Lenten Reflections: Homelessness Has Changed My Life

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this past week in the Lenten season, numerous people have been reflecting on the issue of homelessness and poverty. Most of my life, my experience with these issues has been greatly limited, as i have mostly lived in a suburban society, where these issues are not frequently seen therefore they are rarely taken notice of. In our suburban societies where we have our nice neighborhoods in close proximity to our nicely fashioned, planned ‘communities’ where we shop, eat and get our necessities for our mold-made lifestyles, it’s sometimes hard to see anything other.

The problem with the setting of suburban life is that it often develops because of people’s desire to escape the close community life that exists in an urban-type setting. In doing this, it becomes much easier for the suburban populous to escape from the parts of urban-type culture that they dislike, which often consists of mainly issues of poverty, homelessness and street-life. Under the framework of having ‘our own space’ much of the suburban populous can exist without ever having to face any of these issues. Often times life goes on in suburban culture without ever having to look outside of that culture to see any part of the world but suburban life.

Unfortunately, ignoring these issues doesn’t make them go away. In fact, it is the indifference to such issues that actually can cause the problems to intensify.

In the last 3 years, moving closer to a major city, and therefore to more urban-type culture has made me so much more aware of many more pressing issues, both locally and globally. The utter importance of these issues has in turn moved to the forefront of my heart and thoughts, and shaken my mindset and challenged me in so many ways.

Last year, I began to meet some non-housed individuals who lived outdoors in a tent community… a place called Nickelsville. My experiences with them began to grow me, challenge me, mess with my heart and mind, and also make me come alive in ways I hadn’t yet experienced.

After I started to make relationships with my friends in Nickelsville, I began to see more fully the Kingdom of God and how ‘the last will be the first’ and how ‘the first will become the last’. I became so aware of this when I spent time with my outdoor friends, as they have shown me the tangible Kingdom of God. They have ‘nothing’ yet they have given me so much more than I could ever give to them. I have learned more about community from my friends living in pink tents than I have from what I have experienced within most church settings. This messed with me since I thought these settings were supposed to be representative models for ‘true’ community. My perspective was beginning to be dramatically altered . My heart was beginning to be infectiously changed. My mindset was beginning to completely shift. My life was beginning to be eternally affected.

I started to realize that it is all too easy for us to go about our ‘busy’ lives, filled with all of our stuff and busy-ness, and simply ignore, not only the issues, but how crucial our involvement in those issues really is.

This is why I say that homelessness has changed my life. Before I began to interact and make friends with those who lived on the streets, I didn’t think too much about my privilege. Before I saw how little my friends on the streets had, I didn’t think too much about how much I had and how and where I spent my money. Before I saw my friends on the streets wondering what their next meal was going to be, I didn’t think too much about how easy it was for me to get simple things like food, water and life’s necessities. Before I saw my friends on the streets living in tents out in the cold, I didn’t think too much about the comforts of my warm house. Before I chose to spend a few days sleeping on the streets with my friends I didn’t think too much about my soft, warm, comfortable bed. Before I spent the time to hear the stories of hardship and struggle from my friends on the streets, I didn’t realize how much I related to them and how much they are just like me. Before I had the opportunity to share my struggles with my friends on the streets, I didn’t realize how much they actually cared about me and how much they offered love, encouragement and comfort to me. Before I was humbled enough to realize that my friends on the streets have so much to offer to me, I never thought about how much I needed their friendship in my life.

Now I live my life in a tension. That tension exists on a constant level and it is not easily resolved. Nor, do I feel that i needs to be resolved, or ever will. When I leave my time with my friends on the streets and go back to my warm home with my stuff, that tension does not go away. It constantly provokes my perspective in how I view my life and my privilege. It is not an easy thing to deal with, but it is constantly in the forefront of my mind and heart. The Scriptures come alive to me when I spend time with my outdoor friends, but they also in turn threaten my lifestyle and the daily decisions I make on how I live my life. I am also made so much more aware of my own brokenness and it’s impact on how I live. It is also this brokenness that connects me to my friends on the streets because it makes us equal. It makes us one; the fact that we can share in our brokenness. It is a beautiful thing, and it is the thing that unites us as people. So the incredible contrast of beauty and brokenness once again rises to the surface and I see how so much of the journey and the times of learning and growth in that journey come from brokenness and our awareness of that brokenness. No text book, no classroom, no teacher can give you the lessons that the experiences of life itself can give you.

So my life is changed, and in a continual process of growth and change, and I am thankful for my friends who live outdoors for being an integral part of that change.

So the challenge remains to anyone, just as it remains to me… if you desire to serve others, take that step and go feed the hungry non-housed and donate some of your possessions to help the poor and needy. These are great things and they need to be done. If you want to experience incredible life change, and have your minds and hearts rearranged, I also challenge you to take it a step further and take some time to build relationships and become friends with those on the streets… and then let them feed you. They may have ‘nothing’ from certain perspectives, but in reality they have so much to give and so much to offer our lives. We just need to be willing, available and open enough to let it happen.

Get ready though… because you will never be the same again…
and that is a wonderful thing!

Quote of the Day

“The heroes are not the ones advocating for the poor and helping the homeless. We are not the heroes. We are just doing what should be done. We are just taking care of what needs to be taken care of. The real heroes are those who by all reason, should have given up long ago, and yet, they have not. They continue to go on, refusing to give up. When they keep getting kicked in the teeth, keep getting knocked down, and they somehow get back up and keep on. These are the real heroes!” –Tim Harris, Real Change (paraphrase)

Lenten Reflections: Lenten Prayer for Justice, Mercy & Humility

Here is a short blog and prayer I found on the Sojourners blog that I wanted to repost.  It helps us to focus on what is important, especially during this Lenten season.  Please read and let the prayer be your prayer as you reflect on your own life this Lenten season and how to more effectively live out justice, mercy and humility.  Also check out the link to Micah’s Challenge and how you can participate.  

 

A Lenten Prayer for Justice, Mercy, and Humility

by Brian Swarts 03-04-2009

The season of Lent reminds us of the renewal that came through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Lent is a time to prepare for the coming of Easter and to celebrate the gift of redemption.  Lent is also a time to search for ways we can be part of God’s work of redemption and renewal in our world.

As we search for those things that need renewal here and now, we find the global economic crisis gives us a serious issue to reflect on.  I believe that we have momentous opportunity in America, where the Spirit is calling us to greater leadership on global poverty and injustice in a time of turmoil.  As the global economic crisis increases the number of people vulnerable to extreme poverty, hunger, and disease, it is increasingly urgent for Christians to serve as informed and effective advocates for the poor and the marginalized.  While each of us is hurt by hard times, it is the people around the world living on less than $1/day, facing hunger, thirst, and illness, who bear the greatest burden of this crisis.

That’s why, during this Lenten season, we are inviting Christians around the nation to pray for those who have been hardest hit by the global crisis.  In prayer, you will be joining “Micah Challenge” campaigns in numerous countries—from Great Britain to Rwanda—who have all committed to pray.  Sometime over the next two months gather your family, friends, and church members together in praying our Prayer for Justice, Mercy, and Humility:

Prayer for Justice, Mercy, and Humility

Lord, hear our prayer:

Today we face the season of our redemption during a time of global crisis.

During this season teach us to understand the love that drove you to give up everything to save us all.

Give us the strength that only comes in weakness;

The renewal that only comes through death and resurrection.

Today many of us feel weakened, burdened, and overwhelmed by the challenges and uncertainties that lie ahead.

We ask that your strength be made perfect in our time of weakness.

While each of us is hurt by hard times, it is the people around the world living on less than $1/day, facing hunger, thirst, and illness, who bear the greatest burden of this crisis.

Just as your weakest hour proved to be the most generous, most life-giving moment in history,

We pray for that out of our own weakness comes a generosity of justice, mercy, and humility for those who bear burdens greater than our own.

Help us to remember that you are the God who, out of nothing, made everything.

The God who still has the power today to remake us.

So let us be remade, not overcome, by our global crisis;

Let us be purified, and not laid low, by injustice, greed, and inequality.

Let us commit ourselves to:

Act justly,
Love mercy,
And walk humbly with you, and with all those
who suffer or want.

This is our moment to change the world.

Because it is at our moment of crisis where your strength and your light, revealed to the world by our faith, become a force that is stronger than fear or death.

Today, move us to become the answer to our prayers.

Give us the strength to respond, in our own time of need, to the needs of those who have the least in our world.

Lead us to be your agents of hope and renewal during this season of redemption.

For it is only in You that we have
the power to change things;
It is only because of You that we have
the promise of renewal;
And yet is through us that You seek to do all these things.

Amen.

Ways to “Be the Answer” to This Prayer:

  1. Educate your community, church, or campus about the issues facing the impoverished and marginalized in our world.
  2. Advocate for the U.S. to lead other rich nations in pledging emergency aid to the most impoverished nations at the G20 meeting in April.
  3. Join thousands of other Christians praying for justice in Washington, D.C., for the culmination of our Lenten campaign, at the Sojourners Mobilization to End Poverty, April 26-29.


Brian Swarts is the National Coordinator of Micah Challenge USA, a global campaign to make transforming cultures of poverty and injustice integral to the mission of every Christian and church

Lenten Reflections: The Frailty of Life – Remembering Beau

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This Lenten season started off yesterday with Ash Wednesday, and for me with some very saddening news about a friend of mine.  It was confirmed to me last night, as I was driving to work, that my good friend from Nickelsville, Aaron “Beau” Beaucage, had died earlier in February.   Beau had left Nickelsville just after New Years Day in the hopes of pursuing a job opportunity in California.  He left unexpectedly, and there was not much information on exactly where he went or specifically what for.  While in CA, the work opportunity did not pan out and Beau continued to struggle with depression daily, as he hoped to be with his daughter and his girlfriend in Indonesia, but could not afford to get there.  He apparantly died in his sleep somewhere around the first of February.  The actual cause of his death is unknown at this time.  I can’t help but wonder, had he been here, around friends, would his death had even happened; had he had friends to walk through his depression and come along side of him through that hard time.  I am deeply saddened by this loss as I had developed a great relationship with Beau over the four months that I knew him.  We had numerous conversations about many different things and I believe we connected on many levels, especially in the ways we viewed people and the world around us.

Beau also was an incredible poet, writing numerous poems about life and the struggles it contains, and I had the privilege of experiencing many of them.  We had lots of conversations about the art of poetry and lyrics.  He challenged me to write songs from his poetry and so I did.  I quickly took two of his poems and wrote songs from them, which I still play frequently at Nickelsville, and they have become anthems.  We talked often about our ideas of the poetry book that Beau wanted to publish and the (quasi-fictional) story of Onus Lumins, (which was Beau’s pen name) who was a truck driver who would place his poetry books in the restrooms at truckstops to counter all the negative graffiti on the walls with positive, creative and inspiringly artistic poetry.  He wanted to write a book about that story and we even discussed a movie, where some traveling musicians find the poetry book and start writing music to the poems and the two combined cause the musicians to become highly successful, while all the while searching to find the artist that created such amazing lyrics.  

Beau was an amazing guy, who ended up homeless after the trucking industry became too expensive to survive because of rising gas prices and while trying to go out on a fishing boat, missed the opportunity because of a slowdown in the industry.  He had only been homeless for about 6 months when he ended up at Nickelsville and I met him.  We made an instant connection and he was on my heart often.  Maybe it was the convergence of two artists that drew us together, or maybe the deep conversations we had that intrigued us both, or maybe it was just God’s leading… for whatever reason, he had a huge affect on my life and I know I had an affect on his.  He was a huge catalyst in changing the way I viewed ‘the homeless’.  He was the one that challenged me to come and live in Nickelsville, and when I stayed there before New Years, I spent most of my time with him.  He introduced me to “Flight of the Conchords” (look it up :), and when I was staying there, each night we hung out in his tent until 3am, talking and watching episodes on the laptop, that he was given so that he could write and post and print all of his poetry.  

I remember sitting in Trabant coffee shop in U District, with Beau and Dustin and some others from the camp, having conversations about many things.  I remember him telling me ‘it’s never to late to do anything you want to… there is always a way to do what you really want to do and make things happen, regardless of how old you get… it’s never too late!”  That was one of the last conversations we had together.  His words were inspiring… our conversations were intriguing.  I am thankful for the opportunity to have known him and shared in his life, if even for a short time.  

His words will live on through his poetry, of which I have a small collection of.  I wish that I had access to his whole collection… I would make sure that they would be published somewhere for all to experience… that is exactly what he would have wanted to happen with his poetry.  It would be beautiful to be able to use his poetry to raise money to help support places like Nickelsville and efforts to advocate for the ‘homeless’.  I will pursue writing and completing a full album of his words with my songs and record it for everyone to hear.  His story and his advocacy for the homeless problem will continue to fuel me in my efforts to change ‘homelessness’ and change the way people think about my friends that live outside.

So as I reflect on the memories of Beau, I am reminded of the frailty of life… and how important it is to make the best of every opportunity… to love others as you love yourself and let others do the same for you.  This is the stuff that changes lives in this fragile world we live in.  I will miss Beau terribly, but his memory will live on… I know I will do my part to make that happen.  I will probably post more about Beau in the weeks to come, but for now I will close with this clip of the video he made of himself reciting one of my favorite poems of his “Nothing is Meaningless”, which is also one of the poems I put to music.  

Beau, you will be greatly missed!!

Lenten Reflections: Ash Wednesday

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I am joining in the reflection this Lenten season with Mustard Seed Associates and their Lenten synchroblog.  You can join in reflecting as well by going and downloading their “A Journey into Wholeness: A Lenten Reflection Guide

As i reflect this day, Ash Wednesday on my own brokenness and sin, i realize how it is always, ever before me… screaming in my face, making sure i know that it is there.  Even on a day that is meant for repentance, for turning away, i have given in to my own selfish desires, and so it will be for the rest or our lives in these fragile and broken bodies of clay.  But, in the midst, there is a beauty… a beauty often hidden or oppressed, yet it is there, and was there from the foundations of our creation.  It comes from the hand of the one who created us; wove us together in the womb of our mother.  The creator’s fingerprint is upon us, even as we are born into and walk within a broken, fragmented world, shattered by the self-seeking sinfulness of humankind.  But, yet, that beauty still exists, in the midst of all the darkness and broken pieces of our lives.  It rises from the ashes of humanities frailty and fractured soul, like a fiery phoenix in all it’s glory, shining like a beacon.  Many times that beauty goes unnoticed, and many times the brokenness is ignored.  it just seems easier to ignore the realities and create a facade that everything is ok, but even in the midst of that is a guilt that lies and says that ‘there is no hope you wretched creature’.  so it is easier to ignore, distract, occupy the mind with other things… busyness, work, material possessions, our selfish needs and desires, while the darkness cries out for us to recognize and acknowledge and the beauty cries out for us to renew, restore and turn towards hope.  

This is the tension we live in, and today, i reflect on this tension; that i am broken, fragmented, pieces… but in the midst, there is a beauty that puts me all back together, makes me new again and again and again… but I must acknowledge one and notice the other; confess the one and embrace the other; turn from the one and run to the other.  This tension is, as my friend Eugene Cho puts it, Beauty and Depravity;  the beautiful mess.  Both exist in us:  we could not be totally beautiful, or the world would be completely different and there would be no need for our Saviour; but we could not be totally depraved either, or there would be no use for us, no hope for us at all.  

So today I acknowledge that I am broken, depraved, sinful.  I recognize my intense need to be restored, renewed, and made whole.  I also take notice of the beauty that has been placed in me from creation and the beauty of the Creator that breathes into me and brings to life the beauty that was originally intended to be.  I turn my eyes, my mind, my heart and my energy back to you O Lord… create in me a pure heart and renew a steadfast spirit within me O God. 

As I close, wanted to post the lyrics to a beautiful song that touches on our brokenness.  It is on the most recent album from Church of the Beloved in Edmonds, WA, called Hope for a Tree Cut Down.  You can download the album and listen on their website here. 

Broken

You are broken, I am broken, everyone is broken
You are broken, I am broken, intimately broken

Stay, there is peace beyond anguish
life beyond death, love beyond fear
and we all have to suffer to enter our glory.

Bless, bless and do not curse.
Pull brokenness far from the shadow of curse
put it under the light of the blessing.

Praise, praise to you Lord
for I never realized
broken glass could shine so brightly.