Category Archives: Social Justice

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“The King’s Jubilee”

We marked our 25th anniversary in February for The King’s Jubilee. I wrote then about many of the ministries we have been involved in through the years. I think we are in need of a review as to the meaning of the name of this ministry, as it reveals its core purpose and direction. In the last couple of years, a few people have not understood this and it has led to conflict.

The first thing one should know is that it is “The King’s” Jubilee. We are not talking about King as in Martin Luther King. We are referring to The King of Kings, Jesus Christ. I have long said, that if I can’t do it in Jesus’ Name, I don’t have time to do it. Now the biblical concept of  doing something in someone’s name does not mean just saying the words. It means to act according to that person’s will. Nevertheless, to be sure to have the freedom to do this, we have never solicited nor will we ever accept government funding; nor do we solicit or accept any corporate or United Way funding that would require secularization of our services. Years ago a volunteer was pressured at his workplace for 100% participation in United Way. He designated $2,000 to The King’s Jubilee. We were told that if we so much as said a prayer of blessing or mentioned Jesus anywhere near anything we bought with the money, it would be a violation of their rules. We would have to keep separate accounts and have a completely secular program to use their money. I told them we could not comply with those ridiculous requirements. They never informed our volunteer of their decision not to forward the money according to his donor choice. I did.

On another note, it is the King’s because it is Christ’s love that compels us to serve. When I am asked by one of those we serve, why I keep coming after I have been mistreated by either some of the people or the police or the mayor, I say, “Jesus loves you. His love compels me to be here.” You see, I can’t always say that I love them. Now, after 25 years, I have grown to know and love some of them, but certainly not all of them. There are new faces each week, and my memory is not that strong, and I am not that holy. It would not be good news that I love them. Who am I? It is Good News that Jesus loves them. Of course, most of them are far better Christians than I am. The rest are better Muslims, or better Hindi, or better atheists, or better Buddhists. It is the King’s because this King lowered himself to become the servant of all. We go in a spirit of joy and a spirit of service. We endeavor to treat people with respect and dignity and kindness, the way we would like to be treated.

cropped-tkjprofile.jpgThis ministry did not just set out to serve homeless people on the streets. It is The King’s Jubilee. A major part of the Law of Moses had to do with the sabbath years and the year of jubilee, or sabbath of sabbaths, every 50 years. This was all about healing and second chances and radical redistribution of wealth. Every seventh year, all the slaves were to be freed for the year in order for them to be given a chance to earn enough to buy back their freedom. The land was given a rest to let it restore itself, as well. Every 50 years, all debts were cancelled; slaves were set free; the land was returned to its original owners or their heirs. This was not an optional or “freewill” plan. It was to be part of the government. If a man did not comply, he was to lose his inheritance completely and no longer be a citizen of Israel. However the Israelites never really kept these years. They were very important to God, however. So important, in fact, that God caused the nation to go into captivity for every one of these years they failed to keep.

You see, the Law of Moses was to be a model government for the nations of a direction toward mercy, toward economic equality, toward elimination of slavery. The year of jubilee was a type of the coming of the Lord. There are jubilary psalms that start with “Shout for joy” or “Lift a shout!” The jubilee year started with the sounding of the horn and a mighty shout from all the people. We hear this again in the culmination of the age in the Revelation to St. John in the sounding of the trumpets. It is a signal that God is finally making all things right. Justice is being meted out. Well, Jesus is the King. In his first public message, he referenced Isaiah 61 which is about “the acceptable year of the Lord.” It is a “jubilee song” speaking of the final jubilee to which all the 50 year jubilees pointed. He said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” He proclaimed Himself and his church to be that Jubilee. This is further confirmed by St. James’ understanding of the economic implications of the gospel. The Epistle of James was the first book to be written of the New Testament. It is mostly about the evils of economic inequality. “Go to ye rich, weep and howl …” “Where do wars come from? …” “judges with evil minds”, etc.  I have already posted James 5:1-8 without comment on Facebook and had two priests accuse me of being a communist for it. I told them their argument obviously is with St. James, not me, since I had not commented. St. James had the mind of Christ and the natural progression from the jubilary concepts of Moses.

So this ministry is called The King’s Jubilee because we are trying to get resources from where they are to where they need to be. When we started in 1989, Montgomery and Bucks counties were two of the wealthiest counties in the country and home to the per capita wealthiest evangelical denomination in the world, the Mennonites. We were Mennonite at the time. This area was wealthy due to one reason: white flight from Philadelphia. They had sold their farmland for subdivision and made a killing. There was a whole generation that were builders and tradesmen who earned enough off of this development to send their children through college. The next generation came back as professional people. Some of the developers had even larger businesses off of the new population. The grocery stores expanded, etc. At the same time, they cut their support for ministry in the city and closed some of their mission outreach in the areas where they had originally started in Philadelphia.

Hundreds of churches have closed in Philadelphia. Crack wiped out a generation of mothers. Prison took a generation of fathers. Grandmas were left to raise babies. Little store front churches were overwhelmed with the tasks set before them. Meanwhile new churches were being built in the suburbs and people were building bigger McMansions and praising the Lord in comfortable, bigger, air conditioned barns , nicely forgetting the bad old days in Philadelphia. They wanted to help the poor people in their “own” neighborhoods. Problem is, they intentionally moved away from all those poor folks in Phila. and have zoning laws so they don’t have to see them on a regular basis and highways and no mass transit out here, so they can’t reach us. The suburban soup kitchen has to turn volunteers away. The suburban food bank is staffed by paid help, it is so well funded. Meanwhile, the city is starving.

So, we are The King’s Jubilee. We don’t just want to see food move from the suburbs to the city. We want to see money move to the people in need. We want to see people be personally involved in helping to rebuild neighborhoods for the current residents. We want to see land reform. We want to see people given a second chance. We want to see an end to convicts losing their right to vote. The war on drugs has been a race war by Nixon’s own taped admission. When people have paid their debt to society, the slate should be wiped clean. I learned that from my GOP dad around the dinner table. Imagine that! Stakeholders in a society make better citizens. We want to end homelessness. It is possible. Don’t you dare quote me: “The poor you have with you always.” Do you see the word homeless in there anywhere? I didn’t think so. Homelessness is a stupid shame and is a symptom of our greed and hardheartedness. It actually costs us more as a society to keep these people out on the street than if we would just give them some of the excess apartments that are sitting vacant, no strings attached. Four cities and one state have tried it and have found this to be the case, so I am going to say it again, louder. It actually costs us more as a society to keep these people out on the street than if we would just give them some of the excess apartments that are sitting vacant, no strings attached.

So another aspect of The King’s Jubilee’s ministry as was just demonstrated is the prophetic, both to Christians and to the powers that be, to advocate for the poor and disenfranchised. It’s all wrapped up in the idea of sounding the trumpet or lifting the shout of liberation a la Isaiah 61.

I have been at this for more than 25 years. It has been a life lived in poverty. I have basically worked two jobs the whole time. Only for two brief periods did I have the luxury of pastors who understood and appreciated me and were glad to have me in their congregations. Most pastors feel threatened by me. I have been called by some a fool for Christ, by others, just a fool. They do not understand this ministry. They prefer to do “ministry” where they can market the church and proselytize. The first time Metropolitan PHILIP, of blessed memory, met me, he did not let me reverence him. Instead he reverenced me, and pronounced a loud blessing upon me and upon this ministry. I was just a new catechumen at the time. I do not say this to boast. I do not understand these things. I was ordained to the priesthood as an infant by the Episcopalian bishop who baptized me. No one knows why. I was ordained four other times, none of which I asked for, once in a joint Mennonite Church/ General Conference Mennonite service with a Catholic priest, a Lutheran minister and a Pentecostal bishop joining the MC & GC overseers & pastors in the laying on of hands. We have been investigated on numerous occasions. At least three times during the Rendell years, undercover police tried to run sting operations on us. We have been harassed under three Mayors; threatened with fines and arrest and finally banned. We sued in federal court and won a restraining order to block that. I have been held at gunpoint twice. I have witnessed one shooting and two knifings. What a long strange trip it has been.

What I do know is that serving the poor and homeless is what I am meant to do. Doing it excellently, with care and skill, with attention to nutritional needs, social needs, psychological needs, financial needs, and spiritual needs, brings me joy. There is no better life. Won’t you please join me?

Remember the Poor

“Remember the Poor” is from an ancient, pre-Christian, Irish reel that was used in the mid-summer festival. The church preserved it and perpetuated its use, as it is in keeping with the Gospel and echoes many of the sayings of the early Church Fathers. This rendering was done by Katherine Rose Aho, a dear friend of ours (1962 – 2004). Memory Eternal.

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Remember the Poor

Remember the poor
when you lookout on fields you own,
on your plump cows grazing.

Remember the poor
when you look into your barn,
at the abundance of your harvest.

Remember the poor
when the wind howls and the rain falls,
as you sit warm and dry in your house.

Remember the poor
when you eat fine meat and drink fine ale,
at your fine carved table.

The cows have grass to eat,
the rabbits have burrows for shelter,
the birds have warm nests.

But the poor have no food
except what you feed them,
no shelter except your house
when you welcome them,
no warmth except your glowing fire.

 

One Love

Actually, apart from faith in God, Jesus left nothing of the existing Jewish religious code standing except justice and good-heartedness to one’s fellows (Mt. 7:12; 19:16-19; 22:34-40; 23:23; 54:34-36). All other obligations: sacrifices in the temple (Mk. 12:32-34), prayers at fixed hours (Lk 5:33-34), ritual washings (Mk. 7:3), distinctions between permitted or forbidden foods (Mk. 7:19) and consequently, discrimination between religious (observant) and non-religious people (non-observant), had no value for him. He affirmed that the so-called “sinners” were nearer God than those who were held to be unspotted (Lk. 18:9-14); that is, he declared invalid what was properly speaking religious practice. What God values is that we be good to others (Lk. 10:30-37) and the only thing that stains a person is evil intentions, and harming one’s neighbor (Mk. 7:20-23). Jesus asked much more: it is not enough to not kill, despising is already killing (Mt. 6:21-22). To avoid false oaths is insufficient, one has to be utterly sincere (Mt. 5:33-37). Going beyond loving those who love you, you have to love and do good to those who do not love you (Mt. 5:43-45). What Jesus wants is true and sincere good-heartedness towards everyone revealed in every detail of daily life (Mt. 7:12). Jesus cares for those who seek him. He accepts invitations from the rich as well, but without concealing his message (Lk. 11:37-52; 14:1-14).
- Juan Mateos, Vatican Theologian 1917-2003

Earlier this week I added this to my “about” page on Facebook and posted it as my status, without the scripture references. Almost immediately, I was attacked by an Orthodox priestmonk and seminary professor who took this as an attack on the Liturgy. Now the author was a Vatican theologian, so he was obviously not attacking the liturgy and I pointed this out. This man continued his attacks and what he said was most disturbing to me as it indicated that he valued the Liturgy above Love. What St. Paul taught us in 1 Corinthians 13 is that the Liturgy is worthless without love. What Jesus teaches us in his vision of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25 is that the Liturgy is worthless without compassion for strangers, i.e., love for mankind. “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:8)  A true liturgy should be all about love, and the atmosphere and the message attached to it, everything about it should equip the people to engage in lives of love for each other and for all mankind. It should never be about ethnic preservation or mere personal salvation. Then the medicine for our salvation can turn rancid and become a pickling agent to our souls.

A couple days later, I responded to yet another comment on a friend’s post, from yet another not so former evangelical who was busting on him for giving money to a beggar on the street. Why can’t we put this to rest, people? This is simple. Jesus told us to give to anyone who asks of us. Did He put qualifiers on it? Did He tell us to question their motives or morals? Was He stupid or unwise or unable to know our situation? Are we wiser than Jesus? OK, then. Just stop your stupid-enabling-psycho-babble-double-talk-which-is-just-an-excuse-for-you-to-feel-better-about-not-helping-because-that-is-what-your-greedy-self-wanted-to-do-anyway. Are you one of those hyper-Orthodox and Jesus’ word isn’t good enough for you; you need to hear it from “The Fathers”? OK, here goes:

“For if you wish to show kindness, you must not require an accounting of a person’s life, but merely correct his poverty and fill his need.”

“When you see on earth the man who has encountered the shipwreck of poverty, do not judge him, do not seek an account of his life, but free him from his misfortune.”

“Charity is so called because we give it even to the unworthy.”

“Need alone is the poor man’s worthiness . . .
“We do not provide for the manners, but for the man.”

“We show mercy on him not because of his virtue but because of his misfortune, in order that we ourselves may receive from the Master His great mercy.”

- St. John Chrysostom, Second Sermon on Lazarus and the Rich Man


On Friday, Deacon Herman shared the documentary “Marley” with us, about the life and career of Bob Marley. There were several things that were striking about his life. While the movie did not cover why he converted to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, I can understand why he did from the interviews that were included and how he lived his life. He was a serious almsgiver. Reporters would ask him if he was rich. He would ask them if they were talking about money. Then he would say: “What is that? I have people, lots of people, brothers and sisters! Friends. Love. That is the riches!” He was making millions at the time and he knew how to make a lot of money. He also knew how to give it away.

One of his bandmates said that wherever they would go, people would come up to him and ask him for money. He would ask them what their dream was, what their plan was and listen to it, then give them enough to make it happen. He was always doing this. He started out life poor, halfcaste and in the ghetto. He never forgot those roots. He was nurtured by a Rastafari master, but he got to see Haile Selassie I and he was honest enough to realize that the man did not think of himself as Jesus Christ reincarnate, but was, in fact, Ethiopian Orthodox. Orthodoxy has a rich theology of serving the poor, almsgiving, and the hope for the unity of all mankind. Bob was already more than halfway there. Very little catechesis was needed for such a soul as he, I’m sure. His whole life had been a catechesis of sorts.

What is my point? God is love. He calls us to be godly. That means first and foremost He calls us to love! Jesus said that all of the Commandments were fulfilled by love. Juan Mateus made a case from the Scripture that the Liturgy is worthless without love. St. John Chrysostom makes the case that we are not to judge those to whom we give alms, but merely obey Christ. Finally, we see the example of Bob Marley, who did not just give token, spare change alms, but intentionally earned as much as he could, so he would have more to give away. His paying audience was mainly upper, middle class, white, young people. He redistributed in the poorer neighborhoods. He gave in such a way as to make a difference in a person’s life, so they could make a new start.

So my point is this: One Love. It all flows from One Love as Bob Marley sang. That is God. If the Liturgy is just a way for us to preserve our ethnic heritage or language. If it is just a place to squabble over whose tones are better, or to showcase our excellent chorus, or which calendar is correct, or to interrupt it to scold someone for sitting, then you have missed the point. Love does not judge. Love is not stingy and does not keep a ledger sheet. Then there is the almsgiving example of Bob Marley. If you live a life centered in love, you don’t just give your leftovers or your scraps away. You live intentionally to use your gifts to help as many people as you can to the maximum benefit; or to rescue one exceptionally needy person, however God leads; but with intention, on a path of love. You can do this directly, if you have direct contact with needy people. If you do not, then give your money to agencies such as The King’s Jubilee. We will deliver your alms for you.

“Need alone is the poor man’s worthiness”

Some words from St. John Chrysostom:

“For if you wish to show kindness, you must not require an accounting of a person’s life, but merely correct his poverty and fill his need.

“When you see on earth the man who has encountered the shipwreck of poverty, do not judge him, do not seek an account of his life, but free him from his misfortune.

“Charity is so called because we give it even to the unworthy.

“Need alone is the poor man’s worthiness . . .
“We do not provide for the manners, but for the man.

“We show mercy on him not because of his virtue but because of his misfortune, in order that we ourselves may receive from the Master His great mercy.”

To Help 1,000,000 Pennsylvanians Have Better Health

Most of you are probably unaware, Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare (DPW) just released a new health care proposal with its version of Medicaid Expansion, which also drastically diminishes the current Medicaid benefits. The state’s proposal delays healthcare access for a year to 500,000 newly eligible people and reduces coverage for more than a million people already on Medicaid — seniors, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable individuals and families.

Right now is the public comment period. We are encouraging allies to weigh in online and at hearings across the state (see list below).  Information and talking points are available through the Project HOME website.

TAKE ACTION NOW

Upcoming Hearings: (Note: A Cover the Commonwealth Coalition Press Conference will be at 9:30 before each hearing.)

Friday, January 3, 2014, in Philadelphia, PA
Time: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
National Constitution Center
525 Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Registration Deadline: Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday, January 6, 2014, in Scranton, PA
Time: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Hilton Scranton & Conference Center
100 Adams Avenue
Scranton, PA, 18503
Registration Deadline: Thursday, January 2, 2014

Tuesday, January 7, 2014, in Altoona, PA
Time: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Blair County Convention Center
1 Convention Center Drive
Altoona, PA 16602
Registration Deadline: Thursday, January 2, 2014

Thursday, January 9, 2014, in Harrisburg, PA
Time: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The State Museum of Pennsylvania
300 North Street
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Registration Deadline: Monday, January 6, 2014

You were not born too late.

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“It is no use saying that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ. Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born too late. Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts. But now it is with the voice of our contemporaries that he speaks; with the eyes of store clerks, factory workers, and children that he gazes; with the hands of office workers, slum dwellers, and suburban housewives that he gives. It is with the feet of soldiers and tramps that he walks, and with the heart of anyone in need that he longs for shelter. And giving shelter or food to anyone who asks for it, or needs it, is giving it to Christ. All that the friends of Christ did for him in his lifetime, we can do. Peter’s mother-in-law hastened to cook a meal for him, and if anything in the Gospels can be inferred, it surely is that she gave the very best she had, with no thought of extravagance. Matthew made a feast for him, inviting the whole town, so that the house was in an uproar of enjoyment, and the straitlaced Pharisees – the good people – were scandalized.” – Dorothy Day.

Santa gives more to rich kids than poor kids.

Yesterday I posted an icon with the quote from St. Basil the Great where he wrote, “Property is theft.” It went viral with over 2,000 views in the first 12 hours and 38 shares. A friend wondered if he was speaking to monastics when he wrote this. He may have been. I don’t think it matters. It jives with the principles he enunciates everywhere else in his teachings to non-monastics and with the teachings of the other Fathers, Jesus, the Apostles, the Law and the Prophets. This ministry is called “The King’s Jubilee” based on Jesus’ message in Luke 4 where he proclaimed Himself and the Church to be the fulfilment of Isaiah 60. This is all based on the jubilary proclamation: “The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it!” This proclamation precludes private property. All we have, and, in fact, our very beings, belong to God. God is no respecter of persons, so if another of his children has need of something we happen to have, we have no right to hold on to it. It is theft to hold on to it. St. Basil, St. Ambrose, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. John Chrysostom all said so.

Somehow we don’t hear sermons on this. We hear justifications for holding on to wealth to make sure our children have all of the advantages in life. Are we teaching our children to live by faith and to serve the poor and to live in community with their brothers and sisters or to live like the world with a Christian gloss? This is what St. Basil the Great has to say on the subject:

“But wealth is necessary for rearing children,” someone will say. This is a specious excuse for greed; although you speak as though children were your concern, you betray the inclinations of your own heart. Do not impute guilt to the guiltless! They have their own Master who will care for their needs. They received their being from God, and God will provide what they need to live. Was the commandment found in the Gospel, “If you wish to be perfect, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor,” not written for the married? After seeking the blessing of children from the Lord, and being found worthy to become parents, did you at once add the following, “Give me children, that I might not attain the Kingdom of Heaven?”
- St. Basil, “To the Rich” (On Social Justice, p.54, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press)

We did not play Santa Claus with our daughters. We always told them the true story of St. Nicholas. We felt if we lied to them about Santa Claus and they found out about that, they would wonder what else we may have lied to them about. We also do not like the whole “gimme” covetousness culture that goes along with Santa Claus. We brought ex-offenders into our home who had no other home plan. I was a full-time prison minister and lived by faith of what came in in donations to support us. I once was hitch-hiking home from leading a Bible study in Graterford Prison and a couple picked me up. They apologized for how messy their car was, because they were living in it. Well, two of our daughters doubled up in a bedroom and the couple lived with us for the winter. God provided for us and them. God protected us. Have you met our four daughters? They don’t have high powered jobs or a lot of money, but they are kind and compassionate and use what they have to serve those in need. They are serious about their Christianity. Children learn what they live.

Rich-kids

Last year I saw this billboard around Allentown that said, “Santa Gives More to Rich Kids Than Poor Kids. Stop Lying to Your Children About Santa Claus.” I thought that was an “in your face” way of going about it, but sometimes that is what it takes. The Christmas message is supposed to be the Christian message. The Christian message is not the prosperity gospel of wish fulfilment and Santa Claus gimme. It is that of sharing and equality among all peoples. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” “The rough places made plain.” “The valleys exalted and the mountains brought low.” “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

This is not the time to get angry about people who say “Happy Holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas!” and turn it into some sort of false martyrdom. That doesn’t make us any friends. It’s time to renew our commitment and put Christ back into Christian. Let us serve the poor in His Name. Let us learn to live more simply that others may simply live. Let us live our lives in such a way that all will know that we are His disciples, so they may glorify God with us.

Context can change everything.

Christian folks who want to claim Jesus without actually following him as disciples are fond of quoting Him as saying, “The poor you will have with you always” (Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8). This is a problem with not reading the Scripture in context, and not knowing the Old Testament. Jesus was a first century rabbi who like other teachers of the time would quote from the first part of a biblical passage, knowing his listeners had enough biblical knowledge to know the rest, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land’” (Deuteronomy 15:11).

“Give them something to eat.”

Papal audience, St. Peter's Square, Vatican City, Rome, Italy - 06 Nov 2013“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).”
- Pope Francis