Tag Archives: Episcopal

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

Wind my clock

angel in despair

It is bleak mourning,

gloomy despair.

Is it real or a terrible, awful nightmare?

Is it the valley of the shadow death

into which we thoughtlessly stumble, guns drawn;

killing innocence,

killing black, killing blue,

killing me, killing you?

Alton, dead.

Philando, dead.

Patrick, dead.

Brent, dead.

Michael K, dead.

Michael S, dead.

Lorne, dead

. . . dead . . . dead . . . dead . . . dead . . . dead . . . dead . . . dead . . .

Racism?  Yes.

Prejudice?  Yes.

Privilege?  Yes.

Injustice?  Yes.

Anger?  Yes.

Mistrust?  Yes.

Revenge?  Yes.

. . . dead . . . dead . . . dead . . . dead . . . dead . . . dead . . . dead . . .

I am hopeless,

worn with sorrow,

aching with sin, the mark is missed.

This wicked racist culture–

Are we white enough, Mr. Duke?

This pernicious gun culture–

Are we safe enough, Mr. LaPierre?

Numb my soul, break my heart.

Stick me with a needle,

see if I feel,

see if I bleed.

It is a deadly, deadly web we weave.

********

In March of 1973, E. B. White wrote to a Mr. Nadeau, who sought White’s opinion on what he saw as a bleak future for the human race.

30 March 1973

Dear Mr. Nadeau:

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.

Sincerely,

(Signed, ‘E. B. White’)

********

John 12.46:  I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.

********

I will wind my clock . . .

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Filed under episcopal, gun violence, Justice, police violence, racism, sorrow, terrorism

Raindrops

This morning, sitting at the coffee bar, sipping hot green tea, and savoring every bite of lemon lavender pound cake ( at a favorite neighborhood bakery–Heirloom Bakery & Hearth), it is pouring down rain outside.  Some great 60s era music is playing and I am feeling remarkably tranquil.  I am reading a great book (Outlaw Christian ) published recently by a young theologian ( @JacquelinBussie ) I met at a conference at the University of Virginia years ago.  I am aware suddenly of a mysterious peacefulness filling me.  I feel surrounded by the peace of God, embraced in God’s infinite capacity for love (quite the opposite of the hopelessness I wrote of a few blogs back).  I am startled to attentiveness.  What is this?  My eyes wander over the room wondering what changed, what brings this presence of God?   Then I realize it is aural not visual. The rain is pounding on the metal roof!

Years ago, while my dad was in Vietnam and I knew my life could change in an instant, the only time I felt safe was at my grandparents’ home, late at night, tucked in bed, and the rain beating on the uninsulated tin roof above me.  Alone, in the dark, under a pile of handmade quilts, the rhythm of the rain pounding on the roof somehow made me know God knew my fear and was with me always.  I can’t explain it; but, I knew it.

This morning, amidst the occasional clap of thunder and the rain beating its rhythm on the metal roof, me and 14 year-old me shared a moment.  And God was there.  And I felt safe, and peaceful, and loved.

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Filed under Army Brat, episcopal, God's love, grandparents

Faith and Labor Alliance

Early this morning, I offered a faith-based reflection to a meeting of labor union and faith leaders of the KCMetro.  Many of the labor leaders noted their interest in learning more of a faith-based consideration of economic justice (Elements of this reflection are a reprise of an earlier blog post).  My reflection follows:

(Disclaimer, I speak from a Christian and Episcopal perspective.  I believe what I say today is, in broad strokes, reflective of many different faith traditions, including other, non-Christian faith traditions)

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

&  

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

I am involved with the labor and economic justice movement as an Episcopal priest and through Jobs with Justice, Communities Creating Opportunity, and the StandUp KC/Workers’ Organizing Committee in the local campaign for livable wages and a union for low wage workers in the Kansas City area, especially fast food workers.  My first real job was as a dishwasher and busboy in the fast food industry in 1968.  I mention this because it turns out 1968 is a significant year in the history of labor and wages.  My minimum wage salary was $1.60 per hour.  In terms of buying power, the 1968 minimum wage marks the highest real value ever for the minimum wage.  Adjusted for inflation, my 1968 $1.60 becomes $10.95 in 2016 dollars.  That is 30% higher than the current $7.65 in Missouri.  Since 1968, the inflation adjusted buying power of the minimum wage as well as all other labor wages declined even as labor productivity increased dramatically and the wealthiest grab larger and larger percentages of labor generated income and wealth.

But why, you may wonder, is this parish priest interested in low wages and unions?

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

Since the late 19th Century, the Christian Community has been hammering out its basic moral principles on matters of social justice, labor, and capitalism.  Based upon scriptural study, theological reflection, and the fundamentals of basic Christian moral ethics, the conclusions of this inquiry includes the following faith-based teachings on economic justice:

1) The dignity of human being must be protected by economic systems and society

2) Every economic decision and/or institution must be judged in light of whether it protects or undermines human dignity and fundamental matters of justice

3) All people have a right to participate with dignity in the economic life of a society

4) Society has the moral obligation to enhance human dignity, protect human rights, and strive for justice for all.

5) Basic human rights, to include rights to life, food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, basic education, and fair compensation for labor are minimal conditions for a just society.

From a faith-based perspective, economic conditions and/or business practices that leave large numbers of people unemployed, underemployed, or employed in dehumanizing conditions fail to meet these basic elements of economic justice.

Because of the failing of economic systems by their own initiative to achieve these basic expectations, the moral teachings of the Christian faith as well as other faith traditions demand the establishment of a minimum of material well-being upon which all workers can depend.  It is the duty of the faithful to demand society assures fair access and opportunity for every family to achieve at least this base of material well-being and dignity.  Moreover, it is the duty of the faithful to demand society question extreme inequalities of income, consumption, and wealth when large numbers of working people seem unable to achieve even the basic levels of material well-being and dignity.

Jeremiah 22.13-16—Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing, and does not give them their wages; . . . Unlike you, your father upheld the rights of the poor and needy—then all was well.  That is truly heeding me, declares the Lord.

People of faith across Kansas City should demand an economy where

–workers receive fair and livable wages for their work

–people who work full-time do not live in poverty or need public/private assistance to make ends meet and provide for their children.

People of faith across Kansas City should reject an economy where

–workers are struggling paycheck to paycheck, even when they work more than 40 hours a week.

–Workers’ wages are so low it is hard for them to afford the necessities of life: food, health, and shelter.

People of faith across Kansas City should reject an economy where

–low wages suck resources and human energy out of our local neighborhoods, eroding hope and opportunity for the future.

–businesses enhance their profitability by transferring to the public and private sectors the cost of sustaining the basic human needs of their hourly employees either through public assistance or local charities.

People of faith across Kansas City should support low wage workers and strong unions representing them and all workers.

Proverbs 14.31—He who withholds what is due to the poor affronts his Maker

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 us here today as well as working men and women everywhere who struggle with low-wages are souls of God’s creation.  Each is made in the image of God and aspires to seek God’s purpose in their lives.  We know low wages burden workers with the constant fear of not being able to meet basic needs like food, housing, utilities, healthcare, and childcare; as well as uncertainty about the future for themselves and their children.

We are all “souls,” brothers and sisters in Christ, each commanded by God to love each other and to do justice and to seek mercy for each other.  A society as rich as ours in which a large portion of honest and hard-working workers are unable to secure continuous, full-time employment at a living wage capable of sustaining a family in conditions 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.  Faithful people who stand passively unresponsive to such sinful injustices and unrighteousness economic circumstances are people who have lost the vision of their calling by God to do justice for the all, especially 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.

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

Matthew 25.40—When was it we cared for you?  And the Lord will answer, “In so far as you did this to one of the least, you did it to me.”

The deepest guilt in this time of economic injustice:

–is on those who do not shed penitential tears for those 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 in this time of economic injustice:

–is on those who do not understand that 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.

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

Faithful people, God’s people, religious people, union 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.

For this Episcopal priest, this is not just an economic issue–it is a faith issue.  All workers have an inherent dignity that should be reflected in living wages and fair benefits.  I believe and affirm that adequate and fair compensation is a primary means by which we fulfill our obligations to insure basic human dignity, affirm justice, and protect the rights for all.  I refuse to stand silently in the face of an economic system fueled by unjust wages, abuse of employees, exploitation of public resources, and profitability over human/family dignity and well-being.  It is for this reason I believe this work to align faith and labor in an alliance for justice and fairness is a godly thing.  It is time we, unions and the faithful, stand arm in arm to protect and support working people everywhere.

Isaiah 1.17—As the prophet Isaiah says, it is time to “Learn to do good; devote yourselves to justice, correct oppression; and aid the wronged . . .” 

Sources:

Economic Justice for All; Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teachings and the US Economy, United Catholic Bishops, 1986

Defining Economic Justice and Social Justice, Center for Economic and Social Justice

Episcopal General Convention 2000 A-130, Affirming Living Wage and 2003, A081 Affirming Just and Living Wage

The Industrial Unrest and the Living Wage: A series of lectures given at the Interdenominational Summer School at Swanwick, Derbyshire, June 28th 0July 5th, 1913”

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Filed under episcopal, Justice, Kansas city, labor movement, labor unions

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