Christ isn’t always civil.

"If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find Him in the chalice." - St. John ChrysostomI posted this graphic on Facebook and before I was done adding the text to the description, it had been shared three times. Within 12 hours, it was shared 32 times that I know of. People apparently can relate to the sentiment. It certainly is a call to give alms, but it is more than that. One can throw money at a beggar’s cup or hat and barely give him a glance. That is hardly “finding Christ.” Consider the care and reverence we are instructed to give in preparation to approach the chalice. Was St. John so audacious as to suggest that we need to take similar care and preparation to approach the beggars among us? My recent experience leads me to answer most emphatically YES!

The text I added while the first three shares were happening is this quote from an older newsletter:

I try to tell each of our volunteers to pray this prayer: “Dear Lord, please let me see what it is that you love about this person.” God loves everyone I meet, because there is something uniquely lovable about them. Each person, no matter how difficult or twisted, in a special and unrepeatable way bears and reflects the image of God. Ask the Lord to let you get a peek at what that is. When God answers this prayer it breaks your heart and fills it with grace and mercy.

You can prepare and still not be prepared. Life is just that messy and just that glorious sometimes.

I have been working with poor people, mentally ill people, violent criminals, homeless people, people dying of AIDS, transvestites and homosexuals who wanted to change, drug addicts, etc., for nearly thirty years.  I have been poisoned to no effect. I have had guns pulled on me. I have been rescued by angels. I’m generally still too naive to be afraid of most situations. Last Thursday night, when I tried to give the coins away in honor of St. Nicholas, it didn’t go so well.

The other year, we just gave them out at the end of the serving line. I decided to try that. As soon as I did, I was mobbed by people getting out of line just to crowd around to get the coins. Undaunted, I moved away from the line and was still mobbed. So I stood on the short retaining wall and asked them to line up. Some of them complied. Several, who claimed to be helping me, were not complying, but standing next to me and shouting at the others. There still were too many bunched in front of me. I told a bit of the story of St. Nicholas’ redemption of the three daughters of the widower and proceeded to hand out coins. Guys were not moving on, but trying to get multiples. I was trying to unwrap the next roll and I dropped the bag. Two guys grabbed over $300 in coins and took off. One of the men who took coins was the one who was pretending to be the most helpful. Well, I gathered up what was left and locked them in my car. It was not a proud moment for me. I never like to take the institutional response: ‘everyone gets punished because some of you can’t behave.’ A bunch of the guys stood looking at me, waiting for coins. I said, “That was it. No more.”

The men who mobbed me and those who stole did not do what they did to disrespect me. They did it out of desperation, opportunity, and lack of faith. Two young men stole. Two dozen older men apologized in shame for their actions.

But I came with $600 to give away. I had not given it all away. I was not going to leave without giving it away. I let the crowd disperse (which is what I should have done in the first place), then I handed out three dollars to each man in line in front of my car. I know some guys got more. One man just stood there staring at me and would not move. If anyone dropped a coin, he picked it up so fast. I have to tell you, though, in the end, when it was all said and done, I had fun. I had joy. I had peace. No punches were thrown. I think I may have even found Christ in that mob. He wasn’t civilized, though.

We are movers and shakers.

You knew we are shakers because you read about how we took on City Hall and won, but did you know we are movers, too?

Last month we were given a refrigerator, a freezer, a washer, and a dryer by someone who had moved into a house that already had appliances. The washer and refrigerator went to households who have been experiencing hardship, but still manage to volunteer an amazing amount of time and energy to serve others in the community. The dryer and freezer went to another organization in Philadelphia who works primarily with new immigrants teaching English as a second language, but also serves the homeless. A toaster oven came along with this, as well. That went to a man who just moved off of the street into a room.

It has always been part of our vision that we want to move resources from the suburbs into the city. White flight, job flight, and church flight drained so many vital resources from the city. We need to see some of that flow back. This is the meaning of jubilee.

Right now, there are two other ministries in need of appliances. They don’t need to be brand new, but they need to have good life left in them. I don’t need to be moving junk. We need a good refrigerator, a freezer, an electric range, and a washer. If you have any of these, let me know. Or, if you want to bless a ministry with a new appliance, that would be gladly received as well.

Thank you.

Christmas Cookies Needed

There’s nothing like a homemade cookie to bring you back to that feeling of Christmas as a child. We like to bring that feeling to the guys and gals on the street. It’s a way of sharing a bit of our homes with them and hopefully transporting them back to a happier time in their lives for a few brief moments.

Christmas cookies are fun to make. We like a variety, but we don’t need to eat as many as we make to get such a variety, do we? Problem solved. Bake to your heart’s content. Load up those extra plates and send them down with us for the Thursday after Christmas. We hope to have loads of homemade cookies to give away on December 27th. Also, if any of your high school and college students would care to join us and sing carols while we serve or just hang out with the guys to add a more festive atmosphere, that would bring joy to hearts as well.

Thank you. Remember to bake in the love.

Socks & Underwear for Christmas

For several years now, when asked what I want for Christmas, my standard reply has been, “Socks and underwear.” I mean, my life revolves around work and repairing the house. I buy the tools I need for that when I need them. (More likely these days, I borrow them from Uncle John.) New socks and underwear are kind of nice. I have four daughters. They let me buy my own socks and underwear. I am quite capable of doing so.

There are some folks who are quite happy to receive some new socks and underwear. You can have a part in giving it to them. We are going to be helping out in Tindley Temple United Methodist Church‘s soup kitchen’s annual Christmas party on Monday. Our part, in addition to Uncle John, Anthony and I helping serve, is to provide the socks and underwear in the gift baskets for the 75 women and 125 men who will be attending. Time is short. We already have the women’s things. We are gathering the men’s now. If you want to donate toward it, great! Use the Paypal or the donation page or mail a check. If you want to shop and deliver the items to our house on Saturday or Sunday, call and let me know what your plans are so I know how to plan. 267-497-0268

This is the first time we are working with Tindley Temple UMC. I think this is a good thing that those of us who are serving the homeless community are getting to know each other and working together.

Kitchen Help

I had help in the kitchen making a hearty chicken soup, with smoky turkey broth, potatoes, carrots, leeks, onions, garlic, fresh ginger, yucca root, broccoli and assorted greens, from an old friend I haven’t seen in about 30 years. He showed up right on time, since my head is not letting me move too fast, and these ingredients were pretty labor intensive. I am recovering from a concussion. Thank you, Kevin Paige!

I also made a big roaster pan full of rice and beans for a vegetarian alternative.

This is our big night to give out the coins in honor of St. Nicholas. Thank you to all those who contributed for us to be able to do this.

Pray for good order and joy!

I dropped the F bomb in the negotiation.

When Mayor Nutter made his decrees that started this whole mess last March, his stated goal was that he wanted Philadelphia to be the first major city in America to end homelessness on its streets. We sued and in federal court won a preliminary injunction based on the evidence that his ban on public serving of food in parks, besides violating religious freedom, did nothing to further that goal. The decision rendered by Judge Yohn was clear on this.

The Mayor challenged the decision within hours of receiving the printed 55 page decision. This would have meant a full trial, early next year, except our attorney made a counter offer for negotiations instead. We are to negotiate a course of action which would make the outdoor serving of food in the parks to the poor and homeless unnecessary or obsolete. To the four of us plaintiffs, the only thing that could really mean is to realize Mayor Nutter’s stated goal. We were looking forward to these negotiations as a path to work with the Mayor to bring this about. Our lawyer, Paul Messing, when he told us about the possibility of these negotiations, held them out as just this sort of hope. And that at the end of the day we would all be singing Mr. Nutter’s praises as the mayor who ended homelessness in this city!

Well, we finally get to the first negotiating session, after two postponements, one for Sen. Specter’s funeral, one for Sandy, and all the city seems to want to talk about is more indoor soup kitchens. Somebody apparently wasn’t listening at the hearing. Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come. I finally spoke up and said that we needed to address homelessness, not the appearance of homelessness. To start with, you could staunch the flow of new homeless families by streamlining the Section 8 housing process. When someone gets evicted, instead of them having to go through the whole process of breaking up the family, foster care, being homeless, navigating the shelter system, waiting for Section 8, etc. This puts the adults at risk for abuse and open to addictions. It puts the children in unstable situations. If this were short-circuited, so the evicted family could go directly into Section 8 housing and have appropriate counseling available to them to help them avoid the situation that got them evicted, everyone would be better off. It would save the city money, as well.

The mayor’s lawyer cut me off all hot and bothered, saying that the city did not have to do anything as a result of these negotiations. I was expecting too much. I needed to lower my expectations. I tried to remind her that her boss started this whole mess because he SAID he wanted to end homelessness in the city. Now does he or not?

That’s when I announced that I was going to drop the F bomb. That got everybody’s attention. Paul cracked, “This, from the guy who gets on me for my salty language.” (I never have.)

I said, “Fraud is endemic in the homeless, social work system.” I told them about social workers telling long term homeless clients what symptoms they are to report to their doctors in order to get SSI and Section 8 housing. Then they warn them before drug tests that they have to take any psycho-actives that they have been prescribed in order to keep their apartments. Their numbers have been looking good for moving long term homeless off the street, but they are still homeless, just homeless in bigger boxes. They have no social network in the neighborhood through these agencies. They still hang out in center city during the day, sometimes late into the night. The system stinks. It needs stirring up. We can end homelessness without costing more, if we are willing to rethink things, and if we are willing to stir things up!

My prior announcement slowed them down enough in shock that I was able to make my case while they were still processing the word “fraud”.