A Thank You Note Story

We called my grandpa Cranford Ingham’s third wife Aunt Wathena. She had been my dad’s legal secretary. She became my godmother at my infant baptism in the Episcopal church. She had grown up in various overseas embassies, mostly in Latin America. Her dad worked for the State Department. She was used to making due with what was at hand and improvising when necessary. Both she and my grandpa were extremely thrifty. They lived well, in the upper middle class, with a house with a pool and a stable with horses in White Bear Lake, MN, and another in Sun City, AZ. But they did not want to spend money needlessly.

Wathena would do her Christmas shopping for all of the Minnesota relations during the summer, wrap them and deliver them to the respective families in September, before she and Cran departed for Arizona for the winter. Well, she was also loathe to ‘waste’ money on gift wrap. She would carefully unwrap any gifts received and reuse the paper, if the store did not include free gift wrapping.

It was Christmas 1966, Aunt Wathena did not have enough salvaged Christmas paper for our gifts, so she wrapped them in the Sunday comics from the newspaper. My mom stored the gifts with the tree lights and ornaments so she would remember to get them out for Christmas. She could not bring herself to put them under the tree, being that they were wrapped in the funny papers. She figured she would bring them up on Christmas morning. Well, in all the excitement of that morning, they were forgotten.

It was March, and my mom asked me why I never wrote a thank you note to Grandpa & Aunt Wathena. I told her, because I didn’t get a gift from them. She turned white, then red, then sent me down to the storage closets in the basement to retrieve the gifts. We all opened our gifts and wrote very contrite thank you notes to Aunt Wathena, apologizing for our tardiness and inconsideration for not having written sooner. We covered for mom. It was just too funny. Plus, we had the added bonus of a bit of Christmas in March!

I am writing this on January 11, 2017. I haven’t written my Christmas thank yous yet. My mom would be so disappointed. For all those people who have given to this ministry through the years: THANK YOU! We have enjoyed giving your money and stuff away! We continue to give money and stuff away, as we are able. The people who have received the money and stuff we have given away are also grateful and bless you! The numbers at the top of the article and the 11 are from my Fun-A-Day art project. I’m learning to number my days. I’m painting a new number each day to be exhibited at an art show in Lansdale on February 18. I am also doing this with my granddaughters. It’s great fun!

It’s already January 11. Now write your Christmas Thank Yous!

The Books Are Here!

Myron and me manning the sales table, just like old times!
Myron and me manning the sales table, just like old times!

The first volume of Other People’s Children arrived at our house today. If you live locally, you want to save on shipping, and you want an autographed copy, drop on by before next Wednesday to pick up one of these full color beauties. On June 8, I go in for open heart surgery, so there won’t be anyone to mind the store or sign autographs for a while. Until then, I’ll keep the teapot warm and would be delighted for the company!

Other People’s Children: vignettes of joy & tears from unlikely people

I just published the first in what will hopefully be a series of books with my paintings and stories of our friends from the street, along with a few ringers, to remind us to be welcoming to strangers.

This little book is an invitation to YOU to step into a new comfort zone with your sisters and brothers in this world. We are all frightened children trying to find the silk edge of the blanket at times. Let us be kind.

Order today to share the joy and beauty in quiet moments.

Oscar

I have recently started to paint portraits. I never knew I could do this. I don’t think I could before. Every attempt at art, other than on a computer, or with a blade of some sort to steady my hand and smooth the curves always seemed to look like my kindergarten work. That never even made it onto the refrigerator; it was so bad. This is therapy for me. It is good for my heart. It lowers my blood pressure. I started with a self-portrait. Now I have completed three portraits of two brothers and one sister from the parkway in Philadelphia: Rosalie, Alex and Oscar. Only Alex is still among the living, and he was the only one I had a photograph of. My paintings are cartoonish, not realistic. I am trying to capture something of the emotional and spiritual impact these people made on me, a touch of their beauty, if you will.

Oscar

I shared Oscar’s story more than 20 years ago in a newsletter shortly after he had died. Oscar was in his early 50s. It was 1992. I was 37. We were serving on the sidewalk on the City Hall side of JFK Plaza at that time, more commonly called the Love Park because of the world famous LOVE art in front of the fountain there. We would see Oscar on occasion. Every time he came, he made it a point to seek me out after to say how thankful he was for what we did. He would say how special that I am for doing this. I always deflected by saying something like, “I’m just doing what Jesus compels me to do. I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t do it. It is Jesus who loves you.” He would reply, “I don’t believe in any of that god stuff. I just know that you are really special and I am truly grateful. Thank you!”

At times, we would talk about history or philosophy or the arts. He was well educated. He had had a good paying job at one point. I don’t know if I ever learned how he ended up on the street. He had used cocaine and had suffered a couple of heart attacks as a result. He is among the most civilized people I have ever known, with a twinkle in the eye and a Bohemian side.

Hurricane Andrew hit Homestead, FL, in August of 1992. Church groups were sending clothing and supplies down to the more than 100,000 families whose homes had been destroyed. Word got out that people were having a hard time surviving because it was it slow process to get any cash to buy necessities. So people started tucking cash into the pockets of clothing to short circuit that process, and get money into people’s hands quickly. Several bags of men’s clothing did not fit onto a truck bound for Homestead, so they got re-directed to The King’s Jubilee. They told me about the potential money in the pockets. Between working full-time, leading a Bible study at Graterford prison that afternoon while Bethann made the soup, coordinating with the Pottstown and SC serving sites, somehow searching pockets got missed.

When we gave away the clothing that night, it was a free for all, like always. There was one garment no one seemed to want. It was a corduroy sportcoat with suede elbow patches. Oscar grabbed it and put it on. It fit. It was warm. He said, “I’m not proud. It’s warm. It’s clean.” The others laughed and called him professor. Who knows? Perhaps, that’s what he had been. He disappeared for a couple weeks. When he came back, he told me what happened. Later that night, he checked the pockets of the sportcoat and found a $50 bill. He told me that he wished he could say he did something productive or constructive with it. Alas, he said, he had a good meal at a fancy restaurant and went on a week long bender. He said, “I’m sorry. But it’s been a long time since I had such a good time and could forget about all of this. Thank you. Can you forgive me?”

I told him there was nothing to forgive. He found the money. It was his to do with what he wanted. If he got some relief, well, who am I to judge? (I am weeping as I type this.) His eyes welled up and he thanked me again with a hug. The next time he thanked me for serving all the guys on the street. He said, “I thank God for you, Cranford.” My eyes welled up with tears.

I don’t know if he had found faith, or if he was just being gracious and kind to please me. It was the last time I saw Oscar. He died of a heart attack at 53. I attempted to paint this from memory. It is a poor likeness. The beret and the neck scarf are there. The beard, long, full hair, and brown eyes are there. I tried to convey both his thoughtfulness and the mischief, with the intent stare, the tilt of the head, and the slight smile.



A New Underground Railroad

I have to start with the obvious here. The simplest and least expensive way to end homelessness is for the government to simply give the homeless apartments, no strings attached. Everywhere it has been done, it has worked. Since that takes political boldness and vision which most office holders lack, even in the face of empirical evidence, we need to move on to what we as citizens can do without them.

When the South still enforced the peculiar institution of Black slavery and the North did not, abolitionists organized a series of safe houses and people willing to take a risk who would convey freed and runaway slaves from house to house until they arrived some place ‘safely’ in the North where they could start a new life. Harriet Tubman is famous for her role in guiding so many to freedom. Now I ask you, when there are thousands of homeless men, women and children living on the streets and in the shelters of each of our major cities, subsisting on handouts and hand-me-downs, where there is no possibility of a job without an address, and no way to get an address without having a stable address (You read that right), how is this freedom?

It seems to me we need to get that old train moving again and add a few more stations!

This means we step up and take the risk. Remember the Underground Railroad is not Amtrak. It is not a government program.  What does this look like? It looks much like the original. Families take in people and families who are homeless or about to become homeless and help them get on their feet. This is especially needed for families before they land on the street and the family gets broken up and the children get placed in foster care. Everyone needs to adjust. It is not easy. Our parents or grandparents did it, though, to get through the First Great Depression. From all of the stories I heard, because of the way people helped each other, it was the happiest time in those people’s lifetimes. We can do it again to help people through the Second Great Depression.

When I was in prison ministry, we took in ex-offenders to live with us when they were released from prison. I also started a program and support group for people who took in or related to ex-offenders after their time in our aftercare program. When we are talking about homeless people, it’s not quite the same thing, but for long term homeless, there are some definite cultural issues to deal with. We will facilitate with similar support groups. The idea is to be neighbors to each other and bear each other’s burdens, to share wisdom, and to not let anyone get in too deep.

We can end homelessness if we stop seeing the lines of bodies waiting for food and, instead, look at one face. Become family to that one face. Paste him or her in your family album. Take him or her home. Your grandkids will ask, who is that black man in the family pictures? “O, that’s your mama’s godfather, Michael.”

I guess my thoughts naturally went in the railroad direction today. We received notice that our house is in foreclosure again. This time, because PHH never did negotiate in good faith on an adjustment, and Social Security lost the documentation for expedited disbursement of my back pay for disability. It may work out for the best in the long run, as we may finally be able to negotiate a lower rate and payment. At any rate, the original part of our house was built in the 18th century. It was added onto to be the hotel for the railroad when it came through in 1845. There is an exposed spike between the two parts, right outside our bedroom door to mark this. The barn was built as a stable for the hotel. So we have a suitable, symbolic headquarters for a railroad of hospitality. Please consider how you may get involved.

God bless you.




prairierose1The artwork to the right is available at 18″x18″ for sale in a custom, handcrafted frame. It is entitled “Prairie Rose”. It is the first from my new Natives series; art derived from photos of native plants from our yard. This is a cloe-up of a bush in our backyard, filtered & tweaked, then museum quality printed on canvas and personally signed. Most of my artwork will be on display Father’s Day weekend at Teich & McColgan Daylilies & Hostas, next to Peace Valley Winery. See you there!

Rising From the Ashes

It was an overreaction to state that our doors were closing. The truth is serving meals on the streets of Philadelphia was never intended to be the core of the ministry of The King’s Jubilee. It was just what the inmates at Graterford Prison set for me to do personally as I was starting the ministry. The prophetic ministry that has angered so many people was much more at the core of the ministry, as the goal of TKJ is not just to facilitate almsgiving, but to realize the King’s jubilee as Isaiah described it in his great jubilation song of chapter 61, which Jesus quoted in Luke 4, when he introduced his public ministry, and the ministry of all who would be his true disciples!

So people have gotten upset with me and say I shouldn’t be political and claim that the Gospel isn’t political. Well if the Gospel isn’t political, why were all the people enraged and wanted to stone Jesus? These were the political power brokers of Jerusalem. Yes. They were church people, just as they are today. Yes. they had no time for Jesus rearranging their lives and laying claim to what they mistakenly thought were their riches, just as they don’t today. The sounding of the “Jubal”, from which we even derive the word tuba, signified the Jubilee which meant that all the land and everything in it belonged to YHWH. The Law prescribed a radical redistribution of the land (the most basic capital in an agrarian society), freeing of all slaves, cancelling of all debts, and a rest for the land and for the draft animals.

This was not just for the Jews and to be forgotten. This was the core lesson of the whole Old Testament. The Jews never kept the sabbath years and the Jubilee. For this, they went into captivity. “These things were for our admonition.” Then Jesus quotes Isaiah’s Jubilee proclamation to initiate the new era in Luke 4. The early Christians took this seriously. That’s why they were martyred so regularly and why so much change took place. They went out and gave proper burials to the pagan poor and slaves whose bodies had been thrown on the trash heap, honoring every human being equally. They rescued babies who were left to die because they were the wrong gender or families had too many, and raised them as their own, respecting and having compassion for every life without discrimination no matter the cost. They honored and protected women, as they revered Mary as she who bore Jesus, establishing monogamy and chastity as the standard. Women were apostles and deacons and some say Priscilla was a priest. She is adorned so in an icon in a chapel under the Vatican. They were a mighty army of radical love; an army that died, but never killed. This is what Jesus called us to.

I am still a follower of Jesus. I have been abused by too many clergy to feel comfortable in church. I suffer with CPTSD from non-sexual clergy abuse. I don’t sort out saved and lost. Jesus forbade that, when he said, “Judge not.” and “Judge nothing before the time.” I don’t care if you or I are atheist today or tomorrow or not, or Muslim, or Jew, or Hindi, or any number of religions or philosophies with which I am not familiar. We are all subject to where we fell out of our mother’s wombs on this orb, as to what we believe, what nationality we are, what language is our primary, etc. It’s interesting, but nothing to be judged on. We welcome anyone to serve with us.

You will see on our site and on our literature that we serve in Jesus’ Name. The Hebrew sense of serving in someone’s name was not to be calling out their name all the time or even ever. It was to be serving according to their will and wishes. So what we mean is that we attempt to follow the Golden Rule. We serve people with dignity and respect. We do not look down upon those we are serving or make them feel as if they are anything but equals, brothers and sisters. We never use an institutional approach. Every one is special and unique. There are no cookie cutter solutions.

So, where from here?

We intend to continue to do and develop our services to those transitioning off of the street. We had hoped to not be serving people on the street by this time at any rate, hoping there would be no need. We already have our Clean Start and Kitchen Jumpstart programs that need continued support and participation. We also have our Rent Party program which we will be expanding and promoting as this is a vital need to help folks move off of the street. We will be developing a one on one or posse friendship program to help people make the move off the street. It can be very hard for people. Homelessness is not just the lack of walls in our city. It is its own subculture. People need something to replace that with if they are to succeed. This is where city volunteers come in.

I will be working, finishing my cookbook / nutritional guide for ministries serving the homeless. We have raised the bar over the years nutritionally, and would like to see others follow suit. I want to share this knowledge of the hows and whys and what nots, before they escape from memory.

Please join us in this next phase of The King’s Jubilee. We need your regular monthly support, even if it’s just $10. Use the Donate button below. Thank you. God bless you.




The artwork above is available at 24″x24″ for sale in a custom, handcrafted frame. It is entitled “Phoenix”. Most of my artwork will be on display Father’s Day weekend at Teich & McColgan Daylilies & Hostas, next to Peace Valley Winery. See you there!

To make a real difference costs more than a meal a week.

I can’t express how disappointed I am with how little we have accomplished at The King’s Jubilee. We have been at it for over 26 years. By this time we had hoped to have made street side serving of meals unnecessary, because we had played a major role in ending homelessness in Philadelphia. Instead, we can count on two hands the number of people we have had a large part in making the transition off the street and perhaps 100 more to whom we gave some little bit of help through the years move off the street. I know this is not standard fundraising procedure. Most ministries speak very glowingly and, as we used to say, “evangelastically” about their accomplishments to garner support. We can only do what we have resources to do. It is that simple. Somehow I expected the church to get behind work like this, whichever church, and for pastors to invite and to recommend participation and support. Through the years, that has rarely happened. I have gotten more jealousy, abuse, and invitations to leave churches from pastors, because of this ministry. Yet, none of them has been able to say that what I am doing or teaching is wrong.

Now, I need you to get over your distaste for my honesty and help save some lives! 

A few weeks ago, I posted an appeal to help save “Rashawn’s Diamond”. Diamond recently was hospitalized with tuberculosis and walking pneumonia. After a couple of days in ICU and the rest of the week on the respiratory care floor, she was released back onto the street. She and her husband, Rashawn, were able to spend nights in one of two shelters in the city that allow married couples to stay together. Daytimes were still rough, lugging all of their stuff around in the horrible weather. They are little people. Rashawn is disabled due to his dwarfism, so the type and amount of work he can get is limited. We were only able to raise $301 toward what we thought was going to be $500 for the month for rent. We kicked in an additional $249 to make up the difference and provide for some food. We knew that they owed this SRO hotel $230 from the last time they had stayed there. I had hoped we would raise the whole amount, since it was Great Lent. For most people in Montgomery and Bucks Counties the extra $230 is not that much, maybe a ski outing with the kids, or a dinner out at Wm. Penn Inn or Maize. At any rate, a pastor of a poor, storefront church, who works at a secular job, came up with the difference. We had a hard time making connection with him. Rashawn & Diamond came home with me on Thursday night and slept in our little living room, with the cats. We all had a good breakfast of bacon and eggs. Diamond took delight in cutting and sharing a pink grapefruit with Rashawn. They have talked to me everyday since to remind me to hug the cats for them, and named us honorary grandparents. We are not old enough for that, but, you know, it’s hard to judge with us white people.

Because it took an extra day to get the money, all of the cheaper rooms were taken for the month, plus the management raised the rent on all the rooms by $100, so the rent for their room ended up being $700, but they don’t have to walk down the hall for the bathroom. I stayed until I was sure they were getting in. I felt like I was in a scene from a bad detective movie from the early 1970s, except there was an Obama2012.com bumper sticker on the front desk window. in front of the extremely rude, young black man who was hollering at Diamond that “No you can’t try before you buy! All the rooms look alike! It’s first come first serve! If you don’t take it, someone else will!” I was tempted to try to gently remind him that he was in the “hospitality” industry, but I didn’t want to end up on the 6 o’clock news: “Lifelong homeless minister gunned down at the Blue Moon Hotel this afternoon in an altercation with hotel staff, along with two dwarves. Shooter claims self-defense.” It was definitely a new experience for me. It is disappointing to me that such places exist and are in such demand. Rashawn and Diamond are glad to be there. It is out of the cold and damp. They have a bed and a shower and a TV. They don’t have to make a major plan to find a toilet.

$700 a month is more than we usually raise for the whole ministry. People spend a lot on food and cups and such. I understand that. There is more to this ministry than Thursday night. There always has been. Yet when I say we need money, it doesn’t seem to sink in most of the time. I want to help these people. I have known Rashawn for over 20 years. He is a straight arrow. He works whenever and wherever he can. Diamond needs to be off the street in order to live. They were on the verge of getting a place once before. They are in line to get a place now; just a couple more steps. They need a reliable address and good phone reception to be able to complete the process and to apply for the other benefits they need. This is a major flaw in the so-called safety net. Once one has fallen through to the point of homelessness, one needs a boost up just to get hold of the net again. If I could, I would just write a check. I can’t even pay my own mortgage or utility bills. We’re on SNAP and Medicaid, because what I do is worthless to the church. I’m alive. Diamond will die if she has to live outdoors. Take a true pro-life action. Save a beautiful life! Give using the donate button below and everything given will go to help Diamond & Rashawn transition off the street into permanent housing.

May God bless you!




dayliliesinwinterThe artwork featured above is: Remembrance of Summers Future & Past
The same plant in two seasons. The bare sticks poking through the snow reminding us of the past and future glory. This is what Holy Week and Pascha are about. It is not just a commemoration of past events. We are remembering the coming in glory of the Kingdom of God! This is Spring Revival Time! It is time to shake off the doldrums, renew our almsgiving and re-energize for action, so that it may be done on “earth as it is in heaven.”
This art piece is available in a strictly limited edition signed by the artist, me, museum quality printed on canvas and framed in a handcrafted frame designed for this piece. The art is 13″ x 7″ plus frame. Call 267-497-0268 for pricing, etc.
Summer is our busiest time at The King’s Jubilee.

Saved by Beauty

Saved by BeautyPeople often quote Dostoyevsky from The Idiot about the world being saved by beauty. A biography of Dorothy Day of blessed memory is not coincidentally named Saved by Beauty. When I was a young idealist, I had no such concept. I was all pragmatics, numbers and economics. All the flowers were geraniums to me. Very slowly did I come to realize the poor man and rich man are no more and no less blessed by  the cherry blossoms in spring, or the sight of an eagle in flight, or the sounds and smells of a gurgling brook, or the sight of youths in the blush of first love. It is when we remember these common joys, we remember our common humanity. This is when we stop fearing each other; we can stop fearing that we will be left destitute if we share from our wealth. We become free to acknowledge all humankind as sisters and brothers.

This limited edition art piece in my Lily Gilding collection is a meditation on this truth. The inner circle has a blossom in motion at each compass point. The outer circle has a blossom in motion at each hour, or five minute mark, on the face of a clock. So, the meditation is with every step, with every moment, we are to consider beauty. Consider the common beauty around us and let it humanize you. Consider the beauty of the person in front of you. Jesus said, “Consider the lilies of the field…” Then how each of us and everyone we meet is worth more that any of those beautiful lilies. God sees beauty in each and every human being. Ask God to show you what is beautiful in each person you deal with, especially the difficult people and any enemies. If even 7% or 8% of us would do this, we would be enough salt and light to save the world!

A maximum of ten of these will be sold, signed in custom, round frames. 27″ diameter. Call 267-497-0268 for pricing. Proceeds fund soup for the street, etc.

God bless you.



Blue Marvel

There has never yet been a totally deep blue daylily. Daylily breeders have been striving after this elusive goal for decades. It took me an afternoon to turn a photo of a red one in our garden into this beauty surrounded by peach and pink daylilies. These are to be printed on glass. This can be printed on tempered, insulated glass for use in a door.  It is 24″ diameter. I can make it as a hanging ornamental, or on insulated glass in a frame to be installed as a window. It can be made smaller. Call or email for pricing. Strictly limited edition.

rosewindowAll sales help us continue to serve the poor and homeless. Thank you!



Sex sells. Well, let’s hope it does.

Flowers are what contain the reproductive organs for a plant. Their bright colors and scents draw birds and bees to them to suck their sweet nectar. In going from blossom to blossom, they spread the pollen to fertilize other flowers. I named this piece “Sex” in honor of the time honored tradition of speaking of the birds and the bees; also in hopes that, true to form, it would sell.

The overall dimensions are 24″ x 24″. It will be printed on canvas with a handcrafted frame in the colors shown, for $600. FOB TKJ. This is a limited edition. A maximum of ten will be made. All sales help keep the ministry among the homeless alive.

sex