Monday, December 22, 2008

A Good Sermon

"I like a good sermon, now and then," I told my homeless peers who complained about paying for a meal by attending a religious service. I was filled with gratitude to be able to sit, indoors, out of the rain and chill wind for a while. "It's better than nothing," I said in reply to complaints about the food; and it was usually hot. The operative word here is: good. A good sermon.

A good sermon for homeless people is "see the lilies of the field..." and a reminder that if God cares for the sparrow, how much more He cares for his people. Do not be anxious, wondering what will we eat, what will we wear, sufficient unto this day is today's worries. "Lo, I am with you always." Jesus did call people "scribes, hypocrites"; he warned about acting pious, going to a public place, screwing up one's face and vain repetitions of praying. He advised going to one's closet and shutting the door to pray.

A good sermon builds people up; gives hope for a brighter tomorrow, no matter how pressing our problems today. I recall hearing one of those during my time on the streets. A sermon that told me I was created in God's image and Jesus' saying anything he could do, we could do better, because He was going to Our Father in the heavens. If we have the faith of a grain of mustard, we can say to that mountain "move yonder" and it will be so. Leaving a good sermon one is uplifted.

Basically the theme of the sermons I attended while living on the streets was a singular message: You are a hopeless sinner; you will not overcome your addictions to crack cocaine and alcohol unless you accept Jesus as your savior and become saved. Dang, what if I tell you it was following Jesus' instructions, as recorded in the Bible, that caused me to become homeless? I never smoked crack and a 4 pack of wine coolers could sit in my 'frig for 6 months, minus the one I drank when I bought them on sale. I believe in: Do unto others as you would have done unto you. I do not like people robbing me, I do not rob. Simple. Does that make me a hopeless sinner, doomed to hellfire?

My favorite is: Judge not lest ye be judged, for the measure of your judgement will be used by God to judge you. Okay, I do not have a Bible, so my quote may not be exact. There is one Christ, why so many different Christian religions? Do not answer that; I know. I mention it because my understanding is there is to be Second Coming of Christ. All who have died will be risen from the grave, blah, blah, blah and only 144,000 will have eternal life. Gee, I am good, but not that good. I accepted that I will not be among those 144,000.

"By there works you will know them" or some such thing. To be Christian, then is to serve others; not to judge them and promise them eternal hellfire and damnation.

The reason I am typing about good sermons is due to the comment I had on a post, from the Director of the Long Beach Rescue Mission. The Mission is overseeing the Winter Shelter program this year. I never heard a sermon at the Mission. My thoughts on that came from what I was told by the men who regularly slept at the Mission or attended the meal programs. My question was "what if the homeless seeking winter shelter are Muslim, Hebrew, Buddhist, Hindi, Wiccan or with their own spiritual beliefs?" We have all of those and more, religions in Long Beach. Those people's tax dollars are being allotted to help the homeless with Winter Shelter.
It was the men that participated in the Mission program that had me believing that it is a Christian based organization and to participate, one must be Christian or attend Bible studies and become Christian. I did not say they complained. Oy, I would not have the job of keeping order at a homeless shelter. I have already written about some of my experiences and how I lost my Winter Shelter privileges 2004/2005. I was aghast, how could anyone steal from a church? There is a need for rules.

The Mission year round program provided shelter for men. My understanding of the rules, was that a homeless person was not allowed to leave their cot after light's out. I have a small bladder and have always needed to urinate frequently. That has gotten worse with age and I wake at least once a night to empty my bladder. Now a lot of those chronic homeless that used the Mission have been in jails. They have an ability to tolerate conditions that I could not. They did not complain; small prices to pay for respite from the streets. The complainers would be people like me; law-abiding, former tax paying citizens; adults who resent being treated as a naughty child, simply because we are homeless.

Is the job giving shelter and food to homeless or is it saving souls? I met people on the streets who were struggling with the red tape to be awarded those tax dollars to be used providing shelter for homeless. Hence my thinking, why give tax dollars to a religious organization, when there are others willing to take on the job? The city might look into a year round shelter, hiring the homeless to provide the services ~ separation of church and state.

If it were not for those Christian organizations the homeless would be getting a lot less help then they are. I appreciated every meal and every volunteer that made those meals possible. I did not appreciate my self-worth being judged and my self-esteem, slowly being destroyed by the sermons, and attitudes about me. Building people up is better than tearing them down. My comments about the Winter Shelter were not intended to disparage the city or the Mission. My view of the system's "hand up" came from experiencing it from the streets.

If I had slept at Long Beach's Winter Shelter when I was 23 or 39 or even 48, I may have had the physical stamina to get up at 3AM ~ which I considered ~ to go work unloading ships or whatever the job was having to do with fish. I was lucky to get 3 or 4 hours of solid sleep at shelters. Without bathroom facilities and showers, it did not feel like a hand up.

I have nothing against San Pedro homeless. I was lucky, in that the Shelter bus driver usually saw that I got on the shelter bus. I was not one of the hundreds left standing on the sidewalk without shelter on many nights. Hence my wondering ~ San Pedro, I understand does have some year round shelter space ~ why the Long Beach Winter Shelter includes San Pedro. 113 beds will not be sufficient to provide for Long Beach's own homeless. Does the city of San Pedro help cover the costs to provide the Winter Shelter?

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