Is Easter over? Never, around this Block!

Here’s an Easter  that happened a few weeks before Easter Because yes, Saints,  Resurrection can leap out of any hour, any old ordinary or even very bad day!  

This particular March day started okay around this block. It was pretty.  The staff was sitting in our Tuesday morning meeting and, like you do, somebody looked out the window. This is what we usually see:

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Often the Bright Horizons little toddlers are out toddling around and there are lots and lots of songbirds and occasionally people on their ways somewhere stop to chat with one another.  It’s a happy oasis.

This day we looked out and and there were several policemen just standing around!  Here’s what was going down as told by Johnathan Davis, Executive Director, Covenant Community, Inc., and Julius, who was actually preparing with nine other residents for their six month Covenant Celebration in Ellis Hall in two days.

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Johnathan and Julius remind us that recovery takes a village.  In just the last month, two young men in families Carroll and I know socially have died in opioid overdoses and I have heard of two more through you,  The very hard, deep work of Covenant Community matters so much.

Johnathan:   A policeman came to the door who requested to come in to see if we had a person here. I told them that due to federal regulations,  I couldn’t confirm or deny the person was here. The policeman then snatched the door away from me. And I stood in the door and told him they could not come in.

 Martha:  In the meantime, the All Saints staff are still looking out our staff meeting window, aghast.  There are even more cops swarming everywhere and ATF people in flak jackets, too.  We love cops.  We count on cops. Our beat cops check on us when they drive by at night, and here are our two longtime Directors of Security, Ralph Sullivan (now fishing and golfing in Florida!) and his nephew, Randy Miller, our current director. Both are Atlanta cops and we love and appreciate them and their colleagues.

Martha: But this was weird! So many wearing so many different uniforms!

What is going on? I texted Johnathan:

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Martha: (The “Nelson” mentioned above is All Saints’ parishioner Nelson Tyrone, as scripture says, a very present help in trouble.)

Johnthan: They failed to show a warrant when we requested to see one. And they began to try to entice me to come outside the door. I refused. Other staff came and joined me at the door while the police for two hours repeatedly told us we would be locked up.

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This is a photo staged later of some of the staff who stood behind their director in support of the residents.  No warrant means no forced entry.  All of us need to know that. This trained staff  knows that the most vulnerable ones among us need the strongest constitutional rights.

Johnathan: We talked several times to  our lawyer  Nelson Tyrone and asked him what to do – for advice and consultation.

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All Saintser Nelson Tyrone has been a rock for many years for Covenant Community members who have legal issues.

Martha: (All Saints’ attorneys—please let Nelson or Johnathan know if you can help with a very occasional Covenant Community case, often civil.  Really sometimes what is needed is just  standing with a man before a judge and declaring that he is in treatment for his addiction.  You will also be helping our country continue to be a great country of equal treatment under the law.)

Now back to the day police were swarming all around this block as told to me by Johnathan and Julius, the young man all those cops thought they were looking for.

Johnathan:  I put Nelson on the speaker phone with the officers. He advised them that they couldn’t come in. I left the door to go tell the guys what was going on. I asked them to remain in the dorm and told them not to be distracted by what was happening and that things should be okay.  I chose not to tell Julius that they were looking for him because it would upset him for no use.

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Julius has completed  truck-driving school and is applying for short distance routes as he continues in his recovery.  Covenant Community senior residents are part of the tapestry of the block – working shifts on security and with the sextons.  Say hey to them. 

Julius:  That day I didn’t know what was going on. I just knew cops were looking for someone and I didn’t think it was me.

Johnathan: I came back to the front door with staff and continued to ask law enforcement to leave or show a proper warrant. I remained there with the staff for another hour with the door forced open by the officers.  They kept saying that their shifts had gotten extended and they were not happy. I spoke to eight different people – Fulton, Gwinnett, Atlanta, ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms).

Martha: In the meantime, the All Saints’ staff is worrying about our friends at  Covenant Community. What to do?  I decide to go sit in the garden and say my prayers and watch the cops in a kind and friendly way.  Carl Palmer, the Program Manager for Covenant is also sitting there watching and worrying since he can’t get past the police to get in to his colleagues.  We sent Johnathan an encouraging selfie and also asked if he wanted some lunch!

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Martha: I don’t know why this says 8:16 am because it was lunch time!! My answer to all crises involves food,  I went to the Bank of America cafeteria for Johnathan’s salad and also got some cookies for the cops. A lot of cookies because there were a gazillion cops!

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I went to the Spring Street Covenant entrance. The cops were very courteous (little old lady in collar) and appreciative of the thought behind the cookies but they wouldn’t take the cookies.  Which actually worked out fine.  I went in the Covenant Community office entrance and handed Johnathan his salad and  gave the staff the cookies!  And then I joined the sit-in.

Now we are over three hours into this sit-in/stand-off.   Nelson Tyrone arrives!  Johnathan, the staff, and I gather around to listen.  Nelson really gave me a civics lesson— the staff already knew this— that  it is very important to strongly but calmly expect civil rights to be respected—the same ones you want for yourself, your children, your friends.  Here’s what I remember Nelson said:

You really do have the right to remain silent.  Nelson said, be pleasant about it but tell the officers that you are exercising your right not answer their questions.  I watched how this rolls when the officers started asking us for our personal information, and Nelson told them very calmly that we are not doing that.  And they stopped what was an unnecessary and kind of intimidating exercise.

People cannot search through your stuff without a warrant to search through your stuff.  Now maybe you assume that when somebody doesn’t want their car or house searched, they are guilty of something. No, it’s just that person exercising their rights as an American.

Remember that cops are trained to get their objective done and are just doing their jobs even when they tell you something that seems not exactly true. They can do that to accomplish their objective. I may not be saying that right. But what I got out of it was don’t get caught up trying to catch the law enforcement out on what they say being accurate.  That  sort of takes it out of the personal anger realm.  They were doing their jobs and our job was to be American citizens.

Nelson then told us that now the police had obtained a warrant to search for a Julius Johnson and that today would not be a good day for Julius, but that Nelson would be there at the jail this afternoon or tomorrow and see this through.  I kept thinking, but he is ‘sposed to have his six-month celebration day after tomorrow.  How sad that his life is going another way.

Johnathan:  I was experiencing  the love and support from staff; from Martha, and Nelson.  Ken Stewart  had also called (our senior warden and another All Saints’ lawyer who has been there for the legally underrepresented).  I knew I wasn’t alone.  Now Nelson was here and he and I together went to prepare the residents for the police entry and search.

Martha: The staff and I held vigil and sat in the door and ate cookies.

Julius:  Nelson came to my room and told me that they were looking for me!  I was so surprised. But there was nothing I could do about it. I knew I hadn’t done anything and so I shouldn’t have anything to worry.  I was curious. It is a good thing that they didn’t tell me anything til the last minute. Nelson had said if they arrest you; we will be down there and don’t worry about it. They went through my stuff. They looked at my medicine and my school id and they thought it was me.

They walked me out in handcuffs, but then in the Covenant Community courtyard, they showed me the picture on the warrant and commented that I had changed quite a bit and changed my hair. I knew it wasn’t me. And I trusted Nelson would be there.

I trusted his word that I wasn’t by myself. The community had my back and we had a lawyer in place. I didn’t worry. Sometimes you can get anxiety and do something stupid. Not good. I truly felt like I didn’t have anything to worry about. I had people behind me. I wasn’t in it by myself. I wasn’t going to get lost in the system.

(An aside from Martha—in 1985, Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and Gladys Knight did a version of “That’s What Friends are for” benefiting AIDS research.  Here they are with composers Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager.  This song raised a gazillion dollars for AIDS and, as important, broke through the silence and shame curtain. This Covenant Community day was one of those “That’s what Friends are for” moments.  Listen here and be glad for friends.)

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Friends have been there for friends in ditches many, many times before around this block. May it always be so. 

Julius:  The policemen didn’t say anything to me the whole way to the jail.  But one of the guys looked at me and looked at the picture on the warrant and kind of figured it out.

We get to Gwinnett. The one who had looked at me and the picture asked me my birthday. Before he took me to intake, he went with his supervisor. He talked to his supervisor for thirty minutes.  They didn’t take me through intake.  He helped me out of the car and took off the handcuffs. He said it was mistaken identity. Same name, close middle name.

Martha: (I also think it was a case of somebody taking the care and time to get the right identity.   And I believe part of that was this law enforcement officer had seen the commitment and professionalism of the Covenant Community staff and the order and seriousness of the Covenant Community ethos.)

Julius:  (With a little smile) I guess they’re not supposed to say I’m sorry. He did take me to Gwinnett Place Mall, and another guy took me from there.   The second officer said “Where do you need to get dropped off at?? I said,”Where y’all picked me up from.” And that’s just where he took me.  And I walked in the door.

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Covenant Community is right next to Tate Hall, facing on Spring Street.  Hundreds of men have walked through the door and found new life here.  Hope Restored.

Johnathan: We had NO IDEA!  In fact we were debriefing with the residents about what happened and asking them not to let this be a trigger for something not good and reaffirming our love and care for them. And then we were starting a conversation with staff to connect and console each. Other. And somebody screamed Julius is back!! I ran to see him walking in the door and said forget policies and procedures! I’m going to give you a hug!

Looking back, it was kind of a fire drill. A pretty big drill. Everybody knew what to do.

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Carroll’s Aunt Bown used to say whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. And that’s what happened with the residents and staff of Covenant Community!!

Julius: I felt blessed. I was aware that you know I can’t let that situation stop me or keep me from moving forward. Which I could have probably easily. And been mad. And looking at it too much. It’s still baffling as far as how they got my name or where I was or got that all mixed up and got a warrant for the wrong person and go through all that.

But thinking too much about that would stop me from moving forward.

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Reinhold Niebuhr is not just whistling dixie. Memorize the Serenity Prayer. It’ll come in handy at least three times a day.

So I use it as a learning experience as far as reiterating that anything can happen at any moment.

It boils down to choices – I could have easily gotten upset with the cop – I could have had another charge – obstruction – me knowing it’s not me – and making wrong choices due to my feelings. I used it as a real learning experience.

I made decisions and handled it in the best way I could have. And the outcome was the best outcome. And that’s that.

Martha: Two days later it was a great Spring Celebration for Covenant Community Senior Residents.  The biggest ever.

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Every one of these men is a hero, overcoming great odds and personal demons.  And all of these men together with new residents and staff are our teachers.  Covenant Community is a true faith community.  Though the members call God by many different names, they share the one faith in the Power of the Higher Power.

Martha: Out of all the people in a room full of people God set me down right behind Julius’ mom.  I said, “You must be proud of your son especially after this week.” She gently said, “this week?” I thought, uh-oh. He didn’t want to worry her and he didn’t tell her.  And that was true. Later, Johnathan said to her, “Julius made good decisions in light of other people making bad decisions.”  And that was the truth.

Julius:  The Celebration is a time mark. The significance of being away for six months is life changing. Then the Celebration lets people who love the residents ‘come in’. Recovery is something you never graduate from. Anybody can always – whether they are on drugs or not – can always be in recovery, working on yourself, doing better. Being aware. Growing.

Johnathan:  That day with Julius was a life-changing experience for the community. The other residents felt a greater safety and comfort that there are people here ready to stand up for them. And  the staff understood even more deeply that we are here for one purpose. We are a family.   If we are for each other no one can be against us.

Martha: And what I say is Happy Easter.  Happy Resurrection.  May you have Easter new life every day. And may you help others find new life, too.  Because around this block,  dear ones, that is why we are here.

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Martha +

 

 

 

 

“When the song of the angels is stilled ..

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Everything became a You and nothing was an It.    W. H Auden

Yes, W. H. Auden, this Christmas Eve, “everything became a You and nothing was an It!”   I loved this Christmas Eve the best of all my years of priesthood.  Gorgeous music, flowers, mostly smooth liturgy, beloved people—friends and strangers.  Okay, one of the greeneries caught a little bit on fire at the One o’clock, and we had a tiny little throw up moment at the Three!   The good news of great joy still came to us!  (Though it did take this 69 year old two days to recuperate!)

Around this block, it goes very very quiet the next eleven days after the first Eve of the first day of Christmas . . .

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Kevin watches over the going-back-to-work-parents dropping off kids at Bright Horizons.

There is NO PROBLEM getting a parking place. There is just quiet, quiet, quiet.

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There is no line to get in and no friends to hug, no children to exclaim over.  Below a lady walks her chihuahua which is nice but not miraculous. Is Christmas over?

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 No  Indeed!  Christmas is not over!  We are just catching our breath.

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The Wise People are still seeking!
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The Shepherds are still in awe and still watching over their flocks.

For instance, on the Third Day of Christmas here is Johnathan Davis, Executive Director Shepherd of the Covenant Community.

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Shepherding goes on around this block every day. 

Below may be a little doorway on the North Avenue side of our block that you don’t recognize, but it’s a holy stable.  Around this block we host ten 12-step meetings a week. Up these steps, people help each other find their lives and their personhood.  Shepherding is always a community project. 

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One meeting started twenty-five years ago by Covenant Community folk is called Home Sweet Home. Isn’t that great?

And LOOK! Threads will open tomorrow just like always, because great kids deserve great clothes!

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Finding just what you need is surely just what God wants for all.

And of course even after the manger scene is put lovingly away, we still have our favorite donkey in the window! Remember around this block, jackasses are beloved, too!  This is the window near where Carroll and I will  be buried. We have lots of friends and relatives there already.   

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Jesus asked specially for a donkey in his big parade, and All Saints’ has a beaut!

The theologian and poet Howard Thurman gives us our marching orders in this beloved poem.  Please God may we live into this deep and abiding life.

The Work of Christmas

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

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Thank you God for Christmas Eve, 2016. We needed it.  Help us to live in this light.

Martha +

“For mercy has a human heart …

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Sometimes mercy looks just like strawberry shortcake.

Kristina Armstrong teaches  Covenant Community guys how to find and keep jobs. She is the one slicing the strawberries – enough for a feast.  I have known, respected, loved her for over twenty-five years. She helps people move into employment just like she makes strawberry shortcake—by doing the next little right thing.

Want to see some more human hearts in fine working order?

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The Program Director, the Clinical Director, the Seminarian (although the Seminarian has gone back to Sewanee, I leave him in the slide show because he told me his year with Covenant Community will always be in his heart), the Clinical Counselor, the MD … Strong-Hearted, Real-Hearted.  One is actually named Mercy!  She told me that what keeps her going is to witness how hard the men fight for their lives.

Maybe addiction is the most honest and brutal war of all since recovering addicts know exactly where both the friend and the enemy reside.  (Hint: tap your chest.)

 

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Dr. Debra Danzler, Executive Director, leaves Covenant Community this month after seven years and two days.   She leaves the place stronger than when she found it. She put her heart into the covenant and now she will rest.  Godspeed, Dr. D.

Around this block, the human heart is our very best commodity.  William Blake says it well (though I would translate “Pity” as  “Empathy” for pity parties are not where it’s at).  Instead, deep down, day by day,  we remind each other around this block that we are all really truly deeply human and thus really-truly-deeply-by-the-grace-of-Christ “All Saints.”

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.
Martha +

 

 

 

 

 

Communion with Hellfire Pepper Jelly!?!

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For years and years, St. Helena’s and Covenant Community have gotten together on a summer day to make hellfire pepper jelly!  They will put the jars up for sale in the fall and all proceeds go to support projects for the wellbeing of women and children out in this sometimes hellish, fiery world.

The operation is outside because the fumes are CRAZY HOT!! Experience has taught the team that if you get the jalapeno pepper juice on your face, coat yourself with whipped cream and that will cool you down and take away the sting.  I bet somebody’s grandmother told them that, and now the healing is passed around and around.  Isn’t that lovely?

After the work of the morning, everybody enjoys homemade chicken salad sandwiches, chatting and happy and satisfied with the day’s output and the carrying on of the tradition. That’s when I took this picture, while they were clearing the table for the feast.Not everybody stood still to be  in it, but you get the drift.

Around this block, communion happens.  Way past ritual and doctrine, some of our holiest communions are  moveable, malleable, lovable feasts, this time with hot peppers,  whipped cream, chicken salad, and laughter.  Thank you Holy Spirit.

 

 

Talking Walls

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Sometimes you walk into the cool and dark of the church, and someone is struggling with  demons.  Or giving thanks.  Or resting. In the summer, people are cooling off.   In the winter, people are warming up.  Very, very quiet. And yet the holiest conversations are going on.  Around this block the walls talk.

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This is the Resurrection window which I photographed on the afternoon of the Fall Equinox in 2015.  I needed a little personal resurrection and I have never seen it that lit up before or since.  Timing is everything.

A Wiselady on the block, Pat Kiley, says “You can walk in anytime during the day and see something new and be surprised by something.  On a cloudy day you can see what you can’t see when it’s sunny. Go figure.”

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I KNOW THIS.  Sometimes people come in here—strangers to us but certainly not to God—and they are HANGING ON FOR DEAR LIFE.  The walls talk to them, challenging, comforting and strengthening.

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Hanging on to Jesus’ feet at the foot of the cross

Here’s another talking wall, the storefront entrance to  Covenant Community, our residence for recovering addicted men on the Spring Street side of the block. Think of all the sufferers who walk or drive by and wonder if just maybe new life can come to them.

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Around this block, we have talking walls, and not all of them are made by Tiffany.  O, we are the stronger and more fully human by their grace.   Come and see. 

Martha +

 

 

 

 

 

 

Change Happens Around This Block

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This is most of the staff of  Covenant Community, the life stabilization residence for sick-of-being-addicted and  once-home-less-but-now-at-home men on our block.

This photo is what real heroes look like.

Big changes are going on.  Three of these core folks are moving on to the next bright and hopeful stages of their lives amidst many blessings and much gratitude.  So while you see these smiles, know there are also some tears.  Change is hard.  Do we know that at Covenant Community?  Yes, we do.

Covenant Community is actually right next to Bright Horizons, our early childhood day care and pre-k center.  Isn’t that twenty-five year old coexistence of a nursery school and a residence for addicts both unexpected and beautiful?  So much learning how to live going on with fragile people—ages six weeks to sixty—all of them changing and growing and eventually moving on to the next season of their lives.

God bless you departing Covenant Community staff—Dr. Debra Dantzler, Sarah Ford, and Joseph Butler. And God bless those who remain to carry on this gorgeous and fraught and frankly miraculous ministry.

Martha+