Program (SMP), which needs a new name. Each Sunday morning St. Paul's serves an average of 150 meals to the homeless and food insecure of Denver.

Monday through Saturday around 40 locations are available to grab a free meal across the Denver metro. That number drops to 5 or 6 on Sunday. Why such a dip on Sunday? Without delving into it, I'm not sure if religious obligation trumping the command to be merciful is at play here, but I wouldn't be surprised. I won't go down that tangent for now, but suffice it to say St. Paul's program is a vital resource for those who might not otherwise find a place to eat on Sunday.

Much of the food we typically serve at SMP is sourced from food banks. While this allows us to provide a meal each Sunday at a very low cost, often the food itself is low quality, and it is almost never what anyone would call "breakfast food." Honestly, it can be a pretty dreary affair. No one is particularly overjoyed to be there. Considering what the very part-time chef has to work with, it's kind of amazing that the food is ever better than simply edible, but it can still be pretty so-so.

Let's just say it isn't exactly going to lift anyone's spirits.

So, as a test case, this Sunday we wanted to take out all the stops and provide breakfast for our guests, with the goal of having real breakfast every Sunday. With the help of a member or two, a good guy named Adam who is passionate about serving those in need, a big donation from out of state, and a lot of work by some free range Gunnison, Colorado chickens, we were able to serve 170 meals of scrambled eggs, french toast, cheesy potatoes, and biscuits and gravy, with coffee, orange juice, milk, cookies, syrup, and ketchup on the side.

Our guests raved about the meal. I've been helping coordinate SMP for a few months now and I've never heard anyone say, "great breakfast." We get thank-yous. But today not only did I hear "thank you," I also heard, "That was the best breakfast I've had... ever," and "My favorite breakfast is the 'big breakfast' at McDonalds, but this blows that out of the water," and "I think I'm in a food coma," and "Gimme some more a them eggs, bro," just to quote a few. Simply by providing breakfast foods, coffee, and orange juice the spirit of the place lifted, conversations became livelier, the space filled with joy and noise from everyone talking and laughing.

It's amazing what a few (28 dozen) eggs can do.

We didn't solve any of the problems of homelessness that our guests deal with each day, but we did create a safe space for a few hours, filled bellies, lifted spirits, and—I hope—saw each guest as an individual loved by the divine, so they might feel love that they so rarely feel when objectified in the eyes of the world as the poor, dispossessed, unwashed, and unwanted. It is a start, at the very least. And it is also our end.