December 16, 2013


adjective (of a person) not enjoying the same standard of living or rights as the majority of people in a society.
synonyms: needy, deprived, disadvantaged, poor, destitute, in need, impoverished, poverty-stricken, on the poverty line, indigent, lower-class;

'Underprivileged' is a word commonly used in reference to the poor, most commonly to refer to poor children or communities. It is a curious choice of words. 

This language is oddly used by a culture that often doesn't recognize its own tremendous wealth and privileges. I remember when the Lake House first decided to shut off our air conditioning how much we and others acted like it was a necessity for Florida living. It isn't, and most of the world lives in similar climates without it. It is a privilege that we mistakenly consider a real need. We think we need our mattresses, our hot water heaters, and our air conditioners and never realize that these things are mere luxuries and privileges. Even our choice to go without any such luxuries is itself an expression of privilege. We can choose to use it or not. We are very privileged. Choice, I would argue, is an expression of being a human. To strip one of their freedom and choice is to strip them of their humanity. This, in my mind, is truly what poverty is: a lack of choice or freedom. 

Another possible implication of the term 'underprivileged' might be that it is an accurate assessment. Without even being conscious of it, we use as a kind of subconscious confession. Perhaps we realize that everything that we have beyond food and water and basic shelter is just luxury and privilege, possibly at the expense of those who do not. Perhaps we realize the very privilege of being able to choose whether or not we talk about, think about or face poverty (if we are not poor), racism (if we are white), or sexism (if we are men) at all. Perhaps using the term 'underprivileged' is a way for us to acknowledge all of our privilege. Once we can acknowledge and embrace the fact that we have privilege in this world we can make it available to those who may not. Not as a hero or a saint or a martyr but as those who have come to realize that our salvation and freedom is as much wrapped up in our need for them as theirs may be in us. Together we can be free, together we can be human.

December 11, 2013

Celebrating Christmas

At Christmastime most of us spend a lot of money giving gifts to each other. We buy watches, jewelry, game consoles, clothing, food, movies, tablets, computers, and socks. Shout out to all y'all who got socks for Christmas. I've been there. Some of us also make our own gifts for Christmas, which is pretty cool. Jon got into growing and making gifts for his family and friends. We give gifts, homemade or store-bought, to celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in Bethlehem. We celebrate his birth as the greatest gift ever given, and we give our own gifts in memory of him.

How we celebrate Christmas says a lot about how we view Jesus. If we celebrate by singing songs of worship, it reflects that we believe him to be divine. If we celebrate by spending time reconnecting with family and friends, it may be that his life speaks to us of reconciliation. And if we celebrate by giving gifts, we may well be participating in his life by passing on the generosity and love that characterized his time on Earth. The stories preserved in the gospels of his birth, his family, his life, death, and resurrection are all rich to draw inspiration from. They are challenging and they are hopeful, and hopefully, they leave us different, more aware and active than before we heard them.

There is a tradition, a very old one, that is gaining more popularity lately, and which I'd like to highlight this Christmas. People are celebrating the birth of Christ by giving gifts. But instead of giving to people who love them, some folks are giving gifts to people they don't know very well, if at all. They are giving gifts to people because God loves those strangers, and that is worth celebrating. Organizations like Heifer and Compassion International are helping such-minded givers to celebrate by giving a cow or a goat or rice or fresh water to a family in another part of the world. How cool is that?

I imagine the Son of God looking at the celebrations taking place across the world this month, all in his name, all to his honor, and I wonder what he thinks of it all. The hymns ringing out in the church halls. The candy canes hanging on the tree. The hams and yams and eggnog. I picture him staring, somewhat interested, somewhat bored, at the gifts we give each other as a remembrance of him. It's good to give gifts to each other, and we should express that love. And yet...

Perhaps as he's staring at our celebrations, he quietly says, just to himself, "If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same." 

And then someone gives a gift, not to a friend or loved one, but to a stranger, or a foreigner, or any person who he has no business giving a gift to, and I imagine the corner of Jesus' mouth rise, just a bit, in a knowing grin. And he remembers another line of his own preaching: "But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High..." And his grin turns into a smile, because he knows now, for certain, that he is remembered. What better way to give a gift to Jesus than by giving a gift to those for whom he has such special affection.

For those of you that love our neighbors on the streets of Tampa, please consider giving to support our friendship with them. It's a costly friendship to maintain, but we think it's worth it. In January we will begin some major changes to our facility, and we could use the help. We will expand within the building to provide more space for people to be at home so that they can come in off the streets for a while. We will need to build a new bathroom, showers, and laundry machines. We will have to relocate our free market and set it up better than before. In addition to the construction work to be done we are also planning to open a computer lab. It will all be an additional expense that we frankly cannot afford. But we're moving forward by faith in the Giver of all good things.

Subtle hint: Home Depot or Best Buy gift cards. See?

click to give :)

PO Box 75157
Tampa, FL 33675

Happy holy days, everyone.

November 29, 2013

Black Friday

First, a confession: I have not loved my neighbor as myself. I have not come even close to that. I am often a traitor to the God I claim, and I further that betrayal by my satisfaction with our paltry efforts to soothe our own conscience, which is all too easily soothed. As part of an ongoing process of repentance, I call us, all of us out on our collective bullshit. Yesterday was Thanksgiving. Today is a day to reflect and to repent. Forgive me for the brashness to follow, but I have to do this.

An adaptation of Amos 5:21-25, framed in the context of our holiday charity:

"I hate, I despise your token meals,
     and I take no delight in your perfunctory saying of grace.
Even though you feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty
     I will not ascribe treasure in heaven to you;
And the handshakes and hugs with the homeless,
     I will not consider as friendship with the beloved of God.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
     to the jingles and slogans I will not listen.
But let every day that sees the sun rise be your day to feed the needy
     and let them be not "the needy", but rather your friends.

"Did you bring to the hungry good things to eat and drink during the other 364 days of the year, O house of America? You shall align with the politicians, your kings and the celebrities, your gods, and I will send you into exile beyond the third world nations whom you pity, and of whose pity you are not worthy," says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts.

Do we think that the hungry are impressed with our overflowing of love on the one day a year when it is in keeping with the theme of the day? Is that what they are to us, a token calendar item like the Easter bunny or Valentine's Day decor? How very dehumanizing, thank you so much, God bless, go away. 

Why do we even do this? Do we seriously think that this is helping the hungry or the homeless or the struggling? To show up to help feed people on the one day a year when there are way too many people showing up to help feed people? That's like when a four year old kid helps his mom make breakfast; it's cute, but not at all actually helpful. And we know this, right? I know that you can't always tell just by looking or talking to someone if they're household doesn't have enough food, but as a subtle hint about the state of things, THERE ARE HOMELESS PEOPLE ALL OVER THE PLACE. Or do they only become visible on the one day when we will acknowledge their need, their existence, even? And then the rest of the year they go invisible again? I've heard of the super power of being able to make yourself invisible, but being able to make an entire segment of our city invisible? And without their consent? That's downright incredible.

So who is this for, if it's not really about all of our long-standing and deeply-invested concern for our brothers and sisters across the economic spectrum? Is it for the church folk, that crowd of pseudo-do-gooders that like to make a cute outing of petting the poor? Is it for the cameras and the Instagram pics or the local TV news cameras? Is it for our parents or pastor or boss? In whose eyes are we trying to look good, because God the Father sees right through that shit. I guess that only leaves each of us, doing it for our own sake. We try to feel good by looking good, and we bypass the hard work of doing good, of living good, of embodying good as a way of life. 

Please can we leave the poor out of our vanity? Please do not take advantage of their desperation for a meal to feed our desperation for approval, for appearance, for self-medicating lies. In doing this, we perpetuate token activism and sanctimonious sentimentality.

Do we want to really be a friend to the friendless and a help to those in need? Let us do what we do on Thanksgiving Day the other days of the year. When it's not popular or cool or a public relations opportunity. And on Thanksgiving Day, stay at home, enjoy dinner with your family and friends, and include among them those who have no home in which to celebrate the day. Give someone a living room to doze off in after eating too much. Give someone your ear and your heart, and save your pity for your own soul. 

Virtute enim ipsa non tam multi praediti esse quam videri volunt.
Few are those who wish to be endowed with virtue rather than to seem so.
Marcus Tullius Cicero, Laelius de Amicitia

November 22, 2013

Thanks & Giving

What is your favorite Thanksgiving memory?

When you ask someone about their favorite holiday memories you might hear about how delicious the meal was but in almost every case you will here "We..." as in "We always got together", "We always ate really good", and if it's me telling the story, "we always watched Planes, Trains and Automobiles together." You see while food is often the first thing we think about when our minds turn to Thanksgiving, it's really family, community and togetherness that are central to the holiday.  

Thanksgiving is next Thursday and many of our friends who live on the streets will have lots of options for getting a holiday meal. One cool thing about Thanksgiving is that it's a time when people do remember the poor and arrange to serve a big meal to those who might otherwise go without. We obviously think that's a pretty great idea since it's what we commit to do throughout the year. We serve dinner with tablecloths and centerpieces every Thursday at The Banquet all year long and one of the only Thursdays we close throughout the year is on Thanksgiving because, well because there are so many other places to get a great meal that day. Here is the thing though, a meal on thanksgiving is not the same if you don't have a family to share it with or a family room to fall asleep in after you stuff your face, and that is what we are excited to offer next week. We will be opening the doors of our home again this year and we will have quite a bit of food to share but it is our home that we are excited to share with those who might not have another family room to chill in. For the last few years we have opened our doors at the Lake House to anyone that wanted to join us for Thanksgiving. Our memories are made by being together and it is together that the central part of every holiday memory and experience is made complete. Our memories should be "we" memories.
If you do not have anywhere else to be or anyone one else to spend Thanksgiving with, please consider this your invite. If you want to just swing by and say hello, you will be welcome. 

Your Presence is requested at 908 E Lake Ave
5:00 pm on Thursday, November 28th
Join us as we give thanks together!
Feel free to bring a side dish or a friend.

October 31, 2013

Halloween What What

Tonight a lot of our team is with the Lake house throwing a block party for the neighborhood. It's become a regular tradition each year, with a lot of neighbors and neighborhood kids showing up and looking forward to the fun, silliness, food, and candy. Last year, the party slid down the road from the Lake house itself to nearby Ragan Park. Now it's even bigger than before, and there is so much room to spread out and set up hoola hooping, caricatures, face-painting, and whatever else brings a smile to people's faces. 


We still have the Banquet to serve tonight, so Andrew has corralled half a dozen or so friends to cover for our regular team who will be setting up the block party. Holidays are a crazy time, but we never want to let the celebrations keep us from our most basic service to our neighbors. Because it's also our most reliable way to get to know each other, and to build relationships. And that's what we're all about. 

As it turns out, InterVarsity is all about that, too. The students of IV at the University of Tampa and Hillsborough Community College are teaming up with us to do a creative type of Halloween outreach. Students will be going door to door trick-or-treating, but instead of asking for candy, they will be asking for donations of food, clothing, or other supplies for the Well to give out to our people on the streets. It seems like an unlikely way to connect people who have with people who could sorely use, but it makes sense to us. It's a great way for them to meet the neighbors and a great help to our neighbors on the streets. Here's what the students will be giving to each house on a card, it explains the idea better: 

What other night can people go from house to house, knocking on doors and be met with smiles, hospitality, and generosity? It is a night when our culture opens our doors and lives to strangers and to children without concern for the masks that they wear, and offers good things just for stopping by. 

We chose to use this great tradition of trick-or-treating to knock on your door on behalf of the hungry in Tampa. Thank you for opening your door to us and for your generosity tonight. 

Tonight we remember Jesus' words, "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 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.'"

Thank you for opening you doors to us. 

So much is coming together tonight, and so many people, too. This is gonna be awesome. 

October 18, 2013

In Over Your Head

A guy walked in today looking disheveled and asking for help with getting an ID. "He needs Jesus," a woman says under her breath as he walks by. Don't we all? 

Some things are difficult for me to do. If I had to do work on a car, say replacing the water pump, I would have a hard time. Truth be told, putting together an IKEA bookcase is hard for me to do. Whether it's God's perfectly imperfect design or my lack of trying hard enough, I'm terrible with my hands. I don't really do three dimensional work. If I couldn't ask Cliff or Tim for help, I'd be screwed. It just gets overwhelming to me. 

For some of our neighbors, getting a hold of an ID or a birth certificate or a social security card is a nightmare. Asking for help with food stamps could be a daunting process, especially when you don't have immediate access to a computer or phone. Not having a stable address is a huge hindrance, too. Whether they are limited by how much skill God gave them at birth or by the effort they put into it or by the effects of a rough life, some things are really hard for them to make happen. 

When I ask one of my friends for help with something handy, it's embarrassing. I have to swallow my pride and acknowledge that I just suck at this, at something that I'm supposed to be able to handle. I have to accept any jokes they might make, because they're right--I am comically incompetent at some things. But I don't care, because I'm grateful for the help. But I have (usually) kind friends and brothers, who often don't even give me grief over it. 

In other things, I get to be the one who's good at something. Finding information that's publicly accessible is pretty easy. I have a computer, and I'm good at filling out forms. I can make a phone call and navigate through the menu, ask the right questions to find out what I'm looking for. It's no big deal, really. I just gotta remember to be gracious about it and not seem bothered or judgmental about it. People have put up with my incompetence so many times, and they've been gracious about it so that afterwards I don't feel like a piece of crap, I feel cared for. I really need those moments of grace, and so does the next guy. 

You don't need to be a social worker to help someone out. You don't need to be a pastor to care for someone. You don't need to be Jesus Christ to be open and kind. But if you are open and kind, you will be like him. And that may be just what that man needs right now.

October 4, 2013

Deep Calls Out to Deep

Tomorrow night is the Conscious Party, where we celebrate our neighbors. We celebrate because each one is gifted, and each is irreplaceably unique. And because it's fun. On the first Saturday of each month, we invite our friends to share with us their stories, poems, and songs. Some of them are incredible and surprising. Some of them are familiar. Sometimes it surprises you who steps up to the microphone, or what they have to share. A small soft-spoken woman who speaks boldly of healing, who speaks with the kind of authority that only comes from knowing, from having been there. An old man who pounds life out of a piano and into the room. A young guy whose song echoes a subtler and deeper wisdom than what you'd expect to find in him. That's just it--you can find just about anything at a Conscious Party, except your expectations.

So we invite you to suspend your social routine a bit, just once this month, and kick it with us. You may see what you didn't expect to see in another person. You may even find something unexpected in yourself. What is deep in my neighbor calls out to what is deep within me, here in this special pocket of space and time. What is most valuable is often most deeply buried, so I guess that makes this an excavation party. When you see another person opening up the trap door of their heart, it does something to you. It calls to what is behind your own trap-door-heart. It doesn't take tremendous skill to share, but it does take a lot of heart.

The party starts at 8:00 pm. Get conscious, people.

A man who works with his hands is a laborer. A man who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. A man who works with his hands, his head, and his heart is an artist.
― St. Francis of Assisi

September 23, 2013

Attitudes & Values: A Story of Two Men on Tampa's Streets

I wanna tell you a story and I also want to respect our friends who come to the Well on a regular basis. When we tell stories about our interactions we change the names of the characters so as not to betray their trust.

Frank and Peter are two men who have been on the streets for quite some time. They would both probably fit the description of being 'chronically homeless'. Frank is tall and slender, Peter is shorter and much more stout. Frank tends to smile and tell jokes while Peter has a bit of a 'mean mug' and tends to scowl and say 'everything sucks.' I love them both. Neither of these two men are delusional as far as I can tell and I have known them both for over a year.

They are both intelligent and they both have some weaknesses too. They are very different from one another and they also have a lot in common, as most who are experiencing life on the streets do. They both get harassed by the Tampa Police and sometimes find themselves in jail. They both find themselves begging to get the things they need and/or want. They both know how hard it is to find a place to 'shit, shower & shave' as my father is so fond of saying. They both sleep on concrete most of the time. They are both baby boomers. They are both people who know what rejection feels like.

They are also very different as individuals. I think this story illustrates a major difference between the two men.

Frank walked into the Well the other morning and with a big smile on his face said "I just got back from vacation!" Having a hunch what he meant I asked, "Really? where did you go?" "Falkenburg!" he exclaimed. For those of you who are unaware, Falkenburg is one of the main jails in Tampa where so many of our neighbors are taken when caught committing a crime or living while homeless. "Was it nice?" I asked. "Well, no, not really but it's better than being on the streets. I was able to get showered up, eat and look..." He holds out his hands, "I even got my nails trimmed!" He said he was "kicked out before they served breakfast" the same morning I saw him. He was looking for a coffee and a bagel and was so happy we had plenty to offer that morning. Frank is a cool guy and he always sees the best in any situation. He is one who would never throw too big of a fit about...well anything, really. The thing is that for as long as I have known Frank he has done this from time to time. I remember one week that the weather was gonna be particularly bad and Frank went and bought a big ol' beer, threw the brown paper bag away, walked right over to the police and started chugging. He later told me about that incident, "It's the only way to get in out of the storm and plus I could use a few nights of good rest and a shower."

Now Peter also knows how important it is to get "in out of the rain" from time to time and get a good night's sleep. His approach is quite a bit different. He will panhandle and sell palm roses and anything else he can think to do as he saves every last penny until he can afford a weekend in a motel. Talking about being in a hotel might be the only thing that really makes him light up when we talk. He just so hates his situation and experiences that he will spend every minute of every day dreaming of that one or two nights in an air conditioned room watching TV after taking a long long hot shower. Peter knows Frank and just cannot understand why Frank would possibly want to go to jail. Peter does get arrested from time to time, because, well being homeless is a crime in Tampa, but he finds no joy in it at all. He hates getting arrested and going to jail, as most people do.

What struck me about Frank's happy attitude about his vacation in county jail is that Frank is always happy. The man loves Jesus, (he also loves beer) tells jokes, makes others smile and is generally a really really good man. Frank is happy everywhere....even jail. It's as though the peace of God transcends his circumstances. So, when it rains, "Ah, I think I'll just go to jail today." No worries at all. Peter, on the other hand hates being in jail, but if I'm honest he hates it just about everywhere else as well. Now I gotta say his life is really hard and I don't blame him at all for having a chip on his shoulder. None of us can really say that we wouldn't if we were in his shoes...or lack thereof. Other than the way he talks about the motels, that he very rarely can afford, "everything sucks." When I see him and say "Hey Peter, hows it going," he scowls and grunts. If he gives any reply at all in words I will bet anything the statement includes the word "SUCKS".

There are two points of reflection I want to make about this story and I think the first is obvious, attitude really makes a difference. These two men have really hard lives. I have watched them struggle and face difficulty after difficulty. They have reasons to be bitter and grumpy in my opinion. Frank seems quite content though. Contentment, it seems, has very little to do with the conditions in which you live. I know some really unhappy people who own a lot of things and live in comfort all the time, they neither appreciate what they have nor do they have any real joy to speak of. Then there is someone like Frank, who has almost nothing and sleeps most nights on the concrete, he makes wealth seem to have less to do with what you have than it does with an absence of want.

The other point of reflection I will leave for you to chew on. It costs roughly $50.00 per day to keep Frank or Peter or anyone else in the jail. That's $1,500.00 per person, per month. Maybe I'll post about that another day.

September 19, 2013

Firm Believers

My friend Chynnah is a runner. She is always going running somewhere or returning from running somewhere on Bayshore or around downtown. And there's often a small group of people in tow. That's because she's also a friendly person who loves people. Like, as friendly with strangers as I am cold and standoffish, which is saying something. 

There is a decent amount of people on the streets downtown, people who get treated not-so-friendly. Chynnah runs downtown, and she notices this. So she starts slowing down to talk with people who she would pass by. She gets to know their names, their stories, and also their needs. She brings snacks and water with her for her friends. She asks if they need anything so that she can bring it next time she comes by. She always remembers. She offers to pray with them. She is in no hurry, and is as engaged in the conversation as if she has nowhere else in the world she'd rather be, which for her is true. 

She invites other friends to come with her. It's better to go out as a pair for safety reasons, especially as a friendly young woman. She refers to her and her companions who reach out where they work out as 'firm believers'. Get it? Sometimes she has other people to go out with her, but sometimes not. She goes anyway, just because the need is there. I try to dissuade her from doing it alone, but she's pretty stubborn. Something is wrong with her, I think. 

Something isn't wired in her the way it's supposed to be. We are supposed to be able to ignore others' needs when they get to be too much or too inconvenient, or even dangerous. When the person is too difficult or unpleasant or just different from us, we're supposed to be able to tune out their existence, to not see them. This way we can carry on with our own business in relative peace of mind. For her, the more imposing the need, the more she pays attention to it, or rather to him or to her, the person whose face normal people turn away from. She can't not go to them. 

She keeps coming back each week on Thursday nights, but not so much for the run anymore. The people are much more compelling. You see, my friend Chynnah is a runner, but more than that she is a friendly person who loves people. And that is all she needs to do the work of God.

If I can stop one heart from breaking, 
I shall not live in vain; 
If I can ease one life the aching, 
Or cool one pain, 
Or help one fainting robin 
Unto his nest again, 
I shall not live in vain. 
                    -Emily Dickinson

September 13, 2013

Teenage Immigrant Welfare Mothers On Drugs

People talk about the poor a lot. Frankly, it gets tiring. Political candidates, preachers, local city council, authors of the Bible, solicitous charities, all have something to say about the poor, all which the news channel repackages in the most interesting, if not entirely accurate, way possible. Often you'll have some numbers quoted, like these:
Among SNAP (food stamps) households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving SNAP — and more than 80 percent work in the year prior to or the year after receiving SNAP. The rates are even higher for families with children.
96% of poor parents stated that their children were never hungry at any time during the year because they could not afford food, 83% of poor families reported having enough food to eat, and 42% of poor households actually own their own homes. The average poor American has more living space than the average Swede or German.
There are 47% who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That's an entitlement...These are people who pay no income tax. 47%t of Americans pay no income tax...I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
The polemics come both from people who love the poor and from people who do not. Truth be told, I give a little more credibility to the ones who do love, and that's my bias, but we all misrepresent things. Oftentimes the chronically homeless are used as an image or example or arguing point when the issue is about poor people in general. (Side note: if you use an image of a homeless man, he should be one of your friends, and you should ask his permission.) But the biggest and most contentious topic about the poor is the question of Why. And here's where it gets really sticky. There are complex reasons, both personal and societal, obvious and subtle, for why people are poor or homeless or otherwise struggling. So many can be at work, overlapping as relevant factors.

  • There aren't enough jobs. 
  • He's lazy. 
  • She smokes pot. 
  • They got behind on the rent and were evicted. 
  • She has mental illness.
  • He's a jerk who can't get along with people. 
  • He was screwed over by his buddy.
  • She got pregnant/He got her pregnant. 
  • She just got out of an abusive relationship. 
The lines between reasons, blames, and excuses are blurred, and it takes a lot of work just to sort out the causes of one person's poor life circumstances. Upon initially getting all up in this ministry-among-the-poor heezy, I figured that my preconceived notions would be disproved and that I would find out what people are really like. It turns out that the Romneys and the Bruce Wrights are both correct. Poor people, if we're going to lump them all together, are both hardworking and lazy, oppressed and irresponsible, honorable and shameless. They are inspirational people and welfare queens. Because they're people, for goodness' sake. That's not to say that there aren't some definite patterns and themes weaving through this diverse group, it's just not so easy to sort out the causes and effects of poverty. And this is where it gets tiring.

It's not terribly tiring to walk alongside a person as they sort through their own complex of factors. Faith, hope, and love apply and they sometimes surprise you, either with change in the person you are serving or in your ability to carry on. Sneaky divine attributes. What is tiring is talking about these things as if they matter in any other context besides that of a person's life. A person whose story you are listening to, or who you're helping with paperwork, or who needs to mend a hurt relationship with God or with another person. Other than actually caring for a person, we needn't care how culpable are the teenage immigrant welfare mothers on drugs. (See video below)

In all the rhetoric, it feels like a case is being made for or against the poor. A case to prove that they deserve help or sympathy or dismissal or condemnation. And that's where you lose me. Because my example, my model, my bar to shoot for is Jesus as storied in the Gospels. He called, taught, healed, fed, exorcised, and enlightened without any concern for whether a person deserved it. He commanded to love and serve each other without qualification, even presenting obedience to this command to be the basis for final judgment. His compassion leaned towards those places where compassion was not likely to be found already. He crossed over lines of ethnicity, social and economic and religious status, and moral standards. He loved without condition, and in this he showed us the Father.

We don't serve people because they deserve it, any more than we deserve what we have. We serve people because that is love as shown by Jesus. And it is compelling, and profoundly hopeful, and sometimes it changes lives. But never is it ours to dispense as we see fit. Always it is ours to dispense as we see need. No other qualification is necessary. Wisdom, earned over the years through active engagement, may teach us better how to love, but it will never have anything to say about whether or not to love. That question has been settled definitely by Christ. And it has nothing to do with deserving.
“The Gospel takes away our right forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.”
Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness

And now for something completely irreverent. [CAUTION: Strong language and sarcasm below]

September 6, 2013

Free to Choose

Yesterday afternoon I was breaking down cardboard boxes in the back room of the Free Market. It's our food pantry, clothing closet, and toiletry supply store all rolled into one. We lay all of the food out like a grocery store, or really more like a corner convenience store (it's small). It would probably be more efficient if we organized the food into basic categories like breads, proteins, vegetables, etc., and then packaged them all up into a ready-made bag that we could just hand to people and say, "Here it is, have a nice day!" That would take maybe one minute of our and their time, and we could move on to the next person. But we do it another way.

We set everything out and let people take their time shopping. It's a pale imitation of going to a supermarket, but that's what we shoot for. The idea is to let people have a choice in what they get. It's a dignity that many of us take for granted. We can go to the big grocery store and shop for food, deciding for ourselves if we're going to get cereal or brownies. Personally, I like to make bad decisions of the Krispy Kreme variety with a side of chocolate milk and a dash of cigarettes. Menthol, please and thank you very much. And I have the freedom to do just that, if I so choose.

That being said, we're in no position to criticize other bigger, probably better run organizations that more efficiently distribute groceries. It's just that we're small and so we can get away with doing it this way, at least for now. 

August 29, 2013

Pipe Bombs and Protocols

When you work with or for or alongside people on the streets, things can get tricky. Some folks have either royally messed up their life or have had their life messed up by someone else. Often times, it's a mix of both. In any case, we care. We try not be judgmental, acknowledging that for many of us, keeping judgmental attitudes at bay is a weak point.

But sometimes a judgment call has to be made. Sometimes that can even mean directly addressing one of our guest's behavior and determining what consequences will follow. Weighing behavior and assigning consequences; if that doesn't sound like judgment, I don't know what does. But it seems needed at times.

You see, we share the HUB (Huge Underground Building) with dozens of other microchurch and Underground staff and volunteers. Some of the people involved with the microchurches are themselves in a process of recovery or restoration, and they may be in a delicate place in their life, putting the pieces back together. Of course, you don't have to be in a delicate place or be particularly sensitive to be upset by a man wailing obscenities at you and threatening you with a pipe bomb. But hey, ministry happens. And with our crowd of people, it has to be expected, and we are expected to respond and protect the other people at the HUB. Recently this has meant banning a regular guest who I personally like a lot.

It feels like a failure somehow when we have to ask someone not to come back, because we should always be eager for them to come back, always ready to welcome them back. When we can't, it's like love has been thwarted or derailed. There's nothing left to do but remember the offending behavior and think, "It was his own fault." But maybe it doesn't have to be that way. Even when someone has permanently worn out their welcome (and for good reason), mercy can be creative enough to find another route to the person we miss.

Right now we're learning ways to stay in relationship with people who we cannot in good conscience allow to come to the HUB. Instead of resigning ourselves to saying about the person, "He had it coming," or "It was his choice" and leaving it at that, we can learn new ways of thinking, ways that do not look away from a person and speak about him or her, but that still look and speak to our friend, our neighbor and say, "Just send someone in and have him give us your name--we'll give him whatever you need." Or, "Where are you staying? I'll drop some things by after work today." Or, "Facebook me so we can keep up." Or simply, "I miss you, man."

We are learning how to make the love expressed in relationship important enough to preserve. We are learning that honoring our neighbors in the building doesn't have to mean rejecting our neighbors on the streets, even when their behavior seems to provoke it.

We are learning that mercy triumphs over judgment.

May 14, 2013

Jump in!

There are are plenty of opportunities this Summer to engage our neighbors in a helpful context. And what's more fun than that?! To illustrate the metaphor of jumping into the waters of service, here is a dolphin:

He's happy because he invests in the lives of others!

Click on one of the gigs below to sign up to volunteer:

Free Market : Monday - Friday, 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
This is our daily resource of food and other basic supplies for anyone in need who walks through our doors. Volunteers are needed to staff the market, which includes stocking shelves and tidying up, taking information from our guests, and weighing the outgoing food. This is a great way to put in hours volunteering in a low-key environment that allows time to chat with neighbors and share stories.

The Good Sam: We serve a meal on Tuesday nights at a local hostel for their residents and visitors. We go as a team of 4-8 people to bring and serve the food and to spend time eating and talking with the people.

The Banquet: We serve a meal at the Underground on Thursday nights and do it up restaurant-style. A team of 8-10 people give our best to our neighbors and also open up the Free Market afterwards. This is our chance to really show the kind of hospitality industry care that people on the streets rarely receive.

The Conscious Party: A lot of ingredients and people come together to make the Conscious Party each month. Please contact if you would like to help in any of these areas.
  • Provide food
  • Photography or videography
  • Invite people on the streets
  • Invite artists to perform
Don't let that dolphin show you up. Jump in!

April 20, 2013

Running On Grace

For months now, we have been getting a lot of donations from Whole Foods Market (Tampa), from Metropolitan Ministries, and other local businesses, gardeners, farmers, and friends. Our supply has been growing, the need for food is not dwindling, and our recent renovation has given us plenty of room to stock food. Our team of volunteers has grown, too; not just in size but in reliability, in responsibilities taken on. The team that serves the Banquet on Thursdays was today awarded Metropolitan Ministries' Gideon Award, "Honoring vision and an innovative approach to serving and restoring hope". Yeah, we have great people.

Of all the pieces we do have in this puzzle that is the Well, we have been missing one: a large vehicle. We pick up a lot of food donations, and usually end up borrowing a friend's pickup truck or van to do so, which can be inconvenient for everyone at one point or another. Thank you to Jeremy, Cliff, Dennis, and everyone who has helped us make these pickups happen. We're grateful that your open-handedness has carried us through to this point. Now, through our supporters' generous donating, collecting resources and information, and helping us select a good vehicle, we have a Chevy 3500 cargo van of our own. We're mobile!

Jon & Tajhah parking the van at the Underground for the first time
Now we can pick up large donations of food, wherever it's coming from. And we can respond quickly to offers of food donations. We can even bring food to people or events, which is an awesome new possibility. We dream of a mobile restaurant that can bring food to the people in need at some point down the road. This is a tool for us. It's a way for us to go to those who have food to share and be ready to receive it. It's a way for us to go to those who could use some food, ready to give it. May this be a tool in God's hand to connect us to each other across the agreed-upon boundaries of social and economic class. May grace surge through its engine, and may it never run out. 

March 29, 2013

Good Friday

Illustration by Jon Dengler
Today Christians remember the torture, execution, and burial of Jesus Christ, and we call it Good Friday.

Today we recall that he who had power became weak. He whose voice spoke truth and grace was insulted, mocked, and spat upon. He lived as a homeless wandering heretic and he died as a criminal and an outcast. He became a cautionary tale for any would-be prophets with illusions of grandeur.

God crucified does not look much like we might imagine God enthroned would look. Instead, he looks like those with whom he spent most of his time during his ministry. And he makes a direct association with them, saying " you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me." He identified with their exile, with their nakedness, with their need, and with their pain.

No longer can we look on those who suffer and be content to think "It's their own fault." For he who was without fault was made to suffer unjustly. No longer can we avoid the glance of an outsider, for he numbered himself among them. No longer can we despise the poor, wretched sinners, for where else should we expect to find God? He is with us poor, wretched sinners in a way that is scandalous and horrifying and we call it Good.

“When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man's godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God...He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.”  -J├╝rgen Moltmann, The Crucified God

March 19, 2013

Serve Up!

This past week, 74 students from InterVarsity chapters at the University of New Hampshire, Bridgewater State, Bryant University, and Connecticut College traveled by bus to spend their Spring break working with several microchurches of the Underground Network. Here at The Well, they put a lot of muscle and determination into transforming our food pantry into what looks a lot more like a grocery store. Under the supervision of Luke of the Timothy Initiative, they moved everything out, ripped up carpet, painted the walls, ceiling, and floor, and cut out expanded doors and even a food-service window, and put it all back together again. It looks beautiful, and we are grateful to be blessed by a group that could have been soaking up the sun all week, but chose this instead. Crazy kids. Who does that? To come to Florida for Spring break, only to spend the week volunteering? That kind of crazy fits in well around here.

And their work has made a difference around here. We have taken to calling our food pantry the Free Market, because we want to emulate the experience that one normally gets when paying for things, but at no cost to the shopper. All of the improvements made to The Well make the shopper's experience smoother, and they help to convey the idea that someone prepared all of this for you. We take for granted that we are valued enough by our grocery stores for them to make the store an attractive and convenient place to shop. For those who cannot afford to shop at those same stores, acquiring food is not always a pleasant and affirming experience. With help from InterVarsity's Serve Up team, we have space for more food and a better environment for people to shop in. 

Because of their sacrifice of a Spring break's worth of beach partying, we are better able to exercise compassion and convey dignity to our neighbors. Thanks for that, guys. It really means the world to us. 

March 1, 2013

What Did We Do This Month?

During the shortest month of the year, our pantry gave away 2,452 lbs of groceries to neighbors and families that needed it. We served 430 hot meals and provided clothing and hygiene products to 63 folks. 
We are excited to do it again in March and we could also use your help to restock our supplies. 

February 27, 2013


Momentum is building around here, and has been for a little while. Ministry is growing steadily. People are jumping on board. At some points, we've even grappled with what to do with all of the food that has been donated, it's been that much.

Well, that was fun for a while...

February 14, 2013

Home Cooking

Tonight we're serving a little something extra at the Banquet: home-cooked love. Katelyn and Emily cooked a hot meal of shepherd's pie and stuffed peppers. They did such a good job!

February 1, 2013

January Was Awesome

2013 is off to a great start for The Well.

We were able to give away over 200 bags of food, clothing and toiletries to our neighbors, many of whom have little other means to meet these basic needs. And that's on top of serving 517 hot meals!

Our partnerships with local businesses are growing so much that we were able to offer food to help our local community of Underground microchurches that serve open meals out of their homes each week. We know that serving a sometimes-small, sometimes-huge crowd of people in your home can be challenging. Building relationships with our neighbors on the streets puts you face-to-face with real people who have real needs, and we encourage you to bring your friends to our pantry to help with some of those needs.

And now the pendulum has swung in the other direction. Our generous supporters have helped turn The Well into an attractive resource, and so many people have made use of us that by the end of yesterday, our stock and funds have diminished. This is awesome! We want to give away as much as we can, and we trust that more will come in, and that we will be able to serve even more people in February.

Thank you to our wonderful local business partners, the teams that faithfully serve at the Banquet and the Good Sam, and our generous donors for working together to make this happen.

I can't wait to see how February goes...

January 23, 2013

Let's Share

The Well has been asking for food and supplies through our drive and we are very grateful to those of you who have come through for us and for our friends in need! We have also acquired some partnerships with local businesses that are donating regularly and so we have an abundance of certain items. While we have been stocking the shelves and thanking God for the bounty, we decided to offer some of this to our missionary community who can probably use some of these things. We know how much it can cost to cook for an huge home church gathering or even a large family and we want to help, so we would like to invite our community to draw from the Well's supply.

How's that sound?

OK. Lets take a little tour together...

So you wake up each morning and perhaps look for a little cereal or another quick breakfast food before heading off to get your day started. In our pantry we have an abundance of Raisin Bran, O's, corn flakes and other assorted cereals.