Tag Archive: philadelphia


i don’t know a crazy lot about politics, nor do i claim to.

although i do try to keep on top of the daily/weekly goings on back home in South Africa as well as the major news events with daily visits to internet news sites like iafrica.com and bbc.com so that i have a general idea of what is going on in the world.

so when the OCCUPY movement came along, i had some idea of what it was all about, while being surrounded by a bunch of people who knew a whole lot more, including one of my housemates who got involved with doing the books for the group who were active in our nearby city of Philadelphia.

and so i didn’t know everything about OCCUPY, but then one day something happened to give me a serious opinion about them.

we had heard of this huge local craziness and cause for concern as Mayor Nutter [his actual name, go figure] put this ban into place on outdoor feeding specifically aimed at the homeless in Philadelphia and, we felt, directly aimed at removing the homeless people from two specific tourist spots, namely Love Park and the soon-to-be-opened [at the time] Barnes Museum of Art.

the Simple Way [which is the non-profit my wife Valerie and i work for] sprung into action in terms of starting conversation with a number of groups who we knew were feeding people in Philly as well as formulating an official statement and a plan of action. a number of us ended up at a meeting of the health board who were discussing some changes to health regulations that were indirectly related to the ban Mayor Nutter was trying to push through.

we decided to invite a bunch of our friends to come and unofficially picnic with us outside the building the meeting was to be taking place at [as holding picnics was a potential loophole to the ban] and Occupy Philly had had a similar idea with an impromptu soup kitchen and so we all arrived and set up and started having picnics with family and friends [where any homeless people who wandered past were immediately identified as family and friends].

so my first impression of Occupy Philly up close was that we were pretty like minded, but that disappeared pretty quickly when i saw some of the placards they had brought with them with statements like “Mayor Nutter is the antichrist” on them. [i’m fairly certain Mayor Nutter is NOT the antichrist or at the very least don’t have any information in my possession to suggest or even hint otherwise]

then we got to go inside and observe the meeting of the health board and they read through the regulations and explained the proposed changes and, for the most part they were making a lot of sense and it seemed like the majority of what they were looking at was about improving the safety of food being prepared and distributed and that’s when “THEY” started…

it’s called a ‘mic check’ and it’s about on par with a little kid mimic’ing every line you say until you are both screaming “STOP COPYING ME!” at each other and someone calls mom, or a teenager sticking their fingers in their ears making “LALALALALALALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU LALALALALALALA” noise… Someone yells “mic check” and the group responds by repeating it. Then someone starts a one sided shouted ‘conversation’ or challenge and line by line or even phrase by phrase it is repeated by everyone else in the group. So it completely shuts down what anyone else is trying to do in the room, makes you the focus of attention and puts your agenda on the meeting.

let’s face it, it’s a gimmick. and it works. and it could have even probably worked in the meeting. with better control and foresight and maturity. some of the Occupy people had something good to say. but some of them didn’t. many of them just got verbally abusive and insulting and about as relevant and effective as the “Mayor Nutter is the antichrist” [he’s still not!] placard lying outside in the street against the soup kitchen table. they disrupted the meeting [which eventually after way more patience than it deserved ended up with the board walking out to finish their meeting elsewhere] and they robbed others of us who felt we had something significant and helpful to say of a voice.

and to a large extent they robbed me of having a positive opinion towards the whole Occupy movement. i know you can’t judge a whole movement by one person or group. but i also know that whenever Occupy is mentioned, that this particular story and mess of immaturity, mob mentality, disrespect is the one that comes to my mind first. and that is unfortunate.

i think for a lot of people around the country, and even the world, the Occupy movement was a legitimate response to an economic, political and social crisis and it is the hugest tragedy that their voice was drowned out by all those who jumped on the bandwagon simply because it was ‘just another cause’ or ‘an opportunity to get loud and disruptive and scream and shout and break things down’. lack of leadership and more specific direction and discipline seem to have cost it a whole lot of authenticity and respect and all this brought about by those who were sadly Self-OCCUPY’d!

[Sueihn was our housemate at the Simple Way – she has been an absolute pleasure to live with and it has been incredible to watch her connect with people and especially children on the block as well as with churches and organisations in the area – i tag teamed with her on Mondays to share lemonade with the people in the food lines as well as talk to and pray with them – i am so thankful for her bravitude in sharing part of her story here with us]

I’ve been boy crazy since the age of five, when I used to daydream about riding flying unicorns together with one of my kindergarten classmates. It only progressed from there – Leonardo DiCaprio back when he was on Growing Pains, countless other celebrities, and boys at school. Once adolescence hit and my teenybopperdom reached its pinnacle, so did my severe low self-esteem and depression, which began as melancholic sprouts in childhood. I thought the only solution would be to find a boyfriend and get married. Maybe then I’d feel beautiful and good about who I am.

As God healed me of the lies attacking the core of my identity, I also began to realize that marriage is not a cure-all. It has its blessings but also its own set of serious challenges, just as singleness has both its unique gifts and difficulties. I love the freedom that I have in making choices, especially spontaneous ones, without having to take into account how it would affect a life partner. I’ve never been in a serious relationship (had a boyfriend in 10th grade whom I dumped after a month and a half), so this freedom has given me the opportunity to have some unforgettable adventures and shenanigans in my 20s and now early 30s.

Though I enjoy the perks of singleness everyday, I also wrestle with the struggles, which were exacerbated by the loss of my dad from lung cancer in 2007. I know I’m incredibly blessed to have dear friends from all the stages of my life dating back to kindergarten, despite being horrible at staying in touch. The most tangible sign of God’s grace in my life is demonstrated through my friends’ love for me. Yet, no one loves you like parents or a spouse. You will always be the center of their universe. Since my dad died, I can’t help but to feel significantly less loved. And when my mother passes on, how much more bereft will I feel if I’m still single?

My dad was also my main source of verbal and physical affection. My mom is great at loving me through sacrifice and service, but I miss having tenderness shown to me in more direct ways. I recently saw a picture of Obama watching TV with his daughters, snuggling cozily on a couch with an arm around each of them, and it was a slap in the face since I no longer have a healthy outlet to experience that kind of physical connection. My friends are very demonstrative, but ever since my dad died it feels like embraces are too few and too fleeting. The only exception is when someone leaves a hand on my shoulder while praying for me – I don’t think others realize that this comforts me as much and sometimes more than the prayers themselves. Honestly, when couples show some PDA, I often have to look away to avoid feeling a shroud of cold emptiness wrapping around me. I don’t think that people should have to censor themselves in front of me (especially not the married couple I live in community with – that would be so unfair!), but I have to fight hard to continually abide in the embodiment of Love who lives in me.

I know that God’s attention is always on me, and that He sends signs of His affection in various ways, using interesting disguises – like the 4-year-old stranger who demanded to hug me on the street today, or the random female pastor that held me for hours while I poured out my grief at a conference last year. But I wonder if that emptiness will ever be completely filled in this lifetime because of the fallenness of this world (2 Corinthians 5:4). These days, I’ve actually been more comforted by communing with Jesus in any suffering of His, so that I might also share in His glory. I think about my trip to Jerusalem, when we visited the high priest Caiaphas’ house and descended to the tiny, dank dungeon where Jesus likely spent the night in chains before He was executed. As I listened to my professor read the most depressing chapter of Psalms (88 – it ends

with “darkness is my closest friend”), I realized that Jesus truly took on my pain, brokenness, and emptiness upon Himself. Any time I feel any twinge of loneliness, I think about Jesus’ own experience of abandonment and know that I’m not alone – my pain is a drop compared to the ocean that Jesus endured, and He went through it all to be with me forever.

Married folks, if I had to give you just one suggestion on how to bless your single friends, I would encourage you to celebrate their lives well. Weddings are very extravagant celebrations of the couple’s entire lives – complete with photo slide shows, speeches and gifts. There are also bridal showers, bachelorettes and engagement parties, along with baby showers later on. Sometimes I wonder if the only milestone in my life that will warrant this much commemoration (and money) will be my funeral. So, I decided that I would be more intentional about celebrating my own landmark moments. When I turned 30 and graduated from seminary last year, I threw myself my first party since the cake-fight incident of 1995 (my 14th birthday party). I also threw a going away party before I moved to Philadelphia. It was actually really hard for me to allow myself to be celebrated – I felt a nagging sense of unworthiness and shame. Then I saw that God is exposing and breaking down the barriers that are blocking deeper intimacy with Him, preventing me from receiving more of His love and loving Him more fully. At the end of this painful process, whether He uses marriage or not to help accomplish it, God will give me the greatest gift in existence – union with Himself.

[to read my friend Kate Hurley’s story of Singleness click here]

[For an inspirational post titled ‘I don’t wait anymore’ click here]

i met James at an improv group class i sometimes attend in Philadelphia and he was the first one to jump into sharing his adoption story. even though the story is pretty hectic, it seems like James has somehow come through it really positively without having any major adoption issues. Thankx for sharing, James:

Well basically I’ve known I’m adopted my whole life. It was never some shrouded family secret. In fact the entire process was made very transparent to me as a kid. That’s not to say that I knew all of the darker details until much later.

Essentially the story goes as such: my birth mother, who was relatively young at the time she got pregnant (around 20,) was schizophrenic. She was very naive about sex and wound up in a one night stand situation with a man she hardly knew. When she became pregnant she and her parents went back and forth about whether or not she was going to have the baby. They were a Catholic family and they heavily pressured her to not have an abortion.

Ultimately when I was born my birth mother decided she wanted to keep me. Social workers, however, felt that she was not mentally equipped to raise me. Thus at the age of 2 weeks I was put into a foster home.

I was placed with a family of four who were absolutely wonderful. You often seen foster families depicted as abusive or terrifying, but I lucked out. They became my family for 2 and a half years! What I now know from having unlocked my adoption records is that my birth mother refused to relinquish her parental rights until that time. She was given chance after chance to prove she could be responsible.

It’s really a tragic story on her end. She ended up meeting and marrying a man with whom she conceived another child. He was mentally well, and it seems like she would be able to get custody of me…but then he died suddenly from a blood condition. Now she had not one but two children whom she could not take care of.

The other sad thing is that by the time I as 2 1/2 and her rights *were* fully terminated, my foster family – who had been planning to adopt me all along – realized that their son was developing a problem with cocaine. They felt it would be irresponsible to split their focus on another child, so they allowed another family to adopt me. That’s the family that raised me.

People get very confused, but I always say that I look at it as having three families: my birth family (the woman who actually gave birth to me,) my foster family (who raised me to age 2 1/2) and my adoptive family, IE: they with whom I spent my entire life.
For the first 15 years or so of my life I had very intimate ties to my foster family, often staying with them several times a year for holidays and such.

I don’t have a lot of adoption issues. A lot of adopted people want to know why they were given up, but even before I knew the answer to that later in life I never really wanted to know. I unlocked my adoption record when I was 19 because I wanted to know if there were any medical issues in my family history.

What I found out is that along with the birth half-sibling I mentioned above, my birth mother went on to have two more children later in life who were also taken into the foster system. So in total I have three half siblings out there in the world. That’s sometimes hard for me to think about because I have absolutely no idea how to track them down.

It’s fascinating to me that people consider adoption taboo even in 2012. We should be much more focused on solving the problems within the foster care system than on the weird stigma associated with being adopted!

so for those of you who missed my post on my ‘the simple weigh’ blog, here is a link to that and the story of the first week of aquaponics building that has been taking place at the simple way communtiy in kensington, philadelphia where we stay… aquaponics is like hydroponics but with fish [sustainable food growth]

click here to see…

so i posted about the protest action we were involved in with regards to the outdoors sharing of food with homeless people on my ‘the simple weigh’ blog but i know a lot of people susbscribe to this one so thort i would stick the links here as well.

click here for part I dealing with what i was pertaining to.

click here for part II which deals with the picnic which was my beautiful wife Valerie’s greatly creative idea.

and then here if you want the part where everything went nutball shaped as we got inside for the meeting…

and here is a blog from a new friend of ours perspective – a man who drove over an hour to be part of the protest despite himself and personal fear and trepidation…

on Christmas day, tbV and i went to visit a church called Epic that our friends Cody and Lyndsey go to and really had a great time – they meet in a cinema and we were greeted with good coffee and donuts, so pretty much everything i look for in a church [harr!] and then we found the one thing we had been missing in a bunch of churches we have visited since being in Philly which was a great message…

using clips from Elf [which we watched later that nite with some kids from the block cos we were so inspired, what a fun movie] and Charlie Brown Christmas [Linus the evangelist, who knew] Kent preached a simple yet powerful message on the need for us to learn from and be inspired by and emulate a lot of what kids, and specifically his kids, live.

from Psalm 118.24 “this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” he spoke about the unbridled passion and abandon that kids often have about life and used the example of a child opening a present [the real way] by just ripping it apart and trying to get to the gift [whereas the adult is being all mature and old and worrying about saving the paper and the ribbon and so on]

then in the Message, Matthew 6.34 reads “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

the focus is on ‘what God is doing right now’ – often we have ideas of how and where God works and often He throws that on its head by working in different places and differently to how we might expect and part of our job is to take time to be still and observe and listen and watch to see where God is at work right now and where He is wanting us to get involved – it may not look like what we would expect, but by doing what we expect He would say, we may well be missing what He is actually calling us to – are we really being led by God. i would never have imagined that tbV and i would be living and working in the Simple Way, even after being so inspired by the book years ago, but we took time to wait on God and hear and none of us have a doubt now that this is where we are meant to be living and ministering…

lastly he mentioned the story in Acts 16. 22-26 which starts with Paul [and Silas] being stripped and beaten with rods and goes directly to him praying and singing hymns to God – how do we respond to adversity? one of the things children love to do is sing – with reckless abandon, any time any place. why don’t we sing any more?

and why do we sing songs to God in church? is it because He has forgotten how good He is? No! It is because we need to be reminded regularly how awesomely good our God is.

Grow up and become like a child. Your life [and living as opposed to existing] might depend on it.

last night the beautiful Val and Monkman and myself went to a homeless memorial service in town where a bunch of different organisations who work with homeless people, such as project home where will [who runs our alternative seminary classes] works to specifically remember those homeless or previously homeless people who had died in the last year – more than fifty names were read out at one part of the service which took place outside in the gentle rain…

at one point in the service a friend of the simple way played Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Streets of Philadelphia’, one of my favourite and most moving of songs, which has never felt so apt [actually being on the streets of philadelphia] and the words are as follows:

“I was bruised and battered and I couldn’t tell
What I felt
I was unrecognizable to myself
I saw my reflection in a window I didn’t know
My own face
Oh brother are you gonna leave me
Wastin´away
On the streets of philadelphia

I walked the avenue till my legs felt like stone
I heard the voices of friends vanished and gone
At night I could hear the blood in my veins
Black and whispering as the rain
On the streets of philadelphia

Ain’t no angel gonna greet me
Its just you and I my friend
My clothes don’t fit me no more
I walked a thousand miles
Just to slip the skin

The night has fallen, I’m lyin awake
I can feel myself fading away
So receive me brother with your faithless kiss
Or will we leave each other alone like this
On the streets of philadelphia.”

[Lyrics from: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/b/bruce+springsteen/streets+of+philadelphia_20025067.html%5D

Jesus said, “There will always be poor people among you” and I think we often receive that in a resigned way – oh well, Jesus said there’s always going to be poor people so why even bother trying to make a difference. But i think He was speaking prophetically, not so much about what has to be the case [we do have enough resources for everyone at this present time] but from a place of knowing the heart of man – because you are greedy and put yourself first and choose your comfort over someone elses need, as a result of that, there will always be poor people among you.

this blog has the word ‘poor’ in the title so it is not going to get as many hits as say my relationship blogs [how can I do MY relationships better?] and the people who made it down this far are most likely not the ones who need to read or be reminded of any of this stuff, except maybe a little, and maybe it’s that little which counts. i know i need to hear it [and i have chosen to live in a poor neighborhood and work with poor people] because there is still a lot that needs to change in my own life.

but standing in the rain last nite with a whole lot of homeless people from all diverse backgrounds [poverty is not racist] and walks of life, and the people who work with them, i was moved once again that we can NOT SETTLE FOR THE WAY THINGS ARE – where those who have keep piling up more and more while those who don’t are left to suffer alone… especially as the church… part of our mandate is to look after the least of these.

“The night has fallen, I’m lyin awake
I can feel myself fading away
So receive me brother with your faithless kiss
Or will we leave each other alone like this
On the streets of philadelphia.”

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