- St. John Chrysostom
Wow! Talk about fire and brimstone preaching!
And people think I’m harsh.
Jesus never said, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for life!” Confucius said something like that. A lot of people who don’t like to give alms quote that. Ironically, a lot of right wingers say it to oppose food assistance programs and other aid programs. I say, ironically, because they are the same people who oppose support for public education. We all know the grain of truth in the saying. The problem is, that it has been turned into a slogan to advocate against direct aid to poor and starving people, including children.
Jesus did say to give to whoever asks of you and to not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing when you give to the poor.
There is a grain of truth in Confucius’ saying. That is that a man will be better off if he has some skills. I don’t think he meant to say withhold the fish until he learns to catch one himself, even if there is no river or lake or pole or line or hook to be had. This reminds me of something a wise African (again, not Jesus) said, “Empty bellies have no ears.” But there is only a small grain of truth in Confucius’ saying. I don’t use it at all. It is not part of my vocabulary, because I find it generally demeaning and paternalistic.
Just because a man is poor does not mean he knows less than me. I know a homeless man who went to Yale and is articulate and sharp. Odds are, he could teach me more than I could teach him. He is of African descent. I am of European descent. I have friends with means who can rescue me when I get into trouble. He does not. He does not have a chip on his shoulder, though. He is cheerful and proud in the best sense of the word. It is a small thing to share some food with him for what I receive in return. I know veterans who have never been able to reenter society fully after combat. They have life skills for coping on the street without harming anyone and actually making it safer for many who are less aware. Do we make them jump through our hoops or do we just respect them for who they are and share God’s bounty for what it is? It is God’s bounty, is it not? “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.” We need to stop arrogantly and greedily thinking that it is our own to hoard and not to share. I am crying now. I will stop.
During Lent, there are a lot of retreats. At The King’s Jubilee, we never retreat. Yes, we go to services and pray and meditate, but we don’t let up in our service to poor and homeless people. Lent is a time for the church to advance in almsgiving. People remember the services. Do they remember to do service? Parishioners remember to fast. do they remember to give alms?
Make a monthly pledge to help end the shame of homelessness in Philadelphia.
When I say shame, I do not mean shame on the homeless. It is a shame on us as a society for being so mean spirited that we would rather have three vacant houses for every homeless person, and we will let them go to waste based on false notions of private property, glorification of greed, and lack of creativity and sense of common humanity.
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
- Isaiah 58:6-12
When I started this ministry, 24 years ago, I had been a Mennonite prison chaplain who was also ordained in the New Jerusalem Pentecostal Holiness Church. The King’s Jubilee actually started in State Correctional Institution at Graterford in the Saturday morning E Block Bible study. E Block was the quarantine unit at the time, where inmates first came into the state system to be sorted out to be shipped to the various institutions where they were to do their time.
Things had gotten funky with the Mennonites. One of the pastors who had founded the prison ministry I supervised threatened to kill me when I would not allow him to bring contraband, inflammatory literature into the Montgomery County Correctional Facility. We went through a conflict mediation process. Everyone there agreed that he was in the wrong, but he would not budge or admit any wrong. In the end, it was a case of if you ain’t Dutch you ain’t much, and I was fired the week before Christmas, even though I had given three months notice so they could have an orderly transition and not damage or lose ministries. They did not care. The ministry in Philadelphia with over 300 volunteers and the only tutoring for women was shut down. Chaplain Sid Barnes at Graterford let me keep the Wednesday Bible Study and the Quarantine Unit ministry, because I had been the most faithful in them. In the case of the latter, I had started it. It was in this Bible study that the vision for this ministry was formulated. It is the vision of Christ’s first message in the synagogue, which was taken from Isaiah 60, “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord!”
Yes, we serve meals to homeless people in center city Philadelphia, but that is not all we do; and that is not all we have done or all we hope to do! Serving the homeless in center city was the task the men in the E Block Bible Study particularly assigned me to do. You see, I told them that no one in this organization I was starting was going to just sit on a board and Monday morning quarterback. Everyone was going to be on the front lines. Furthermore, I wanted them to tell me where I should serve. Within five minutes, 150 convicted felons came to consensus, with no input from me, that they wanted me to serve the homeless in center city Philadelphia. If any of you know this demographic, you should recognize what kind of miracle this was. I took this as my “Macedonian Call”. I started to serve one night a week and have not found a good reason to quit. During Mayor Wilson Goode’s years, we dealt with the rowdy crack heads and the prostitutes. Fast Eddie Rendell had the police harass us all the time. We were investigated by his undercover units at least three times. Each time, I managed to tell them that we would go to jail rather than stop serving, because we needed to obey God rather than men. Mayor Street’s cops tried to tell us that the parks were private property. He was about to aggressively enforce the sidewalk ordinance, when “a routine sweep for bugs” turned up FBI bugs in his office and he had bigger fish to fry. Last year, Mayor Nutter decreed that we could not give away food to poor people in the parks. We had to sue him in federal court to retain our right to do so.
While this was going on, we started a clothing ministry in East Greenville, Clothesline, that continued at Peace Mennonite Church. We also held several music festivals for the poor and homeless in Philadelphia and Pottstown. We served for several years in Pottstown and Stowe, PA. We started a similar ministry at two sites in Columbia, SC, that a local Vineyard church took ownership of. The prison ministry at Graterford continued for several years, until Gov. Tom Ridge stopped all ministry in the prison in a knee jerk reaction to an incident in the mosque there, in 1996. We did Project: Lydia in Northampton County Prison for the women until they did not allow us to include notes or New Testaments. We had a Monday Evening Bible Institute for a couple of years. We started Operation: Clean Start. We have moved countless sets of furniture for people moving into apartments. There have been various other projects.
In 1999, we were chrismated into the Orthodox Church. Our family happened to come into an Antiochian Orthodox Church. The King’s Jubilee remains independently incorporated. I am sorry that I was so zealous, as converts often are, that almost all of our former supporters and volunteers dropped out of the ministry, as they saw this as an “Orthodox ministry.” I don’t know why this is such a problem, because my theology has not changed. When I first interviewed with Fr. Boniface, he kept asking me questions. With every answer, he just said, “You are so Orthodox!” Later, I found out that he was right. I had just read the Scriptures and the Fathers and had been Orthodox in my theology for many years and had just been longing for home. That being said, there is no reason my old friends can not join me. We have had Jews and atheists and Muslims and Methodists and Buddhists and Catholics serve with us and they have been happy as clams. We are not there to proselytize anyone. I still say what I have always said, “We do what we do in Jesus’ Name. If you don’t have a problem with that, I don’t have a problem with you joining us.” “In Jesus’ Name” does not mean that we preach at people. It means that we serve according to His will, with respect, love and dignity.
The occasion of this article is that I had a conversation this week with someone who told me that she wanted her church to support The King’s Jubilee, but wasn’t sure they would, because someone would say, “Well, they are Antiochian. Let the Antiochians do it.” I replied, “That’s stupid!”
We receive no budgeted or regular support from the Antiochian Church. My question to you is: Are you Christian?
This is ridiculous! No wonder the Orthodox Church is going nowhere as far as gospel witness is concerned. People say that it is growing fast in America, but that is only because the other churches are imploding under theological liberalism and gnosticism. There are fewer Mennonites in North America than there are Orthodox, yet they support 1,000 foreign missionaries, while we Orthodox barely support 20. We are going to punish the poor, because I was chrismated in an Antiochian church? Hey folks, I’m not Syrian. I’m not Greek. I’m not Russian. I’m not Serbian. I’m not Armenian. I’m not Ukrainian. I’m not Albanian. I’m not Georgian. I am American. Some of my ancestors have been here since 1628. I am trying to be Christian. I suggest that you try to be, too.
Jesus did not come to preserve ethnicities. He came to “build a new nation.” We have too much that needs to get done to worry about which bishop or which ethnicity or even which denomination or even which religion we belong to. Read Matthew 25. Everyone is surprised at the Judgment!
I’m going forward. I am sick of this Orthodox infighting and the jurisdictional nonsense. If this upsets you, I’m sorry. People are dying homeless on the streets. I think that is more important than whether or not we do things in the Antiochian or Greek or Russian way or not.
Lead. Follow. Or get out of the way.
We serve in Jesus’ Name.
As the day progressed, we colored in with more little colorful heads of Kudzu the spokesmodel dog to represent each donation. Well, donations started Thursday evening and kept coming in all day Friday and into Saturday. I spoke at Kevin Paige’s music students recital, not expecting an offering. They put out a basket during the reception afterward and we received $115 there. So the event took in over $800 worth of donations. I need to say that a couple of the donations were in person in the form of vegetables and meat.
I finished the graphic including my cat Skittles. He may not be as photogenic as Kudzu, but I bet he is every bit as much a dog.
These donations help us keep going. We were down past our last dime. This will keep our cell phones on to keep us coordinated on the street. It will put good, healthy veggies in our meals. It will pay for gas and insurance for the TKJ-mobile so we can keep serving. It will buy cups and spoons and soap and napkins. Thank you. May God bless you all!
When we all do a little, we can do a lot!
Today in history: February 12, 1946: Isaac Woodard Jr., African American World War 2 veteran decorated for courage under fire during service in the Pacific, is beaten by South Carolina police until he’s blind. This is just hours after his honorary discharge from the military. While covered up at first, his case soon became widely known and sparked national outrage, creating an initial spark for the 1950s-60s civil rights and Black freedom movement. While he was still in military uniform on a Greyhound bus from Camp Gordon in Augusta, GA en route to his home, the bus driver cursed Woodard for asking to stop to use the restroom, then pulled the bus over at the next stop and called the police. The Batesburg, SC police beat him, then jailed him and beat him some more to the point of blindness. South Carolina authorities did nothing for 7 months, until Orson Welles, Joe Louis, Count Basie and others started a public outcry.
Woodie Guthrie wrote the song, “The Blinding of Isaac Woodard.”
Finally the pressure grew until Federal indictments were issued against the police who beat him, but they were found not guilty by an all-white jury that deliberated for only 30 minutes. Forced to do something, President Truman then signed Executive Order 9981 on July 28, 1948, abolishing racial segregation in the military.
You may ask why I post this on a site about ministry to the homeless. Most of those whom we serve are African American. These events are within the living memory of many of them and within the conscious memory of all of them, having heard the stories from their elders. We need to honor those who have paid the price and understand that integration and civil rights and access to higher education didn’t come about because enlightened, white liberals generously gave them to them. They were paid for with blood.
My 2004 Scion xB has been referred to as a clown car on more than one occasion, and for more than one reason. It is rather colorfully decorated with decals. For those of you who are not tech savvy, those checkered patterned splats on the four fenders and on the tailgate are called QR codes. They allow passengers (or drivers) in other cars to simply point their smart phones at the code and click and it takes them to this website. I added these to the TKJ-mobile after I observed someone typing the website into their smartphone as they were trying to match my speed, while reading the side of my car, going down Route 309. This is much safer.
The first time Fr. John Oliver rode in it, he called it the Tardis, because it is so much bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside. On more than one occasion, five adult men have travelled, more or less comfortably in it, along with a considerable amount of gear. Sometimes when we arrive to serve, I get out of the car. People keep getting out of the car. Then we unload the gear, and I get the clown car crack. Hey, it’s paid for and it has lasted eight and half years so far.
The decals have attracted some interest. We have had conversations with people in neighboring lanes, who say they want to donate or get involved as we are driving up North Broad St. in Phila. This week we received seven large bags of winter coats that the folks at Selas Fluid Processing Corp. gathered. An employee apparently saw the TKJ-mobile and shot the QR code. One thing led to another. Thanks! May God bless you. Now, thanks, in part, to the clown car, a whole bunch of men, women and children will be warmer this winter.
The week before Christmas, I pulled into a parking space at the bank. My cellphone was ringing. I had a conversation with an icon customer. While I was still on the phone, a woman stood outside of my window, waiting to talk to me. I ended my phone call and rolled down my window and asked if I could help her. She said, “Do you take in homeless children?” I said, “No. Why? What is the story? Maybe we can find someone to help.” She told me she was about to kick her 26 year old son out of the house. I told her that he wasn’t a child. We began to discuss alternatives. She felt this was God’s appointment. Since then, we have been working with this troubled young man, who is struggling with a heroin addiction, and his family. It has been intense at times. He has helped us serve on the street the last three weeks and made the beans and rice last week. The guys really liked it. He is a skilled chef. Please pray for Jonathan and Jacqueline and Bob. They have a long and rough road ahead of them. We see this part of the ministry as homelessness prevention.
The TKJ-mobile is used as sort of a community car. Various people have used it when they do not have a car or theirs is in the shop, or it is the appropriate vehicle for the task. It has been to Canada without me to help some poor, Vietnamese neighbors bless a baby. It has been to numerous court dates and to the county assistance office, with or without me. It has met countless buses and trains and a few planes. Yes, it’s funny looking. I put Mercedes stars on it, because the people we carry are worthy of high class treatment. Thank you all for helping me keeping it on the road with gas in the tank.
Oh, I forgot to mention the “Ah-OO-gah” horn that heralds our arrival at 1801 Vine at 8 pm each Thursday night where we serve between 150 and 200 tasty, nutritious, hot meals to homeless folks in Jesus’ Name.
It was two days after Christmas, a Thursday night, the last Thursday of the month, Holy Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church of Elkin’s Park’s night to cook the meal. They outdid themselves with loads of food for the guys to eat then, and more to take with them for the next day. It has been our practice to give away homemade Christmas cookies at Christmas time as a touch of home. I had put out the word for people to bake extra cookies for us to give away.
Man! Did you come through!
We had hundreds and hundreds of home baked cookies and a couple of pies for good measure! We just told everyone to take as many as they wanted. Just when I thought I could see the bottom of the bag, Jerry and Nick Burke showed up with more cookies! The people were amazed. And let me tell you, they could taste the love! I saw more than one street hardened, old cuss tear up for joy at such a demonstration of love and care.
Thank you all! May God bless you for helping spread the joy of Christ’s birth as a homeless wanderer among those for whom home is a distant memory and a dim hope.
I posted this graphic on Facebook and before I was done adding the text to the description, it had been shared three times. Within 12 hours, it was shared 32 times that I know of. People apparently can relate to the sentiment. It certainly is a call to give alms, but it is more than that. One can throw money at a beggar’s cup or hat and barely give him a glance. That is hardly “finding Christ.” Consider the care and reverence we are instructed to give in preparation to approach the chalice. Was St. John so audacious as to suggest that we need to take similar care and preparation to approach the beggars among us? My recent experience leads me to answer most emphatically YES!
The text I added while the first three shares were happening is this quote from an older newsletter:
I try to tell each of our volunteers to pray this prayer: ”Dear Lord, please let me see what it is that you love about this person.” God loves everyone I meet, because there is something uniquely lovable about them. Each person, no matter how difficult or twisted, in a special and unrepeatable way bears and reflects the image of God. Ask the Lord to let you get a peek at what that is. When God answers this prayer it breaks your heart and fills it with grace and mercy.
You can prepare and still not be prepared. Life is just that messy and just that glorious sometimes.
I have been working with poor people, mentally ill people, violent criminals, homeless people, people dying of AIDS, transvestites and homosexuals who wanted to change, drug addicts, etc., for nearly thirty years. I have been poisoned to no effect. I have had guns pulled on me. I have been rescued by angels. I’m generally still too naive to be afraid of most situations. Last Thursday night, when I tried to give the coins away in honor of St. Nicholas, it didn’t go so well.
The other year, we just gave them out at the end of the serving line. I decided to try that. As soon as I did, I was mobbed by people getting out of line just to crowd around to get the coins. Undaunted, I moved away from the line and was still mobbed. So I stood on the short retaining wall and asked them to line up. Some of them complied. Several, who claimed to be helping me, were not complying, but standing next to me and shouting at the others. There still were too many bunched in front of me. I told a bit of the story of St. Nicholas’ redemption of the three daughters of the widower and proceeded to hand out coins. Guys were not moving on, but trying to get multiples. I was trying to unwrap the next roll and I dropped the bag. Two guys grabbed over $300 in coins and took off. One of the men who took coins was the one who was pretending to be the most helpful. Well, I gathered up what was left and locked them in my car. It was not a proud moment for me. I never like to take the institutional response: ‘everyone gets punished because some of you can’t behave.’ A bunch of the guys stood looking at me, waiting for coins. I said, “That was it. No more.”
The men who mobbed me and those who stole did not do what they did to disrespect me. They did it out of desperation, opportunity, and lack of faith. Two young men stole. Two dozen older men apologized in shame for their actions.
But I came with $600 to give away. I had not given it all away. I was not going to leave without giving it away. I let the crowd disperse (which is what I should have done in the first place), then I handed out three dollars to each man in line in front of my car. I know some guys got more. One man just stood there staring at me and would not move. If anyone dropped a coin, he picked it up so fast. I have to tell you, though, in the end, when it was all said and done, I had fun. I had joy. I had peace. No punches were thrown. I think I may have even found Christ in that mob. He wasn’t civilized, though.