…keep an eye out…

...keep an eye out...

The very last scene of “Tender Mercies,” a movie starring Robert Duvall, shows his young wife looking sadly and with concern through the screen door at her husband – who has just returned from burying his daughter – and her son, Sonny – throwing a football to one another in the field behind their house. Her eyes tell the story – with love and care, she is keeping an eye out for these two, for whom she prays nightly, thanking God for the “tender mercies” of having them in her life.

My mother would say: “keep an eye out…” for something. I knew she would keep an eye out for me when I was coming home from school, or coming back from my first date. We “keep an eye out” with love and concern for one another, for those we cherish.

Let’s “keep an eye out” in our communities. “Keep an eye out” onto your street. What is new there? Who is missing? What is changing? What looks different than yesterday?

Quantum physics has taught us that the act of observing itself changes the field. When we “keep an eye out,” we observe our communities, watching for changes, seeing what is familiar, and maybe noting what can be changed for the better. When we “keep an eye out,” there is the possibility that our observation alone can change our communities.

And so, my neighbor, I’ll keep an eye out for you. Please keep an eye out for me, too.

Together, we’ll begin to make our community safer, more “user friendly,” healthier.

Keep an eye out for me!

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“Peace begins when the hungry are fed.” – Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day, founder of The Catholic Worker, publication, and service program to the poor and spiritually bereft, began The Catholic Worker movement during the Depression, when people without jobs, hungry, lined up on the streets of New York City.  Day had had a religious conversion, and she carried in her lifetime an almost Victorian sensibility that protected the ordinary human begin she had been – and continued to be – when she became a public figure.

As a 6 year old girl growing up in Oakland, Day witnessed the movement of people from San Francisco to Oakland in the days after the 1906 earthquake.  What she observed then stayed with her as she grew into a bohemian adulthood:  “people helped each other.”  Day never lost that simple and profound way of looking at the possibilities people held within themselves.  “People helped each other.”

We who live in community need to help one another.  And what human being does not live in community?  Community is a need we all have.  When we don’t have community, we are lonely, or isolated, or both.  When we don’t have community, we may have fears – who will accept me?  who can I turn to?  who can I talk to?  It is difficult to reach out of one’s loneliness and isolation, it is difficult to reach out, but it is necessary for the growth of our own humanity.

As we all know, sometimes loneliness and isolation themselves are the only things that motivate us to reach toward community.

“People helped each other.”  That is probably the one single, simple thing we need to do, we human beings that are given to one another in community.  When people are hungry, we are hungry, for the hungry ones are part of our community.  When people are restless, we are restless, because that restlessness resonates in us all.

It’s hard to understand why it is threatening to listen to the poor, to speak to the poor, to touch the poor, to notice the poor.  But it is.  Dorothy Day knew that – in her lifetime, she never lost the reputation of being radical – but she continued to believe and to live out of the value she held:  “People helped each other.”

I still believe that we are here to help one another.  Sometimes, that alone seems to be the motivation for our lives on this planet, in our communities, in our own community.  If there is to be peace, then it needs to begin with our helping one another, feeding one another, touching one another, reaching out – to and for – one another.

“Peace begins when the hungry are fed.”

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The documentary (based on the book) “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” by Jared Diamond, professor of geology and physiology at UCLA, chronicles an interdisciplinary attempt by Diamond to explain why Eurasian civilizations have survived and conquered other civilizations, while at the same time maintaining that this dominance is not due to any intellectual, moral, or genetic superiority.  Diamond began to explore this dilemma after being impacted by a conversation with Yali, a politician of New Guinea, who asked:  “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?”

Why do we have so much cargo?  What is the real impact of this cargo – these possessions – on our communities?

As I turned out onto the main street that parallels the the street I live on, I drove past a steel cabinet with 2 doors covered with marks in red paint.  The cabinet stood about 5-6 feet high and about 5 feet wide.  Attached to the door on the right was a paper sign that read:  “FREE.”

These days, craigslist supplies us with an endless listing of items we need, or at least want.  Some of these items are offered for free, some for a price less than retail asking.  All we have to do is to make the connection online, text or phone an agreement and method of payment:  cash?  or not? and then drive across town to pick up our latest piece of cargo.

If you happen to drive past an item left on the street, though, you don’t have to go through all those steps, and maybe you’ll find just the chair or lamp or sofa you’ve been looking for.  When he was setting up his room in the house during his college days, my nephew would arrive home from school or work on his bike, holding a new piece of cargo in one of his hands.  That’s how he decorated his space – eclectic, at best!

As I turned out onto the main street that parallels the the street I live on, I drove past a steel cabinet with 2 doors covered with marks in red paint.  I drove a mile south of my house toward the freeway.  The concrete and steel pillars that hold the freeway are painted with bright colors and community-oriented quotes in my city, swirls of color and letters, some in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr:  ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’

As I passed under the freeway, I saw cargo carefully stacked and covered with bright blue tarps for protection behind several of the pillars on which the freeway perches.  I didn’t see any folks that day, but I recognized the pillars of cargo under the pillars of the freeway as the possessions of the homeless people who live in the community, along with you and me.Their cargo is more vulnerable than ours, to be sure, although I suppose no cargo is safe from being taken as cargo by someone else.

Their lives are  vulnerable, too, in ways ours are not – vulnerable to weather, to violence, to encroachment by others who live in the spaces under the freeways, to drugs,  and to police who make it their business to break up the encampments that arise, little communities of their own, in shady and almost-hidden places in the cities.  Their lives are vulnerable to what it means to sleep on the ground under the shaking freeway, to illnesses that don’t go away and won’t go away, even with treatment, when home is a place barely out of traffic.

I don’t know why we need this cargo, but apparently we do.  We can’t imagine life without it.  We’re dependent on it, to be sure.  We’re so dependent on cargo that even when we have nothing, we have cargo, and we need a place to store it, to keep it from getting wet.

When I turned into my street from the main street an hour later, the steel cabinet was gone.



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Last week I stopped at the grocery store in my neighborhood on a bright, sunny day, at noon.  Usually I park a bit of a walk away, but I was in a hurry, so I joined the lines of cars in line for a parking space on one of the aisles right outside the door of the store.  As I parked, I was looking into the next aisle.  As if in slow motion, I saw a grey/brown van pull through the aisle ahead of me, and turn to the right at the end of the aisle.  I saw a crouched over figure – can’t tell you more than that – jump into the van as it turned the corner, and watched it speed away through the parking lot. 

As I witnessed this, I saw a woman, dark hair blowing around her head and face, as she ran after the van, screaming and raising her hands into the air.  At the same time, a young man who had been walking on the sidewalk nearby crossed over the curb into the store’s parking lot, walking toward the woman.  She sat down behind her car, the door open, and yelled and screamed:  “they took my purse!  they took my purse!”  Then she was quiet.  I locked my own car and walked toward her as others in the aisle did the same.

“Do you need to use my phone?” the young man who had been walking past asked.  Folks were gathering a circle around her.  “I have to call my credit card!” she said, apparently thinking out loud.  “Was it the brown van?” an older man who had walked up asked.  I would have said it was grey, myself.  With the crowd gathering, I thought maybe she had enough help, so I turned toward the store.  As I did, I saw the manager coming out into the parking lot, walking toward the commotion. 

“See?  Everyone wants to help,” a dark woman with a face said to me as we walked away.  “Folks are crazy now,” she said to me.  “They’re stealing  from the guys working on the streets now,” she continued.  I nodded and said I that people were crazy now.  “Have a blessed day,” she said as she turned toward her car.  “Thank you! you too,” I answered, receiving the blessing, looking into her eyes and nodding. 

As I walked into the store, on of the neighbors who sits in a stand outside the door and collects money for teen drug programs asked if it was the van that had driven down that aisle.  “Yes,” I answered.  “It was parked right over there – ” she pointed – “it must be on security cameras.”  I returned to tell the store manager, at the same time knowing it would come to nothing, just another purse snatching, in the middle of the day, in the middle of a crowd of people, in the middle of a busy parking lot.

Still, aren’t we all crazy?  Not just those young guys, hoods covering their identities, but all of us, trusting the world enough to go about our business on another sunny day? 

Thank God, no shots were fired.  The woman who’d been robbed hadn’t seen a gun, just a fast moving guy who grabbed for her purse, and got it.  When I left the store a few minutes later, she was sitting next to the outside wall, making calls.  Her face was less frantic.  She  smiled a bit.

By this time, the security guys who work inside the store, big guys in dark shirts, were standing at the curb, as if to guard the outside of the store. 

Folks had shown up.  Folks do show up, when they’re not scared themselves.  In community, it seems natural enough to show up for each other when we can. 

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Austin, TX

My husband and I had a few days in Austin, TX, this past week.  We visited the LBJ Museum and Library, had some great Indian cuisine, and walked and walked and walked!  Usually it rains when we’re on a trip to somewhere new, but this time, the weather was sunny and mild.

We stayed in a b&b a few blocks from the University of Texas at Austin, so the streets were lined with fast food joints, bookstores, and clothes for college kids.  Austin is a bit like Berkeley to me – a city that has evolved with the University at its center.

I noticed something that surprised and delighted me while we were in Austin.  I made a mental note to write about it here, since it is definitely whatcommunitiesneednow.  I thought this simple action was missing all over, but I discovered that it wasn’t missing in Austin, TX.

As Jeff and I walked around town, on sidewalks that sometimes included several steps up or down on any given block, we were passed by college age young people who looked at us, and said, “hi!”

Is this a Texas thing?  Can I really come away from Texas thinking this is the most friendly place to be?  Maybe.  And maybe not.  But one thing is for sure:  I noticed.

Here in the Bay Area, I’ve often thought that we are missing a simple look at another person, anyone we pass on the street.  We walk past one another, our eyes glazed over, as if to not see the human being who is coming toward us.  We all have lots of barriers inside ourselves to folks who are strangers, or “other.”  That seems to be part of being human.  But I think it makes our streets less safe when we simply do not look at each other.

As a child, I learned to not look at someone if I thought they could not be trusted.  That’s what it means to me.  In the East Bay where I live, the diversity of folks is striking – and is also our real strength.  But if the diversity is only another example of “other,” than the diversity which is our strength is only our limitation.

What if… we taught young children to look at others on the street, to nod, to acknowledge someone else, even a “stranger?”  Who is the “stranger?”  Isn’t the “stranger” just us, unrecognized?

I think so.  I hope so.  I want to trust that it is so.

The revolution to a gentler, kinder world begins here, with you, and with me.



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Machines fail me –

And so here I am, standing behind a woman whose head is draped in a gold threaded white cloth,
her huge purse opening and closing at the request

of a young man with thick dark eyebrows

slanted to look perpetually worried

even as he is customer-service kind.

A graying black man turns to look at her, too, from another angle.

I wait impatiently.  Others are not as quick – thinking or moving – as I would like,

I remind myself.

The young woman who helped me made a joke:

the machine is tired after the holiday!  – “Just kidding,” she finished.

I wait and I too am greeted by the young man with thick eyebrows,

who continues to look perpetually worried.

My first trip to the bank, first of the year.


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for the New Year

Step into the dawn.

Cut the cord.
Pull the plug.
Break the chains
that tie and bind.

Walk free
like Nelson Mandela released from prison
into the possibility
of a new path
where enemies are surprised by grace.

Life, in its misery and delight,
has led you here.
All is learning.
Let go the past.
Awaken to signs and wonders.
Become aware of wise guides and rock cairns
pointing and reassuring the way.

Find your Anam Cara, your Caol Ait*:
the people and places who feed your soul.
Hold them close.

Recognize the hope of resurrection in each new day,
to begin again
and go forth into life yet unlived
to make peace,
be pure of spirit,
to walk humbly,
loving mercy and kindness,
and do the good you know to do.

See with new eyes
the path that has always been,
that leads us to where we belong –
that leads us home.

Anam Cara is a Celtic word meaning “soul friend.” Caol Ait is a Celtic word meaning “thin place”—where the distance between the divine and the human is so thin it facilitates a spiritual encounter.

Christy Caine, head admin of the Unfundamentalist Christians Facebook page, is a writer, advocate, and mom of boys. She is interested in justice, compassion, and where the worlds of faith and politics collide. She blogs at Leap of Fate, and is currently writing a spiritual memoir.

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