Saturday, March 31, 2012

Last Day - Shelter Week - Day 7

One of our objectives when we planned the overall Shelter Week project was for our guests to know that they were honored guests. We wanted to provide a warm inviting experience overall, good food served in a pleasant environment and as much comfort in the sleeping arrangements as we could under the circumstances.

In New Thought we teach that The Christ is the essence of all people and we set an intention to allow this Truth to guide our decisions and operations.

The original meal plan called for leftovers for the Saturday evening meal, with the addition of pizza to fill in the gap because we didn't want to waste any food. As the week progressed, we had eaten all the food and almost all the soup we had prepared. In fact, we had to prepare two additional batches of soup just to make it through Friday night. So Chef John, one of the two food service professionals who had been involved with planning of our menus, called together a small team of people who prepared an amazing celebration in food for our final evening meal. Starting with forty pounds of poached boneless skinless chicken breasts and a productive trip to Randazzo's with some wonderful produce on sale, a spectacular feast was prepared.

Our volunteers were in top form as we received 84 guests and presented them with a great meal  served from a state of absolute love. You could feel the Holy Spirit everywhere in a powerful way. We had moved beyond having guests to receiving people we are connected to by names, recognition and stories revealing many similar experiences.

Tonight, I discovered I had become pastor to many in this extended congregation. I also watched as the members of Renaissance Unity were actively ministering to these amazing souls who have provided us with the opportunities to shatter stereotypes, confront prejudices and be more authentically who we really are called to be in the world. We saw ourselves where we had seen other. We experienced a small sense of Oneness and lived out the Old Testament idea of hospitality plus the command of Jesus to love one another.

I will never be the same.

Thank You God!

The first chapter has been completed, what is Your next assignment for us?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Rainy Day - Shelter Week - Day 6

I woke up late this morning with so many thoughts rushing through my mind and little time for reflection or inner direction. We needed to do some prep cooking and re-provisioning and my mind was going over and over the details.

After pouring a cup of coffee and sitting down in my office to review my notes, I see massive and dark storm clouds are towering in the western sky. The storm hit quickly bringing a flurry of sleet and hail which were quickly replaced by a cold, pouring rain.

I usually look at these days as a wonderful excuse to curl up with a good book and a cup of hot coffee. However, if you don't have any dry, warm place that is yours in which to curl up, a rainy day can seem like hell.

Several years ago, on a visit to Amsterdam, I arrived in the city about 10 hours before I could get the keys to the apartment I had rented. Not that big a deal, I thought as I made my travel plans. Hah! When we landed at Schiphol Airport it was pouring rain. I dragged my luggage, two suitcases and a carry on bag, onto the train bound for Centraal Station in the City Centre. I placed the two larger bags in a storage locker and ventured out into the rain. Over the next several hours, I had breakfast, found a rain slicker to purchase, visited gift stores, ate lunch and walked in the rain. My shoes and socks were soaked through and my feet were cold. I remember thinking I just wanted to take a hot shower and a nap and realized that was not possible which made me feel oddly anxious and alone without a place to call home.

My experience that day was trivial and lasted only a few hours but the memory came flooding back as I thought about our guests and wondered what they were coping with the downpour.  An image of  Gail came to mind, she uses a walker with her bag piled on top of it and moves slowly.

I wonder how many people are with Kevin today? He has a van and last night shared with me that he had done some clean-up work for an older couple and was given some money and a tank of gas. He shares rides with the others in this informal, always changing "family" of guests at the Macomb Warming Center. Kevin asked if I could pray that it not rain so much because it created such challenges for those without permanent shelter. I reminded him that the farmers were praying for rain and that if the dry land could pray, it would also ask for life giving rain. He thanked me for offering another perspective. I thanked him for the same reason.

Is a rainy day good or bad? Both and neither. The day is what it is.

Later, when we opened the doors, we could sense that the mood of our guests was subdued--tempered by dealing with the weather all day. Cindy commented how she wished we could have provided showers for people because sometimes a warm shower is the best way to warm up after a day in the rain. I agree.

Tonight, the warming up will need to come from Sloppy Joe's, soup, hot coffee and the connections of friendship being shared between our guests and volunteers. With an occasional request for dry socks, which we gladly share. 

The journey continues ...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

My Burden is Light - Shelter Week - Day 5

My Yoke is easy and my burden is light ...

or in current English

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."
Matthew 11:28-30 - The Message (MSG)

Tonight, I feel quiet and small. I am open and raw emotionally. Not bad--just very raw as if every feeling is amplified. Tonight, as I cooked and cleaned and made myself available to our guests and volunteers, I also pondered the scripture above. Your way, this way of Love is easy, Jesus? Really? Why does it feel so hard at imes, like I am swimming upstream?

In some ways, it was easier to not know the "other." Easier to not know the name or story of how our guests came to be here with us. Easier to make up a story about how their lack of personal responsibility had landed them in the shelter.It was easier to look away before I knew their name.

There are a few here who are so lost in addiction that they can barely function. However, they are the minority. There are a few people with mental health challenges who have fallen through the cracks of our society. Another very small percentage are folks who are  living under the radar of the usual structure of our civilization. 

Over and over I have heard first night volunteers marvel  that our guests do not look like they imagined homeless people to look, be or act like. Minds blown. Stereotypes blown. Hearts opened.  Our guests look like us; our friends, our relatives, our neighbors because that is who they are and we can see it because we are up close and persona. Playing cards, talking sports, politics, imagining winning the lottery.

Without realizing it, I had gotten pretty burned out on religion and tired almost to death of talking about love. Please do not talk to me about how loving God is unless you are willing to demonstrate that love in action and are doing something to make its presence real and felt in the world today.

I have watched as the members of our congregation have opened their hearts and allowed Love to remove  their fears, apprehensions and barriers against caring. I have witnessed our church being fully present with our guests and the blurring of the lines between us and them until it is simply we. I have witnessed my own wonder at the love shared.

During the course of this Shelter Hosting Week, I have been transformed in ways I do not yet understand. I believe this spiritual community that I am privileged to serve has also been changed at depth.

This evening 101 people are sleeping on the floor in Fellowship Hall as our honored guests. Each one has a history and hopes and dreams.

William is a clean cut, young man of 20 whose parents are deceased. William is not without permanent housing becase he drinks or uses drugs. he simply does not have enough money to live on. He is a landscaper but didn't work enough weeks during last season to qualify for unemployment and he has not found winter work so he has been part of the shelter. I have watched all week as he and a few others, look out for Roy who has started to exhibit symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. William makes sure Roy get's through the food line and helps carry Roy's tray. In the morning, I watch him help Roy locate his belongings and jacket. Love expressed and God made visible.

I am also rethinking the whole idea of homeless. Is a person who is sleeping in a shelter in our church, homeless? I think not.

The journey continues ...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Can You Help Me? - Shelter Week - Day 4

Can you help me?

I was trying to pull a trash bag up and out of a tall, thin garbage bag and it was stuck. One of our guests, George,  who was passing by , stepped forward to help by holding the canister while I pulled out the stuck bag. An easy job now with all four of our hands.

George then said,  "We would be happy to help if you would just ask." In one holy instant, my mind was blown and my B.S. - (belief system) was shredded again.

I like to think that I am a fairly awake, open minded to life in all of its diversity, loving guy. And yet, I had not considered asking for help from this kind, homeless, guest. Why, I wondered? The question was screaming in my mind. The thoughts came flooding bearing all of the reasons I had not asked him for a hand. I am here to serve him, he is a guest -- blah, blah, blah.

I am here to serve him? The implied belief of he/they need me. Suddenly, The Work was in my mind. He needs me? Is that true? Can I really know it is true? How do I feel, what happens when I believe that he needs me. What if I dropped the belief? The turn around: I need him. Yes! I need him. To hold the can so I can remove the stuck bag.. I need him to reflect Christ in a way I can get it. To reveal in me a stuck place in my belief system and expose Reality in all of its radiance.

Thanks, George, for helping me wake-up a little more. I see now, my question to George and the other 97 people in the shelter tonight is, "Can you help me become more awake? Will you help me become more human?  More aware of  Christ within us all and the Truth of  the One Life I so easily teach, preach and think about. Now, beyond thought, a brief experience of reality.

Thank You God for piercing my heart with a single, simple statement from a very kind man.

Someone Like You!

Bethany was all smiles, when I asked if she had gotten to the doctor the prior day. She told me she had and then asked if she could share a song she recorded. I said sure, so she handed me her cell phone and there was a woman with a pretty voice singing Adele's song ":Someone Like You" a cappella. After a few seconds, I realized that the Bethany was the woman singing. I told her she had a very good voice and asked if she would like to see the music video of the song?

"Yes", she said. She had a question about a line of the lyrics and had not been able to catch the words. So I opened up YouTube on my phone and streamed the video for her. It is a powerful song that about a broken heart and love that didn't work out  Together, we figured out the lyrics for the line she had missed.

"I had never seen the video, she told me. "I just heard the song a couple of times and liked it."

I asked Bethany if she had ever had her heart broken.

"Yes," she said. More than once.

"Me too," I thought. Right now.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Getting To Know You - Shelter Week - Day 3

New Page 1
I just got home from the the start of the third day in our week as Shelter hosts. My orientation has shifted slightly,  to place the beginning of the activities for a "day" to be the preparations that begin at 5:30 pm in order to open the shelter doors by 8 pm. Then it is intake, dinner, a smoke break for our guests that smoke, sleep, awake at 6 am,  breakfast and then the shelter empties out at 7 am. 

Tonight felt somehow like an "all about getting to know you" day. Our population tonight is 90 and many have been our guests all week so we are now becoming aware of each other. I have watched and felt our volunteers open their hearts and smiles and allow Love to flow through them in a great, powerful yet peaceful rush. The idea of "guest" as the proper form of address in an intellectual way has shattered and in its place, honored guest has become real and experienced and felt.

I have noticed that as I get to know "you", in this case one of our guests, I get to know me; to know what I think and feel and to know that we are both expressions of the One life--for real. The artificial line we/I draw between you and me grows less pronounced, less and visible, replaced with the gentle connection that comes from knowing we are in this experience called life together.

Tonight I had the great honor of being pastor as I listened to our guests at the dinner tables. I am reminded Friendship has an easy beginning. I say, "Hello, I'm Ric. May I join you?" From some, no response and that is okay. "I hope you enjoy your meal," I share and honor the unspoken request for privacy. From most though, "Sure, please do..."

Adam was able to get his warrant dealt with so he is not always wondering if/when will he get arrested when he sees a police officer. He seems more relaxed and at ease today.

This is the last night in the shelter for Donna and Regan; a sweet couple who have been together for 6 years,  Donna says that Regan saved her life by giving her CPR after she had a heart attack a few years ago. We shared heart attack stories and talked about how energy is underlying everything that is and is yet to be. Regan has gotten a job, house sitting for a investor who is buying foreclosures and flipping them back for resale. The couple get a place to stay and some work to do, painting and repairing the house while keeping the plumbing & wiring intact from vandals.  The love that flows between them is palpable and refreshing.
Brian is a quiet, serious young man, who reads what ever news paper or magazine is near him. He reminds me a little of myself, inquisitive hungry to learn.

I wonder if Sue is in the hospital tonight. She was nursing a wound on her leg yesterday and mentioned that she thought she would go the the ER to have it looked at and dressed.

David tells me about a man who really cares called Pastor Bob and who runs a ministry working with folks on the streets. 

Miss Alice is in a quiet mood tonight. She is feeling good and loved the potato with ham soup. She is looking forward to getting some sleep.

Kevin brought me a beautiful prayer of blessing from a pamphlet and thanks us for being here. When I thanked him for being with us, he asked what did I mean by saying thank you. I explained that I was grateful that he and our other guests were here, with us because it was allowing the beautiful heart of our congregation to open wide.

No, I am not overly romanticizing this experience. I am aware of the several who are drunk or very buzzed and nod politely as I pass by and who just want to to enjoy their current state and get to bed and pass out.

I am smiling inside as all around the room I I watch as members of our church and 90 people who call the streets home, share a meal, friendship and a space for a few days. Through it all, Love grows larger and larger making Itself felt and known.

In the New Testament, Jesus calls us to, "Love one another as I have loved you." We are learning how and it is awesome beyond my wildest imagination.

The journey continues ...

Copyright (c) 2012 by Richard L. Beattie, all rights are reserved.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sleep Well - Shelter Week - Day 2

Tonight, 83 people are sleeping in Fellowship Hall, which was our original sanctuary at this campus, and is the sleeping area for our guests during our hosting week for the rotating shelter.

While we were setting up Sunday afternoon, one of our members asked, "When do they bring the cots?" There are no cots and not all  the churches provide the foam pads.

Imagine sleeping on a 8'x2'x1/2" piece of foam insulation board centered within a 4'x8' space. There is clingy plastic covering the carpet under your pad and another person within an arms reach. The  You receive two blankets and a pillow (which is inside a plastic bag and covered with a pillow case) on your first night at this location for your use all week. The bedding is washed every Sunday morning and delivered to the next church.

There is a row of sleeping spaces that are filled by people who get up from the floor and head out, many at 4 am in order to catch a bus and go to work.

This second evening was much more relaxed, or perhaps I was more relaxed. We had a sense of what to expect and what our duties were. I was able to turn my attention from seemingly endless check lists and double checking the status of many things and just be present with our guests. I was reminded first hand of how really listening to another person is a great gift to them and to me.

Marvin asked for prayer and when he found me asked if I would pray that he find a good roommate and a place to live. As I listened, he explained that he injured his back he receive's Social Security Disability but cannot afford a place by himself. He had been living with his daughter and son-in-law in a house they were paying the rent to the owner of the home however the owner had stopped paying the mortgage and the mortgage holder had foreclosed. Marvin's daughter and her husband went to stay with his parents and Marvin found his way to our church, It was his first night in a shelter. He told me that the Lord had led him and he was trusting God to help him get back on his feet. He said he wanted to find a roommate who was a christian and not a drinker. He also said he's like to meet a good woman and get married again. Marvin is probably in his mid 40's.

David came to Detroit last summer because job prospects are better here than in Milwaukee. David had lost his job after a long illness which depleted his savings because he had no insurance. David is trying to get some traction to get back into the workforce and pull his life together at 61.

John has been out of work for two years. After exhausting his unemployment benefits and what he had saved he was not able to pay the rent on his apartment so his landlord left home a voice message that he had to move and then the deputy sheriff came and told he he had 5 days to vacate the premises

I am going to bed in a few minutes on a mattress with sheets and a blanket, in another room of my home in total privacy. A mattress I had complained was lumpy, old and uncomfortable last week. It doesn't seem nearly so uncomfortable to me now.

Sleep Well!

PS - I got up early to go back to serve breakfast at the end of this "shelter day"  and the count had increased by 6 new guests brought in by various police departments in the course of the night for a total of 89.

Back home again for a nap before we gt ready for our guests again this evening. It occurs to me that I have many choices about where I might nap. In my bed, recliner, the upstairs or downstairs sofa. With a grateful heart, I am heading for the upstairs sofa with my pillow and a humbled heart.

On the Way ...

Copyright (c) 2012 by Richard L. Beattie, all rights reserved.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Trailer Arrives - Shelter Week - Day 1

Macomb County Warming Center/Ray of Hope Day Center trailer arrives with clean bedding for our hosting Week
My heart is so full it feels like it will break open.

I had planned to spend the night at the church. it being the first night of our shelter hosting week. However, my guidance was strong to come home for the night. Now I understand that I came home to blog about this experience and to cry. 

Images from the evening roll though my mind and bring tears:
    • of Gratitude - at the closeness of God as our teams came together in final preparation for hosting the rotating shelter.
    • of Wonder - our first guests arrive, carrying backpacks, suitcases, bags and some using walkers.
    • at Realizing that some are using walkers or wheel chairs or just were releases from a hospital...
    • of Seeing myself reflected in each one
    • from Love piercing my heart and shattering my view of reality (God), once again.
    • at Sensing how wide the heart of Renaissance Unity is open
    • of Love for my friend Cindy, whom I really annoy at times ( I don’t mean too) and who always goes above, beyond and over the top!
    • for Witnessing our church take on this project at so many levels!
    • of Hope, shared with Rev. Jim,  at how this project is opening us to Spirit in a whole new way.
    • of Joy for many miracles along this journey
    • of Happiness at watching friends Mitzi & Linda work together.
    • of Amazement at the harmony demonstrated and the ease our teams worked together and our dining hosts/hostesses 
    • of Humility as two men played a serious game of chess after their meal.
    • of Joy at when one of our guests asked if we had a Charles Fillmore book he could have.
    • of Gratitude at the opportunity to lead this project.
    • of Pride at watching this wonderful interaction between beloved members of our church and the beloved of God who were our honored guests
    • of Wonder at how everything comes together perfectly in the most unexpected ways.
Our intention was to really, really live from knowing that Christ is in each one of us: hosts and guests. To open ourselves.

What a transformation of both the physical space and the inner space.
As Mark Henderson, from MCWC, arrived for his walk through, I could feel the butterflies in my stomach. Wondering if the ways we had setup the sleeping area and the dining room were good. Wondering how our volunteers would react when we started to receive our guests. Wondering about all of it.

When Mark saw the sleeping area, he said it looked good. When he swept his eyes around the dining room and noticed table coverings, and flowers on the tables and our "menu board" with its message of  "welcome, tonight we are serving...". He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, "Our guests will think they are in the wrong place." I told him that we wanted to treat our guests with the same honor we would a guest in our home and he said that intention was obvious.

Mark accompanied our guests who went out to have their smoke break in order to gauge the reaction of the guests to this host church. When he came back in he said that there was quite a buzz about the fact that our volunteers actually smiled like they mean it at our guests. I told hem it was because we do mean it.

Do you ever Imagine Oneness? I do, often. Tonight I caught a glimpse of what it might look like as a heart of our church was cracked wide open.

Thanks Love!
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Matthew 25:35-36

Copyright (c) 2012 by Richard L. Beattie, all rights are reserved.