In one of The Mountain Goats classic songs, ‘The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton‘, John Darnielle sings about two teenagers, Jeff and Cyrus, who form a death metal band and dream of fame and riches. Unfortunately, due to their obsession with pentagrams, and the various names they stenciled onto their instruments — Satan’s Fingers, The Killers, and The Hospital Bombers — the lads draw some negative attention, and they are split up and sent to different schools.
When asked, in a later interview, if he had based this song on any person in particular (Darnielle spent some time working in a Psych Hospital and Residential Treatment Homes), Darnielle responded by saying that it represented dozens of people he had met (hence his introdutory comments in the clip to which I have linked).
The poignant conclusion of the song runs as follows:

When you punish a person for dreaming his dream, don’t expect him to thank or forgive you. The best ever death metal band out of Denton will in time both outpace and outlive you. Hail Satan! Hail Satan, tonight! Hail, Hail!

This song reminds me of a lot of friends I have had, and kids I have known. Kids who, for the most insignificant reasons (or for no reason at all) have been abandoned by their families. A fellow kicked out because he was awkward with his mom’s live in boyfriend. Another fellow kicked out because his Christian parents wouldn’t accept his homosexuality (by the way, kids like this are a dime a dozen). A girl kicked out because of her interest in the occult. Hell, I myself was kicked out because I was forging my parents’ signatures on notes in order to skip school. All of these things — awkwardness, sexual orientation, provocative interests, forging notes — are tiny things. Tiny things that are then given devastating consequences. Consequences from which many people never recover. I mean, but for the grace of God, my life would have been destroyed simply because I forged notes in high school (even while maintaining an A average!).
It’s nuts. Why are people so hasty to fear or despise their kids, or the kids of others? I mean, these people are little more children. Children. How in the world have so many people completely lost any sort of perspective on these things?
John Darnielle sums it up well. in further reflections on the ‘Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton’, he states:

To take somebody’s adolescence away is to deny that person some of the closest looks at God’s face that we ever get on this planet; I try not to hate the parents who, as misguided [and] confused, take young men and women away from their friends and their lives and send them away. But it’s hard. I try not to excuse the destructive things adolescents sometimes do to express their pain, but in my gut, when I write a song in which a couple teenagers vow to take revenge on the grown-ups who are fucking up their lives, well, I cast my lot with the teenagers.

In the work I do with street-involved youth, I am responsible for overseeing the ‘Case Plans’ (gag) of about half a dozen young adults, at any given time. In my conversations with these young people I always try to remember to let them know how grateful I am that they let me into their lives. I mean, my God, these people are lovely, and I’m a lucky son of a bitch to be blessed by their company. So I tell them that.
Then, when The Mountain Goats come to town, I’ll go get drunk with a bunch of fucked up kids, throw my arm over the person next to me, raise my fist in the air, and sing: “Hail Satan! Tonight! Hail, Hail!”
Because, by singing along, nobody is actually worshipping Satan. Rather, we are rejecting the judgments of those who tell us we are damned. We are rejecting the judgments that we are immoral and unclean. We are rejecting the social and religious boundaries that exclude us. And we are rejecting the god who blesses those who would do such things to their children.

Without Excuse

One more than one occasion on this blog, I’ve expressed some of the dis-ease I feel about sharing stories from my encounters with those who are marginalized and exploited (most recently here: http://poserorprophet.livejournal.com/137015.html). Given the way in which we have learned to be entertained, rather than transformed, by stories of disaster, I have often wondered if I am simply further exploiting those who are vulnerable.
Still, I continue to tell many of their stories. Even though transformation seems rare, I have clung to the hope that it still comes for some. Mostly this is the sentiment that I have expressed when writing about these things on my blog.
However, there is another side to this. For those who learn these things — those who discover the evils that are performed in their own backyards, and perpetuated by the structures in which they participate — even for those people I continue to tell my stories. At least, I think, now they are without excuse. Now they cannot claim ignorance. Now, when Jesus says to them, “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me”, they will not be able to say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” (cf. Mt 25). Because now, at least, they know that their Lord is hungry, naked, sick, and oppressed here in their own cities, here where they live work and breath, here where it is not so hard to do something about these things.
Because of this, the enigmatic commission that Isaiah receives (cf. Is 6) seems less troubling to me. Behold: an “ever hearing, but never understanding” people! An “ever seeing, but never perceiving” people! So be it. Now, at least, they are without excuse.


Yesterday evening I spent about half an hour watching a woman struggling with life and death.
I was working an evening shift, and was summoned to the rooftop patio of our (residential) building. From there, one of my co-workers said, “Jumper,” and pointed up to the Vancouver Harbour Centre (pictured here: http://www.vancouverlookout.com/lookout-photos/tower/11_hi.jpg). Looking up, I saw a woman standing on a ledge on the outside of the building, about 43 floors from the ground (130 metres/430 feet). Apparently she had broken one of the windows on the viewing floor and climbed outside before anybody had time to react (here is a picture of the viewing floor: http://www.vancouverlookout.com/lookout-photos/high/272.JPG; and here is the view facing towards my work — the view that the woman would have had: http://www.vancouverlookout.com/lookout-photos/high/269.JPG).
It was an extremely odd experience to just stand there and watch this woman in the sky. Part way through, one of the residents in the building showed up with a camera with a telephoto lens, and we watched the woman’s movement in detail. She would sit on the broken window sill, then she would stand for long periods of time, facing out, with her arms outstretched as if she were preparing to fly… or being nailed to a cross. At other times, she would grab onto the edge with one hand and lean out looking down towards the ground.
It’s strange what goes through your mind when you witness this sort of thing. How can I think, “Lord, have mercy, save that woman’s life!” at the same time as “Wow, I’m going to be able to say I was there when that woman jumps!”? Shame on me.
The funny thing was, I think that everybody watching from my work was feeling the same thing — everyone was expressing dismay or horror, but it felt as though everybody was secretly hoping that the woman would jump. This, I think, is the voyeurism I referred to in my last post. It’s the sort of thing we end up feeling when things like the nightly news are presented as a tantalizing form of entertainment (“Ooooo! Did you see those pictures from Myanmar?” “Aaaaah! Did you see that video from China’s earthquake zone?”).
I think that these (voyeuristic) feelings are also an expression of the emptiness, or meaninglessness, we feel when we think about our own lives. We want to be part of something bigger, we want to be part of some event, that will take us beyond the confines of our day-to-day living. That’s why we ask each other: “Where were you when you first heard about 9/11?” and are able to provide answers to that question. Our answers affirms that we, in our own ways, were a part of that event. I think we find some sort of meaning or significance in that. Consequently, it’s almost as if we thrive on disaster. We claim to be horrified when we hear of things like cyclones, earthquakes, jumpers, school shootings, but I can’t help but wonder if we’re really thinking, “Ooooo! Let me see that!” or “Aaaah! I wish I was there to see that!”
That’s why we find disasters that aren’t caught on camera to be so much more boring. And that’s why we want to see the footage of kids jumping from school windows, of towers falling to the ground, of dead bodies littering beaches, and of towns reduced to rubble. Such footage provides us both with entertainment and with a sense of significance, a sense of being a part of something larger-than-life. Welcome to the Society of the Spectacle!
I was thinking all these things last night, as I watched that woman stand on the ledge. She stood there for a long time. The sky got dark. It got cold. It was raining intermittently. And still she stood there.
I spent a lot of that time praying for her (perhaps in an effort to do penance for the part of me that actually wanted to see her jump?). But the longer she stood there, and the longer I prayed, the more other questions began to run through my mind. I wondered: what is the point of praying these prayers? After all, aren’t there thousands of people around the world raising equally desparate prayers on a daily basis, and finding that those prayers go unanswered? Why would God intervene to save this woman, when God regularly chooses not to intervene in so many other equally horrible, or even more horrible, situations? Furthermore, people everywhere are suffering and dying and that never seems to bother any of us too much. Why were we suddenly so keen to see this woman live? How can we suddenly claim to care for the fate of this stranger, when mostly we live our lives with total disregard of the death and suffering that is all around us? Isn’t that a bit hypocritical? Isn’t it a bit theatrical? Are we just playing the part that we think we are required to play in this event?
No, I replied to myself, I don’t think that it is quite as bad as all that. Rather than being a sign of hypocrisy, it is possible that nearness to death (briefly?) awakens us to the significance of life, and of every life. So we pray our prayers, even in light of God’s silence and absence, because we are committed to life, and because we have seen those rare and wondrous moments when new life has overcome death. Then, hopefully, we walk away from such nearness to death with a renewed commitment to life, and to sharing life with others. This, I think, is the true litmus test as to whether or not such an event is genuinely encountered or if it simply experienced as a form of entertainment, and an exciting story to tell at parties (or on blogs!).
The woman stood on that ledge for about an hour and a half. I only watched for about half an hour. At one point it looked as though she was jumping, and I thought I was going to throw up. Instead, I went back down to my office to do some work. Later on, a co-worker radioed me to let me know that the woman was safe. She had changed her mind and climbed back inside the broken window.

Why I am Drawn to the Places and People with Whom I Journey

Recently, I was speaking with a computer programmer who works for a large multinational marketing firm. We both got talking about our respective jobs, and I spoke a little about working with street-involved youth and survival sex workers. In response, this fellow expressed puzzlement as to what leads people like me to do what we do. Granted, he respects the work, but he couldn’t help wondering what in the world is it that makes a person think, “Hey, I’d really like to work with survival sex workers! That would be… fun!”
In my own way, I’ve been thinking that question over for a long time. What is it, I’ve wondered, that continually draws me to the places and people that most others would rather avoid at all costs? There are a few options that anybody in my position must consider.
(1) Perhaps there is an element of voyeurism at work here. Am I simply searching for an adventure (I did read a lot of adventure stories as a kid), and seeking out these places and people because of the adrenaline rush I can get, or because of the larger than life stories I can gather? Am I some sort of leech that feeds off of the sufferings of others? After all, don’t our entertainment and news media (and there’s thin line between the two!) train us to be voyeurs in this way? Have I simply been less satisfied than others with the high that the evening news offers? You see, after awhile, even watching live broadcasts of school shootings can get boring… maybe I’ve had to go and seek out greater voyeuristic highs elsewhere. Maybe I’m just ‘chasing the dragon’ but the dragon isn’t heroin, it’s the trauma of others.
(2) Perhaps there is an element of machismo at work here. I was always an extremely quiet and frightened child — I was terrified of going to Sunday School classes, never mind hanging out with misfits in alleyways and rundown bars! Granted, I started confronting those fears in my second year of highschool, but how much of what I am doing is motivated by the desire to prove that I am not afraid? Further, it isn’t enough to just prove this to myself, so maybe I need to prove this to others — hence I share stories of encounters I have had with violence, if walking alleyways at night, of bringing fugitives into my home — but there’s always a wonderful pastoral, ethical, or theological twist I can put on these stories; I can hide my own insecurities, and my own image-building (i.e. self-branding) behind a wonderful screen of ‘radical piety’ or whatever else you want to call it.
As I am trying to be honest, I must confess that I expect that there are elements of both of these things within me. I hate to admit it, but the fact that I despise these things so much when I see them in others, is a sure sign that they likely exist within myself (i.e. I often find that I most despise those who manifest things I try to hide about myself, and I suspect that many of us are this way). Indeed, when I recognise these things within myself, I sometimes think about leaving the work, the places, and the people, and fleeing to some anonymous locale.
But I don’t.
And this is why: by far, the single greatest thing that draws me to these places and people, the thing that draws me inexorably, is the presence of our crucified Lord, who resides therein. To my own amazement I have discovered that such places, and such people, are often overflowing with the presence of God. What else can explain the existence of vibrant communities within neighbourhoods that stand condemned? What else can explain the existence of radical acts of sacrifice, sharing, love, and solidarity, amongst those who are used, despised, and forsaken by the vast majority of us? What else can explain the joy that bursts forth with such freedom from those who, by all of our standards, should be completely miserable? It is all of these things, all of these sacraments of God’s presence with, and within, ‘the least of these’ that draws me most forcefully to places and people of exile.
And so, with fear and trembling, I walk amongst these places and people — afraid that I, too, will use them in some sick voyeuristic or self-affirming manner, and yet unable to turn back because my salvation is only to be found here. It is not flight, but immersion, that will reshape my desires, and my identity.
Indeed, the places and people of exile grant me a full immersion into the wounded side of Christ — Thomas was told to thrust his hand into Christ’s side, and he discovered his salvation in that invitation; I have jumped over my head into Christ’s torn and bloodied side, and walk within it, eat and sleep it, and huddle close to the others who reside therein; and together we await the day when all wounds — even the wounds of Christ that still throb and bleed — are healed.
I invite any and all to join us, for I believe that the salvation of all of us is caught up in that invitation.
For its part, theology also asked in radical fashion about the locus for finding God. Porfirio Miranda responded, “The question is not whether or not someone looks for God, but whether he looks for God where God himself said he was.”
~ Jon Sobrino, quoting Miranda’s Marx and the Bible, in No Salvation Outside the Poor.

Death and Story-telling from the Margins

Remember: in one’s own death one only dies, but with the death of others one has to live.
~ Mascha Kalécko
Yesterday a fifteen year old girl was found dead in one of the Single Room Occupancies in the downtown eastside. The media is reporting that no foul play is suspected, but the word on the street is rather different. Be that as it may, I’ll leave the details aside.

It’s an odd thing to constantly be living one’s life in the presence of death — and not just death that comes to take those who have lived full and privileged lives, but death that comes violently for the young who never had a chance. My wife was hit especially hard this time. She was doing outreach in the alleys yesterday, it was a beautiful sunny day, and she was wondering why hardly any kids were out. It was only after she started hearing the stories circulating about the girl who died that things made sense — the kids were hiding, avoiding risky places, they didn’t know who would get it next.

I’ve always felt conflicted about sharing my experiences with the marginalised, or the experiences of others, on this blog. Some stories seem too intimate, too sacred, to share — especially with strangers who, nine times out of ten, completely miss the point. I worry that I simply end up becoming another form of provocative, but essentially meaningless and inconsequential, entertainment. Readers will be titillated by my stories, and will leave me notes telling me how “hard-core” I am, and thus we arrive at a parasitic relationship where I exploit the vulnerable by sharing their stories with the apathetic in order to boost my ego.
And yet, another side of me feels as though it is burning if I keep these stories in. These stories must be told, they must be presented to the public. This is the suffering that is goin on in our own backyards — these are the kids we ignore on the sidewalk when you step into Starbucks to buy our fucking “fairtrade” coffee. These stories must be told. They must be thrown back into the faces of the public because maybe, just maybe, somebody will be moved to act.
These stories are my act of begging. A begging that, just like the begging of the youth I know, is almost always ignored.

I hope Jesus has finally come to meet this girl. I hope her hard days are over now. I hope she is free. It is we, the living, who must feel her death as a wound. It is we, the living, who are left wondering how people can do the things that they do to other people. Her race is over. It is for us to labour in exile, while she is welcomed home.

If You Want to Journey with Marginalised People, Do the Necessary Prep Work!

Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called child-heirs of God.
~ Mt 5.9
God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.
Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. (One day) the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.
~ Acts 19.11-16
Friday evening I ended up attending a candlelight service at a church that some of my friends attend. This church has a reputation for trying to journey alongside of various marginalised populations, and several of the people who go there also work for a Christian drop-in in the downtown eastside. Not only that, but this church is also one of the churches that participate in the “Out of the Cold” program, and thus it operates as a shelter for homeless people on certain nights of the week during the winter.
Anyway, during the service last night a drunk street-involved man became volatile and became increasingly loud, vulgar, and violent. To my surprise, nobody seemed to know how to deal with the situation, and none of the people in attendence who actually worked in the downtown eastside did anything to de-escalate what was happening. Now I get that this church wants to be a welcoming place for those who are, in general, made to feel unwelcome, but once a fellow starts yelling, “Fuck you, you whore!” and things like that, while simultaneously becoming increasingly threatening and violent in his actions, well, something needs to be done. So, to make a long story short, I ended up having to get up and deal with the fellow. It ended up being fairly exhausting for me, but nobody got clobbered so all’s well that ends well.
However, I felt quite frustrated by how the church handled the situation. Not only was there no structure in place for addressing this sort of situation (and this sort of situation is inevitable if a community chooses to try to journey with street-involved people), but those from the church who did respond to this situation made some real basic mistakes and ended up worsening things. For example, the first young guy who went to talk to the man, approached him from behind, and put his hand on his back. So, here are a few of the basics: when dealing with a volatile situation involving people who are street-involved (1) if at all possible, never come at somebody from behind; and (2) don’t touch somebody unless you (a) absolutely have to, or (b) have a very close relationship with the person you are about to touch (and even then, think twice — when somebody is preparting themselves for a fight, the last thing you want to do is touch them).
So, if this wasn’t bad enough, some little old lady decided she wanted to take the fellow aside (after the service had ended and after we had moved outside) and reprimand him while telling him that Jesus loved him. Once again, I had to intervene to make sure the little old lady didn’t get knocked out. So, here are a few more of the basics: (3) limit the number of people involved in the situation — if somebody who is drunk and has been on the edge of violence wants to shut up and bugger off, let him shut up and bugger off. At that moment, he doesn’t need to hear about how much Jesus loves him — he needs to get some sleep and sober up; (4) The whole “aw shucks, we just want you to know that you are loved, so can you please just be a little more polite, good buddy” thing doesn’t work all the time. Sometimes you need to look like a you’ve been in a fight or two, and you know how to carry yourself in that sort of situation. It’s all about how you position your body, what you do with your hands and eyes, and what you choose to say or not say. This is an art that needs to be learned — you need to be able to show that you are willing to physically commit yourself to the situation, while not actually posing or acting in a way that escalates the situation.
Hence, my quotes at the beginning of the post. Yes, I believe we are called to journey alongside of marginalised people; yes, I believe that we are called to intervene into violent situations (which is why I’ve jumped into so many fights), and, yes, I believe that this is an integral part of our call to be “peacemakers.” However, we need to recognise that being a peacemaker is something of an art that requires us to practice certain disciplines — disciplines that require some training — otherwise we risk following the trajectory of the seven sons of Sceva.
So, let me be clear. If you are a part of a church that wants to try to journey alongside of marginalised people groups I think that that is really, really wonderful. However, as a community you will need to think carefully about how you go about doing this, you will need to develop some structures and people that are capable of responding to crisis situations, and it’s not a bad idea to consult with agencies who have been doing this sort of thing for awhile so that you can learn from what they have done well, and what they have done poorly (also, for those without experience, who don’t have good instincts, something like Non-Violent Crisis Intervention Training would be worthwhile). If you don’t do the necessary prep work, your good intentions will likely create a good many messes that can result in people getting hurt and, even more importantly, can result in you driving away or hurting those marginalised people with whom you are trying to journey.
That said, I’m not altogether shocked that all of this went down at a Good Friday service. Somehow it felt… appropriate.

Stations of the Cross: When Visual Arts replace Cruciform Living

At the beginning of Holy Week, the “artist in residence” at my school, led a number of students and faculty through the Stations of the Cross. I did not attend. However, it did get my wheels turning a bit. You see, a professor had emailed me and invited me to go through the Stations with him, but I was worn down from a rough couple of weeks in the downtown eastside, so I turned him down.
Truth be told, I’ve always been a little suspicious of the ways in which Christians approach the Visual Arts. I’ve often wondered if we simply use the Visual Arts as a means of stirring emotions within us that we do not feel otherwise — and the catch is that we should be feeling these emotions, and we know that we should be feeling these emotions. However, rather than going into the sort of life experiences that would stir these emotions within us, we choose to participate in some sort of Visual Arts experience, which functions as a simulacrum of the real event, and thereby stirs our emotions. We then become satisfied because we think that it is the feeling of these emotions that is important, when in actuality is is the participation in the event that leads to these emotions that is important.
This then leads me back to the way in which we tend to practice the Stations of the Cross during Holy Week. Rather than living lives that continually lead us through these Stations, we prefer to simply participate in some sort of Visual Arts experience, which allows us to stimulate the emotions we associate with the Stations of the Cross. Rather than engaging in cruciformity, we observe the simulacrum of cruciformity, and receive some form of emotional gratification (I don’t think that I would be overstating my case to say that such an experience is to Christian living what pornography is to sex — which is why The Passion of the Christ is the ultimate Christian snuff film).
Of course, this is not to say that we should then abandon this sort of ritual. Rituals, and rituals involving the Visual Arts, can be important. However, I believe that we are engaging in a vile form of hypocrisy if we choose to participate in the Stations of the Cross at Easter while refusing to move on the via crucis during the rest of the year.
These, then, have been some of my Stations of the Cross during the last few weeks:
-Having my wife come home and tell me about a 15 year old girl she had met, who is addicted to crack and working in the sex trade because, ever since she was five, her father used to rape her in front of her brothers in order to teach them “how to be men” (Station One: a death sentence/Station 10: a person stripped/Station 11: a crucifixion).
-Jumping into a knife fight/rumble between two groups of feuding kids, just before things got bad (Station 5: participating in the crosses of others).
-Meeting a woman on the bus at night; she was asking me for money, and I had none. She had no shoes on and sores all over her feet (Station 8: behold the daughters of our city).
-Four dead sex workers (Station 12: death)
I think you get the idea. If you truly want to come to know, and experience, the Stations of the Cross, I know no better way than choosing to journey with those who are in exile.

A Time of Longing: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.

Christmas is a hard time of year for a lot of people, and especially for those who are street-involved. For a lot of people, Christmas is a reminder of the family they don’t have (and maybe never had) a reminder of the ways in which they are unable to provide for children that they hardly (if ever) see, and a reminder that a great deal of peace and joy are absent from their lives. A lot of people relapse during this season. A lot of people commit suicide. A few weeks ago, one of my friends relapsed on crack cocaine. Last week, rumour has it, a young man involved in a program that I participate in, killed himself.
O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

Even for those of us who are not street-involved, Christmas is often marked by a fundamental dissatisfaction. As we put in the mandatory family time, we are reminded of how messed up our own families are, and of how messed up we ourselves are. We are reminded of how incapable we are of giving good gifts to others, and so we drive ourselves deeper and deeper into debt and exchange commodities with one another — commodities that, more often than not, simply function as simulacra of gifts.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

In fact, Christmas has become the biggest structure of debt-perpetuation within the societies of late capitalism. Over forty percent of annual consumption in America occurs in the four weeks between (American) Thanksgiving and Christmas. In this way, Christmas, rather than being a festival of liberation, becomes a festival that ensure that we remain in bondage to the socio-economic Powers of our day.
O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Indeed, as the high-festival of late capitalism, Christmas is intentionally structured to leave us dissatisfied. It is presented in a way that stimulates insatiable desires within us and so, regardless of what we give or receive, our desires are left unsated. After a momentary euphoria, we are left scratching our heads and wondering why we feel so empty.
O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Thus, oddly enough, Christmas, as it is celebrated today, leaves us feeling exactly what we should feel — longing. It leaves us longing for something more, longing for a home, longing for intimacy with others, longing to give, and receive, good gifts. Therefore, rather than trying to satisfy these longings in superficial ways, Christians are called to embrace these longings and refuse to be satisfied with anything less than the coming of Christ. We are, all of us, longing for the coming of the Lord who will heal our wounds, release us from bondage, and forgive us our debts. We are, all of us, in desperate need of the advent of God-with-us.
O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Thus, as we await the coming of our Lord, we must huddle together for warmth, we must learn to create shelters for one another and risk the vulnerability of intimacy. We must learn how to give, and receive, gifts that will sustain us in our exile — gifts of hope, of encouragement, and of solidarity. In this strange land, we must learn to sing the Lord’s Song and, as a community, we will learn to sing these strange, counter-intuitive words:
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel, shall come to thee, O Israel.

Selling my stuff to give the money to the poor is a pain in the ass

Recently, I began a process of giving away a good many of my books because I have been convicted of my participation in the consumption-accumulation of capitalism, and of the way in which accumulating goods is a way of hoarding wealth that is condemned by both Scripture and a good deal of the Christian tradition (cf. http://poserorprophet.livejournal.com/122119.html).
However, as I have engaged in this process, I have realised that how we go about giving is just as important as giving itself. In my last post on this topic, I mentioned that I had given away about 150 books, but those books had all been given to my peers and my family members. So, yes, I was giving, but I had created a distinction in my mind between deserving and undeserving recipients (i.e. I wanted the books to go to people who valued them, and who would read them).
However, the more I read from the Christian tradition on the topic of charity, the more I realised that this form of (exclusive) giving was condemned by many. For example, Cyprian of Carthage, along with the early Franciscans, argued that giving exclusively to friends and family members was sinful and unacceptable. Thus, I realised that I should focus on giving my books to the poor specifically, and get rid of the distinction I had created in my mind between those who were deserving and those who were not.
Therefore, given that things tend to vanish rapidly from the alley behind our house, as the binners and various other people pass through and take anything of value to reuse or resell, I thought I would just leave a box of books in the alley, and whoever passed through could take them and either keep them to read or resell them. So, I put about 25 books in the alley while we were having a nice spell of weather. A few days later I checked and, although about half the books were gone, the other half had been ruined and scattered around the alley (given that these were books by the likes of Wittgenstein and Baudrillard, it was all a little hard for me to take!).
Of course, I then realised that I was simply trying to get the poor to do the dirty work — work that I was too lazy to do (i.e. take the books to used books shops to sell them). I also realised that we aren’t necessarily called to give our possessions to the poor, but are called to sell our possessions and give the money to the poor. So, I packed up the next 30 books and began to hit up the places that sold used books. What a pain in the ass. I had to visit a bunch of bookshops all over the city in order to get rid of those damn books. The ones I couldn’t sell in the bookshops I had to put on craigslist, and then I had to arrange meetings with the people who were going to come and pick up the books, and so on and so forth. Now, I’ve gotten rid of about 210 books, and I feel worn out.
The process of trying to sell what you have and give the money to the poor, is actually annoying as all hell. It’s much better to not accumulate things in the first place.

Christian Community as Sanctuary (On Hosting Runaway Bank Robbers)

So, it turns out that the fellow that we had crashing on our couch several months ago — the fellow that I ran into on the street one night and brought home with me — was actually on the run from the cops at the time. He had just been released from a twenty-five year prison sentence (mostly for robbing banks), had breached his probation, ran, and, voila, ran into me. I only just discovered this information tonight (this explains why he got restless after a couple of days and decided to take off).
Good to know. Although, to be honest, I don’t think I would have done anything differently if I had known at the time.
It is worth recalling that, in the early Church, and the medieval Church, the church (building) was legally considered a place of refuge for criminals, including murderers, thieves, and runaway slaves (hence, the title of “Sanctuary” is given to the interior of the church). Consequently, although no such legal recognition exists today, and although our church sanctuaries tend to be anything but places of refuge for criminals, I think that the principle still holds, and contemporary Christian communities should begin to explore what it means to be a sanctuary today (after all, other religious orders, like the Franciscans, continued to hold to other standards — even when the legal “right of asylum” became increasingly restricted — as the “Earlier Rule” of Saint Francis makes clear: the brothers are to welcome all people into their dwelling places, including robbers and other outlaws).
Indeed, I would like to suggest that intentional Christian communities, rooted in inner-city neighbourhoods, are exactly the sort of places where we should, once again, begin to apply such notions of sanctuary (regardless of whether or not such places of refuge are legally recognised). I would, however, be interested to hear what others think about this.