December 23, 2008

Skeptics and True Believers

These descriptions of (1) Skeptics and (2) True Believers in Chet Raymo's book "Skeptics and True Believers: The Exhilarating Connection between Science and Religion" sound good to me, but it should be noted that Raymo is, himself, a skeptic -- as am I.

  • Skeptics are children of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. They are always a little lost in the vastness of the cosmos, but they trust the ability of the human mind to make sense of the world. They accept the evolving nature of truth, and are willing to live with a measure of uncertainty. Their world is colored in shades of gray. They tend to be socially optimistic, creative and confident of progress. Since they hold their truths tentatively, Skeptics are tolerant of cultural and religious diversity. They are more interested in refining their own views than in proselytizing others. If they are theists, they wrestle with their God in a continuing struggle of faith. They are often plagued by personal doubts and prone to depression.


  • True Believers are less confident that humans can sort things out for themselves. They look for help from outside -- from God, spirits or extraterrestrials. Their world is black and white. They seek simple and certain truths, provided by a source that is more reliable than the human mind. True Believers prefer a universe proportioned to the human scale. They are repulsed by diversity, comforted by dogma and respectful of authority. True Believers go out of their way to offer (sometimes forcibly administer) their truths to others, convinced of the righteousness of their cause. They are likely to be "born again," redeemed by faith, apocalyptic. Although generally pessimistic about the state of this world, they are confident that something better lies beyond the grave.

December 18, 2008

Tom's First Sermon at Union Gospel Mission

[This is what my talk would be, if the Union Gospel Mission would allow, me, an unordained Buddhist, to give a sermon there. But, ahh, it's, um, not likely that I'll be allowed ... I would guess.]

I want to talk tonight about the fictional children’s story set in the Garden of Eden found in Genesis 1, 2 & 3. It’s a wonderful tale, even better than "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," but like "Goldilocks...," it never truly happened.

It’s an especially swell tale, that Eden thing, though. It’s the OBVIOUS story that a tremendously-insightful ancient person would invent to explain the beginnings of human life.

Think about it: God is Perfect, All-Knowing; Has nothing; Needs nothing. Then, just for kicks, he divides the universe in half.

Before the first day, he creates time, separating it from stillness.
On the first day, he separates darkness and light.
On the second day, he separates heaven and earth. … and so on.

God, ONE UNIFIED PERFECTION, WHICH IS CONTENT FREE, is dividing, like a growing human cell, dividing and multiplying and, in a process of evolution, coming to life. For, what else can he do? Perfection has no counterpart. So, he creates a counterpart by cutting Himself in half an endless number of times.

In the Garden of Eden, which is the opposite of the chaos of the life on earth that God created in the first seven days, He divides Himself from Himself, creating a companion, his image, Adam. And later, to give a companion to Adam – so that Adam can be that much more like God – cuts a piece out of the first man, giving him a woman.

And then, rather slyly, He creates that which is forbidden, separating it from that which is fully available: The Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil and The Tree of Immortality are forbidden, separate from all of the other vegetation which Adam and Eve may eat. [So now, it seems, that Adam and Eve are made less like God, to whom nothing is forbidden.]

Now, it’s a curious thing. Adam and Eve only know about the The Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil, and not about the The Tree of Immortality. [I’ll get back to that later.]

Because it is human nature – or, truly, the nature of all life – to be especially, keenly interested in whatever is forbidden, Adam and Eve end up eating the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, just as God had wanted them to. For now, they are even that much more like God. They are exploring; going beyond themselves, exercising their free will. [For how else, other than by thinking about what you're not supposed to do, can anyone exercise free will?]

God, now, kicks Adam and Eve out of Eden – making them, then, EVEN MORE like God. Remember, God had kicked himself out of “Perfect Oneness which is Content Free.” Now, God is kicking Adam and Eve out of the BORING AS HELL Garden of Eden, where you are not confronted by challenges.

Now, Adam and Eve have left their so-called idyllic spot. Just like us, Adam and Eve have been left to fend for themselves on the dangerous – and sometimes cold and wet – pathways of earth.

Now, we are told, God installs the cherubim and a flaming sword at the gate of Eden to keep Adam and Eve out, lest they eat of the Tree of Immortality. [BTW, be aware that this information seems to tell us that Adam and Eve were never immortal up to this point.]

The cherubim and the flaming sword. What do they represent? Cherubim is plural for cherub. So, here another duality. What are the TWO cherubs? [A cherub is defined as “Usually represented as a pudgy, blond haired child that has wings sprouting from his/her back.”] So, what do the TWO cherubs represent?
- - - -

Let us pause here for a moment.

The story, I hope you all are coming to understand, IS METAPHORIC!!! It is not to be taken as a concrete happening, as conservative, painfully-literalist Christians are inclined to take things.

Why MUST there be a fictional story in the Bible? [A book already full of parables (i.e. fictional stories), I might add.] Because it is only through metaphor that psychological issues can be addressed. Religion is about spiritual matters, not dead rocks. There are some things we cannot tell each other about: specifically, those experiences that happen within the lonely space of our minds. We cannot comprehensively communicate our suffering and gladness. Language is a blunt, crude, wholly-inadequate instrument. Thus, until [referencing 1 Corinthians 13] we meet face to face, and see through the glass clearly] we need metaphor.
- - - -

Now, what do the two cherubs with the flaming sword represent? Fear and desire.

Fear and desire are the two things that bar us from the Tree of Immortality. Fear and desire are the two prime things in human nature that make us unlike God. If we can overcome our fear (primarily of death, but of other things, too) and desire (for the fun, alluring and diverting things to be found on earth), then we would easily pass through the gate and return to Eden.

How do I know that the cherubs represent fear and desire? Because it is the message of overcoming for enlightenment, which is the twin of being born again. But also because that superior religion, Buddhism, TELLS US SO! [See “Mysticism and beyond: Buddhist phenomenology, part II”]

Buddhism, too, has its famous gate. It’s called the “gateless gate,” since, in reality, there is nothing barring one from passing through it, EXCEPT those ephemeral twins, FEAR and DESIRE. In the Buddhism theme, one of the guards has his mouth open and the other his mouth closed. But it truth there is nothing to stop you from entering the gate. Indeed, the whole point of your life is for you to pass through the gateless gate.

Many Buddhists, famously, sit in meditation. What does meditation accomplish? It stills the mind. What is the benefit of stilling the mind? It is a return to The One, to the Timeless Now, before God subdivided himself into all things on heaven and earth.
- - - -

Now, remember, in the Garden of Eden story, God has gone from THE ONE to THE MANY. At first God was ONE, then he became THE MANY. The Roman philosopher Plotinus tells us that our life has this path: Flee the Many, find the One; having found the One, embrace the Many as the One. This path, too, is the ground of The Perennial Philosophy. [You can read some about Plotinus relating to Homeless World Sacramento in a prior post to this blog: "Phobos and Thanatos"]
- - - -

So, here we are. You and me and Adam and Eve and everybody, possibly including the squirrel in the tree. We are outside of Eden, fending for ourselves in a dangerous world where there is strife, suffering and incredible injustice. Of course, we imagine a perfect world – a land of bliss. It must be somewhere. Metaphorically, it involves a return to Eden – a return to THE ONE.
- - - -

Now, about those trees. INSIDE the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were forbidden the fruit of ONE tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. OUTSIDE the Garden of Eden, there are TWO forbidden trees, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil AND the Tree of Immortality. Don’t you see!? THE TWO TREES, inside the Garden, ARE ONE AND THE SAME TREE!!! [Inside Eden, before God divided Himself, the trees are one. Outside Eden, in our world of duality, the single tree is seen as two.]

The Garden of Eden tale is telling us that THE WAY BACK INTO THE GARDEN IS THE SAME WAY OUT. But first you must overcome fear and desire. And then, you may eat, again, of the fruit of the tree! MORE knowledge is the return to THE ONE. MORE knowledge is the route to immortality. And what is this knowledge? It is the knowledge of Good and Evil. And what comprises knowledge of Good and Evil? Wisdom and Compassion. [BTW: It is NOT that wisdom and compassion ARE good and evil; they are THE KNOWLEDGE of Good and Evil.] Once you fully have wisdom and compassion, wisdom & compassion become ONE thing [the TWO become One]: Agape – unalloyed, unconditional, unbounded love.

Once you are ONE, again [like Adam briefly was], YOU WILL KNOW GOD [and knowing God is, of course, the knowledge of good and evil] and once you know God, you will love everyone unconditionally, as he does, thus EMBRACING THE MANY AS THE ONE. And THAT is the whole point of your life, dear friends [I think]. The Buddha said at enlightenment, "I am one with all things."
- - - -

So, the Garden represents Heaven. But when you embrace the many, you leave heaven and return to the earth with all its messiness. The Kingdom of Heaven, you see, is here. The Kingdom of Heaven is within. The Kingdom is on earth as it is in heaven. Hallowed be thy name.

Here is something I believe, that I've posted before -- though my believing it or not doesn't make any difference. What I believe is that consciousness is all One Thing and that we are all in the Game of Life, a "cosmic game of checkers," together. Here, then, a snippet from a Ken Wilber interview known as "A Ticket to Athens" which explains things:
Spirit is not good versus evil, or pleasure versus pain, or light versus dark, or life versus death, or whole versus part, or holistic versus analytic. Spirit is the great Player that gives rise to all those opposites equally -- “I the Lord make the Light to fall on the good and the bad alike; I the Lord do all these things” -- and the mystics the world over agree. Spirit is not the good half of the opposites, but the ground of all the opposites, and our “salvation,” as it were, is not to find the good half of the dualism but to find the Source of both halves of the dualism, for that is what we are in truth. We are both sides in the great Game of Life, because we -- you and I, in the deepest recesses of our very Self -- have created both of these opposites in order to have a grand game of cosmic checkers.
- - -
Note: This post is an embellishment of some of Joseph Campbell's ideas in his book "Thou Art That." To Joe: A tip of the hat. My source material is found on ~pg 49-52 which can be seen via Google Books.

December 10, 2008

Bee Story Looks at Situation of Bannon Street Irregulars and Other Homeless Encampments

A picture from the Bee story showing the Bannon Street encampment in late November.

First, it was the L.A. Times, and now the Sacramento Bee that has done an important story on its area homeless people.

The Bee story, "Sacramento seeks solutions for its wandering army of homeless," focuses on the Bannon Street Irregulars and an encampment over a mile to the east, called The Wasteland. It tells the tale of the pointlessness of the police rousting homeless people from campsites they've built in no-man's land. Where can the homeless go!?

The story also cites a lawsuit that is being pursued by several prominent Sac'to homeless-aid organizations to protect homeless folks' constitutional rights. The lawsuit seeks compensation for confiscation of homeless people's property and that some solution be found for the encampment-rousting run-around. The suit offers ideas and, generally, asks that the city and county to stop criminalizing homelessness.

The story could have been a tad more sympathetic to the trap homeless people find themselves in, but, generally, the story is a great, good thing, informing Sacramento citizens of the homeless encampment situation in the city.

December 8, 2008

Guidance for the Freshly Homeless

Joel John Roberts of L.A. Homeless Blog brings to our attention an article in today’s L.A. Times, “A guide for the newly poor,” of help to the tens of thousands who are finding themselves rookies to homelessness, out on the streets in the Los Angeles area.

Ideas in the Times guide can be helpful to anyone freshly down-and-out in any metropolitan area, though most of the linked resources are only helpful to Angelinos. But resources that are similar are available here in metropolitan Sacramento, and I would suppose, in other sprawling areas in this country. But you’ll have to find them on your own. Hopeful, my locality's Bee will put together a guide for the benefit of our homeless-to-be citizens.

The shock aspect of suddenly being out on the street is alluded to rather well. As is the idea of “entering a world of delays and bureaucracy.” But it will be good for the many, many anxious people out there to be aware that there are services that can help them – though the glut of people that will be crowding the streets and crowding the system is sure to foster anguish and depression for both newbie homeless and those of us who have been out here a while and now will have to contend with and compete with a growing hoard.

UPDATE: This says something about the times we're living in, I think. On the day the L.A. Times published its guide, the Tribune Company that owns the Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Cubs baseball team, and a lot else, including ten smaller newspapers and 23 TV stations, filed for bankruptcy. Here's yesterday's New York Times story about it, "Tribune Company Seeks Bankruptcy Protection." It all has to make you think, wistfully, that the guide story was published in part as an aid for the newspaper's employees [whose jobs may be in jeopardy] and former employees [who took a buyout, recently]. At the Tribune website they posted this notice: “All ongoing severance payments, deferred compensation and other payments to former employees have been discontinued and will be the subject of later proceedings before the court.”

Naked Reflections: Overcoming Poverty of the Spirit

Eknath Easwaram

In a post titled "Overcoming Poverty of the Spirit,” in his blog Naked Reflections, my pal [in both electron-space and meatspace] Nagarjuna [also known as Steve] offered up a quote from his favorite philosopher, Eknath Easwaram, that talks about the “fleeting taste of joy of union” with whom St. Augustine identifies as “God,” but whom Easwaram cites [after quoting Augustine] as “the Lord – the Self within.”

What is this union? and with whom, exactly, are we having it?

Easwaran writes, “Once we taste this joy, all we want is to be permanently aware of him in everyone, everywhere, every minute. This intense longing is the mark of genuine spiritual experience.”

Steve asks in his post “How can I, and how do I [taste this joy]? By meditating and contemplating enough? How much is enough? And how does one do enough without the inspiration of which Easwaran writes? Just as one needs money or other resources in order to earn more money, doesn't one also need to feel inspired in order to make an enduring effort to make big spiritual gains? I often feel like a man who is too poor to become rich.”

I think a terrific example of this joy, found “in everyone, everywhere, every minute” must be Thomas Merton’s “Vision in Louisville,” which I quoted in this blog last August. In his vision, Merton tells us he sees “the invisible light of heaven” blazing in everyone and that “it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed …I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift.

Merton ends his essay, writing, “I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.”

In his vision, Merton also mentions “le point vierge,” which comes from the writing of Louis Massignon, a distinguished professor and scholar who was deeply inspired by the life of a tenth-century Muslim mystic known as al-Hallaj, who was crucified in Baghdad for having loved God. Literally, le point vierge means “the virgin point,” I think, but I find it translated as The Virgin Heart in an essay on point vierge by Dorothy Buck. There, I find le point vierge is described by Massignon: “The Virgin Heart refers to the secret place in the center of the human soul where God alone has access. al-Hallaj envisions the core of all human hearts as one, where the human and the Divine meet, unified and untouched by anything except the seed planted by God's love.”


Quoting Buck:
It was Massignon's character to be deeply moved by life and particularly by the stories of human beings. He seems to have understood his own religious vocation as profoundly connected to human relationships. As his scholarly research plumbed the depths of these connecting themes and images his views of the world expanded, leading him to live out his convictions through social action. Imaging God as the stranger who comes to our door begging for food and shelter, or the refugee who struggles to speak our language, or the poor and marginalized in our society Massignon envisions Mary, who was also an outcast in her society. She represents the sacred hospitality in the center of every human soul that welcomes the stranger, God.

Merton, inspired by Massignon, corresponded with him, and gave this definition of le point vierge: “At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will.”

This "fleeting taste of joy of union" is also central to Plotinus's The Enneads. "Think of the ONE as Mind or God, you think too narrowly.... For This is also a self-existent, with no concomitant, whatever. This self-sufficing is the essense of its unity. Something there must be supremely adequate, autonomous, all-transcending, most utterly without need."

Quoting a short paper on The Enneads: "ONE is inviolable. It is also infinite. It is self-awake. It radiates. Finite intellect cannot put these descriptions together. We must find these meanings in our heart. The leap we hope to take is not into a foreign good, but our own Nature as Good."

Does this post offer any hard answers to Steve's or my questions? No. But it does find a few fingers pointing at the moon, maybe.

December 3, 2008

The Buddhist at the Baptist Rescue Mission

The Primordial Buddha statue on the grounds of the Sacramento Convention Center. That yellow thing in the background is a statue titled Walking the Dogs. Photo © Tom Armstrong
The person referenced in the title of this blogpost is me.

In Ryan Garou's book On Homelessness in America [for sale in softcover here; downloadable in doc format here], Ryan writes [Emphases mine] ...
In America, Christianity is the dominant belief system and therefore the one to expect when showing up at a mission's doors - there may be Buddhist, Muslim, etc. shelters but I've never personally heard of any. ... This should raise at least one obvious question - if a Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, etc., or even a Christian of a flavor at odds with that of the shelter provider is in need of shelter and has no other options, what happens? How is it handled? And what about the Satanists, Wiccans, agnostics and outright atheists? It entirely depends on the mission's policy. If they rigidly require an hour's devotion to Christianity, a homeless person of a different faith either has to grin and fake it or turn away.
Since I've been at the Union Gospel Mission in Sacramento over six months now, I figure it’s about time I address the elephant in the room: How do I handle being Buddhist in the midst of this Christian conclave?

As I wrote in my third post to this blog, when I returned to Sacramento late last April, I was desperate for a place to stay and ended up at the mission. While I have been out on the street many days, I’ve yet to try to stay at any other shelter, though the Salvation Army shelter, and, now, the Winter Shelter are likely to be a better fit for my requirements.

Why do I continue to stay at UGM? For starters, the Union Gospel Mission has a lot of appeal. Foremost are many of the guys who are so-called guests, like me [that is, the sheltered homeless], and other guys, most of whom were recently sheltered at the mission and who had substance-abuse problems, but are now part of The Program, and pretty much run the joint. Among the guests and in The Program are a lot of fully nice guys who are interesting, colorful and friendly. And a few of the guys in The Program are downright magnificent people who have adapted a Christ-like love of their brothers. Others of my homeless brethren have evident [and sometimes not so evident and sometimes downright mysterious] problems, but seem to do a rather splendid job managing their lives under the difficult, frustrating circumstance of being homeless.

Like what Ryan writes in his book, UGM does rigidly require its sheltered men to attend an hour-long gospel service every night. Generally, in the first half-hour there is singing, by the congregation using the chapel hymnals and/or by a choir or musicians from a church. Generally, during the second half hour a pastor will preach to us.

The music half-hour goes by pretty fast for me. Even though I have a terrible voice and a narrow range of notes I can hit, I usually sing along. While most of the hymnal songs are cornpone, written a century ago, with lyrics that talk about blood a lot or joyously dream of the Rapture, by UGM tradition, many of the hymns are augmented with interesting or strange or comical or wonderful little inserts into the lyrics. These inserts generally come from The Program guys, pretty much all of whom sing robustly. This fun sensibility keeps the hymns from growing stale.

The preachers, on the other hand, are mostly pretty awful – but there are some who are quite talented! Many of the awful ones come wholly unprepared and just ramble on, saying pretty much the same nonsense every month. From those preachers you will get one or some or all of the following messages, usually delivered rather simplistically:
  • Repent or you will roast in hell [The fact that the Bible tells us doing good works is important (Book of James, chapter 2) and that love is superior to faith (1 Corinthians, chapter 13) is, always, overlooked – as is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mound which I have only heard mentioned in passing!]
  • God/Jesus loves you [But never ever “Love thy neighbor,” with mention of the importance Jesus attributes to having us “love the least of mankind.”]
  • End Times are near! [Any bad news, from fires in the state or the economic downturn, is hailed as evidence of the End, coming any day now.]
  • Well-established science and reputable scientists are repudiated and mocked. [Evolution and earth science and The Big Bang get special condemnation, though one preacher is a notable exception in that he cites The Big Bang as evidence of the existence of God.]
About ten of the preachers each month are very talented and very passionate and come well prepared to convince congregants of the Good News of salvation. Jimmy Roughton and the mission's in-house pastor, Rev Tom Mooney, are two in this group.

Here is something I believe -- though my believing it or not doesn't make any difference. [Believing the True Thing about The Cosmos, God and Everything almost certainly doesn't affect my future ... I don't believe. Though finding the Source is the goal in cosmic hide-and-seek.] What I believe is that consciousness is all One Thing and that we are all in the Game of Life, "a grand game of cosmic checkers," together. Here, a snippet from a Ken Wilber interview known as "A Ticket to Athens" which explains things:
Spirit is not good versus evil, or pleasure versus pain, or light versus dark, or life versus death, or whole versus part, or holistic versus analytic. Spirit is the great Player that gives rise to all those opposites equally -- “I the Lord make the Light to fall on the good and the bad alike; I the Lord do all these things” -- and the mystics the world over agree. Spirit is not the good half of the opposites, but the ground of all the opposites, and our “salvation,” as it were, is not to find the good half of the dualism but to find the Source of both halves of the dualism, for that is what we are in truth. We are both sides in the great Game of Life, because we -- you and I, in the deepest recesses of our very Self -- have created both of these opposites in order to have a grand game of cosmic checkers.

The Bannon Street Irregulars


The red-roof building to the left of the red star is the admin area of the mission. The large gray-roofed building just below [to the south] is the chapel, dining hall, dorm room and several small offices. Most of the Bannon Street Irregulars sleep in front of the gray-roofed building along both sides of the road with a few in sleeping bags on the sidewalk directly in front of the admin building.
A very curious thing about the Sacramento Union Gospel Mission — like nothing I've ever seen anywhere — is just outside mission property, out on the street.

On the sidewalk, against the black wrought-iron gate and fence and on the dirt on the other side of the two-lane street, are where the Bannon Street Irregulars* sleep and rest and eat. And on the pavement itself is where they frolic, mostly at night. It's very dangerous for the Irregulars because the road is narrow and there's a sharp curve right where they congregate. Sometimes cars pass through the area at high speeds.

In the spring and summer, during my first months of homelessness, the Irregulars had bedding and their few belongings on the street in spots they maintained. The Irregulars, a constantly shifting, changing group of perhaps fifty street people look out for one another, for the most part, but there are also very frequent fights that break out. Some fights end with a fire engine and ambulance showing up on the street and then, maybe, a police car with an arrest occurring. Too, there are other passionate discussions that occur on the street that may end quietly or escalate into something more troublesome.

The great majority of the street people are men between the ages of 20 and 55. Between four and eight, at any given time, are women. A few of the people will have dogs; there are typically three or four dogs on leashes around, most of which are gentle pitbulls. The street person who is recognized as the leader is an older black man named Champ. He often nobly intervenes when passions are raw, but other times stays out of things.

Though dirt poor in accumulated assets, most of the Bannon Street Irregulars do get checks and have expenses. At the beginning of every month, or shortly thereafter, the Irregulars get their "happy checks." The sources of the checks can be SSI or SSDI or veterans benefits, or, sometimes, small short-term general-assistance payments from the welfare office. Also, many find what work they can to earn some money.

By sleeping on the street and getting food from various sources, the Irregulars are able to use large portions of what money they receive for fun or to numb their suffering on substances they are fond of or addicted to. Alcohol, weed, crack, crystal meth, speed or a wide variety of other substances are targets of addiction, in addition to tobacco which is commonly used in the form of roll-your-owns, known as rollies.

Early in a month the Irregulars get their checks. At that time, the availability of beds in the guest shelter in the mission free up such that we regular mission sleep guests have no trouble securing a bed. Usually before mid-month, after the Irregulars have spent their money, largely on short stays in motel rooms and on their substances of choice, beds become competitive again and some men who want one will have to stay out.

Russell Yeargun of Radiant Life distributing food to the Bannon Street Irregulars. The story of how God changed Russell's life can be read at the Radiant Life webspace. [Permission to use photo granted by Russell Yeargun.]
While the Bannon Street Irregulars can and do get food from the mission [dinner at 8:30 every evening and lunch on Sundays are offered, following a sermon] or lunch, available seven days a week at Loaves & Fishes, which is just a mile away, they have other handy free sources of grub, too. Many are likely to be getting food stamps. Several groups, including Food Not Bombs with their hot tofu-and-vegetable plates, distribute food once a week in Chavez Park, downtown about two miles from the mission. Also, many groups and individuals, acting on their own, come to where the Irregulars are to feed them. Radiant Life
and Abundant Life are two church groups that bring food on a set schedule. Bikers for Christ come with food, with their appearance being preceded by the roar of their choppers. Individual Samaritans come with sandwiches, pastries or soup they've prepared. Two young men irregularly appear distributing dozens of McDonald's burgers they bought nearby. Another food option: Pastor Dick Hedger of Downtown Baptist Church, who gives a sermon at the mission the first Thursday of each month, offers tickets for free McDonald’s meal deals to homeless people who attend his church’s Sunday or Wednesday services. Truly, like any metropolis, there are opportunities out there for the homeless of our extended city to stay fed. But it is especially important that the Irregulars, who may be apt to neglect their needs, be aided with diligence efforts that they be well. While there are many organizations involved in giving food to homeless Sacramentans, only Loaves & Fishes with their daily lunches [giving meals to 600 to 800 folks] feeds more than 125 people at a time in a metropolis where there are, perhaps, 2800 homeless.

In late summer, the population of the Irregulars began to increase and their presence on the street became more pronounced. A man with several ramshackle vehicles made from steel fencing, grocery carts and bicycle tires established a spot for himself. People began putting chairs on the street near the sidewalk. A hibachi got used regularly. Down the road, several vehicles were parked where homeless people slept. A large old trailer without a license tag became a few people’s makeshift home for a few weeks.

In May the city had reached an agreement with Greyhound to move their terminal from downtown to an area near the mission. Word later was that the new depot would be built beginning in mid-September. This was clearly the spur that got the police to make a play to move the Irregulars away from the area they occupied.


At night the police would arrive and roust out the street denizens. When this first happened, many Irregulars relocated at a spot near the American River. But others returned quickly to the Bannon St. locale. Soon, the Irregulars learned that there was no penalty for near-immediately returning after being banished.

After many rounds of roust-and-return, the economy began its tailspin and that put the skids to both the Greyhound move and the police effort to displace the Irregulars.

As fall arrived and the trees took on all their earthy colors, the nights got a bit wet and cold. Sometimes very cold. Tents began to spring up like wild mushrooms on the across-the-road-from-the-mission side in the Bannon Street Irregulars community. There were several big tents that were erected which could hold four beings. And there were small ones, too, that could keep a loner dry. Down the street, near where North B Street rounded a curve and had a name-change to Bannon, a tent village emerged on a piece of property no bigger than a quarter acre. The people there cooked chicken on an open fire and hung their clothes to dry on the wire fence.

Because of the bitter turn of the economy, the county of Sacramento delayed the opening of the so-called Winter Shelter [aka, Overflow] from Nov. 1 to Nov. 24. Overflow has a good reputation in the homeless community because of its beds on bunks [instead of bunk pads], tasty meals, lenient rules and TV room. Overflow adds 154 beds [104 for men; 50 for women] to the shelter opportunities we Sac’to homeless have in the cold months. The official close date is March 9, three weeks before its usual close. Hopefully, the weather will be friendly then. [Update: I am told by Barry Wisdom of VOA, in an email received on Dec 8, that, per Angelo Gama, there is a possiblity that the close date might be extended. Let us hope that it can be, especially if the weather in March is bad.]

In synch with the opening of Overflow, the Irregulars got notice from the police of their eviction from the street. As it happened, this time the police action was mostly successful. Today [Dec 3], only a few stragglers continue to sleep in front of the mission. And down the street, in the tent village, the population seems slightly reduced.

In the mission shelter, for the past three days, there have been about ten empty bunk beds out of the sixty available. And the number attending services and sitting for the evening meal have been greatly reduced. For the moment, things are rather good. The weather is chilly, but dry. Life goes on.



* I call them this, a play on the Baker Street Irregulars of several Sherlock Holmes stories. The Bannon street people are "irregular" in that they intermittently eat at and the men get beds at the mission.

The Death of the GOP?

This from a Thomas Frank column, titled "Health-Care Reform Could Kill the GOP," printed in the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal Online:
The goal [of the Republican party has been] to use state power to achieve lasting victory for the ideas of the right.

On the other side of the political fence, strategic moves of this kind are fairly rare. Instead, for most of my lifetime, prominent Democratic leaders have been chucking liberalism itself for the sake of immediate tactical gain.

... [C]onservatives have always dreaded the day that Democrats discover (or rediscover) that there is a happy political synergy between delivering liberal economic reforms and building the liberal movement. The classic statement of this fear is a famous memo that Bill Kristol wrote in 1993, when he had just started out as a political strategist and the Clinton administration was preparing to propose some version of national health care.

"The [health care] plan should not be amended; it should be erased," Mr. Kristol advised the GOP. And not merely because Mr. Clinton's scheme was (in Mr. Kristol's view) bad policy, but because "it will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests."

Historian Rick Perlstein suggests that this memo is "the skeleton key to understanding modern American politics" because it opens up a fundamental conservative anxiety: "If the Democrats succeed in redistributing economic power, we're screwed."
Read the whole column here.