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).
“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
This is another in our “Lily Gilding” series. It is a photograph that I filtered with some effects, of a daylily next to our driveway. Daylilies are amazing and demonstrate God’s care for us. Each blossom is here for only one day and is gone. In this photo, we see two of today’s blooms, three of yesterday’s blooms, two of tomorrow’s blooms (on the right, showing a bit of color), several blooms for later in the week, and a couple of empty stems from earlier in the week.
“Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these!”
This is for sale in limited edition 10″ x 8″ frameable prints for donations of $50 plus postage. The edition is limited to 50 prints. Each print will be numbered and signed.
The artwork will be made available at a later date on selected merchandise from our Zazzle store.
Last week, I posted the above image as our header on our Facebook page and it took off like wildfire. It has been shared over 40 times and viewed over 4,000 times according to Facebook stats. The number is probably much higher. Our link to donate is connected to it, both in print and as a live link. Several people have expressed their admiration for St. Maria in comments. No one has given alms to the poor through The King’s Jubilee in response. This has led me to do some more thinking about Orthodox veneration of saints. We really do like our saints, but we like them dead.
i dare say that most of the people who shared and commented on the image would probably also favor the zoning that would prohibit her from running her house of charity next door to them. She certainly exceeded most health departments’ legal occupancy limits. She lived in the cellar to make room for more. That was not an approved living space! What would that do to property values? She was a demanding woman, as well. She placed higher demands on her disciples than Jesus placed on his. Jesus only asked that if you had two coats, you should give up one. She said that you should give up your only coat to the suffering. Living saints can be insufferable. No wonder she was divorced twice!
She had what it took for the times she was facing. Our saints are human. They are not sinless. But God uses them and and shapes them in spite of and because of their flaws into just the right tools for the jobs at hand. She could smile peacefully at Nazi guards while she smuggled children out of the arena in trash cans. They were just “doing their jobs.” She was just doing hers.
The quote, “Each person is the very icon of God incarnate in the world. The way to God lies through the love of people.” This is not so hard to apply to the children in the trash cans. It is hard to apply to the Nazi guards. For years, I have had a similar saying, or rather, prayer: “Lord, with each person I meet today, let me see what it is about them that You love.” It is a terrible prayer. It breaks one’s heart when the answers come.
I believe I put the wrong image on the banner above. I once saw Gary Heidnik. I actually felt his presence, before I saw him. I was in Philadelphia City Hall waiting by the holding pen for an inmate to be released for me to take to his aftercare program, back when I was Mennonite Chaplain for Philadelphia Prisons. My back was turned, but I felt a darkness of evil. I turned around to see Gary Heidnik, the serial killer, shuffling in shackles, being escorted by two guards from the courtroom into the holding area. The hair on my neck stood on end. And all I thought was, “God is gracious. He is still giving him breath. What is there possibly left that God loves and hopes to redeem? Yet here he was, the living, breathing evidence that God ‘is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.’” I learned then, that even Gary Heidnik was the very icon of God in the world.
Jesus called us to serve “the least of these … .” Sometimes they are downright unlovely. I can be unlovely as well. “Jesus Christ came to save sinners of whom I am chief.” People are messy. God loves us anyway, every single one of us. There are no throwaway people. We serve hundreds of people every week who many have been thrown away. Right now, it feels as though we have been thrown away. We have no paying jobs, despite looking and looking. The house is being foreclosed on. I just put one foot in front of the other to serve the poor. I have worked for 25 years without pay to keep this ministry going. If all of the people who say they like this ministry would give just $10/month, we would be able to cure the foreclosure, be fulltime in ministry, and expand our services among the poor and homeless. If everyone gave just $20/month, we would be able to get a facility, organize more volunteers, and be working a plan to end homelessness in center city Philadelphia. So, don’t just kiss the icons, like the links, and share the photos. Sentiments don’t feed the hungry or keep anyone warm on a cold winter night. We need action. We need money to pay the bills so we have a kitchen in which to cook the food and a car to deliver it. We will see over 250 homeless and poor people on Thursday. We will give each of them two meals. We will try to give blankets to those who ask for them. We will try to give those who ask for it bus fare to get to jobs. We will give a few of them rides home. We do this on your behalf and in Jesus’ Name. How many will you see, so that you can give them your alms personally? Let us deliver your alms for you. Use the Paypal button below to set up an automatic monthly donation. May God bless you as you put sentiment into action.
I shared an article about the ministry on an Orthodox Facebook page and the moderator asked me if we were Orthodox, because it wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the article. I replied that I didn’t think we needed to be sounding our trumpets when doing good works, did we? And as far as whether we are orthodox or not, Jesus will sort that out according to Matthew 25 at the last day, now won’t He? Then I gave him a run down of who attended which jurisdiction’s churches. Then I left that group. I think we really need to be more concerned about serving Christ than which service and how many we are attending. If those officiating those services do not equip us to do works of service, they are not performing their God assigned functions according to Ephesians 4.
If we get so busy going to services that we never do any service, then the church just becomes like Amway without any soap.
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.”
- Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:13)
Megan Kelley of Upworthy recently coined the term “poverty porn.” I like it. I wish I had come up with it. Here is what she wrote:
Too many ads for charities use what I call “poverty porn” to get at viewers’ wallets for hefty donations. Depressing music, sad-eyed children, starving animals … the list goes on. But who wants to be pitied!? Here’s to respecting people, not pitying them.
I have always cringed at the mailings from “rescue missions” with photos of toothless, dirty men in frayed, ragged, patched clothing, sometimes slumped on a curb. The truth is, just about any person I see in a grocery store could be homeless or pass for homeless. On many occasions, our own volunteers have attempted to serve me. I have never taken offence. Several of them, on the other hand, have felt the need to apologize. They shouldn’t. They didn’t know me and were just being hospitable.
Let’s look a little deeper at this approach. I think it goes hand in hand with the fact that it is easier to get a team of volunteers to travel cross country to spend a week working in Philadelphia than it is to get people from the suburbs to commit to a similar venture. They would rather go to Chicago or Appalachia, even though it costs them more.
I think the problems are that we don’t want the needy people to look like us, because that makes us feel less secure and less superior. People are always talking about a “hand up instead of a hand out.” That is the language of paternalism and superiority, not of almsgiving and of Christian equality. Just because someone is poor does not mean they should be stripped of their freedom. As St. John Chrysostom said, when you give a man alms, you give him his freedom. We feel the need to judge to make sure that the recipients of our generosity are truly needy and worthy of the gifts. so if he looks and talks and dresses just like me, well, he should just work for it like I did after all! People like to travel to help people because then it will be too inconvenient to go back there next week and the week after to help. The crying need is a safe distance away. Whereas, if it is within an easy commute, one might find it harder to resist or to make an excuse not to do something about it. After all, most of our suburban parishes are the result of white flight from the city. Do we really want to go back and revisit the devastation left behind?
I was raised in an upper middle class household. My parents met in law school. They were friends with Kay and Harry Reasoner (CBS News). McGeorge Bundy (JFK & LBJ Administrations) is my cousin. Ike kissed me as a baby. We entertained governors, senators, congressmen, lawyers, judges, captains of industry in our homes, growing up in Minnesota. I knew two vice-presidents. I skied with a state senator. I spoke freely with them all. We also entertained mailmen, mechanics, plumbers, florists, waitresses, bartenders, caddies, doormen, and janitors at the same parties. My folks were Republican. We entertained people of both parties, and of all races and nationalities and religions. My folks taught me that people are people and that everyone pulls their pants on one leg at a time. This agrees with what I learned in Sunday School and seminary: “God is no respecter of persons.” [Acts 10:34]
So the fact that I debated Sen. Walter Mondale on Oct. 24, 1968, regarding his misguided support of the Vietnam War is less significant to me than that I got to look Mark Jones in the eyes on July 25, 2013, and wish him well, and he me, as we were breaking bread on the parkway.
So we don’t put out the pathetic images of inferior looking people. That’s not who we serve. We serve you.
Zoning and interstate highways have separated us from each other. We live in class segregated communities by and large. We help bridge the gap. Yes. We have opportunities for people to get involved in specific projects. For most people in our specialized and scheduled world, that is not always feasible, practical or efficient. The best way for most people to serve is to send money (which is your denatured labor) and accompany it with prayer. We do our best to serve with dignity and respect. We receive no government funds or budgeted church support. We serve in Jesus’ Name. We live by faith.
May God bless you as you bless the poor in Jesus’ Name.
When I was a youth, this old Salvation Army song was used as a drinking song. But the sentiment of the song and the evangelical theology it represents has infected our culture in a pernicious way. It is to the point now that people who are poor are seen as somehow morally defective. It seems a large part of the population, including many, if not most church-goers in America equate poverty and homelessness with drug and alcohol addiction, sloth, immorality, lasciviousness and general lack of faith. I got asked again, last Thursday, if we have seen much results of people coming to faith through this ministry through the years. My answer did not make the youth leader happy. I said, “I am not here to save them. I am here to save me. These people are not rats. The food is not bait. Just because they are poor does not mean that they need saving. When someone thanks me for serving or asks why I do what I do, I tell them, ‘I am here because Jesus loves you and He compels me to be here.’ And some have learned to thank God for us.”
We have never coerced people to sit through a sermon in order to receive a meal. I find that degrading, humiliating and contrary to the Gospel. The Gospel is to be without price, never by coercion. So, if we were ever going to preach, it would be after the meal to whoever would want to freely stay and listen. And we have on occasion shared stories of the Saints and of Jesus’ ministry and message.
People have assumptions about homeless people that are not based in reality. The most common is that a majority of them are addicts and that is why they are homeless. That is false on two counts. Addiction rates are the same among people becoming homeless as they are among the general population. The rate doubles after a year of homelessness. So homelessness is more a cause of addiction than a result of it.
The most common cause of homelessness is a health problem or hospitalization that causes one to be unable to pay the rent or the mortgage. Medical debt also ruins one’s credit rating, so one cannot rent anywhere else and disqualifies one for many types of employment. Once a person is homeless, it is very difficult to break out of it. Most employers will not hire anyone who does not have a permanent residence. The social service industry prides itself on its placement rate, but, at the same time, does not want to go out of business, so the hoops seem endless and there is no incentive for them to short circuit the process so people do not become homeless in the first place. One has to fall through the “safety net” that isn’t there before one can be helped, losing all one’s possessions, memorabilia, etc. This process takes years, and forces a lifetime dependency on the social service industry; good for the industry, bad for the people.
Poverty is not a sin. “And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: ‘Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.’ ” [Luke 6:20]
Wealth on the other hand. … “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.” [James 5:1-6]
People who know me well will find this hard to believe. I do more listening than speaking among the homeless. Perhaps it is because there is an easiness there. They really do save me, by their presence and by their prayers.
I should be working among them full time, but soon I may not be doing anything but living among them. The business has failed. We need $600 today just to pay July’s health insurance. If we don’t, we will end up owing even more. Two months’ mortgage due, utilities, etc. Apparently, what I do is not worth my space in the world in this economy. This ministry will die without meaningful support. I should not have subsidized it for as long as I did, I guess. But I only see death as an alternative.
* thanks to Jennifer Barefoot McCoy for the photo
Nothing is ours. When we give, it is not ours to give, so there is no obligation of gratitude expected. When we lend, it is not ours, there is no repayment expected. It is all God’s. We can earn nothing except God gives us breath.
Just give thanks that you can give rather than have to receive.
“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” – Acts 2:44-45
“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.” – Acts 4:32
“Do not turn away from him who is in want; rather, share all things with your brother, and do not say that they are your own. For if you are partakers in that which is immortal, how much more in things which are mortal?” — The Didache, chapter 4
“Thou shalt communicate in all things with thy neighbour; thou shalt not call things thine own; for if ye are partakers in common of things which are incorruptible, how much more [should you be] of those things which are corruptible!” — The Epistle of Barnabas, chapter XIX
We are dealing with people in crisis constantly. On Tuesday after Memorial Day, as I was doing my errands, people asked me how my long weekend was. I found the question absurd. I had planned a fun weekend with some yard work, and replace a window, go to a friend’s picnic, help Anthony install Ubuntu on his computer, go to the church picnic, and finish by delivering Anthony home while delivering some household goods to a fellow who recently moved off of the street. In other words, a fairly normal, weekend. Instead, Anthony and I, along with Alex and Ray worked all day Saturday moving a fellow out of his apartment who was going to be homeless shortly. Then Anthony, John, Ha, Carter & I went to the Communaute Positive banquet in Horsham, where I presented John Haggerty and Chantal & Joses St. Phard with awards. We met John’s mother, brother, and sister-in-law there. Sunday morning, we went to church. I got a terrible migraine. I took my Percocet and Ketorolac. I loaded up Greg’s remaining things at church into our car. After church and coffee hour, Anthony went back to the apartment with Greg to continue packing. He got a ride back to our place with Greg’s stuff in John’s truck on John’s way home from work. At 3:30 April and our grandsons came over for me to take a look at Aidan’s bicycle. He had a very adult experience. He could not make it do anything wrong when he took it to me to get it fixed, so I could do nothing.
Bright and early Monday, Serge, Alex, Anthony, Greg & I continued to work on the move. We took two trips back and forth between Souderton and Cheltenham with three vehicles. Then Anthony and I joined Bethann and Hilary and the rest at the church picnic. After the church picnic, I drove Anthony home to Philadelphia. I didn’t manage to get the stuff together for the other man who had moved off of the street. I was too exhausted to go there anyway. He lives on the extreme other end of Phila. from Anthony.
What I am trying to say is this is pretty much normal. I don’t just make soup and beans and rice on Thursday. (That does pretty much take all day on Thursday.) I am dealing with people in various stages of crisis all the time. To many of the people on the street, I am their pastor, like it or not. I never told them that’s what I was. I never introduce myself as such. That’s what they call me. That’s how they come to me. That’s how I serve them as well as I can. I have known some of them since 1985.
Ask me about Mother’s Day. The Thursday night before Mother’s Day, we were done serving food. A married couple whom I have known for several years and have helped on several occasions waited to speak with me. They are no longer homeless, but times are tight, so they come out to eat with us. We had gathered together some clothing for their one year old great nephew recently. They started by thanking me for that. Then they got real serious and said, “We have to talk.” Here their 14 year old special needs daughter was repeatedly raped by a fellow student at her school. The father of the boy was proud of his son for doing this. They wanted to know the answer to two questions. They go to an evangelical church and they had asked their pastor. Their pastor had told them, “I’m not equipped to answer these questions.”
The mom said to me, “Pastor Cranford, our daughter really wants to see this boy punished. My husband wants to kill the dad. The boy has been taken away and put in foster care, because the dad was openly bragging about what the son did. Because the boy is special needs, he will not be put in jail, but in a special, reform school to retrain him on what is right and wrong. They say my daughter has to decide on her own whether or not to press charges.” She was disappointed that he wouldn’t be punished. I told her that it sounded like a good solution. It would get the boy away from her. It would hopefully get him some help. It sounds like he had some terrible parenting, and that was a major part of the problem. “Vengeance is mine. I will repay, sayeth the Lord.” This sounded good to her.
The second question really blew my mind that a pastor said it was not in his area of expertise. This girl is really seeking the Lord in the midst of this terrible situation. (She waited for three or four weeks to tell her mom about the rapes because her mom had been hospitalized for a heart attack and she was afraid it would be too much for her.) She asked her pastor what Scripture she should read or meditate on in a situation like this. I thought for half a minute, then told her the first several Psalms from the Old Testament and the Gospels, especially the Sermon on the Mount from the New Testament.
But what do I know?
The new newsletter is available for downloading and printing for inserting in church bulletins, here: http://www.thekingsjubilee.org/spring13.pdf
It includes hard copy of these blog entries:
- No Lenten Retreat This Year
- Oops! I forgot to check the calendar!
- Mount Moriah Cemetery Spring & Summer Events
- To Fish or Not to Fish
- Almsgiving Flash Mob
You can print copies to share with your off-line friends.