Bird graphic with Anglo-Saxon Runes

FugolWhat does a bird graphic with Anglo-Saxon runes have to do with ministry among the homeless?

Nothing and everything.

I will just start telling the story and let the chips fall.

A man was selling a lot of his stuff on a couple of tables during coffee hour, week after week during Lent. I thought that maybe he was just trying to lighten his load of earthly possessions during the fast. They seemed mainly to be superfluous fancy baubles, candles sticks and such. Then I saw he was selling some of his icons. Even then, I thought, well, you can accumulate too many for your walls after a while. But I was truly alarmed when I saw the tiny icon I had made for him of our grandson’s patron saint. I had given it to him at his baptism as he is his godfather.

As soon as he saw me, he asked me if we could talk. I said, “Of course.” As we were about to start our conversation in the entry way to the great room, a man who wanted to buy some icons interrupted us, asking if he could pay next week. Gregory said, “I really kind of need it this week.” It was one of those rare times when we had some cash, so I offered to front the money until the next week. Gregory was so relieved. He said he was selling his things so he would have enough gas money to get to church. He was so afraid that parish council would decide that he had to stop, which is exactly what happened the following week. They told him that he would be better off taking it to Brown’s Auction House. Of course, they did not offer to help him transport it there, or pack it, or deal with the emotional trauma of coming to terms with becoming homeless. They just said Holy Week is coming, we need the Great Room cleared. (Ahem)

But I got ahead of the story. Gregory told me he had been out of work for two years. He had become so depressed that he ended up in the hospital three times. He lives alone and he is the only Orthodox Christian in his family and during the course of this ordeal, his family has become estranged from him.

I told Gregory that I had to rebuild the website for my business. Since we had received so much more than we needed to actually catch up on our mortgage from our rent party, we would use that money to hire him to work on the website. He said he did not know how to do it. I said we were even, then. So he has spent the better part of the last three weeks working on the shopping cart for “Come and See” Icons, Books & Art. It has been a good experience for both of us. He is regaining some confidence to face re-entering the workforce. We have found a place for him to live with a couple of other guys, within walking distance of church, if need be. Deacon Herman and I have organized a moving party for him for this Saturday.

I am ashamed that I did not stay in touch with Gregory better to intervene sooner. Church is more than services people. It is service. It is actual fellowship, friendship and love.

I am on the fringe of things at church, so I am not that aware of everybody’s situation. Even so, I know of four households at risk of homelessness.

Oh yeah, the birds. Gregory showed me some of his portfolio. It includes some pretty amazing work. The “Fugol” above really caught my eye. I told him so and he said, “I was just doodling on the computer.” We should all doodle so well. The runes simply spell “fugol” or “bird” in Anglo-Saxon. Soon prints and special framed prints will be available for sale on our Merchandise Page to benefit the development of a badly needed new area of ministry. It will include rent parties, virtual rent parties, entrepreneurial training, computer training, shop skills training, Orthodox Worker & Catholic Worker & Mennonite Worker development for Christian hospitality. For lack of a better name, I guess it would be called homelessness prevention. We are taking this graphic as a symbol of hope and rebuilding, of hidden gifts waiting to be uncovered.

There is no shame in being poor. The same cannot be said for being wealthy, according to St. James.

Spring 2013 Report

The new newsletter is available for downloading and printing for inserting in church bulletins, here:

It includes hard copy of these blog entries:

  • No Lenten Retreat This Year
  • Oops! I forgot to check the calendar!
  • Mount Moriah Cemetery Spring & Summer Events
  • To Fish or Not to Fish
  • Almsgiving Flash Mob

You can print copies to share with your off-line friends.

To Fish or Not to Fish

fishJesus never said, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for life!” Confucius said something like that. A lot of people who don’t like to give alms quote that. Ironically, a lot of right wingers say it to oppose food assistance programs and other aid programs. I say, ironically, because they are the same people who oppose support for public education. We all know the grain of truth in the saying. The problem is, that it has been turned into a slogan to advocate against direct aid to poor and starving people, including children.

Jesus did say to give to whoever asks of you and to not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing when you give to the poor.

There is a grain of truth in Confucius’ saying. That is that a man will be better off if he has some skills. I don’t think he meant to say withhold the fish until he learns to catch one himself, even if there is no river or lake or pole or line or hook to be had. This reminds me of something a wise African (again, not Jesus) said, “Empty bellies have no ears.” But there is only a small grain of truth in Confucius’ saying. I don’t use it at all. It is not part of my vocabulary, because I find it generally demeaning and paternalistic.

Just because a man is poor does not mean he knows less than me. I know a homeless man who went to Yale and is articulate and sharp. Odds are, he could teach me more than I could teach him. He is of African descent. I am of European descent. I have friends with means who can rescue me when I get into trouble. He does not. He does not have a chip on his shoulder, though. He is cheerful and proud in the best sense of the word. It is a small thing to share some food with him for what I receive in return. I know veterans who have never been able to reenter society fully after combat. They have life skills for coping on the street without harming anyone and actually making it safer for many who are less aware. Do we make them jump through our hoops or do we just respect them for who they are and share God’s bounty for what it is? It is God’s bounty, is it not? “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.” We need to stop arrogantly and greedily thinking that it is our own to hoard and not to share. I am crying now. I will stop.