Thursday, October 28, 2010

Role Models

My Uncle Ed was a big man.

He wasn't just big in size or in the volume and resonance of his voice. It wasn't just his chainsaws or his truck that were big. He was huge. And I'm pretty sure it's because he was bursting, exploding with love, brimmed with joy, and wrapped in courage. When he died almost a year ago after a long battle with cancer, I had no idea what to do. You see, Uncle Ed had always been there and you always knew he was there. Dressed in old overalls, he was in Mawmaw's kitchen, slicing the mold off of the old cheese and eating it (the cheese, not the mold) and inhaling whatever cookies were in the jar (leaving very few behind). He was stomping through the doorway on Christmas in pajama pants and a Santa hat. He was at the beach on his birthday and driving his big white truck around Odell and Kannapolis most other days. He was the kind of guy that, when he spoke, you wanted to listen. He was always reading, always praying in his booming voice, and always giving all that he had and all of the joy that he had. His love was wide and long and he spent it, not just on his wife and his daughter, but on everyone he met.

Uncle Ed was huge.

Now, Uncle Ed was never afraid to tell you what he thought or to do something that other people might think was a little crazy. I loved him for that. I love him still. It was hard for me, and for a lot of people, to watch his body wither away last year, but I can say proudly that he never lost his spirit and that he never stopped trusting God. Like Ed, the void he left behind is huge, but the way he lived his life and the way he let it end inspire us, not to fill this void because that is impossible, but to grow ourselves, to love everyone just like he did, and not to let a little fear keep us from trusting God.

It was providence, I think, that allowed Ed's funeral to be the place I was invited to the Montreat College Conference last year. Not only is the conference where I learned about the Young Adult Volunteer program, but it is where I heard Dr. Cynthia Rigby speak about the boxes she had built in her life and how she had escaped them. It made me think of Uncle Ed. I'm not sure that he ever lived in box, at least not when I knew him. I cited this message from Dr. Rigby in my application to volunteer this year because it reminded me so much of my uncle. It reminded me that I knew what a life lived unencumbered by fear looked like because I had seen it. It reminded me that the only thing holding me back was me. I could do something that seemed maybe a little bit crazy. I could put my life in God's hands and ask Him to take care of me.

Because of this, because of my Uncle Ed, I have named my blog Keepin' On. Many will be aware that after my accident, my Uncle Steve (also, a pretty great guy) kept a blog on Caring Bridge that let my friends and neighbors keep up with progress of my healing. Many, many people would come to this blog and sign the guest book with words of encouragement, memories, and prayers. I am immensely thankful for each signature and I want everyone to know that it is still a place I go for comfort when I'm feeling down. After all, there are few pick-me-ups that near equal 1,340 messages telling you how great you are and how much you are loved. One of the most faithful signers was my Uncle Ed who would end most every post with “and keep on keeping on,” which, I think, is very solid advice.

So this week, keep on. Maybe, do something a little crazy...and tell God about it.


Pray for Uncle Ed, my Aunt Jan, my cousin Marimarie and my entire family. We all miss Ed and it's not easy to live life without him. Pray for a homeless man's feet, (we'll call him Jack) that they will be healed. Pray that we can all be good Christian role models. Pray for my housemates and I as we put on a Fall Festival for the community, that we meet new people and form lasting relationships.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. --Romans 13:8-10

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Living and Loving

So, a few folks have contacted me in various ways since my last post and expressed concerns for my safety. I appreciate all of the concerns, but let me try and alleviate them, if only a bit. You see, the first concern of all members of the Outreach team is safety. The number one rule is that, when going to encounter a client, you always have a partner. You don't leave your partner and your partner doesn't leave you. We have been trained to always be aware of our surroundings and to position ourselves for quick escape if necessary. Sometimes this is complex because body postures and positioning that are aimed for safety do not always invite comfort and trust. Our supervisors have told us that if we ever feel unsafe, all we have to do is express that feeling and we will leave the situation, whether it be in conversation with one client or approaching an encampment of twenty people. I also want to mention that the people I work with have years of experience with the homeless in outreach and shelter environments and that they share knowledge about expectations and safety openly. My boss has been working in outreach for more than 10 years. All other employees have at least 3 years experience with the homeless. So, if you have been worried about my safety on the streets in my job, I thank you, but be comforted by the fact it is our priority. While no situation is completely safe, we do our best to minimize risk.

But now, a little about some of my week and of course, some thoughts. On Monday, two of my roommates and I went to a filming of the show Community (Watch Thursdays on NBC!). This not a show that typically is recorded with a live studio audience. We were lucky (and grateful)to have been invited by one of the show's stars and member of Hollywood Presbyterian, Joel McHale. The show is recorded on Stage 31 in Paramount Studios, which is literally a three minute walk from our apartment. I want to say that it's weird when you cross into the studio. You go from this low income neighborhood full of older apartments, vegetable trucks, and people struggling to make it day to day into Paramount Studios with its Little New York, actors dressed in period outfits (apparently) filming French silent films, and star trailers filled with food and comfort. It's another world in there and, even though you only see walls from the outside, that world is always there.

But anyway, it was fun to watch the show be filmed. We were on set for about six hours (except for lunch...which we got for free from the snack trailer) and saw like a grand total of two minutes of television being filmed. It's definitely an interesting process. In the one scene that was filmed the entire time we were there (again, about six hours), they would aim the cameras at one or two actors, do multiple takes to ensure they got the right dialogue in the right way or in different ways (happy, sad, loud, quiet, etc.) just in case they changed their minds later and then they would set-up the cameras for a different angle or on a different actor and do it all over again. I'll just say that there are 23 minutes of action in an episode and that it typically takes 5 to 7 days to wrap the filming. So, we saw that, got to talk to the writer, met a few of the stars, and got a tour of the stage from the gaffer (the guy who handles lighting) who happened to have grown up around the studio (his father was gaffer before he was). We learned that the studio was built by Howard Hughes, but because he was cheap, he invented a system to open the stage doors with the city's water pressure rather than invest in an electric opener. Clever. Also, for anyone who cares, the episode we saw was being directed by Jay Chandrasekhar (Thorny from Super Troopers) and he's taller than I expected.

But, like I said, it was cool to meet the stars and find that they were all pretty laid back and nice. It was definitely fun to watch the dynamic of the group work just like any other team in any other job. But it was weird to think that the next day, I'd be back on the streets talking to the poor and homeless while these folks went on arguing about their lines. And this is a lesson that I think I've been learning for a long time. I learned it in Sunday School when I was kid. I learned it when I went through all the pain from the accident and the people in the hospital rooms on either side of me were experiencing the same horrible pain. Now I have learned it in Beverly Hills at a gala hosted at a billionaire's mansion. I've learned it sharing space and resources with my housemates. And I've learned it talking to TV stars at crafts services behind the scenes. God loves all people, He loves them from the diabetic homeless man who had his insulin stolen, to the pregnant heroin-abusing woman peeing behind a trash can, to billionaire textile importers, to the Scientologists dressed in uniforms pruning their bushes down the street, to the man plotting to bomb a subway or skyscraper, to the mother cooking dinner for her family, to the immigrant crossing the desert in the cold of night, and Chevy Chase. Yes, God loves Chevy Chase...even after Vegas Vacation. God loves them and God wants them. The funny thing is, most of these people just want to be treated with a little respect and a little bit of love. And most of them are capable of giving it in return.

When we were talking to the amputee that I met on the streets of Westchester last week, whose insulin had been stolen two weeks prior, a number of other homeless people approached us and told us how worried they were about him and how he needed help. That pregnant herion-addict I mentioned, she and her boyfriend had loaned their blankets to the man, to Roy, and watched over him as he deteriorated. We ended up calling the paramedics to take him to the hospital and I know he can use our prayers, but the point is that all people need our love. It's an easy thing to say and it's easy to put aside. It's a lesson that I've had to learn again and again (and again), but I'm happy that I'm learning it in Hollywood now. It's a great place to practice because I can't think of many other places where I can talk to a man who has been homeless for 4 and a half years and then cross a wall where, literally on the other side, I can share that same love and respect with an actor dressed in the newest shoes and snacking on tuna salad and lettuce (so he stays in shape for his contract).

Loving each other is hard and its easy to forget, but it's something that we're called to do. And I want to say that I don't think it ends with just talking to each other or sharing a sandwich, even though that's a good start. I think that it means wanting the best for everyone and thinking about the systems that we subscribe to, that we allow to shape the world into a place that lets Roy exist in the same city, subsisting on less than ten dollars and the care of people with little more, with the gated communities of Beverly Hills and actors laughing on the other side of the wall. However, we are not meant to just ponder these systems; we are meant to change them. You see, we built that wall and it is far past time that we tear it down.


Pray for Roy. Pray for my brother, Turner, who just sent his first college application. Pray for my housemates and I as we plan our community house structure and events. Pray for people on both sides of the wall, pray that they will meet and both will be changed for God's glory.

Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. --Matthew 20:14