Banned

By: Dwayne Brooks

About a year ago, I was banned from Mercy because I acted aggressively toward someone who was upset with me.  We started to argue and things escalated—neither of us could control our temper so our time away from the community escalated too.  One week became one month, became six months, as we couldn’t quiet down.  “Make it a year, three years, forever!” I baited the pastors.  Six months is the one that stuck.Dwayne Brooks BW Photo-Martin

At first getting banned did not matter—I was mad and didn’t want to be at Mercy anyway.  It took me a while for the consequences of my actions to sink in.  I’ve had arguments with other people before, but this was the first time that I was banned for a substantial amount of time.  After a week or so I felt that I had let myself down both by my reaction and how I carried myself.

I continued on with my work but knowing I could not go to Mercy left an empty space in me.  I kept popping up at Mercy, even though I was not supposed to, because I had nothing to lose—I was already banned.

Recently, I was banned again, this time for a month.  Instead of coming around during that month, I stayed away.  I knew that I would be able to come back more quickly if I showed that I could respect boundaries.  When I am away from Mercy I miss it.  I enjoy the singing which helps relax my mind.  And I find that the Bible studies build up my spirit.

Losing my temper has not been helping me to be who I want to be or to interact with others the way I think I should.  While I was away from Mercy I had the chance to take an inventory of myself and really think about how I react to things, especially where I am in denial about my actions.  I watch my surroundings and take it all in.  I see lots of things, lots of violence, lots of people treating each other poorly.  When I am mad, I frequently try to suppress it until one day, everything that I have been holding in comes out.   At that point it doesn’t matter who I hurt—the water must boil, the ball must unravel.  I need a release.

I am learning how to control my temper a little better, though I still have a long way to go.  I need Mercy in that way; it is difficult to try and change my attitude when I am alone.  I have started talking about some of the things that are on my mind—expressing myself rather than holding things back.  I have found that it really helps me to express what is on my mind either to one of my pastors, my mother, or my Higher Power.  I feel better and more relaxed when I express myself, as if a hard ball in my stomach deflates.

It is a process, as we say.  But it is good work, and I’m proud of the progress I have made.

From Home-less to Home-more

By: Kevin Bowden

Raised in a typical working-class Southern Baptist Church in North Carolina, I have faint memories as a child of helping set up folding metal chairs before and after the services.  My parents were the founding members of Freedom Baptist Church.  It was at Freedom that I learned of God’s word.  When the pastor changed, we looked for God’s word elsewhere, at tent revivals and big churches—eventually we became members of a new Baptist church.  God’s DSCF5321word seemed to change.  Every week there was a new hellfire and brimstone message from a different preacher.  Very rarely were words such as mercy or love used in services, or even in our conversations.  Even the tone of the ride home from church became different.

Now I find myself in Atlanta, attending a new church, though I hesitate to call it a church, because it doesn’t feel like church as I’ve known it.  It is more like a community.

Here we use words like mercy, grace, love, and faith.  I find my walk “home” to the Old Fourth Ward (MLK birth neighborhood) a lot more fulfilling and enjoyable than the car rides from church back in North Carolina.

During communion one Sunday, in describing Christ’s body, Chad said, “Like the bread which must be broken in order to be shared…”  I felt as if God were speaking to me, saying, “It’s okay that you’ve been broken—and you are not alone—go out and  share your testimony, music, and art with the world.”

I have found God, love, grace, and home here at Mercy Community Church.  Words can’t describe my gratitude to God and Mercy for providing me with these gifts.  I think a lot about a church that doesn’t pass collection plates but instead plates of food; where teachings focus on how to love others, God, and yourself; that reminds you not to fear.  I do not feel home-less but home-more.  When I set up chairs before our service, it reminds me of when I was young at Freedom Baptist, and I reflect on the good times at church and with my family—the things that can’t be bought anywhere.

Bible Study by Kevin grayscale

Our Psalm— Mercy and St. Luke’s Pres

We are all God’s children,IMG_5447

though we don’t always act like it.

Sometimes we feel like we live in chaos,

and it’s scary—we get frustrated.

We know God is always with us and has a plan,

even when we can’t tell.

We are going to help others whenever we can

by listening

praying,

and acting.

We hope that others will have compassion for us,

like we try to have for others.

We commit to being in community, even when it’s messy.

And we will learn from one another with humility.

We do this because we’re trying to follow God’s call—God who is always with me.

Loving one another will be hard, but we will do it anyways.

 

*photo by Lucie Canfield

Adam Shapiro, We Miss You

By: Maggie Leonard

Our dear friend and community member Adam Shapiro died in his sleep at his apartment in mid-September.  He was 61 years old.

Adam was a beloved member of the Mercy community.  Our only member who was blind or Jewish, he brought a unique and welcomed IMG_3373perspecitve to our Bible studies, thoughtfully engaging Biblical stories and pushing us all to concretely engage the lessons at hand.

A talented musician, Adam frequently regaled us with folk and labor songs during our services.  With an understated gusto, he picked away at these traditional tunes on his classical guitar and taught us the choruses so that everyone might participate in the songs.  A favorite and definite crowd-pleaser was his original composition “Cool Like That,” a song he wrote about Mercy.  He also learned Mercy songs, playing by ear and preforming with the rest of the Mercy band.  We are grateful to his sisters who gave us his guitar after he passed; his music is still with us.

A frequent contributor to the Mercy and Atlanta Overlook newspapers, his poignant and insightful articles will be greatly missed.  Adam truly understood the importance of being an advocate and, more importantly, an ally to those on the margins.

Adam was also active with the Open Door Community and WRFG, a community radio station that is run out of the Little Five Points neighborhood.  He hosted two different shows during his lifetime.  In addition to “Current Events” on Thursday mornings, for over ten years he hosted a show on disability rights and issues called “‘Capped but Able.”

We miss Adam: his wit, wisdom, and heart.

Poem written by friends visiting from Oxford, MS

By: St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church’s Youth Group

From what we have, let us share!

As God’s people, we support one another because God loves and supports us.

We will encourage one another every today.Photo on 2013-03-11 at 14.13

For all we lose physically from our abundance, we gain spiritually.

When we’re lost in dark valleys—when we feel anguish, brokenness, hopelessness, sadness, anger, loneliness—let us helping hand, comforting shoulder, and listening ear we will accept the help of our neighbors.

When we are feeling good, healthy, and energetic, we will do the same for others.

We, God’s people, will provide warm beds to lay our hearts and heads.

May we forever place our hope in the Lord who will give us the confidence and courage to do this good work.

My Year of Transformation

By: Thomas Gutherie

A year and a half ago, as I packed all my belongings from my one bedroom apartment in Sarasota, FL, I realized life was about to look very different.  After college, I had accepted a job as an assistant front office manager at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota and stayed in that IMG_0131position for six months.  As my time at the Hyatt came to an end, I applied to be a volunteer with PC(USA)’s Young Adult Volunteer (YAV)program in Atlanta, GA.

I had no idea what would come from the experience:  I was going from a four-star hotel to an outreach center. From offering hospitality to millionaires to offering it to those who have nothing. From working in a business suit to working in ripped jeans and a t-shirt.  From worshiping in a church to worshiping in a night shelter.

I was a qualified business school graduate and was ready to solve problems and help people in need for a year.  I planned to be a committed volunteer, but I was sure that I would return to the corporate world after my year of service.

When I started the program, I was a lot like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14. At that time, my prayers sounded something like this: “Thank you, God. Thank you for not making me like other people: the homeless, drug addicts, mentally ill, prostitutes, criminals.  I mean, God, I gave up my salaried position and 401K to come help THESE people in need; I truly am a great person, aren’t I!”

My YAV placement took me to work on the margins. You might ask what does that mean? The term “marginalized” refers to the process in which individuals and entire communities of people are systematically blocked from rights, opportunities and resources, like housing, employment, health care, civic engagement, democratic participation, and due process.  These resources are generally available to members of society and are key to social integration.

Mercy is not like most other agencies that deal with homelessness. All are welcome; as they say at Mercy, “We will meet you wherever you are.” Mercy is unique in that grace is offered to each and everyone. For example, many of the members at Mercy have been banned from other service providers around Atlanta.

I had a lot of frustrations and questions about what I was really doing in Atlanta when I first began. Things were not going the way that I thought they were going to go, the YAV house community was falling short of my expectations, work was good but repetitive, and I was not really seeing any changes in myself.

Eventually I made the decision to be intentional about all my interactions and decisions.  It was then that, my year truly started. During this time I sought out people and ideas that would force me to change.  It was in this time, there on the margins, that my working with the homeless became much more then a job.  Over the course of the year my work with the marginalized  became my passion and my calling.

It was in the beginning stages of striving to become more intentional that I truly immersed myself into the Mercy community. Every week I would look forward to the time I would get to spend with the caring, laughing, struggling, loving community of people at Mercy.  The stories they shared of struggles, brokenness, and pain were always honest and from the heart, not holding anything back.  It was the pure honesty of the community that allowed me to imagine another way of being.

Mercy is a place of transformation. Not only for those dealing with homelessness, but anyone who walks through the gates: volunteers, interns, youth groups, and mission groups.

One cold morning a young woman came in off the streets with a guitar strapped on her back and hot pink hair.  It was just like any other morning at Mercy, a mass of us sat on the patio and shared hot coffee, bagels, bread and homemade jelly.  Later, after prayer and

Bible study, we gathered in a circle for music time where we loudly sang and played our favorite songs using guitars, djembe, tambourines, shakers, and pots. It happened that this day our new friend decided to join us and eventually asked to share an original song with the group. I could tell she was nervous by the shakiness of her hands and voice. In the middle of her song she left abruptly and fled for the bathroom in tears.

When she returned, she started packing her guitar, looking to get out as quickly as she came in. “Don’t go! Stay here with us and play some more,” the group encouraged. Her demeanor instantly changed and she sat back down in the circle.  At one point, near the end of the day, she even told me that she had been looking for a church family for most of her life and today she had finally found one here at

Mercy. When she left that day she was filled with joy and full of the Holy Spirit.  I was completely blown away by the power of simple, genuine hospitality that Mercy offers each and every day.

Re-engaging this story months later, Chad helped me see that Mercy offered the same love, hospitality, grace to me as the girl.

I finally recognized my own brokenness, which allowed me to start the hard work of becoming whole. Just like the Pharisee in the gospel reading, it is very easy to identify the brokenness of others, especially those living on the margins.

I realized that we are all just as broken as those living on the margins, though I, and many of us, work hard to hide it.  It is in our brokenness that all of us can begin the journey of healing. My prayer sounds now more like that of the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, for I realize how broken and full of sin I truly am.”

Mercy And Morrie

By: Ivan Cooley

I found the book Tuesdays with Morrie to be a very poignant and touching book; its story was uplifting and encouraging.  I appreciated its message that our only hope in this world is based in love.  We live in a society that conditions us to acquire as much money, power, respect, status, and material goods8-15-26 as we can.  We substitute our love of one another with our love of things.  Often we think that only those that are favored or cherished deserve our love.

Tuesdays with Morrie is not the only place where I have heard and wrestled with such messages; I have witnessed and become acquainted with them at Mercy.  Reading this book, I’m almost surprised that Morrie learned these lessons of loving and giving somewhere other than my church.

Morrie advises his young student to “‘devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.  You’ll notice,’ he added grinning, ‘there’s nothing in there about a salary.’”

There are times when I have wondered whether this house of love in a cold, cruel world is all that it is cracked up to be, but then I think about Morrie’s words, “Of course we have pain and suffering.  But giving to other people is what makes me feel alive.  Not my car or my house.  Not what I look like in the mirror.  When I give my time, when I can make someone smile after they are feeling sad, it is as close to healthy as I ever feel,” and I know them to be true—I feel a sort of verification for my experience.  This is exactly what I struggle and strive to believe, live, and practice faithfully each day.  At Mercy we say life is God’s work in process.  We use the word process so much it has become our catch-phrase.

The dictionary defines process as “a natural phenomenon marked by gradual changes that lead toward a particular result.”  That is a good scientific sounding definition, but I like to think of process as more of a journey.  It is a journey where we meet and greet, love and laugh, share and smile, cry and grieve, and sing and praise.

We are a diverse community and do all of these things.  But community doesn’t quite describe who we are—family names it more closely.  We are all sons and daughters, sisters and brothers of and in Christ: from the pastors and teachers, to the employed or unemployed, to the homeless or housed, to the volunteers or sleepers.  We love God, we love each other, and we love ourselves.  Notice (now I’m grinning) there is nothing in there about a salary!

So bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ.  You’ll be overwhelmed by what comes back!

Of Hoboes and Jelly Bread Sandwiches

By: Trish Demaris-Cravens

When I volunteer at Mercy Community Church, I often assist in the kitchen.  Not long ago, as I was making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for serving on the street, I was struck by a memory.lunch2

I figure that I was seven or eight at the time.  It was a summer morning when a stranger in well-worn overalls and a raggedy work shirt came to our kitchen door.  Grey stubble covered his chin, and his sun-browned skin looked as tough as old leather.

My mother opened the door and the man asked if she had any work for him.  Leaving me to gawk at the stranger, she went to her sewing basket and returned with her sewing scissors (The ones I’d be hided for if I used them to cut paper dolls).

Taking the scissors, the whiskered man sat down under a big elm in the back yard.  I followed.

He set to work at once.  Sitting with a flat stone on his knee, he methodically stroked the scissors’ blades over the stone.  From time to time he’d spit on the stone, then continued to hone the blades.  When he was satisfied with the blades’ edges, he took the scissors to the kitchen door where my mother met him with a tall glass of cold milk and two jelly-bread sandwiches.  

The man thanked my mother and returned to his place under the elm to eat his lunch.  I sat down across from him.  When I couldn’t stem my curiosity any longer, I spoke to him, “Where do you live?”

He regarded me, balancing his glass of milk on his knee. “No place particular,” he said.

I was formulating my next question when I heard my mother.  “Patricia!  Come in here and let the man eat in peace.”

When the stranger returned the empty glass to the kitchen door, I couldn’t reign it in.  “Where are you going now?” I asked.

I recall that he smiled down at me.  “Oh,” he said, drawing it out, “On down the line.”  I watched him walk off until I could see him no more.  

After he had gone, I pressed my mother, “Who was that man?”

“He’s a hobo,” she said.

“What’s a hobo?”

My mother gathered her thoughts.  “Well,” she began, “a hobo is a person who doesn’t have a house to live in… like you do.”

The scissors man was not the only hobo who came to our door back then.  I recall another man who asked my mother if she could “spare a cup of coffee.”  She could and did, and paired it with two jelly-bread sandwiches.  She opened the door to these men without fear or prejudice, fed them, and treated them as if they were neighbors.

Thinking about this long ago time I know there were many such life lessons given to me by my parents without intent or design, but simply through their actions.

Now when I make “Mercy sandwiches” for men and women who live “no place particular,”  I’m grateful for my mother’s compassion.

Overturning Tables

By: Maggie Leonard

Scripture: John 2: 13-25

As we finish up Bible study, Chad hands me the green embroidered stole, signaling that I should preside over the Communion table.  I scan the crowd and begin to speak, “In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke we read the story of Jesus cleansing the temple at the end of his ministry.  We are reminded that he was a radical.  He stirred up trouble.  Folks thought he was the Messiah, which he was, though they expected him to rule with a sword, not with love and grace.  This jarring turning of tables against oppressive, predatory lending in the temple was meant to kick off the fight, and it did, though not as they expected.  In John, this story is not told toward the end of the gospel but rather at the beginning.”

As I spoke, I started to move objects off of our beautifully set communion table.  First, the fresh cut flowers from Annie’s garden, daffodils.

“John was the last gospel to be written.  He wasn’t seeking a shocking revelation of Jesus as Son of God, as was Mark.  Instead, John proclaims Jesus as God from the start and reiterates his point with layers of repeated images, motifs, and conversations—this is how we learn who Jesus is, what Jesus is about.”

I next move our cups to the floor—one a clear, glass wine glass and the other a ceramic martini glass painted bright yellow with bands of green and red around the rim and base.

“In this story, right at the beginning of the gospel, we see Jesus frustrated.  Claudia reminds us that the rituals of the Temple themselves were not bad, rather it was disheartening to watch faithful people making faithful sacrifices and return to the streets with hard-hearted behaviors.  The temple vendors are gouging weary travelers on their purchases.   As we later read, the sick and disabled who Jesus heals have been sitting ignored and despised in holy spaces for years and years.  The repentance—the changing of hearts and lives—that these sacrifices symbolize is empty.”

I lift our clear bulbous pitcher filled with rich red grape juice and set it on the floor.

“Mercy is not being shown.  Justice is not being served.  Welcome is not being extended.  Cries of help fall on deaf  ears.  Chad challenged us to think of those rituals within our own community that might seem empty should we not act in love after doing them.”

Next I take our round brown clay plate, moving it and the stale loaf of sour dough bread sitting upon it, to the floor.  All that is left on the table is a blue and yellow plaid table cloth picked out from a local clothing closet, two stoles decoratively draped over the front of our small communion table—one woven in Guatemala, the other made of a rich yellow and black kente fabric from Africa—and a thin, rectangular fabric on which a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe is painted.

I lift the edge of our fragile, teetering table and let it fall with a clatter to the ground—fabric splayed and legs in the air.  Nervous murmurs and giggles hang in the air.

“Let us not allow this to become an empty ritual for us.  Let us not gather round this table then walk out that door and do violence to one another!  Let us not gather round this table and offer to one another “the body of Christ and the cup of salvation” and walk out that door and gossip about the hardships of others!”  I feel my voice rising with each word.

“Let us not gather round this table and look one another in the eye as we serve Christ to one another, then walk out that door and turn a blind eye to them on the street!”

I see Tom, a faithful member of our community, start to move toward me.

I point to the table again, “Don’t let us gather round this table to feast together…”

Tom kneels in front of me with his hand in prayer, muttering something.

“…and walk out that door to pass by a hungry sister or brother.”

He sets the table upright.

I get it.  It is uncomfortable to see the Lord’s table knocked over, somehow disrespected.  But then again, that is the point.

With a crash, I flip it over again.

Before I can open my mouth again, Tom bends over to set it right.

“No,” I say.  He ignores me and puts it on its feet.

“No, Tom!  Let it be!”

The tabletop rattles on the floor as it finds its resting place a third time

He starts to argue with me, I am sure he’s heard nothing I have said.  “You are missing the point,” I say, my voice already raised.  “Can he not see that he is ruining my moment?” I think to myself.  Oh, wait.  I forgot.  It is not about me.

He yells something at me in Italian, which he is apt to do when he is really irritated, and turns to walk out the door with a dismissive flick of the wrist.  I feel flustered.

My eyes turn to the rest of the community as my neck starts to turn red.  In a flash my behavior feels anything but loving—and not even remotely pastoral.  I am embarrassed.

So I continue, “And this, sisters and brothers, is why we must return to this table every week.  My brokenness has been laid out before you on this overturned table.  We are all broken.  This table offers us nourishment as we seek that difficult talk of changing our hearts and lives, serving God and one another.  Jesus’ story does not end with an overturned table.  It begins there.  In the next two chapters we see Jesus engaging in long conversations with broken people—Nicodemus who comes by the cover of night so as not to be seen by others, and the woman at the well who drew her water in the heat of the afternoon so as not to encounter those who despised her.  His irritation with people and with systems is not enough to leave them deserted, he shows his love with his time and interest.  Each time we come to this table, we take time to worship God in community, we reengage conversation with Jesus and one another because we hurt one another.  I beg your forgiveness for my brokenness and raising my voice at Tom.  Before I take communion today I will seek his pardon too.

“Living in community is messy!  We do not always get it right.  But ultimately, this place of offence—where money changers gorge the prices of an offering, where some gather to eat while others go hungry—becomes a place of reconciliation—where Jesus offers us his brokenness to mend ours, where all of God’s children are fed.

“God offers us simple gifts of wine and bread at a simple table so that everytime we take a sip of a drink or a bite of food, we can remmeber our call to do acts of mercy.  This feast is meaningless if we do not show our love for God through our actions.  And, thankfully, when we fail, we can get nourished at this table and fortilize ourselves to try again the next week.  Thanks be to God!

“Let us join our voices together giving thanks for God’s grace as we pray as Jesus taught us, saying, ‘Our Father…

Farming in the Concrete Jungle

By: Claude Holly

I was born in Alabama; my family had 25 acres of land on which I grew up.  My family and I did a lot of farming: picking cotton, corn, tomatoes, cabbage, and collard greens.  When I was still young, we moved to Atlanta, but we always had a garden.  A year ago when we were talking about new projects to do at Mercy, I suggested that we have a garden.  The church does not have any land though, so we could not do it.

When I was at the library a couple weeks ago, I was reading the weekly newspaper, Atlanta Intown.  I found an article about Concrete Jungle; I thought it was really cool that they shook trees to get fruit and donated it to the homeless.  I got really excited about it and showed the article to one of my pastors.  I learned that Concrete Jungle donates to us at Mercy and that my pastor farms with them.

I went to the farm that weekend to help out.  When I got to the farm I saw a huge field with ten to thirteen garden beds with tomatoes, collard greens, cabbage, and watermelon growing.  After meeting some of the other volunteers, I got right to work pulling up weeds, making tomato cages, watering plants, and digging beds.  I talked with the Concrete Jungle people and learned about how they started the organization.

I really enjoyed being outside and doing something different.  It was a good change of pace from reading in the library.   I am looking forward to going back soon!