My New Neighbor, the Homeless Guy

There is a bit of history between him and me. The homeless guy recently pitched a tent underneath the big magnolia tree. It's located at the edge of the park next-door to my apartment building. For the past year, he and his dog hung out there during the daytime. A few months ago, I noticed he was handcuffed and police officers were questioning him. A couple of weeks ago, I found a lost driver license and recognized his face in the photo. Of course, he was thrilled to get it back. Last week, I got curious and decided to speak to him, and find out why he gets to sleep overnight in the park. It’s usually forbidden.

Now that he is my neighbor, my ulterior motive for talking to this man was to tell him to keep the noise down during night. I was polite about it. With social distancing intact, the homeless guy told me he needed to sleep in the park because he has nowhere else to go. He was born here but the city won’t do anything that encourages homeless people to come to the area. Consequently, there was no plan for the poor to shelter-in-place when the coronavirus hit us. The homeless guy told me the city of Ventura is putting people like him up in motels, but not here, in Santa Barbara.

“I feel like a loser,” he said.

Based on my many years as a federal criminal appeals attorney, which you can read about in my memoir, My Random Death, I told the homeless guy the police wouldn't allow him to sleep in the park if they didn't think he was a good person. This was especially true considering he was arrested not too long ago. If the police wanted, he would be gone now. Instead, they are making an exception for him and he should feel good about himself. My pep talk seemed to cheer him up.

Of course, I gave the homeless man some money. My spiritual practice includes daily prayers to be a generous person. And then actually doing it. I remember attending a lecture by Rabbi Lew, who almost became a Buddhist monk. He spoke about cherishing his alone time on walks because his companion was God. The rabbi always kept a dollar in his pocket, just in case he came across someone in need. “It’s a simple act,” he said.

Meanwhile, certain famous and not-so-famous American preachers appear to believe in the opposite. Instead of having a giving spirit, they are inclined to fleece their flock. A recent ‘Church and State’ article noted the prosperity gospel, “is a religious doctrine that encourages poor people to send specific amounts of cash (usually in the hundreds of dollars) to charismatic preachers, an act the preachers characterizes as “seed giving” — and the preachers promise that God will reward these gifts by making the givers rich.”

Trump even pulled one of these evangelist-types into the White House to work in a spiritual advisory capacity. Richard W. Painter, who served as the chief ethics lawyer in the President George W. Bush's administration, suggested this religious leader was committing "fraud" and running a "Ponzi scheme." He noted, “Paula White is using her position to make a ‘sales pitch’ that “tests the boundaries between 'religious freedom' and criminal mail fraud and wire fraud with her message to send her money and God will make you rich.”

At the general assembly of ‘Caritas Internationalis’, the Vatican-based federation of national Catholic charities, Pope Francis celebrated Mass on May 23, 2019 and reminded people that faith "is a path to follow together, always together, with a spirit of trust," he said. "Seek in others the presence of God, who does not dwell in the greatness of the things we do, but in the smallness of the poor we encounter."

Even school children know the Bible says we are created in God’s image. This theological doctrine is in Judaism, Christianity, and the mystical branch of Islam, Sufism. The concept has an even deeper meaning then just what our face looks like. Recently, a Republican lawmaker foolishly gave this as a reason for not wearing a face mask in public. Currently, I am studying The Zohar, an ancient Kabbalistic text and using Daniel Matt’s Pritzker Edition translation and commentary. Volume 1, footnote number 718 states, “Generosity is inherent in the makeup of humanity, the clearest sign of our original divine nature.”

Garden of Eden

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