The shelter boots us out at 5:45 a.m. daily. You must take all your belongings with you and cannot come back until 2:30.
Until February 2013, my custom on non-work days was to go to Dunkin’ Donuts to pray, drink coffee and use the bathroom, until the library would open at 10:00 and I could go online. Then the temp agency closed down, and I could no longer afford Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, and so began going to McDonald’s instead.
Some days I would arrive at Dunkin’ Donuts before opening. One such morning, I arrived to find a large, neat pile of human feces on the doorstep. It was clearly no accident. Who had left it there, and why, had no bearing on the fact that it was there now.
When staff arrived we opened the door and stepped inside very carefully to avoid any contact between the door and the stool, or our feet and the stool. However, I knew that if nothing were done about it, eventually, inevitably, customers who could not take the time to be as observant and careful would step in it and begin tracking it through the store.
Continue reading The poop on the stoop
My normal day runs as follows. After breakfast at the mission, at 5:45 I head for McDonald’s, where I drink coffee ($1.06) and do my prayer routines. Around 9:15, I head for the library, stopping at a convenience store en route to buy smokes ($2.75) and a soda ($1.69). From 10:00 to 2:00 I’m online at the library. When my time’s up, I go to the Wi-Fi café, write in my diary and have another cup of coffee ($1.00). Then it’s back to the mission, where I have to pay admission ($3.00).
Sunday mornings, I am normally left with bus fare to church ($1.60) and pennies. I meet my patrons at church and obtain an allowance for the next week.
It’s difficult to start this post, as the story’s prone to leave one speechless.
What sort of karma would impel a child to be born into that context?
At the shelter, we’re compelled to attend chapel every night. A different preacher comes each night, in a monthly rotation. These generally disappoint me in their utter failure to speak to the sort of situation in question here. About 40% of the presenters are preoccupied wholly with what will become of your soul when you die; whether you’ll go to heaven or hell; and your need to “believe in Jesus” as the key to salvation. It’s all about a cognitive assent, saying “yes” to a certain set of ideas. There is no presentation of Christianity as a lifestyle, nor any discussion of the role of discipline in following Jesus.
Another 40% of the presenters are preoccupied wholly with obtaining “blessings,” principally by the means of praise: “When the praises go up, the blessings come down.” A “blessing” here is always a material, for example monetary, advantage that one has done nothing to earn. It is as if God were some cosmic King Lear jealous for flattery.
Neither group mentions the call to repent, in terms of any need to change one’s ways.
The only hell that concerns me is the living hell that folk create in this life, here and now, for themselves and their community.
Continue reading Carter Scott, Karma and Chaos
The only hell of concern to me is the living hell, in this life, here and now, that people create for themselves and one another.
Today, the Central African Republic is a prime example.
There is a history to this conflict that goes back to 1960, but as far as I can tell this land has never known peace at any time.
It’s a matter of what the people there choose to want from day to day.
Continue reading A living hell
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Monday, I lived my life the whole day the way I’ve always said one should, consistent with The Way of Peace. This was an accomplishment, and has been a long time coming. At bedtime, I was so proud of myself, I fully expected to be rewarded with a pleasant dream.
That didn’t happen.
The dream I did have was all about concepts, and wasn’t pleasant. It said, “Conservatism is tight; liberalism is loose.” It said I am currently being tight. I didn’t like being told that, and I didn’t like the fact that it was so.
Not because I have anything against conservatism. Though I tend in a more liberal direction, conservatism and liberalism are both largely immaterial to me.
But I would wind up pondering a lot, Tuesday, about how I would rather be.
It came to me that liberalism is like an open palm — one is ready to give someone something, or to accept something — whereas conservatism is like a closed fist. The conservative wants to keep what she or he has, and isn’t interested in accepting any handouts.
Now, it’s not that one is right and the other wrong. In life, both are necessary. And that insight opened up a different point of view.
That explains much more than I supposed.
The Qabala says there are ten sephirot, or dimensions, through which the Life Force may express itself. Two that are normally juxtaposed are Chesed, or Loving-kindness, and Gevurah, or Severity. These correspond well to the open palm, on the one hand, and the closed fist, on the other, respectively. The question is not choosing one over the other, but holding the two in balance; for in life, we need both.
One is not right and the other wrong; instead, each one has its own “good” or light and “evil” or dark potentialities. A “dark” potentiality of Loving-kindness is permissiveness, which can lead to a complete loss of order in society. Some people keep their hands out all the time, and that’s not good. A “dark” potentiality of Severity is that one may use the closed fist to beat up on oneself or others, to engage in tyranny or extortion.
Severity pertains less to the imposition of order than to the restoration of order (Hebrew: Tikkun) after disruption occurs. Chesed will express itself in making and serving a meal — but also in making a mess. Gevurah expresses itself in washing the dishes.
And taking out trash.
And picking up litter.
It pertains to the establishment of social norms, and to encouraging people to conform to those norms. For example, pee and poop belong in the toilet bowl, not on the toilet seat or on the floor. But when I worked at City Hall, it was clear that many men haven’t learned this.
Some social norms express themselves as laws. Thus all police activity expresses Gervurah — both its use and its abuse.(*)
But a complete lack of Gervurah is equally devastating.
It is telling that the concept of accountability is controversial among black Americans. Dez Bryant’s April 2017 remarks got scant attention in the mainstream press, but lots of pushback from the only black voices America is allowed to hear. D. L. Hughley said, “There’s no such thing as black-on-black crime.” Stephen A. Smith questioned Bryant’s blackness. The ideal of a black world without norms manifests in the murders of Carter Scott , Chanetta Powell and Charmaine Wilson.
Chesed and Gervurah in balance would be like a parent who corrects her or his child with love. We don’t have many good models for this. The current American correctional system is not, in fact, about correction, but retaliation. Likewise, the God portrayed in the Book of Numbers in the Bible does not correct, but retaliates. But putting the toys back in the toybox does not require scolding. Putting an errant object back in its right place does not require anger. Love can be constant.
That’s how I want to be.
(*)(The auric color of Gevurah is blue, which is why police wear blue uniforms. The color of compassion is green, so the Green Party is so named. But green is also the color of envy.)
(Originally posted 11/02/13.)
I have been asked to share my vast wisdom on the subject of yeast breads (chometz).
I’m not a big fan of lots of different recipes for bread. My philosophy is to find one basic recipe and then do variations on it: experiment with different ratios; stir in a cup of raisins or nuts or grated cheese; make rolls, using cinnamon, sugar and butter, or jelly, or peanut butter and jelly; use milk or evaporated milk or even fruit juice or cream instead of water; and so on.
I’ve forgotten the basic recipe I used before becoming homeless. One could start with this one, and experiment with different ratios until one settles on one one likes.
In recent weeks, in my quest for spiritual growth and improvement of my own condition, I have had to deal with lots of complicated stuff — chakras, sephirot, different dimensions of the personality or psyche, previously unknown stages in the progression from infantilism to adulthood.
This flies in the face of my conviction that the Gospel must ultimately be simple; and the same for everyone, regardless of one’s circumstances or developmental stage.
I come to the conclusion that it is. Simple.
(Originally published 06/08/13 at Trojan Horse Productions. Republished here 10/30/13.)
In recent days, I’ve spent much time trying to sort out my understandings of Good and Evil, order and chaos, darkness and light. I read a lot about Zoroastrianism, wanting to be sure my thinking isn’t “dualist” like that religion. On 06/11/13, I wrote:
Like Manichaeism, a truly false religion, Zoroastrianism emphasizes a conflict between Good and Evil, which is absent from my thought. I prefer to think of something more like Yin/Yang.
Yin and Yang are both necessary, and alternate but don’t necessarily conflict. Yet the traditional concept of them also errs, trying to connect that same dichotomy to almost every other one imaginable:
|hot and cold||life and death|
|female and male||young and old|
|too much and too little||north and south (magnetic)|
|stability and change||negative and positive (electrical)|
|past and future||truth and error|
|large and small||night and day|
|wet and dry||creation and destruction|
|grace and works||mercy and justice|
I wrote 06/12/13:
So, needy people fail to make the transition from infantile to post-infantile behavior. Regardless of worldview, and contrary to the notion that self-love is subconscious, Christianity’s teachings would tend to facilitate that transition; people can consciously learn right conduct.
Transition is a key concept. One could ask if Good and Evil don’t just correspond to stability and change; Vishnu and Siva. But the nutrients in my bloodstream are destroyed and converted into wastes as I use them. Fire releases light and heat, but destroys that which it consumes; and, in most cases, produces wastes.
Many of these dichotomies are independent, and many — as with fire — involve ambiguities and shades of gray.
on air talent, talk show host, radio talk show, the homeless blogger
A grassy lot inspires a vision of what can be when a community cares for itself.
When I take the bus to church in the morning, I normally get off at the closest stop, walk three blocks north and one block east. At the corner where I turn is a vacant lot. I don’t know who owns it. In months past, it has typically been heavily littered.
One morning not long ago, as I approached that lot, I saw that it had been cleaned. I saw this from fifty feet away. The way things are around here, that little bit of beauty nearly knocked me down. It took my breath away. It lifted my spirits.
A tiny bit of beauty can powerfully affect one’s mood. A mere glimpse of a pretty face can make one’s whole day.
I reflected: harmony is the essence of beauty, exemplified in the orderliness of the clean lot as contrasted with the chaos of its previous litter. I reflected on the relatednesses among light, love, harmony, order and prosperity, on the one hand; and darkness, strife, chaos and need, on the other. What does it take to begin to establish harmony? I concluded that perhaps love, or self-love, is the beginning of creation.
What if the whole community cared for itself as someone cared for that lot? Continue reading For us