Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Life of a Houston Artist…

Don Collins awoke the morning of Tuesday February 9th as he always does. He shook himself from his sleepy state and got ready for the day. After preparing for the day in his normal morning ritual he started out for his favorite coffee shop. Don does not drive; he walks. Don arrived at Taft St Coffee, the coffee shop that serves as both his studio and muse, and began to converse with his friends and those he does not know. Don draws people, places and things as they appear to him. After Don had finished at Taft St. he headed out for his next destination, a destination he would not reach.
As Don was crossing the road he heard the sound of an oncoming car so he instinctively sped up his pace to cross the street before becoming the next Houstonian to be the victim of a vehicular accident. After reaching the opposite curb Don heard the same car slam on its brakes and as he turned he saw that it was a Houston Police Department cruiser. By the time Don had turned around the passenger side officer was already out of the car walking toward him. Don is not a stranger to the H.P.D. and he knew what was coming. What followed was a horrible display of profiling by the HPD officers.
The first officer asked Don why he was walking so fast and requested to see his identification. The officer proceeded to ask Don who he was and tell him that he had never seen him in “their” neighborhood before. The next question was a forceful request to search Don’s backpack for his “crack pipe”; Don does not smoke crack. Upon searching his pack, much to the chagrin of Don’s personal rights, they discovered a bag of Crayola colored pencils (let me remind you Don is an Artist) and the officers proceeded to ask Don if he was a “pedophile”. The fact that the possession of colored pencils is enough for the police to think that someone is a pedophile is absurd, but also that they would ask such an audacious question to Don based off of the contents of his bag is overwhelmingly upsetting. Also during this absurd police investigation a mid-twenties African American man happened to be walking by and he received a harsh greeting and rude questioning as to his destination and reason for being where he was.
Upon searching through their records they found that Don had a few outstanding tickets and decided to take him in to process him through the system. The first holding cell that Don was placed in was a twenty-man cell that had about forty or fifty men in it. After several hours Don was moved to a smaller cell with three other men, one of whom was suffering from some mental ailments and had been in the cell for longer then he should have been in that situation. Don continually requested to talk with a superior officer (which is something that one of his cell-mates had for the previous two days) and was repeatedly told to talk to the next shift-captain, of which he saw about three come and go. Don finally went before a judge to deal with his delinquent tickets and copped a plea so that the frustrating madness would come to a more concise end. His tickets were written off after he spent some more time in his cell and was subsequently released.
As previously stated, Don is not a stranger to the HPD. In fact, they harass Don quite often. On top of being a wonderful artist, very friendly conversationalist and traveling philosopher, Don is also homeless. It is an upsetting fact that just because Don has the appearance of a homeless man and was walking faster than some police officer decided that he should have been, he was the subject of situational profiling and the harassment that comes with it. No man, whether he goes home to a multi-million dollar house or a pad made from cardboard and thrift-store blankets, should be subjected to such inhumane treatment. Don had not done anyone direct or even indirect harm in that situation and aside from his appearance and supposed unfamiliar presence in the neighborhood the officers had no feasible reason to “pull him over”.
This situation was upsetting to Don, but even more upsetting to those who care about him. Don is a kind and generous man to everyone both friend and stranger alike. Over the Christmas season Don sold cards based off of his paintings at Taft St Coffee and donated all the proceeds to the church that he has been attending so that they could dig fresh water wells over-seas. He is an accomplished artist, and a brilliant intellectual, nothing about him says dangerous, harmful, or even scary. This situation brings into questioning the methods by which our HPD officers are deciding who is and is not criminal. I can only hope that this situation will bring an inquiry into the police department and their practices of profiling.
This story was written by one of my teammates, Isaac about the injustices that have affected our dear friend Don. Isaac's intention was that people would see that these things happened to a beloved friend rather than just some homeless guy.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine's Prayer

I could count the ways I love You far too quickly. It takes much more time to count the ways I should love You but can't, want to love You but don't, dream of loving You but something is always in the way. I am always in the way.

If my love were pure I would love You in patience, waiting for Your timing, being slow to anger, and actually thinking before I act. I would love You in kindness, speaking truth and encouragement into the lives of others, and loving in my actions even more so than words. I would love You in humility, in placing others above and before myself. I would love You in hoping and protecting and persevering and trusting and always seeing the good and beautiful. I would put to death the self that envies, boasts, is arrogant and rude, and seeks the best for me alone.

The ways I love are minimal, the ways I should and wish to love abound.

Teach me how to love.

Monday, February 1, 2010

thoughts from the last week of january...

Warning: this post will most likely be filled with thoughts that are not well connected with each other.

One of my greatest struggles so far this Mission Year has been dealing with the fact that my life this year differs in many ways from the expectations I had. It's ironic, because I thought I didn't have many expectations - I didn't know what to expect. But they were there. I thought we would be living, working, and attending church all in the same neighborhood. I thought I would choose my service site. I thought I would be living with, at most, 5 others.
Instead, I live in one neighborhood and work and go to church in another (some of my teammates live in one neighborhood, work in another, and go to church in yet another). Service sites had already been picked out before we came to Houston and we were placed there. I live with 9 others.
I've been realising this year how stubborn I am. When things don't meet my expectations, I try to make them (but don't worry, I love my teammates - I haven't tried to get rid of any of them). Perhaps in some ways my dissatisfaction with certain aspects is valid, but this is where I am, and this is how things are, and God works all things for good.
My city director used a puzzle analogy with me. She talked about how each piece in a puzzle is different, but equally important. Some pieces are filled with colours and objects and excitement - and some are plain. Each piece alone is nothing, but together they make a beautiful picture. If any one piece is missing, there will be a gap, whether it be a plain piece or a colourful piece. The puzzle needs them all.
So instead of trying to hammer pieces in where they don't fit, or add in pieces from another puzzle, I need to accept and appreciate each piece for what it is and what it brings to the overall picture.


On Tuesday Anton came from LaGrange and did a training with us. He was talking about immigration, but his point was applicable to all forms of oppression. He used the passage from Exodus about Moses and the burning bush. "The Lord said, 'I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them...'" (Exodus 3:7-8)
Anton focused on how God said that He 1) saw 2) heard 3) knew the suffering of His people and then rescued them.
1) See - see the injustice, the suffering. See the people waiting in line all day, bundling up against the biting winds, for a loaf of bread and some onions.
2) Hear - hear the cries of the oppressed. Hear the refugee mother's frustration at not speaking English and struggling to provide for her 5 children.
3) Know - be there with them. Walk beside them. Be in solidarity with them and their suffering.


The Mission Year board was here on Friday. They came to our house for breakfast. We thought they would be arriving at 9:30, but it turned out to be 9:00. So when they came they found us in our living room doing our morning devotions - many of us still in our pajamas. It was classic. Pretty much like an ad for Mission Year. :D
So we rushed to get dressed and tidy up. Andy made pancakes for breakfast and we talked with the board members about our experiences so far. I was really thankful for the opportunity because it drove us to look at the big picture of our Mission Year to this point, describing the beauty, redemption, and ways we see God working. It was kind of a refocusing for me, a chance to bring things into perspective. We shared struggles as well, and what we've been learning and how we've been growing. It allowed me to see how things fit together, how each piece of this year is so important - like the puzzle.


Love to all,