September 5, 2017

Pretending...On Purpose

Being free to make decisions, we are in each instance and in each situation, moment by moment, confronted with a choice.

We cannot predetermine all the right actions as rules and we don't get to compile a list of categorical imperatives, even if we hope to act in ways that might serve as as such if the situation we are in were to play as an Infinite loop.

We can however pretend.
We exercise imagination and envision being good, a mental rehearsal of laying down our lives.

Pre’tending’ to decisions. As best we can, we must tend to our decisions ahead of time. You can’t trust your morning self to decide when to get out of bed and you can't trust your hungry self to go grocery shopping. We need to have vision and make plans and then act in the moment, as best we can, to embody those values toward which we aim. We rehearse that reality that we long for, that future that we hope in. This is how we live out that prayer "may Your kingdom come, may Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

Just pretend.

June 29, 2017

Property Services

Our first stab at social enterprise, our Property Services crew is still going strong. Watson, the crew leader who is putting his all into building this business up, recently compared himself to Rocky at the end of Rocky IV. This actually seems pretty accurate as we have watched him take a blow and get back up again and again as he muscles his way through so many challenges. While this business seemed like an obvious and easy one to get into, as we just needed a few guys and some equipment, it has proven again and again to be no easy task. For one, there are the common struggles that all local lawn crews will face like steep competition, broken equipment, brutal florida heat, and problematic amounts of rain that cause work to stack up. These we have taken in stride as well as had the added struggles of working with men on the streets that often disappear due to a trespassing or panhandling arrest, or show up without sleep because of weather or other struggles associated with life on the streets. These added complications make what is already a brutally hard business even tougher, and yet they keep making it work. We have kept our regular residential customers happy, added new residential contracts, picked up several one-off landscaping jobs, and also secured a few larger commercial contracts! These guys keep stepping up and rising to the occasion and we couldn’t be more proud of them. We are hoping to make their experience and work a bit better by investing in some new equipment, uniforms, and at some point a bigger truck as well. If you would like to help invest in this effort, please do.


Sometimes we are a lot like a little kid who has recently planted a seedling. We get really excited about it and do our best to nurture it, all the while wondering where the fruits and flowers are. This eager expectation, while a natural longing, can sometimes cause us to discount or under-appreciate the necessary growth and changes that must take place in the developing seedling if it is going to grow into a strong, fruit bearing plant. So while our dreams for WellBuilt Bikes, and the Well’s social enterprises in general, are large and ambitious, pausing to reflect on the last three months for this update has been a good opportunity to celebrate everything that has taken place as our seedlings sprout and take root.

On Earth Day, April 22nd, we held our first pop-up shop bike sale at the Sustainable Living Project’s Earth Day event. We sold 8 bikes and got a taste of things to come. It was a beautiful day as we met a bunch of new friends, got to share our story and vision, worked alongside some of our Earn-A-Bike participants, and had the opportunity to help people find their perfect bicycle. For our second sale the following weekend, we were invited to participate in the Seminole Heights 3rd annual pop-up market at Watermark Church! We have been so encouraged by everyone we’ve had the opportunity to share with and are eager to establish a permanent location to really build community around this work. After the first two weekends, the Sustainable Living Project extended an invitation to us to host our pop-up shops each weekend throughout April and May. Not all weekends have seen sales, but with each one we are growing as a team and developing our own systems and capacity. We can not thank SLP enough for sharing their space with us as we grow and learn.

In addition to our Saturday sales we have been able to work with six Earn-A-Bike participants who each volunteered at least ten hours toward their very own bikes. This program is at the very heart of all that we are building as we long to see everyone in Tampa have their own reliable transportation. We have also been able to share about 25 kids’ bikes with refugee children through our friends and partner workers at Love Has No Borders.

Jessica, the “founder and matriarch” of the “Well’s Angels” community and WellBuilt Bikes was invited to be a panelist at a recent Bike/Walk Tampa Bay Event. The event was a great opportunity for us to rub shoulders and share our vision with some of the city’s most avid and influential cyclists. Jessica was given the floor to share her own journey into this world where she found tremendous beauty and diversity among Tampa’s cycling community. It is there that she has been leading and working to see needs met, bridges built, and, by shifting one gear at a time, our city made whole. At this same event, during an awards ceremony for local cyclists, our very own Sean Martin was nominated as Commuter of the Year and Jessica for Bike Advocate of the Year.

Our team has been growing and Chris, one of our crew, just transitioned his work schedule to a part-time job so that he can dedicate more of his time and attention to building up the shop. This kind of ownership, sacrifice, and dedication is typical throughout the Well family but should be highlighted and celebrated as we remember how atypical it is in general. Jon took Chris up to Birmingham a few weeks ago to introduce him to our friends at Redemptive Cycles who have been coaching us all along the way. Plus, it’s so much easier to say “Here, this is what it looks like!” than to try and cast that kind of vision. Chris, we are so grateful for all that you do for, with, and among us!

As we recognize growth of the family, new life, and Jessica as a matriarch, we wanted to share some more amazing news: she is having a baby and due any day now!

As we turn the gears and push the vision forward we do have a few significant needs that we hope you might be able to contribute towards (grease, if you will). We are in the market for a good retail space with plenty of storage where we can establish a permanent location for WellBuilt. We also need to raise a good amount of start-up capital for building out the shop and a community work station. Finally, to help Chris transition to us full-time we are trying to secure at least $1000/mo toward a small salary to make that possible. He is already worth far more than that and his undivided attention will be invaluable to our development. Please consider giving regularly toward this staff support or as a one-time gift toward our start-up costs.

Also stay tuned by following us on social media:

The Kinship

The Kinship, our mobile outreach, is about connecting groups of people from different backgrounds to remember we are all kin. We call ourselves the Kinship to remind ourselves and others that though we are serving, there is reciprocity in the giving and receiving that happens at our events. Because this is our goal, we are very excited that after months of planning and practicing, we now have two volunteer teams at different locations sharing food each month! In April we reconnected with our friends from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, and began a monthly Kinship at The Good Samaritan Inn. Tina is the lead of their team, and we are so thankful for all the work she has put into coordinating and spreading word about the Kinship. They have been faithful and gone above and beyond by making care packages for a few folks that cannot make it to the market with whatever groceries are leftover. It has been such a gift to work with these team members again; they have not only been helpful with offering hands to help, but also with taking initiative and building relationships with the residents at The Good Sam.

Another fruit of the Kinship is Vanessa, who came to volunteer once at the Good Sam and decided to take initiative by committing to regularly clean the bathrooms of the Good Sam (there’s about 11). Since April, she’s gone approximately every other week to love the residents by scrubbing sinks and toilets.

This coming Saturday, July 1st, we will be partnering with University Community Ministries to operate the Kinship in the Sulphur Springs area. Our brothers from the Timothy Initiative will be volunteering with us monthly to make that happen, and we are elated to work with them!

We are very excited about these partnerships and the opportunity to love our neighbors. This quarter we have given away 1,459 pounds of food to 125 individuals. We share this number as something to be proud of, but please remember each of those numbers represents a person we are honored to know, serve, and enter into kinship with. While our volunteers are happy to sort through cereal, condiments, and assist people while shopping, it’s the relationships that begin at these outreaches that are the true fruit. In Kinship, we are made whole and we know we belong. It’s this care for and belonging that we are overjoyed to see spread. We look forward to expanding The Kinship to more places with more people. If you are interested in hosting the Kinship for your neighbors, volunteering with us, or having us bring food to your neck of the woods, please feel free to contact us!

The Conscious Party

A man named Abraham Maslow had a theory about motivation. He created an illustration that consisted of a five level hierarchy of needs, the most basic of which is food and shelter. The next levels are family/friendship, esteem, and creativity, progressing to the top of the hierarchy. While much of our time is spent focused on meeting concrete and immediate basic needs, we aim to do so in ways that provide space for creativity, friendship, and esteem, which are essential to being human. Because we value all of these needs, we host the Conscious Party, our open-mic night that is organized by Andrew O., Chynnah, and Andrew C. They, and all of us at the Well, believe that giving individuals a platform for creativity, sharing thoughts, skills, and talents, is a way to empower and love one another. Since relocating to the Good Samaritan Inn and having Andrew, Drew, and Chynnah investing in it, the Conscious Party has become a more vibrant, inspiring, and inviting space. They’ve planned strategies to make it the space it is intended to be: a space for community to come together and celebrate each other. They are currently looking for food sponsorship as a priority. Food is a medium for sharing culture, ideas, and even compassion, but it’s also simply refreshing to enjoy some entertainment with a full belly.

Our next Conscious Party is July 1st at 8pm at the Good Samaritan Inn. Join us!

The Tampa Eden Project

The Ybor Street Garden is a plot of land with a lot of potential. It’s been used historically to host a few gatherings for the Tampa Eden Project, workshops, and generally a few garden days here and there. Jessica and Tarah have been loving on the space for months now, trying to prune the garden and stave off the weeds and locusts. Over the past month, Chynnah has joined forces with them to be more intentional about revitalizing the garden space with the goal for it to be used for what it was intended: to be a fruitful place for growing food, sharing, and bringing the neighboring community together. Natalia, the former director of TEP, returned from traveling and caught them up on some details on how best to compost, fertilize, and irrigate the garden. She also connected the team with the Property Services for general garden maintenance. Natalia has done really well with passing off the torch for the Tampa Eden Project. Her dream to help connect people in loving the land and the environment is something we really cherish and hope to support through our actions moving forward. On June 24th, TEP hosted a big garden day to reinvigorate community engagement. We were able to harvest bunches of greens, onions, and tomatoes, as well as clear a few beds of weeds and plant some summer crops. We even experienced the joy of new life when we found a handful of lizard eggs that hatched soon after. In the future, we’ll be hosting a garden day every 3rd Saturday of the month and would love to have everyone interested join us!

May 30, 2017

With Fear and Trembling

"work out your salvation with fear and trembling" 
-Philippians 2:12 

Last week the Underground Network hosted a seminar called "The Problem with Fear." When I heard that they were planning it I reached out to a few of our leaders and community members who I know struggle with fear. One of those people in particular seems to always struggle with anxiety and fear when facing something new. As I have watched and worked with this person over the years I have seen them crush one challenge after the next. From my vantage point, it seems like they would begin looking back and concluding that all the things that previously intimidated, didn't kill them. Not only that, but they were almost all easily faced after that initial, albeit horrifying leap. 

It doesn't seem to work that way though. Each new challenge seems to be an encounter with another monster and no matter how many have been slain before this one, each new monster is seen as monstrous. I have been frustrated in watching this, as I know what this person is capable of. I do remember the former monsters, battles, and challenges that I've watched them face. They are a bit of a formidable monster themselves. "You shouldn't be afraid of this one!" I think to myself. And yet...

Frustrated or not, I cannot overstate how impressed and inspired I am as I see their heroic movement toward what makes them tremble! I stand in awe, and as I watch her be brave I recall the above verse from Philippians, and I tremble.

May 8, 2017

Reciprocal Restoration

Mark, David, and Richard before dinner
One of our core values at the Well is direct relationship. We pursue these relationships with each other, with the poor, and with people very different than ourselves. We have seen these relationships bear fruit in our own lives, so much so that we've realized there was a deficit we didn't know we had: we need to be among the poor. You do too, and it's not so much that you need to serve the poor; you need their friendship.

In the Book of Luke, Jesus shares a parable about a poor man named Lazarus and a rich man. Lazarus was laid at this rich man’s gate where he begged for sustenance. In the story both men die and Lazarus, the beggar, is carried by angels to the side of Abraham, while the rich man finds himself in Hades. The rich man cries out to Abraham for mercy, and asks him to send Lazarus to warn his family about this hell. In the end, Abraham refuses, saying that the rich man's family has Moses and the Prophets to be warned by. If they do not listen to the prophets, they will not benefit from the warning of a dead man raised to life. This man had all his comforts in life, and would have been familiar with Lazarus. Even in death, he does not speak to Lazarus but instead addresses Abraham. In life he is divided from Lazarus by his gate, and in death by the chasm between heaven and hell; in neither situation does he acknowledge Lazarus. Stanley Hauerwas reflecting on this story said that "the rich man doesn't want to have contact with Lazarus because if he does he knows he will have to change."

Regular contact precedes friendship, and friendship changes us, especially friendship with the “Other.” It breaks down the walls we have in place, and builds a bridge across our differences. Friendship breaks down the hierarchy we thought existed. This is why the rich man did not contact Lazarus in life or death. When you become friends, differences in age, culture, language, politics, religion, ethnicity, etc. no longer hold the weight of division they once did. That division is filled with meaning and understanding, a bridge built by friendship. This is why direct relationship is one of our core values at The Well, and one we are constantly learning to embody. I want to tell you about six volunteers at The Banquet that have learned this value, and inspire me to seek friendship with the "other."
Grant washing the dishes

First, there's Richard. I've known Richard for almost five years. He taught me how to serve at The Banquet, and brings a wealth of wisdom from his years in the food service industry. These days, Richard is more family than friend. Once homeless himself, Richard has continued to prioritize and serve the people he once slept beside on the street and in low-income housing. Through issues with his own health and the long bus rides from his home, he continues to serve at The Banquet because he believes God has called him to and it gives him joy.

Then there's Grant, who began volunteering with The Banquet with his homechurch two and a half years ago. For a year, he coordinated members of his house church to volunteer with us on a weekly basis. Even as other members were unable to come, Grant continued. He has many responsibilities as a husband, new father, engineer, and friend, but he also continues to prioritize regular service at The Banquet.

Hefziba and Charissa
Hefziba has volunteered with The Banquet for about 4 years. She began during the last year of her undergrad at USF, and continued to become an integral member of the Banquet team. Even when she left to spend half a year in Africa in missionary training and traveling, she returned to Tampa and came back to our team joyfully. She is currently in a graduate program at USF and had to miss a semester of the Banquet because of a class, but that does not mean she disengaged from serving and direct relationship with the poor. Wherever she goes, she brings that with her, and she will always be a beloved friend at The Well.

Next is Eche. She began volunteering on Tuesday evenings at The Good Samaritan Inn, and joined us on Thursdays when we moved to the same location. Eche is a young Nigerian woman that just graduated from Pharmacy school. While living in the area during a 6 week rotation last fall, she began volunteering with us because she wanted to invest in her neighborhood, even if it was only briefly. She is soon moving across the country for a new job, but even so she has not held back in her involvement or commitment. She has fully engaged in the needs of her neighbors in her temporary home and been a gift of life to the people of the Good Samaritan Inn.

One of our most consistent team members is Mark. Mark began volunteering at The Banquet two years ago this summer, and has rarely missed a Thursday since. Mark is a professor, a theater critic, a play write, a husband, and a father. I asked him recently why he continues to come to the Banquet and prioritize serving. He shared that, to his understanding as a Jewish man, it is his obligation to serve the poor and feed the hungry, citing Isaiah 58. He continues to come because he believes God asks this regular practice of him, and he sees The Banquet as a wonderful way to fulfill this religious requirement.

Finally, there is David. David, a professor at USF, has become a beloved member of The Well community over the past year and a half. He began with us by asking his local community garden to donate a plot of land to us, which he tended to weekly and dropped off the harvest with us. You can read his story in his own words here. To summarize, David realized he had an aversion to the homeless, poor, and suffering, much like the rich man in the parable above. With that realization, he committed to do as much as he could to help. When I asked him why he continues to serve, he said "because someone has to." He once heard someone say, "why should I help them at the expense of my quality of life?" and this solidified his conviction that our society lacks genuine compassion and fueled his commitment to do something about it. David continues to serve to combat that self-focused attitude in himself and in our society.

Each of these team members embodies the values of the Well. They are an inspiration to us all. One is an engineer, two are professors, one a graduate student, one a pharmacist with a fresh doctorate degree, one retired, and another a writer. They are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Buddhist. Yet with all their differences, they find themselves at the same table, prioritizing serving and being in direct relationship with the poor in their city. They teach us it is possible to have families, thriving careers, hobbies, goals and aspirations, without forgetting the hungry, the poor, the lonely and forgotten. It is possible to include them in your circle of friends, and gain the privilege of being counted as their friend. And this friendship necessitates change, especially in ourselves. Perhaps it is mandated in so many religions to serve the poor not because it is good for society or moral, but because it changes everyone involved. The proud are humbled and the hurting are comforted in the kinship they find together. Finding this kinship is not possible without each other.

I urge you to join us at The Well. We need more team members, and while we are committed to building this community of friendship and kinship no matter what, we want you with us. If you are interested in joining, you can fill out this form. We need you, and I have some friends I think you would love to get to know.

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.


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:


"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."


"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!)


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.