Monday, March 8, 2010

Beggars CAN be choosers...

So I'm home now, but reflecting on some of the things I experienced last week. One recurring motif that surprised me was this: 'Beggars Can be Choosers!" What do I mean by that?
Several times during the week our team worked with populations that were either economically disadvantaged or homeless. Our mode of connection was that we had some good or service that we thought they might need, and we were offering this to them free of charge. Several times, however, the intended recipients surprised us by either refusing the goods they seemed in desperate need of, or countering the offer with a demand. "I can't take a size 38, I need a size 36 men's jeans." ("Even though they were beautiful Kenneth Cole?" our team member said!)
Another instance was when at a soup kitchen we were handing out free coats. It was cold, and there was at least 2 feet of snow piled up on the edge of the street. Yet many of the individuals turned down the coats offered, either because they weren't the right style, or didn't fit the way an invididual wanted. (as in, "ma'am, I'm not sure you would quite be able to fit into a small') The worst offender was a woman who jumped in line to start with, got a beautiful, stylish coat, then came back later wanting to return it. She had ripped the loop used to hang the coat, and demanded we take it back because "it was ruined."
I've been wondering about this. Why would people so obviously in need refuse a sincere and adequate offer to meet their needs? Without passing judgment, I wonder if you'd be willing to throw out a few answers, then I'll tell you what I'm thinking.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Deacons careful hands
Lay white linen
Crisp, over the bread.
Hoc est...
Rich velvet rope
Barring the apse;
The elements reserved
In gleaming gold.
Hoc est meum…
Ruined flesh
Prone in coffin cardboard;
Careful hand tucks
Blanket sacrament.

Hoc est Corpus meum,

Monday, March 1, 2010

How's the Fishing, Peter?

A river of energy flows through Mid-town Manhattan, a veritable Class-5 rapids of elite shopping and upscale destinations. From The Plaza and Central Park issues a cascade of luxury; Versace, Ferragamo, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels down fabled Fifth Avenue. Discerning shoppers come to test their skills in landing the big purchase. But there amidst the glitter is another fisherman, plying his trade.

Pastor Peter, as he calls himself, threads the van down the same street looking for a vastly different target. He looks for the huddled and the broken; the disenfranchised and the down and out. "They are transitory," he explains as we troll, "the homeless can't stay in one place for too long because it can be dangerous for them. But I know where to look... we'll find them."

And there, in the side eddy's of the river called New York, forgotten by the famous and bypassed by businessman, are the derelicts of our society. Here on a church stoop, there in a public atrium, this is where Peter the fisherman looks for and finds his catch. "Could we give you a blanket sir? And a sandwich? My name is Pastor Peter, and I'm here to tell you that Jesus loves you."

Cardboard condominiums house migrants, strangely consumer-like in their preferences. "I need a 36 x 30 jeans, those 38's are too big," one man informs. No matter; the need is met with a smile and Pastor Peter, like the clerk in the Armani store within a stone's throw, enobles the man by honoring his request. A hug, a joke shared with "Ray Charles" on his way to Atlanta, massive glasses hiding sad eyes and old pain, form the conversation on this fishing trip. Two old women in a shelter, safe for the night but shattered by life and left shells of what selves they once knew... these are the sights that will haunt.

The New York many know, with it's pulsing rhythm and spinning lights, flows on long into the night. But the swirling pools deep with human pain linger on for me; reminders that the sites I thought I knew, held a deeper truth that belie the wealth on display. Etched now forever in my mind was "Able" asleep under the phones in Port Authority, so far from living his name as if to seem a obscene joke. with a blanket. And a prayer.

And Peter the fisherman, showing eager students the good fishing holes, continues as he has for 25 years now, convinced that Able can, and Able will, rise.

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him. Matthew 4:18-20

Manzanas y Puerta Abiertas

I like being on time. I like meetings that run on time. It's an OCD (obessesive complusive disorder) thing. So when our team found out last minute that we were going to lead a worship service for a Hispanic men's rehab center instead of going to a soup kitchen, I twitched a few times, but smiled. When we arrived "late" only to find out that we were 2 hours early for our slot, my smile waned a bit thin. But then when i discovered we'd left the lunches for the team back at the headquarters, well... I thought we'd reached a closed door for the day.

But God had other ideas. Because Sister Anna Villafane and the fantastic people at "Way Out Ministry" in the Bronx have specialized for 42 years in opening doors for those who seem trapped by circumstance. Their precious staff shared their lunch with our students, and allowed us to restart our time of sharing with them. Jorge insisted on giving each student an apple (manzanna) and before long a comradarie connected folks who seemingly had little in common with one another.

But then three students shared stories from their own lives of how God had opened doors to release them from drugs, alcohol and violence in their own families. A student with a Puerto Rican background stepped in to translate many of the truths in culture-transcending power. The meeting ended with the men sharing how they saw open doors in education, in transforming their minds through the truth, and in giving their lives in service to others, as they saw the students modeling.

The 'way out' will of course take more than good feelings and intentions. Doors will open to new tasks for these men as they are mentored back to sobriety. But for a day, students and residents shared apples and open doors, sure that there was hope ahead.