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I don’t write about easy things.
At this writing, a more immediate question is how I’ve stayed homeless, which has prompted no small amount of anger and depression in recent weeks. The short answer appears to be that I’ve stayed homeless the same way I became homeless.
Put differently, it could be called a matter of sheer faithlessness: I presume to know the answer to individual poverty for anyone, but that’s not what I’ve practiced myself. I can reflect at some other time on the obstacles to walking my talk.
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…goes like this: After graduating college, I found work as a schoolteacher. In my fifth year, my supervisor was (and was known to be) horribly abusive. I had to walk off that job. I was completely debilitated emotionally and was unfit to work for two years.
On re-entry, my most marketable skill set being as a secretary, I signed up with several temp agencies. A city government office hired me “permanently” as a legal secretary, and I stayed there ten years. I left that job and returned to the agencies, who kept me busy as a legal secretary for another ten years. With one exception, I never had more than a week off involuntarily.
In January 2006, the bottom fell out of that job market, and I became unable to pay my rent. I found a room in Barclay, under conditions such that, had the landlady not taken a liking to me, I would have been homeless that night. I never would have moved into that neighborhood voluntarily. The conditions there are such that, when I finally did become homeless, my quality of life improved.
In the fall of 2006, I found work at a dollar store. I would stay there four years. At the end of June 2009, I was fired for working off the clock. Immediately after that, my health failed, and for several months I was flat on my back, hardly able to leave my room.
In the fall of 2010 I was arrested, and spent forty days in jail.
It’s hard for me now to account for much of my time from the fall of 2009 on. Throughout the time, I sought to keep myself busy at all times with positive things, but a diligent, persistent job search was not among them. As I’ve remarked elsewhere, the online job search is an endlessly depressing, needle-in-a-haystack proposition. I am ashamed to say this now, but I really believed “the job God wants for me” would come to my attention “in God’s time.”
I became unable to pay the rent, and the landlady carried me based on a promise to repay once I found work. A change in her circumstances made that impossible to continue, so on March 7, 2011, I became homeless.
THE SPIRITUAL STORY …
… is of far more interest to me, since it seems to explain the mundane events, and give me learning opportunities whereby I may find my way back into the social mainstream.
It was a conspiracy.
Becoming poor may actually have been a feature of my vocation.
Lord, I want to be a Christian
in my heart, in my heart,
Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart.
Lord, I want to be like Jesus
in my heart, in my heart,
Lord, I want to be like Jesus in my heart.
For many years, that was one of my favorite hymns.
I longed to become like Jesus; to do what Jesus did — notably among sinners and outcasts. I longed to learn to heal with a word (Matthew 8:8). A post of 09/02/13 details my strong identification with Isaiah 35.
On the one hand, attention is the spiritual analogue of gravity: whatever one attends to, one will be drawn toward. My zealous compassion for people in dire straits assured that I would be drawn toward like circumstances. Moreover, “to redeem it, you have to go there:” to speak with credibility to those in a certain situation, one must be present on the scene, to see the landscape from their perspective.
In order to redeem humanity from the conditions we encounter in the flesh — hunger, lust, strife, exposure, filth, injustice, despair — it was necessary that God himself come into the flesh. Thus Jesus incarnated.
Finally, I take the following story as indicating some powerful karma. In the summer of 2006, after I moved into Barclay, I had three job interviews at widely distant locations. In each case, the job site was just like Barclay itself: there were the graveyard and the blue lights (indicating police surveillance cameras); and as soon as I got off the bus, some stranger 75 feet off shouted at me wanting a cigarette. For the duration, I would find no escape from the Barclay milieu.
One who’s been locked up has more credibility with those who’ve been locked up, than does one who’s never been. Thus God equipped me with that credential.
One who’s been jobless has more credibility with the jobless, than does one who’s never been. God equipped me with that credential, too.
- At the church council meeting of January ’13, Pastor reported on the work of our staff social worker. He said that at intake, a newcomer is asked to identify three goals he or she would like to achieve. My heart leapt in my throat; I felt like Peter lost in the water (Matthew 14:30); and before I could find words, the discussion had moved on. But I would have asked, “Have you any idea how much courage it takes to have a goal?”But for the life I’ve lived among, and as one of, the poor, I would never have known to ask that question.
Related: Chaos Overwhelms the Poor (Link fixed 05/18/16.)
Related: Courage to Walk Unarmed
Related: Me, me, me
Related: Marketing strategies, part 2: Streams in the desert
In Twelve Steps parlance, a “defect of character” is any pattern of feeling, thought or action that consistently causes difficulty for oneself or others. Some may not regard some of the things I will discuss here as vices. Now, I do.
Both my “monthly” and the Saturnine influence played roles in my becoming homeless.
My “monthly” destabilized my employability. I gave several examples in the previous post. One more:
- My last work as a temporary legal secretary was in the fall of 2005. I had spent most of that year working at one of Baltimore’s most prestigious law firms. The first six to nine months I spent in their division that handles defense of birth injury and product liability cases. My agency then sent me to a different firm, but cut that assignment short because the first client wanted me back, to work for a woman whom I came to take for the premiere environmental lawyer on the East Coast. Late in my time there, the agency was told of a complaint by a different female lawyer, for whom I did not work, concerning the sounds of my farting.
None of my agencies ever called me again.
I will discuss the Saturnine influence under “Self-denial and self-sacrifice,” below.
In order to re-enter the social mainstream, I must become decisive, assertive, and pro-active. I must learn to want things, and want them enough to overcome obstacles to achieve them. I must come to care enough about myself to keep a roof over my head.
From seventh through twelfth grade — highly formative years for anyone — I was very active in Youth for Christ.
Our teaching focused on a tract, “Have you heard of the four spiritual laws?” Here are “the four spiritual laws”:
(1) God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. (2) Man is sinful and separated from God. Therefore, he cannot know and experience God’s love and plan for his life. (3) Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for man’s sin. Through Him you can know and experience God’s love and plan for your life. (4) We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know and experience God’s love and plan for our lives.
Notice the preoccupation with this “plan.” It’s pervasive. However, I have never found any basis for any such notion of a “plan,” in Scripture. Nor have I ever found any basis for it in my prayer life, albeit the spirit-filled, born-again Christian is supposed to be able to access it in prayer.
With every important decision I’ve ever made in my life, I wound up flying by the seat of my pants.
The most recent glaring example came at my trial, on October 10, 2010. The judge called on me for a choice as to how the proceedings would go. At stake was whether I would go home that day, or instead go to jail for three years. You can bet I prayed real hard. I received no sign whatsoever.
Human beings, at least folk of a certain emotional makeup, can fervently desire that there were such a plan. This would absolve the human individual from ever having to make an arbitrary decision, and face the risks involved. NOTE: Any decision informed by facts, circumstances, intuition or even mere impulse, isn’t arbitrary. I eventually came to the conclusion — about six months after I became homeless — that we are each endowed with the authority, even the duty, to make wholly arbitrary decisions, and act on them, and face the results. Many folk seek to escape this, by preoccupying themselves with issues of ideology or justice.
I myself haven’t yet fully embraced the new view; I’m still mired in that desire. Later today I will face the latest job listings that my search engines obtained. There may be fifty appropriate listings. But I can’t possibly apply to them all. In this setting, I’m prone to panic, throw up my arms and ask which ones God wants me to apply to first.
Related: “I know the plans I have for you.”
(2) God’s will
Mark 14:36: “[Jesus] said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’”
I question whether Jesus ever said those words. The only people present who could have heard him say them were Peter, James and John; and they were all asleep!
An exhortation that one always seek God’s will rather than one’s own, can lead to the conclusion that God’s will cannot possibly, ever, be the same as one’s own. Whatever one wants, cannot be what God wants.
I believe I originally taught myself the completely erroneous notion that one can uplift others by abasing oneself, thousands of years ago. Few traits have been stronger in my current life than this one, and in this life it drew tremendous encouragement from the erroneous teachings of Paul.
Related: A short route to agony
See Philippians 2:4 and 1 Corinthians 10:24. In Colossians 1:24, Paul justifies his self-loathing and the self-created trouble it brought him: “[I]n my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” On the one hand, this is nonsense: Christ paid it all; nothing was lacking.
On the other hand, I no longer believe Jesus taught vicarious atonement.
A bizarre manifestation of the extremes to which I took selflessness: For decades, the letter “i” did not appear in my signature.
The Saturnine influence manifests as mentioned in a previous post: “In this life and previous lives, I have spent countless hours wringing my hands in grief, anxiously seeking solutions to worldwide problems — violence, strife, crime, and the plight of outcasts of all kinds.” The depth of that agony is not to be underestimated. On the one hand, here was a hemorrhage of the vital energies I would have better invested in taking ownership of my talents and bringing them to fruit — to prosper myself and, with myself, others.
On the other hand, again, attention is spiritual gravity. All this negative energy focused on those in dire straits only made it all the more certain that I would wind up in dire straits myself.
I remain mired in this error, too. As noted in a recent post, my first thought continues to be that I can somehow alleviate others’ poverty by further impoverishing myself.
That’s how I became homeless.
Related: Give from abundance
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I have included this post in a series about entitlement for reason that, as one of the “truly needy,” I am now susceptible to that mentality and need to outgrow it myself. I think I know how now, and will discuss that next week. It’s not that hard. It’s easier than walking my talk.
(Originally posted 04/26/14.)