Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Trust and Integrity"

This poem came out of the March 2016 [community profile] crowdfunding Creative Jam. It was inspired by the "slave" square in my 2-29-16 card for the Villain Bingo fest. It has been sponsored by Anthony and Shirley Barrette. This poem belongs to the Officer Pink thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"Trust and Integrity"

Leah Crenshaw kept an eye on her flock,
by which she meant the people of Bluehill,
since she currently served as the pastor at the
People of Jesus Nondenominational Church
and Interfaith Center. Without being restricted
to any one tradition, she basically considered
everyone in town to be some flavor of "hers."

She had her favorites, of course, such as
Ansel Nicholson, now called Officer Pink
for his outlandish new hair color. He was
always willing to lend a hand, even if
he didn't attend church that often.

That was okay with Leah. Jesus liked
people who did good, whether they showed up
in the pews or not, and she felt the same.

She worried more about that friend of his,
the gangly young man who followed Ansel
around like a stray dog and had about
as much meat on his bones as one.

He was what Leah politely called
"a highly distinctive person" and some folks
less politely called a supervillain, which was
talk that Leah squelched every time she heard it,
because if that boy was breaking the law then
it was between him and Officer Pink and God,
not every busybody in the whole church.

"How's your friend? The one with
the blue hair?" Leah asked Ansel
when he dropped by the church.

"Still shy," Ansel said. "Be gentle with him,
Leah, he's had a pretty rough ride."

"I've seen him around, but he hasn't
come into the soup kitchen yet. Is he
getting enough to eat?" she said.

"I doubt it," Ansel said. "Don't pester
him about it, he's still pretty skittish.
He'll come when he's ready."

"All right," Leah said, and let it drop.

One day when she went outside for
a stretch break, Leah saw the boy
hanging outside the church, blue hair
nearly flattened by the autumn wind,
shoulders hunched into a field jacket
that had to be one of Jasper's castoffs.

It might be tricky to get him to trust her,
but it would be worth the effort.

"Hi there," she said. "I'm Leah.
I think we have a friend in common.
Ansel helps out here sometimes, which
should tell you it's a decent place."

"Yeah," he said. "I'm Turq."

"Pleased to meet you," said Leah.
"Would you like to come inside?
We're serving supper right now."

He rocked back and forth, as if
the food drew him forward but
something else held him back.
"Nice of you to offer, but ... I can't."

"Okay," she said. "I was just
wondering if it's anything I could fix."

"I don't ... do well indoors," Turq said,
turning his face away in shame.

In her time working the soup kitchen,
Leah had seen far too many damaged people,
and this wasn't the first one who couldn't bear
coming inside, for whatever reason.

"Would you like me to fill a tray and
bring it out to you?" she offered.

"Really?" Turq licked his lips.

"Really. If we can make the doorway
feel like a safe and friendly space for you,
then maybe that will help you feel comfortable
about coming inside someday," said Leah.
"Meanwhile, I'm happy to fetch your food
as long as you need me to do that."

"Then yes, please," said Turq.

"I'll be right back," Leah said,
ducking into the church.

The basement was warm and fragrant,
the line at the kitchen busy, and most of
the folding tables and chairs full of people.
They weren't all homeless, of course, some
were just down on their luck in whatever way.

When Leah ducked into the kitchen
to start making up a tray, Dinah caught her.
"You are supposed to be on your break,"
the toffee-skinned woman scolded.

"I know, but Ansel's friend Turq is out there
and doesn't feel up to coming in for supper,"
said Leah. "So I'm taking it out to him."

"He'll need more than that," Dinah said,
looking at the standard portion sizes.
"Some soups are extra hungry, and
that boy's skinnier than a junkyard dog."

They piled up one tray with a bread bowl
full of bean and sausage stew, a pumpkin bowl
full of baked south of the border rice, three apples
instead of the usual one, then a handful of
napkins and a set of bamboo utensils.

That was all Leah could carry, so Dinah
brought the paper plate heaped with carrot cake
and the recycled travel mug full of hot tea.

"Wow," Turq said softly. "Thanks."

"You're welcome," said Leah. "The bowls are
edible. The mug is yours to keep -- we get those
for free from the recycling center, and if you look on
the back, it lists places that will fill it for free once a day.
We need the tray back. Everything else is recyclable."

As Turq reached for the tray, his sleeves rode up
enough to expose the scars on his wrists,
some old white and others newer pink.

"Ayup, that's what I thought I'd seen,"
Dinah said. "Last time I saw marks
like that was in a history book, but I
still know slave when I see it."

Turq flinched. "Couldn't be,"
he said. "Striationary marks are
new, they're only a soup thing."

"Not those, the bumper scars on
your wrists where the shackles hit
against the bone," said Dinah.

"Whatever," Turq said, jerking
his cuffs down over the scars.

"I don't mean to upset you," Dinah said.
"I only wanted to let you know that if you
drop by my place, I've got a big ol' hound dog
who don't like strangers much ... just in case
that master of yours ever comes lookin' for you.
My brother got Boomer for huntin' but he won't trail,
sure can bawl at anyone he don't know, though."

Turq shuddered. "Dog doesn't know me either."

"Well, if I let you in the gate a few times,
then he would," said Dinah. "Up to you.
Now eat your supper, you're nothin' but
skin and bones. You wanna pay me back,
make sure Leah here takes her break."

"Dinah, don't fuss at the boy," said Leah.
"He's got enough to worry about without
tossing me on his heap of whatever it is."

"I don't mind," Turq said, his smile
fleeting and sweet. "There's plenty
of room at the picnic table there."

So they sat on the wooden benches
while Turq wolfed down enough food
to feed two ordinary people.

Leah didn't question him, and
he didn't seem inclined to talk.

When he finished, Turq carefully
sorted out the things to keep, the things
to give back, and the things to put into
the nearby recycling barrel.

"You didn't preach at me," he said
as he tucked two of the apples into
his pockets to save for later.

Leah shook her head. "We don't
preach at people over most of the meals,"
she said. "There's a breakfast sermon and
a supper sermon once a month for folks who
enjoy that sort of thing. If you'd like to hear me
preaching, I can give you a schedule of times
for those and our regular worship sessions."

"Church and I don't really get along,"
Turq said, ducking his chin against his chest.

"Bad experiences?" Leah asked gently.
Lord knew she'd cleaned up after enough
fire and brimstone to fuel a whole circle of Hell.

"Yeah," Turq admitted. "Here and there."

"Well, a community is only as healthy
as its social contract is clear, and a pastor
is only as effective as her commitment to
trust and integrity is fulfilled," said Leah.
"That can't happen by mistreating people."

"You've been really nice," he said.
"Not like ... some other people."

"Some people are why Jesus wouldn't join
most of his own churches," Leah said tartly.

That startled Turq into a laugh. "Yeah."

"Have you found any faith that appealed
to you, or was it all a burden?" she asked.

His shoulders hunched. "My fa-- one of
the foster families I stayed with was Chinese,
so I got into Buddhism and Confucianism, plus
a bit of Falun Gong," Turq said. "I really liked it,
but after I had to leave, the next fosters got
all bitchy about 'misappropriation' and they
dragged me to a regular church instead."

"I'm afraid we don't have any services in those
at present -- we have a couple of Shinto families,
but those are private sessions," Leah said. She
had the integrity to make appropriate referrals, though.
"If you're not too picky about style, however, there
are meditation groups, and I think the YMCA
offers a Falun Gong exercise class."

"Indoors," Turq said. "Not my thing."

"You could listen from out here," said Leah.
"One of our groups does chanting and mantras."

He tilted his head, and she could almost
imagine doggy ears perking. "Yeah?"

"Let me run your tray back downstairs,
and I'll bring up a flyer," she said.

"Okay," Turq agreed.

He was still there when Leah returned with
a flyer on the meditation groups, schedule
and themes for the month neatly printed on
pale blue paper. "Here you go," she said.

"Thanks," Turq said, and scurried away.

Leah let him go, because that was
what he needed in the moment.

People like him always reminded her
of Jesus during his years in the desert,
wild and skittish and far too skinny.

"In solemn truth I tell you that in so far
as you rendered such services to one of
the humblest of these my brethren, you
rendered them to myself," Leah quoted.

Integrity, to her, meant treating everyone
as graciously as you would Jesus or
His angels, because you never knew
when they might show up in disguise
and come knocking on your door.

Trust, to her, was all about making room
at the inn: no matter how busy and crowded
your life got, you had to keep a quiet, gentle space
somewhere inside of it to shelter the people who
would arrive in dire need of help some silent night,
so that they would know you're safe to ask for aid.

Leah touched the cross at her throat,
its arms twined with Celtic knotwork,
its center bounded by a circle and
stamped with the EMS emblem,
all her callings caught up together.

"Keep an eye on him," Leah said
to the starry autumn sky. "You know
what it's like to be alone in the cold."

Then she turned back toward
the warm, bright beacon of her church.

* * *


Leah Crenshaw -- She has ruddy skin, brown eyes, and short wavy brown hair. Leah is married with two children, a son and a daughter. She knows Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. She serves at the People of Jesus Nondenominational Church and Interfaith Center in Bluehill, Missouri. She is the pastor of her own nondenominational Christian congregation, and also the chaplain for the church as an interfaith facility. Sometimes Leah also volunteers for the emergency service that covers the outlying rural areas around Bluehill, and she is available for major disasters like a tornado or flood. She wears a Celtic cross with the EMS emblem in the center circle.
Qualities -- Master (+6) Chaplain, Master (+6) Nonanxious Presence, Expert (+4) Emergency Medical Technician, Expert (+4) Emotional First Aide, Expert (+4) Pastoral Counseling, Good (+2) Cozy Family Life, Good (+2) Gardening, Good (+2) Organized, Good (+2) Stamina, Good (+2) Synthesizing Ideas
Poor (-2) Nearsighted

Dinah Newell -- She has toffee skin, brown eyes, and straightened brown hair to her chin. She customarily wears four earrings in each ear. Dinah has five kids by three different fathers, and struggles to keep up with them as a single mother. She enjoys painting her fingernails vivid colors such as teal or fucsia. An excellent cook, Dinah volunteers at the soup kitchen run by the People of Jesus Nondenominational Church and Interfaith Center in Bluehill.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Cooking for the Masses, Expert (+4) Pillar of the Local Church, Good (+2) Compassion, Good (+2) Memory, Good (+2) Stamina
Poor (-2) Single Mother

* * *

"A group is as healthy as its 'social contract' is clear; a congregation as faithful as its covenant is mutually understood; a pastor as effective as the pastor's and people's commitment to trust and integrity is honored, guarded, and fulfilled."
-- David Augsburger

People of Jesus Nondenominational Church and Interfaith Center
The original plans for Cambridge Commons did not include any dedicated religious facilities, to avoid privileging some over others. This caused some arguments because, of course, various Christian denominations wanted theirs in the town center, and a handful of other faiths objected. A happy compromise was reached when the People of Jesus Nondenominational Church heard about the renovations and asked about moving into Cambridge Commons from their old, outgrown location in a nearby town. Drawing membership from several towns in the area made a move no obstacle for them. The Cambridge planning charette agreed, on the condition that they make their facility available to other faiths any time they're not using it personally. So they squeezed in a small church behind the YMCA and added "Interfaith Center" to the sign. Their stationery says "PoJ." People of other faiths often refer to the place that way, pronounced "Podge," which they find amusing and most of the Christians find mildly annoying.
Due to the requirement for interfaith accommodation, the only permanent Christian decorations are the crosses on the outside of the building. The stained glass and crystal windows are all abstract. Inside, the static furniture is understated and the tradition-specific items are stored in labeled cabinets and closets so that different services are easily customized.
Sundays they're booked almost solid. There are nondenominational Christian services, along with several more for denominations not serviced by other churches in the area, including for second and third shifts. They also hold three nondenominational services on Wednesday (morning, late afternoon, and night) for those unable to attend on Sundays. So the place is available on Fridays and Saturdays for Jewish folks, most of the time during the day when Muslims need to pray, and so forth. A Pagan group meets on esbats and sabbats when the space is free.
The People of Jesus core congregation is comprised of quirky, spiritual people who don't stand on a great deal of ceremony. They are far more interested in doing the stuff that Jesus said to do -- such as helping the sick and the poor -- than in making a fuss over church. So they don't fit all that well with mainstream Christian culture, which mostly focuses on Sunday services. Their goal is to make the kind of church that Jesus would actually want to attend if He came back.
See the exterior front and the rear view. The basement has a large fellowship hall with movable tables, chairs, and other furnishings. There is also a kitchen with attached pantry. The women's restroom is on the left, men's on the right. The first floor has a vestibule, nursery, office, assembly hall, kitchen, and utility room. The bathrooms on this floor are both dotties. The second floor has a loft and two large storage areas.

A pastor is the leader of a specific congregation. A chaplain is a spiritual guide serving in a secular venue, such as a police department or hospital, often covering all faiths. Pastoral care includes a wide range of services such as counseling, relief programs for the poor, visiting the sick, and otherwise looking after people. While busy churches often look down on combining aspects of pastor and chaplain duties, the combination actually works quite well. Leah has the advantage of a base congregation which is both small and lively, which means she is not doing all the work alone; there are plenty of folks to share the load. She just leads by example.

Gossip has its pros and cons. Undersrtand how to quash destructive gossip.

Traumatic stress can lead to PTSD or PDSD. A leading symptom is hypervigilance which makes it difficult or impossible for someone to relax and feel safe. Due to his past captivity, Turq gets panicky about any kind of confinement, or even going indoors. Trauma-informed care can help people with traumatic stress by lowering barriers to treatment or other services. A consistent atmosphere of support also helps retune the brain to the sense of safety, which helps lower the alert threshold.

Traumatized dogs can be helped by counter-conditioning. This involves approaching an unsafe trigger and then applying lots of positive stimuli such as praise and treats. Over time, the old negative associations may become outweighted by new positive ones. It is gentler and safer than conventional exposure therapy, which sometimes wears down triggers but can also make them much worse.

Soup kitchens often prepare mass-quantity recipes of food which is filling, nutritious, and economical. Here they are serving Bean and Sausage Soup, Bread Bowls, Baked South of the Border Rice, Pumpkin Bowls, and Carrot Cake. Most people are taking one bowl to fill half-and-half with beans and rice, thus making a complete protein meal.

Recycled travel mugs cut down on waste. (Turq has the 34 oz. classic mug in the upper left of that image.) Many restaurants offer cheap or free refills with reusable mugs, as this drastically cuts down their cost for disposable cups, lids, and straws. The church has an agreement with several local facilities to help support people in need with free fills for specially marked cups that they're getting free from a nearby recycler.

Bamboo utensils can be disposable, recyclable, compostable, and/or reusable. I like to think of them as semi-reusable: you can wash them if you want to, but it's no big deal if they get lost, broken, or grunged beyond repair.

Striationary marks are characteristic injuries left when a speedster, or certain types of teleporter, pulls away from restraint. It leaves long wounds, ranging from scrapes to deep lacerations, sometimes with joint injury such as sprains or dislocations, and some people have managed to tear off a limb that way. Medics and police staff have learned to look for them as signs that someone was forcibly (and not very competently) restrained. That fact that traumatized people in general, and some types of soups in particular, tend to panic under constraint is one reason why Terramagne authorities prefer to minimize the use of restraints or other confinement; it's too hard to do without causing additional damage in some cases. There have also been examples of striationary marks on an officer who made the mistake of handcuffing himself to a captive. So that technique is outright banned, except in cases where both parties are willing; it's a safety technique that emergency workers use occasionally, but that's with a soft medical type of hand-harness which is much safer for everyone.

Shackles can leave distinctive scars when left in place for a long time, most often over protruding bones of wrists or ankles. In some cases they're serious enough to need skin grafts.

The Bluetick Coonhound is a hunting breed. One fascinating thing about hunting dogs is that any loudmouthed breed occasionally throws a pup with a great voice but little or no interest in trailing. Those who are affectionate and territorial about their family make terrific watchdogs. And yes, they are often acquired free from a friend or relative who bought them for hunting but it didn't work out.

A soup kitchen is a place that feeds poor and/or homeless people free or cheap. Privately funded ones may deliver sermons over the meal, or require people to listen to one before eating. This practice is often prohibited or restricted for those receiving federal funds. However, some people like listening to a sermon over their meal -- especially if they have difficulty getting to church at any other time. The People of Jesus Nondenominational Church and Interfaith Center therefore offers both options. Here are some tips on volunteering at a soup kitchen.

It has been observed that Jesus probably wouldn't join his own church, would not be welcome if he tried, and would not be popular even as a pastor. PoJ is not one of those churches.

Religious abuse spans a wide variety of offenses which include forcing religion on children and treating children as property. This can result in Religious Trauma Syndrome and other problems. While it's not that bad for Turq, you can clearly see that it damaged one of the few good things in his life and gave him another load of crappy experiences he really did not need, and at present it is undermining his ability to seek support services from all possible venues. The role of religion in foster care is complex and fraught with challenges, and some children have been forcibly stripped of their faith. Turq is actually the opposite of the usual: he didn't have strong leanings when he came into his Chinese foster family, but he really enjoyed what they were doing so he wound up with a Chinese-American cultural imprint, including his spirituality. Trying to take that away from him was just as wrong as taking away someone's natal faith. Understand how to identify and recover from spiritual abuse and cult experiences. There are ways to help spiritual abuse survivors, and in fact, good churches or clergy often spend a lot of time cleaning up after the crummy ones.

Cultural misappropriation can cause a lot of problems. Understand the differences between misappropriation and healthier things like cultural exchange and internationalization. This is especially challenging with cross-cultural fostering or adoption. The keys are: healthy sharing goes both ways and does no more harm than the usual amount of bruised feelings from life with imperfect beings. It respects personal identity and choices. Turq's family teaches Chinese culture and spirituality, but they just as happily support whatever the kids come in with -- and they've had all kinds. It's not misappropriation if you're growing up with it in a mixed family. There are tips for foster or adoptive parents.

China has several traditional religions (including Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism) but is pretty down on religion for the past century or so. Falun Gong is actively persecuted, which is why Turq's foster mother Mingxia fled to America as a teenager. Falun Gong is also popular as an exercise class, which you can see in a video. In Terramagne, this type of energy work is very helpful in managing superpowers.

"But the King will answer them, "'In solemn truth I tell you that in so far as you rendered such services to one of the humblest of these my brethren, you rendered them to myself.'
-- Weymouth New Testament, Matthew 25:40
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, spirituality, weblit, writing
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