Friday, December 17, 2004

A Christmas Carol

In our household, one of our newer Christmas traditions is to read Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" during the run-up to the holiday. Some of you may even remember a reference to Dickens' work back in my post about Sandy. I love A Christmas Carol, and get choked up every time I read it. Schlocky as it is in some parts, it has moments of intense beauty and overwhelming power.

"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business."

Interested as I am in the idea of narrative theology, I enjoy piecing together elements of theology from the story. It's interesting to note that Dickens' description of the ghosts as tormented by their desire to perform some act of good and having "lost the power forever," is very nearly a restatement of the ideas of St. Isaac of Syria about Hell, who writes that the denizens of Gehenna are "scourged with the scourge of love;" namely "bitter regret" for their sins against love (see also Fr. Zossima's idea of Hell as "the suffering of no longer being able to love" in the Brothers Karamazov).

Sentimentality aside, Dickens writing has remained influential because of its immense moral force and clarity. But the Orthodox Church had someone who spoke with the same piercing moral insight a thousand years before Dickens: St. Basil the Great. In fact, when I read St. Basil's writing, he strikes me almost as a kind of "Dickens before Dickens." For instance, consider the following two excerpts from Basil's homily To the Rich:

Wherever you turn your gaze, you will clearly behold the apparitions of your evil acts: here the tears of the orphan, there the groaning of the widow, elsewhere the poor whom you have trampled, the servants whom you have brutalized, the neighbors whose property you have encroached. All your deeds rise up before you; the wicked chorus of your wrongdoings besets you on all sides. Just as the shadow follows the body, so also one’s sins closely follow the soul, forming a clear outline of one’s actions. There is thus no possibility of denial there; every mouth will be stopped, and especially that of the arrogant. Each one’s works will bear witness; without a word being spoken, they will make our deeds plain. How can I summon before your eyes the fearful things that await you?

The "apparitions of evil acts" sound like the Ghost of Christmas past (and future) to me. And check out this description of the end of the greedy person:

Perhaps the servants will not even dress you in burial finery at the last, but will desert the graveside, having already transferred their allegiance to the heirs. Perhaps they will even turn philosophical on you: “It is not right,” they will say, “to adorn a dead body, and to give a lavish burial to someone who no longer feels anything. Would it not be better to dress the successors in this elegant and beautiful clothing, rather allowing such precious garments to rot together with the corpse? What need is there of an officious headstone and a lavish burial, expenses that cannot be recovered? These funds should rather be used by those who remain for their own needs.” These things they will say, at once avenging themselves upon you for your tyranny, and ingratiating themselves with those who succeed to your fortune.

(translation in plain English: "They will dump your sorry ass in a hole naked, and won't even take the trouble to cover you up." Cf. Stave Four for the similar end of Ebenezer Scrooge)

I suppose the point here is that these themes are universal, not bound to any given time or place: the blinding power of greed, regret at what might have been, the recognition that those who live alone and unloving die alone and unloved. And the immense existential optimism that we have the power to change, to repent, to create a more just and humane future than that which might otherwise have been. To make God's Kingdom present, in some small way, "on earth as it is in Heaven."

So on this night before Christmas, check out A Christmas Carol from the library and read it. Read it for your kids. Read it for yourself.

And yes, God bless us every one.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Takes one to know one

So tonight, when I got off the train and started the weary walk up the street towards home, Sheri called to me from the other corner where she was panhandling and came running across the street to catch me. She's noticed I've been working too much lately, coming home late, looking tired and irritable. She wanted to make sure I was doing OK, tell me that I shouldn't be working so hard, remind me that I have a family and I have to take care myself and them. She planted herself between me and the direction I was heading and didn't let me go by until she'd said her piece.

At one point, I felt like I was in the middle of an intervention.

I listened for a minute or so, nodding my head agreeably, and then casually changed the subject. It was a subtle, even artful move, worthy of someone in the "helping" profession, someone who has taken classes where they talk about "transference" and "appropriate distance." I asked her how she was doing, how it was going in their new place (a tent at somebody's apartment around the corner). I knew I was subtly reorienting the conversation, shifting the focus from my problems to hers, realigning our roles as the helper and the one being helped. "Here is a person who is homeless," I'm thinking, "struggling to recover from drug and alcohol addiction, and she's worried about me working a little late?" And yet somehow I also knew that I was handling the whole thing all wrong, that there was something here that I needed to sit with for awhile and not move away from so quickly.

After all, my workaholic tendencies are really just a form of "clean addiction," just another way of being hooked. Maybe in this case it takes one to know one; it takes an addict to recognize the subtle signs of addiction. And I am an addict, I admit that. I am addicted to praise, addicted to admiration, addicted to success. I need it bad and I need it often, like a needle in my veins. This is a socially acceptable addiction that we have chosen to bless and reward. But its results are no less corrosive to our society, no less harmful to our families.

For all of us who are seeking, not merely to "help" the poor, but to truly live in community with them, there is a constant temptation that can be summed up in this word "help." In fact, the whole notion of "helping" others can itself become a kind of powerful drug that is incredibly addictive. We become "helping junkies," get to the place where we need a "compassion fix," where we need to help someone quick so that we can have that wonderful feeling of being strong and powerful, like a benevolent minor deity. If you are involved in this kind of work, you know exactly what I mean. There is a way of "helping" others that not only does not eliminate the distance between the giver and the receiver, but actually reinforces it. The whole thing then becomes purely a question of power and who wields it, just another level of control, another layer of dominance. Our relationships become one-directional, like looking out at the world through mirrored sunglasses, so that no one can see the pain, or hurt, or confusion, or doubt in our eyes.

What is lacking in all this is a sense of shared vulnerability. And in the final analysis, vulnerability is the only thing we all share in this life. A deacon of our Church once said to me that it is our strengths, the things we do well, that separate us from each other, while it is our wounds and our weaknesses that unite us as one community before the one Bread and the one Cup. And if we are to remain part of this community, we cannot always be the Good Samaritan. Sometimes, we have to be the man lying wounded by the side of the road. Sometimes, we have to risk being vulnerable.

You got my back, sis. Thanks.

Thursday, December 09, 2004


We are the invisible ones
the faceless people
the nameless inhabitants
of a forgotten landscape.

We are the anonymous "poor"
the ubiquitous "needy"
created according to your fancy
as whatever you need us to be.

You make us innocent as angels
or devious as demons
and like both angels and demons
we remain unseen.

If it is true what Christ said
"Blessed are you poor..."
perhaps this is because
we have learned what it means

to be transparent.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Goodbye to old Buck

The story of how I met old Buck can be traced back to a bit of lead smaller than the tip of your little finger.

It was the Korean war, and Buck was a poor, semi-illiterate kid from Arkansas, fighting together with other poor boys from Georgia and Tennessee and Alabama. The poor fighting the poor, as war always is and always has been; no governor’s sons or future presidential candidates in this bunch. He would eventually prove to be the only member of his unit to survive the war, a purple heart and a bronze star later.

That bit of metal that changed his life, traveling at a precise trajectory, entered his left leg in the groin area, and blew out his hip joint before exiting. Doctors pieced his pelvis back together, gave him a new, artificial hip, but his leg was never quite the same. He’d had a young, strong body, the only thing he’d ever been able to count on. But by the time he reached his forties, his hip was giving out, he couldn’t walk, and he became permanently disabled, unable to continue the hard physical labor that was the only work he’d ever known.

And so Buck became one of the legions of disabled vets in this country. He stopped working and started taking a monthly government check. His disability checks were nothing to write home about, though; they would barely cover rent for a decent apartment in any major city in America, not to mention food and clothing. So Buck moved out to a rural area where land was cheap, and got himself a little trailer to live in. It wasn’t much, but it was his. It was home.

Every now and then, though, he had a hard time covering expenses. He never had anything left over at the end of the month, and half the time came out owing something to somebody. All this led to his power getting shut off one month in the middle of winter. Now not having power in the country doesn’t just mean doing without lights and heat, it means doing without water, since all water is well water supplied by electric pumps. And so it happened that one cold winter night, when Buck was trying to heat his trailer with an improvised fireplace, a log rolled out and set his trailer on fire, and he had no way to put it out.

It was over in a matter of minutes. He didn’t even manage to save the clothes on his back, since they were on fire when he jumped out of the trailer.

I met Buck a few years later, when he was living in a decrepit little camper, the kind you see on the back of battered old pickup trucks, without heat, without light, without a stove or an oven, without a refrigerator, without running water, limping around on a worn-out crutch padded with duct tape. Scrawled in paint on the side of his camper was a crude American flag and the phrase, "God said it. I belevd it." No word as to whether or not that settled it.

In the years I knew Buck, I got a taste of how excruciatingly difficult it is to pick yourself up again in this country once you’re down, our Horatio Alger myths notwithstanding. But we managed to accomplish a few things together. We got him a copy of his birth certificate for identification, since all of his records and ID had been lost in the fire, and it's nearly impossible to get services without ID. We got him a reconditioned RV to live in with heat and light, a stove and a refrigerator, a toilet and a shower. Almost unimaginable luxuries. We even got him an operation and a new hip replacement.

I will never forget the day when I was talking with Buck about just ordinary stuff, sitting in his RV, when he suddenly broke down under the weight of all those years and wept like a child, sobbing, “I’m a fucking failure. A fucking failure.”

I tried to tell Buck he wasn’t a failure. He’d fought to defend his country. He was a war hero. He’d worked hard. He’d made a contribution. He was a child of God.

I don’t think I quite convinced him.

I got a call on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving from Buck’s son. His tough, wiry body had finally succumbed to the colon cancer that went undiagnosed until his colon burst.

Remembering old Buck, I cannot help but think of the thousands upon thousands of kids who are being trucked off the battlefield, without limbs, without hands, without eyes. In forty years, when the Iraq war is a paragraph in the history books and all the threadbare flags that now bedeck our car antennas have rotted in the landfill, these men (and women) will still be with us, haunting us like ghosts from a forgotten past. It’s enough to make me want to engage in some kind of massive act of protest, to spit on every bullet ever manufactured, every munition, every fragment of shrapnel, to suck out every last bit of moisture from my body, every drop of my contempt, until all that is left is dust, and from the dust a song, not of battle, but of reconciliation, of peace on earth and good will among all people.

Goodbye brother. You did not fail us.

We failed you.

If only...

We used to value above all else money and possessions; now we bring together all we have and share it with those in need. Formerly we hated and killed one another and, because of a difference in nationality or custom, we refused to admit strangers within our gates. Now, since the coming of Christ, we all live in peace. We pray for our enemies and seek to convert those who hate us unjustly.

St. Justin Martyr

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Blogs I'm reading...

So I should preface this by saying that my very favorite blog ever, "Nobody's Doll," went to that big server in the sky some months ago, and I still haven't fully recovered. It was Kirstie Baker, if that was really her name, who first got me interested in the idea of blogging. Her incisive posts after 9/11 were a big part of what got me though that very black, black time. Come back, Kirstie!

The weblog I read the most on a regular basis is RealLivePreacher. I found RLP linked from somebody's website (I have no idea whose) who wrote, "I'm not a Christian, but this guy almost makes me want to become one." Painfully honest and beautifully written. I recommend starting with the early essays from the archive. All of you should immediately stop reading this and go check out Gordon's blog (I'm just a "Back" keystroke away).

My most recent blog discovery is The Light Fraction, a blog focusing on "organic farming, social justice, and Orthodox Christianity," written by a soil scientist. I really enjoyed reading through this; it is just the right mix of warm and lighthearted and funny and serious and well-reasoned. The February archive has a really fascinating discussion of evolution and "intelligent design," a subject that has recently become big news again. I like it because its Orthodox and openminded, and that, unfortunately, is hard to find.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Vietnam Revisited

The following is a guest editorial written by my friend Mark, who is homeless and lives on the streets with his wife Sheri. Anyone who would like a more detailed introduction to Mark and Sheri can click here and here.

I think Mark's essay is important not merely because he opposes the war in Iraq, a subject upon which he and I happen to agree. Mark's writing reflects a view of the Vietnam and Iraq wars--and indeed, of the world in general--from the perspective of those who have been left behind in the global quest for wealth and dominance. He offers a "view from the side of the road," a perspective that is always welcome on this weblog.



Thirty years ago, the US got involved in a war in Vietnam, a small country in Southeast Asia. It was destined to be the first war the US would lose. Vietnam claimed roughly 68,000 American lives and would continue for 10 years. How many of us remember or even know why we fought that war? Our President was all over the news at the time, telling the people of America about a Communist threat in Vietnam; after all, didn’t they have the Soviet Union backing them? We were told over and over that if we didn’t stop the Communists in Vietnam, we would end up fighting them right here in America.

We lost the war in Vietnam, and the Soviet Union would eventually collapse of its own accord. Today, we even have a dialogue with Vietnam. I believe we should ask ourselves, “How real was the threat the Communists represented? Did our government, along with defense contractors and other private businesses, create a scare and waste 68,000 American lives for their own personal agenda?” The reason I bring all this up is that we now seem to be in a similar situation in Iraq. Are the similarities between Iraq and Vietnam real or imagined?

In 1991, George Bush Sr. launched “Operation Desert Storm,” which was supposed to be the liberation of Kuwait, the pretense being that if we let Saddam Hussein take over Kuwait, who would be next? After all, Iraq was accused of committing atrocities against its own people, and was said to be in possession of weapons of mass destruction. But how did the liberation of Kuwait in 1991 really benefit the US? The answer is found in companies such as Bechtel and other US corporations that received large contracts to rebuild what we destroyed while helping to “liberate” the Kuwaiti people. Is it coincidence that oil is Kuwait’s main export, and George Bush Sr. is an oilman?

Fast-forward 12 years. It’s now 2003, and we have George Bush Jr. as President, who (coincidentally) is also an oilman. Are we starting to see a connection here? Bush Jr. is now telling us that Saddam Hussein is a terrorist, that he has weapons of mass destruction and is a worldwide threat, and that it is the duty of the US to stop him now in Iraq so we don’t end up having to fight him on US soil. Is any of this starting to sound familiar?

Why haven’t we found any weapons of mass destruction yet? Also, like Vietnam, why are most of the attacks on American soldiers coming from the people we are supposedly fighting for? Obviously, there is something very wrong here that we have missed. We have for all intents and purposes destroyed the Iraqi infrastructure, and companies such as Bechtel and Halliburton, the company formerly headed by Dick Cheney, have $20 billion worth of contracts to rebuild what we destroyed. Already, Halliburton Co. has been found cheating the US—our own people! How will Iraq be able to repay $20 billion to the US? Iraq’s only resource is oil; a coincidence?

Our government would lead us to believe that the US wins all the way around. But what of all the American lives we are losing? Who is really going to benefit in the long run? Why do we let our government, at the cost of American lives and in the name of freedom, use us as pawns in their own personal board game, one that seems to be a combination of Risk and Monopoly?

On the whole, we Americans have become far too complacent in managing our country’s affairs. But the government is only part of the problem; we are the other side of the equation. We are so wrapped up in our lifestyles—our cars, clothes, toys—that we are reluctant to rock the boat, for fear of losing what we have. If we continue on this road, we will eventually lose everything, one civil right at a time. As Americans, we like to think of ourselves as intelligent and progressive. But are we? Intelligence requires logic and the ability to reason, yet most Americans accept the information they receive through the media as Gospel. It is said that magic is based upon illusion, that people generally believe what they see and hear. Knowing this, why wouldn’t the America people question what we are told by the media and the government, especially if it seems to defy logic?

We as a people need to wake up and see things for what they really are, and then we need to change them the only real way we are able: at the polls. We have the power to vote these criminals out of office. That’s what makes America great. So remember, “knowledge is power.” Do your homework and help America get back on track and back into the hands of the people, where it belongs.

Monday, November 22, 2004

La Pregunta

My mother told me:
if you stone the white fledglings,
God will punish you;
if you hit your friend,
the boy with the donkey face,
God will punish you.

It was God's sign
of the two sticks;
And the commandments of God
fitted into my hands
like ten more fingers.

Today they tell me:
if you do not love war,
if you do not kill a dove a day,
God will punish you;
if you do not strike the black,
if you do not hate the Amerindian,
God will punish you;
if you give the poor ideas
instead of a kiss,
if you talk to them of justice
instead of charity,
God will punish you,
God will punish you.

Mamma, is that really our God?

Jose Gonzalo Rose

On hat sizes and being satisfied

A few days ago, I got on the trolley on my way to work, and sat down next to Susan. Susan is an Asian American woman of about forty years old, who also happens to be mentally disabled. I've gotten to know Susan riding the train; I enjoy talking to her. She catches the trolley to work every day, where she puts labels on envelopes and does other light clerical tasks.

Susan has an intense gaze. In our culture, we don't really allow people's eyes to remain on someone's face for more than a few seconds at a time; it's considered rude, impertinent, forward. But Susan looks at each person long and hard, sometimes for a full two minutes, as if trying to read something written there, trying to decipher every detail of their face.

It can be a little unnerving.

After I sat down, Susan studied me for a while in her usual intense way, and then said, "You have a big head!"

Some people on the tram snickered. One person blurted out, "Big HAIR, she meant you have big hair" (I don't really, though it is a little long right now). But Susan insisted, "No, a big head. You have a big head."

I told Susan she was right, I do have a big head. And its true (in more ways than one). Whenever I buy a hat, I always have to find the biggest head size, at least a 7 1/2. More on that in a minute.

Susan then said, "Me, I have a small head. I'd like to have a big head like you." A short, awkward silence ensued. One nearby passenger, in a lame attempt at a joke, blurted out, "Maybe she wants to trade heads with you right here on the train." But Susan shook her head vehemently. "No. No. You can't be somebody else. You have to be yourself."

I said to Susan, "But wouldn't it be nice, every now and then, to be somebody else just for a little while?" Maybe I was thinking about how children love make believe, dress up, pretending to be someone else. Maybe I was thinking about how I sometimes wish I could be someone else: more heroic, more intriguing, more sagacious. The plus self. The venti personality.

But Susan looked at me and said, "No. You have to be satisfied with who you are."

I thought about Susan's words all the way to work, and throughout the rest of the day. When I was born, my head was so large the doctors feared I might be hydrocephalic. They told my parents I might grow up to be mentally disabled. What separates me from Susan is, well, not very much at all. A segment of DNA coding less than a billionth of an inch long. The will of God. You figure it out.

You were absolutely right, Susan. Absolutely right.

We have to satified with who we are.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Nobody wants Sandy

I wrote this earlier this year, on Valentine's Day...

Yesterday, when I got home, Sandy was waiting for me. Sandy has long brown hair, a wonderful smile, a chirrupy voice, and almost no actual contact with reality. Through whatever vicissitudes of life, Sandy lives in her own world, an imaginary world, a world that touches the one we experience at only tangential points. I'm told she has been like this since she was a child. She is utterly childlike; no, she simply is a child, a child in a forty-five year old woman's body. Like a child she is innocent and devious, casually unmindful of how she inconveniences you, still believing, like a child, that she is the center of the universe.

What is really amazing about her, though, is how persuasive she is. She believes in her own little reality, and has the power to make you believe in it too. Her world is utterly coherent, her stories hold together amazingly well. Her manner of speaking does not immediately tip you off that something is not quite right. If you didn't know her, you might actually believe her when she tells you that she is a medical specialist or a children's worker or a librarian. She once convinced a passel of contractors to show up for a meeting in order to submit bids to build a children's center on property she didn't own. They really believed her, and were exquisitely angry (as only contractors can be) when they realized it was all, well, it wasn't exactly untrue, it was just Sandy's truth, not the truth that the rest of us have to live by.

Sandy has four children, all of whom have been taken by the state. She could not but be an unfit mother. She is a child herself, and does not have the capacity to be a parent. God only knows what men have taken advantage of her along the way to allow her to have these children, these gifts from God whom she loved but could not keep.

What make Sandy unique is that she is so cheerful, so unlike most people who live through the grueling day to day struggle of trying to find enough food and a place to live. She has a glowing face. She has purpose, drive, ambition, even if it is towards entirely fictive endeavors.

Sandy was waiting for me because her brother has threatened to have her arrested again if she goes back to her home. You see, for years and years Sandy lived with her mother in a little trailer on some property belonging to Sandy's brother. When her mother died, she left Sandy the trailer in her will, but the property still belongs to the brother. Now that her mother is dead, her brother refuses to allow her to stay there anymore, so Sandy is homeless, wandering the hills. When she came to us, she hadn't had a shower or a warm place to stay for a week, and she hadn't eaten in awhile either.

I went down to see the local sheriff today to see if there was anything to be done about the situation with her and her brother, if her brother could really keep her out of her own trailer, remove the circuit box so she would have no power if she tried to spend the night there, and steal whatever food or clothes she leaves there. He told me that the brother could do so; it is, after all, his property. Moreover, he informed me that there was a warrant out for Sandy's arrest, possibly for trespassing on her brother's property to stay in her old home, possibly an old warrant relating to her neglect of her children. He told me that they would be happy to "take her off my hands" if I knew where she was; they could lock her up where she would at least have a cot and three meals a day. I told him that she had come by, but didn't tell him that my wife and I had given her a place to stay for a couple of nights. He sort of looked at me sideways and told me that putting her up would not exactly constitute harboring a fugitive, but that I could get in trouble if I tried to hide her.

All the way home, I thought of a line from Dickens' Christmas Carol: "Are there no workhouses? Are there no prisons?"

Last night, she called her daughter, who lives in a town about a hundred miles away. In Sandy's perfect and fictive world, her daughter was planning to come up and spend Valentine's Day with her. Of course, her daughter wasn't coming, had never intended to come. But Sandy didn't get upset; she is, after all, far too busy with her projects: building the new children's center, helping others with their medical problems, reorganizing the library. She has too much to do to let a little thing like being alone on Valentine's Day upset her.

Nobody wants Sandy. Not her own children, not her brother. Nobody. The world is waiting for Sandy to die and get out of the way. There is nothing for her here but a cell, a cot, and three meals a day.

Tonight when I got home, there was a scavenged business card in the door that said, "We appreciate your business; thank you for giving us the opportunity to serve you." Sandy had signed it. I think she's probably gone again, wandering the hills. Maybe she'll break into her trailer tonight, and try to spend another night there with no heat, or light, or water, shivering with the cold, thinking about her mother, who used to share the trailer with her.

Remembering someone who wanted her.

Monday, November 15, 2004

The widow's mite

Jesus looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’ (Luke 21:1-4)

I wonder, how did the priests spend those two copper coins?

Did they recognize the gift for what it was?

Or did they spend it, lumped carelessly together with all the other gifts, on rich food and fine clothing, on all the things that this woman could never afford, all the luxuries she would never have allowed herself?

Every Sunday, people like this woman come to our churches, seniors who put into the plate that which they have managed to carve out of tiny Social Security checks and inadequate pensions. How would the Lord react if He knew we were spending their money on luxury cars and beautifully decorated houses? On gem-studded crosses and Rolex watches? On vast "Byzantine-style" churches that perpetuate our imperialistic aspirations?

Heaven in all its fury would break loose in the temple, as it once did long ago.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

A letter from the mayor

So a few weeks ago, the mayor of our illustrious metropolis went out for a homeless photo-op. He found a homeless lady on the sidewalk, a woman addicted to alcohol and crack cocaine, put his arm around her, and offered to take her down the street where a roomful of nice people were waiting to get people checked in to shelters and detox programs.

And I thought to mysef, "Great. When the Mayor takes a walk on the wild side, he gets his picture in the paper and the lucky recipient of his attentions wins the social service lottery, but when someone like Sheri tries to get herself into detox, it takes her three weeks even to get her foot in the door."

So I wrote the mayor a letter. A nice letter. I told him the story of how Sheri tried for weeks to get into a detox program. I told how her admission was almost derailed at the last minute by having to travel across town and wait hours for a chest x-ray. I suggested that if we are serious about dealing with the root causes of homessness, we should make sure that enough beds are available in the detox facilities so that anyone who wants to kick drugs or alcohol and is there at the clinic by 8:00 AM can be receiving care that evening.

Bottom line: nobody who struggles within themselves to find the courage to walk through the doors of a clinic seeking help for their addictions should be sent out of those doors without receiving it. Nobody.

So I got back a letter from the mayor. "Dear _____, I am sorry your friend had difficulty finding a shelter bed..."

a shelter bed?

It wasn't a shelter bed, it was a bed in a detox facility. Big difference. Anybody can get a shelter bed in this city, primarily because the shelters here are so dangerous that nobody wants to stay in them. People would rather push shopping carts around all night, mile after footsore mile, than stay in one of the shelters where they could easily get robbed or raped or killed.

Dammit, Mr. Mayor, read your mail.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The least of these

Yesterday, I stopped in to visit Therese. Therese lives in a trailer park in a rural area, a place of bizarre contradictions where the very rich and the very poor live in a kind of accidental community. In one space will be a beautiful RV, costing easily more than a hundred thousand dollars, with a brand new SUV parked next to it: well-heeled tourists visiting the nearby National Park. In the next space over will be a dilapidated little trailer that was probably acquired for less than $200, siding missing, cardboard in the windows, and a tarp over the roof to keep the rain out, with several broken down vehicles in various states of disassembly scattered around the yard. The trailer park is the epicenter of poverty in this area, the next to the last stop before having noplace to go.

Therese's trailer is a disaster from the outside, even worse on the inside. It is the house of a person who has been defeated by life, the living environment of someone who sees little use trying anymore. She smiles a lot, but its a rueful kind of smile, the uncertain grin of someone laughing at a joke that might turn out at her own expense. She worries a lot about her children. There is Carol, who is in high school, and who hangs around with Jason and Sarah, teenagers in the trailer park who are having sex and using crystal meth. She gets mad at Carol and yells at her too much; one can only wonder if her meaning bleeds through all those angry words: Please don't screw up. You have a life and a future ahead of you. Please don't get stoned and pregnant and stay stranded on this mountain forever.

Please don't repeat my mistakes.

Then there are Sheri and Paul, who are four and six. Therese's fears about Sheri and Paul are much more uncomplicated: she worries about feeding them. Underneath her smile lurks the shadow of quiet desperation, the look of someone who has been cornered many times, and has made decisions of which she is not proud.

Therese has her own business trimming trees and cutting firewood. She works hard. Unlike some in her position, she really tries. But every time she tries to take a step up the ladder, the rungs crack and splinter underneath her feet. Just when she seems finally about to get a break, something always happens: her truck breaks down or gets impounded for not having tags, or her equipment fails, and the job goes away. She lacks self-confidence, and so underbids the jobs she does get, selling herself short and barely covering her expenses.

November begins the most difficult time in the mountains, the time when all the odd jobs and temporary work dry up. November is also the time of year when the aid offices run out of money for assistance with propane and electric bills until around February, when the new grants come through. Our food distribution in this area used to nearly double in volume in the period from November through March. Therese confided to me that the firewood business, her only real prospect during the winter, didn't look so good this year.

I brought over some food, some rice and canned goods and a pan of frozen Greek chicken I swiped from the church freezer. I suggested that she put the chicken in the freezer, but she said they'd probably thaw it out and eat it right away.

So things are pretty bad for them right now.

I dropped by while attending a conference on the subject of trauma, particularly the trauma resulting from terrorist attacks or natural disasters. One of the presenters, though, took some time to talk about the unrelenting trauma of poverty. As a family systems therapist, he pointed out that it is usually the weakest and most vulnerable members of a family who become "symptom bearers," the persons in whom the stress or pathology of the entire family surfaces. But he also pointed out that this happens at a national and international level: the most vulnerable populations bear the symptoms of our collective pathologies. Trauma shatters our illusion of security, but within a year or two, people of means have mostly picked up and moved on, while those who lack access to resources are still traumatized. The rich take their expensive RV's and "get away from it all," but the trailers of the poor never go anywhere; they cannot get away from anything. For most of us, a major traumatic event is almost a kind of luxury, since it implies that there are long spaces on either side of the event in which we are not being traumatized and have an opportunity to recover. But for the weakest members of society, trauma is a continuous event, a daily shattering of whatever illusion of security still remains intact, a constant living on the crumbling edge of despair, a shadow of quiet desperation behind a smile.

When Christ said that He is present in "the least of these," perhaps there is more to this than we can ever know. Perhaps it is true that, like Him, they are suffering for all of us. For all our sins.

It's a beautiful world we live in

A sweet romantic place
Beautiful people everywhere
The way they show they care
makes me want to say

It's a beautiful world.

For you...
... not me.


Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Three sheets to the wind

"Look at 'er, she's three sheets to the wind already and it isn't even dinnertime." This was Mark, talking about his wife Sheri, who was panhandling on the opposite corner. "What was that?" I asked, "What does that mean, 'three sheets to the wind?'" "Oh, just something my dad used to say when he got drunk. It means you're drunk or stoned, like the wind is just, carrying you away or something, I don't know"

That was yesterday. Today, I spent most of the day with Sheri, trying to get her into a program to kick alcohol and heroin, a twenty-one day medical detox followed by a six-month residential aftercare. Sheri has been trying to get herself checked into the program for the last week and finding herself frustrated at every turn. She showed up at the "treatment on demand" clinic every day for nearly three weeks at 8:00 in the morning, only to be told that there were no beds, come back tomorrow. Yesterday, they finally had a bed available for her. But in order to get checked in, she needed blood work and a TB test, and she had to get these at the hospital on the other side of town, an hour bus ride each way. Then, because she has been exposed to TB and tests positive, she needed a chest x-ray, which meant going back to the hospital and waiting hours again. By this time, she was tired and desperate for a fix, and she didn't make it to the hospital or back to the clinic. So we invited them to spend the night at our place, sleeping on our hide-a-bed instead of in the alley, and the next day I would drive her over to the hospital early to get her chest x-ray, then back to the clinic to try and get her into the program.

The day got off to a rough start. Sheri had severe delerium tremens this morning when she got up. I poured her some rum, the only hard liquor I had in the house, so she could get settled down and hopefully drink some coffee and eat something, thinking all the while about a scene in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes where Idgie gives Smokey Lonesome a drink so he can sit down and eat. Later, she went out to get a shot of heroin. She then proclaimed herself ready to face the day, or at least the next several hours.

On the way to the hospital, she told me a little bit about her life. How she grew up in this city, has lived her all her life. How her dad started molesting her before she was a teenager, how he'd crook his finger at her and say "Come heeere" at night when her mom was at work and her brothers were asleep. How she left the house (she didn't call it "home") the day she turned 17. How later she asked her mom about it, and her mom said she knew what was going on at the time, but that she couldn't sacrifice the whole family for the sake of just one child.

She nodded to herself for a minute, then said, "That's fucked up, ain't it?"

When we got to the hospital, we found out the power had been out for a while, and that the computer system was really backed up, so that getting results would take longer than usual. I left Sheri slumped over and half-asleep in the waiting room while I went out to call the detox facility, where I got the first bad news of the day. They were no longer holding a bed for her, since she didn't make it back to the clinic yesterday. I pleaded with the person on the other end of the line, then the person she referred me to and the next person after that, trying to see if there was any chance of getting her into a bed today. In the end, I managed to get an "I'll see what I can do," and then it was back in to wait with Sheri.

It took three hours to get the chest x-ray, and by that time Sheri was starting to fade, getting edgy. I gave her two dollars to buy some vodka while I went and got the car, figuring it would be better to let her have a little now than to lose her altogether. On the way, I called the social worker back; they still didn't have a bed for her.

We stopped to get someting to eat, then drove down to the clinic, and there we got our first really good news: they had found a bed. Now we just had to wait for the results to come in from the very backed up system at the hospital. If they didn't get the results in by 4 PM, Sheri would lose the bed and have to come back tomorrow. Worse, I wasn't sure she would last until 4 PM without a fix.

Many phone calls and a lot of pleading later, we got the results, and Sheri was accepted into the program.

As we sat together waiting for the van to come and take her to the treatment facility, a beautiful African-American woman, one of the social workers, came into the room, radiant and smiling at Sheri. She said, "You're going to be OK honey. Everything's gonna be all right. You're doing a really good thing." In a day that was measured in the incremental advances of bureaucratic negotiation, this was grace wholesale and unexpected. In that moment, her voice sounded more like the voice of Christ than anything I had ever heard.

I noticed that Sheri was still nursing the cup of coffee I had bought her that morning at the hospital, and mentioned it to her. She nodded, and said, "Yeah, I poured my vodka into it." She nodded to herself a couple more times, then peered meditatively into the cup and said, "It's my last one."

I walked across the parking lot after they picked her up, and unexpected tears flowed. It was a release of tension, of all the things that could have gone wrong, all the things that had gone wrong for Sheri in this terrible fucked up world. But today, one little thing went right.

She was three sheets to the wind when the van picked her up. But "the wind bloweth where it listeth," and the Spirit also moves in mysterious ways. Maybe today I bought Sheri her last drink.

You're going to be OK, honey. Everything's going to be all right.

Genoito. Genoito.
Let it be so. Let it be so.
(Psalm 41:13)

Friday, September 24, 2004

The poor talk too much

I've noticed something about people who live in poverty: they talk too much. Whenever I talk to people in a bad way, they go on and on and on about their situation. You listen and nod and say "uh-huh," and wait for it to end, checking your internal watch and trying to decide if you have time for this, and it just keeps going and going. It can be really annoying, actually.

At first I took this as a danger signal, a sign that someone was trying to hustle me out of something by spinning out a good story. But I realized after awhile that this wasn't really the point (though some of the poor are by necessity good hustlers). I think that people whose lives are spinning out of control feel a deep need to tell their story. Putting the events of their lives in the form of a narrative is a way of trying to regain some measure of control over their destiny. Telling their life in the form of a story gives the sense that there is meaning and purpose and direction, and not just random tragedy after random tragedy.

It is sometimes said that the poor have no voice, but maybe this isn't accurate. They have plenty of voice, but their words are like the proverbial tree falling in the forest when no one is there to hear it. The wealthy and powerful don't need to talk much, because their voices have power, because people listen to their words, because their fiat ("let it be") becomes reality. They can afford an economy of words.

The poor are shockingly liberal with their words, spending them in fat bundles like devaluated currency. Listening to them is a way of giving them a power that they lack in almost every other aspect of their life. Who can measure the despair of the person who has no one to listen? What terrible acts might have been averted simply because someone was able to tell their story, and thus regain a sense of mastery over their own destiny, a sense of human dignity?

Peacemaking as listening: this is a theme on which we need to reflect. Telling one's story and having someone to listen and really hear may be an antidote to despair. How do we engage the power of listening?

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Spiderman and the limits of responsibility

A few weeks ago, after a very hectic period in my schedule, I allowed myself the almost unimaginable treat of going out to see a movie. I went to see Spiderman 2, which I figured would be a good escape.

Spiderman 2 is a movie about responsibility and the limits of responsibility. As Spiderman, Peter Parker is saving people's lives, but at a tremendous personal cost: he gets fired from his job for being late, he's flunking out of college, and he is losing the woman he loves. Peter is trying to figure out where his responsibility ends. How much of yourself, how many of your dreams, are you willing to give up for the sake of other people? How do you measure one person's desperate, life-threatening need against your own more mundane needs for comfort, regularity, security, romance? There is one amazing scene in the movie where Peter is trying to stop a runaway train; he spreads his arms out in front of the train in the form of a cross, looking as if he is being crucified.

After watching the movie, I met Eleanor and her two-year-old son Jacob at the grocery store. Eleanor had called me the day before, desperate, because she was out of food, she and Jacob hadn't really eaten for two days. Eleanor is homeless right now, she lives in a tent down by the river. Psychologists at the university tested Eleanor and diagnosed a developmental disability; her reading comprehension and mental development are at approximately a third grade level. She is functionally illiterate. The psychologists determined that she was incapable of holding down a job, but SSI denied her petition to go on permanent disability. So she is living on welfare, ticking off her two years of eligibility for "welfare to work." Except that she can't even collect welfare right now, because she lost her place to live, lost her mailing address, and they won't let you pick up welfare checks from the local office if you're homeless. Cuts down on fraud and overhead.

So I took her through the grocery store, buying milk and fruit and bread and soup and other staples. I took them out to dinner at a fast food place. And I put some gas in their car. And all the while, I'm thinking that I have bills, debts, responsibilities, that this is not something I can really afford.

What are the limits of responsibility? This used to be an easier question. Sure, fine, help whoever comes to you; after all, how often do people come knocking at your door? But what happens when it becomes a weekly or even daily event? When need opens up like an abyss before you, and you realize you could throw everything you have and your own self into that abyss and not even make a beginning of filling it? How many people with hungry kids do you try to feed before you have to say enough, no more, I have to feed my own kids? Where do you draw that line?

The miracle of the five loaves and two fish is telling us that in the act of sharing what we offer is multiplied, becomes enough to meet the need. But sometimes, in my darker moments, I wonder if it really works that way. You bless, and you break, and you give, but in the end it is still only five loaves and two fish, not really enough for a meal, the food quickly gone, the hunger dulled but not sated.

I think about how the disciples must have felt when they looked at that vast crowd and their slender resources. How they felt when the Lord said, "You give them something to eat."

Friday, September 17, 2004

The sacrament of compassion

I have made a new life decision. The decision is that whenever someone says to me: "Don't waste your time with so-and-so," or words to that effect, then I will know that I am


where I am supposed to be at that moment.

I have been trying to help a woman get copies of her naturalization papers, so she can get a passport and visit her brother in the old country. This woman has a significant mental handicap. She's sixty years old, but she dresses and wears her makeup like a child.

So someone found out what I was doing, and took it upon themselves to disabuse me of the notion, waxing at great length as to how people had tried to help her in the past... then the Church gave her over a thousand dollars in cash and the next week she came back saying she had lost it all or it had been stolen or something, can you imagine...

I can't imagine just handing her cash. Didn't anybody think that maybe, instead of just shoving a wad of bills at this poor confused childlike woman, they could have found something that she really needed and bought it for her? Clothes, bus passes, grocery scrip. Of course, that would have required some effort, some time to get to know her needs, to talk to her, to treat her like a human being... just forget about it, she's not going anywhere, you're wasting your time...

Fuck that.

You heard me.

The last time somebody pulled the "wasting my time" line on me I was trying to buy propane for an elderly man who was living in his RV without any heat, hot water, or stove.

...its not worth your time, he's a drunk, he's a bum, he's hopeless, he's...

He's a human being, created in the image of God. Infinitely valuable. He's cold, hungry, sick. Lonely. What matters is not so much the passport, or the propane. Its the expression of care. These are only the matter of a sacrament of compassion, the visible sign of an invisible presence.

Wipe that smirk off your face. Learn to see the world with new eyes. Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is within your grasp, you can reach out and touch it in the person standing next to you. It need not always be thus. If things do not change, maybe we are not trying hard enough. Maybe the problem is not "them," but "us."

You tell me I make no difference
At least I'm fucking trying
What the fuck have you done?


Monday, September 13, 2004

The downward pull of the Cross

September 14: Feast of the Holy Cross

Henri Nouwen describes the Cross as being symbolic of the "downward pull" of divine compassion, of God's willingness to enter into solidarity with our weakness and suffering.

Strange indeed, then, that in the modern Orthodox Church the cross has become symbolic of the "upward pull" of competition and advancement. For a priest to wear a cross is a sign that he is advancing through the ranks, moving up in the world of the clergy. The more ornate the cross, the more golden and bejeweled, the higher the ranking of the priest.

This is a sign of a deep spiritual sickness. Some of our priests and bishops seem to be possessed of a kind of rhinestone fetish, an obsession with jewel-encrusted crosses and medallia. As a possible antidote, let me offer the following words of St. Basil:

Why do you find gold so alluring? Gold is, after all, merely a kind of mineral, as is silver or pearl. Chrysolite, beryl, agate, hyacinth, amethyst and jasper: they are all nothing but stones. These indeed comprise the rainbow hues of wealth. Some you hoard for yourself, concealing them and covering their luminous facets with darkness, while the more precious ones you carry with you, filled with conceit by their sight of their luster. Tell me, what benefit do you acquire by whirling your hand about resplendent with gems? Should you not rather blush for shame, having this strange craving for pebbles, like the cravings of pregnant women? Expectant mothers sometimes gnaw pebbles, and you have a similarly greedy appetite for brightly colored stones: sardonyx, jasper, and amethyst.

St. Basil the Great, "To the Rich"

All the diamonds in this world
That mean anything to me
Are conjured up by wind and sunlight
Sparkling on the sea

Bruce Cockburn

Saturday, September 11, 2004

"Not mine" - a spiritual discipline

Recently I have been attempting to follow a small spiritual discipline: endeavoring to eliminate the use of the words "my" and "mine" (I had to end this sentence early so as not to say "from my vocabulary"). The idea behind this discipline is not merely the elimination of two monosyllabic words, but rather the complete reshaping of a way of thinking about the world and the things we use.

Every time I catch myself about to use one of these words, I ask myself how I think about the object in question. When I say "my car," I refer to an automobile that could serve the needs of many others during the hours it sits idle outside. "My house" should actually be a place of hospitality for many others. My clothes, my stuff, my books (OK, now this is getting personal); was all of this really put on the earth just so I could possess and enjoy it to the exclusion of all others? Why is it that the only way we know to relate to the world is through categories of ownership?

Some examples are more difficult. "My wife," for instance. We have pledged ourselves to each other, but is she really mine, my possession, some kind of chattel? Probably better to call her by name, respecting her unique identity as a person, rather than referring to her obliquely through myself.

After all, this is perhaps the only thing that is truly "ours" in this world: a name, nothing but a name, and even that we share with others.

"For 'mine' and 'yours'-- those chilly words that introduce innumerable wars into the world -- should be eliminated from that holy Church... The poor would not envy the rich because there would be no rich. Neither would the poor be despised by the rich, for there would be no poor. All things would be in common."

--St. John Chrysostom

Runners up to terrorists

Yesterday, Donald Rumsfeld told reporters in a press conference that the human rights abuses and torture that took place at Abu Ghraib prison were not as bad as those perpetrated by terrorist groups.

Great. Now we pride ourselves on being runners up to terrorists in terms of human rights. In the Olympics of human rights abuse in Iraq, we are the silver medalists.

Shock and awe at the ballot box, people. Shock and awe.

If your enemies are hungry, feed them
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink
For by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.

Do not be overcome by evil
But overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:20-21

PS Erasmus says that the "burning coals" of the above verse represent the fiery intensity of the love we are supposed to be showing. Just in case Donald Rumsfeld maybe reads this and gets the wrong idea.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Mark and Sheri

The other night, we had our new friends Mark and Sheri over for a few hours to our new apartment. We met Sheri on the street corner last week, holding a little sign, "homeless, please help." We talked for awhile. The next evening, my wife sent the kids down to her with a plate of her very special chile relleno. Later, she introduced me to her husband Mark (he works the opposite corner); Sheri wanted me to meet him so I could beat a little God talk into him, but I told them I'm not really all that pushy about the whole God thing. I invited them to come over to our place and get washed up sometime. So they came over, took a shower, washed their clothes (it had been two months), had some tea, and we talked.

Mark is a writer, he read some of his writing to us. He's very good, his writing speaks to the inner life of someone who has done a lot of thinking, a lot of contemplating, a lot of reflecting. He only has a seventh grade education, but he writes at a college level, and with a little polishing he could be a columnist, maybe a novelist. He wants to go to college and study writing. He has dreams, aspirations. But he's standing on the street corner, using his gifts to chat up enough money for their next meal. We are losing his skills to the street.

When it was all over, we said goodnight and showed them to the door, knowing that they were not going to get into the car and drive home like ordinary guests, but catch the tram back to their little park where they will try to live out another night without getting mugged or killed, lying huddled together in the darkness.

"Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none, and whoever has food must do the same." This was the teaching of St. John the Baptist, the content of the repentance he preached. His preaching is a preparatory message, a message of justice that prepares the way for the Gospel of compassion. To make ready the way of the Lord, "every mountain shall be made low, and every valley shall be exalted." A great and cosmic leveling must take place, "putting down the mighty from their thrones and exalting those of low degree, filling the hungry with good things, and sending the rich away empty."

Have we even made a beginning?

In this moment we are forgetting
What it costs, what it takes
For one perfect world
When we look the other way.

--Amy Ray, The Indigo Girls

The view from the side of the road

As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging... (Luke 18:35)

In the Gospel of Luke, we read that Jesus encounters a blind person "sitting by the roadside begging." In fact, this is where Jesus seems invariably to encounter the poor, the lame, the blind, and the lepers: on the side of the road.

In order to understand what it means to be on the side of the road, we must first understand what a road is. The Roman government developed a fantastic road system throughout the empire, including Palestine. The great "Roman Roads," some of which exist to this day, were constructed for primarily military and secondarily commercial purposes. The primary purpose for the existence of the Roman roads was to be able to move large numbers of troops throughout the empire as necessary. This made it possible to defend Rome's borders, but also to quell riots among the various indigenous peoples which Rome had conquered. The secondary purpose of the roads was to encourage commerce, since a robust economy was necessary to support the military through taxation. This is why the tax booths were located on the major thoroughfares, where taxes were collected in the form of a toll.

To be "on the road," then, means to be participating at some level in the state-sponsored quest for military dominance and economic prosperity.

What then does it mean to be on the side of the road? Those on the roadside are the ones who have been left out of the project of power and wealth. They are the poor, the blind, the lame, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the marginalized. We constantly read that, as Christ is traveling, he stops to interact with those on the wayside. We might even say that He defines His ministry primarily in terms of those on the side of the road. In Matthew, He replies to the emissaries of John, "the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised, and the poor receive good news." And in Luke, at the beginning of His ministry, He proclaims, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

The "year of the Lord's favor" that Christ proclaims is good news for those on the side of the road.

And if we are to call ourselves followers of Jesus, if we are to embrace His Gospel of the Kingdom, we must familiarize ourselves with the view from the side of the road.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

On "private" property

“But whom do I treat unjustly,” you say, ”by keeping what is my own?” Tell me, what is your own? What did you bring into this life? From where did you receive it? It is as if someone were to take the first seat in the theater, then bar everyone else from attending, so that one person alone enjoys what is offered for the benefit of all in common—this is what the rich do. They seize common goods before others have the opportunity, then claim them as their own by right of preemption. For if we all took only what was necessary to satisfy our own needs, giving the rest to those who lack, no one would be rich and no one would be poor.

--St. Basil the Great, "I Will Tear Down my Barns..."

St. Basil is extraordinarily clear here: everything is common, belonging to everyone, but those who are quicker or stronger or just plain low-down meaner end up with the preponderance of goods.

(For a great list of other quotes from the Church Fathers on social matters and other "traditional values," see

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

In the beginning...

At the Last Judgment
I shall not be asked
How many prostrations I made
Or how faithful I was
In my ascetic exercises.

I shall be asked
Did I feed the hungry
Did I clothe the naked
Did I visit the sick and the prisoner?
That is all I shall be asked.

--Mother Maria of Paris

This weblog is dedicated to continuing the legacy of Orthodox Action, the radical Orthodox Christian association founded by St. Maria of Paris. The members of Orthodox Action dedicated themselves to the task of caring for "the least of these": alcoholics and drug addicts, people who had been purged out of mental institutions, pregnant unwed mothers, tuberculosis patients, the poor and homeless. And when the Nazis came, they expanded their ministry of hospitality to hiding Jews, becoming part of the "underground railroad" of the French Resistance that was getting people of Jewish descent out of Paris and into the Unoccupied Territory. For this, Mother Maria was eventually sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp, where she died on Good Friday, 1945 (for more on the life of St. Maria, see

Yet Orthodox Action was also a learning community, where the intelligentsia of the Orthodox Church in Paris came together to learn from one another. People like the philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev and the speculative theologian Fr. Sergei Bulgakov, along with Mother Maria, who was a philosopher and theologian in her own right, discussed how they might create a more just, more compassionate social order. It is my hope that this weblog, through comments and running dialogue, can somehow recapture some of this sense of community.

We in the Orthodox Church pride ourselves on having kept "the mind of the Fathers." But have we kept the heart of the Fathers, their radical commitment to justice and mercy? Or are we stuffing our cassocks into our ears and muttering the Jesus Prayer to drown out the screams of the dying? We have a long history of organized social endeavor: St. John Chrysostom, who was feeding and housing 3,000 people each day as the parish priest of the poorest slum in Antioch; St. Basil the Great, who founded the first hospital system in the Byzantine Empire; St. John the Merciful, working for radical social change among the refugee population of Alexandria; and St. Sampson the Hospitable, who founded a clinic that not only offered free medical care, but ensured that his patients were fed and clothed as well (see my profile). But how is this aspect of our tradition reflected in our everyday practice? Where are our hospitals, and shelters, and soup kitchens?

Possible topics for future discussion: liberation theology, socialism, the peace movement, living in intentional community.

We'll see where this goes...