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More on the Route 1 Homeless Project

Anne Dunn, a member of our community, has been coordinating the Route 1 Homeless Project. For Anne, this work feels very much like a call, not just a job. With her permission, I'm reprinting here the report Anne submitted to the Howard County Homelessness board. I think Anne did a great job communicating some of the possibilities she envisions for this work.

Here's what Anne wrote:

Since December 2nd, churches have delivered 519 meals to persons living in the woods, in their cars or in motels along the Route 1 corridor. The number of persons served has averaged 20 per week, but the number varies each week.

In this process we have learned a great deal about these people and their needs. Each individual has a different story and different circumstances that have caused their homelessness. Some live in camps of 2 or in one case 4, but some live totally alone. Some have hope of better times, and others seem resigned to their circumstances. Many have either experienced shelters or have heard reports of shelters and feel this is not an acceptable alternative for them. Some of the comments have been, “If I go in a shelter with the little bit I have, I will come out with less.” A number of them do not seem to be able to cope with the crowding, and in some cases it might not be prudent to put them into a situation where there are people living and sleeping in close proximity. Others have expressed concern about drinking and drug use in shelters. For others it is the rules, and loss of freedom as they see it. For some, the familiar is more acceptable than the unknown. Some seem equipped to live in these circumstances; others are much more vulnerable.

We have found people with jobs, one who receives unemployment, people who panhandle to meet their needs, and others who have no evident source of support.

During the very cold weather we were able to meet the needs of these individuals to ensure their safety. For some it meant providing tents, extra blankets, and propane heaters designed to be used in tents so they could find enough warmth to carry them through. Two went into motels during the Code Blue nights, and one actually ended up going into a shelter at the end of the week.

As the churches have gone out to serve these people, we have found individuals who were sick and needed food and warmth. We have found a mother with three children having surgery for a brain tumor and needing subsequent chemotherapy. One woman had been living in her car that had not run since September 30th. As we have encountered these people, the churches have responded to their needs. We regularly provide clothes (particularly outerwear), hygiene items, boots, and other requested items. In some cases it is as simple as dry socks and blankets; in others it has been far more extensive.

As people have expressed their needs for help the churches have responded. In the case of the lady having surgery, she would not ask for help because she was afraid her children would be taken from her. But once the church learned of her needs they “adopted” the family and began to help her get on her feet again. They made sure the children were taken care of, they took the children to visit their mother in the hospital, they began working on getting her voucher for housing. She had gone through the process and been approved for a voucher, but because of her health issues, she had not been able to follow through. The church took this on by contacting her caseworker and helping this woman to work through the process when she did not have the strength or means to do so herself. They secured the voucher, found her a home and went in on one weekend and fixed up the house so she could move from her motel room to a home. They are also working with the children to provide for their needs including working with the older child who had dropped out of school due to the moving around to get him into a program to get his GED. All of this happened in a little over a month.

The woman who had been living in her car for 4 months had been trying to get a job, but was hampered by the fact that she had no means of transportation. A church member offered to work on her car and in less than a week, she had a car that ran and made the decision to go into a shelter so she could avail herself of the services there to help her get some medical care and support for finding a job. She is still currently in the shelter.

To date, 19 churches have expressed an interest in being involved with this project. Each week, new churches join those ranks. There is a tremendous interest from the Howard County churches to help meet the needs of the homeless people. The experience is that they respond on multiple levels with vast resources to provide assistance.

Awareness has increased as to the needs, and maybe most importantly, relationships are being formed with these people in need, and they are experiencing a sense that someone cares about them.

Scenes from Route One

This has been an interesting week, and I'm bit behind on my blogging. One reason for this is that my most interesting experiences didn't come with a tidy lesson attached. It's so much easier to tell a tale when there's a nice moral to the story. But when it came to my trip on Wednesday to bring food to a number of homeless people who are living in the woods along Route One, just outside of the community in which I live, I left with questions, not answers. Here's a few scenes from that trip:

One man we encountered is living in a small patch of woods near a highway on-ramp. He's living out there all alone, without a tent, and has been in his current location for some time. Years, maybe. He's a skinny guy, probably in his 40's, but who knows. He sits in a folding chair, or lies on an old mattress underneath a pile of blankets. Ann said that he's delusional at times, so its best for one person to approach him instead of our whole group of five. On Wednesday, he was in a sociable mood, and came out to my car to talk. He was wearing a pair of sturdy-looking rain pants, something he had received from a volunteer earlier in the week. He was clearly pleased, and was happy as well to accept a single bag of food. When we tried to give him a loaf of bread as well, he declined. "Oh, that will probably spoil, and I hate to waste food." The rest of our conversation focused on the make and model of my mini-van. He suggested I could jack up the back and swap my tires for jeep tires, and then I'd have a dune buggy. That made my son Paul laugh, and then the woods guy laughed too.

Another man we encountered was living in the woods near a racetrack, where it turned out there was a small community of campers who had been in long-term residence out there, some for as long as six years. He came out to talk with us when he heard us coming, but didn't want us walking back to his tent. He was in his 30's, I'd guess, and pretty fit-looking. He said recent storms had washed three of his four sleeping bags away, and "just about all" of his clothes. He had heard that another camp nearby had received a propane heater from a volunteer recently. He was curious--was the same offer extended to him? All he needed was candles, but.... "How can I repay you guys?" he asked. "Do you have a house to paint? A church that needs siding?" He certainly looked capable of the work he suggested. "You know how you can repay us?" another volunteer responded, "Give a hand to the next person you meet who's in need." We gave the man five bags of food and a loaf of bread and left with a pretty big shopping list. It probably won't be that hard to fill, though, because 19 churches are now a part of the Route One outreach program.

As we drove from place to place, one volunteer struck up a conversation with my son Paul. Turns out he was well familiar with Paul's middle school--he is a homework mentor for a sixth-grader Paul knows. He explained that the mentoring project there had been started by a group of local congregations, but it never had received a lot of support and now he and another volunteer were overseeing it. They had about 14 mentors at the school this year, each working with a kid referred to them by the guidance counselor. Smart kids, he explained, but they don't get much support at home for completing their homework, so their grades suffer. The hard thing, he explained, is knowing that there are over 100 kids on the referral list, and they can only serve 14.

What a world we live in. Even here, in the third richest county in the entire country, there are so many needs. All you have to do is open your eyes for an afternoon, and by the time you go to bed, your head is spinning. Where to start? Where to focus? Where to rally the church?

First Sunday in Lent

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Psalm 32
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

The bible is pretty easy to understand, right?  Let's start at the beginning.

When we read the story of Adam and Eve in the garden, we read about their disobedience, and we see there were significant repercussions for their actions.  And so, one of the important take away lessons is that we should avoid disobedience and always obey God so we can avoid the pain and embarrassment of being found out and punished.

Obey God and no one gets hurt.  Sounds simple.  Right?

Well...not so fast.

If we skip ahead to the story of Jesus in general and specifically Jesus being tempted in the desert, we see that obedience to God (or God's Spirit) might end up being difficult or painful.  We see that Jesus obeys God and, along with a multitude of wonderful outcomes, he gets second-guessed, ridiculed, excluded, and eventually killed.

Hmmmm....this throws off our formula some.

And then it gets even more complicated when we get an explanation from Paul about what happened.  This passage kicks up all sorts of fun questions for us like would Adam and Eve have died if they had not sinned?

Let's look at this week's readings a little closer to see if we can get any help.

In the reading from Genesis we notice God doesn't tell Adam and Eve what the Tree of Knowledge "is."  He just tells them that they will die. It is the serpent that explains to them their eyes will be opened and they will be like God.  And it is Eve who adds that God has instructed them not even to touch the tree.   What does it mean that the serpent was somewhat correct--Adam and Eve did not die (immediately) when they ate of it as God originally claimed.  What does this mean for us when, at least in the short run, God does not appear to be right?

The Psalmist writes about people who are forgiven and about sin that has been forgotten.  There is an offer of instruction and guidance for those who are willing to be diligent students and listen and follow.  There is forgiveness for those who ask.  This is the lived experience of Israel, through their covenant relationship with God.  They understood (well, at least they understood some of the time) that the relationship with God was a long-term one that would have ups and downs.  Do we have that understanding of our relationship with God?

Paul likely wrote this letter to Rome before the Gospel account (Paul wrote somewhere around 55 and Matthew was written somewhere between 70 and 90). This passage casts Jesus as Adam's foil. As Adam (and Eve) are "in the beginning" the first to act against the guidance of God, Jesus is obedient to his death on a cross and is positioned as the "end" of the power of sin in the world.  What if we take Paul's letter to Romans less as a testament about atonement for sin but more as advice and insight about ethical living: ".just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.  For just as one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous."

Matthew's account of Jesus encountering The Tempter in the wilderness reveals Jesus' responses to temptation.  We assume Jesus knew Torah and its stories and guidelines, however in this story there really is no direct advice against sin or even toward absolute obedience to dictates.  He is relying upon God, living by the word of God, by the worship and reverence of God.  He is depending on God and how he understands that relationship to work.  He is willing to go out in to the wilderness, fast, and encounter these temptations because he knows he must remain faithful over the length of the relationship.

So, what does that bring us to here?  There is no cut and dried answer-it is more like we get to view a range of experience.  Consistent in these stories is a relationship with God.  Adam and Eve experienced God walking with them in the garden, and Jesus prepared for his time in the wilderness by fasting and praying (deepening his connection to God).

We often want to boil this whole "God thing" down to simple formulas.  We want hard and fast rules that we can adhere to that make everything simple to understand and so we can have an easily identified path for us to walk. Unfortunately, it turns out there are no formulas.  The primary piece of guidance we can hold on to is that it is important to tend to / pay attention to / give primacy to our relationship with God.

  • How often in this world are consequences absolute and completely understood
  • ahead of time?
  • What has Grace to do with this?
  • Are we wired by our collective history to extend Grace?
  • Could it be that our individual efforts to be obedient, to be reliant upon a
  • relationship with God, can actually shape righteousness, justification, and
  • life for others?

"You should pray like this:  Our Father in heaven, help us to honor your name. Come and set up your kingdom, so that everyone on earth will obey you, as you are obeyed in heaven.  Give us our food for today. Forgive us for doing wrong, as we forgive others.  Keep us from being tempted and protect us from evil."  (Matthew 6.9-13 Contemporary English Version)

More Thoughts on Our Muslim-Christian Conversation

Carol Lobell sent these reflections on last Sunday's World Cafe conversation...

I had a very emotional experience last Sunday at K.C. as I greeted our 16 Muslim visitors. Tears came welling up from a deep place inside me as the first group of women in head scarves and long dark clothing entered our Sanctuary. My tears came from the realization that I have never before in my 70 years engaged in a conversation with a Muslim. I felt sadness around this lack and now suddenly I felt enveloped in their warm smiles and friendly laughter.

Perhaps a part of me had been missing until I met these women and talked heart to heart with them. Now my sadness is replaced with joy as I experienced the miracle that somehow God had brought them to us so that we could all learn from one another.

I really connected with those in my small group as we shared the theme of love casting out fear. We identified fear as the root of most hatred, stemming from ignorance of those who are different; customs that seem strange and religions and cultures that are unfamiliar. As the afternoon continued and new small groups were formed, we all seemed eager to bridge this gap of ignorance and mistrust. Some small miracle was happening and I felt blessed to be a part of God's healing presence. Ideas for future meetings to continue building bridges were eagerly discussed.

After reading the many responses to our Muslim-Christian conversatons at Kittamaqundi Community, I most resonated with Rev. Heather Kirk-Davidoff's blog account of this World Cafe experience. She said:
"If a million of us could dine together in groups of 4-7, maybe we'd even prevent the next war. Thats the kind of process I have faith in".

I join Rev. Heather and Ruth Smith, the sponsors of our Sunday afternoon "World Cafe" experience, in their quest for world peace through the gathering together in small groups to dispell ignorance and fear, and to find sisters and brothers of different faiths that are on the same quest.

It is interesting that in the last year I've read some books and watched some videos that I believe prepared me for this Christian-Muslim experience. Perhaps many Americans are eager to learn about people who are different from us, for these books that have all been on the Washington Post Bestseller list and are very intriguing to read. I'd like to highly recommend these books as a way to connect with other cultures.

Here is my list:

1. "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini - both are fiction about universal issues regarding relationships and healing, set in Afghanistan.

2. "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson - Non fiction telling Greg's personal conversion story about going from being a mountain climber to feeling called to build schools in small villages in the Middle East.

3. "Beauty School in Kabul" - A true story of an Hispanic Texan woman beautician who helps build cultural bridges through classes at her beauty school in Kabul.

4. "Arranged" - a video available from Blockbusters - Non-fiction about an Orthodox Jewish woman and a Muslim woman of Syrian origin who build a friendship in America.

5. "Kundum" - The story of the current Dali Lama, starting from when he was first "discovered" as a child and going through his exodus into India as a young adult.