Quixote's EpistleThese are the main articles from our quarterly epistle.
On a crisp fall day in Eugene OR, a troubled but happy couple and their not-so-troubled and happy-enough teen-age daughter packed minimal camping gear and took a city bus to Delta campground near the McKenzie River. The campground is in a grove of old-growth trees, predominantly Douglas fir and western red cedar, that are centuries old. They provided a calm retreat for the three wanderers who hiked around a lot, sat around together a lot, and while the daughter painted a lot, the couple mulled things over a lot.
In this enchant(ed)ing setting, on September 9, 2001, the couple put in writing what they had been chewing on for years. They took the bus back to Eugene Sept. 11, and while that date has taken on a remarkable history of its own it did not change what the couple had composed two days prior. With minor editing it became their Liturgy of Penance and Dedication:
Our lives in this society have been characterized by an irreverence for life that we have manifested in violence, greed and selfishness, thereby contributing to the destruction of the balance of life on earth, interpersonal isolation, economic injustice, disregard for the future, and contempt for the wisdom of the past.
For this we are truly sorry, and we ask forgiveness.
Today we acknowledge our calling to live a new way based on Christian faith as we understand it. This understanding includes a reverence for creation; that “God so loved the world”—all of creation, not just people—that as a human being he lived and died for it, and so should we.
With God’s help, we promise
To live in peace.
Understanding that war is an inevitable outcome of the violence and destruction required to meet the demands of this society and that peace is not just the absence of violence but the presence of love, we will
Find and use habits of work, transportation, housing, food production and consumption, language, education, and recreation that respect God’s creation and encourage human creativity.
Oppose acts of war in any form, for any reason.
Offer sustenance and solace to those in need.
With God’s help, we promise
To live in voluntary poverty.
Understanding the selfishness and greed that resulted from our participation in the lifestyle of this society and having decided not to participate any longer, we will
Have only the food and shelter that allow us to live with a basic level of dignity and self respect.
Remember that some individuals have special needs unique to their calling.
Give away anything acquired in excess of this.
With God’s help, we promise
To live in community.
Understanding in Christ’s words, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them,” the truth that people together in love create a greater power for good, we will
Minimize our individual destruction of the earth.
Share our resources.
Provide mutual support.
Work together in a common faith for a common purpose.
We thank God for guiding us to this understanding. We have learned that acting for the good of all is good for us as individuals, and while rearing our children we learned that all of our actions model our reality, our faith and what we hope for.
We did not set out to learn these lessons; we were not always receptive to them; and today as we promise to live in their light, we cannot know how that life will look nor what we may be asked to do. We trust God’s continuing guidance and ask our family and friends for their love and support.
—Kris and Doug Finn
The liturgy today
As a co-founder and the primary key carrier for Quixote’s Garage I am often asked how I came to this work. Assuming you read the lead story, now you know.
It still surprises me that I helped to write something so beautiful. Call it Christian, spiritual, ridiculous, quixotic, whatever. All are correct because the liturgy is real, and as such it can cause discomfort, anxiety and fear, and joy, hope and excitement.
Much has changed in 14 years; much has stayed the same. While how we behave in this culture has become even more destructive in so many ways, there are signs of waking up.
Pope Francis shows great spirit in pointing out both. I am encouraged to read of his anger and apocalyptic nay saying about our greed and financial faith. I am also encouraged by his compassion for the earth and the poor among us. In The New York Times July 12, he said, “You, the lowly, the exploited, the poor and the underprivileged, can do, and are doing, a lot. I would even say that the future of humanity is in great measure in your own hands.”
So does Jon Stewart, a great comedian and satirist of all things. On Aug. 5, winding down 16 years as host of The Daily Show, he gleefully reran clips where adversaries said he “eviscerated” and “destroyed” people and events. Then he showed current clips of what should have been reduced to rubble. Seeing it all alive and well, he wailed, “Things are demonstrably worse now than when I started! Is this my fault?”
Stewart and Francis are sounding alarms. Are you awake?
Some may ask, “What does Quixote’s Garage DO?” It fills a vital role in our community. This is my account of what Quixote’s did for me.
I was fragile when I came to Quixote’s. I had been living with physical illness in very isolated housing and this, combined with arsenic poisoning from the property’s well water, affected my mental health. I needed a safe environment to heal.
Homeless on the street there are two emotions you struggle with: Fear of police targeting you and of other people targeting you because you’re poor and homeless. And alienation, because you feel alone. You also feel that many people consider you of low value due to your poverty. It is all too easy, inside, to agree with others who see you as worthless.
Quixote’s provided a place where I was known and welcomed. A place where fear could take a rest, where alienation became friendship. Though poor, we are treated with respect and concern. For guests, it is an island of peace and safety in a troubled world. A place where we can heal.
I found I loved helping other people I met there. Things lifted my heart: The smile of the man huddled in drenching rain when I said “Yes” to his request for a ride to his campsite. That smile was like a sunrise. So was the expression of the hungry man, living rough, when I shared a ham and other food at Easter, and he caught sight of better food than he had hoped for on display.
Quixote’s strengthened me in many ways to face my future. It taught me something about myself and what God wants of me. I am so grateful!
Recently, in Phoenix, I took food to a group of hungry people who very much reminded me of Quixote’s, as this small group had received food caringly over a period of time from Christian volunteers. The feeling of love was strong. One man said, “I go to the same church now that members of the group attend because when I’m around them, I feel I make the choice to go the good way, not the dark, bad way.
This is what Quixote’s offers. When you feel cared for it makes you feel worth something; you make more choices for life, not death. That gives you hope for your future. And being at Quixote’s awakened in me the love of being one of the people who bring caring, love and hope to the poor, and see them bloom over time like spring flowers.
A few weeks ago, I grumbled to the Garage guests about not putting out a Fall Epistle. I’ve always said if it wasn’t worth reading I wouldn’t print one, and nobody had written anything and I had nothing to say, so . . . . A guest, lying on the couch in the middle of the room, popped up like a prairie dog. “I’ll write one,” he said, “Brain tumors can be fun.” His life, he said, had become mundane, routine, and then he got a brain tumor and that solved that. Really.
This is his story:
Brain tumors can be just as amusing as they are disheartening.
My name is Dave. I am 40 years old. Just an average, ordinary kid. Mid-April this year the “big” headache began and my vision faded to black. On April 29 I was diagnosed with a rare cancerous brain tumor. That’s when the fun began. Directly to Barrow’s Neurological Center I went. Within two days I went from a blind guy with a bad headache to a hollow shell of my former self: Unable to remember more than two sequential numbers and no longer able to assemble the words to deliver my thoughts in a meaningful way to another human and, possibly, to most life forms.
Jump forward 20 radiation and nine chemo sessions, and I’m back. OK. Here is where the fun really began. I have very little of my vision left, no sense of smell, little sense of taste, my ears constantly ring, and my fingers are mostly numb. (Please note, for those who don’t know me. I am not making a joke of brain cancer. This is just my take on what it means to me.)
Let me weigh the pros and cons for you.
I recently ate a Brussels sprout and only became aware of it when I was told what it was. (I can’t stand Brussels sprouts.) I can’t focus my eyes on an object, but I can throw WAY more accurately. I still love the outdoors, but rarely see the animals. When crossing the street stops being fun, I’ll use the crossing lights.
How many times have you thought to yourself, “I wish I hadn’t seen that?” There is no difference in the scent of rotten eggs or spring flowers. I can’t focus well enough to read a book, a paper, or a magazine. No upside to that. A mountain bike is a full-time, white-knuckle ride, and now I ride slower than a herd of turtles.
- Pro: I could eat cauliflower or Brussels sprouts and not know it.
- Con: I could eat cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
- Pro: Nothing smells bad.
- Con: Nothing smells good.
- Pro: Mountain biking is exhilarating even at a snail’s pace.
- Con, or maybe pro: I’ve learned to ride via echo location. For example, I called out, “Jack, where are you?” Jack answered, “Down here. Careful of the rut in the trail and the rock on the left.”
- Pro:I work on my mountain bike while staring at the sky.
- Con: One day, while talking to a friend, I apologized for not looking her in the eye. ”Headless friends creep me out,” I explained.
- Pro: Now I recognize people by their gait and voice.
Works out fine.
An ode to brain tumors
Lump in my head
What a dread
Might as well be night
Lack of smell and taste
Food and flowers go to waste
– David Meyer
I grew up with fairness.
Cookies – food in general – had to be divvied up evenly. Everybody had to play by the rules. Presents were weighed according to how many and how much they cost. Even time was allotted so we all got our share.
But I knew “things” were not fair. My sister was prettier. My mother liked my brothers more. School was easier for me than for any of them. And so it went.
Nevertheless, I passed the fairness doctrine on to my daughters. Doug and I strove to be fair to them, even though as we looked at the world we saw that somehow “things” are not fair. For example, by cultural standards Doug and I didn’t have much, but we had way too much compared to what the planet could support for everybody. And while hurricanes flooded parts of the country, we needed rain. Millions of people in our lifetime were being killed in wars, but not here.
Even so, we tried to be fair.
I think it still may be a default practice for me, even though in my quest to make sense of my life I came to understand that fairness is not of God, and that only in the last century have Western thinkers come to equate justice, particularly social justice, with fairness.
Recently, people in the Garage have talked about local groups working on social justice issues – housing, public transportation, immigration. So I looked up some stuff, and concluded that many of us seem to believe that what works for the privileged few should prevail for all. We should all have adequate health care. Everybody should have free access to clean air and water. Everyone should have an equal opportunity for an education.
Notice the word should in that paragraph. Should implies that if something is or is not happening, we are obligated to fix it. It is only fair. So we organize, we talk, we write, we protest, we pray about the issues. And that’s alright, but associating fairness, freedom and equality with justice doesn’t work. It sure doesn’t in nature: the earth’s resources are not distributed evenly; the rainforest is not equal to the desert; a worm is not free to fly.
Maybe freedom and equality, like fairness, are simply human constructs to make our bumbling about in the world workable for us. Justice is not a human construct. We can’t, or at least I can’t, know what is just. We don’t have a criminal justice system; we have a legal system. So for me, “social justice” makes a big too doo about a simple concept. The big issues are BIG. We can organize, and talk, and pray, and write, and protest about them, or we can look at a situation right in front of us and figure out what we can and are willing to do about that.
Right here, right now, DES, where poor people go to sign up for food stamps and AHCCCS, has moved to the far side of Prescott Valley, even though most of the clients live in Prescott and have no transportation. And men and women who are released from the county jail in Camp Verde have no way to get back to Prescott. What can you do to help? You could work and work and work to get public transportation to happen in the quad cities sometime (People have for as long as I can remember.) or you can offer to give an individual a ride.
In one of our early epistles, Doug wrote about the Prescott police officers who got into trouble for destroying and urinating on the camps of homeless people: We can hope that better training and healthier attitudes will decrease police harassment of homeless persons, but we must remember that our social ills are only symptoms of what is in our own hearts. We have to start cleaning on the inside and work our way out.
It isn’t fair that we each have to do all that work, but it probably is just.
– Kris Finn
April 2008: Riding freight train from Ft. Worth to San Diego to try to get work. Spotted on the train and kicked off outside Casa Grande.
May: Wallet stolen while sleeping in alley.
June-Aug.: Work odd jobs at Able Body, but with no ID no one will rent to me.
Sept.-Dec. 2010: Homeless still. Hit a brick wall trying to get ID. Very few charities and no shelter in Casa Grande.
Dec. 2010: Friend I met in city park invites me to live at his house.
Feb. 2011: Going to store for the friend I live with. Wake up next day at a hospital in Phoenix. Left ankle in cast (broken). Left arm strapped to chest due to broken collarbone and torn rotator cuff. Plus severe concussion and sprained neck. No memory of accident to this day. It was a hit and run.
April 8: Sent back to Casa Grande in a wheelchair. Told by doctor I would never be the same.
Aug. 12, 2012: Celebrating birthday, I lose my balance and put right arm through window. Hospitalized and have permanent damage to arm.
May-April 2013: Recovery is slow. One operation on left ankle, five on right arm (one more is needed). Arthritis hits me in neck and left hip and ankle.
April 1: Friend loses house to foreclosure. Now I’m back on the streets.
Aug. 11: Day before my birthday. Go to hot lunch and visit my friends all afternoon. Come back to camp just before dark. My camp is gone. All my clothing, bedding, paperwork and food are gone.
Aug. 12: Decide to sell food stamps and go on one-week drunk (I was depressed).
Aug. 18: Old friend of mine sees me and talks me into going to Detox. I know I need to change.
Aug. 27: Case worker at Detox tells me about Prescott and asks me if I want to go there. I know I need a new place so I say yes. Arrive here same day, but no beds at shelter. Spend eight days under bridge until bed opens up at shelter.
Sept. 4-23: Start meeting people who tell me about places like Quixote’s Garage, Salvation Army, Open Door, St. Vincent de Paul.
Sept. 23-Oct. 3: Still hitting walls on my ID in spite of everyone’s help. Also, my left ankle starts hurting real bad. Check into hospital Sept. 23 to discover I have a staph infection in ankle due to the metal plates put in my ankle. My body is rejecting the metal, causing the infection. The next day they take the metal out. I am told not to use left foot for 45 days.
Oct. 4-Nov. 18: Sent to Kachina Point in Sedona for physical rehab and more IVs. Social worker there believes who I am and obtains my birth certificate.
Nov. 18: Discharged from Kachina Point and return to Prescott.
Nov. 19-Dec. 30: Try to get Social Security card and am told I need a picture ID before anyone would talk to me. I don’t give up though. Go back to Social Security Dec. 6 and ask for a supervisor who tells me that with a letter from Kachina Point stating my personal info and dates I was there she could approve a card for me. Call Kachina Point to get letter. Receive it Dec. 13 and go to Social Security. No problem; card on the way. Receive card Dec. 20 and get a ride to DMV that day, but am told they need a third form of ID. The clerk is very helpful and asks if I have a health insurance card. Yes, I do, and she hands me my ID.
It took me five years but I finally got it.
- More permanent roof over me.
- Get disability.
- Get eyes fixed so I can get driver’s license.
- Find my kids in Texas.