February 7, 2017

Go and Do Likewise

You are most likely pretty familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan. It is one of the most well known of Jesus' many stories. 
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
A priest and a Levite, both religious leaders, pass by the needy man on the road and it is the Samaritan, one despised by the story's audience, who is the hero of the story as he stopped and cared for the wounded man. We all get the message, though we often forget the challenge to religious leaders or the confrontation of racial bias that this story delivers, and we call those we see helping others 'Good Samaritans.' 

The part of this story that I have been puzzling over for the last few weeks is the Inn keeper. Who is this remarkable character that takes in this poor stranger that the Good Samaritan has bandaged up? What makes him agree to take the man in? Why would he spend beyond what he was given to look after this man? Why would he trust the Samaritan to return? 

I think this story has been on my mind because we have been spending more and more time at one of our favorite places in Tampa called "The Good Samaritan Inn." Many recognize the name of the place as reference to the story but I don't think many pick up on the reference to the inn itself. It refers to the inn where those who have been rescued and cared for are brought until the Samaritan returns. 

We were there quite a bit over the last week and it is so full of beautiful people, many of whom really are in need of the kind of care the inn keeper in the story was asked to provide. It is a wonderful place to gather as family and "do likewise" as we offer mercy to one another. 

Last Saturday, January 28th, we took our mobile unit out for the first time and we were honored to christen our coach at The Good Samaritan Inn. We had such an amazing time reconnecting with so many of our neighbors that we used to see at our Family Room just two blocks south of the Inn. It was like a family reunion and we were all so grateful for the grace of one another's presence. 

Then one of our teams shared dinner at the Inn on Tuesday night, this meal has been at the Inn every Tuesday for the last 6 years. It was this meal that established many of the relationships we have with the residents as well as our relationship with the owner of the Inn, who is allowing us to come and serve there in a much deeper way since the closing of our drop-in center.  

Wednesday night, though it wasn't at the Good Sam, is still a highlight from what was an amazing and full week.  We gathered many of our core folks for our weekly Family Time gathering; we laughed and ate together. This time is such a beautiful and rich space where we pause from hospitality to turn to love and care for each other. 

Then on Thursday morning several of us went to The Coffee Shop, a new drop-in center that Gracepoint just opened on Nebraska Avenue. We are so excited about this place as it is an answer to prayer. We were sad to know that in closing our center there were no other options for many of our friends to get showers or have a place to rest during the day. Just over 2 months after closing, the Shop opened up offering showers, laundry, coffee, a place to rest and so much more! We are so grateful for others in the work with whom to share the load. 

That same evening, as with almost every Thursday night for the last 8 years, The Banquet was served. They have recently relocated the dinner into The Good Samaritan Inn, deepening our commitment to and work with the community there.



Saturday was a full day too. A handful of us gathered that morning to clean, prep, and plant the Tampa Eden Project's Ybor Street Community garden. It was a beautiful and relaxing day of sowing seeds and enjoying one another, as well as the perfect Tampa weather. 


Then on Saturday evening we held our monthly open mic and potluck dinner known as The Conscious Party, now at the Good Samaritan Inn! It feels so right to host this event there as residents from the Inn have been among our most faithful Conscious Party attendees since it began a little over 7 years ago. 

Finally, on Sunday, our board of directors gathered to review our strategic plan and the tasks ahead of us for Q1 & Q2 of 2017. 

It was a week full of going and opportunities to do likewise. So if you pass by our old address and wonder about the Well, please know that we have not gone anywhere and are every bit as committed to the vision of seeing needs met, bridges built, and our city made whole. 

"Go and do likewise"

February 3, 2017

The Power of Symbols



Just a few weeks ago Tampa was in the international spotlight for a few reasons. One reason was our city had the honor of hosting a college football national championship playoff game. The other reason wasn’t unrelated; it was a story that went viral about Food Not Bombs volunteers being arrested for sharing food with the homeless. As the story grew there were many who wrote articles trying to protect our city’s reputation and push back on the narrative that FnB volunteers were persecuted saints. Even the Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward published an editorial in the Tampa Bay Times offering what amounted to a wonderful political response. The thing is though, while there may be details to the specific event that could potentially nuance how one understands it, the story itself, became a powerful symbol, which is evidenced by the fact of it going viral. Symbols, like myths, transcend concrete details and take on a broader Truth that we immediately recognize as such. The image was that of people being cuffed as they attempted to love/serve a population that Tampa was trying to repress from conscious attention while hosting the game. As is often the case when we repress things, it grew into something tremendous, beyond what they could have imagined.

It is tempting for those that are familiar with details to be baffled by the story as symbol. Eric Ward wrote about TPD’s work with the city’s homeless through dedicated liaisons. It’s true, there are a few officers that have been dedicated to functioning as case workers and are doing great work to help folks get off the streets. We have worked with them to serve our people and this is one of the most promising things that TPD does. These police have different marching orders and it is substantially obvious when you contrast the way Tampa’s poor are treated by other officers on the force. Many of us, who are intimately familiar with this city’s treatment of the homeless and groups that work with them, were baffled that this was a story at all. It’s just another Saturday. I cannot tell you how many families I know who used to go share spaghetti out of the trunk of their car only to be threatened with arrest by Tampa Police. All of them stopped going out because, well, who wants to go to jail? This is why a defiant crew like Food Not Bombs is a necessity. This wasn’t the first time, and I don’t imagine it will be the last. This move functionally broke the pretense and presented to the world, in symbolic form, something hideous in our own spirit. The event as a symbol is powerful, and it is true. It resonates deeply within us. Across party lines, both democrats and republicans, the rich and the poor, responded viscerally to this symbol. It induced disgust. No explanation or detail can undo disgust as a moral judgement. We know and feel this story on the symbolic level and we know, albeit subconsciously, that that same spirit that this symbol represents, is inside of ourselves, and so we recoil.

We deny and repress it, just as our city denies and represses the symptoms of it’s own illness. We can raise our fists in outrage at the symbol of handcuffed compassion but when we are personally face to face with those who live in hell, we avoid, we deny, and sometimes, if we are honest, we recoil in disgust. Incidentally this is why law and code enforcement are always running the poor off and threatening to fine or arrest, because we demand it. Their phones ring off the hook with complaints from businesses and homeowners, complaining about the hell, the chaos of the streets, encroaching on their clean and ordered worlds. You see society is about order, it stands against chaos. We want nothing to do with the chaos that is, in all actually the underworld. So we arrest the chaos, we lock it in cages, we shoo it from sight. Our terror of death, our denial of chaos, our unwillingness to acknowledge the symptoms of our corporate illness, compel us to maintain safety, stability, and security at almost any cost. So we become pathological and oppressive.


Then there's the fence, another powerful symbol. The Friday before the national championship game, the day before the arrests, a fence appeared out of nowhere walling off a park where many of the city's homeless would spend their days. We walled it off, or quarantined it, like it was a portal to hell. No regard for those who found in that park, a small bit of rest and respite from the chaos. Never mind that so many neighbors of ours, live in hell; socially, psychologically, and economically. The drive for order and our efforts to create our own utopia where there is no mental illness, dirt, or pain, necessitates our blindness to the value of these neighbors, these suffering human beings. A fence, like a wall, is a powerful symbol and I am sure that the gesture communicated our disdain to those for whom it was intended. The city’s message is crystal clear.

The power of these symbols should not be overlooked. In our efforts to secure our own heaven, we are creating a hell. These symbols, as ugly as they are, reveal something about our character. They are representative of the story that we are living into. They are manifestations of a collective spirit. It is good that we recoil from them, even if we are recoiling from something in ourselves.

We know that another story is possible.

So what is the opposite of fences?
Bridges that connect rather than divide maybe?

Maybe a potlatch in the park is a good symbol for this new and emerging story, which by the way, is an ancient and forgotten one.

It is a story of hospitality rather than hostility
of generosity rather than greed,
of light in the darkness,
of sharing, joy, generosity, trust, peace, and community.

Against such things there is no law.

BE A SYMBOL

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. -Ephesians 2:14-17

January 12, 2017

The Crime of Compassion in Tampa



You have probably already heard all about the 7 Food Not Bombs volunteers that were arrested by the Tampa Police Dept. last Saturday. Whether you heard it from the Reddit AMA thread,  local or even national news sources, it seems that arresting folks for acting compassionately isn't a good look for the city. 

The Well community has been no stranger to the city's hostility toward the homeless and those who would stand with them. With love and commitment for both our neighbors on the streets as well as kindred communities in the work like Food Not Bombs, we joined them Tuesday as they returned to the park for the breakfast they serve there every Tuesday morning. This time they needed supporters to encircle them to both pray for protection as well as be a wall of protection as the police descended on the park once again threatening to arrest those who were feeding the hungry. Eventually the police backed off and no arrests were made on Saturday. Everybody got to eat. 

The police are under the executive branch and therefore answer to the mayor who, when speaking about this whole situation said "You can't destroy a neighborhood in order to make your conscience feel better, and that's exactly what's happening."  There is, however, ultimately the question of the actual ordinance being enforced, 16-43(C). Does it apply in this situation? If so, is there a way to have it amended or for an exemption to be made? This is a question for the legislative branch, City Council. 

So today A few of us joined our friends with food not bombs at Tampa City Hall to voice our hearts to the council, the ones who can actually vote to change city ordinances. It was not an agenda item so we just spoke during public comment which in turn got it added as special business toward the end of their meeting. We look forward to seeing this conversation continue as city council wrestles with this question. 

Below are the comments made Charissa and I:

Charissa:

"When I was a young girl, I remember a sermon my pastor gave that encouraged us to think of our city as our mission field. I drove through downtown Tampa with my parents that evening with that thought in my mind. I remember looking out the window and seeing people sleeping on the streets, and I prayed, "God, help me help the homeless in Tampa." It was a simple, naive prayer, but I meant it. Over a decade since then, I find myself living out that prayer, although now I know that it's not about me helping people, it's about kinship shared and a community of love. 
As a young girl I never imagined that it would be my city government that would be the greatest obstacle to compassionate people's efforts to making this city a better, kinder place. As the years pass, though, I'm less and less surprised. 
Instead of arresting Food Not Bombs or telling them to do better by changing their location, you should be thanking them for caring for the people you have not cared for. Unless you are going to go out their and give someone a sandwich and sit on the bench they call home and at the very least learn their name, don't punish others for doing so. Often, it is our greatest joy and honor to share food and learn someone's name.
So please, amend the ordinance that is being used against Food Not Bombs and create legislation that protects the compassionate acts of your citizens."

Jon:

"We began this meeting with an invocation of god. All of the major religions and their myths, if one takes the time to survey them, makes special appeal on behalf of the poor, the hungry, the vulnerable. Often they identify these very poor as ambassors of the gods, sometimes as the very presence of God 
These traditions serve as a conscience to our city. Our society has strayed so far from our most noble aims and we have grown very sick. That sickness can be seen in so many ways, through so many symptoms, that it's overwhelmingly obvious. One very clear and tangible symtom of our brokeness as a people is the number of sick, or addicted, or mentally ill, or physically disabled neighbors we leave out in the alleys to fend for themselves. It's open asylum. And if you speak to anyone experiencing that kind of exile you learn of the stress and struggle as death and threat seem to hide around every corner. 
And so how do we treat that symptom?
Or even better, how do address the illness of which it is a manifestation? 
What would you think of the sick man who just hides and denies every sign of his impending demise? Who acts as though nothing is the matter, though clearly he is falling apart. One could only see foolishness or perhaps a deeper mental sickness.
This is how our city deals with the symptoms of its own illness.
And then when there is a glimmer of health, a light in the darkness, a demonstration of love, compassion, generosity, and humanity, we try to crush it.
We have been doing it for years as we have attacked and attempted to crush every group or organization that has worked directly with the poorest of the poor.
This happening with Food Not Bombs in the park is no anomaly. The police have been running off everyone who tries to offer grace to the most destitute and vulnerable of our neighbors. We say it's about their tables, sometimes it's about health codes, we said our panhandling ban was about safety, we are a foolish sick man making excuses for our derangement.  
Just last week a 60 something year old churchman, took a small box of jackets out to share as he knew, with the temperature drops, that they may be needed. He walked around gaslight park to share them. No food, no table, no group, just one neighbor offering goodness to another. He was stopped by police, told he couldn't do that, was ticketed and trespassed from the park, the same park that food not bombs would be arrested in just hours later for sharing food with the hungry.  
Love and compassion for the poor is the medicine this city must be prescribed
Yet we seem to respond to it the way movies portray the demon possessed responding to the name of Jesus or a crucifix.  
Please, shake off the delusions, the influence and demands of wealth and power, and do your part in seeing our city made whole. 
Please help support the work of Food Not Bombs and other charitable groups, families, or individuals that love and serve one another in our city. We all desperately need them and their leadership.  
Please do your part with the leadership you have been entrusted.

And here are the word's of our sister Dezeray, one of the FnB members who where arrested last week (also the amazing woman in the above video!)

Dezeray:

I'm Dezeray Lyn with Tampa Food Not Bombs- On his fb page, bob buckhorn wrote that the city of Tampa was really shining over the week that we had thousands of guests to our community. I’d say that Tampa HAD a chance to shine, but it wasn’t because of the lavish setup in curtix hixon park and not because the TPD were directed to “clean up downtown” by telling the homeless to “disappear” until the events were over.
What would have made Tampa shine would have been people from all over seeing Tampa residents taking care of one another and acting with compassion and kindness.
But instead, the world got the optics of TPD dragging seven people away from a table where they have served food for years, literally hundreds of times. And I was one of them.
While it was upsetting, given the city’s history, it’s not actually surprising.
The city has wasted critically necessary resources bullying allies to the homeless community, even going so far as to dramatically raid and shut down Homeless Helping Homeless Headquarters after they won a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the panhandling ordinance.
In the streets, TPD bully and arrest the homeless (making their chances of finding a job less and less possible) and continually displace them into invisibility.
Last year during two severe storms with flood alerts, while the city had sandbags for residents, they had absolutely no contingency for the homeless enduring the severe conditions and no low intensity shelters set up for them. Tampa Food Not Bombs went out in the early morning hours with hot coffee, ponchos, hot oatmeal and pastries and drove around under bridges and behind buildings finding folks and serving them from our car. And you know what they told us when we found them huddling and fighting to stay dry? They said Tampa resident had already been driving around in their cars throughout the night with hot coffee and sandwiches to make sure that the people in the streets were safe.
That, Bob Buckhorn, is Tampa shining.
This is like the wizard of oz where rather than permits, fees and handcuffs, the city needs a heart, a brain and some courage.
It’s time that the city of Tampa and TPD stop pretending that two small tables in a public park, where our taxes already pay for our usage of the space is what is making this into a problem. The city wanted to hide the issues of hunger and homelessness in our community for a high profile event, that’s how arbitrary the motives are behind all of this hoopla.
The city wants to cherry pick enforcement times of ordinances that by and large don’t apply to us and they ask that we pay for over 100 permits a year to buy some theme park admission ticket to express our humanity and get costly insurance coverage that would divert critically necessary resources away from the community who needs them all just to go to the city who does not.
This is not a business model of the city making life difficult for the suffering and our subsequently feeding them once they are churned out on the other side.
We exist as a challenge to the city.
No one here in our community has ever gotten sick or suffered from a food not bombs share- but thousands ARE suffering and sick from unjust city ordinances, lack of meaningful assistance and resources being diverted away from them as well as an aggressive anti-homeless police force.
If you want to make homelessness disappear, don’t make it a crime to be or to help the homeless. Create housing first initiatives and solve the problem. Thank you.

As the conversation continues in the halls of power, Food Not Bombs will continue their defiant campaign of love and compassion in the streets. They could use your support so consider joining them this Saturday.