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Thank you to those of you who held me and my neighborhood in the Light as we met to discuss my city’s plans to build at least 66 units of housing for the formerly homeless here. Your and my Meeting’s support made it so much easier for me to stand up and say to my neighbors that I welcome formerly homeless men and women into housing here, knowing that many of my neighbors will be very, very angry with me.

As I have advocated for homeless men and women in my neighborhood, I have met many people who see the world very differently from what I do. The responses to my op-ed piece in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and discussions with neighbors who oppose mixed-income housing here have opened my eyes to just how common it is in this society to operate with gradations of people: some people are good and some people are bad. Many of my neighbors seem to see homeless people as unworthy and harmful to their surroundings, and most people in houses as deserving and beneficial to their surroundings (except for housed people like me who welcome homeless people, I guess we are traitors?). I have a brand new appreciation of how unique it is that Quakers insist that EVERYONE is a beloved child of God, that each person is the bearer of “that of God”.

Knowing that I have a whole faith community, both past and present, that stands with me has been a great source of comfort to me as I have faced my neighbors’ wrath. I was flooded with gratitude when I asked for my Meeting’s prayers and my on-line community’s support, and in so doing became aware that I was presuming that my fellow Quakers would be supportive. I would not presume that in any other setting, and I know other homeless advocates do not presume that their faith community will stand with them on this issue.

I am grateful to be a Quaker today. 

Query for prayerful consideration:

What aspects of Quakerism fill me with gratitude?

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Dear reader,

I spent a large portion of the day yesterday (Saturday May 31) at a neighborhood meeting where we discussed the plans for some surplus military land that hopefully will be turned over to the city of Seattle. One of the federal requirements is that this land be used in part to serve the needs of the homeless. Many of my well-to-do neighbors in Seattle are not pleased with the prospect of having some 300 new units of housing added, about 30% of them subsidized/affordable, and I have felt called as a Quaker to be a pastoral presence in the discussions. In this hostile environment, I feel called to be 

  • a calm, loving, and non-anxious presence to my neighbors to let them know that we have nothing to fear
  • an affirming and encouraging presence to the facilitators and presenters when they are met with hostility from my neighbors
  • someone who encourages listening, discussion, and persuasion (as opposed to hostility and name-calling)
  • someone who speaks about the beloved-of-God nature of the men, women, and children who are at a financial disadvantage

And I CAN do and be all these things, and I can do it effectively, but I have discovered over the years that it comes at a high personal cost. It’s not so much that I feel hurt by being called names and being yelled at. The part that does damage to me is that I seem to soak in the energy of the room, and my mind gets tangled up in trying to figure out how people so casually can put others down, call them names, twist, and distort their intentions, and actively try to make another person look bad. I don’t sleep well, I become sad and my thoughts about the interactions and the situation race on at uncomfortable speeds. My world as a Quaker, chaplain and spiritual director is lived in environments where most people commit to seeking to hear, acknowledge, affirm, and respect the validity of another’s perspective. I don’t have much exposure to adversarial environments. I know in general that I am not called to participate in those kinds of adversarial political processes – the personal cost to me is too high – but since I bear the Quaker mark, this is my neighborhood, and no-one else from the neighborhood seems to be willing/able to take on this role now, it falls to me to do it.

So I ask for your prayers for my spiritual safety and protection at these meetings, dear reader. 

The next neighborhood meetings are scheduled for

  • Monday June 2, 6.30 pm – 8.30 pm Pacific Daylight time (GMT + 9 hrs)
  • Monday June 16, 6.30 – 8.30 pm
  • Saturday June 21, 9.00 am – 1.00 pm
  • Saturday July 12, 9.00 am – 1.00 pm
  • Saturday July 19, 9.00 am – 1.00 pm

My Meeting is already holding me and my neighbors in prayer, and I ask you to join in and hold us in the Light.

Query for prayerful consideration:

What does prayer mean in this context?