Monday, January 07, 2019

Steps over the last year

For those who read earlier "diary" posts, I realize that the last post seemed to indicate that I haven't changed much, that I am still in the throes of depression.

At the present moment, I find that I have grown a lot.  I am not nearly as depressed or anxious as I was a year ago, and I'm certainly much better than a few years ago.  I no longer have thoughts desiring my death, or a focus on the events that closed my work among the houseless.  I had to go through a severe grieving process, as I spoke about in a previous post, and I'm better.  I'll never be 100 percent, I think, but I feel normal, whatever that is.

I am now one foot in Eugene, Oregon, pastoring a small church there, and one foot in Portland, trying to close out my work there, while leaving a legacy.   Eugene Mennonite Church is where I'm pastoring and you can see what we are doing there on our website, (not .org-- that one is old!).  We are hoping to grow the church in the next couple years.

In Portland, I am working to establish Village of Hope.  We don't have a website yet, but we hope to soon. A year ago, we established a village on public land in Portland, which the city took away immediately.  I spent three months working on that project exclusively, which drained me completely.  I find myself giving to that project again, to get it started in a different place.

In the meantime, I am being sued for helping homeless folks and threatened to be billed by the City of Portland.  All this is emotionally exhausting, but it has not halted my progress to positive mental health.

Now I find myself on the edge of moving to Eugene and wondering what I will do next.  I am a part time pastor, with time to do other work.  I want to work with the houseless in Eugene, but I want to make sure that I am doing something necessary, not just helping where people don't need help.  I am learning to be slow and patient, like I was before I started.

Honestly, I feel a lot like I did twenty five years ago-- ready for new projects, listening, wondering what opportunities will present themselves or that I should create.  I am also a lot more tired than 25 years ago, a bit more cautious.  I want to spend more time with my family to see my children progress into adulthood and independence.   I am looking forward to what we have in store.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Fear Accumulated

I entered into my work with houseless folks fearless.  I suppose not completely, but I was ready to face threats, beatings, hatreds and even death.  I had considered all the circumstances and so I was ready to face them.  This was in line with Jesus' preparations for his followers about persecution.  "They will hate you," he intoned, so readying us for all kinds of hatred.  Hatred from those in authority over us.  Hatred from our fellow religionists.  Hatred from those whom we serve.   So I rehearsed all of these possibilities in my head, so when they came I would be ready.

And I was ready. When someone called me Satan for my firm pacifism, I laughed and shared with others.  When someone threatened to punch me in the middle of a sermon, I talked him down from it.  When someone punched me in my house, I was shaken, but thoughtful.  When a neighbor threatened to kill me and my fellow pastor, I was careful, but shrugged it off.  When local police told the neighbors I was high on meth and selling it to my people, I thought it was hilarious.  When someone snapped and threw a TV at me because I was trying to help them, I shrugged it off.  When another person lurched at me and threatened to kill me, right then, right there, I was concerned for the others watching more than I.  And when someone struck me at the church because I had to escort them off the property, I barely flinched and said, "Are you done?  Let's go."  When I was arrested in city hall, I had a wonderful time.

I knew my principles and I was ready to stand and take whatever for them.  It looked like I was fearless, but that wasn't really true.  I recognize now that I was afraid each of those times, but each incident had so little fear that I didn't worry about it at all.

But as I am older, I realize that these incidents and others accumulate.  They remain in my gut, stewing, distilling, until there is just a vague fear that comes out in weird circumstances.  I withdraw, instead of stepping out, and each time that I take a step into new circumstance, I am surprised at what I am fearful of.  It is like learning what my kryptonite is, because I never knew it before.

I am scared of middle class people, of their hidden judgments and powers.  The fact that they can use politics and courts and police to force their will upon me.  I am afraid of losing all the supports I have for my family-- the boundaries I put around them and the wealth I use to keep them safe and growing.  I afraid of large, angry men.  But mostly I am afraid that I lack the charisma and social power I used to have to make people do what the ought.  I had greater confidence in my psychic power than I did in God's power to step in and help.  Frankly, just look at the classic stories.  God didn't always help.  He let people suffer and die all the time.  So the Bible was never a confidence-booster.

I am still doing things others wouldn't.  I appreciate houseless folk more than I ever did.  I talked one guy to explore with me in my car for an afternoon and he showed me local camps.  But you see, he has way more to fear from me than I do from him.  I need to make it worth his while, to be a good listening ear, to give him some money for his time.  To bolster his confidence that I'm not the kind of guy afraid of him.

Roosevelt was right: We need only fear fear.  Not so much fear in ourselves, but fear in others.  When others are afraid that you are going to take the very things they have rested their security on, that's when you need to fear.  We do not fear our fear, but the fear of others.

But I am afraid of my fear.  I am afraid of the weakness it presents.  The fact that my fear could overcome my compassion and limit my actions.  I am afraid that I will fear the next large man I come across, that he might throw a TV at me.  That I might not take a radical action because a government official might take away my family's house.  I'm setting up protections against that.  But still.

I still don't mind getting arrested.  Looking forward to my next opportunity.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


The daily disciplines I must do in order to get out of depression and to be ready for a new life.

Liturgical prayer: Shema, Lord's Prayer, Hymn of praises to our God

Time of silence, start with 5 minutes

Prayer for enemies, prayer for needy

Read a book for at least 15 minutes

Write a blog post (whatever length)

Study the gospels

Do this (except for study) before getting on other internet sites!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

7-12-17-- Causes

Reading my post from yesterday makes it seem as if my needle had not moved in months.  I am just as depressed as before and saying the same stuff.

Not really.  For one, we moved out of the property that I worked at off and on for twenty years.  That is an important step and quite possibly essential for me to progress out of my depression.  As long as my organization was there, I still felt responsibility for what they did, and it lingered in my mind.

I feel as if I were carrying many different boulders of responsibility over the years. I have my house, my family, bills to pay, teaching and writing.  One of the biggest ones was the property and the management there, both the continuing work that needed to be done as well as the result of the decisions I made.  This week, taking the rest of our property off of the land, I can wash my hands of the whole thing and it is no longer my responsibility.  What happens there or doesn't is no longer mine.  We have paid what we needed to pay and we have fulfilled all that we said we would do.  We even met our long term policy, "Leave a location better than you came to it."  What happens to Red Barn/Sanctuary now is out of our hands.

I should feel freed, but I don't really. I have a job now which I can leave and not have to think about at home.  I am paying off the bills more consistently than I have for decades.  My family is (mostly) doing quite well.  So why don't I feel better?

A couple things.

First, losing the Red Barn is losing what I poured my life into, somewhat for twenty years, but especially the last six.  It was all-consuming, and it was the purpose of my life.  I did what I needed to for my house and family in between times of supporting that work.  It was overbearing and eventually I saw that no one could hold onto all the pieces, but still, it was my baby.  To give that up is like losing a parent, losing a spouse.  My depression makes sense because I am grieving a loss.  A loss other people can't feel or perhaps understand, but it's still there.  This is why I am going back and forth between sadness and anger, it's all a part of the grieving process.  I need to acknowledge the loss and take the chances I can to move on.

Second, I have lost a way of life.  My wife and others pointed out that I dove in too far, swam too deep in trying to help homeless folk along with many others.  I need to slow down and take care of myself.  However, I organized my life to be a helper and support to those in the greatest need.  I arranged systems so that I could overcome my deep social anxiety to connect with and support those in need.  Now I am at sea.  Without the structure and support inherent in the system I created, I don't know what to do.  The inability to have a place to help people paralyzes me.  I have a smaller system of food distribution that I am running, but the benefit of this system is seeming less important.  I don't know if this is the positive work I'd like it to be.

I feel as if the motivation and drive of my life is missing.  Animals have instinctive work they do and they accomplish it without thinking.  Humans need to have a system which they are a part of to establish motivation.  An entrepreneur like me, who loses the business that is their life, leaves a void.  What is the reason for getting up out of bed?  I'll do what I must, but beyond that, what's the point?

Pretty existential questions, but depression forces one to confront them.

If God would tell me, "do this" then I'd have my next action.  But to command "rest" is to leave me adrift and unmotivated.

I must motivate myself.  I must find something to do with my time and focus on that.  So I will focus on writing.  I have a theology of Jesus I want to write and essays about my experiences with the homeless.   For now, that will have to do.  I hope to have a more focused motivation or another system to plug myself into.  In the meantime, I need to do something.

7/11/17-- Post Service Blues

Please forgive me.

I am in dire need of a therapist, and I can't get one for now, so I am continuing to use this blog as my sessions.  There will be much whininess ahead, just as there was back before.

It's been a while since I posted.  I've been focused on my new job (cleaning offices), and a Bible study and getting my family adjusted.  Now that we are all settled into our next stage (for a year or so until we go through it again), I am feeling what I'm feeling again. And, damn, if I'm not depressed again.

Typical stuff: anger, self-pity, wanting to isolate, sadness, lack of motivation.  I've got plenty of stuff to do, but I just don't care enough to apply myself.  Occasional thoughts of suicide, but not as frequently as last year, and I have no fear that I'll be motivated to act on it. I am surprised that my wife is taking such a stand-off approach to me.  Perhaps because she doesn't really know what to say, or doesn't realize the depth of my angst.  

My main fear last year in shutting down the day shelters and all is people's suffering.  Right now, my greatest realization is how little anyone actually needs me.  There are sufficient volunteers and outlets that frankly, I could walk away and no one would notice.  I am desperate to help, because I need it to give me some joy in my life, but half the time when I offer I'm told to never mind.  They got it covered.  I'm glad that my prayers and work for many years has put up so many people wanting to do this work that I felt so lonely in.  But I now feel like I'm on the outside looking in.

I wonder if I would feel better getting a job in the field.  Work for Sisters of the Road, or something.  But I know that my demands of what is good and right would end up conflicting with whoever I would work for.  I am quite narrow-minded.  

I have two temptations: one is to just quit everything and walk from camp to camp, praying for people and listening to folks, using the resources I have to try to help them.  The other is to just walk away from it all, quit my social media and not have anything to do with any of it.  Of course I will lean toward extreme reactions.  That's my nature.

Like I said, a bunch of whining.  I can't imagine this is interesting to read.  Maybe my next list will be those who I am angry at.  That would be fascinating, I'm sure.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

A list of what makes me happy

Recognizing that happiness is ephemeral, a fleeting phase that no one can grasp and hold, these are some things that makes me happy, temporarily, so I can possibly get clues as to what makes my life balanced:

-Understanding new ideas
-Teaching these ideas to others
-Good movies/stories

-Being attacked for doing good
-Beautiful nature
-Taking pictures of beautiful nature
-A really good sleep

-A multi-day spiritual retreat
-Helping others
-Feeling needed
-Being "in the zone" for writing

5/4/17-- Thoughts

So I'm in a regular schedule now.  Monday through Thursday I have work from 5pm to 11pm.  Fridays I take the day to pick up, organize and distribute food to camps.  Saturdays I hang out with my wife.  Sundays I have a Bible Study I lead and I guess I will be working for a couple hours after that.   That's it.  A lot of time to write, if I want it, since Diane is working Mondays through Fridays now. Looks like we have a solid plan to catch up on our bills with two of my kids pitching in money to help as well as a couple of the folks who live with us. The outline of survival seems pretty good.

And my mind can't focus.  I can write for my Bible studies, because I have a time limit and I have to come up with something every Sunday.  I am in a place to read and listen to smart people talking, but I have no energy to write.  I have no anger to fight injustice with.  I have no drive to seek out the needy.  I don't even care about movies.  I can just get on social media, post paragraphs of poetry or theology or puns and that's it.  I respond to people in need, and usually other people help.  Which is good.

But I feel that I'm without purpose.  I feel that my time is passed, that I succeeded for a time, but now everything I started has run out of time.  I have no new ideas, no fight, no wrestling match that I feel I need to jump in.  I know what I know and most people don't and that's enough.  I've done what I've done.  I feel that my life had great purpose, great strives and now... I'm unnecessary.

Okay, so I suppose I'm dealing with depression... still.  And I'm abusing whatever two or three readers here.  Sorry about that.  

A friend of mine asked me, "What are you happy doing?"  My response to her was, "Being alone?"  I have been overwhelmed by people for a long time, but being alone doesn't seem to help.  Instead of constantly trying to control myself, or forcing myself to respond, when I'm alone I just feel empty.

I've never felt empty before.  I always had things to do and before I had things to do, I had ambitions or goals, often lofty ones.  

Since she asked me the "happy" question...

BTW, I've always hated "happiness" as a goal.  That seems so self-centered, so ridiculous.  Can we improve the world through our own happiness?  

I've always considered that there were two moral systems at work in each human brain: karma (you reap what you sow) and mercy (love everyone without exception).  But there is a third: self-thriving. The one that comes out when we are in survival mode.

It is this third (which is really primary) moral code that comes up in self-help books, it is what doctors mostly draw on when they tell you to quit our bad habits.  But this third moral system is what has always been weakest in me.  It's what has been so weird and new about this travel I've been on-- focusing on my own health and well-being?  That's just foreign to me, something I have to learn from the beginning.

"Happiness" is the core idea of that self-thriving moral code.  We must have what we need to survive and then we should be "happy."  Happiness has never been my goal.  In fact, my ambitions have always been about me changing my world for the better, and then I am content.  Not "happy", that is ephemeral, passing, impossible to grasp.  There is no permanent state of "happiness" so why should we strive for it?  Rather, we should have a way of life in which we can be content.  Satisfaction has always been my goal.  And I am satisfied if I accomplish something worth accomplishing.

I am in a place where I am not sure that I can accomplish anything. My new ideas are too new, and my old ideas are too old.  I don't want to join someone else's work because I don't think it will accomplish much.

I am kind of excited about working toward a homeless speaker's bureau, give folks on the street an opportunity to represent themselves and to create conversations with neighbors.  I love that.  Another thing is to contact churches to find out what work they are doing for the poor.  I used to do that, and accomplished a lot in that area.  But I am so frustrated at churches, and the fact that they all do the same thing, while accomplishing very little.

I am frustrated at the city for refusing to step up for the poor, but I think no one can make them listen.
I am frustrated at advocates (including myself) for dropping the ball and allowing what little we accomplished to fail.
I am frustrated at people for being so concerned about certain causes that we have forgotten about the people who are in need right now.

I am furious at the continuing sweeps, a legal body which makes things harder for the most vulnerable in the county, and people are being paid tens of thousands of dollars a week to harm the homeless.

And I feel that all I can do is watch it happen.

You know what's most frustrating?  I am at sea about prayer.  I feel no desire to pursue it, as if God himself had his hands tied and he and I have nothing to talk about.   That's bad theology, but it's where I'm at for now.

For now, I guess I will pay off my taxes, catch up on my bills, and try to write, even if only a little bit.  I will help in the little bit I can.  And I will wait, because I think an explosion will come. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Stupid American Travels to India

Calcutta in the 80s is now Kolkata, but Howrah and Dum Dum are the same.  Uluberia you can see in the red line.
When I was 19, I decided to travel to India.  God was involved and my church and my father, but I was the one determined to go.  I was planning on going to a Christian school in India, so I filled out the long application in plenty of time and sent it off, waiting to hear if I was accepted.  In the meantime, I got my passport and shots, arranged for the finances and waited.  And waited.  It was 1985 and international mail to third world countries was just terrible.  A week before the school was supposed to start, I was still waiting.  I told my parents that I guess I wasn't going to hear back, so I wasn't going to go.  I was severely disappointed.  I was ready, really ready to go, but nothing.

You saw this coming.  Four days before the school was supposed to start, I received an acceptance letter on onion skin paper.  I paced like I've never paced before in my life.  I'm pretty sure I burned a hole in the carpet.  And I decided to go.  I packed quickly... (should I take a camera?  Absolutely.  Should I take my electric typewriter?  Of course! What about my boom box?  Oh yeah... with a set of cassettes.) Before I left I got all my money in traveler's cheques and sent a wire to the school in Calcutta when my flight was scheduled to arrive. I climbed aboard the plane and I was quite nervous (my first plane trip), but the take off was fun.  Like a rollercoaster. (Landings still bother me.) Then I was off to San Francisco.

I had to go to SF to get my visa and that was where the Indian Embassy was on the west coast of the U.S.   I landed in the SF airport, got a taxi who drove me in circles for a while before dropping me off at the embassy.  I marched in at 9 in the morning, went to the counter and said I wanted a visa.  He said, "Fine, no problem.  Just leave your passport with us and we'll get you a visa in a week."  No, you don't understand, I explained.  I need one today.  I'm supposed to go to school in just a few days.  "I'm sorry," he politely explained, "but our policy is that it takes a week."  "Why?" I said in my best pushy American accent (my normal one).  "You are here.  The stamp is here.  I'm sure you can work this out."  He said firmly, "No. It takes a week."  I thought for a moment and said, "Okay.  I understand.  Well, the next place I go to is India.  So I'll just sit here in front of you until my visa is ready."

And I sat there all day.  I had snacks in my suitcase (I had no where to put it), so I was good.  At five o clock the embassy was closing.  And they handed me my passport back with the visa in it, glad to be rid of me, I suppose.

Back on a plane, with a stop at Korea and another in Thailand. Overseas plane rides are quite long and quite dull.  Nowadays we have computers and hand held devices, but then, you read a book. I brought a collection of short stories by Saki.  You might be able to read, assuming you could focus on the book amidst the babies crying, people talking around you and (God forbid!) to you.  The food was delicious.  Really.  American flights are awful for food.  But on Thai Air, it was wonderful, and everyone was so polite and... well, it was my first flight.  If it weren't for the length, I would have loved it.

Finally, I arrived in Thailand, ready to get my next flight to Calcutta.  Unfortunately, it was monsoon season, so the Dum Dum airport (yes, that's the name of the Calcutta airport) was washed out.  So the airline would put me up in a hotel for the night.  So my first night in Asia... my first night out of North America... was in a five star hotel with a wonderful breakfast, all paid for by the airline.  Things have really changed since 1985.

The next day, caught the flight to the Dum Dum airport (how can I not say that airport name as often as possible) and arrived promptly in India. As I walked off the plane, down the runway to the airport, the humidity is what really struck me.  In the face.  Like a hard slap. I am from Southern California, so I'm used to desert heat, but this humidity is something I'd never experienced.  Completely oppressive.  I was unfazed, though, I had stuff to do.

I proudly showed immigration my brand new visa, and then went to customs.  Customs was confused as to what to do with my electronics.  They weren't sure what the electric typewriter was until I took off the cover.  They weren't impressed at all.  Instead, they explained in a strong Indian accent-- well, it wasn't strong at all, as I was later to find out, his English was excellent and quite understandable-- that if I was interested in taking these items out of India, I had to make sure that I had this receipt he was going to give me, otherwise I would have to pay a tariff on them, which was quite expensive.  I made sure to place that receipt carefully in my suitcase, next to the electronics, to make sure I had it when I left the country six months later.

Free of the lines, I looked for anyone holding a sign or looking for a blonde-haired-blue-eyed American with a funny looking hat.  I looked and waited and no one was there.  I was disappointed.  I really thought that someone would meet me.  After all, I wired them almost a week ago.  And I'm sure that they called the airport to find out the flight was delayed.  But this was the day before the school was about to start.  Perhaps they were too busy.  So I went to the taxi station.

A lot more taxis now than there used to be.
"Hello!" I called out to all the drivers in line, as if I were an older woman looking for a servant.  "Excuse me?  Could any of you take me to Uluberia?"  One driver had enough wherewithall to quickly say, "Yes, yes, I'll take you" while the others were trying to understand what I said.  "Where?"  I repeated, "Uluberia"  I showed him the school address and he took it to the other taxi drivers who gathered around discussing where this insane American wanted to be driven to.  One man seemed to know just where to go, so he explained it to my driver. "Okay," my driver says and motions me to get in the taxi.  I put my suitcase on my lap and we headed off.

Meantime, the school I was attending was in an uproar.  They had just received my wire, about the time I had climbed into that taxi.  The school was run by an American, a woman from Darjeeling and a Filipino.  Of course, they had no phone they were in a village about fifteen miles away from the city, and it would be an all day trip on the train for them to get to Calcutta and back. But one of them agreed to go the the city and look in all the main hotels to see where I was.  They had a prayer meeting where they pleaded with God for my safety.

I really appreciate those prayers because I realized that this wasn't just a trip from downtown to the suburbs.  After we got out of the city, there was only one lane per road.  So if there was any cross traffic, like, say, a bus, we had to get off the road and wait for them to pass.  It was soon dark and we were still driving.  After two hours I wondered how long this was going to really take.  And I was in a desperate state, in need of a bathroom.  Every time a bus passed us, especially when it was dark and there wasn't enough room on the side of the road to pull off, I found that I almost relieved myself there.  Frankly, there didn't seem to be any rules for driving on these roads at all.  But they still didn't drive very quickly, it seemed to me. 

Another hour later, they slowed down, rolled down their window, and asked a man "Uluberia?"  He said something, but they seemed satisfied.  They then asked him about the "Mission House" where the school was.  He shook his head no.  They asked three more people until they finally found someone who knew.  They rolled up at a gate with a sign on one side of it, "Uluberia Mission House".  I gratefully got out of the back of the car with my suitcase and stretched my legs.  The gate was closed and it took five minutes for my driver to explain what was going on to the guard at the gate.  I could imagine the conversation didn't make me look too good.

The gate eventually opened and a white face came out to meet me.  "Are you Steve Kimes?"  I said that I was.  "I can't believe it!  We were just praying for you!  Did you take a taxi here?"  Yes, I replied, from the airport.  "Really?  I don't think anyone has taken a taxi from Calcutta to Uluberia before! Why didn't you take the train?"  The answer to that was, of course, I had no idea about trains being a thing in India.

"I'm sorry to interrupt you," I said breathlessly, "But I could really use a bathroom."  "Of course" the white man said and led me to his quarters and indicated a door.  On the other side of the door there was not a bathroom.  There was, however, a hole with bricks on either side of it.  I stared at it for a while.  Not sure what to do, but too desperate to  think about it too long, I sat down on the hole and relieved myself. 

Feeling much better, I went to the main room and told him, "Did you know there's no toilet paper in there?"

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Balance, 1

I have said that my goal is "balance".  Now I realize that I've never defined what I meant by that word.  That I want to walk steady?  That I want to be a gymnast?  It is my goal to be able to carry bowls of water on my head? 

Rather, I am saying that my life has gotten very focused on certain ideas, which did not allow me to have other, positive, ideas in my head at all.  I had to ignore parts of a normal human life in order to obtain the parts I was focusing on.

For instance, I had read many books about many saints and it was my goal to become one.  This is not out of the question for someone to do, as it has been attempted and accomplished by others in the past. My goal was to live for the poor, which is noble and helpful and to follow Jesus as much as possible.

My idea of balance was to care for my family at least as well as I cared for the poor.  My wife deserves some rest from community life.  My children deserve my attention to help them make the transition from teens to adults.  I should finish the work I began: withdraw from the work, close the house, transition.

Balance is a matter of health as well as life. 

I have two big questions: what does this balance look like?  What are the goals I should pursue, personally, spiritually and in community?

The other is: can I actually do this?  Is balance something I can accomplish?  Or will I lapse back to a life of extremes, seeking that martyrdom I have unintentionally evaded?  That second is beyond me, so I’ll focus on the first for a bit.