BRIDGING BELIEFS

An American Perspective on Faith in Europe

Browsing Posts published by Richard Keever

Sleepless Nights
How St. Mungo’s is battling homelessness in the United Kingdom

By Richard Keever

It’s cold, dark and raining. Imagine that your hands are dirty, your pants are ripped and you’re wearing an old, beat-up jacket. You find a place to lie down in an alley across the street from a train station, but the only thing you have to cover yourself is a soaked newspaper. Such is the plight of many homeless people in the United Kingdom.

For hundreds of them, a charity known as St. Mungo’s offers an alternative — about 1,600 beds and meals every night all over the United Kingdom. In a city as big as London, with 7.1 million residents, the number of homeless is relatively small. The St. Mungo’s website claims that only about 265 people are homeless in London on a given night. Broadway, another London-based homelessness charity, reports about 3,500 “rough sleepers,” as they’re known in the United Kingdom, between April 2008 and March 2009. These low figures can be attributed to government support and the dozens of organizations that help the homeless. continue reading…

At 6:30 a.m., when many 20-year-old Londoners are still sleeping, their alarm clocks go off and they spring into action. Their morning starts with a plan for what they’ll accomplish this day. They think of various ways they can leave a positive influence on this tiny, mostly African community in southeast London.

After this brief pause for meditation, they exercise for 30 minutes to make them stronger and improve their mental health. Push-ups, sit-ups, dips, squats and an occasional run are all part of the daily routine.

By 9 a.m. they’ve showered, eaten breakfast and talked to their companion about any upcoming appointments. continue reading…

In the Marine Corps, a POG (person other than grunt) will typically refer to an infantryman as “Crunchie”.  This term is a description of the sounds your bones make as you’re hiking, to no end, with 80lbs of gear on your back.  Marine infantrymen have hundreds of nicknames, such as Grunts, Shock Troopers and Spartans, but none as interesting as “Crunchie”.

As the final hours tick, the term Crunchie sings louder inside my head.  Not because I’m carrying 80 lbs on my back, or because my bones are cracking, but because I feel a real sense of urgency.  It’s crunch time and I’m committed to the final stand; turning back isn’t an option as the dragon must be slayed.

My 2nd story on Mormon missionaries in London is close to being posted; so watch for that in the next day or so.  My 3rd story is being tightened as we speak.  Must keep moving forward; the light at the end of the tube stop is visible…

The last couple of days, Kristin and I have spent a lot of time with four awesome Mormon missionaries. We’re writing a “Day in the Life” as our second story, so look out for it soon. We talked not only to the missionaries but also to the people of the community, who are largely African.

Eating fufu was an experience all by itself. Fufu is a high starch food that is pounded in a bowl and rolled into a ball. Soup is then poured over it, and the dish is eaten with a piece of flat bread.

I hope Elders James Allred, Gerron Allred, Brett Christensen and Anthony Ellsworth will read our story about them. I think they’ll like it.

On a rare day off … that wasn’t really a day off … I found a moment to go see some sites. “Chainsaw” (David Olsen) and I hopped on a bus and found ourselves in the heart of the city. After walking for 20 minutes and taking more than a hundred photos, we decided to stop by a crepe place for a late afternoon snack.

We waited behind two oblivious women for what seemed like an eternity just to order a crepe with some chocolate inside. I soon became impatient and stuck my head between the women to catch a glimpse of the menu. This, unfortunately, sparked a riot …  and an interesting conversation. Becky worships peacock feathers (she had some with her), and Sam is going to show me around Paris. We talked about a number of things—the dollar vs. the pound, French crepes vs. the place where we were eating, peacock feathers and those “damnyankees” (one word). Sam mentioned out loud that the place we were eating at “sucked” compared with places in France, which probably prompted the shop owner to spit in our food …  but I’m not making assumptions.

I had a really good time talking to Becky and Sam and hope they read this. (We gave them the URL.) It lifted me up after feeling down on myself the last couple of days.

Thanks!

Vatican Radio. An entity of the Catholic Church for the last 80 years. An inspiration to some, a news source for a few and an annoyance to others.

My first trip to the Vatican Radio was an experience I won’t soon forget.  It was Thursday, May 27, 2010, a warm summer day in Rome.  It was a day straight out of the movies — few clouds, warm weather and a nice scenic, touristy walk from our apartment to the Vatican. continue reading…

Recently, I’ve been thinking back to the days when thousands of men were working on the Colosseum in Rome or how it took 40 men four days to move the statue of David just a few blocks down the street in Florence. I often try to imagine myself in their shoes … or sandles, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

I can’t.

I can’t imagine the mileage they put on their shoes. I can’t imagine the calluses they had on their hands or the blood, sweat and tears they shed. I can’t imagine the possibility of being crushed by a rock while moving a statue. continue reading…

Rome has been spectacular!  My reasons for going on this trip were London and Dublin, with low expectations for Rome. I don’t know why I had low expectations. Maybe it’s because I heard that Italians are rude, will try to swindle or pickpocket tourists and won’t speak English to help. Really, it sounds like New York….

However, I have found that most Italians are extremely nice, make an effort to communicate with us (and we try to make an effort to speak Italian) and I’ve only had one hand in my pocket (mine). continue reading…

Thoughts, images, words, sounds, smells and feelings. Dimensions of a compelling story.  While I can’t literally capture a smell and put it in a story, I can capture the emotion … the tension … and the thoughts and feelings. I feel in a way that I haven’t felt since I left Iraq. I have thoughts I haven’t expressed in a long time. But after a trip to Belfast and our professors guiding me, I’m putting together all those dimensions I’ve discussed. David and I have the privilege and honor of doing a story about the religious and political tensions of Belfast and how a circus is bringing children together.

‘Bridging Beliefs’… that’s the motto of our class for this trip. “To bridge” means bringing two sides together that are separated by a challenge. The Belfast Community Circus is that bridge. It’s bringing kids together who have different experiences, beliefs and upbringing. These kids don’t care what side of the Peace Wall you come from or what football team (soccer) you cheer for. They have fun with each other. They build bonds that cannot be broken, no matter what religious or political affiliation. Kids are the leaders of tomorrow, and after yesterday, I believe Belfast is in good hands.

I’m excited to put this piece together. I’m even more excited about sharing my experiences with my audience. David and I have worked really hard to put this project together in a way that would memorialize the positive things the circus is doing, but not to down play the tension that still exists. Look for it to be posted in the next week. If you like it, invite your friends to look at it. I think Americans tend to take advantage of the little things; I hope this will change your perspective on what those “little things” are. What David and I (and the rest of our group) experienced can’t be taught. It must be seen with your eyes. There’s a benefit to talking to the locals, touching the murals and sharing laughs with the kids playing soccer at the park. If you don’t believe me … see for yourself.

Frustration is mounting.  The prison story didn’t pan out, the Buddhist story doesn’t seem to be working and now I think I might have a story about blasphemy in Ireland, but that may not pan out either. Tomorrow, I plan on going to the Irish Museum Of Contemporary Art and talk to the employees about the Blasphemy Art Exhibit that took place in April. This exhibit was such a controversial topic that it might spawn legislative action.

Blasphemy is in the Irish Constitution, which makes it a crime punishable by a fine of up tp 25,000 euros. Since Ireland has become more secular in its views, I think more Irish people are committing blasphemy, which is why (I’m sure) they’re annoyed by the law. I have heard Irishmen use God’s name in vain on numerous occasions.  People would be broke and the government would be rich if they tried to enforce this law. In a word…insane.