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.



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!



Fred’s Gone

Cranford & Fred at the Love Park
Cranford & Fred at the Love Park in 2010

It is so difficult for me to speak of Fred Benjamin in the past tense. I was speaking to him last Wednesday. His presence was always a little more than one could contain. One never knew quite what to expect, except that he would be high energy, assertive, and want to be involved.

Fred lived on the streets for over twenty years. On three occasions in 2010, he helped lead teams of volunteers on tours of the center city homeless experience for The King’s Jubilee, which included the refrigerator box he had lived in for many months. He had a desire to give back and to volunteer. He made friends with the Haverford College women, some of whom wrote to him from Sweden and Germany when they were on semesters abroad. He gave Esther McGraw her street name of “Trooper”, because of all nine of the McGraw children, she came down the most faithfully in all kinds of weather and truly enjoyed serving. She started as a tiny girl. Now she is in her twenties and is helping coordinate Thursday night meals for Twelve Baskets Full.

Fred had a temper and could be ornery, but he was loyal and with his charm and smile, one could not stay angry at him for very long if he got out of hand. He kept fights away from volunteers more than once or twice.

It was about 6 years ago that Fred moved off the street into an apartment. We helped him find furniture and a VCR and computers, etc. He still came out to help serve, and we’d give him rides home, many times. About a year ago, we didn’t see him so much. He said it was because he was taking care of his mom. I’ve met his mom. She seems fine. I have since learned that’s when his health took a turn for the worse. He says it was diabetes, but it was some kind of aggressive kind of wasting disease. He lost 120 pounds in 2 months according to his mom, after he had come down to 240. So in the end his blood sugar spiked and his blood pressure spiked and there was not enough of Fred left to fight it. He passed away at 7:08 am, July 18, 2015, in his apartment, with his cat, L.B. His mom had the police and fire break down the door to find him shortly thereafter.

Fred Benjamin had no insurance and his family has little money, so they are relying on the mercy of Fred’s friends to defray the cost of Fred’s funeral. They chose a modest service. The whole cost is $5500. Between Twelve Baskets Full and TKJ, we have at least $500 collected so far. This harks back to one of the 1st century ministries of Christians and is a powerful statement of love and mercy to the community. You may use the Paypal button to join in.

The viewing and funeral for Fred will be Wednesday, July 29, at:
Jason Lloyd Funeral Home
2125 N. 22nd St
Philadelphia, PA 19121
Viewing & Visitation: 9 am – 11 am
Funeral: 11 am




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!

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

Watch This Space!

Make sure to follow us on Facebook or keep checking back on this blog. Some little and some really big changes are going to be happening over the next year at The King’s Jubilee. My Russian teacher in high school once told me that I had a mind like an iron vice, after the light went on after he explained prepositions to me for the 6th time and I finally had them mastered. Three years later I figured out he was giving me what was known as a “left-handed compliment.” In other words, I can be slow on the uptake sometimes, but once I’ve got it, I’ve got it.

As I implied in a previous post, it is time for me to stop getting in my own way and let some fresh leadership step up to take TKJ forward. I’ll be happy to keep cooking soup and serving hot sauce and riding shot gun to the city and talking to the people on the street for as long as I am able. I just am not going to be responsible for coordinating, fundraising, supervising (like I supervise!), etc.

There will be a new face or faces of The King’s Jubilee. This has been too long in coming. I am sorry. It has been due to my own lack of faith and my trust issues due to CPTSD from clergy abuse that has made this so hard for me to do. In the next couple of days, the new president of TKJ will introduce herself on this blog. We hope to accomplish more to eliminate homelessness in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties.  We will continue to advocate for the visible and invisible poor and oppressed in our society. We will continue to do direct acts of charity to see the face of ourselves, or perhaps even of Jesus Himself, in those among whom we serve.

Our mission has just begun. Please pray for us as we make our way forward. To better times and expanded services! Thank you for your support. We can only do this as you give. We receive no government or corporate support. May God bless you as you give and as you pray and remember the poor.



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.



Writer’s Block / Depression

It’s been over a month since our 25th anniversary banquet. I have been trying to write a post about that and have made several attempts. I get to the fifth line and get stuck. It was a great evening. Rev. Bec Cranford-Smith did a great job delivering the keynote message. I know I forgot several things, which is probably a good thing, since I droned on long enough. We forgot to put out the leftover boxes for people to take extras home with them. There were plenty! I was disappointed by those who could not make it, but that did not detract at all from the joy of the company of those who did. For me personally, it was great to finally meet, in person, Bec Cranford- Smith. We had different stories of how we found each other on the web. It was obviously meant to be. We have been encouragement to each other in ministry. We have more than a name in common. We share the same zeal to serve the poor and disenfranchised; to go outside the camp to meet Jesus.

banquet1 banquet2 banquet3 banquet4 banquet5 banquet6 banquet8 banquet9 banquet10 banquet11 banquet12 banquet13 banquet15 banquet16 banquet17 banquet18 banquet19 banquet20 banquet21 banquet22 banquet23 banquet24 banquet25 banquet26 banquet27 banquet28 banquet29 banquet30 banquet31 banquet32 banquet33 banquet34 banquet35 banquet 7The last post on this blog was a nearly impossible quiz taken from the last 25 years of The King’s Jubilee. Some of the questions are light-hearted; others, not so much. I was the only one there who knew the answers to all of them. That fact is unsettling to me. Through the years, I have been on a quest, looking for the Church that Jesus established, that had authority and understood accountability. Through the years, churches kept ordaining me. I never asked for it. Let’s be real. The Episcopalian bishop ordained me to the priesthood at my infant baptism! I was ordained in absentia by proxy in a Pentecostal Holiness church I had never attended! So as I was making this journey, volunteers, friends and supporters would fall away and new ones would take their places in each different denomination. To further hinder things on the friendship and support side, I have spent most of my time and energy with inmates, ex-offenders, poor, and homeless people. So many times when I see a familiar face, I’m not sure if I met them in one of the many churches I have been to, or in one of the many prisons I have served in. If I’m looking puzzled at you, please help me out. I’ve had six or more strokes, so there are gaps in the memory. So, back on track. It is unsettling to me, because so many Christians are willing to drop you like a dead fish, if you are no longer in their denomination or parish or jurisdiction. It doesn’t matter that I have kept doing the same thing in the same way for over 25 years. It doesn’t seem to matter that we could do so much more for the poor and homeless if we had more people involved and supporting. What matters is, I left their church. They will sooner do nothing or give to secular agencies or people they don’t know at all. They will sooner give to agencies that spend a lot of money on literature and marketing and administration and overhead, because it looks like something substantial. Jesus didn’t look like anything substantial. He had “nowhere to lay his head.”

I thought I had found the church founded by Jesus Christ in the Orthodox Church. It was great under the former metropolitan and the former priest in our parish. It seemed like there was accountability and obedience and give and take in the assemblies. Then Fr. Noah came and the first thing he said to me is to put me down, even before he knew me. He felt it was his duty to humiliate parishioners. But Paul told Timothy to build up not to tear down. Then came the intentional, hurtful lies, where he lied about what Fr. Boniface supposedly said something hurtful about me to him. Fr. Boniface is my best friend in the world and he would never do that. I knew that, so this was very hurtful, in that I knew that this was cold and calculating from Fr. Noah. Then came the irrational outbursts in church over stupid little stuff. I went to the bishop. Fr. Boniface was supposed to oversee a reconciliation. It amounted to I was the one who had to suck it up. Meanwhile Fr. Noah continued to lie, continued to torment, never confessed or admitted that lying was even wrong. He said, “I can’t believe you would be upset over such a little lie.” I replied, “What upset me was just that, that you went to so much trouble to go out of your way to lie about such a little thing!” In Myron’s funeral message, he boasted that he lied to Myron to get him to the hospital when he was having a stroke. Now, instead of one of all the experiences that he could have shared that would have highlighted Myron’s good works, he chose to share this in front of our grandchildren! They came away confused. The priest just said it is OK to lie. We are Orthodox! We do not have a Jesuit ethic! If you are a true pastor, you have enough spiritual authority with your people you have no need to lie!

So Bethann wrote to Fr. Noah & Bishop Thomas. No response, except Fr. Noah quit speaking to or meeting eyes with Bethann. I emailed and called Bishop Thomas.  He did not call or email back. Instead I received a call from an archdeacon and we played phone tag for a week. Then he stopped calling back. The only thing he has said to me is, “This is not a good time to talk. Can you call me back tomorrow?” I let it sit for weeks, then I called him back again, since he never called me back. This is how the bishop handles us! I get ahold of him. He thinks he talked to me already. Nope.  He asked me what was it about, so I told him. He said he would have to check his notes when he got home, but he thought he had talked with me. I said the only thing he had said was, “This isn’t a good time. Can you call back tomorrow?” He never called back. I called Bishop Thomas and told him how his archdeacon apparently cared about as much about me and him as he cared about me. He said he wasn’t his archdeacon. I asked him one simple question: “Did you tell Fr. Noah he was not to speak to me?”

Bishop Thomas was speaking while I was asking the question, then hung up on me. This is what passes for oversight and pastoral care in the Orthodox Church.

Once again, I and my family are expendable. We don’t deserve respect or answers or to be treated civilly. We get abused and thrown under the bus. But I am not supposed to publish this. I am supposed to sit quietly by. Even though I have been told by a couple of archpriests to speak up and expose the bullies. Everything about the anti-bully  and anti-sociopath movement says to speak up and expose them. Prophet Nathan said publicly to King David, “Thou art the man!” When I came to Orthodoxy, I felt confident that I was not joining an independent Baptist church with a egomaniac, tin horn dictator for a pastor who is accountable to no one. Effectively, that is what I have found. Like anywhere in America these days, you get what you pay for in US Dollars.

What a sham! What a shame!

We were the largest family at St. Philip’s, involved in everything, at every service. Happy to be there! Arrived early, left late, because we wanted to be there. Then Fr. Put-Down came with his legalism and guilt trips and his lies and his duties and burdens and demands for honor and his manipulation. No grace. Not an inkling of understanding of the Gospel of Grace. Always speaking, never listening. Fits of rage. None of us is happy to be there any more. I can’t be near Noah without risking another stroke, literally.

We love the people. The people are gifted, kind and generous. This is what I said in the last post where I wrote about this, as well. They are being mislead.

People will give me grief about this posting. Again, I will ask you: have I stopped serving the homeless? Have I lessened the quality of the food we give away? Ask the men and women we serve! Our food is nutritionally superior to anything else they are served during the week. I wish that were not the case. Ask Brownie about how we stood by him and his friends when they were on the street, when they were in prison, when they moved off the street, when they suffered loss. We serve for you in Jesus’ Name. That is, if you support us.

If you don’t want us to continue. If you want me to shrink away and die, because of some lying priest and cowardly bishop, well so be it! I have Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from this mistreatment from clergy here and prior. I have kidney disease and damaged spine (with continual pain) from complications from an infection picked up from the street. This, with the stress of the attacks from Noah and Mayor Nutter (with no moral support from the church) set off complex migraines, which caused several strokes, which have left me with photophobia, occasional word salad, and a continual risk of more strokes and further damage. This all caused my business to fail. So we have no regular income. Of what we do get, almost all goes to the homeless. I’m still waiting for my hearing for SSDI. Bethann graduated top of her class from business school for medical administration and is looking for work.

Sorry this isn’t your sunshiny, hopeful, give $10 a month and you can save the world kind of post. I had to get this out of me before I could go on. People are hurting. Racism is real. There are many people who have no bootstraps by which to pull themselves up. Genocide in Gaza is real. It is brutal. It is paid for by US tax dollars. My eyes cry involuntarily 24/7. My therapist and I have talked about this. I told her I would like it to stop. We talked on a few occasions about this. She finally said to me that my crying was not irrational like most of her clients. I cry for the homeless, for genocide in Gaza, for the millions killed by US corporations polluting overseas, for the black men who police kill every 28 hours in this country, for the homeless, for the LGBT youth whose parents evict them, for the addicts who can’t get treatment, for the children forced into sex-slavery or soldiery, for the poor soldiers on all sides who are fighting for the interests of rich men, for battered women, for veterans’ wives and families trying to cope, for the lost boys of the Sudan, for Myanmar, for Iraq & Syria. Oh, to live in a world without news!

I care. I cry. I guess my tears are my unworthy form of intercession. I am not giving up! Our house is three months behind on mortgage again. I had to find a credit card we had paid off to pay to get the phones and internet back on yesterday. This Thursday will be the first time in 16 years that we will not give away dollar coins in honor of St. Nicholas on the first week of December, but we will be there with a hearty meal, God willing, to serve between 150 to 200 people, with panache!

If you want to be part of this, use the donate button or mail a check or give a call or email and see how you can get involved. If you don’t, I will move on and find a new set of friends.