Friday, December 23, 2016

Standing in the Portal

Sometimes the things I do seem to be mostly for me. Food for those who are hungry; clothes for those who need these. Water, lemonade, and coffee for those who are thirsty. I listen to the stories of the people. I pray with them. I cry with them. I laugh with them.

Basically, good but just a tiny bandaid that will help only for a very short while. Who does it really benefit? What good does it really do? Regardless of what I do, there is always so much more to be done.

I understand compassion fatigue. I get it. But in my head I hear, Suck it up, buttercup. But, damn.

“So, this is Christmas…The world is so wrong.” “War is over…if you want it.”

That’s the problem. Too few people want the war to be over. There is money in babies dying, children dismembered, cities destroyed, people sobbing. “The near and the dear one the old and the young” displaced, dying, dead.  

My heart hurts. My stomach is constantly in a knot.

I try to remember Isaiah.
Arise, shine, for your light has come, *
and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you. 

Called to bring light into a dark world, a world where “deep gloom” enshrouds the people. I feel that darkness. I can’t always see the light.

The world is wrong. There is so much death and pain. And these things will always be collateral damage, a necessary evil to gain more money. Sad but oh well…too many do not seem to understand or care.

So, too often it seems that the things we do are not enough and can’t possibly matter in such a world. It is difficult to remember any call to bring light to dispel the darkness.

But over us all, even as darkness overtakes the land, “the Lord will rise and his glory will appear” upon us.
Nations will stream to your light, *
and kings to the brightness of your dawning. 
Your gates will always be open; *
by day or night they will never be shut. 
They will call you, The City of the Lord, *
The Zion of the Holy One of Israel. 
Violence will no more be heard in your land, *
ruin or destruction within your borders. 
You will call your walls, Salvation, *
and all your portals, Praise. 
The sun will no more be your light by day; *
by night you will not need the brightness of the moon. 
                                                          Canticle 11, The Third Song of Isaiah

I want to remember Isaiah and this third song. I want to remember the light that will enlighten the nation. I want to feel it shining upon me.

And then I glance up from my writing and I see, pinned to my wall, Isaiah 49:1-6 and I remember, “the LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God.” And now the LORD says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and my God has become my strength – he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

I do not dare believe that this is not directed to me. I do not dare believe that it is to me alone. This is the thing – amid the horrors of war, the hate, the blood and tears, the crying and the dying – in the midst of the pain of living, we are given as a light, a way to be Christ in the world, many chances to break open the darkness with that abiding love that knows no denial. It is too little that we be concerned with the tactics of bringing change to a broken world; it is only that we be Christ in the world… that we love God with all our hearts, with all our souls and with all our minds and just as importantly, that we love one another, regardless, just as we are loved.

Standing in the portal offers a broad view of those things past and of those things ahead. It is frightening and too often we stand where we are, frozen. Sometimes we try to turn back but that is not possible.

It is difficult to move forward when all things imagined are seen only “through the glass darkly.” Yet we have been named and claimed as Christ’s own. Therefore, even with a bit of fear, we go forward into the chaos, knowing only that we are not alone and that we have a mission.

I will continue the work that I do because it does matter, even on those days when I feel like the little child with his finger in the dyke as he attempts to stop the ever-increasing damage the water is causing. Because more than the food or clothes given, there is the love offered and accepted. It is the work we have been given to do. We shine light into the darkness. It is a powerful light. It is a mighty light.

will remember the words of Isaiah:

Arise, shine, for your light has come, *
and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.

Merry Christmas. Let your light shine.

Friday, December 09, 2016

An Advent Message for All Who Participate in the Trinity Food Ministry

Reflections on Trinity Food Ministry and Advent
By Trinity Food Manager Barbi Click

Here we are, heading rapidly into the 2nd Sunday of Advent. While all the ways of Advent tell us to wait, sit, be still, rest our daily lives tell us to hurry, faster, strive for more.

I find that true with my days in this ministry. It is as though the more we give, the more there are who need. I make myself take a rest, otherwise, I would continue until I fall down. There is just so much to do; so much left undone.

I remember in the first few months that I started working at Trinity, one volunteer suggested that I was giving too much away. I asked him who we were saving it for and he said whoever comes tomorrow. I told him we would have enough as we needed it, that today is all we know.

While I believed what I said, who knew we would end up with such abundance? And it does not show any signs of stopping. We do not have merely enough – we have such an abundance that we often must coax some people into taking more. As for the volunteers thinking that we give away too much…that is no longer the case, as I understand it. In fact, there are a few who firmly believe we do not give enough.

The need is sometimes overwhelming. I wonder how I, personally, can maintain this pace. It seems that the meal part of the pantry grows each day. Sometimes the weight of it all bears down upon me so profoundly. But then God shares that Spirit and I am uplifted.

That is what the words of this 2nd Sunday of Advent’s Isaiah message (11:1-10) do for me; these offer hope. We long for the day when the wolf shall live with the lamb and the leopard will lie down with the kid. We anxiously await that little child who will lead us. The day of righteousness is before us when we will live in peace and love with one another and with our God. It is here in these words – this promise.

Thinking about the Pantry and this message of Isaiah makes me wonder if we are holding a key to the kingdom of God right here in this South Parish Hall every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. People line up to share a meal, to bring a bag of clothes, to sometimes offer a freshly baked sweet potato pie, to eat, to laugh and sometimes cry, to share stories, and a chance to get some fresh foods and canned goods to stretch their dollars to fit the need.

I greet people as they walk through the door. Often, they are in a hurry for the goods on the tables. Some rush to the kitchen opening to get the offerings of the day. Some rush to be first in line with the registrars. First come, first served at whichever part is the priority. Regardless, all are served.

There is no forced agenda that makes people stick around. It is simply the abundance of good food, laughter, and community bringing people together. Food is a key ingredient!

Like an auto-immune disease, too often, we suffer from a non-self recognition dis-ease. It builds barriers that are difficult to break down. Sharing a meal is a great way to learn to talk to those with whom we might never feel the desire or need to speak. That is why we have church potlucks! Bring food and people will show up!

Trinity Food Pantry is a little slice of the kingdom of God. People of all types can be found in this parish hall, sometimes as many as 100 in one hour’s time. It is crazy and noisy with voices raised in conversation and laughter. People who exist with much disease in their lives: Poverty, drugs, alcohol, violence, mental disorders, physical ailments, hunger in the belly and the heart, so many isms, so many issues.

Yet, in the midst of all of these things, we come together for a little while, in love and in peace. It is good to await “the root of Jesse” in our midst. And it is glorious.

Thank you all for sharing this ministry and your gifts. It is my pleasure and love to serve with you.

Friday, November 25, 2016

To My Family, written rather than told because that's what I do

 Yesterday I cooked. I enjoyed it. It was the first time in a long while that I enjoyed cooking. Then we all sat down to eat and it was over. It was good but it was not the stuff from which memories are made.

When I was a child, every holiday was an opportunity for a family gathering. I do not remember going to multiple houses on Thanksgiving so we must have alternated the holiday between my dad’s and mom’s families. Or maybe we went on Thursday to one and another day of the weekend to the other. Regardless, at either one, there were lots of people but more children at my dad’s family.

I especially loved the Click/Knipe gatherings. When I grow nostalgic for Texas, that is where my mind goes. My daddy’s aunt and uncle had a turkey farm in Lampasas. We would travel down there and have a great time. My memory is that it was always outside. Maybe I have gotten my memory of a Willie Nelson movie and my real life intertwined but I don’t think so. It’s just a way of life in Texas. Kids chasing chickens, music playing, people dancing, long tables filled with as many dishes as there were people. After dinner, at every single gathering I can remember, Uncle Roy (my daddy’s uncle) would find a tree with a little grass under it, lie down, pull his hat down over his face and take a nap.

Sometimes, we would gather at my great-grandmother’s historic home in Cresson. She had a big pot-belly stove in the middle of the living room and a huge cast iron stove and oven in the kitchen. She is the one who always called me by my whole name, “O.J.’s Oldest Daughter Barbara Gail.” Every time. Or so it seemed in my memory. She was also the one who admonished us as we raced out of the back door, “You chillren don’t chase the chickens!” And of course, that was exactly what we did. The back yard led out to a chicken coop and a little barn. It was a great backyard with trees to climb and corners to explore. Plus there were grapevines and swinging from grapevines was just about the best.

Later times, we would go to Grandma and Grandpa’s home in Godley. The smells of her house as we opened the door were intoxicating. Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, reunions, or just some plain old Sundays, I can easily remember those plus the warmth and sound that rushed out the door to envelop us as we entered. The noise levels were incredible. Anyone having an auditory issue might have been very uncomfortable. But it was all good noise – laughter, love, and lots more of each.

Everyone seemed to have their special place to be inside that house. Grandma, Gail (aunt) and Mom were all in the kitchen or at the table. Grandpa sat in his chair in the living room. Daddy sat in Grandma’s chair. Damon (uncle) and Karen sat on one of the three couches. Jim (aunt’s husband) commandeered another couch. If my great-aunts and uncles were there, the couches had to be shared.

And my grandpa’s hands. I remember his hands on his hips with his head leaned back and laughter pouring out. He had the best laugh. His whole body was a part of it. Or his hand resting on the top of my head when I was still small. Later, his hand gently touching my daughter’s redhead as she sat beside his chair when she was two. I think he loved her best because she was a redhead like his beloved Babe (Grandma).   

Until my sister and I got much older, we would be asked to sing. We dutifully sang whatever song Grandpa requested. My sister and I were the only grandkids for a while. The others were seven+ years younger than us. So, she and I were on center stage for a while.

It seems like most of our Thanksgivings were spent at the Clicks. Christmases were spent with my mom’s folks on their Palo Pinto farm. Grandmother (or Mamaw as she was also called), Mom’s mom, was a story teller. She was always telling stories from mom and her sister’s life. Or of me. I swear I do not know if I remember certain things or if I just heard the tale so many times it became my reality.

Thanksgiving always brought this poem:
Do you know what I’m thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day?
If you won’t laugh, I’ll tell you.
For there’s lots that I can say.
I’ve reasons to be thankful.
You’d think so too, I guess.
I fell down stairs last night and tore this big hole in my dress.
I skint my knee and broke my doll
And Oh! I bumped my head!
So you just better believe…
I’m thankful I’m not dead!

My grandmother would tell the story of my aunt (mom’s older sister) being a little girl and performing this poem on a stage, complete with all the actions necessary to make it real. I looked up the lines and found the poem in a compilation, Oregon Teachers Monthly, Volume 16 page 172, “A Thankful Girl” by Edith P. Putnam. I love Google.

Halloween always brought up “Lil Orphant Annie.” The night before Christmas, before we would be tucked into a big feather bed with heavy covers ready to bear down upon us, she would sing this song,
Santa Claus is coming, children, he’ll be here in a day.
The snow is deep and even. You can hear each reindeer hoof.
So, hang up your stockings and go to bed quickly
and close your eyes tight was you can
for he’ll peep through the keyhole to see if you’re sleeping
that good-natured, jolly old man!

There really was a keyhole in the old door of the old house. And I could always imagine Santa peering through it to see if we were asleep. It was so hard to keep our eyes shut because on the other side of the door, out in the living room there would be the jingle jangle of bells. We would hear rustling noises as the jolly old man set out our presents. Later, I discovered that the jolly old man was our Poppy. That made the memory all the sweeter.

I have not found another person who knows this song. Nor can I find it via Google. Maybe she made it up. It is a good song and one that I have sung to my own grandkids when I have been with them on Christmas Eve.

I wonder what memories I have set up for my grandkids. I know that for most of them, the farm out at Springtown was a big memory. The youngest one was not yet born. The other two’s memories are fading because they were so young. Probably most of their family gathering memories are of my parents’ place in Granbury. Just as noisy, just as filled with laughter and food. Of course, there were no chickens but there was an occasional duck wandering from one cove to another. And of course, there were the admonitions to close the doors as kids raced in and out. It was a sliding glass door so there was not that satisfying clap of a sound as it slammed shut, unhindered by child hands.

Time is rushing by. I miss our family most on these days. Rather than making memories, with so many dead or those living scattered across the country, it seems to be more of a day for remembering. It is too easy to get lost in the sorrow of loss and miss the here and now. 

Funny how the memories we hold dear seem so much more defined than the ones in the process of being made.    

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Sermon Offered at Trinity Church in the Central West End, October 23, Proper 25, Year C

Have you ever seen what an army of grasshoppers can do? They come in times of drought when every green leaf is most precious. When we lived in North Central Texas, we had 9 ½ acres. For the past few years, the grasshoppers had gotten worse each year. That year, we had a super infestation. It was amazing to watch the destruction. Our house sat on one acre and a two acre field was our view from the front lawn. In that front yard was an apricot tree that was in its maturity and offering some of the largest apricots we had ever seen.

We knew the grasshoppers were there. They were everywhere! They would fly up in our faces as we walked through the yard or field. I became a maniac during that time. We took great delight in finding ways to be rid of the little creatures. 

One evening, we saw movement out in the pasture and watched in amazement. It was as if a tidal wave was starting and coming towards us. We realized that the grasshoppers were moving in unison. We watched until it was too dark to see. The next morning, we looked to see if they were still there. 

They were not. But what was left behind was crazy. Our apricot tree was bare. There were seeds hanging on stems which were still attached to the limbs. Not a piece of fruit, not a leaf existed on the tree. The only plants untouched were the tomato plants, rosemary and live oaks. Every other plant was leafless. 

So, Joel’s apocalyptic visions of plagues and judgments are a bit frightening yet very believable to me. To think of a God that would send an army of hoppers, destroyers, and cutters is actually rather terrifying. 

How the people must have felt to have God’s power used to control and punish! How they must have felt as they heard Joel call for repentance and sharing God’s promises of liberation from the swarm, from the shame, from making the people a mockery.

Power can be used to dominate, control, and oppress. It can also be used to liberate and restore.

Because of the damage to the land, God becomes jealous for the land and has pity upon the people. God has a change of heart.

This power that was used to chastise shifts direction and is used to set the people free. Liberated and restored, God blesses them, then empowers them with an outpouring of the Spirit upon all flesh.

The Pharisee holds a certain amount of authority and power. He thinks he is righteous, doing all those things he believes are right. He prays a prayer of thanksgiving: Thank you, God, that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.

Yet here is this tax collector, a self-proclaimed sinner, praying humbly, quietly, God have mercy on me! 

Who is the righteous one? I think that most of us would answer that the tax collector was the righteous one. It is easy to see arrogance in the other.

The parable is used to help the disciples understand that they must depend upon God rather than on themselves or even each other only and to let them know that good works alone will not earn entrance into God’s Kingdom.

The Pharisee did all the things he was supposed to do. He obeyed the commandments, fasted, tithed, and prayed. What did he do wrong?

The other night as I watched the debates, I found myself shaking my head in disbelief as I heard some of the things being said. I thought of some of my friends and family that I have unfollowed on Facebook so that I would not take on their anxiety as my own. I felt sorry for their ignorance. Suddenly, it occurred to me that my thoughts were not much different than that of the Pharisee’s prayer. Thank you God for not letting me think like them. Thank you God for not letting me be like them.

The Pharisee does not need God’s gift of justification because he has justified himself. He defines himself by those things he does not like and by those he does not want to be like. Just as I did. We act alone, giving thanks to God for making us not be someone else.

There are two sides to that coin. We can imagine in this current political climate that some are praying, Thank you God that I am not a woman. That I am not Gay. That I am not Black or Brown or any other color than White.

But just as easily, it could be Thank you that I am not one of those fanatics who hates so many of your people and judge by people’s skin color or what they believe. Thank you for not letting me be narrow minded like them.

I would imagine that everyone of us has been guilty of an arrogant prayer at one time or another. Maybe more than just a time or two.

It is easy to get caught up in our good works and believe that we are holy and right. Yet with our arrogance comes a certain superiority.

I have a real friend (as opposed to FB friend). I first met her when she was a 15 year old searching for self-identity. She is very anti-war and as a result is adamantly against the mainstream candidates. She challenges me on a weekly basis, not in a bad way but in a good way although often aggravating. To debate with her, I must know why I believe what I do. Why I do what I do and say what I say. She helps me be accountable to myself, to the world around me. She has helped me understand how I identify myself and why it is important to me. She tends to knock the arrogance right out of me.

Joel reminds us that God has a power – a power than can be frightening. Yet. God is accountable to us just as we are to be accountable to God.

That is called relationship and that is what the covenants are all about.

I think the Gospel today reminds us that we hold a power also. One that can be damaging or liberating. We hold the power to build relationships OR to build barriers that keep us separate.

Sometimes we get so caught up in our own righteousness that we forget about accountability, thinking maybe that our good works are justification enough.
But we cannot define ourselves by what others do or by who we do not want to be like.

The perceived sinner did not compare himself to anyone. He stood alone accountable before God. The Pharisee needed the sinner to justify himself. The problem with that is to feel More Than, there must be one who is considered Less Than.

His identity was entwined with the sinner. Without the sinner, he had nothing. The sinner looked to no one but God for Grace. Everything the sinner had was wrapped up in God.

Why do we do what we do here at Trinity? Why do we care so much about LGBT people? Why do we offer food and hospitality? Are we the best that we can be – Are we as good as we believe ourselves to be?

Those who volunteer at the Food Pantry will think, “ah, there she goes again.” I am often on a mission to bring to the front of our hearts and minds the question of what brought us to this moment, this day at the pantry. Not just why are we there but how did we come to be there. It seems vitally important to me to know ourselves, know why we do the things we do. Otherwise, how can we change those things about ourselves that need changing? How can we have a change of heart if we do not know our heart? This is my battle every day – why am I here? How did I get to this place? How can I be a part of building relationships if I don’t even know why I am there? How can I do it better?

There are many reasons why people do good works. Most of those reasons are very good ones. I’m not sure that there is one set answer to the questions of why or how. However, I do think it is something we must continually explore.
We are only frail humans. Sometimes we are the ones who are imprisoned in our fears; we are blind to our own heart. Sometimes, we are the ones who are poor in spirit. Some days, we need to be restored - we do not know how we will get through the day, much less what brought us to this place in time.

Yet the Gospel of Jesus calls us out of that human frailty and into a mystery that is beyond our knowing, into a mystery of which we can only dream.

God is a God of power and of restoration. God calls us to have a change of heart, to be restored and empowered by that relationship with God.

Liberated and restored, God blesses us, through the outpouring of the Spirit upon all creation.

And sends us out to liberate, restore and empower others. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Proper 24 Year C RCL, offered at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, October 16, 2016

I love the prophets. They tell it like they saw it or heard it. They spoke God’s truth to the perceived power of the day no matter what the cost. And the cost was often their lives.

Jeremiah was a witness to a time of crisis and the last days of the southern kingdom of Judah. He survived the Babylonian invasion, the collapse of the kingdom, the defeat of the city, the destruction of the temple and the exile of many of his people. The whole book of Jeremiah reflects all of these events and echoes with warnings of doom and promises of hope.

Today’s reading is his most famous prophecy – a prophecy of a new and better covenant to replace the one made with Moses, the one that the people had broken. The new promise was that God would write the law into the hearts of God’s people and that all would know God and be known by God, from the least to the greatest and just as importantly, all iniquities would not only be forgiven but forgotten.

God is a God not only of Judah but of all creation and who will, in time, bring all creation to salvation through a process of liberation and restoration. Jeremiah’s message was to trust Yahweh above all and at all costs.

The author of the epistle urges Timothy to carry on with all he has learned from scripture and all he has known through faith, that a time will come when people will not listen to “sound doctrine” but will find teachers to suit their own desires. They will turn from the truth so that they might hear the word that suits their ways. Timothy is urged to proclaim the Word of God, to be persistent, to convince, rebuke, encourage with utmost patience, and to always be sober, endure suffering, and to carry out his ministry fully regardless of what others might say or do.

And in this Gospel reading from Luke: Is there anyone less powerful than an old widow woman? Today or in this Gospel, older women are met with such disdain. We have violated all the cultural mores of the day. We have had the audacity to live past the time when their youth has faded.

In the time of this Gospel reading, a widow was fully dependent upon others for her survival. And here she is, powerless…persistently pestering this powerful man.

And here this judge is, a man who is in a position to do justice-who is supposed to do justice especially for the poor and weak, yet a man who respected neither God nor people, here he is giving in to this weak old nagging woman.

If persistence paid off with such a corrupt human, how much more will it pay with a just God of unlimited power?

The corrupt judge is doing God’s will even as he does not believe in it. God’s will is being done even when we do not realize it. Justice is being served even in a corrupt world.

This is hope…that even in the midst of systemic injustice, justice may be done.

Yet it is so easy to lose heart. The weight of the world bears heavily on our hearts and minds. We are assaulted by bad news, tragic news at every turn. The images of dead children washing up on a shoreline, bombed out buildings, waif eyes staring out of ads at us, political unrest, racism, classism, ageism, so many isms that wear us out.

It is easy to lose heart. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the need, the suffering. It is easy to be tired of being horrified and outraged by the ludicrousness of this world.

We want it all to stop. It is safer in the smallness. Our hearts don’t hurt as much and our minds do not have to question those things we do not know.

This is called compassion fatigue or outrage fatigue.

We get to the point that we simply cannot hear of one more tragic circumstance.

I often see posts on Facebook that people are shutting down their accounts or taking time off from social media to quieten their lives, soften the lines, ease the anxiety.

I say to you that ability is an extreme privilege. It is a power that those of us with electronic devices hold.

People in poverty, people struggling to make it through each day, people who worry not only about the food they will feed their children but about whether or not those children will be arrested, or killed before they get back home - these people do not have the luxury of shutting down or logging out. It is not about just making ends meet. It is about making it through each day regardless of the fatigue. They may know about other tragedies in the world but the realities of their own lives are tragic enough. They live in an outrageous time in the middle of not only St. Louis City but across this nation.

These are unjust times.

I see it each day of this ministry. People are hungry. Not just a hunger in their bellies but a hunger in their hearts for justice. Hungry for a time when they do not have to come to a food pantry, hungry for a decent wage, hungry for healthy foods……..

hungry for respect and dignity.

Some of the most spiritual people I know are those I see at the Trinity Food Pantry or the Hot Lunch. People who have little but God to depend upon – these are people who are crying out to God every day to help them survive in an unjust world.

That is the reason that these texts are so vitally important today. God does not tolerate injustice. Jeremiah’s warning to the world of Judah could be said to us as well. The days are surely coming, says the Lord. And in Luke: If even an unjust judge will do God’s will, what justice will God grant to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?

Yes, we know that Jesus told us that the poor would always be with us but that does not mean that the systems that oppress people are ok. These are not. When generations of families continue to live in poverty, something is wrong with the system, not simply the people. Our education systems are flawed. Those who can send their children to good schools do; those who cannot afford the good schools must make use of the neighborhood schools. As a result, we have under-served, under-educated students.

Who needs to know about Flint Michigan? My grandson attends a magnet school in the St. Louis Public Schools. Just this semester, we received word that the water from the water fountains was contaminated with lead. 

Now how long do you think this has been going on? It is not as though it just happened. How many children have drunk water from these toxic fountains for how many years?

How much should a people bear before they begin to nag a corrupt system to right that which is wrong?

How many wrongs must be tallied up before a sense of justice kicks in?

And what does that have to do with any of us?

I sleep soundly in my nice big house in the City, I drive my cute little red car, I store up all my little treasures here on earth, all the while those I see each day or each month struggle with the simplest of things.

I can tell myself that I work to right those things that are unjust. I can wear myself out physically and emotionally trying to respond to the literal grip of need that seizes me each time I walk in the midst of the people. I can share my stories with you and try to grab your imagination so that your compassion is stirred to the point of action but     what     good    will    it   do   in the long run?

What difference does it MAKE????????

We live in an unjust society. Our laws are unjust. Our system is corrupt.

Yet, the days are surely coming, says the Lord.

Listen to what the unjust judge says.

And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?

The people of God are crying out.

The parable in the Gospel was to help us remember to pray always and to not lose heart. The difference that we make is in our prayers. If God’s will is capable of being done even in the midst of corrupt human will, what more can be done in the midst of love and respect?

We are to carry on, just as we have been taught, just like Timothy, just like Jeremiah, in faith and love. We cannot allow our own human failings to cause us to be overwhelmed or fatigued. We have to know that God’s will is being done through the small things that we are able to do.

I see what love and respect do when these are shared. I see it in the faces of those I know, of those who ask me to pray with them, of those who ask if they can pray for me. I feel the effect of their persistent prayer. I know that God’s will is being done, regardless of our awareness levels. There is faith on this earth and I do believe that it will override all that is wrong and unjust. The days are surely coming…

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
I say yes. I say yes, he will. We simply have to keep the faith, keep on praying, and do not lose heart.


Friday, September 30, 2016

A Letter from My Daddy to Me

August 26, 2005

Dear Barbi,

Remember with me back to 1962; to a younger and gentler day in our lives. Some things in life are just more memorable than others. I have written hundreds of stories that I witnessed. They lay in all stages of my memories. This one stands out. What a pleasure to just have been there.

We woke up that morning to an extremely cold winter day in 1962 on the Ulmer Hereford Ranch near Morgan Mill, Texas. The outside was a postcard of beauty. During the night the heavens had placed six inches of the most beautiful snow ever seen by me in Texas. It was a very still morning with temperatures dipping into the mid-twenties. Things of beauty can also be deadly though.

The past week we had moved 175 pregnant angora nannies to a large shed next to a harvested peanut field. After the peanuts are dug, combined and the vines are baled, there is still an enormous amount of vines and peanuts left that goats can get fat on. That was the purpose of their being here, along with the fact of the big shed for shelter from the winter and kidding next month. The reason for these nannies was for replacement of about 10% of the 1500 wethers culled each year.

These wether hair goats made more percentage wise than anything on the ranch. They would shear $10-12 a piece and this was in the ‘60s.

I asked you little girls, “Would you like to go feed with me this morning?” You both screamed out your yes. We all ate a big breakfast. Mama bundled you both up and we took off. We loaded up peanut hay and cubes for the cattle. Everything needs protein when it’s cold and this was the highest. We stopped close to the shed and were instantly mobbed. If there’s anything in the world that goats love, it’s peanut hay. I threw a couple of bales off, broke them and started throwing them blocks. You girls and me got side tracked though. Always inside the bales are many, many cured peanuts. The vines are baled and in time, the bales build up a very high heat for a certain many days and then it cures. These by far are the best peanuts ever. I was sitting on a bale exposing the peanuts and you girls would grab the peanut vine and about half the time a goat would grab it from you. A couple of times, it ended in a chase. You never won. I never heard so much squealing in my life. Goats were all over us and even over the pick-up. You were having a ball.

After filling up on peanuts, we had put out all the hay and left for the Northeast pasture to feed the cattle. Other men fed the other pastures. We slipped and slid to the pack of the pasture where the cattle were behind a hill next to a lot of timber. We fed them the cubes. You girls ate a few of those, of course. You were both a big part of everything that we did that morning, from fighting goats for peanuts to feeding a pasture full of cattle, even eating a bite with them. We loaded up and left, we were through.

We were following our own tracks out when all of a sudden I saw some deer tracks. I stopped and we got out. I explained to you that a buck deer had crossed our tracks since we had come along here. It was a big one and I pointed out a print of his dew claws behind the foot print that showed it to be a buck. I asked you, “Do you want to track this deer?” You both squealed like little magpies. We took off on his trail just jabbering. We didn’t have a chance to see the buck but you were both excited and having fun. We followed his winding trail through timber and over a hill for about a half mile. There was a dead fall behind the hill and after getting to about thirty yards of it, a big buck came to its feet and lazily loped off. I quickly pointed him out to you. You were both squealing again and jumping up and down and that deer wasn’t a bit scared of us. He just loped off. He had a big wide rack and I could count 8 points at least.

When we finally got home that afternoon, Mama had a nice hot meal ready and boy, were we hungry. It was fun hearing you both tell your mama about your experiences that day. 

What a wonderful day it was. Just two little girls, Barbi 9 and Jo 6 hanging out with their 30 year old cowboy dad. Life is good.

Happy birthday, Barbi


Friday, September 23, 2016

Raw and uncut

I am weighed down and have to release this bit by bit. I recognize and name my privilege. Privileges are not rights and I know this. This is self serving to a big extent; yet, it also serves the bigger good because I need to unload some of this. Perhaps in the telling of my tale, new light will dawn, in me and or possibly in the reader. This is raw and uncut, unedited. It just is.

Synopsis of the past two weeks
September 12 – 18
Crazy day. Lots of people. Second full week of the month. I used to think that I could predict when the surges would happen but I have been wrong so many times I stopped trying to look at trends. On Tuesday, September 12, we served 133 individuals in one and a half hours. That is not 133 individuals that came in; but it was a great many single households with the rest families ranging from 2 to 10. However, this number “served” means only those who came for their monthly allocation of groceries and does not include, for the most part, those who came simply for the meal being offered. So, in that space of the first hour, approximately 60 people (volunteers, diners, household representatives) were in the space at any given moment. This is not a record but it is close enough to count.

Dennis came in. He was not sober. Jeremiah cut in the food line and Dennis made a comment. Jeremiah responded just as rudely. They did not seem to be able to control themselves so I stepped in between them. Both continued. I did not handle the situation well. I hurt Dennis’ feelings, although he was drunk so I do not take full responsibility for that. He was drunk enough to be at the crying stage. What I wanted to say to him, what I tried to say to him was that he was a member of Trinity and as that was the case, he needed to be hospitable. Jeremiah was wrong but he was a virtual stranger, a guest. 

Both hushed their noises until they got their food but Jeremiah left speaking loudly to the wind about kicking people out and he wouldn’t be back. I told him that was his choice. Dennis took his food and went off and cried in his solitude. I felt like crap but was too damn busy to worry about either. And I was kind of pissed that both of them acted like aggrieved ten year olds. I should not have to monitor, much less control, people. Dammit.

Dennis later left. Jeremiah came back in and started the conversation again that I needed to make a rule that drunks were allowed. I deemed it necessary to let him know that I am not in the business of kicking people out or denying people entrance. He said that he would not return until I did. I said, Ok…again, that is your choice. He said that the world was full of assholes that needed to be put in their place. I told him that I agreed with him totally.

Almost as crazy but not quite so. Only 90 individuals were served groceries. We had the normal crowd for the meal. The day was busy but not as chaotic.

No Dennis. No Jeremiah. But I expected neither. I needed the calmer atmosphere.

Always a long day because I pick up from Whole Foods at 9 am and then take it back to Trinity to sort and store. I often have help picking up from Whole Foods and help with sorting and storing also. It is like getting ready for Christmas. One never knows what will be available. Sometimes it is a huge amount (2 small SUV loads) and sometimes not nearly so much. Always, always, it is more than we ever had before. J After noon, volunteers leave and I take the next two hours to catch up on paperwork or simply eat lunch and relax. By 2:30, there is a meal to get ready and Gwen, a volunteer, returns to help get that ready. 

Setting up for pantry takes a bit longer on Thursdays simply because it is a dance to arrange all the goodies. Then pantry begins at 4 and is either steady on or sometimes slow dependent upon the time of the month. This one was steady busy but not too busy. 

Regardless, by 5:30 when the volunteers scatter to other worlds, I am one exhausted puppy. This week, I am physically spent and even though this week was emotionally exhausting, this particular day was simply long.

Still no Dennis. I know he thinks he needs to apologize and won’t be back until he gets his courage.

Rest. Replenish. Try to Renew. But I couldn’t write. Too much. Too much.

While I love having some Sundays off, I do also find a renewal of energy on Sundays. I do little but meet and greet. I talk, listen, shake hands, offer hugs, and laugh a lot. It is normally a good day. This one was no different.

But still no Dennis. But I did hear that he came to church so that is good. I know he is alive.

The week of September 19 – 22
It was a normal run of the mill Tuesday, busy simply because it was the first day of week’s pantry but relatively normal. Every Tuesday pantry begins with me going by Restaurant Depot to purchase the week’s supply of eggs. We give out 4 eggs per person up to a max of one dozen. Right now, eggs are relatively inexpensive. Last year, eggs were as high as $24 per case (a dozen dozen) but now are resting at the stable of price of less than $10 per case. After that stop, I run by 2nd Presbyterian to pick up fresh produce from Arthur Culbert’s CWE Urban Farm. The Farm grows and shares its produce with the Saturday pantry at 2nd Presbyterian and Trinity Food Pantry. It is a blessing. After pick up, it’s on to Trinity to begin the set up for a new week.

That is a normal week. And this Tuesday was a normal day, thankfully.

Jeremiah came by to eat but was fairly aloof. He said hello but didn’t stick around. 

Meanwhile, people who are homeless continue to find us. The meal part of the ministry is growing.

Many think that homeless people are dirty, drunk/addicted, mentally unstable, or many other things. Some may be. But the men and women that come to Trinity, for the most part, are clean and take a certain pride in being that way. There are several that no one would ever realize are homeless.

Arlie, a pantry meal and Sunday Hot Lunch regular, and his cousin Ron (neither of whom are homeless), were laughing and called me over. Arlie asked Ron, “What do they call this place now?” Ron answered, “Barb’s place.” Both just heehawed. Arlie said that everyone he sees on the street asks, “Hey, you going down to Barb’s Place later?” I laugh. I am flattered. I feel very weird about it. 

I know that I have set into play a few beliefs that have come into a natural being. It is good. It’s all about relationship. It’s all about being a part of the community, the people of God, together, in love. It’s about love.

It’s not about it being MY place. I won’t always be there. But I do hope that the community will always have a place for everyone.

It was relatively slow. Still no Dennis but I am no longer worried because Reta, our parish nurse from Deaconess Faith Nurses saw him earlier at Pilgrim UCC where she ministers each Wednesday morning. I know he will probably show up on Thursday.

Today, we served knockwurst and cabbage with several sides and plenty of desserts. We open the doors at 1:30. By 2:15, all the Knockwurst and sides were gone. There were still desserts but far fewer. The pantry was slow but the meal was not. It was hopping.

The pantry dynamic is shifting, growing. It is good. But sometimes it is so good that it scares me. I don’t know why. It’s just there. I share the love but as I share that, I also feel a certain draining. It is far easier for me to understand why Jesus had to go into the wilderness to get away. Sometimes I feel like I am in a scene from Jesus Christ Superstar, the Temple Lyrics scene:

See my eyes, I can hardly see
See me stand, I can hardly walk
I believe you can make me whole
See my tongue, I can hardly talk
See my skin, I'm a mass of blood
See my legs, I can hardly stand
I believe you can make me well
See my purse, I'm a poor, poor man

Hearing my name repeatedly called, from all directions, people pulling at my clothes, motioning to get my attention, makes me want to cry out, “Ooh there’s too many of you,” too much need, too much pain, far too little I can do. 

I am not in any way comparing myself to Christ. I am simply stating that I understand the draining.

That is my privilege speaking. I have the privilege of walking away, finding a way to recuperate, to rest, to revive myself. When I drive home at night in my cute little car to my beautiful wife and our wonderfully air conditioned home to drink a glass of wine, eat a little food, watch a little TV before retiring upstairs to my comfy bed, I leave all the people. There is a limit and I cannot fool myself into thinking otherwise. My compassion turns away from them to my own privilege. One or two of them may make it to my dreams but for the most part, they return to their hot crumbly house, bedbug infested apartment, cubby, vaco, SRO, space under a stairwell or bridge, or shelter spot. They go back into their world that has far too much oppression and is most often underserved.

I’m good to go. The haul from Whole Foods is light but that helps me be thankful. My prayer these days is for God to help me so that I do not become complacent in the abundance. Or arrogant.

But somewhere along the line, as Gwen and I are talking, we go from laughing to crying in a space of seconds. We both realize that we have been practicing Joy but suddenly when faced with the certain reality of the world that our hearts are breaking. So, we cry for a few minutes. Then we resolve to once again practice Joy. But I think we are hiding behind a fa├žade. Somehow it feels as though “shield the joyous” phrase from Compline would fit here.

But it gets us through the time so that when it’s time for pantry, our smiles are from our hearts and in our eyes. We meet and greet.

Dennis comes in, immediately comes to me and says, “Barbi, I am sorry.” It is the apology of an alcoholic and I take it as it comes, heartfelt with full intentions of never acting that way again. But I am also able to tell him my own guilt/frustration at not saying what I meant to say. So I shared with him that he is loved by this parish and that he is a full member. Therefore, he has to think of himself as host rather than simply guest. And he has to sometimes wait. He accepts that, happy that I still love him and I am not angry at him. He has a past that includes a lot of angry family members.

Then a young man comes in. It just so happens that he is a young white guy from Cape Girardeau. I gathered that he had not been homeless long.

We try to adapt the food we give out according to special needs of the patrons. We even have a gluten-free cabinet. We have vegetarians that come to the pantry, too. Just because people are poor does not mean that they will eat just anything.

I asked him if the grocery bag that we gave him was ok or did he need to exchange some of the goods. He looked at me quizzically. I explained that some things might be useless to him – potatoes, cabbage, onions, raw eggs – unless he had a way to cook them. I explained that I had a can opener, pop tops, individual servings of fruit, etc. Plus, he had no idea how heavy all that stuff could be. He finally said maybe he should not take it all. The practical vs the desire to have enough. I told him he should take enough to have food that would last until Tuesday, gave him a list of places he could go to shower and to eat over the next few days, and then Reta (the nurse) hooked him up with Ernest.

Ernest used to be homeless. He had a really bad stroke about 2 ½ years ago that almost killed him. He still has a limp and has to walk with the aid of a cane but oh my goodness how he has improved. He is a funny guy and has his own special issues. However, he sat down to eat and talk with the guy and gave him some serious information about the dos and don’ts of being homeless. And he shared with him the location of the safe place where he used to sleep. None of the guys that come to Trinity like New Life or downtown. They all believe it is safer to be near Forest Park and the Central West End. They say they like it here because there are fewer drug and drug dealer problems.

Anyway, Ernest, God bless him, educated the young man and alleviated a little bit of my concern. Oh, and did I say that Ernest asked him if he could pray with him? Nah, I know I didn’t. But he did. And they did. And it was good.    

Pantry is almost over. Yolanda and her youngest son come in five minutes before closing. I love her. She is so kind, so calm, so aware of her blessings. And her kids are fine children. Two sons and a daughter. The youngest son is about 9 and is adorable. I haven’t met her daughter but she is a teen. The oldest son came in three or four weeks ago to pick up the groceries for his mom because she was working. Today, Yolanda told me that he was shot in the back two weeks ago. He is alive and just got out of the hospital. The bullet went all the way through him, tearing his intestines and came out his stomach. He will have to wear a colostomy bag for the rest of his life. She is thankful he is alive.

It took everything I had to hold it together. Yolanda didn’t cry. I couldn’t either. He was not my son. I do not love him like a mother would. I cannot live that pain she had, the fear she felt when she got the call, the realization that her son had become a part of the statistics that tell the tell-tale story of young black men. She said that the good news was that there was a video and the police were working hard to get the guy who shot him.

As I fought to hold myself together, as she was leaving, she told me that she really appreciated me and Trinity Food Pantry.

I locked the doors.

I am undone.

I did not mention the volunteers, many of whom take great care of me. They feel my fragility sometimes and offer much support. This is a ministry of many, not simply one person. I may lead but what is a leader if no one follows? We are following what God has called us to do - to share the love. And we do it well. I am thankful for each and everyone of the 30+ volunteers who make up this weekly ministry. I give thanks to God for you all every day.