Our Eyes Were Opened

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Tribute to a Magnolia Tree

Every morning when I wake up, I open my curtains and crawl back into bed to read, write, or simply let my mind wander. As I do these things, I look at the magnolia tree outside my window. Because of my sight angle, I can see only leaves just above the roofline of the screened porch. I can not see the trunk near the ground.

The tree is a magnificent tree. It is huge with a trunk diameter of eleven feet. It is an old tree, likely eighty to ninety years—the age of the house. Because the tree hugs the screened porch on the back of the house, the porch is about ten degrees cooler in the summer than the rest of the yard. The tree also often protects the porch from rain and wind.

The tree has its challenges, however. It drops things three seasons of the year. In the spring it drops its leaves…certainly not all of them but it’s a large tree with lots of old leaves to shed. Once the leaves begin to slow down, then the furry protective coating of the buds and the flower petals fall. Next comes the seed pods in autumn, called grenades by energetic little boys who love to use them as ammunition. To enjoy being in the yard requires raking and raking and raking to remove leaves that can become breeding ground for mosquitoes. Raking next gathers flower petals that are slippery, slimy, and dangerous after getting rained on making casually walking in the yard dangerous. The final raking of the year involves getting up “grenades” that provide ample opportunity for turning an ankle.

But for all the complaining about the challenges of the magnolia tree, it reminds me constantly of God’s love and care for me and indeed for the world. The tree’s branches that embrace everyone in its presence remind me of God’s love and grace and care. Just as the tree shelters birds and squirrels, it also shelters me. I immensely dislike the squirrels in the tree because of their propensity to get into the attic and make homes and families there. But that’s God…calling me to love those who aggravate me or threaten my sense of security.

The tree is steadfast. It has stood and grown taller and taller through the decades. It was willing to shelter boys determined to climb to its top and build a treehouse. It kept them safe even when I feared for their lives. The tree withstands heavy winds, rains, and snows. It is a constant.

The tree also demands my attention and care. I cannot ignore it because it drops leaves, petals, and pods. God, too, demands that I pay attention to my relationship with the Holy One and what is going on around me. My attention pulls me to get involved. God calls for me to take action to make sure that others are not harmed by what’s going on in life. When I don’t rake or find someone to do the raking, my neighbors can suffer the aggravation of leaves in their yard or and even illness caused by mosquitoes. God, this God of justice whom I worship, seeks the same from me and all God’s followers. Care for others. Take steps to nurture justice. Pay attention. Love God.

And the tree overloads my senses with the scent of the big, plate-sized flowers in the summer. The love of God can overwhelm me, too, with its headiness, its beauty, its surprise appearance when not expected.

I love looking out my window every morning and being reminded of God’s love when I look at this big old magnificent tree. I don’t always appreciate it and what it offers for my life. And that I must confess is true of my relationship with God, as well.

Not everyone appreciates the magnolia tree. They see it as simply a nuisance. But this tree reminds that life is bigger than I expect and that God is with me, day in and day out. Alleluia!


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Our Eyes Were Opened, Inc. 2017


Areas Where OEWO, Inc, Events Happened:

  • GEOGRAPHIC: Greenville, Rock Hill, York, Liberty, Spartanburg, Greensboro, Columbia, Clemson, and Chautauqua County, New York.
  • GREENVILLE HEALTH SYSTEM: pediatric residents, Emergency Department residents, first year medical students, Med Ex, Cancer Institute, and Nurse-Family Partnership.
  • COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES: Furman, Bob Jones University, and Greenville Tech. Beth also taught an eight-week course on the Psychology of Poverty at Furman’s OLLI.
  • SCHOOLS: Liberty Middle, Greenville Middle, Fisher Middle, Monaview Elementary, Alexander Elementary, and Chautauqua County, NY, School Board Association.
  • CIVIC GROUPS: Leadership Greer, Leadership Greenville, AmeriCorps, Junior League of Columbia, NC Public Housing Directors, and Greenville Partnership in Philanthropy.
  • BUSINESSES: Don Pilzer Law Firm, and JM Robbins.
  • CONGREGATIONS: Taylors First Baptist, Greenville Universalist-Unitarian Fellowship, First Baptist-Greenville, First Baptist-Clemson, Downtown Presbyterian, Fountain Inn Presbyterian, John Knox Presbyterian, Fourth Presbyterian, and Buncombe Street UMC. Beth also preached in seven congregations a total of 12 times.

Book Highlights

  • The Christmas Strawberry and Other Stories came out just in time for Christmas.
  • Conversations on the Porch and More Conversations on the Porch continues to be used for women’s Bible studies.
  • Angelika’s Journal is used by Buncombe Street UMC in their Sprouts Sunday evening programs. Teachers use the book for book study groups and workshops.
  • Loving Our Neighbor is a basic resource for churches involved in poverty work.
  • Understanding Poverty in the Classroom continues to be a resource around the country.


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The Christmas Strawberry

I’m excited to announce that my newest book is now available on Amazon and at Fiction Addiction in Greenville, SC. The Christmas Strawberry and Other Stories is a collection of stories and poems that reflects on the inherent contrasts of Advent and Christmas: joy and sorrow, traditions and just getting through, religious emphases and secular aspects, loneliness and love, wealth and poverty. Some people live more on one side than the other but in reaching out, all our lives are enriched.

I hope you will join me at a book signing on December 4, 5 pm-7 pm at Fiction Addiction, 1175 Woods Crossing Rd #5, Greenville, SC 29607.

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Is Donald Trump an Abbot?

How timely is this?

Thomas Merton, October 20, 1962
“People demand that the government ‘interfere’ in nothing, just pour money into the armament industry and provide a strong police for ‘security,’ But stay out of everything else! No interference in medicine, mental health, education, etc., etc. Never was a country at once shrewder and less wise–shrewd in nonessentials and lunatic in essentials.
I have no doubt the world feels toward America the way many monks feel toward an abbot who wants to exercise total power, to receive unquestioning obedience on the basis of slogans about which he himself ceased thinking twenty-five years ago, and who above all else wants to be loved, so that he may never, at any time, to himself, seem to be exercising power, or loving it. Nobody denies him the power he has: few give him the love that he needs in order to be safe and content. And therefore he uses his power, from time to time, in unpredictable, arbitrary, and absurd ways in which he defends his own ends and makes everybody miserable.”

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Hidden Voices (#6 in a 6-part series)

One other group of people whose voices are hidden are those who deal with severe mental illness and addiction issues. We’d like for people with mental health issues and severe addictions to stay hidden. They are scary to us. They also are some of the biggest users of community services. They tend to go to the emergency department at the hospital a lot. An average visit costs $2100. They tend to get arrested a lot. The state of South Carolina spends over $19,000 a year to incarcerate someone.  They tend to use agency services a lot. We may only hear their voices of delusion while their voices of truth are often hidden.

Greenville has one Housing First model of shelter and that is Reedy Place, on Hudson Street, right beside new condominiums that are selling for $600,000 to $800,000 depending on the number of bedrooms. The residents of Reedy Place must have severe addiction and/or mental illness. The idea of a Housing First residence is that when someone with a severe addiction or mental illness receives housing first and feels safe and secure, then he or she is more likely to deal with the issues of the mental illness or addiction. Reedy Place has 23 one-bedroom units. The first building had 15 units. Greenville Mental Health staff followed those original 15 people. Last I heard, five are still living there. The second group of five moved to better places, a couple of those were to nursing homes but they could not have gotten in had they not been in Reedy Place. Of the last five, one died and they lost track of the other four. That’s a 66 percent success rate.

There’s a large Housing First shelter in Charlotte. The universities there received permission to pull the medical records of the first year’s shelter residents for the year prior to coming into the shelter. Those residents’ medical bills totaled over $2 million. During the first year of residency, the medical bills of those same people totaled just over $700,000.

The state of Utah decided to go totally housing first and the last official number I saw was that they had reduced their homelessness by 75 percent.

Hearing the voices of our neighbors is challenging but we must if we want to be a community that models the God we worship and the faith we proclaim.  There are others whose voices are hidden. I hope we all will being listening.


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Hidden Voices (Part 5 in a series)

If we were watching live theater now, we’d see a crowd behind a scrim mumbling softly and then getting louder and louder. In the wings, we would hear the sound of buildings coming down and new construction going up. We’d hear the crash of metal against metal and the constant beep-beep-beep of vehicles backing up to deliver their materials to the construction sites.

The voices behind the scrim are the voices of people whose homes are being taken away. The communities where they have lived for decades are now prime real estate for people who had no use for their neighborhoods previously. The old neighborhoods, often segregation neighborhoods, were seen as blights in our community. Some of us knew not to go into “those areas.” Now, however, those same neighborhoods are hot commodities. Now people with resources want to live near the inner city. Former segregation neighborhoods are being gentrified and houses are being flipped.

People who have been long-time residents in some of the neighborhoods are being pushed out because the home they have rented for years has just been sold to a developer who most likely with tear down the home and replace it with high end properties. Whereas the long-time residents paid less than $500 a month for a place which may have had some construction and plumbing issues, the new buildings on the sites start with rents of $1000, $1250, $2500. When your home is taken from you, where do you go? You lose your neighborhood contacts and you cannot find rent at the same level as your long-time home. Or you cannot sign a long-term lease because you have a criminal record or poor credit or mental illness or spotty income, and so you cannot find a landlord who will rent to you. Even if you own your home, you may be forced out of the neighborhood because the property values have gone up so high that you can no longer afford your property taxes. Or you were offered $50,000 cash which sounds like a lot of money if you’ve struggled your entire life. But then you discover that your home is torn down and a house worth $500,000 is now in its place. You hung in when your neighborhood was a place that people with resources did not want. And now when they do, you do not reap any of its rewards in any kind of just way.

People who have had little, who have learned to live with their heads kept low, who have had promises made and broken by people in power learn that their voices are hidden. They are invisible, unseen, until someone wants what they have.

The people whose voices are hidden and are about to lose their homes do not even realize that for decades people with resources have been living in subsidized housing. The bigger the mortgage, the larger the tax deduction. Buying a home is a huge government subsidy that people with resources enjoy. In 2015, the federal government spent $71 billion on the mortgage interest deduction with households earning more than $100,000 receiving almost 90 percent of those benefits. However, 60 percent of people who use the deduction say they have never used any government program. But let someone who is financially challenged ask for a housing subsidy and all kinds of negative comments float up. They’re lazy, they’re just out for what they can get, I worked for mine, why can’t they work for theirs?

Matthew Desmond, Pulitzer prize winning author of Evicted and who was here this past spring writes, “a 15-story public housing tower and a mortgaged suburban home are both government-subsidized, but only one looks (and feels) that way.”

We are 2500 housing units short for people who can pay no more than $500 a month.  Whose voices are hidden?

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Hidden Voices Part 4 in a Series

One way I identify hidden voices is from the comments I receive through my work with Our Eyes Were Opened, Inc. I’ve heard: “He committed a crime. Why should I help him?” 

Formerly incarcerated people have a hard time after they have paid their dues for their crime. Landlords often will not rent to them and employers will not hire them.

Reentering society brings real problems for real people. If we as a community do not recognize these issues and find ways to address them, then the likelihood of the ex-offender returning to incarceration is high indeed, as high as 65% within three years.

I have been fortunate to be part of redesigning and then facilitating a ReEntry Simulation. This simulation allows participants to experience the challenges of reentering society after being incarcerated. So far, simulation participants have been probation and parole officers, employers, a few newly released ex-offenders, and agency staff people who work with a high percentage of former convicts. In this simulation, there are challenges of getting and paying the fees for identification papers within the month, of finding a place to live, and of having money for regular, required drug testing, paying child support, and buying food and transportation tickets. Participants also juggle going to AA/NA, employment or the Career Center, and/or Vocational Rehabilitation. The only quick money in the simulation is using the pawn shop or selling one’s plasma.

Being part of this process, I have learned more about how hidden are the voices of people who have as part of their history their criminal record. I have wondered even more deeply why can’t the time in prison be used for constructive, life stabilizing, life re-creating activities and opportunities? Why must the voices of these human beings, these our brothers and sisters, be stifled and thereby limit the God-given potential in each person? Why must their voices for hope for a new life be so hidden?