Category Archives: children

Druggie, let me be your servant

homeless woman 3Unexpected visitors are not such a strange thing for me.  It is a part of what I do.

I got a call that there was a woman downstairs, upset and crying.  Again, not an unusual scenario for me.  I was preparing for noonday Eucharist and was delayed from going straight down.  The call came again, “Could I come down quick?”  I headed down thinking I could handle this quickly.  Frankly, most of the crying I encounter is for effect in order to achieve a scam.  Scams are not hard to spot and, while I try to be courteous, I dispatch scams fairly quickly.

Tom and Karen were distributing food in the entry way and told me she was outside.  I walked out and found the women sitting on the bench by the door holding hands with one of the older, African American clients of our pantry and commodity programs.  The young women was sobbing and the older woman was gently consoling her.  A desperate older woman consoling an even more desperate younger woman, one black, one white.  I immediately knew this was a scene of human compassion and grace—no scam here.  “We were just praying,” the older woman said to me almost apologetically, me all dressed as the official holy person.  “Please,” I replied, “keep praying, it is a good thing.”  The younger woman looked at me and asked if I was a priest.  “Can we talk?” she asked.

Because of construction, I have few places to offer for private conversation.  I suggested the bench was about as private as I had right then.  The older woman excused herself and I sat beside the woman as she continued to sob.

She is a tiny person, 100 or so pounds, maybe 5 feet tall.  She has long, brownish/auburny/grayish hair all tied in a knot on her head.  Her skin is weathered and her arms are splotched with scars and sores.  I think I see some injection scarring.  She is a bit grimy and has the gaunt look of homelessness.  Her eyes are red from crying.  I am not sure how old she is, though I later find out she recently turned 42—I had guessed older before she told me.

I am going to miss Eucharist.

“I am from Dayton, Ohio, and I came here to get clean . . .”

A long story unfolded.  Spoiler alert—by her own admission she destroyed her life and lost everything important to her by making poor choices, choices she knows to be bad but she cannot help making them.

“I am so humiliated . . . I am not like this . . . I was raised in a house.  We had bathrooms and beds and everything . . . I know what is right . . .  but I just cannot do right . . . I have to panhandle on the streets; it is awful and I am so embarrassed . . . If I died, nobody would even care . . . I am so alone . . . I just want my momma to come hold me and make it better . . .  But I am not suicidal; I am too chicken for that.   If I could just go to sleep and not wake up, I would be okay with that.  There would just be nothingness where I once was . . .”

Part 1:  She became addicted to alcohol around 13 or 14.  She was the oldest of three, the only daughter, and she could never get it right.  She moved around a lot and had trouble making friends.  Way too early, she disappeared into her own oblivion of alcohol and later drugs.  She managed for awhile and even stayed clean throughout two pregnancies.  Her husband was abusive and violent to her and her two sons.  She escaped him and went back to live close to her parents in Dayton.  Initially, she had a good job, stayed away from drugs and alcohol, and was doing good raising her two sons.  About ten years ago she unexpectedly lost her job.  She went from $30/hour to $8/hour and life became desperate.  In Ohio, heroin is the epidemic drug and has been for years.  Struggling and overwhelmed by the impossibility of raising two sons and surviving on $8/hour, she fell deeply into the heroin abyss.  Repeated attempts to clean up failed.  She came to Kansas City in February because she heard there was a good program here.  Initially she was successful, but eventually fell in with the local demon—methamphetamine aka “crystal meth.”  Two months ago she left treatment, became homeless, and the descent into this new abyss became unrelenting.  Her youngest son turned 19 last week and she had nothing to offer him.  Her backpack stolen at some homeless camp, she lost everything including her phone.  She could not call her “baby boy” on his birthday.  This was an awakening for her.

Part 2: She is a military BRAT.  She was born at Landstuhl Hospital at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.  For all her life, she moved every three years.  She formed no lasting relationships and moved when she was a senior in high school, losing whatever connections she had from her high school days.  Her family “landed” in Dayton, Ohio only because it was the last place her father was stationed and her parents liked it there.  She had no connections or friends there.  She expressed to me a sense of desperate loneliness that followed her all her life.   Growing up military left her with no support system or life-long friendships.  She felt terribly alone all the time.

Part 3:  She asked me for nothing.  At one point, she mentioned she was hungry.  One of our volunteers happened by and I asked him to bring one of the Pantry “homeless bags” out to me.  He brought one right out.  I recalled seeing a “self-heating” stew box in these packs and was curious.  I inventoried the contents of the food bag for her.  “No” to nuts, “no” to hot-dogs, “yes” to the M&Ms, “yes” to a piece of bread.  I showed her the stew box.  She was curious too.  “How does it heat itself?” she asked.  As she continued to tell me her story, I prepared the self-heating potato and bbq meat stew for her.  I won’t spoil the magic of the “self-heating” stew, but she gobbled down a hot, steaming stew occasionally reporting how good it was.  I did miss the Eucharist in the church, but I think we shared a holy meal at the entry way of the church.

Part 4:  Mostly I was just a listener today.  She was processing out-loud and had things she needed to say and hear herself say.  I just helped her focus on what she was saying.  I encouraged her to know that the future was yet to be written and now, because she had crashed into her own wall of despair, she had an opportunity to write the future in a different way.  We considered the good choices she needs to make to move forward in a better way.  I assured her she was not alone in this.  God, incarnated by the community of St.Paul’s, was with her as she journeyed forward.  I gave her my card and said I would be her friend and supporter during this effort to turn her life.  We defined a plan of next steps and she struck out planning to enter the detox facility a few blocks from the church or at Truman.  She seemed resolute and ready.  She wants to go home and make things work with her boys.  She knows she must be clean, sober, and steady if she wants to return and be accepted.  I pray she is up to the hard work ahead of her.   I pray we can be servant to her along the way.

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Filed under children, drugs, episcopal, God's love, Military brat, sorrow

Stand UP KC, faithfulness matters!

standupkc 4On April 14, 2016, a national day of labor action for low-wage workers, I was asked by the worker’s organizing group to offer a faith-based reflection at an event focused on the hardships and difficulties of low-wage childcare workers.  Sadly, childcare workers all over this country are entrusted with our most precious gifts from God and are paid minimum wages or near minimum wages for their time.  Ironically, most childcare workers cannot afford childcare.  I offered them a reflection written after I read the journal of a symposium hosted by William Temple (later Archbishop of Canterbury) when he was a young priest.  The symposium and the subsequent journal were titled,  “The Industrial unrest and the living wage (a series of lectures) given at the interdenominational summer school, held at Swanwick, Derbyshire, June 28th-July 5th, 1913.”  In 1913, this symposium was arguing for a basic minimum wage in Britain of about 26 shillings/week or about $13/hour in US 2014 dollars (converting for inflation, pounds to dollars conversion, labor values, and the longer work week at that time). Let this sink in  . . . in 1913, this group (albeit in Great Britain) was arguing for a minimum wage about 60% greater than the minimum wage in the USA today.   Moreover, it was arguing for a higher livable wage!  One hundred and three years later, we are still trying to solve the challenge of a just and livable wage.  May God be patient and merciful with us!

My reflection:

Thank you all for being here today.  Today, all over the city, all over the country, low-wage workers are standing up for themselves. You are standing up for fair and living wages.  You are standing up for dignity and respect.   You are standing up for the American ideals of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.  Ideals that are the bedrock of our nation.  You are not asking for charity!  You are not asking for favors!  You are asking for respect, dignity, and a living wage!  You are asking for your fair share of the American Dream!  Today, I am privileged to be here with low-wage workers who are standing for our country’s time-honored, though sometimes obscure, belief in justice.

Some ask me, “What has this to do with religion?”  As a Christian minister I am compelled to recognize God’s calling to do justice and love mercy!  God expects this of me and every person who embraces the God of all creation.  As a faithful person, I recognize all people as souls created by God.  All of you here today, especially you working men and women that struggle with low-wages, you are souls of God’s making.  You are made in the image of God and aspire within yourselves to seek God’s purpose in your lives.  Yet we know low wages burden you with the constant fear of not being able to meet basic needs like food, housing, utilities, healthcare, childcare, and uncertainty about the future for yourselves and your children.

You are “souls,” brothers and sisters in Christ, who I am commanded by God to love and for whom I am commanded to do justice and to seek mercy.  A society as rich as ours in which a large portion of honest and industrious workers are unable to secure continuous, full-time employment at a living wage which will maintain a family in a condition compatible with the requirements of stable and decent living is, in my opinion, an unjust and poorly managed society and an unfaithful and unrighteous society.  Christian people who stand passively unresponsive to such sinful injustice, unfaithfulness, and unrighteousness are people who have lost the vision of their calling by God to do justice for the least among us.  A Christian who does not act for justice and dignity for all people, especially the vulnerable and poor, is a faith-challenged Christian indeed.

The deepest guilt:

–is on those who do not shed penitential tears for our brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle to survive on wages too low to survive.

–is on those who do not burn in their hearts and souls for changes in these unjust economic and employment systems.

The deepest guilt:

–is on those who do not understand that poor, excessively low wages are destroying people by assaulting their character, poisoning their minds, demoralizing their humanity, and breaking their immortal spirit.

–is on those who do not agitate and work and sacrifice and pray for the ending of low wage misery for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Faithful people, God’s people, religious people everywhere should be demanding the dawning of a new time of fair, livable wages and that dignity, respect, and economic security should be counted as an inalienable right for all working people and their families.

Today, I am privileged to introduce to you three persons who are personally involved in the plight of our childcare workers.  Childcare workers are trusted with God’s most precious gift to us:  Children.  Yet for them and many of their fellow low-wage workers, the resources of professional, licensed childcare is unaffordable.   Our speakers will help us better understand the reality of this human tragedy . . .

Scriptural influences:

Isaiah 1.17—Learn to do good; devote yourselves to justice, correct oppression; aid the wronged . .

Proverbs 31.8-9—Speak up for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate.  Speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy.

Proverbs 14.31—He who withholds what is due to the poor affronts his Maker; He who shows pity for the needy honors Him.

Proverbs 29.7—A righteous man is concerned with the cause of the poor; a wicked man cannot understand such concern.

Proverbs 22.16—To profit by withholding what is due to the poor is like making gifts to the rich—pure loss.

Micah 6.8—What the Lord requires of you: Only do justice, and love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.

Jeremiah 22.16—He upheld the rights of the poor and needy—then all was well.  That is truly heeding me, declares the Lord.

Acts 18.9– the Lord said to Paul in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent. 

Matthew 25 Parable of the sheep and Goats . . .

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Filed under children, episcopal, feeding the hungry, Justice, labor movement, Righteousness

Day 26, Lent2016

Day 26—Tomorrow morning at 7 a.m. ten members of our community, teachers and parishioners, will be leaving for Holy Cross School in Ravine a l’Anse (RAL), Haiti.  They are spending their Spring Break working with educational colleagues in our school there Holy Cross School Ravine a l'Anse Haitiand with the parish community in RAL, developing deeper and more meaningful understandings of our shared ministry as part of God’s Kingdom.  We are excited about this new level of relationship and cooperation.  We look forward to the return of our parishioners and teachers and the stories they will be able to share with us.  As we approach the 30th anniversary of our relationship with this mountainous community in the southwestern mountains of Haiti, I can think of no better way to affirm our connection to this place that is special in the heart of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and Day School.

Dear God, We give you thanks for all the teachers, staff, and parishioners of St. Paul’s traveling to Haiti. In particular we pray for Alison Peck, Kathy Lawrence, Sheila Abio, Carey Lorfing, Gretchen Beilharz, Becky Nash, Hunter Ward, Cindy Wissinger, John Carothers, and Easom Bond.   We pray for the group’s safety, in their travels and in their time in Haiti. Grant them courage and patience as they have new experiences, as they accept the hospitality of others, as they meet new people, and as they share their gifts and talents.  We send them on their way with our love and prayers. In Christ’s name, we pray.  Amen

Daily Lectionary:  http://www.lectionarypage.net/WeekdaysOfLent/ThursFourthWeek.html

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Day 21, Lent2016

Day 21—Yesterday afternoon, as I was walking back from a visit to St. Paul’s South (Starbucks for those unfamiliar with our geography), I observed a young boy on the playground at the Day School playing with a small ball (about 2.5 inches in diameter). As imageI was approaching, he kicked the ball a little too hard and it rapidly rolled toward the gate. The young boy was chasing, but it was clear the ball was going to escape under the gate, down the steps, into the street, and lost forever. Timing is everything; I reached out with a notebook, interrupted the ball’s descent into the abyss, and flipped it back under the gate to the boy.  I noticed the ball was a model of the earth and said, as the ball rolled back under the gate, “Glad to save your world.” Quietly, he responded, “Thank you.”

Today’s reading from Mark has Jesus in debate with the scribes and Pharisees, “One of the scribes came near and heard Jesus and the Sadducees disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

God desires to save the world. It’s not so hard, “love the Lord your God” and “ love your neighbor.” Not so hard, just God sweeping the ball back under the gate and giving us a do-over.  Thank you, God.

Lectionary for the Day:  http://www.lectionarypage.net/WeekdaysOfLent/FridayThirdWeek.html

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The Good Lie

This past Monday, I had the privilege of viewing the first public screening of the forthcoming Warner Brothers’ movie “The Good Lie,”  a movie about the civil war in Sudan and the story of the “Lost Boys” (and girls) orphaned by that war.  I was the driver for a group of South Sudanese, many of whom are associated with this diaspora from Sudan.  By luck of association, AMC Theatres invited me to view the movie with them.  With six of my brothers and sisters in Christ from South Sudan, I watched an amazing and painful movie about their lives.  I cannot even begin to imagine how painful it must have been for them.

I know much of the history of the Sudanese Civil war of the 1983-2005.  I know the story of the “Lost Boys” (and girls).  I know many of these men and women here in Kansas City.  Yet sitting through a well made and relatively accurate depiction of the childhood experiences and hardships endured by these men and women to my left and right was difficult to bear.  Driven by faith and the need to keep their stories alive, my friends, as children, endured suffering the likes of which no child or adult should ever need endure.  Here I was, sitting with adults who were these children.  It was a painful memory dramatically resurrected on the big screen.  For me, I felt shame for the brokenness of humanity that perpetrates and allows such atrocities, especially when they involve children.  In the darkness, we experienced the paradox of two moments in history colliding.  Now living in the relative comfort of Kansas City, the South Sudanese adults were children back in the bush and they could do nothing to change their memories revived by the horrors filling the screen.  I was helpless to relieve the pain and sorrow of their past.  I could only sit and be with them.  In the darkness, we wept.

Never before have I experienced a movie in this way.  This story was and remains a testimony to both our capacity for malevolence and our capacity to offer hope and welcome to those who suffer.  I am appreciative to those who made a film to tell this story.  It was a privilege, albeit painfully so, to watch the film with my Sudanese brothers and sister who lived this story.

“The Good Lie” is a movie about children who were the victims of violence and abuse of the most extreme sort.  On foot, they traveled far seeking safety.  Some things never change.  Be looking for the general release in late September or early October.

The Good Lie trailer

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