There is a time for every season…

7-1266881542-07-pure-seattle-space-needle-and-rainI am weary.

As the grey of a Seattle winter approaches the winter solstice, I find myself feeling the weight of this time a little more keenly. Between fatherhood, work, graduate school, Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter and post-election ministering, I haven’t had much of a chance to take a break. And the work is only getting harder.

My training teaches me that this is the time for self-care. Actually, the time for self-care should have been after going to Standing Rock. And then after the election. And then after the BLM march. Or after that presentation. Or after that mid-quarter paper. Really, after anything that required a lot of psycho-spiritual collateral. And I don’t have a good excuse for the not taking the time; I’m just horrible at saying “no” and there just never really seems to be enough time to do “everything.”

I’ve found myself responding to the election by not being able to look away from my news feed. I’ve been consuming every story that catches my eyes; about the escalation of hate crimes across the United States, the escalation of violence against DAPL protestors, more black men being killed by police and more police being acquitted, and Trump’s appointees and their slippery-slope repercussions. Every time I told myself to take a break, I would get sucked back in. Just one more story; one more article.

I realize that what I’ve been doing is arming myself. I’ve been taking an accounting of this early Trump era. I’ve been ticking off one offence after another and hoarding them. Because when my basket of brokenness is full, I’ll be laying it at the feet of every Trump supporter I come across. I so very much want to blame and shame them into submission; I want to beat them with the lash. I want them to pay in pain.

blm_black_friday_seattleAnd this is why I need to do some deep care. Because my psycho-spiritual reserves are depleted and I am tired, angry and weary. In this state, I am dangerous to myself and others. I cannot do the work I am called to do; to be a peace maker. I believe my call to ministry is to heal; through solidarity, listening, and forgiving. At my best I am available to people in vulnerability and love. I keenly see my shadow self right now, and as much as I want to embrace him, he is ultimately self-destructive.

And this era of Trump doesn’t need more self-destructive people. So I’m going to be taking some breaks leading up to the new year. I’ll be taking more walks through nature. I’ll re-discover non-digital reading. I’ll take advantage of more simple moments; good coffee and tea, fresh baked goods, and music that speaks to my soul.

So please check in with me. Ask me how I’m doing and really mean it. Make sure I’m doing my internal work so that my external work can flourish. Ask me to coffee. Come over for drinks. Take a silent walk with me. Let’s make sure we stay strong, because now is when we’re most needed.

Walking in their Footsteps: A Call to Solidarity

(This post was originally written for the Faith & Family Homelessness Project. I highly recommend checking out their resources and learning more about how to experience and volunteer with their Poverty Immersion program.)

I’ve never personally experienced poverty. It’s an obstacle that inherently separates me from people living on the margins. I’d like to think I’m in solidarity with the poor because of the way I vote, the money I donate and the time I volunteer. I’ve built houses in Mexico, volunteered at food banks, and even served two and a half years in the Peace Corps in Romania. I’ve spoken with people living with dirt floors and tin roofs and have shared meals with families with no running water or electricity. I even work at a peace and justice non-profit organization. But I’ve never lived on the margins.

poverty-mandela

Which is why participation in the poverty simulation offered by Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry made a difference. It brought me one step closer to personally understanding the stigma, barriers, and hurdles people on the margins face on a daily basis just to have access to food, shelter and healthcare. I was reminded that our “welfare” system is a punitive one, punishing people for needing help.

I played a small part; a day care provider. However, I was forced to turn people away because of overcrowding, funding, and health issues. Participants needed a safe place for their children in order to go to work and pay their bills. I wasn’t able to help everybody, even though I wanted to. I watched as participants became increasingly frustrated with their experience. In the end, everyone had a small glimpse into what daily life is like for our brothers and sisters without food, shelter or resources.

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Afterwards, we unpacked the experience. There were plenty of opinions on how to “fix” the welfare system. Two comments stood out. One participant mentioned that when we give to the poor, we should ask their forgiveness. It is the poor and marginalized who have been failed by our society and system and we’re all part of the problem. Another person said we need to stop judging people for being poor; we need to change our system to make it easier for people to get the help they need. As much as possible, we should eliminate the piles of paperwork, agency signatures, hoops and rules we make people go through. Sure, some people might take advantage of the system, but how many more people would be helped and brought back into self-sufficiency.

These opinions made me rethink my behavior. I’ve never thought of asking a person for forgiveness when I hand them a dollar outside a supermarket. But it makes sense. By asking for their forgiveness and blessing, I’m reaffirming their inherent worth and dignity by treating them with respect; I’m asking them for something only they can give. And I need to stop caring how they ended up being homeless. It’s not my place to judge and I’m not qualified to ask.

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All I know is that as a man of faith, it’s my responsibility to respond with compassion. This is the hard truth of faith; this is where conversion of the heart takes place. When we stop punishing and start forgiving. When we stop blaming and start helping. When we treat our neighbor as ourselves. This is why I’m grateful for having been able to participate in the poverty simulation. It reminded me yet again of the humanity of the poor, allowing me, if only for a brief moment, to walk in their footsteps. That is where solidarity begins.

The Grass is (Not) Always Greener…

It's really not THIS bad...
It’s really not THIS bad…

The rain came back today. Not surprising since I live in Seattle. However, according to the locals summer came a whole month early this year. June gloom is the way of the Pacific Northwest, but not this year. June was gorgeous, and July was downright toasty (by Seattle standard). In fact, no rain fell at all. For the whole month.

This shouldn’t phase me in the slightest. I’m from Las Vegas, where (as a friend pointed out earlier) a drop of rain causes all TV news crews to declare an extreme weather emergency. This isn’t as far fetched as it sounds. Vegas soil is not very absorbent so a tiny bit of rain is usually enough to cause a flash flood, with cars floating their way down to the Las Vegas Wash.

Ahh... a nice clear Seattle day.
Ahh… a nice clear Seattle day.

In Seattle, prolonged lack of rain makes people uneasy. As if mother nature is getting ready to pull something crazy. The reason this place is called the Emerald City is because the rain keeps everything green. It drizzles for 10 months out of the year. It’s peaceful and relaxing and helps us sustain our coffee consumption.

Not that the sunny skies have been unwelcome. We usually treat warm sunny weather like a unicorn. A rare mythical beast that must be worshipped and adored. Schools will have “sun days” instead of snow days, and it is not uncommon for people to call out from work to enjoy solar activity. But a whole month… nobody wants a unicorn to hang out that long. Rainbow crap piles everything, not to mention the horn just knocking stuff over.

Poop happens.
Poop happens.

Then there’s my garden. In Spring, it was awesome. We planted things, they grew. We thought we had magic seeds the way they took off. Some good soil, a raised bed, a little NW rain… instant garden veggies! And we never had to water. Mother nature took care of it all. I’ll  be honest, it made us lazy.

Then July came and mother nature said “Enough of this, I’m going on vacation. Water your own garden.” Heather and I used our rain barrels until they ran dry. Then we started watering from the hose. Everything just keeps on drinking! They are like water zombies; their ravenous thirst will never be sated!

Public water?!?! Socialism!!!!
Public water?!?! Socialism!!!!

We weren’t prepared for this. We hadn’t set up any drip irrigation or water lines. Our rain barrels were horribly inadequate. We believed wholeheartedly in nature providing for us. It’s a good thing we live in a city; if we were subsistence farmers we would have starved to death. Well played nature… well played.

This brings up the issues of water as a human right. Access to water is a worldwide concern. Communities in the desert southwest fight over water. Global climate change causes horrible drought conditions in which affects food supplies that impact the poor the most. Water is by far the most precious commodity the earth has (along with clean air) and I take it for granted.

Mr. Water says "Do it!"
Mr. Water says “Do it!”

Heather and I have been trying to steward our water more efficiently. She’s much better at it than I am. She captures gray water, only takes a shower every other day, and set up our rain barrel system. We made the decision to take out all of our grass and replace it with garden beds and native plant life. I just try to run the faucet less. But I’m learning.

Since moving to Seattle, I’ve experienced more rain than I’ve ever had before. As a result I respect it now more than I ever have. I suppose the grass is always greener, especially when you have enough water to keep it that way.

My (ab)use of technology…

One of the first tablets... it looks so old!
One of the first tablets… it looks so old!

I had a come to jeebus moment yesterday. My coworker asked me “When did the first tablet come out?” I was sure that tablets have been available since the mid 90s. What she was really looking for was the first mass produced consumer tablet: a la iPad. Off the top of my head I answered “Probably 2005 or 2006.” A quick jaunt over to Wikipedia proved how wrong I was.

The first iPad came out in 2010. Three years ago. It feels like tablets have been around forever but in just three years they have dominated the computer market. Now people are predicting the death of the traditional personal computer. They may be right.

I'll admit it...
I’ll admit it…

I took my first computer apart in the mid 80s. I built my first box in the early 90s. Since then I’ve joined the competition over storage, processor power, RAM, and graphics. The dust has settled; power, speed and space is now battling over portability.

Speaking of which, I recently signed up for a Netflix account on my smartphone. I’ve been using it to watch reruns of Star Trek TNG. I noticed that the tech in the show now looks modern (maybe a little dated) instead of futuristic. As a teen in the 90s I dreamed of a wondrous future with portable and powerful computers. Who knew I only had to wait about 15 years?

I KNOW!!!
I KNOW!!!

In this regard, I am the 1%. Most of the minerals and materials used in the manufacture of my smartphone were harvested by people in the third world with little access to electricity and sanitation. Developing countries would rather spend money on cell towers than roads or sewer systems. Why? Wireless tech is easier, cheaper, and is attached to multinational corporate dollars. Who cares if a child slave helped build my smartphone.

It’s easy to get lost in the latest and greatest gadgets. I geek out about the speed and power of a new consumer electronic, but I constantly need to remind myself to take a step back and look at the realities of my technology. Only 1/5 of the world has access to email. Less than that actually owns a computer. Even less have reliable internet. I am forced to admit I’m extremely privileged to own and be educated in the use of modern technology.

Come on kids! Work harder... daddy needs a new TV!
Come on kids! Work harder. I need a new TV!

Technology is another item that is increasing the divide between rich and poor. Wealthy schools can afford iPads and programming courses, while low-income schools barely have machines running Windows XP in a 10 station computer lab. The digital divide is one more way my privilege separates me from the margins of society (those who are poor and less educated).

Demand it!
Demand it!

Because of this I feel motivated to use my technology not just for enjoyment, but to help make the world a better place. Demanding my electronics be made Fair Trade; supporting legislation that protects free speech; donating to organizations that use and distribute tech to communities that need it most.

The challenge is to not let myself get sucked into the time sink that gadgets can become. Instead of creating and advocating, I browse Facebook for three hours. Or I spend 10 hours playing Civilization instead of going outside and working in the garden. Or I watch 5 episodes of Star Trek TNG on Netflix instead of taking the dog to the dog park. I am horribly guilty of letting technology take over my life.

The first one is always free...
The first one is always free…

As much as I love the internet and consumer electronics, I recognize their potential for evil (i.e. disconnect from RL relationships, ignoring of family/social responsibilities, etc). I look back and see how much time I’ve wasted playing when I should have been learning/working. I struggle between laziness and motivation with my fingers paralyzed on the keyboard. I want to be more of a user, rather than an abuser, of my privilege and not slip back into the blissful soma of technology.

Some days are better than others…