The Lady on the Basilica Steps

Ss. Peter and Paul Basilica

This article should just about write itself. It has all the elements to tug at the heartstrings like classic poverty porn. However, this is what has made it so hard for me to write. After more than 30 years writing newsletters and blog posts about the shocking way the poor, the disabled and the aged are treated in our country, it has gotten old. It has only gotten worse, with the government cuts to every kind of assistance and the general hardness of hearts in our society. It is just downright depressing.

Last Friday evening, Tony found a woman, about my age, lying on the Cathedral steps and invited her over to see what we had to offer. She was very timid. We had to invite her to accept each thing, some soup, pumpkin rice, hard boiled eggs, pie, etc. It was apparent that she could hardly speak due to stroke damage. She needed a better hat and a blanket. Susan found these for her. She had tears of gratitude as the hat was placed on her head and the thick blanket was wrapped round her shoulders. She shuffled as she walked and didn’t have full function of her hands. What a picture! She sleeps outside the Basilica. St. Basil founded a city for the poor with free hospitals and shelters funded by taxation on the rich! She sleeps in the cold on the steps of the Basilica! In one of the richest countries in the world, where we pay three times more per capita for healthcare than all but one other country, yet, somehow, we can’t afford to take care of the lady sleeping on the Basilica steps.

Perhaps she can qualify for Medicaid or public housing, or SSI. I don’t know. I do know that the process to get these benefits is anything but easy. I am a fully vocal person, with a place to store my records and a phone. It took months of back and forth and filling out forms to get Medicaid. It took years to get SSI after having six strokes, kidney failure, cPTSD, a summer of disabling migraines, my business failing, and almost losing my house to foreclosure. We are almost certainly going to lose it to foreclosure because they still have not paid the back benefit that they owe. So how does one who lacks speech, lacks confidence and sleeps on the steps of the Basilica with no phone and no safe place to keep her records follow through with that process? IMPOSSIBLE! The govt. made it this hard for two reasons: to keep out the riff-raff; and to necessitate lawyers to navigate the system. The problem is, the lawyers are the riff-raff, and it keeps out the most deserving of help.

Then there are so many who say, this is not the government’s job. It is the church’s job to help the poor. Did I mention that she is sleeping on the steps of the Basilica? These are the same steps that Tony McNeal, Director of The King’s Jubilee, used to sleep on at times, when he was homeless. Back then, there was a sexton (that’s the church word for janitor) who used to secretly let some homeless sleep on the pews inside. Tony would then assist in keeping the peace, and cleaning up afterward. This all had to be done on the down low. If the priest were to find out, the sexton would have lost his job and possibly been charged with criminal trespass. Then there’s the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in North Phila. who put razor wire around their vegetable and flower garden rather than trust God for how its fruits were distributed. That’s so welcoming to their church, now that it looks like a prison. So much for relying on the church.

In fact, as government assistance has gone down in recent years, so has church’ and non-profit orgs’ assistance to the needy gone down. It seems people’s politics spills over into their religion in America, not so much the other way around.

We are not some big agency. We are basically a couple of families and a rag tag band of poor people with hearts breaking for the poor and oppressed. We love to give other people’s stuff away for them, and cook wonderful, nutritious meals for people who need them, with dignity and respect. Everything you give will help us continue to do this. Please give until it stops hurting. You’ll feel better for it!

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.

The 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, near Peace Valley Winery. See you there!

First, I want to say thank you to all of those who have supported us through the years and have participated in this ministry. May God bless you! I am sorry if any of you feel I have not said that enough. It is at the end of most, but not all blog entries on this blog.

Second, we will be serving meals in the park this Thursday and next Thursday, May 7, will be our last, due to lack of support from the church.

Third, I was just told to “stop playing the victim!” I am sorry, but I am not playing. I really do suffer from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from being bullied by clergy, Orthodox, Protestant & Anabaptist. Most recently this has caused churches to be ashamed of me and this ministry, even though I have been told by two Orthodox Bishops and several Orthodox Priests to not shut up and to not give in to bullies, even if they are priests or bishops! Clergy are not infallible. We are in foreclosure again because of sickness and stresses of this ministry and the slowness of the Social Security Administration. I honestly identify with and empathize with the people on the street. I have been regularly attacked for this in the press, by city administrations, by pastors, by fellow church goers.

Jesus identified with the poor and outcast. So I still think I’m in good company. I will continue to serve as I can. I don’t know what that will look like. But I need to find more likeminded people who aren’t ashamed to be seen with me. In other words, I need someone to minister to me like I have ministered among the homeless for over 26 years.

Peace, Cranford

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.

Bitter Cold on the Streets of Philadelphia

On the last couple of Thursdays, volunteers have called me to see if we were still going out to serve, since it was Code Blue in the city. I explained on each occasion that, yes, we would be going. Many of the people we serve are not fully homeless. They live in rented rooms, but have no place to prepare food. Some of them have to choose between rent and food for the month or week. Many we serve are the hardcore of the homeless who refuse to go in to shelters due to fear for their own safety or fear of being picked up on an old bench warrant, or just not wanting to admit that they are that homeless and dependent. Then there is the cold, hard truth, that even with the expanded capacity and outreach of Code Blue, there isn’t enough space for everyone to come in from out of the cold.

It’s a sad state of affairs. There are lots of heated, vacant spaces, if we only had more compassion. Train conductors used to be allowed to look the other way and let homeless ride and sleep on the subway all night, maybe without collecting a fare. Now there are cameras and they’d lose their jobs. The trains are running. It costs nothing more. It hurts nobody. It saves lives. We all descended from poor and homeless people at some point. Now we are afraid of them, so we don’t let them ride.

Those of us serving were well bundled up with layers. We served about 50 people. I thank God we had blankets and new socks and some clothing to give away. We served hot, thick hamburger and cabbage soup, spicy tagine, spaghetti, and hot chocolate, along with our usual complement of fruits, eggs, sandwiches, etc. We gave just about everything away! Somebody even left a huge bag of foil wrapped chocolate coins on our front step along with a cash donation. It was a joy to share those as a special treat on such a cold night. The cash helped someone stay out of the cold in a room. We were freezing and so ready to get back into cars with heat, by the time we left, 45 minutes after we arrived. My hands are still cold and stiff more than 12 hours later, even though I was wearing gloves the whole time (since they got frostbit in 1969). But we got to go home to heat and basically unlimited hot water, coffee, microwaves, tea, etc. We left these people, our brothers and sisters, on the street to try to survive more sub-zero, windy, Code Blue days and nights in a city whose main concern is that they not be seen in public.

May God forgive us.



The Legend of Sir Cleges

This tale is from the late 14th or early 15th century, translated from Middle English, provided freely with footnotes here. We present the same translation in more readable size and font here. It is one of a class of moral poems called Complaint Literature. It resonates with Bethann and me for obvious reasons. We thank Charli Riggle for calling it to our attention. It is long for a blog post, but well worth the read. It has been published as a children’s book, called “The Christmas Knight”. Enjoy!

Listen, lords, and you will hear of ancestors who were before us, both hardy and strong, in the time of King Arthur’s father, the handsome Uther Pendragon.  He had a knight named Sir Cleges; none at the Round Table was so doughty at need.  He was a man of high stature, fair of all features, and great might.  There was no more courteous, noble and generous a knight in the world.  He gave gold to squires who had fought in wars and had fallen into poverty.  He treated his tenants well, never quarreling or punishing them; he was as mild as a maid.  His stores were plentiful, and food was given to every man who came to him.

The knight had a noble wife named Dame Clarys; a better or more beautiful lady might not be alive, full of all goodness and of glad cheer day and night.  They were both great almsfolk to both poor men and friars. They cheered many a person, and because of them no man, rich or poor, suffered loss; they always made it right.

Every year Sir Cleges held a feast, as royal as though he were a king, in honor of Christmas.  Rich and poor were invited, and no one refused to come.  There was much mirth, and when the feast was over the minstrels received gifts of horses, robes, rich rings, gold and silver and other things.  The feasts in worship of Him who rules all and died on the Cross for us were held for ten or twelve years, and though his fortunes began to slacken off, noble Sir Cleges continued to hold the feasts.  He mortgaged his manors to defray his debt, and in this way held feasts for many years, for both nobles and commoners in the name of God almighty.

Truth to tell, at the last all his wealth was spent, but though his goods were nearly gone he still made a feast and hoped to be requited by God.  His manors were all sold except one, which was of such little value that he and his wife could barely live.  His men, so full of pride, all left him, so to that only he, his wife and two children remained, and he moaned greatly.

One Christmas eve, Sir Cleges and Dame Clarys dwelt near Cardiff.  As it drew near noon, he suddenly fell into a swoon, woefully remembering the mirth he used to bring.  Now he had sold his manors with their tenancies and wide lands, and sorrowfully wrung his hands and sorely wept over his failed pride.  As he walked up and down sighing, he heard a sound of diverse minstrelsy: trumpeters, pipers, drummers, harpers and others.  There were many carols and great dancing, and he heard singing everywhere. He wrung his hands, weeping and moaning, and sighed piteously.

“Jesus, Heaven’s King who made all things out of nothing, I thank You for Your grace. I was able to make mirth in this time for Your sake; I fed rich food and good drink to all who came in Your name, free and bondsmen.  They lacked neither wild nor domestic game, and I spared no expense.”

As he stood there mourning, his wife came and embraced him.  She kissed him with glad cheer and said, “My true wedded companion, I hear well what you mean, but you can see it doesn’t help to have such sorrowful thoughts.  I advise you to stop, let go of your sadness, and thank God for His loan of all He has sent. For Christ’s sake, I counsel you to cease your sorrow in honor of this holy day.  Now every man should be merry and glad with such goods as they have, and I pray you do so.  Let us go to our dinner and be as joyful as we can.  It is for the best; I have made our meal truly, I hope, to your liking.”

Sir Cleges assented and went with her, in a somewhat better mood.  When he fell into thought and sorrow, she comforted him all the more, and he began to grow happy and quickly wiped the tears from his cheeks.  Then they washed and went to dinner with such as they could get and made merry.  When they had eaten, they spent the day in mirth as best they could.  They played with their children, and went to bed after evensong.  They slept until the church bell rang, then arose, got ready, and went to service with their children.  Cleges knelt and prayed to Jesus Christ on his wife’s account: “Gracious Lord, for my wife and my two children, keep us out of trouble!”  The lady prayed to Him, “God, keep my lord from pain into everlasting life!”  After service they thanked God omnipotent and went home quickly.

When he came to his palace, Cleges thought his sorrow was gone, and he sent his wife and children ahead and went alone into a nearby private garden.  He knelt in prayer and thanked God with all his heart for all those who suffered poverty that He had sent to him.  He reached for a bough of the cherry tree under which he was kneeling to help himself stand, and when he caught it he found green leaves and many berries.  “Dear God in Trinity,” he exclaimed, “what kind of berries can these be, growing at this time of year?  I have never seen a tree bear fruit in this season, anywhere I have been.”  He tasted one, and it was the best cherry he had ever seen.  He cut off a small branch and brought it to his wife.

“Look, here is a novelty I found on a tree in our garden.  I fear it is a token of more grief to come because of our great complaining.”  But his wife said, “It is a sign of more goodness and plenty to come. Whether we have more or less, it is always truly best that we thank God.”  The lady said cheerfully, “Let’s fill a basket with the fruit that God has sent, and tomorrow at daybreak you shall go to Cardiff and present it to the king.  For such a gift we may fare better, I tell you truly.”

Sir Cleges agreed with her plan immediately.  At daylight, Dame Clarys prepared the basket and told her eldest son: “Gladly take up this basket and bear it on your back easily after your noble father.”  Cleges had no horse for his journey, so says the book, so he took a staff for his hackney as do the poor.  He and his noble son went right to Cardiff on Christmas day and went straight to the castle gate as though they were preparing for the noon meal. But Cleges was dressed in poor, simple clothing, and the porter scornfully told him to leave at once.  “Otherwise, by God and St Mary, I will break your head.  Go stand with the beggars.  If you come in any farther, you’ll regret it after I’ve beaten you.”

“Good sir,” replied Sir Cleges, “I pray you to let me in, for I have brought the king a gift from Him who made all things out of nothing. Look!”  The porter went to the basket and quickly lifted up the lid and saw the cherries.  He knew well that the king would give great gifts for this present.  He said, “By Him who bought me dearly, you shall not come in at this gate, by Him who made this world, unless you grant me a third part of what the king will give you, be it silver or gold.”

Sir Cleges agreed and entered without any more resistance at a rapid pace.  The officer at the door was standing with a staff, and when he saw Sir Cleges come in so boldly, he said, “Get out of my sight, churl, without delay, or I shall beat your every limb, head and body without mercy if you advance farther.”

“Good sir,” said Sir Cleges, “for His love who made man, cease your angry manner, for I have brought a present from Him that made all things out of nothing and died upon the Cross.  Last night this fruit grew, which is noble and good; look to see if I am false or true.”  The usher lifted up the lid quickly and marveled at the fairest cherries he had ever seen.

The usher said, “By sweet Mary, I tell you surely that you will not step into this hall unless you give me, without refusal, the third part of your winnings when you return to me.”  Sir Cleges said no more but immediately agreed; it could be no other way.  Then Sir Cleges, with a heavy expression, took his son and basket into the hall.

The steward started forth quickly among the richly dressed lords in the hall and went boldly to Sir Cleges and said, “Who made you so hardy to come here before you were bidden?  Churl, you are too bold.  I advise you to withdraw immediately, in your old clothing.  Cleges told him, “Sir, I have brought a present from that Lord who bought us dearly and bled on the Cross.”

The steward came forth immediately and plucked up the lid as fast as he could, and said, “By dear Mary, I have never seen this at this time of year since I was born.  You shall not come near the king unless you grant my demand, by Him that bought me dearly.  By my fortune, I will have the third part of the king’s gift, or else go throw yourself out!”

Sir Cleges stood and thought to himself, “If I should share between three men, I will have nothing for all my work, unless it is a meal.”  As he thought and sighed greatly, the steward said to him, “Harlot, have you no tongue?  Speak to me and don’t wait long to grant what I ask, or I will beat your rags into your back with a staff and shove you out headlong!”

Sir Cleges saw no other remedy than to grant the steward’s demand and said with a sigh, “Whatever the king gives in reward, you shall have the third part, be it less or more.”  With that word, the steward and Sir Cleges were in accord and nothing more was said.  Cleges went up to the king quickly and he proffered his present full fairly, kneeling before him.  He uncovered the basket and kneeling upon the ground showed the bright cherries to the king and said, “Jesus our Saviour sent you this fruit with great honor, growing this day on earth.”

The king saw the fresh, new cherries and said, “I thank you, sweet Jesus; here is a fair novelty.”  He commanded Sir Cleges to eat dinner and to have a word with him afterward, without fail.  The king made a present and sent it to a noble lady who was born in Cornwall.  She was bright and beautiful, and afterwards was his own queen.  The cherries were served throughout the hall, and the most royal king said, “I counsel you to be merry!  And I shall make him who brought me this present so content that it shall avail him well.”

When all the men were merry and glad, the king told a squire, “Bring before me the poor man who brought the cherries.”  The squire went immediately and didn’t tarry, without scorn; he brought Cleges before the king.  Cleges fell on his knees and knew his reward had been lost.  He asked the king, “Lord, what is your will?  I am your freeborn man.”

The king responded, “I thank you heartily for the great present you have given me.  You have honored all my feast, most and least, with your dainties, and honored me also.  By God, I will grant you whatever you will have, whether your heart desires landholdings, or other goods, however it goes.”

“Have mercy, liege king!” Cleges exclaimed.  “This is a high thing for someone like me.  To grant me landholdings or any goods, by God, is too much for me.  But if I shall choose for myself, I ask for nothing but twelve strokes; generously grant me now that I may pay them all with my staff to my adversaries in this hall, for St Charity.”

Uther the king answered, “I regret granting the covenant that I made. By Him that made you and me, you would be better taking gold or goods, for which you have greater need.  Cleges said without rancor, “It is your own granting; I may not be  denied.”  The king was angry and sorely grieved, but nevertheless he granted that the blows should be paid.

Sir Cleges went into the hall among all the great lords and sought the steward to pay him his reward, for he had angered him greatly.  He gave the steward such a stroke that he fell down like a block in front of everyone.  Then he gave him three strokes and the steward said, “Sir, for your courtesy, strike me no more!”

Then Sir Cleges went out of the hall, intent on paying more stokes without  delay.  He went to the usher, and when they met Cleges gave him such fierce, painful strokes that for many days afterward he would not hinder any man’s way.  Cleges said, “By my fortune, you have the third part of my gift, just as I promised you.”

He eagerly came to the porter and paid him his four stokes. For many days afterward he would hinder no man’s way, neither to ride nor to go.  The first stroke Sir Cleges laid on him broke his shoulder bone in two, and his right arm also.  Sir Cleges said, “By my fortune, you have the third part of my gift according to the covenant we made.”

The king was sitting in his chamber to hear mirth and revelry, and Sir Cleges went there.  A harper had told a tale that pleased the king well and fulfilled his desire.  The king asked this harper, “You may often hear much, since you have traveled afar.  Tell me truly, if you can, do you know this poor man who gave me the present today?”

The harper answered, “My liege, in truth men used to call him Cleges; he was a knight of yours, I think, when he was full of fortune and grace, a man of high stature.”

“This is indeed not him,” said the king, “he has been believed dead a long time, whom I loved very much.  I wish to God that he was with me; I would rather have him than three knights, he was so brave in battle.”

Sir Cleges knelt before the king and thanked him courteously for granting his request.  The king asked him especially why he had given the three men strokes.  Cleges explained, “I could not come inside unless I granted each of them the third part of what you would give me.  By that I would have nothing myself; truly, I thought it best to divide among them twelve stokes.”

The lords, both young and old, and all who were with the king had great pleasure and laughed so hard that they couldn’t sit.  They said, “It was a noble joke, we vow by Christ.”  The king sent for his steward and said, “If he grants you any reward, ask for it according to the law.”  Looking grim, the steward said, “I don’t intend to have anything to do with him; I wish I had never known him.”

The king said, “Without blame, tell me now, good man, what is your name?”  “My liege,” he said, “as this man tells you, I was once called Sir Cleges; I was your own true knight.”  “Are you my knight who served me, so noble and so gracious, both strong, hardy and manly?”  “Yes, lord,” Cleges said, “as I might thrive, until God  almighty afflicted me; thus poverty has been my destiny.”

The king immediately gave him all that belongs to a knight for arraying his body.  He also gave him the castle of Cardiff, with all its appurtenances, to hold with peace and security.  Then he made him his steward of all his lands, of water, land and forest.  He happily gave him a gold cup to take to Dame Clarys as a token of joy and mirth.  The king made Cleges’ son a squire and gave him a collar to wear, along with a hundredworth pounds of rent.  When they came home in this manner, the bright Dame Cleges thanked God truly in every way, for she had both knight and squire according to their intent.  They paid their debts as fast as they could until every man was satisfied.

Sir Cleges was held to be a noble steward by all men, young and old, who knew him, wherever he went in the land.  The courteous and gracious knight became so wealthy that he assisted all his kin, close and distant.  His lady and he lived many years with joy and cheer until God sent for them.  For the goodness they did here their souls went to shining Heaven, where there is joy without end.

Amen.



“The less I have to worry about, The more time I got for smiling”

This is a catchy little tune by Kristian Bush. It fits in fine with Moses’, Isaiah’s, Buddha’s, Jesus’, Confucius’, Muhammed’s, the Dalai Lama’s, Pope Francis’, St. Basil’s, St. John Chrysostom’s, St. Marie of Paris’, etc., view of a proper stewardship of earthly goods.

Enjoy!



Stained Glass

eyesonfireI just finished another art design. This one evolved as I worked on it. It is my most complex design to date. The meaning became more clear as I continued to work on it. It consists of only one daylily blossom, shaped and spun, then repeated over and over again.

They are arranged in rows and in circles, almost resembling crosses. I added stripes of translucent colors forming a plaid to accentuate a sense of regimentation, and further enforcing the image of uniformity, which is so contrary to the nature of daylilies and to disciples of Jesus. The circles frame the daylilies dancing (or doing drills in formation), giving an appearance of life. Life is not this uniform and regimented. Life is variegated and tends to be messy. I placed these in a Gothic church window frame.

The end result is a bright, beautiful window to communicate some dark truth. It is said that the most segregated hours of the week are Sunday morning. Churches tend to organize by race, ethnicity, social class, political leanings, even music preference. It only gets worse once the denominational and the so-called non-denominational teaching starts. Which “movement” are you in? Evangelical, Mainline, Reformed, Emergent, Post-Christian, Charismatic, etc., ad nauseum. So each group enforces their niche as being either the place where the Spirit is moving now, or the One True Church, and the flowers start to spin and get to looking more and more alike. Some open up and enjoy this. Some close up and just conform the best they can.

There’s activity. There’s God-talk. There are plenty of happy like-minded people to reinforce the truth one’s itching ears want to hear. There is beauty. What could be wrong? Religion has been reduced to a consumer product. Only adherents are quite a bit more zealous than drinkers of Coke or Pepsi, and have a lot more at stake. Both Jesus and Paul demonstrated and taught diversity of gifts and ministries. It is seen all through nature. Our churches have squelched this in favor of neat, corporate, top down structures to keep people in line, not cause trouble, and don’t interfere with the revenue stream.This is not how the church turned the world upside down in the first century.

Help us turn the world upside down. We are not interested in playing church, but if you want to DO church with the unique talents which you have, we can have such fun! We are talking liberation, revolution, equality, the universal brotherhood of humanity; the high places made low, and the valleys exalted! The stained glass window for that is truly wild and beautiful! I will make that one of my summer projects.

This will be available as a 30″ tall window. Pricing and additional specs upon request.



Another 28 Hours

The statistic is that every 28 hours a young black man is killed by police in this country. This has been going on for years. Now thanks to Twitter bringing Michael Brown’s execution in Ferguson to national attention, we have been hearing and seeing the others in rapid succession. But know this, this is not anything new! This has been going on for decades, perhaps for centuries. This is why black people give you a funny look whenever a white person says something stupid like: “Racism is over.” or “We don’t need the Voting Rights Act any more.” or “Aren’t you glad for the work of MLK and you don’t have to worry about discrimination anymore?” etc.

martinWell, it’s Christmas Eve. I should be posting a fine Christmas story of hope and joy. I’m sorry. I’m sitting here with tears down my cheeks, feeling like a foreigner in my native country. When does this stop? Christmas Eve’s victim is Antonio Martin of Berkeley, MO.

Antonio Martin has been shot and killed in Berkeley, MO, a black teen by a white cop, who had a body cam, but wasn’t wearing it. He left it in the car. He had a cruiser cam, but turned it off. They claim this video shows him raising a gun. I defy you to pick out a gun from this video. The cops maced the woman taking the video, so it seems they didn’t want it documented. They felt a need to hide what they were doing. There are cameras on the store, closer to the incident. The police aren’t releasing those. It took 30 minutes for Antonio to bleed out and die. In that time, lots of police came to the scene, but not one ambulance! He could have been saved. The police would not even let his mother comfort him, but forced him to die alone.

White privilege says, if only they would behave themselves, they wouldn’t get themselves killed. The cops were called because a couple of black kids robbed the station. Is robbing a station a capital offense? Do we know these were the kids who did it? Where is due process? Where is the jury of one’s peers? Where is the judge? Is it up to the cop to just show up and start shooting black kids, and that satisfies justice? I notice there is no mention of stolen money recovered.

One every 28 hours. It can happen with no provocation. It can happen  when one just opens the door. It can happen in the middle of the night in a home invasion. What effect do you think that has had on black men growing up in the US? Could this be why I hear so many white men complain about their “attitude”? Think about this. What if you were in a situation where you needed help from a policeman, but you were afraid if you approached him, he was more likely to frisk and arrest you than to help you? What if you grew up in a neighborhood where half of the men were convicted of a felony, had done or were doing hard time in prison and had permanently lost their right to vote by the time they were 30?

It’s time to wake up.

Here’s the video the police did not want to show you, where the truth is revealed, which was also testified to by multiple witnesses. He had a cell phone in his hand, not a gun. Also, he was at the station with his girlfriend. Who holds up a station with a guy partner with his girlfriend along?

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O, me of little faith!

On Wednesday, I published a blog article in which I stated that this was going to be the first time in 16 years that we would not be able to give out dollar coins in honor of St. Nicholas for St. Nicholas’ Day. A family who read that, took it to heart and did what they could to address the situation. Thursday afternoon, $100 in rolls of dollar coins were dropped by our kitchen while I was preparing soup. I was a little nervous with just $100. The last couple of years we have distributed far more than that. I figured, we would just have to see how it goes and if it meant not giving each person $3, well we would have to adjust.

Brian, Tony and I arrived in the TKJ-mobile and unloaded the iced tea, 4 dozen hard boiled eggs, 71 PB&J sandwiches from a LaSalle High School Hockey alum, 6 loaves of ham sandwiches from Serge & Alex, 22 quarts of turkey, rice, cabbage, etc. stew from me, and bread pumpkin pudding from Miss April (All the servers raved over the smell as soon as I opened the lid. They were hoping for leftovers, but no such luck) and added them to the line on the park benches. Presvy. Joanna and Russ and Sophie were already there with peanuts, oranges, bananas, goodies and a table for the iced tea. As we got ourselves organized, Sean and Zakiyya McKelven arrived with a crew  with their ministry from Philadelphia Community Church with packs of toiletries and socks & underwear. They set up at the end of our line. McGraws arrived with more sandwiches and spaghetti. We were set to start!

I asked Sean to say the blessing. He did and we were off! It was the first week of the month and the folks who were serving at the Love Park were giving away some nice stuff, so we had a much smaller crowd than usual. I waited until everyone had gone through the line once and we had put out the clothes and blankets. I then  quietly worked my way around through the remaining people and gave each person three $1 coins telling them it was in honor of St. Nicholas’ name day on Dec. 6. It was mainly our core group who stuck around, along with with a couple of alumni, old timers who showed up for the occasion. A couple of the people even got doubles. I had $5 in dollar coins in my pocket in my personal change so that covered the last two requests, with the 100th dollar from the rolls. God provided.stnick

After I had given all the coins away and gotten all the clothes and blankets out, I saw Grigory, the Russian man. He came up to me very concerned. We have been praying for his son who is in the Russian Army, fighting in the Ukraine. He tries to call him every day. He told me he hasn’t gotten any word from him in four weeks! He fears that he is dead. He told me that Putin has reneged on paying for service members’ burials. Grigory is just beside himself. Grigory is feeling blessed to be homeless in the US rather than being betrayed in Russia. It’s just hard to know where to go with that, but I can relate on quite a personal level just now.

Mark showed up with bananas about the time Gloria asked for a blessing. She embraced me weeping. I blessed her. She  said, “My name is Gloria, rev! Now I need a real blessing. I’m in need!” So she hugged me tighter, and I hugged her and I dug deeper and I prayed and I sought a proper blessing for a drug addicted, high, street walker, who wanted to turn a new page in her life. When we were done, we were both crying. She was a bit confused, but she was thankful and happy. I told her that the only way to hold onto her blessing was to continue to make right choices, even if they are the harder ones to make. Matthew 6:33 “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you as well.”  A minute or two later she was asking for tokens to get home. I told her that I didn’t have any, and I didn’t have any money to buy any because I had already given it all away earlier. She asked if I knew if anyone else who had any. I said everyone in the gathering had a few dollar coins, because I had just given them to them. Well, the first person she happened to ask was Mark, who was very willing to help, but he also recognized her condition. She wasn’t making consistent sense. Mark was going to be leaving from there to go to the airport to pick up his wife, so he offered to drive her home; a much better solution.

The team had finished packing up the TKJ-mobile, etc. We headed for home, dropping off Tony & Greg at their place on the way. Brian & I got back to my place on fumes. Then Brian continued home in his car. Another successful outing. Our mortgage still isn’t paid. I still cry 24/7 for the unjust killings in the streets, but for a few hours on a Thursday night, there was no race, no gender, no us and them, no rich and poor, no suburb and city, no saved and lost, no religions, no non-religions, just people muddling through together with love and a little respect and brutal honesty. I believe that is approaching what is meant by “in Jesus’ Name.”