Tag Archive: homeless

the alchemist

i watch

through my window

and the rain

as you

dig through

my trash

to somehow


your treasure

[For more of my shorter poems, click here]


This is another extract from ‘Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion’ by Father Gregory Boyle which i am reading and thoroughly enjoying [and you should totally get and read] and this story i read tonite jumped out at me and begged to be shared. From a chapter titled, ‘Compassion’:

The strategy of Jesus is not centered in taking the right stand on issues, but rather in standing in the right place – with the outcast and those relegated to the margins.

Once the homeless began to sleep in the church at night, there was always the faintest evidence that they had. Come Sunday morning, we’d foo foo the place as best we could. We would sprinkle ‘I Love My Carpet’ on the rugs and vacuum like crazy. We’d strategically place potpourri and Air Wick around the church to combat this lingering, pervasive reminder – that nearly fifty (and later up to one hundred) men had spent the night there. 

About the only time we used incense at Dolores Mission was on Sunday morning, before the 7.30 a.m. Mass crowd would arrive. 

Still, try as we might, the smell remained. The grumbling set in, and people spoke of “churching” elsewhere.

It was at about this time that a man drove by the church and stopped to talk to me. he was Latino, in a nice car, and had arrived at some comfortable life and living. He knew I was the pastor. He waxed nostalgic about having grown up in the projects and pointed to the church and said he had been baptised and made his first communion there. 

Then he takes in the scene all around him. Gang members gathered by the bell tower, homeless men and women being fed in great numbers in the parking lot. Folks arriving for the AA and NA meetings and the ESL classes.

It’s a Who’s Who of Everybody Who Was Nobody. Gang member, drug addict, homeless, undocumented. This man sees all this and shakes his head, determined and disgusted, as if to say “tsk, tsk.”

“You know”, he says, ” This used to be a church.”

I mount my high horse and say, “You know, most people around here think it’s finally a church.”

Then I ride off into the sunset.

Roll credits.

The smell was nearly overwhelming, just undeniably there. The Jesuits figured that if “we can’t fix it, then we’ll feature it.” So we determined to address the discontent in our homilies one Sunday. Homilies were often dialogic in those days, so one day I begun with, “What’s the church smell like?”

People are mortified, eye contact ceases, women are searching inside their purses for they know not what.

“Come on now,” I throw back at them, “what’s the church smell like?”

Huele a patas” (Smells like feet), Don Rafael booms out. He was old and never cared what people thought.

“Excellent. But why does it smell like feet?”

“Cuz many homeless men slept here last night?” says a woman.

“Well, why do we let that happen here?”

Es nuestro compromiso” (It’s what we’ve committed to do), says another.

“Well, why would anyone commit to do tha?”

Porque es lo que haria Jesus” (It’s what Jesus would do.)

“Well, then… what’s the church smell like now?”

A man stands and bellows, “Huele a nuestro compromiso” (it smells like commitment).

The place cheers.

Guadalupe waves her arms wildly, “Huele a rosas.” (smells like roses).

The packed church roars with laughter and a new-found kinship that embraced someone else’s odour as their own. The stink in the church hadn’t changed, only how the folks saw it. The people at Dolores Mission had come to embody Wendell Berry’s injuction: “You have to be able to imagine lives that are not yours.”

Scripture scholars contend that the original language of the Beatitudes should not be rendered as “Blessed are the single-hearted” or “Blessed are the peacemakers” or “Blessed are those who struggle for justice.” Greater precision in translation would say, “You’re in the right place if… you are single-hearted or work for peace.” The Beatitudes is not a spirituality, after all. It’s a geography. It tells us where to stand. 

Compassion isn’t just about feeling the pain of others; it’s about bringing them in toward yourself. If we love what God loves, then, in compassion, margins get erased. “Be compassionate as God is compassionate,” means the dismantling of barriers that exclude.

In Scripture, Jesus is in a house so packed that no one can come through the door any more. So the people open the roof and lower the paralytic down through it, so Jesus can heal him. The focus of the story is, understandably, the healing of the paralytic. But there is something more significant than that happening here. They’re ripping the roof off the place, and those outside are being let in.

[For the next extract on ‘When enemies work together’ click here]

[To read the post i wrote after listening to Father Gregory Boyle speak at CCDA, click here]


Would you notice if they were yours?

Wow, heart tug video of the weekend…



Would i have done any better? is the question of the moment…

Do i look?

Do i engage?

Do i take the time to hear and share a story, or even a meal?

Not every time necessarily… but some time.

And at the very least do i at least acknowledge the person’ness of the person?



A father had seven children of which two were step-children from his second marriage.

He decided to take them out for a meal and so they went down to the local restaurant. He told his oldest son that he could pick anything off the menu. His son decided to go for a giant steak with a baked potato on the side. He ordered it and they watched him thoroughly enjoy himself wolfing down his meal.

Then the father invited his oldest daughter to do the same and she chose a seafood platter. Again, they all watched as she really enjoyed her food.

This continued down the line until his five children had all eaten. 

Instead of turning to his step-children, the father then turned back to his oldest son and invited him to choose something else off the menu. The son chose a steak kebab this time with a gourmet salad on the side. His daughter went for a three meat pizza. And so it continued down the line.

After the five children had eaten, the father turned to his children and asked them if they wanted dessert. His two step-children were looking a little hungry as well and so he made sure that their water glasses were replenished so that they had something in front of them. He then proceeded to buy ice-cream and cake for his five children. 

crustyAs they were about to leave, one of his step-children asked if they too could get something to eat. Moved by compassion the father asked his daughter if it would be okay with her if the two of them shared the bits of pizza crust she had left behind on her plate? She enthusiastically agreed and so everyone left having eaten something. A great night out.


I mean that would be fine, right? You would have no problem with that if it was an actual story? We would be able to make statements like ‘Well the five are his real children and the two should be glad that they got something, right?’

Or not? Would we be absolutely disgusted that five of the children got to pig out and two were left with the remains of the meal? Would it not be okay that there was enough money and resources to give everyone a good meal and yet the decision was made to give some people a great meal while some had hardly any meal at all? 

I think if this story was an actual situation where you knew the people, it might be a lot different. The reality of the world where rich and poor live very much like this is a lot easier to turn a blind eye to or even celebrate sometimes, perhaps because the situation of the poor seems so metaphorical [until we actually start to meet them and they become ‘real people’] that it isn’t actually real [as long as we can keep them out of sight, right?]

‘The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.’ [Gandhi]

I can’t do anything personally about sports and movie stars ludicrous salaries. But maybe I can start with my own greed. And that of those who I am in close relationship with. Through conversation [it’s not guilt that is going to win this battle, but imaginative creativity might get us places] and wrestling over these things. Mutual accountability. Goal setting and experimentation. Living better.

For people in America in particular, one way of starting to align yourselves to something better might be joining a Common Change group and, together with a group of friends, start meeting some of the needs in the lives of the people you know.

For others of us it might be taking on board the stories of people around us who are doing inspirational and creative things like the Albrecht family in the UK, or Nigel and Trish and their family in Hillbrow, South Africa and asking how that might look for us in our context. For parents of young children, it might be reading some of these stories and seeing if there is anything in there we might be able to take on or whether they inspire us to figure out how our story might look.

It might require us taking a moment to stop and do a stock take of our lives and ask if we are currently living out the values that we profess to have or should we be taking a leaf out of Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson’s book and simply walking away from the place we currently find ourselves to have landed and being more intentional about choosing the place where we decide to set up camp.

Maybe a small part of not feeling overwhelmed by what is happening in Syria right now could be by being intentional about the things I have the ability to change in my life and context right now?

I mean it’s just step-kids right? They’re not even his real children… 

the life of Pi

i am busy reading ‘the life of Pi’ having already watched the movie and there are definitely some interesting thoughts on religion in it – while i don’t necessarily agree with everything written so far, this piece i found absolutely profound:

‘And that wasn’t the end of it. There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God, as if Ultimate Reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence, were something weak and helpless. These people walk by a widow deformed by leprosy begging for a few paise, walk by children dressed in rags living in the street, and they think, “Business as usual.” But if they perceive a slight against God, it is a different story. Their faces go red, their chests heave mightily, they sputter angry words. The degree of their indignation is astonishing. Their resolve is frightening.

these people fail to realise that it is on the inside that god must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open grpund of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their defence, not God’s, that the self-righteous should rush.’

[from chapter 25 of ‘The Life of Pi’ by Yann Martel]

i don’t know a crazy lot about politics, nor do i claim to.

although i do try to keep on top of the daily/weekly goings on back home in South Africa as well as the major news events with daily visits to internet news sites like iafrica.com and bbc.com so that i have a general idea of what is going on in the world.

so when the OCCUPY movement came along, i had some idea of what it was all about, while being surrounded by a bunch of people who knew a whole lot more, including one of my housemates who got involved with doing the books for the group who were active in our nearby city of Philadelphia.

and so i didn’t know everything about OCCUPY, but then one day something happened to give me a serious opinion about them.

we had heard of this huge local craziness and cause for concern as Mayor Nutter [his actual name, go figure] put this ban into place on outdoor feeding specifically aimed at the homeless in Philadelphia and, we felt, directly aimed at removing the homeless people from two specific tourist spots, namely Love Park and the soon-to-be-opened [at the time] Barnes Museum of Art.

the Simple Way [which is the non-profit my wife Valerie and i work for] sprung into action in terms of starting conversation with a number of groups who we knew were feeding people in Philly as well as formulating an official statement and a plan of action. a number of us ended up at a meeting of the health board who were discussing some changes to health regulations that were indirectly related to the ban Mayor Nutter was trying to push through.

we decided to invite a bunch of our friends to come and unofficially picnic with us outside the building the meeting was to be taking place at [as holding picnics was a potential loophole to the ban] and Occupy Philly had had a similar idea with an impromptu soup kitchen and so we all arrived and set up and started having picnics with family and friends [where any homeless people who wandered past were immediately identified as family and friends].

so my first impression of Occupy Philly up close was that we were pretty like minded, but that disappeared pretty quickly when i saw some of the placards they had brought with them with statements like “Mayor Nutter is the antichrist” on them. [i’m fairly certain Mayor Nutter is NOT the antichrist or at the very least don’t have any information in my possession to suggest or even hint otherwise]

then we got to go inside and observe the meeting of the health board and they read through the regulations and explained the proposed changes and, for the most part they were making a lot of sense and it seemed like the majority of what they were looking at was about improving the safety of food being prepared and distributed and that’s when “THEY” started…

it’s called a ‘mic check’ and it’s about on par with a little kid mimic’ing every line you say until you are both screaming “STOP COPYING ME!” at each other and someone calls mom, or a teenager sticking their fingers in their ears making “LALALALALALALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU LALALALALALALA” noise… Someone yells “mic check” and the group responds by repeating it. Then someone starts a one sided shouted ‘conversation’ or challenge and line by line or even phrase by phrase it is repeated by everyone else in the group. So it completely shuts down what anyone else is trying to do in the room, makes you the focus of attention and puts your agenda on the meeting.

let’s face it, it’s a gimmick. and it works. and it could have even probably worked in the meeting. with better control and foresight and maturity. some of the Occupy people had something good to say. but some of them didn’t. many of them just got verbally abusive and insulting and about as relevant and effective as the “Mayor Nutter is the antichrist” [he’s still not!] placard lying outside in the street against the soup kitchen table. they disrupted the meeting [which eventually after way more patience than it deserved ended up with the board walking out to finish their meeting elsewhere] and they robbed others of us who felt we had something significant and helpful to say of a voice.

and to a large extent they robbed me of having a positive opinion towards the whole Occupy movement. i know you can’t judge a whole movement by one person or group. but i also know that whenever Occupy is mentioned, that this particular story and mess of immaturity, mob mentality, disrespect is the one that comes to my mind first. and that is unfortunate.

i think for a lot of people around the country, and even the world, the Occupy movement was a legitimate response to an economic, political and social crisis and it is the hugest tragedy that their voice was drowned out by all those who jumped on the bandwagon simply because it was ‘just another cause’ or ‘an opportunity to get loud and disruptive and scream and shout and break things down’. lack of leadership and more specific direction and discipline seem to have cost it a whole lot of authenticity and respect and all this brought about by those who were sadly Self-OCCUPY’d!

so i posted about the protest action we were involved in with regards to the outdoors sharing of food with homeless people on my ‘the simple weigh’ blog but i know a lot of people susbscribe to this one so thort i would stick the links here as well.

click here for part I dealing with what i was pertaining to.

click here for part II which deals with the picnic which was my beautiful wife Valerie’s greatly creative idea.

and then here if you want the part where everything went nutball shaped as we got inside for the meeting…

and here is a blog from a new friend of ours perspective – a man who drove over an hour to be part of the protest despite himself and personal fear and trepidation…

%d bloggers like this: