The beautiful Pascha card to the left was made by Leila Chocheli, mother of Niko Chocheli. When Niko gave me a laminated copy of it, he told me that his mother taught him an important lesson as a child. She would often say, “What you keep is lost. Only what you give away is yours.” He said he did not understand this until well into adulthood, but now it makes perfect sense.
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.
February was a blur. First, I was sick with the flu and bronchitis so bad that I could hardly do anything for two weeks. Bethann got it, too, not as severely, but with the bronchitis. On the 17th, we were both going to make it to church for the first time in three weeks. She sat up on the edge of the bed and told me she thinks she is having a heart attack. I got her some aspirin and water. We got dressed and I rushed her to the ER. It turns out it was very bad atrial fibrillation. She was in the hospital until Friday. They installed a pacemaker on Thursday. We did make it to church on the 24th.
On Thursday, February 28, we made soup and I got supplies and went to Giant to get the iced tea. In fact, that is why I was a little late getting to the city. I was a little disoriented, not focused on the fact that it was Thursday, for the entire day. I know that sounds funny and it is, but our life has been that disrupted by various forces and events lately. Serge and Alex and Serge and Alex (that’s not a typo, two different families) dropped off sandwiches. Brian came and we headed down to the city. When we arrived, I realized that it was the last Thursday of the month and the people of Holy Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church made the soup and brought the iced tea and cups, etc. I said to Brian, “I’m an idiot. Leave the soup and iced tea in the car. Just grab the sandwiches. I forgot which week it was.” I let Fr. Chris know what I had done and told him that if he ran out of soup, we had plenty more!
They served the line. Everyone got plenty. A little bit after we got there, Linda Notskas arrived with blankets and quilts and a few coats from St. John Chrysostom Albanian Orthodox Church. We helped her give those out. She had a car full, but she felt heart broken that she didn’t have more. She is such a sweetheart. God bless her.
Well, the crowd cleared. We packed up. We said our goodbyes to the folks from Holy Annunciation. They shared their well wishes and hugs for Bethann. We were just about to get into the TKJ-mobile, when Alex came over. (the 3rd Alex of the evening) I was so glad to see him. I had his cellphone, which he had arranged to have mailed to our house. I asked him if he wanted soup. He was surprised we had any left, so I told him the sorry tale of my forgetfulness. One thing led to another. We had several more stragglers. It turns out there had been a lecture at the Free Library about the persistence of poverty in America that a number of the guys attended. They missed our normal serving line. We ended up giving away well more than half of the soup and all of the iced tea. The guys were very appreciative. They had made a difficult choice to go to this lecture and discussion, but had chosen long term edification and hope for progress over a hot meal. God used my absentmindedness to be the ram in the bush to provide for them and bless them for their wisdom.
“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.”
- 1 Corinthians 1:27
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.
“With no matter what human being, taken individually, I always find reasons for concluding that sorrow and misfortune do not suit him; either because he seems too mediocre for anything so great, or, on the contrary, too precious to be destroyed.”
- Simone Weil
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By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State
Please pray for me and for all of us as we sit down with the City of Philadelphia to negotiate a way to end homelessness in the City of Philadelphia. The first time we tried to meet, Sen. Arlen Specter’s funeral happened. The second time we were to meet, Superstorm Sandy happened.
We are scheduled to meet on Dec. 3.
Please pray for lack of hindrance, clear minds and clear communication. Thank you.
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
“Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
- Proverbs 31:8-9
Father, thank you for your revelation about death and illness and sorrow.
Thank you for speaking so plainly to us, for calling us all friends and hovering over us; for extending your arms out to us.
We cannot stand on our own; we fall into death without you. We fall from faith, left to our own. We are really friendless without you.
Your extended arms fill us with joy, expressing love, love caring and carrying, asking and receiving our trust.
You have our trust, Father, and our faith, with our bodies, and all that we are and possess.
We fear nothing when with you, safe to stretch out and help others, those troubled in faith, those troubled in body.
Father, help us to do with our bodies what we proclaim, that our faith be known to you and to others, and be effective in all the world.
- a prayer from Masai, Tanzania, An African Prayer Book by Desmond Tutu