Archive for August, 2010

Precarity.  The first time I heard this word was at the Open Door Community in Atlanta, Georgia.  Much of my roots as a follower of the vagrant, people-loving, good-news-to-the-poor sharing, Jesus came from the Open Door starting in college when I was re-schooled by community co-founder, Murphy Davis, to take to the streets and cross lines of difference.  Precarity was a word fully embraced by Dorothy Day, a journalist who stood with workers and the poor.  She helped to begin the movement known as the Catholic Worker communities.  Dorothy Day wrote an article on Poverty and Precarity where she talks about the need for the church to live on the edge instead of being so worried about the condition of the buildings we have church in. 

“Poverty and Precarity”
By Dorothy Day
The Catholic Worker, May 1952, 2, 6. “True poverty is rare,” a saintly priest writes to us from Martinique. “Nowadays communities are good, I am sure, but they are mistaken about poverty. They accept, admit on principle, poverty, but everything must be good and strong, buildings must be fireproof, Precarity is rejected everywhere, and precarity is an essential element of poverty.”
That has been forgotten. Here we want precarity in everything except the church. These last days our refectory was near collapsing. We have put several supplemental poles and thus it will last, maybe two or three years more. Some day it will fall on our heads and that will be funny. Precarity enables us to help very much the poor. When a community is always building, and enlarging, and embellishing, which is good in itself, there is nothing left over for the poor. We have no right to do this as long as there are slums and breadlines somewhere.”

Though I’ve known the word precarity since the late 1990s, I must admit that I really didn’t know it at all.  My head knew it well but my heart, my body knew very little about it until just recently.  Precarity (comes from precarious which we are more apt to have heard and) basically means living on the edge.   Poor people know precarity though they may never use the word.  When you’re poor, you always live on the edge—the fine line between survival and not survival. 

Our little community has spent the last few months fighting for our life (at least in my mind).  We have wondered whether we will be able to pay the rent, received disconnection notices from the electric company, and saw our food supply dwindle.  We took on extra part-time jobs and worked alongside other poor people doing meanial labor during the hours we weren’t open.  If you received a phone book at or near your door lately, it may have been us.  We saw how firsthand how corporate systems use desperate people to do a job that pays dramatically less than the worth of the labor given because capitalism thrives on poverty.

I am a worry wart.  My partner, Lauren, says much of my worrying comes from getting a first taste at real poverty (though I’ve lived in voluntary poverty for years).  She is right.  And so with bills piling up and very little donations coming in, I spent many a sleepless night wondering how to help our little community survive.  Stress is unhealthy and so my health and quality of relationships unraveled to greater degrees as my worrying increased.  You might say I went kicking and screaming towards precarity.

There is a simple gospel thought that runs through the heart of the Jesus life.  It says, “We are saved by faith.”  And though I am the pastor, Lauren seems to embrace this simple statement far better than I.  She has told me during many a worry-filled night to have faith and demonstrated that by the freedom with which she embraces poverty (this comes from years of being poor and learning to live with it even as you struggle for justice). 

So in short, I’ve learned that we are not saved by worry.  We are not saved by fear.  We are not saved by trying to keep ourselves alive. 

I have begun to embrace precarity and the power of love.   I do not know what the journey toward precarity will mean for our community.  But I do believe that our community exists by God’s grace and not by my worry.  I have now embraced deeply in my bones what we’ve said from the beginning: that our true mission is to love and give in love and to change the world by the power of love lived out in community, a community that centers itself at the margins.  And if we give everything away in love then we have been faithful.  Faithful–even if we can no longer keep our doors open and are pushed further to the edge and the streets. 

Thank God for walking on the edge of this world.  We just might fall off into the kingdom of God, the Beloved Community.


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In the Media

Our work for social change and speaking out against prejudice and oppression has been in Asheville’s weekly independent newspaper:  Mountain Xpress. 

Raising awareness: Local group focuses on jobs, community          by Margaret Williams on 05/20/2010

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photo by Jerry Nelson
Community of the Beloved — a local group of “diverse people, most who live in poverty and many who live on the streets,” says co-organizer Amy Cantrell — held an ice-cream social and a sign-toting event on Tuesday, May 18 at Prtichard Park in downtown Asheville. The goal, says Cantrell, was to raise awareness about the challenges facing Asheville’s poorest residents.

“We believe in building community, and we need to help each other,” Cantrell tells Xpress. Tuesday’s participants carried signs reflecting the need for jobs, healthcare, education and more. As one sign indicated, many Asheville residents may be just one paycheck away from homelessness.


A shocking cartoon appeared in the Mountain Xpress that treats our friends on the streets with disdain and disrespect.  The cartoon is a reflection of how we see certain people as less than human and how the media feeds this type of prejudice.  Here is the cartoon followed by a letter of outrage written in repsonse by Beloved co-founders.

A place to sit
by Brent Brown on 07/27/2010

A message from Be Loved to… everybody
by L. White and A. Cantrell in Vol. 17 / Iss. 03 on 08/10/2010

Prejudice is destructive to the fabric of our community.It is appalling that, on the one hand, Mountain Xpress can write such a powerful piece exposing the past prejudice of deeply rooted racism in “Back to Summerlane” [July 28 Xpress] and, in the same issue, promote such blatant prejudice against people who are homeless [in the cartoon] “Land of This Guy.” This kind of prejudice ripples out, changing the landscape of our city as revealed in “Benched” [July 28 Xpress] and can lead to the awful violence seen at Camp Summerlane.

We welcome citizens without homes, seniors, tourists and Asheville residents to find comfortable seating, rest and the opportunity to build real relationships that have the power to overcome our prejudices at Be Loved, a community house located at 39 Grove Street in downtown Asheville. — L. White and A. Cantrell
Be Loved

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Smokey Train Hopper

Smokey Train Hopper  by Lauren White

One of the first people I met upon opening our community house was Smokey “the Train Hopper.”  Smokey was a well-guarded, wise soul with the grayest of ZZ Top beards.  The gruffness of his hello warned me to tap down my enthusiasm.  He sat in the corner and picked up a beat-up guitar and began to sing songs fit for campfires and beans.  His eyes became alive singing lyrics of riding the rails.  Suddenly, we all felt like kids circling around grandpa. 

Smokey knew how to captivate a room with his story-telling about all his adventures riding the rails throughout this great land.  And he spoke of something sad–of not loving anyone cause that leads to hurt.  So right then and there I took it as a personal challenge to disprove his belief and get him to say, “I love you.”  I told Amy about my challenge.  Smokey continued to come every day to share in fellowship and meals.  He loved to cook and volunteered to cook some breakfast one morning.  We had sausage and some eggs.  Well this would never do he said.  So a couple of hours later, he’d turned the small loaves and fishes we had into a miraculous feast–a five course meal!  He beamed while serving folks–that same shine that came out while singing about riding the rails.  Bells and whistles went off in my head.  YES!  YES!  This is it right here!  People feeling proud regardless of where they are at in life.  People coming together sharing gifts and needs.  It was great that within a couple of weeks here we were doing the damn thing!  Community was happening! 

Smokey continued to entertain us with stories and songs.  One day, as we were closing up, Smoke reached out for a hug.  We fell into a safe, cozy one and he whispered, “I love you, sister.”  HE SAID IT!  HE SAID IT!  The highest of honors.  Flabbergasted, I told him I loved him, too, and celebrated my victory silently.  Yes, we want to be love and we want everyone to know that they are loved and can live love.

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Sharing our Stories

Since April, we have been sharing love, life, and hospitality at our community house.  We meet so many people every day and are touched by their lives and stories.  Every day we see the distress and pain of homelessness, poverty, and prejudice.  Every day we commit to changing the world by the love in our hearts, the work of our hands, and the way we live our lives.  We’d like to share with you some of the stories of our life in community.

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