Wikia is a great way for people to come together to share information on the things they love. And what do we love? Apparently video games,TV shows and cooking (and encyclopedias)! Who doesn’t?
My involvement in Wikia, though, came when I was struggling with a massive amount of San Francisco’s homeless resources, in printed form, and trying to digitize it into my vision for a new resource website. But my vision was stuck in the old school web and database formats that had been around for 10 years. I thought I needed thousands of dollars for fancy web design and log-in portals, not to mention money for future development and ongoing maintenance.
But then I heard how Wikia was a new way for constructing a web site. Wikia provided simple tools so “non-programmers” could edit and maintain the site, plus the community was encouraged to be involved with maintaining it. The hard part (it sounds easy now) was figuring how to link Wikia Categories with types of Homeless Services. But once that was solved, SFHomeless.net (sfhomeless.wikia.com) became one of the first, if not the first, non-profit civic resource wikis in the world!
So what other kind of non-profit or public sector could benefit? If you’re thinking of bringing Wikia order to web chaos, maybe your calling is in environmental issues, education, employment, criminal justice, civil liberties, or medical issues? Or maybe you spent a long time learning how to care for a sick person, and now you have a vision for a medical wiki that deals not just with disease, but also with insurance, hospitals, alternative care, support groups, etc., all linked together in one Wikia site?
Civic, non-profit and public sector wikis can be used to organize countless resources, replace traditional FAQs, reinvent training materials (SFHomeless has training video links to YouTube), network with other resource websites, link to communities and events, understand government or corporate chains of command and bureaucracy, offer neighborhood- or location-based services, and on and on. It goes beyond traditional, static websites, and creates a type of community that is growth oriented.
Every sector and special interest of society could use a community of wikians organizing what is really community-owned resource information. That’s what it comes down to: people with a special need and experience organizing their knowledge, and then coming up with the best way of sharing it and improving it with others. Wikia give users a chance to help the world in significant ways with the power of collective experience, limited only by the ability to envision where there’s a need to improve!
San Francisco stop number 14, and they reached out to us (and many others) a couple weeks ago, hoping to find someone to help them in the area. Our family responded, and last Friday they arrived. They just left this morning, so that was about 4 1/2 or 5 days they were with us. It was wonderful and Spirit-filled. We had many great moments, eating together, walking SF and talking to dozens of people, attending several events such as the Homeless Church's Palm Sunday service at Pier 32, and City Impact's sermon and breakfast for the homeless where 50 teenagers from the West coast were helping out. We met up with a friend of theirs they met in L.A.'s Skid Row who happened to be in the SF area, and shared with him, and he's now helping me with one of my hard-to-help clients.
When they arrived I was hoping they could stay for a week so we could celebrate Good Friday and maybe Easter together. They have too many cities to fit in this year and had to move on before then. But then I remember that two days ago on Monday night was the start of Passover, and we usually celebrate in our own Christian way. It was their first Passover, and they had an amazing time! Moses came over for Passover too, and his meeting them was extra special. Moses also came to the Homeless Church service, and Francisco was there, and Lorie and Rachel of course.
I think their favorite part was experiencing The Gubbio Project at Saint Boniface church in the Tenderloin. This is where the homeless can sleep in peace on the un-used pews in church. Many homeless have difficulty get decent healthy sleep for all sorts of reasons, and even those in shelters get kicked out as early as 5:30 AM! Together with the Sleep Lie laws and anti-"camping"/public sleeping laws, there's very few places people can go to sleep without being bothered. So the Gubbio Project is obviously as very humane and saintly project, and that was obvious to Sammie the first two seconds she walked in. She could feel the presence of God there, and who could deny that? There were so many things there that must please God, He surely must have blessed it in some way, and those participating and running the project too. The whole church just oozed positive Christian energy.
Anyway, having them with us was a welcoming break from all the crazy distractions this year, and a reminder of how randomly awesome and purposeful our lives can be.
If God has called you to be really like Jesus He will draw you into a life of crucifixion and humility, and put upon you such demands of obedience, that you will not be able to follow other people, or measure yourself by other Christians, and in many ways He will seem to let other people do things which He will not let you do.
Other Christians and ministers who seem very religious and useful, may push themselves, pull wires, and work schemes to carry out their plans, but you cannot do it, and if you attempt it, you will meet with such failure and rebuke from the Lord as to make you sorely penitent.
Others may boast of themselves, of their work, of their successes, of their writings, but the Holy Spirit will not allow you to do any such thing, and if you begin it, He will lead you into some deep mortification that will make you despise yourself and all your good works.
I have been trying very hard to work on revival and my other Christian dreams, and so much has been distracting me. Lorie's dad passing has been the latest time consumption. It fell right on the heels of our last distraction ending. It's depressing in that I'm afraid to make plans for when this problem is over, which is probably in several months! I can do small things on days that I manage to get some free time, but I can't make long-term plans.
When I was a teenager I remember saying to God, "Let me do such and such, it obviously needs to be done." I truly thought God was there waiting for someone to fix things. But now in my wisdom or cynicism I tend to think God isn't interested in fixing the world's problems. Evil people and evil conditions exist for some kind of purpose. If good people fixed the problem, then Life would lose some of its purpose? That's an old philosophical argument "Does God use evil for his Purpose" and the answer is usually "No."
There's also the micro and macro versions. Fighting the Nazis, fighting slavery, fighting the constant movement towards modern slavery and loss of freedoms. These have been fought and victories have been won, so it can be done. I'm saying it's not done as easily as we would think. And we can't volunteer and solve problems assuming God's just waiting for a volunteer.
There's a greater Master Plan involved, where God's timing and God's chosen instruments are critical to any progress. What can we do if we aren't the ones? I like the "Link in the Chain" attitude where even if we don't directly perform some great good or end some horrible evil, then whoever does do it depends on the efforts and work of those before them. Steps on a ladder, links in a chain. We focus on the final step or last link, but the ones in the middle are important too.
Then there's the attitude that maybe we can do it, but need some great effort that we haven't been willing to do, or haven't even dreamed of doing? Maybe we can be the last link or step, but only if we reach high? The last step isn't just a step, maybe it's a step and a big reach?
Lorie hadn't been to Israel before and was on her list of places to go "if ever we had the opportunity and reason" and this was just that! I had been before in 1995 and 1997. We didn't take a organized tour, we stayed in a nice hotel in Jerusalem and then walked around the Old City and just did things without much planning. It was fun! We got to see a lot of the major attractions without the tour based on my knowledge of what the tours do, so we did it on our own. Later we rented a car and drove the Galilee and stayed a couple nights in Tiberias and did a lot of sites and attractions up there. Lorie loved the Sea of Galilee. She really wanted to swim in it, but there were signs everywhere saying "No Swimming" so she waded into it, and we got some amazing pictures of that! Other highlights: the Garden Tomb, Mount of Beatitudes, floating in the Dead Sea, walking around the Old City of Jerusalem many times--a few times at night and stopping in at Holy Bagel Rachel's favorite food in Israel. The Wailing Wall was great obviously. We got to pray there about three times, making sure we covered all the stuff going on in our lives and our friend's and families' lives. The prayer response I often felt was "Leave it in God's Hands, He knows what He's doing!" As far as justice and healing and blessings in prayers, the same response "God is better at dealing with those requests. Simmer down and let God handle it!" So again very rejuvenating when Life becomes overwhelming and you lose some faith that God isn't in control. Of course God is in control, it just seems He isn't because His timeline for action is different than our timeline. But if you can come to grips with that, then you can live your life free of worry and focus on the more important things!
Speaking of which, I've got about 10 things on my To Do list having to do with re-booting the ministry before the movie comes out. Moses is still doing great! Fran completed his Camino in Spain with his father! He walked from France to St James all during January, starting December 31 and ending around January 30.
It's a pain to put lots of pictures on the blog. I have some on my Facebook account, so check that out if you want to see some. Otherwise I'll try to upload a few here in the next week or so.
Lots and lots of other stuff going on, in my life and the news, just don't have time to write about it now. Hopefully I can focus more on writing now that things are simmering down. God bless!
* Someone in my family is seriously ill and that has been the latest "Must Do". I said before how Life is filled with all these Want To Do's, and then you have to take care of the Must Do's.
* Some great news: SF Revival had an important fundraiser and we were able to raise enough to permanently establish our 501(c)(3) status! We were previously on a 5 year probationary status which all new charities have to go through, and then after 5 years you're evaluated to see the variety of support you received. And I'm pleased to say we passed the threshold for charity status! That's a major worry off my plate.
* Moses continues to do great! Rachel and I spent a half-day with him just after New Years and went out to breakfast and walked around town and drank Mexican Cokes from bottles even though it was 45 degrees outside. It's become our favorite drink. Moses is using his post-grad period to brush up on technology so we can jump into Street Angels and all the client work and info exchange we're going to have to do to help our future clients. I don't know if I told this story before, but I've known several chronically homeless people, who were also heavily addicted, who after rehabilitating were able to learn new technologies faster than non-homeless people? Meaning, while they were homeless for 10 or 15 years and missing out on the tech saturation and learning that others had access to, and then they started using tech gadgets and computers, they were able to learn very fast. Michael, for example, can build a computer from scratch, and has learned several extremely complex programs. And he learned it in just a couple of years. I'm not describing this phenomenon very well, but I've seen it happen and it's amazing.
* What else? Oh, 2013 is going to be the Year of the Comets! I'm very excited for it. I even mentioned it in last year's New Years blog entry that next year (2013) will be fun because of the newly discovered Comet Panstarrs which was being predicted as a huge comet in March 2013. But then, in mid-2012, another comet, Comet Ison, has been discovered that will be even bigger than Panstarrs! Ison is suppose to be around November/December 2013. If I was into apocalyptic prophesy, I would be having a field day, and I'm pretty sure people are already taking advantage of this very rare occurrence to hype up apocalyptic thinking. (Now this is a special piece of info for my blog readers: When you read about this and the doomsday hysteria, don't think about "Will the comet(s) hit Earth?" because they won't, directly. The REAL question is: "Will either comet break up or explode?" And then what happens to the pieces? I read something that might have been just a rumor that Earth is going to pass through Ison's trail a couple of months after Ison swings around the Sun (which is the most likely time for it to break up). Ison is going to pass within a couple million miles of the sun (a sungrazer), and it's a first time visitor from the Oort Cloud, meaning it's full of combustible elements (not just ice) and therefore unstable when it heats up. These first-time comets have been known to break apart during their first passage, and comet debris may become periodic meteor showers, or even separate comets with different periods of return. So in summary, look out for the pieces, not the whole comet! But seriously, it's going to be a fun event to see two major comets in one year, and then waiting on pins and needles to see if they do break up! (Signs in the Sky?...)
I read a funny comment to a news story yesterday. The commenter was mad at something that happened in the news and wrote “I want off this planet!” But then someone replied to them “Can’t you wait until tomorrow like everyone else?!”
Well today is the day! December 21, 2012. First day of winter. End of the 5,000 year 12th bakkun (?) in the Mayan calendar. Start of the 13th bakkun, whatever that means. Some people think it means disaster. Some people think it means New Age.
What do Christians think? Well, it’s 2,016 years after the birth of Jesus, but 1,982 years after the death and resurrection? Not very round numbers to celebrate or worry over. I did a blog recently with “interesting Christian milestones” to look for in the future, and 2019 and 2027 figured prominently. You see, years before Christians need to worry. But there’s always the “tribulation” period that precedes the milestone, and that could be 3 ½ years or 7 years or longer if you expect “birth pains” before the real action starts.
I’ve repeated this many times on this blog over the years: If you’re going to worry about stuff, worry about your lost opportunities to do good deeds! Worry about what you’re doing or not doing today or tomorrow to make the world a better place. Worry about living an authentic Christian life. Worry about your lost opportunities to pray and know God, and let God's Spirit guide you in a new birth of spiritual identity. Jesus could be your new best buddy, your future Judge who has already forgiven you, and showing you the true meaning of Life. Instead many in the world choose the distractions of the world, which always always lose their flavor, until people face their eventual mortality and realize more time should have been spent worrying about the eternal stuff and not so much the money stuff. Eternal stuff lasts even after you die. Your money gets divided among people who will probably waste it and probably not give you any credit when they do!
I bumped into some retired people recently that I know. These people had important positions where they laid low and didn’t do much to help people around them. They flew under the radar, smiled, made peace with wicked people instead of challenging them, and then retired and left the problem for others to worry about. And now in their retirement they get to eat at the local buffet and talk about old times. What a stinking lousy way to grow old!
I dream of the day when I might retire and take it easy. I even have some health excuses where I’m expected to do that. But no matter what, life should be about character, whether you’re getting paid or not, working 9 to 5 or not, whether you’re employed or not, or retired or not. You need to go to sleep with a clear conscience ready to meet God and the Judgment with a smile on your face and expectant to receive the highest reward or whatever the best is the afterlife has to offer. You don’t want to meet God and have cowardice in your past, or collaboration with suffering, or turning your head to injustice, or making money off of the sufferings of others. I don’t know what Hell is exactly, but people with that kind of history don’t deserve Heaven. They don’t get to “exist” with people who were courageous, or tried to help people, or valued people over money, or scorned retirement in order to maximize their influence to create good in the world.
Whatever your religious beliefs are, let’s hope you believe that there is an Order in the Universe. And in that belief we know that a Power or God that could create everything we know also has a Plan for Life itself, especially the dramatic changes that all these apocalyptic minds are fearful of. History teaches us what to expect in the future, and there will be suffering no matter what. That doesn’t mean there will be solar flares or meteors or pole shifts. Another way to look at it is to know that you as an individual might die tomorrow, or the next day, just from crossing the street or crashing on the freeway. All this obsession over the “end of the world” type death is a denial of our own personal mortality! That has always mystified me. It’s easier for people to be scared of apocalyptic death but ignore their own personal mortality
As the Talmud says “Repent one day before your death!” But how do you know when you will die? All the more, spend your days in repentance so no matter when you die, it will be filled with spiritual readiness!
If this has been too wordy, let me paraphrase: For Christians, stop worrying about the Mayan stuff! Start worrying about being better Christians trying to help the world, starting with the poor, and those who lack justice, and those who are suffering and can be help by something on your part. Examine your lives to see what you can be doing to take personal risk to help people. Stop trying to protect yourselves in silly worldly ways, and behave as those your faith is in God, that He will protect you, and then He will be proud of your passion to do Good in His Eyes! Then when your personal mortality is “due” you can face the future faithful in your relationship with God, repentant of your misdeeds, but certainly not guilty of living without passion or courage, trying to retire and live peacefully without helping others. God forbid!
I wanted to write a blog entry on 12-12-12, one because it’s a cool date, plus it was one month ago that I last posted an entry.
It’s been a busy month. My personal business that absorbs much of my time is never-ending, and will continue into 2013.
SF Revival just had a fundraiser! It was very rush -rush last-minute thrown together, but about 40 people got together at The Bask in San Francisco, a Spanish tapas restaurant with flamenco dancing, just not on the night on our fundraiser. We’re in a push to raise a couple thousand dollars before the year-end to prepare for our big ideas and goals for Street Angels when the Moses movies comes out. We’re really going to make an effort to get the public more interested in helping the homeless directly and cooperatively, which is of course the model of Street Angels. If you want to donate, please see the link on the bottom of this and ever blog entry “DONATE” and the Happy Face.
Moses came to the event! We sort of promoted the event as a Meet Moses oppportunity. He gave a great speech about how the world is filled with forgotten people who need support from the public, the same way Moses and I met. His rehab house is filled with people who are likely going to relapse if only they had someone encouraging them to get better. We need to be more responsible as a society to make sure our charity includes time spent with people who have fallen on hard times and need personal connection.
Whenever we have these events, it always amazes me who shows up and who doesn’t, and who donates and who doesn’t. You’ll never know that feeling unless you get involved in fundraising, but it tests your perceptions of who your friends are, and then on the flip side surprises you at who your secret friends are. Now, obviously there are good friends who couldn’t come or for whatever reason have an OK reason for not donating, and they still are friends, but seriously, I donate to every friend who asks to support their cause, even if it’s $25. Or $10 if they ask a lot for different causes. It’s so depressing when people ignore your cause, and you really need the money! The IRS doesn’t allow people to donate excessive amounts to the same cause because it ruins your “public support,” meaning I can’t write my agency a check for $1,000 if we fall short. You have to have donations from lots of people in small amounts, so don’t ignore your friends when they ask!
What else? We’re big fans of The Amazing Race, and I was so happy when the Beakmans (is that Beakmen?) won! They were underdogs from the very begining of the Race, and they almost got eliminated several times, but came back. They were also unique in that they were a married male gay couple. They were also former New York professionals (I forget which field) and decided to become goat farmers! I absolutely love that! I read similar stories in the online news more and more often in this Depression era, where some couple or person gets laid off or disenchanted with their city job, and they discover some hidden talent they had for farming or making wine or doing something with organic materials and selling it. Anyway, I’ve watched around 12 of the 23 or so Races, and there have been only a few where the underdog won in such unexpected entertaining fashion, and it was great to see it this time!
What else? Lorie and I saw “Life of Pi” the other day. I was unfamiliar with the movie except for the tiger part which I saw in the trailer. The movie had a great religious/philosophical message to it. Without spoiling it, the movie ends with two ways of looking at the story: either believe the crazy unbelievable but true version; or make up some believable false version. This was an analogy, I think, for religion competing with other world views, like the scientific method. The SM is more believable, but the crazy religious story is actually true. That was my “take away” from the film.
Oh, I finally bought an iPhone. I’m a major Mac person, ever since 1986. But I could never bring myself to spending that much money on the phone and data plan. I own an iPod Touch which has all the aps, and having a basic phone plus that helped in 99% of my daily needs. But I got really mad at my phone company, and my 2 year contract was expired for over a year, so I was free to do something, and after a lot of research I found a plan where you just buy the iPhone, and then for $40 a month you get pretty much unlimited everything. And no contract, and no fees! It would have been closer to $80 or $100 a month for another plan, but they sell you the iPhone for a discount. Big whoop. So I’m only half-guilty for caving into this. Now I’m trying to see how I can justify it, and it’s already inspiring me to re-work SFHomeless.net to be more iPhone friendly so people can have that true power of on-the-spot on-demand resource research. I also have to get more familiar with these QR codes which some of my non-profit partners want to use in connecting our future Street Angels. The iPhone or other smart phone is a necessity when scanning these codes to look up web pages to connect while the person (or product usually) is in your face vying for your web attention. I’ve also been playing a lot of Cribbage on my iPhone. I’ve beaten Expert mode 36 out of 50 times, and skunked it 4 times, and I haven’t been skunked yet. I love the quick and easy math you have to do in Cribbage. Before I would listen to the same music over and over on my iPod, now I’m playing Cribbage. I have to stop that, and listen to sermons or download iTunes university or something more enlightening.
There have been a bunch of news stories I should have posted in the past month but didn’t. There’s been a lot of encouraging news. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, my religious views are NOT apocalyptic. Christians need to be helping the world become a better place, not obsessing over end of the world stuff. Maybe my next blog entry will be on December 21, 2012?
I was under a lot of stress, and I assumed it was my Must Do's, and the Election happened, and then I felt better! I won't say what my politics were, I'm not that political anyway, but I was relieved, and I felt like I got some extra steam the day after.
I've been seeing Moses every other weekend, and I saw him yesterday. He likes to go to Palo Alto and walk around University Avenue and the Stanford campus. They relocated the Apple store there to a bigger, nicer store across the street from the old location. It was like being inside a church. They have clear ceilings and so you can see the sky, but filtered so you can still view the computer screens everywhere. Moses absolutely loves his ipod mini, the previous generation which was small and square with a screen so you can wear it as a watch. He has his favorite things on there like jazz, Bible, sermons, modern music, Beatles, plus pictures of places he's been to, like Spain and Filoli. Moses called the Apple store "an adult candy store." We walked on the campus, and went inside the student union and bookstore. We had Mexican Cokes that we bought in town and kept drinking while walking on campus.
Moses' personal health and attitude are excellent! Everyone in the program knows how hard these addiction battles are, and it's very common to go through the program twice. In fact Moses going through will just add more educational value to the film. Speaking of films, Fran the director is bouncing around the world attending film festivals in between finalizing the Moses movie. I've been warned that next year, depending on the success of the film, we may "need" to attend these festivals too. It's a good "need" because this film is meant to educate people about the hidden truths about homeless lives. And we're going to be promoting the Street Angel ideas for how the public can become more involved in helping. So all this is around the corner, very positive uplifting good-to-be-alive stuff, and in the meantime we've got this other business to take care of.
p.s. Happy Anniversary! luv moi
Moses continues to do well! He came to visit last week, and he is continuing to grow and expand his strength and wisdom, and he plans to return that growth by helping with the Street Angels in 2013.
In the meantime: Moses graduated from rehab and was clean for around 95 days. Moses has been on permanent disability for multiple reasons, but one is severe and constant back pain he has from falling off a ladder while painting over 10 years ago. He takes heavy pain medicine for this, as needed. When he walks a lot he tends to need it. When Moses began to explore his post grad world, he went to his pain doctor to get back on his pain medicine. Moses was forced to take Advil-type pain meds during his rehab, and it caused him to be in constant discomfort, often tempting him to leave. So, on Day 96 or so, Moses gets his new prescription which is the old level of prescription he used prior to rehab meaning "physically used to high levels" and then takes the pills and goes from Clean to Wasted in an hour. Unfortunately none of his friends was nearby, and he was near a bad neighborhood. So Moses began drinking too, and when he went back to his transitional housing, they knew right away what happened and kicked him out. Moses spent several more days in denial, plus he says the pain med messed up his mental faculty to where he didn't know who he was or where he was. After 5 days he finally called me and Fran to come help him. We found him living under a freeway, half his stuff stolen, broke, and unclear on the details of what happened. Fran and I decided to accept Moses' belief that the the pain medicine after being clean for so long led to the relapse. The drinking and denial and long time it took to come to us is we think the result of just not having an air-tight support network of rehab mentors helping you 24/7. Plus, Moses should never have been near the neighborhoods where his bad behavior gets triggered. Moses moved into a North Beach hotel to clean up and go back into the rehab. That wait ended Tuesday, and he's there now. I have to say Moses is stronger and more committed than ever. He never lowered his guard when it came to Moses taking care of himself, maybe he showed 90% of his personal side during the intense 90 day counseling sessions. But we made it clear to everyone that Moses has a few more inner-demons to deal with, and with the other good practices, he will eventually become a clean Superhero helping others and far from danger of any relapse. Pray for Moses with me, that he may receive the enduring and lasting healing that comes from God and miracles, saving the hopeless, providing hope for the hopeless, and courage through God and the many others who have personally experienced the exact same things, and with God's help, overcame them, and now they instruct new people and relapse former patients in how to finally win that personal war. I've talked with the rehab people many times, and I am 100% confident that these mentors and supervisors are focused and professional and care only to help Moses and others with time-tested methods of counseling and training. They can do it. Moses will make it!
Lorie and I had lunch with Johnny my "real" hobo friend today. Johnny's looking a little more sick, and his memory is not as sharp as usual, and his hope and happiness in SF is down a bit. I'd been hoping to start writing down or recording his hobo stories of riding the trains as a real hobo for decades from the 60s to 90s and some 2000's. Johnny has unique perspectives on the business culture verses the unique individuals he met along the way, non-hobos especially who were hospitable and let him stay with them. And Johnny played his jazz guitar and sang songs ala Woody Guthrie wherever he went. Shalom Johnny! Feel better.
And big news! Rosh Hashanah was 12 days ago, and Yom Kippur just ended last night. This is a tradition for me to acknowledge it on the blog and reveal what religious movies we watched for our observance. One note: For the first time in 15 years my YK was interrupted in a major way: I had to help Moses move into his new rehab situation. But the night before, and afternoon I came back, we were able to watch: Moses (with Ben Kingsley), Lonnie Frisbee documentary, Defending Your Life (beginning only), King David, Thief in the Night (the scary 1970s classic rapture horror film). I think this is the first time we watched Lonnie on Yom Kippur. I was moved by the many ways the many different Christians who knew him and liked him and respected him and then disowned him, and for what reasons. And there were a couple of pastors who knew Lonnie, and they explained it so well it's what I hope I could have said if I had the faith. It's nice to think there are churches out there with inspiration and feelings similar to your own where they know the Bible and feel it's trying to get Humanity to grow, not see how good we are at following rules for rules' sake. There are some respectful ways of modifying the churches' importance of some of the rules in favor of love and inclusion, but still, STILL, keep the critical core of what it is to be a True Follower of Jesus Christ.
I wish we had more money to be charitable with, but I think we won 4 items in the silent auction. We still have pieces we won last year waiting to be hung on some blank part of a wall. That's because we won about 6 items last year, and we did hang 3 or 4 of them, but I just haven't found a good place for the last couple. One is huge and heavy, but I think we found a spot for that just the other day, so by the time we get tonight's pieces, we might have last year's up!
Yesterday was a busy day. I've got too much on my plate at the moment, like 10 major life projects that are all vying for my time and attention, some less fun than others. So for some stress relief I decided to dust off the Xbox 360 that no one uses and play Wolfenstein. There's a great relief and pleasure when shooting fake Nazis. Then I became curious about the scenery and Googled Wolfenstein trying to come up with a random castle to compare it to. That led me to reading about the Fuher Bunkers, like the Eagle's Nest and Wolf's Lair. That led me to read about Hitler's secretary Traudl, the one featured in Downfall. Downfall might seem funny to someone who hasn't seen it because of all the YouTube videos that parody that scene and replace it with other fake dialogue, but the movie itself is very scary! I'm psychologically scarred by a couple of the scenes that I won't describe, but everyone I've spoken to who's seen it mentions this one scene near the end, and it's horrible! Anyway.
But then, after all that, the Traudl Wikipedia referenced someone I hadn't heard of before. It describes how Trudl felt guilty that she was involved with the Nazis so closely, even though all she did was type, but she compared herself to Sophie Scholl, a young woman the exact age as Traudl, but who led a different life, and used her youth in a different way:
one day I walked past a plaque that on the Franz-Joseph Straße (in Munich), on the wall in memory of Sophie Scholl. I could see that she had been born the same year as I, and that she had been executed the same year when I entered into Hitler’s service. And at that moment I really realised, that it was no excuse that I had been so young. I could perhaps have tried to find out about things.
So, after all that introduction, this blog entry "Heroes" is really about Sophie Scholl. She was a student at the University of Munich, and together with her brother and some friends, they decided to fight back against the Nazis, so they formed the White Rose society. They printed pamphlets that encouraged Germans to passively resist the Nazis. By the time they got up to their 6th printing, they were captured, tried for treason, and guillotened!
Why did she do something so brave in the midst of such a cruel and barbaric government? This quote says why:
Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don't dare express themselves as we did.
When she went to her execution, she was still thinking about it:
How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?
She was indeed brave. Today she is viewed as one of the greatest heroes in Germany! She is single out as one of the few Germans marytyred for resisting the Nazis as one of their own. While multitudes stood by quiety, inactively, she fought agaist the Nazis, and against impossible odds, with no real plan except to get the word out. Perhaps she didn't want to face her future self having done nothing? People seem to have no conscience these days. Sophie had a conscience, and dying wasn't important, because she died to a life that was cursed to live. She took a chance to awaken and stir people who were in effect "dead" in their conscience. As a religious person I wonder about the destinies of those souls who fail to act, who failed to show signs of having a conscience? I do know that in the Hereafter, God will be more pleased with the Sophies of the world, as though she deserves to be called Human, while the others are still immature and part animal in their behavior, unworthy of whatever comes Next. That is the religious Fear that used to exist more in the world.
It’s been a couple weeks since I last posted. A lot has been going on. First and foremost, Moses graduated from his rehab! He was in it for 91 days, and now he is in what’s called “transitional housing”, which is a house shared by other graduates. His rent is paid for at the moment, but he is responsible for his groceries, meals, sundries, etc. At the graduation ceremony, they had a raffle where some nice donated items were raffled off, and the raffle ticket money went to the program. I won the last raffle item which was a very nice pair of Nike shoes, size 11. One of the raffle leaders said before the raffle how they were very nice and fit him, so when I picked up the shoes, I asked if he was serious about them fitting him. He got the message quick and said “Thank you!” Turns out he is the house leader in Moses’ new house! So Moses got some good karma because the guy knew I was with Moses, so I hope that pays off in both of them looking out for each other in their struggle for independence and a new life.
A surprise guest came to the graduation, a director at a very famous and important homeless services agency in San Francisco. It was great seeing her there. We got to talk about all the things that went right for Moses to get where he is. If we could bottle that formula, you could help almost anyone. But the formula for Moses was surrounding him with the right friends and family to get him serious about getting clean, and then the timing of it too. You can’t make a documentary about every homeless person in San Francisco if that’s what it takes to help influence them the way that has helped motivate Moses. But the equivalent is making every person in need feel like they are the center of other people’s concern and caring. If someone feels needed, then they might be motivated to go through the pain and personal struggle that it takes to get clean and kick the demons that have possessed your life for 5, 10, 20 years or more! Moses was addicted for 25 years, and homeless for most of that time. Yet by means of a miracle and all these people coming together, Moses is clean today and has a bright future. He’s already helping lots of people who are coming through the program. His interaction and his own personal success story should be a “Wow, if Moses can do it, then I can certainly do it!” That has happened many times in the past 97 days, so it’s a human investment that pays off over and over.
Last Sunday was the first Sunday in two or three months that I didn’t go to the Peninsula to visit Moses. That was really a commitment to do that every week, as important and enjoyable as it was, I finally got to spend a weekend at home resting and doing home stuff.
I’m up to about page 100 in my book arguing for more openness in the church for gays. I thought I could finish it quickly, but I’ve slowed down for different reasons, the greatest being that I’m doing a lot of research and referencing other similar books to make my book as informative as any book out there, but adding my own unique Christian insights.
Lorie and I watched “Bad Influence” on Netflix the other night. I remember being one of my favorite movies in my college years, and then I could never find it for rent or wherever I looked. But by luck it popped up on some random Netflix search I was doing. There’s a great point in the movie where the bad guy Alex, who has befriended the good guy Michael, asks Michael “What do you want? And what are you afraid of?” Michael innocently responds with the two major things in his life that were bothering him, his upcoming marriage that he didn't want to go through with (his biggest fear), and the promotion at work (what he wanted). Alex says “Easy.” And then Alex manages to make both things happen but in a very immoral way. The movie is better than I’m describing it, but basically Michael ends up with the life he wanted, but he had to make major sacrifices to get it, and he became an immoral person to get it. Although, his bad character was really Alex doing it, but you get the idea that Michael was passively going along, so he was doing it too. And the other great part of the movie is the good guy is played by James Spader, and the bad guy is Rob Lowe! Rob Lowe is fantastic as the bad guy, in fact a little too good, even scary. It was also ingenious casting since both of them came form the Brat Pack of 1980s actors, and the film in 1990 shows what 20-something adults might be dealing with, ambition at work, or following the dark side.
Speaking of no longer following the dark side, here's a miracle picture if there ever was one!
I harvest the etrogs a month before Sukkot, and then over the next 30 days they turn more and more yellow. Etrogs have thick skins, and they aren't affected by time or weather. Actually, after 3 or 4 months they will start to shrivle, but good ones won't rot away. They turn into hard miniture etrogs. I had some from over 6 months ago lying on my dog's doghouse, and I threw them on the ground to make room for the new ones. Turns out Chloe loves eating the rotten ones! She sometimes chews on the unripe ones, but she definitely prefers the rotten ones.
Here's this season's haul. The top two rows are the good ones. Nice and square on one end, and then football shaped at the other with a nice tip. The others will end up getting juiced and added to a salt bath. We call it the Human Margherita. The fruit is inedible, and the juice is undrinkable, so bath additive is the next best thing. It feels wonderful!
Every year I find an etrog hiding behind some dense leaves. We had 3 monsters this year, but this is by far the biggest of all time!
I mentioned how Chloe likes to eat the old rotten etrogs. They're not that rotten. They are actually very pungent smelling, so I can imagine what they taste like.
This morning on my way into town, I saw this large praying mantis in my front yard bush. He was at least 6 to 8 inches long! My friend Mark actually saw one over a foot long. It was on his car in L.A. and he took a picture of it and sent it to me. I picked this one up to play with it, and it stuck me with its spikey arms, and then bit me! It actually drew blood, but only two tiny holes, too small to even get a drop out. Sometimes you get too comfortable with the small version of some bug, and then play with the big version and risk getting bit. I once saw a great example of that with hermit crabs where a large one really clamped down hard on thisz guy who kind of deserved it.
Moses had a birthday a few weeks ago, and we were able to take him to Filoli which is near where he is staying. Filoli is a mansion amongst hundreds of acres of secluded park land, and it has a large manicured garden. Here's a picture of Moses and Rachel walking in the garden. (Fran the film director is over Moses' shoulder filming from behind!)
Michael gets a lot of mention on this blog. He’s always a source of weirdness and brilliance. He has so many contradictions in his personality. He's tough but gentle, he’s mean but helpful, he’s rude but protective, he’s lacking in structured morality but his morality is superior in many ways. One of his great contradictions is being married to an extremely religious woman whom I’ve also blogged about. She’s the Medicare manager who was tortured at work and cruelly driven into early retirement (when she was the best worker), and never said an angry word about it.
They have a difficult life financially. They rent half a house in the Sunset district. Ten years ago they had an apartment in the Richmond district, and their landlord went crazy and started accusing them of all sorts of things, and they had to move from a place they enjoyed. Now ten years later, their new landlord who lives above them has also gone crazy and has focused on Michael and accuses him of all sorts of things. It has become very tense.
Over the last 10 years Michael has become an avid gardener, and the landlord allowed Michael full reign over the sizable backyard. The landlord never went in the backyard and didn’t care for plants. He’s some kind of programmer, and it’s his parents that own the property anyway. A month ago the landlord made it be known that he was going to start redecorating the backyard. He has been tearing out all of the plants, and flattening the yard with concrete. Michael took care of the plants for ten years, even caring for them with labor and emotion when they were dying from frost or bugs or whatever kills plants.
Michael just sent this e-mail to me.
The guy upstairs has now totally demolished the back yard. He cut down the plum tree, my spruce tree and his mom's tree is just a twig now. I saved that tree from a parasitic type of plant that completely covered it---the tree had one single leaf on it. After I killed and removed all of the invaders, from the next, years long neglected, yard, it bloomed amazingly. I could for the first time in my life feel affection directed to me from the plant world. Now it's all over. I feel a void today....
Michael and his wife are going to be looking for a new place to live. I know God works miracles for them. In fact, I believe the two of them are featured in some kind of Heavenly reality show, and all the angels watch them wondering what’s going to happen next. In my religious beliefs I think all of our lives are like that, with Heaven watching us to see how we handle our trials and tribulations and blessings too. But Michael and his wife are suffering more and enduring more, and all the things that happen to them! There are hundreds of crazy stories where they helped someone or did some good deed that I never would have done. I feel insignificant when I compare myself to them sometimes. It’s important to see people in your life as role models or mentors, and that’s what they are to me, sometimes. We can learn from a lot of people, even the bad ones, but especially the good ones, and always the living saints.
(I’ve never mentioned Michael’s wife’s name in my blog, and have only used pseudonyms for her. She has a unique name, and I don’t have her permission to talk about her and reveal her stories. That’s why I say “wife”. I have implied permission from Michael.)
We really love Portland! If things were different we would even consider moving there. And we might even do that someday. We've got some personal and professional business to take care of in SF first, but part of me is ready to start over somewhere else. The past couple of years have been really tough, but then it has been tough for everybody everywhere. I said in a blog entry a couple entries ago that it's silly to belong to a church that isn't fitting your needs and goals, and I have to say that where you live and the community you belong to has to follow the same rule. I'm not going to use this entry to complain, but that's one of the tragedies that people can't move around more and explore and find the best community that's best for them. Too much personal suffering occurs where people are stuck, and there's some other place they should be. But that's also part of the Design of Life, that our souls are tested due to the trials we go through, and those trials are mostly from our inability to find peace. Escaping the trials to go somewhere else thinking that we are "growing" by running is a fallacy. But, if you've given it the old college try where you are, then I say "Go!"
One crazy thing that we really liked about Portland that is sort of symbolic for this mismatched community: Out of 100 dogs that we encountered, we didn't see a single pitbull. Here is the Bay Area it seems that 20% of the dogs we see are some sort of pittbull-mix or pure pitbull. We have a new dog, and go to dog parks, and we cringe whenever there's a pitbull in the dog park. We usually just leave. OK, maybe 99% of the time pitbulls are great and friendly, but when that 1% is due, why would you want to be around one? I don't understand why they are so popular? Anyway, not a single pitbull when statistically we should have seen 20.
The people were very nice in Portland. The public transportation was amazing. We spent all of our time around the central city and mostly Pearl district near Powell's bookstore which we love and went to 5 times over 3 days. Another very strange thing we noticed: There were hardly any drug stores. We saw one or two Rite-Aids, and one or two mom-and-pop drug stores. In SF there's a Walgreen's every couple of blocks, and Rite Aid and CVS in between. I don't know if the non-existence of drug stores means there's less need for drugs, meaning there's less depression and sickness, but it's a nice thing to imagine and fantasize that there's a city in America that isn't filled with drug stores.
What else? There were tons of breweries. Maybe that's why there's few drug stores, everybody drinks instead? I would drink rather than take prescriptions if I could. Fewer side effects and healthier. And you get lots of variety. Every restaurant even had a dozen microbrews on tap.
The homeless situation in Portland is different than SF. I've heard that Portland was one of the originators of the anti-loitering laws where the homeless couldn't sit or sleep near businesses. In Portland they have lots of nice parks, and their riverside area is amazing! They even have fountains where you could shower if you wanted. And they have drinking fountains everywhere that run continuously! They bubble straight up about three inches where you just walk by, lean over, and drink without even touching a handle. Plus they have public bathrooms! Proof you can have a society that is equal is providing some basic necessities without being openly hostile and cheap toward the needy trying to live among you. (By the way, I also stopped by their local advocate office to see if they ever heard of our SF homeless wiki, and they hadn't, and were very proud of their booklet of services that the publish twice a year. Portland needs a homeless wiki.)
One more strange story: I've been in love with Powell's bookstore ever since the first time I went to Portland 15 years ago. It's like 10 bookstores in one. It's called the best bookstore in the country, or in the West, or something, and it's true. I've probably purchased 30 books from there over the years. I particularly love the Judaica section where I've found many great books on Hasidism and legends. I was looking this time and found a great book, and noticed a label on it that said "Library of Anne Rice". I was thinking "What is this?" I of course know Anne Rice from the Interview with a Vampire books, and have followed some of her personal story through the years, like 10 years ago when she was suppose to have converted to Christianity, but I think changed her mind? And I think she lives in SF or spends a lot of time here, I'm not sure. Anyway, I start looking through the Legends book, and every other page is filled with hand-written notes. I look at the notes, and they're pretty intelligent sounding. One note said something like "Source of Lestat" which is one of her main characters. I just couldn't believe that this was her book and hand-writing. So I looked through the section some more, and there was another label saying it was her book, and it was a great sounding book. In fact, those two books out of 50 were the two books that I would like in my library, and it had nothing to do with Anne Rice, other than the fact that she and I had similar taste in Jewish legends. The second book didn't have nearly as many notes in it, hardly any at all. When I got home, I Googled "library of Anne Rice used books" and behold Powell's was advertising how she had donated a bunch of her books, so it really was hers!
Here are some pictures from our trip:
Portland has many bridges, and most are walkable and bikable. Lorie said Portland was rated the 5th best city in the world for biking, and we biked for a half-day, through the city, and along all of their waterfront. It was awesome!
Portland has a permanent submarine exhibit. It's an attack sub from the 1960s-1990s, the USS Blueback. It was only $5 for a 45 minute tour, and our tourguide was a retired former submariner. I applied to be in the Navy ROTC and was rejected because I had a major kidney stone attack my senior year in high school. I was considering going into submarine service. Also in the picture, they have a jetboat tour that launches from next to the submarine. Lorie and I took a one hour jetboat tour of the bridges. We got really wet! It was a lot of fun and educational.
Here we are on one of the bridges.
I mentioned how Portland has all sorts of fountains, and here's one that could double as a public shower! There are 12 powerful spouts that spray toward the center. I wish I could have stood there. (Lorie was brave and walked through some of it--see third photo below.)
A couple of months ago I saw an advertisement to see an art exhibit of California Impressionism from the early 1900s at a museum in Monterey. I really wanted to go but couldn't find the time to drive there and back. In our hotel's breakfast room, they had a poster advertising the exhibit that now has moved to Portland! The museum was in the center of town, so we spent 90 minutes going through it, seeing the Impressionism exhibit of course, and then some other excellent works. These three pictures are from the California Impressionism exhibit.
Lorie biking over one of the bridges.
Me stopped on my bike along the waterfront. There were a lot of joggers and bikers in Portland. It rivals San Francisco, maybe even surpasses it if you figure it Per Capita?
I’ve been seeing Moses every weekend since he went into rehab, with Fran the documentary director joining me most of the times. Last night we went (during the week) to a weekly ceremony where the organization presents their “chips” to the people who are clean and “stayed” in recovery, and friends and family get to watch. These chips are literally small poker chip sized plastic chips that say “24 hours” or “30 days” or 60 or 90 or “1 year” or more clean. Moses received his 60 days chip with about 5 other men. Some chip receivers were called upon to give a speech describing their path to recovery. It was an intense emotional experience just being in the audience, let alone being one of the people going through the process and hearing all this emotion.
The ceremony was led by this heavy-set guy in his late 20s wearing a superman t-shirt. He was filled with energy and unrelenting confidence. He has probably MC’d this kind of ceremony dozens of times, but each word, each person he was talking about, every intent carried a life or death seriousness. He was excited, thrilled, wise, humble, and deadly serious all at the same time. I had a thought that this guy could be on the outside, doing some kind of corporate circuit, like for-hire inspirational speaker. But it was obvious that this was something you couldn’t hire, or pay for. It was a Testimonial based on experience, and can’t be replicated in any other setting. You wouldn’t want to, because this is maybe one of the last places where Truth and Honesty are deadly serious, and you can see the seriousness with which Virtue should be taken seriously. Everyone there knows someone, many people, who have died because of their addictions and lifestyle choices that they might have broken free of, but are now dead. The sense of loss and would-of, could-of fills the air always, and creates a terrible sense of pressure. It was repeated over and over how there's a diminishing curve of recovering people, with maybe 10 people clean on their first week, and then 5 left when it gets to 30 day, and maybe 2 at the end when it gets to 90 days and graduation. If only 2 out of 10 make it, what can you say to those 8 people sitting there now, in the front row, in their first week clean, who won’t make it? who are listening to the speeches right now, and based upon the wisdom imparted by other addicts who are just one month wiser than you, that you will take it to heart and want to change and probably save your life?
I’ll share something semi-private. I also speak to Moses on the phone a couple times a week, usually to confirm when to come by and visit. And a couple days ago prior to this major “chip” point, Moses said he was thinking of dropping out of the program, but he couldn’t talk now. I said “Well, hang on and we’ll talk on Thursday.” I was freaking out a bit and hiding it. I told Fran and he began freaking out. So after the ceremony we gave Moses a ride back to his house, and we asked “So what’s going on?” Moses said that a new group of people joined the program, and he was having a hard time counseling them since now he’s considered the Senior Resident. It took me a couple seconds to process it, and then I broke out in nervous laughter because I was sure he was having some kind of problem with the rules or the supervisors, and in turns out he’s having guilt and anxiety because he can’t save everyone! That is too deep. But it’s just another of the amazing aspects of this whole story.
Well, they added a 4th sermon a couple months ago because the church had outgrown the 3 sermons (packed every time). We usually go to the late sermon, and last month we went to the late service (Sunday at 11:30), and instead of a Live pastor, it was a video, and in the video the pastor says "Hey, I've done this 3 times already, I'm tired, please watch on video." And then there would be times during the "video" sermon where the pastor would talk to the crowd, or ask a question, or say "Turn to your neighbor and something...", and it was weird because a video is telling you to do something, and you don't have that personal connection of a leader leading you to do something? It changes the feeling of what it means to go to church and feel connected.
So now the pastor will only give a live sermon ONCE, and all the later sermons will be on video. The reasoning he gives is that a lot of people watch the sermon online anyway and seem OK with it. Also, there are satellite churches in other cities where they go in and watch a video, and that's all they get since they're far away from the home church. The pastor also said this is the way of modern technology, and we have to embrace the emerging technology. (Really, he said that.)
OK, this is my response to the Video Church idea...BAD IDEA! I can see some house-bound person watching the sermon on the internet because they have to. In fact, we've often listened to the iTunes version when we couldn't make it 20 miles to get to the building. Seeing it in person makes it more memorable, so we prefer the Live version for that reason. But more importantly, I feel more connected to the church-goers, and the church's purpose, and I feel part of the community when I'm physically there with lots of Live people including the pastor. If all I get from it now is the video/audio message, I'm going to lose that sense of community, and honestly I'm not going to feel responsible for the community, either financially or socially or any other way.
Here's my solution, and frankly I don't understand why they didn't think of it and do it already. During the week they have a "research team" of about 10 people, and they sit with the pastor and go over the coming Sunday's (Saturday's!) sermon, and all contribute to what unique things they can add to make it informative and meaningful. They only read/study 5 or 10 verses from the Bible each Sunday, so you've got to do a lot of research into what you can teach about what is said in those few verses. So...if the research team puts together the outline of what's to be said, why does the same person have to say it in each sermon? They have 4 or 5 really good associate pastors on staff, and I know they all wait around for the "call" to be given the task of preaching some Sunday's sermon, when the Head Pastor is taking a break or traveling. My solution would be let the Head Pastor give the first sermon on Saturday night, and use that for the iTunes version. But for Sunday's sermons let one of the associate pastors give their version of the sermon. Then the Sunday people don't have to watch "video church" and they can have that personal connection, so that when the Real Pastor asks a question, or says "Turn to your neighbor" the church-goers don't feel stupid following the directives of a taped pastor.
There's a common wisdom that sometimes you can grow so big, you become a victim of your success. Usually we see this in people who gain power but then they lose their spirit and integrity when they do things to maintain power, or because of their new prestige they can't admit mistakes and try to cover them up all because they're afraid of not living up to their new perceived image. In this case I think the church is losing it's basic purpose of Church by serving more people than it's currently able to serve, and least able to serve according to its own rules, which apparently include the pastor responsible for that week's sermon must give every sermon, even if it's on video! If they had a building that held 5,000 people, then you could give just one sermon to everyone, but even then there would be problems because the church would become more of a stadium concert and lose an necessary intimate setting of spirituality.
That's why there's so much emphasis and attention given to "small groups" where small numbers of Christians (usually from the same church) get together for Bible Study, but also to share the intimacy that is being lost in these stadium-esque problems that are arising. Our solution is going to be something we should have done a longtime ago. We're going to start exploring all these new churches that are sprouting up all over! I've been to meetings where these pastors are getting together to talk about this phenomenon, and it's the real seed of Revival. Instead of mega-church and small groups, Christianity is positively developing in churches of 50-500 right in your own neighborhood. The leader isn't some Divinity School graduate, but some regular person called to do it. Our "old" church started that way about 20 years ago, so I guess the timeline for success and decline is 20 years. You can stick around the declining community (and watch video church), or you can hook up with some local group and really feel the sense of community. You can be part of the weekly, even daily challenges and miracles that God will provide when you get down and dirty with the community. Mega-churches try all sorts of methods to keep that intimacy, begging for people to be more involved in committees. I blogged before about my efforts to be part of that committee, and what happens is there's some well-intentioned middle manager that the Head Pastor blessed, but isn't good at sharing the power and creativity, so you as the better person for the job get slighted while other bad ideas get implemented. Happens all the time in the world, but I'm not patient enough to let it happen in my spiritual life. I want to go somewhere where I can add to the solution, and not be ignored. Everyone should demand that of themselves! Spiritual life is too important to let others discourage you. And the great thing is, there is plenty of opportunity if you look or can get a referral from a friend who knows of a great group to join, or maybe is already part of one!
(Note: I'm not naming the old church on purpose, and please don't name any churches in the comments. This is a personal opinion blog, and the names of the churches aren't really that important. It's all about the experience being as intimate and real as possible so that your Christian spiritual self can grow to its maximum potential, which I currently think is going to happen in a smaller group setting, but only if you can find a good one, because there are A LOT of bad, even dangerous, small religious groups out there where it would be worse for you to belong to than if you didn't belong to anything at all! Thank you.)
Yesterday I met with Takeshi, the Japanese author who has come to town a couple of times before to interview people in SF's social worker community as part of his book research. Each year he writes a new book and SF is one of the places he likes to come to do research. He specializes in comparing US and Japan's different ways of helping (or not helping) the needy. We met in Berkeley and ate at the Vegi House and talked for two hours about ideas that might help the poor in Japan.
One of the biggest obstacles is that there is a very under-developed non-profit network. Takeshi said that there might only be a couple dozen agencies that help the poor in Tokyo, where the SF bay area (a much smaller population) has thousands of agencies.
Another insurmountable obstacle is the concept of charity in Japan. Takeshi and I sort of figured out that the US and the West is unique in that we culturally believe a percent of our income should be designated to charity. It might come from the idea that people would tithe their income, give 10%, to their church. And possibly from the habit of giving to the church, people would give to other do-good organizations that seemed like church. And also non-religious people decided that too, but why and how is a mystery, and the only idea is that it is a cultural thing to do, using a large part of your income to give away. My knowledge of history is a little lacking in this area, but I think that in ancient Rome they believed that a rich person who didn't give back to society must be a crook. Giving back could be in the form of building something, like a temple, or sponsoring some civic organization, of which there were lots in the ancient world. As Western culture developed, this idea of using wealth to aid the community continued, even when capitalism and the industrial revolution helped some people to become very very rich. Takeshi said that after WWII, the capitalist system was promoted in Japan, but there wasn't any promotion of what to do with the money you would make, except for people to keep it and make more money.
A third major obstacle to helping the poor in Japan is the dominant cultural belief that people who are poor or unsuccessful are shamed, and that they have a duty to keep themselves away from society, and even away from their family. Right now Japan's government is trying to cut back what little government benefits they have for the poor, and trying to legislate that families must help their relatives instead. Takeshi said that when people apply for aid, and the question comes up "Will you go to your family for help?" the shame feelings arise and people who would qualify drop their application. This is even before the law that families must help. Maybe the government contacts the family to inquire about the applicant, but whatever it is, it's enough for the applicant to become severely embarrassed and not apply for aid.
A fourth obstacle is that Japan's primary religions are Shinto and Buddhism, and the priests are not in the habit of helping the poor. They are more concerned with personal religious states of mind, and physical states of living are not part of their calling. Takeshi inquired why some temples don't try to help the poor, maybe by distributing food and clothes, and the priests said that it would be too bureaucratically complicated to do that. The government is an obstacle in that they are not trying to make it easy to help the poor, even if it's done using resources that aren't the government's.
So what's the answer? After talking for two hours, we came to the conclusion that there isn't sufficient leadership in the government or culture. Japan could really use some celebrity who makes it their calling in life to bring attention to the neglect of the poor, and shows some way to help. Japan is a very celebrity-oriented country. They even greatly admire celebrities from the West, like US movie stars. One of Takeshi's action items is to find a celebrity that would be willing to participate in bringing attention to the problem, and then helping with the solution. Takeshi has already made contact with many civic leaders and heads of agencies that are helping, and we even thought that there might be an opportunity here for a conference or symposium to brainstorm ideas on how to help.
Another answer would be to reverse the shame ideas. Why wouldn't it be more shameful that your relative or someone you could have helped died when they didn't need to? Why is the shame in helping? The shame should be in the neglect! Some kind of campaign should be organized showing that shame is in not helping. But that kind of change in attitude is much more difficult than it sounds. These ideas of failure and embarrassment are woven into the culture for centuries in many aspects of life. You can't simply change it, it must be long-term and persistent, involving many aspects of life and living, not just the poor, but everything.
And I also wondered, where is Christianity in all of this? I did a simple Google search and found a small ministry "The Tokyo Homeless Project" that collects food and clothes and distributes it. Takeshi told me horror stories of how people kill themselves from shame, and starve because they don't even have rice to eat! This group I found is one small example of something that should be all over, filling the necessary gap where the government and lack of non-profits are failing. There are very few Christian churches in Japan, but this one small group is doing an important part of showing a solution to helping others, and being a witness to Jesus' message of helping the needy and raising awareness of our responsibility to help.
Takeshi's most recent book is called "Dying Alone". Many people in Japan live alone, and don't associate with others, either in groups or getting to know your neighbor. Then they die alone. People aren't sharing or looking after each other. I told Takeshi that because of the economic collapse, there is a rise is services that help people share more and spread the cost of living amongst their neighbors or whatever groups they belong to. In SF the most famous are services that share cars. Cars are expensive to maintain, and even to rent. But if cars are shared, and insurance is paid for on an "as needed" basis, then expenses are greatly reduced for people who have to make major budgetary choices, even paying for food. I've heard that some people are sharing cooking duties too, having potlucks as a way to save money and share costs among neighbors or groups.
I've blogged before about my dream of starting a homeless resources wiki in Tokyo. It's just a dream. I don't speak Japanese, but if somehow I had volunteers who were bi-lingual and living in Tokyo, like college students or even people with time, like the unemployed, then I could guide them in how to create a wiki and then there would be more education about how to get aid, or how to get over the shame, or even to list the resources and expose how little there is! The problem is so big, that practically any idea would be a good idea. Here in SF, good ideas have to compete in order to get people's attention. It comes down to who has the time and energy and motivation to do it? I'm especially curious as to why more Christians in Japan don't get involved in helping the poor and educating society? I'm going to keep on top of this conference idea, and try to be part of it. Hopefully, prayerfully, an opportunity to connect with the right people and contribute my knowledge and resources will come out of it.
And one more thing, I hate to sound too much like a socialist, because I don't believe people should be forced to help, but this problem in Japan, and also here in the US, wouldn't be a problem if people with money were more charitable. It's a cultural sin (and a big religious sin too!) that needs to be fought and changed so that people feel shame for not helping. But there is hope! I want to report that "Moses the Movie" DID get funded on Kickstarter! 412 people contributed over $51,000. And that's without a tax deduction! Money given away with only a DVD or movie poster offered in return. But looking at the comments and hearing from the director what people told him, plus what people told me when I was handing out advertising postcards, people care a lot about Moses' story, and want to be part of the help for Moses, and the education of the public that will come from the movie. That caring and connection made them want to donate their money, even in this economy where their money might have bought them a little material happiness. They donated, and funded the movie. I think that's a great sign and hope for the future.
(A side-note: My entry picture above, the Queen, is actually a statue in Tokyo that I took a picture of in 2007. It took me a long-time to find out who it is, but it's Saint Cunegundes, Empress of the Holy Roman Empire around 1020 who donated her wealth to the poor, and became a nun. The statue in on a busy street near the Park Hyatt, the hotel featured in Lost In Translation. I wonder how many people walk by the statue and understand its meaning?)
In fact, Fran showed up half way through and talked about his earlier in the day handing out cards. He also said he just came back from appearing Live on Spain's national news channel promoting the film. I love that about this project, it's not only about SF, and about helping the needy, but it's got international appeal and interest, so what you're doing here is cared about and followed from 5,000 miles away! The Chronicle's front page story from the other week focused on that aspect, and how amazing it was, that some one from another country became interested in helping one of our needy. I generally feel that tourists aren't responsible for helping the needy, it's the responsibility of the locals. So SF tourists shouldn't feel obligated to give handouts, and when I go to some other country, I'm not going to feel obligated. Because helping isn't just giving money, it's getting to know the person, and helping in other ways.
I should say "maybe" there will be times when a tourist is drawn to help someone and it's a good thing, but locals are much much more personally obligated, in my opinion. So again, it's a real miracle and extraordinary thing that Fran, who was really more than a tourist and was living here while going to school, became involved in helping Moses. It's a testament that the world is smaller and our sense of community is more personal and tighter than we are aware or willing to admit.
As of right now, the Kickstarter fund is $48,949 out of $50,000. 71 hours to go, and $1,051 left. And 385 backers!
Please donate! http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/202