Archive for June, 2016

A Man-Made Disaster

June 29, 2016

A MAN-MADE DISASTER–Matthew 16:13-19

From the beginning of my seminary career we read and heard of a United Methodist minister in San Francisco, who was a radical, weird, and pushing the boundaries sort of guy. He was  a man I admired, for he preached the Gospel. He supported civil rights, queer rights, in fact he supported all rights, and he still does. His name is the Reverend Cecil Williams, co founder and minister liberation of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church.

In his piece, “A Man-Made Disaster” in the San Francisco Chronicle he wrote these words:

“We San Franciscans are no strangers to tremors. We live in earthquake country. We’ve weathered some major ones, and we continue to prepare for the Big One we all know is coming someday.  But let’s ask ourselves: is the ground not already shaking? Homelessness is a man-made earthquake, a painful and destructive rift in the social contract, and addressing it requires a major effort on the part of all of us.

Those of us living on the street feel the ground trembling beneath us.  We are left permanently unsettled, facing continued relocation, constant upheaval and insecurity–like refugees in our own city.. . .”

His words call each of us to accountability in caring for our brothers and sisters who live on the street. Stephen Hawking tells us that “Greed and stupidity will end the human race.”  Our greed, our need to hold on to every dollar and our stupidity in not seeing that in sharing we bring life will destroy us.

Last night I had purchased a new set of shoes, and was carrying the one’s I was wearing in a bag. A homeless guy without shoes or socks asked me for them, I gave him two pairs of socks, and the pair of boots. One well-dressed gentleman told me “You are stupid for giving that thug your shoes, they are just free-loaders.”  Greed and stupidity will destroy us.

There is not enough housing for the people on the streets to begin with, and like Rev. Williams states, those of us with housing are shaking in our boots, because there are those at our door wanting our housing. Those of us who rent know what it is like to have the wolves at our door. Those of us who rent know what it means to live close to being on the street.  All it takes is a fire or illness.

Homelessness, high rents are “man made” disasters, and we each have a part in the solution.  Our churches, and our secular organizations can open their doors and provide a place for people are homeless to sleep each night; Rather than expect the government to solve the problem we in each of our organizations and churches can use our resources to ease the needs of people on the street. We as individuals can feed people, we can give them clothing, and if we have a room, can give them a room.

The two young men in the photo yesterday spent the day feeding and talking to young men and women in the Haight, and the older people on Polk, and both said in one form or another, “They are just like us, just people.”

Rather than categorizing –we need to view each other as simply human beings, and provide the basic needs of food, housing, health care, and respect to all.   If we listen we can hear the still small voice of Jesus saying to us:

“When I was hungry you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.” Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!

Temenos Catholic Worker

P.O. Box 642656

San Francisco, CA 94164

http://www.temenos.org

415-305-2124

Dog-Days of Summer

June 27, 2016

We enter July and we remember the days of July and August of which are called the “dog days of summer”, where we were raised in the South. They were so hot and humid that we stayed in the shade, and simply hung out, and drank a lot of ice tea. We remember going skinny dipping in the “Washout” an enclosed body of water, fed by springs, created by the 1812 New Madrid Earthquake, and neighbors stopping by at night as we sat on our porch outside. It was in the summer that our parents became sick and died, and it was the caring of neighbors, sitting with us, feeding us, that got us through.

What we  learned from that period was hospitality–sharing, and caring. We learned how to be a pastor through being pastored by neighbors and our minister.

It was during those hot days of summer that we met Norma, our last year of seminary. She was in her thirties with two daughters, and her husband had died suddenly a few weeks before our appointment to the parish. We were in a small town, a hundred miles a way from medical care. Through the summer Norma would remind me that she needed to “hear the Gospel in real life.”  She taught me to share of my own experience of Christ, for it is in our sharing that others can find hope and comfort; she taught me about boundaries.  In that small town for a single minister to visit a woman late at night, it went against all boundaries. Norma went through periods of suicidal thoughts, and grief, and there were nights she would  call and we would sit on her porch late outside for hours, as she lived through her pain. There were many who criticized us, for being “improper”.  We learned that care, crosses all of our false boundaries.  We have held the hands of people dying of all kinds contagious diseases without gloves because they had not felt the human touch in days, and doctors, nurses, and clergy would criticize us–but pastoral care crosses all boundaries.

We have learned that in ministry we are always second, the needs of people come first, and in the end our own lives are fulfilled, and have meaning.

We have learned that God is a God of many faces, God comes to us in different expressions. When he was about to be assassinated the Trappist Abbot in Algeria expressed this in written form to his prospective assassin:  “Thank you, my friend of the last moment, who will not know what you are doing. . .May we meet in heaven, like happy thieves, if it pleases God our common Father.” We meet people where they are, and respect their beliefs or non-beliefs.

Finally we hear the words of Mother Teresa and do our best to practice them:

 “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”

The dog days of summer are our favorite time of the year, for we have time to relax, meditate, and we have learned some of the greatest lessons of life during these days. Our invitation to is to take time  and reflect upon what shapes the focus of your life.  Take the time to allow God to move in your life in the heat of the summer afternoons where the best thing to do is to sit on your porch and drink ice tea. Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God.!

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lake

All Will Be Well

June 23, 2016

ALL SHALL BE WELL  “When Jesus saw their faith he said to them, ‘Friends your sins are forgiven.” Luke 5:20

“All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” Julian of Norwich

If my motive for witnessing to others about the One God is in the hope of saving them from the fires of hell, I have already passed judgment on them and done exactly what we have been commended by Jesus not to do: not to judge. What we as Christians witness to is the love of God, without strings. The love of God, shone into our hearts, which we reflect like a mirror outward.

-Br. Curtis Almquist

“Anytime the Bible is quoted to defend behavior that is not motivated by the law of love, something is wrong.” Amy Butler

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In two days we will begin Pride weekend. Pride has always been a time of joy, and fun.  This year there is a sense of anxiety and fear, that is overriding everything that is the meaning of Pride. I have two young men of color who told me they are “afraid to go”, because of the security measures. And they will be profiled, that I know. My own experience, and what others who are working at Pride tell me, is they feel like this fear has overshadowed everything, and people are being treated like objects.  Frankly, if I was not contracted to work and did not have people depending upon me I would leave town, and forget about Pride. It has become a horrible experience for me.  It feels like our every move will be watched, we are subject to body searches, and the people in charge respond in fear thereby seeing people as objects.  Every word I say seems to be subject to interpretation in light of that fear.  Minorities are fearful of the security procedures.  George Orwell’s book 1984 is a reality.

My freshman year in college, the year after both my parents died, an English professor who was dying of cancer repeatedly used the quote of Julian of Norwich:

“All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” Julian of Norwich

Helen was facing death, a painful death, and her witness was one that has profoundly affected my entire life.  Helen trusted in the God of love in Christ, and in that trust she continued to serve others without fear.

In a time when being gay was against the law, and considered a “sin” by all major denominations she witnessed to the inclusive love of God in her witness that God cared about what was in our hearts, and how we lived our lives in the the law of love. She put her job on the line for a gay young man who was caught sleeping with another.  Her response was always that quote of Julian, and it is that quote that has sustained me through the years, and her witness has been a beacon of the Christ who loves without condition.

People say many things about faith in general, and this week I have had comments like “Religion kills, all religions are death giving” and my response is:

“Anytime the Bible is quoted to defend behavior that is not motivated by the law of love, something is wrong.” Amy Butler

All of the major religions teach that the law of love is at their heart, and it is that love that transcends our humanity and brings us together.  It is that law of love which makes us human beings in the way we treat one another. It is that law of love  working through our lives that gives wholeness to our life and that of others.

Yesterday as I was walking down Mission and a  woman started witnessing, and I told her was a priest, to get her to shut up, and that added to the fire–I was truly condemned to hell. She kept following, and finally I turned to her and used this quote and told her to get out of my face:

“If my motive for witnessing to others about the One God is in the hope of saving them from the fires of hell, I have already passed judgment on them and done exactly what we have been commended by Jesus not to do: not to judge. What we as Christians witness to is the love of God, without strings. The love of God, shone into our hearts, which we reflect like a mirror outward.”

-Br. Curtis Almquist

I know I have rough edges, I know I am not the brightest person in the world, I know I am not a business person, I know I am different, and I know that people like to open their mouths on Face book, and all social media, and in person with their fear. We have become an age in which we do not talk to each other in person or on the phone. Every phone call, every contact I have personally is for the most part people asking for help.  Socially we turn to the computer.  I have called 911 for at least six people who have threatened suicide on Face book in different states, and their complaint, “We are alone, there is no one to talk to.”

This social isolation fans our fears, acting from our fears fans the paranoia over our safety.  My only answer frankly is to talk to others, to be kind, and to to hear the words of Julian.

“All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Temenos Catholic
Worker

P.O. Box 642656

San Francisco, CA 94164

415-305-2124

http://www.temenos.org

Fr. River Damien Sims, D.S.T. D.Min. Candidate, John Knox Seminary

PENIEL-JULY NEWSLETTER-TEMENOS CATHOLIC WORKER

June 19, 2016

PENIEL

July 2016

Temenos Catholic Worker

P.O. Box 642656

San Francisco, CA 94164

http://www.temenos.org

415-305-2124

Fr. River Damien Sims, Directer

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JOURNAL OF AN ALIEN STREET PRIEST

Socks are a daily necessity for most of us. We get up, we take a shower and put our socks on as we dress. We change one or two  times a day to remain fresh.  Socks are the foundation for foot care and health.  A clean pair of socks are taken for granted by many of us but a pair of socks is  like gold for people who live on the streets. For without them their feet become sore, and develop infection.  Socks are valued more than food  because food is available in garbage cans. As one young man told us recently, “Food is easy, socks are precious.”

We give away ten thousand pairs of socks a month, they are a third of our budget.  More importantly they are a sign of Christ’s love.

We transcend the human made boundaries of color, creed, sexual orientation, and gender in the giving of socks and we experience  a taste of  the words of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew, nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is their male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

We  simply are creatures of God in our acts of giving and receiving.

Yesterday we attended a graduation party for a brother and sister, the young man graduated from college, the young woman from high school.  We met them when they were in grade school and junior high.  We have watched them grow, and have come to love and cherish them.

The young man, six years ago, was struggling within a girl’s body, to be truly himself, and thus began his journey to transition from female to male.  He stands now as a handsome, well adjusted, strong young man, preparing to teach school.  During this Pride week he stands proudly being himself.

Ellen Page writes of her journey:

“Loving other people starts with loving ourselves and accepting ourselves.

I know many of you have struggled with this.

I draw upon your strength and your support, and have, in ways you will never know. I’m here today because I am gay. And because… maybe I can make a difference.

To help others have an easier and more hopeful time.

Regardless, for me, I feel a personal obligation and a social responsibility.

I also do it selfishly, because I am tired of hiding and I am tired of lying by omission.

I suffered for years because I was scared to be out. My spirit suffered, my mental health suffered, and my relationships suffered.

And I’m standing here today, with all of you, on the other side of all that pain.”

“Addiction is the chronic compulsion to numb,“is a quote that speaks to our fears, and our struggles.  Ellen Page through her struggles moved from numbness to be openness. She found true freedom.  Pride is about finding ourselves and being true to who we are  and that freedom comes through “loving God and our neighbor as ourselves.”

A clean pair of socks is not really much, they do not give a person a bed to sleep on, they do not automatically change their lives, but they are  a sign of inclusive love, without judgment, and loving another person for being themselves which  is a transforming power.  Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!

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WE ARE BEGGARS:      We are simply beggars depending on your loving kindness to provide the support we need to give a pair of socks, a meal, an arm to lean on, , nothing more, nothing less–and so we invite you to share in the giving of  that pair of socks, that arm to lean on,  and food to warm and nourish.  You may mail  a gift through the address above or give through pay pal on http://www.temenos.org. All donations are tax deductible.

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Questions

June 16, 2016

QUESTIONS

The picture above was painted by a young man who was sixteen years old. He was kicked out of his home for being gay.  He was raised a Christian, had a conversion experience, and knew Christ, but from the moment he came out, any church, he attended either condemned him or told him how he should live out his sexuality. His life was full of questions–and everyone had an answer–one’s that he could not say yes to, and ultimately he took his own life.

The past few days have been pure hell working on the streets. There are homeless sweeps and the murders in Orlando and Oakland.  People are crazy, wild with fears and questions. They take it out on each other.

Frankly the past few weeks I have felt beaten down, and have stayed away from my housed friends, and simply hung out with the street youth, and myself–people are set in their ways and are not open to letting the questions remain and letting people find their own answers without judgment. I have personally been told I have not grown up–and I have not–because I do not have the answer to the questions.

The reality is none of us have the answers–those answers come, if they come only as we work together in love, and respect.

For example in San Francisco their are advertisements on our transit buses for our medical marijuana clubs; the last two weeks I have been in states where marijuana is a felony, and a big no;  I was in places where being gay was a death sentence if it is known.  You see it is not as black and white as we would have it. Laws do not free us from the unconsciousness and a life time of teaching.  Only time, teaching, thinking and a change of heart will do that.

Twenty four years ago when I was a minister in another denomination, being gay was a sin–and still is in many denominations. That teaching, that forced way of belief, has intrinsically ingrained itself in me, and I still struggle with its affects. And people who are queer are impacted by that teaching.  And will be for years to come. Just because something is changed, it is not wiped away, and will not go away. It is in our unconsciousness, it is ingrained deep within us, a part of our fabric. We have to be aware of it, to have a change of heart, and to look at it, and that takes time. Laws, changes in policy do not wipe it away.

It is easy when you are straight, white, to think that laws can be passed, and changed to think all is well–it is not. You see until you have experienced that you have no idea, that is why Pride is so important–a way of being open and honest, and celebrate.  That is why “Black Like Me” is so important. They both bring the issues of discrimination into the light.

And those  teachings and beliefs of hatred  are  a driving force through out the world, and in our events in Florida, Oakland, and elsewhere. The questions are present–and we need to be open to them with love without judgment.

I work with people who have murdered people, who have  sexually abused,  have beaten, and have raped, and I am asked “How can you do that?” I do have an answer for that question:  “I am the chief of sinners, and God forgives me”, so how can I not extend the same grace. I have always believed that we must pay for our crimes, but God gives us mercy to work on our lives, to change, to come into his grace. We are all sinners, and we all have blood on our hands, and it is in our justification by faith that we come into the grace of Almighty God.

We all live behind gates–gates that appear to have the answers answers, where there are no answers, gates that lead to oppression out of our own fears.

We need to open those gates–move out into letting the questions be, and in living with those questions what I personally believe is that we come to one answer: We can love one another, in the midst of our differences, and when that happens the reasons for violence disappear.

When I was a prostitute, broken and angry I wrote a letter to a minister who had published a book, and he wrote back. I naively wrote him back of who I was and my whole history. He wrote me regularly with the most loving pastoral responses, and those response brought me back into relationship with Christ. After I started my ministry he became one my donors.

I learned later in his public addresses, and in his church he was homophobic, but the man I knew allowed me to live my questions and come to my own answers in Christ.. He was the hand of Christ in my life. That is what we all should do is to live the questions. Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!

Temenos Catholic Worker

P.O. Box 642656

San Francisco, CA 94164

415-305-2124

http://www.temenos.org

Fr. River Damien Sims, D.S.T., D.Min. Candidate–John Knox Seminary

That Secret Place

June 15, 2016

THAT SECRET PLACE WITHIN

Matthew 6: 1-6; 16-18

Jesus calls us to go within ourselves, and to listen, and in listening to hear  that still small voice that calls us to that which is common to all of us–our humanity, and our brotherhood and sisterhood with God. Nothing else matters.

Recently I took an ancestry.com DNA test, and received the results this week. What was interesting is that I am a tenth African American, 20 percent Cherokee, and the remainder a mixture.  All of us are a mixture–none of us are pure.  My parents would turn over in their graves if they saw these results, and I find it really humorous to think of their reaction.  For me it simply confirms what I believe is that we are simply human beings, made by the one God.

Today we learn of the smelt in the Delta being near extinction, and of a small rat in Australia becoming extinct because of climate exchange, and we grieve our own human error in not caring about our fellow living creatures.

Today in the midst of the horror of the refugee crisis, the shootings in Orlando, West Virginia, Texas, and Oakland, all I can do is to be reminded of the words of Madeline L’Engle,

There is something I’ve noticed about

food: whenever there’s a crisis, if you can get

people to eating normally, things get better.”

And so I feed people, for their are so many empty stomachs on the streets of San Francisco. And attitudes change in an instant, their faces soften, and they are open to words of care and concern. Food does wonders.

And during Ramadan I will fast from Sunup to Sundown with my Muslim brothers and sisters reminding me of those who do not have a choice in whether they can eat or not.  Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God

Arriving Where We Started

June 14, 2016

Rainbow Cross

ARRIVING WHERE WE STARTED

Matthew 5: 43-48

The words that summarize for me personally the message of Jesus are found in Matthew when he says: “You’re familiar with the old written law, “Love your friend,” and it it’s unwritten companion, “Hate your enemy.” I am challenging that I’m telling you to love your enemies.  Let them bring out the best in you.”

Loving is an art, it is not about emotions, but about our actions.  It is hard for us to love people who spit on us, who hurt us, and who say things about about us, but like in all art, it is hard work, and the most creative work we can do.

With the murders in Orlando we are reminded of the quote from T.S. Elliott:

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Forty eight years ago on the same date Robert Kennedy was assassinated, and we are reminded that we have not changed much–we have bigger weapons, social media, but violence remains active and present; This month we celebrated the anniversary of our ordination–over thirty years ago–and the church which ordained us remains homophobic; we went home to where we were raised for our first, and only high school reunion we will attend, and heard comments like “We always knew he was a fag.” Tonight I serve a meal as I have for over twenty years, we dress like our kids, in baggy shorts and hoodies, and it all seems the same.

But as we arrive in a new place we see the world in a different manner. We relate to people differently. As we stand back and listen we hear that still small voice bringing us a message of hope, and of the promise that all will be well.

We are often asked about our success stories–the number of people we see move off the street, and our answer is that success for us is journeying with a person in finding their Higher Power who can sustain them in the ups and downs of life and sustain them in the face of death. Success is working on the art of loving–unconditionally.

It has been Jesus who has sustained us in the up and downs of life, enabled us to face what comes regardless of who is with us, for us, or against us, and to serve.

Personally I have no answers, accept the words of Jesus who teaches us the art of love:

“Love your friend,” and it it’s unwritten companion, “Hate your enemy.” I am challenging that I’m telling you to love your enemies.  Let them bring out the best in you.”

Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!

Temenos Catholic Worker

P.O. Box 642656

San Francisco, CA 94164

http://www.temenos.org

Fr. C. River Damien Sims, D.S.T., D.Min. Candidate

415-305-2124