Writing about the homeless is tricky. For one thing, they are a remarkably internet-savvy group. Every time I write about them, I hear from them. This delights me, and terrifies me all at the same time. It delights me because traditionally homeless have not had a voice for themselves, but in this internet age, they have an electronic presence. This gives them a way to speak. It terrifies me because, well…I’m not homelesss and I really don’t have even a bit of understanding what that would mean. I know I run the risk of sounding exactly like the person I am: a middle-class suburban mom touring the streets of Portland. So to all of you who will read this — the guy who runs that homeless blog, Street Roots, Real Change, anyone else — I’m sorry in advance!
In any case, I was determined to follow through on my promise to find a vendor selling Street Roots in downtown Portland. Street Roots, if you read my original post based on a story in Relevant Magazine, is a paper produced by and for the homeless in Portland, Oregon. Street people can buy copies of the paper for 25 cents and sell it for a dollar, giving them a legal and quick way to make some money. What a difference having a little bit of money can make!
David and I were meeting our family in the Border’s Coffee shop when we stumbled across George. He’s the man in the pictures. “One of two black guys selling Street Roots…find me here or at the courthouse” he says. George has a great personality. Honestly, he’s the guy you want to invite to your awkward dinner party because he can keep the conversation going. George has been on the streets six months, but he’s been hanging around the homeless longer than that. He’s always had a heart to lift these guys up. “Be positive. That’s what I tell them,” he tells us. “You can’t get out of this by having a bad attitude. And with a good one, you can do anything. I’m OK.” George keeps some of his spare clothing in the basement of a young couple who befriended him, and he says he’s managing well. He must be, because he has six siblings, all of whom would take him in. He prefers to stay and work with the people he loves. “I’ve got a job in a couple of weeks. I’m going to be renovating an old building, and I’ll be able to hire fifteen homeless guys to work with me, I think.” George hopes to get some of his own writing into Street Roots, and he also pointed out his buddy, a man whose artwork is published in the paper. I left George and found myself hoping to read his name in a byline soon.
Street Roots itself, by the way, was a hoot. I sat in the Borders cafe and read the paper half way through before realizing it was their April Fools edition! I laughed out loud at their description of the city council of Portland’s acquisition of new chairs, and how this large civic project was accomplished. The April Fools edition poked alarming fun at just how foolish we must appear to people struggling to get by, and I appreciated the skill and wit that went into its production.
Yesterday David and I journeyed to Seattle (yes — the mother ship of Starbucks), where I found a similar homeless paper called Real Change. There we spoke to a man trying simply to raise $99 for a bus ticket to Orlando to get home to family. Real Change offered him a way to do that. I like the concept behind these two papers: give people a way to earn a little money with real dignity.
Two days and several conversations with several Pacific Northwest homeless folk, including one young teenager, certainly don’t make much of a difference. But I feel different. Each story changes me inside just a little bit. I’m hoping it means that I won’t be in such a hurry next time I pass by a guy trying hard to make a little money. I’m hoping I’ll remember stories.
David and I are traveling with family this week, hanging in the Pacific Northwest. I love the city of Portland, and each time I come here I am reminded how much I love my family, being where they are, living their life for a few days. Tomorrow they are taking me on the pilgrimage to Mecca…we are going to Seattle for the day! (Cue the choirs of angelic voices.) I can’t wait to visit the original Starbucks, as well as the new heritage store Starbucks just opened. I’m hoping to find a couple of interesting independent shops, as well. If anyone has any suggestions, please jump in! I am thinking that the Q Cafe is in Seattle, too. Need to look that up.
Last night we worshiped at City Bible Church’s 217 campus with our family. Each church has its own vibe, and I always enjoy dipping into City Bible’s “vibe” when we are here. They have a talented worship staff and tend to sing a lot of in-house music Fun to hear what messages God is dropping into their hearts and lives. I have to say, as well, the drumming was unbelievable (my nephew Colby!!!).
During the offering, Pastor Frank asked an interesting question that has had me pondering today. Remember the story of Blind Bartimaeus? He sat by the road and cried out to Jesus. Jesus heard him, and asked him “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus didn’t have time to give Jesus his whole list: he had time for one thing. Now he was blind. It was a pretty good guess what he’d ask for, and he did. “I want to see.” In that moment, he could.
What would I ask for if Jesus stopped by me on the street and said “What can I do for you?”
My mind immediately gives all the right answers: capture my daughter’s hearts, give us wisdom, help us make a difference. But are those the real answers? I’m captivated by thinking about my true heart’s cry. “I want to see!!” What is it that I want so desperately I’d be willing to sit by the road and cry out to Jesus for?
I don’t honestly know the answer to that. But I’m pondering it.
Now we’re off to downtown Portland. We’re going to ride a tram, and eat something yummy, and I’m hoping to run into someone selling Street Roots so I can keep my promise to buy a copy of the homeless paper. They blogged about me on the Street Roots blog…they are waiting for me. Here I come, boys!
The book “Lord Save Us From Your Followers” by Dan Merchant has made a huge impact on my life in the last few weeks, perhaps more than any other book I’ve read this year. I refused to pick it up in Barnes & Noble for a long time, not wanting to hear whatever message a book with that title might have to offer. But after seeing a video clip of the movie by the same name, I changed my mind and began a journey I wouldn’t trade for anything. After writing about the book, I was contacted by one of the team members who helped with the project and offered a copy of the full DVD for review. Tonight my family and I finished it. Wow. As my husband summed it up, “I think every adult Christian really ought to see this movie.” David doesn’t often engage in dramatic statements, so my ears perked up. I agree with him, too. Here are a few things that tonight’s showing reinforced in my mind.
- Dan Merchant is one brave soul to venture out in his bumper sticker suit and open himself up to the conversations he had. Not only was he brave, but he taught me that the conversations don’t have to be filled with fear and hate. In fact they were congenial and interesting. People are interesting.
- We conservative Christians did not perform so well on a Family Feud-style game show called Culture Wars. What this means is that we know far less about how the rest of the world sees life than they do. In fact, they can quite well predict what we might say, but we haven’t a clue what the rest of the world might say. We need to learn about the life the rest of the world is living.
- The world out there has a skewed view of Christ’s love, and it’s up to us to change that perception. No one else will change their opinion of us.
- Everybody has a story.
This is one more little clip from the movie of “Lord Save Us From Your Followers.” Get your hands on a copy of the movie or go to their website for more information. Also, Jeff Shinabarger blogged an interview with Dan Merchant yesterday that is an interesting read. You can find that here.
Go click over to this Portland, Oregon amateur photographer. I follower her blog/flickr stream religiously. Today I read an entry about meeting a presumably homeless woman — ok, a woman who sings for change on the street — outside of Powell’s books. This is the exact same corner where I did not stop and talk to the teenage boy I mentioned in my last post. Go read Hula Girl’s post, the one I didn’t get to write.
We head back home to South Florida tomorrow, and I am sorry. I have enjoyed the tall trees, the family close-by, the Starbucks in our parking lot, Blue Joe’s, the wedding, and lots of good food. In the end, it was almost like a vaction!
On this blog we have discussed conversations started and the incarnational living out of our faith in this world. We have great ideas, good plans, hopes, dreams, and we love to talk about our successes. But in the interest of full disclosure and honesty, I am going to tell you about a missed opportunity that has been haunting me.
Last night my extended family all met for dinner in the Pear District of Portland, Oregon. The Pear District is exactly the kind of place I like: authentic, artistic boutiques and coffee shops, every restaurant from chains to mom and pop shops. Unfortunately, we were late and had only time to walk from the parking garage to Henry’s, a tavern with great food and lots of seating. Just before we got to the restaurant, a teen boy asked us for bus fare: he had only 90 cents. David and I and our sister-in-law kept walking, and it has haunted me ever since.
We had a chance to stop, for just a minute or two, and look that boy in the eyes. We could have asked him how his day was, if he was making it ok. We already knew that Portland, Oregon has one of the highest incidences of homeless runaway teens in the United States. The stories we have heard have broken my heart. I had recently watched the clip of the Burnside Bridge Ministry (not sure if that is the right name) from Lord Save Us From Your Followers. I’d seen Christians washing the feet of boys like this, giving them dignity. I’d read about the Bridge Church in Jim and Casper Go to Church, and heard about the kids who pour into their ministry for fellowship and help and a little free food. I heard these things, but I didn’t stop, afraid that my family would not forgive another few minutes late. I heard, and I didn’t do.
I think there is a Bible verse about that somewhere.
Tonight I am preparing to fly across the country to attend a family wedding outside of Portland, Oregon. I have to admit that I am still geeky enough to enjoy a day of travel under the right circumstances. I’m looking forward to seeing new places and new people, something Craig Groeschel has been talking about over on Swerve, the Lifechurch.tv blog. Craig talks about intentional “disruptions” to your routine, a process that allows new thoughts and ideas to find fertile ground. It gives ideas room to breathe. So I am hoping to find some intentionally disruptive time in Oregon. Considering all the family that will be gathering, I’m pretty sure there will be a disruption of one type or another! Remember that prayer, asking God to help me come to the end of myself? Yeah…he’s getting ready to answer it.
As I go, I’m thinking still about the range of people Dan Merchant talked about in Lord, Save Us From Your Followers. I am praying for opportunities on this trip to open conversations that maybe I would never have started before reading this book.
There’s a lot about faith and God that I don’t quite understand. I’m okay with the fact that “full, complete, perfect love” is beyond my reach and beyond the reach of this world. I know I’m probably limited to grasping sand-sized bits of understanding, but I’m grateful for those little bits. Each and every one of the meetings, conversations, and interactions I had along this journey brought me so many grains of sand closer to understanding what real love is.
Hey everyone, I’ll be in the Portland, Oregon area for the next week for a family wedding. I think we are specifically in the Tigard, Durham area but are happy to wander a bit. I would love to find some cool, Third Place coffee shops or other sights! Yes…I can wander…but if any of you have a good suggestion, fire away!