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Hunger Hurts

food pantry1There are many ways to be hungry, my friends.

And they ALL hurt.

The organization Bread For The World estimates that 12 million children and 19 million adults in the U.S. go hungry each day and cannot afford the food they need to maintain physical health.

I am the Deacon-In-Charge of In the Garden Ministry housed at Trinity Church on Capitol Square. We are a community consisting of homeless, minimally housed and low-income friends gathering every Sunday afternoon for worship, sharing and a good meal. About a third of our community live ‘on the land’, and some of them do not have the resources to purchase their own food. We occasionally see families with small children who haven’t eaten (on Sundays there are not the soup kitchens serving that normally serve during the week). If you have ever encountered hungry child ‘up close and personal’, you will never forget it. All these people know hunger because they live with the physical hurt of hunger every day.

For thousands of years, bread has been the symbol of necessary food and the sustenance of life. It is easy to understand why. It is nutritious, providing carbohydrates, starch and protein to the body. It is easy to make and, in some form or other, is a part of every culture. Bread is essential. Our problem in this overdeveloped nation tends to be that we get too much to eat. How ironic, that in a nation with TWO TV channels devoted entirely to food, obesity for children and adults is a growing national problem.

    And yet we have millions going hungry each day?

    And yet, people are dropping dead in the Sudan for want of food?

For most people in the world, most of the time, the problem is that they have too little to eat. They may subsist on only one meal a day, often times less than that.

Mahatma Gandhi once said: “There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”

And the only thing that can remedy that hunger is bread . . . physical bread. And bread is more than nutrition. It’s comfort. The texture, the weight, the taste, all combine to make bread both the staff of life and the number one comfort food.

People are starving to death, literally and figuratively – in Sudan. . . in Yemen. . . in Syria. . . in Appalachia. . . in Columbus Ohio. . . – while often we do everything in our power to make it someone else’s problem, often blaming those very ones who are hungry.

It’s a radical thing we are called to do in the Christian faith. We are instructed to:

    feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, to welcome the stranger, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, visit the imprisoned. (Matthew 25:35-36)

We, as the body of Christ and as individuals, call upon one another to care for others, to share our earthly goods; to support the church, food bank, missions and/or missionaries; and to work for social justice in our cities, state and world. It is not light work or easy work, but the church and her people are often the last refuge for those who are sad, angry, alone, sick, and worried about whether they will be able to survive one more month. We are a refuge for the elderly and the sick, those who may be alone, for children who have lost their parents, for the disabled who need a helping hand and acceptance, for the abused, addicted, the lost, the strayed.

Each of us must undertake this work, not only out of the goodness of our hearts, but as builders of the Kingdom of God here on earth. And at the same time, we must care and feed each other with love, hope, joy, compassion, and community. For through this work we come to emulate Christ, and to know the heart of Jesus, who is the ‘bread for eternal life’.
 
 
NOTE: I serve on the Board of HungerNet Ohio and offered this meditation for Holy Week on our Facebook page.

Why Giving Back Isn’t Enough

NOTE: as more and more of the 1% recognize their social and ethical responsibility to provide for the less fortunate, philanthropy has increased. However, throwing money at economic and social conditions does little or nothing about the root cause. This article from The New York Times points out the responsibility we all have to each other. (Rev deniray mueller)

open handsDURING this season of giving, I will join millions of Americans in volunteering to feed the homeless, contributing to clothing drives and donating to poverty-fighting charities. Yet I worry that through these acts of kindness, I absolve myself of asking deeper questions about injustice and inequality. We Americans are a remarkably bighearted people, but I believe the purpose of our philanthropy must not only be generosity, but justice.

The origins of formal philanthropy date from at least 1889, when the American industrialist Andrew Carnegie composed his “Gospel of Wealth.” He drafted this intellectual charter at the peak of the Gilded Age, when inequality had reached extreme levels. Carnegie argued, as many still do, that inequality on this scale is an unavoidable condition of the free-market system — and that it was even desirable, if the promise of wealth incentivized hard work. Philanthropy, he believed, would ease the pressure of rising social anxiety that followed from inequality — ameliorating the afflictions of the market without altering the market system itself.

During the 20th century, an entire field of institutional philanthropy emerged and flourished in the pattern of Carnegie’s mold. Iconic American families — Gates, Knight, MacArthur, Mellon, Rockefeller — endowed and expanded foundations that built schools and libraries, developed new vaccines, revolutionized agriculture and advanced human freedom. My own organization, the Ford Foundation, has given billions to support everything from public television in the United States to microlending in Bangladesh.

Our work has been indisputably for the good: Millions of people around the world have access to new tools and resources with which to improve their lives. A few months ago, the World Bank estimated that, for the first time in history, fewer than one in 10 human beings lives in extreme poverty. This is progress.

And yet, for all the advances made in the last century, society’s challenges may have outpaced philanthropy’s resources. Today, the cumulative wealth of the most generous donors seems a pittance compared with the world’s trillions of dollars’ worth of need. Generosity, blooming as it may be from legacies of both Carnegie’s age and the newly enriched, is no longer enough.

The world may need a reimagined charter of philanthropy — a “Gospel of Wealth” for the 21st century — that serves not just American philanthropists, but the vast array of new donors emerging around the world.

This new gospel might begin where the previous one fell short: addressing the underlying causes that perpetuate human suffering. In other words, philanthropy can no longer grapple simply with what is happening in the world, but also with how and why.

Feeding the hungry is among our society’s most fundamental obligations, but we should also question why our neighbors are without nutritious food to eat. Housing the homeless is an imperative, but we should also question why our housing markets are so distorted. As a nation, we need more investment in education, but not without questioning educational disparities based on race, class and geography.

Our self-awareness — our humility — shouldn’t be limited to examining the problems. It should include the structures of solutions, like giving itself. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said not long before his assassination, “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.” It is, after all, an offspring of the free market; it is enabled by returns on capital.

And yet, too often, we have declined to question our own circumstances: a system that produces vast differences in privilege, and then tasks the most privileged with improving the system.

Whatever our intentions, the truth is that we can inadvertently widen inequality in the course of making money, even though we claim to support equality and justice when giving it away. And while our end-of-year giving might support worthy organizations, we must also ask if these financial donations contribute to larger social change.

In other words, “giving back” is necessary, but not sufficient. We should seek to bring about lasting, systemic change, even if that change might adversely affect us. We must bend each act of generosity toward justice.

We, as foundations and individuals, should fund people, their ideas and organizations that are capable of addressing deep-rooted injustice. We should ensure that the voices of those most affected by injustice — women, racial minorities, the poor, religious and ethnic minorities and L.G.B.T. individuals — help decide where and what philanthropy puts money behind, not in simply receiving whatever philanthropy decides to give them.

We can wield data and technology, see through a diversity of viewpoints, and draw upon a century of philanthropy’s success and failure to identify and address the barriers holding people back.

This modern giving charter should look different in different settings. At the Ford Foundation, our efforts will focus on inequality: not just wealth disparities, but injustices in politics, culture and society that compound inequality and limit opportunity. We will ask questions like, are we hearing — and heeding — those who understand the problems best? What can we do to leverage our privilege to disrupt the drivers of inequality?

Others in philanthropy will take different, but no less effective, approaches. Many already are answering King’s call, working intensely toward a world that renders philanthropy unnecessary. Ultimately, we each must do our part to ensure that giving not only makes us feel better, but also makes our society more just.
 
 
Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, A version of this op-ed appears in print on December 18, 2015, on page A39 of the New York edition with the headline: Why Giving Back Isn’t Enough.
Why giving back isn’t enough

We ALL Make Mistakes

Last Sunday we discussed how we choose our friends and associates and how we faced our problems; I asked you to think about times you were faced with a problem, what you did about it, or what happened if you ignored it. Does anyone want to share with us?

(Discussion)

Seems to me that some of what you shared with us was about times you made a mistake – whether it was intentional, . . . you didn’t do anything when you felt you should, . . you thought you did the wrong thing.

So, today let’s talk about our making mistakes – or things that we may have thought were mistakes.

How many of you have never made a mistake,

Done something you later regretted?

(pause)

Didn’t think so. . .

When we make a mistake, we often feel that somehow we have failed; and failure, in this society, is something that is very negative. A lot of people view failure as a sign of weakness, a character flaw.

But let me tell you, failure is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw – failure means you TRIED to do something. You didn’t sit in a chair and fuss over what you should or should not do; you don’t convince yourself that it was someone else’s responsibility; you didn’t ignore the whole situation. If you have done nothing and ignored the problem or thought someone else would take care of it, it is the FAILURE.

One of the most important ways we learn is we learn from what didn’t go right and move on. . . move on to a new beginning. So when things do turn out like we wanted, there are a couple of things we can do to learn and move on. In fact, it is through failures that we learn.

The first thing we need to do is stop being scared of failing.

    How many times have we thought about doing something that we knew was right and stopped short, because we were afraid we would do something wrong. . .

    We might make a mistake . . .

    or be criticized . . .

    do something that would made us look foolish?

    We all make mistakes, we all have failures – unless we don’t try at all. And if we don’t try, we are stuck where we are FOREVER!

    No growth . . .

    no successes. . .

    no happiness

    Everyone fails. You can’t succeed if you’d don’t try. It is a part of life. It is normal and expected!

    Doing something and getting it wrong is at least ten times more productive than doing nothing at all. Every time we try and make mistakes or fail, we learn something from those mistakes and succeed the next time we try. . . or the next time . . . or the next time. Behind every success is often a trail of failures, and every failure is leading toward that success. If we do not try, we end up regretting the things we did NOT do, often for the rest of our lives.

    Nobody ever feels 100% ready when an opportunity arises. Most great opportunities force us to grow beyond our comfort zones, which means we won’t feel totally comfortable at first. But as long as we try, we are moving toward a new beginning.

The second thing we need to do is stop beating ourselves up for old failures and mistakes.

    None of us have lived as long as we have without making mistakes:

    we may have become involved the wrong person,

    let ourselves become addicted to substances,

    made decisions that were not in our best interest,

    were hurtful to others.

    That is a part of life – you have not lived unless you have made some mistakes along the way.

    But no matter how things go wrong, one thing is for sure, mistakes help us find the person and things that are right for us. We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past. But

    we ARE NOT our mistakes,

    we ARE NOT our struggles.

    Mary Pickford, a silent screen actress, once said:

    “To fall is not to fail, unless you fail to get up again”

    The people who rarely fail are usually the ones who never do anything – and trying involves taking a risk – daring to do something, take a stand, or make a commitment. But you have heard the old saying

    “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” –

    And that is always true!

    The Psalmist David tells us in Psalm 37:23-24:

    If the LORD delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.

    In Philippians 3:13 the Apostle Paul tells us to :

    forget those things which are behind and reach forward to those things which are ahead

    We are

    HERE

    and

    NOW

    with the power to shape our day and our future. Every single thing that has ever happened in our life was preparing us for today and the future.

    So if we want to move forward to a new beginning, we need to

      • Cultivate friends that lift us up and support our best self
      • Face our problems head on
      • Think of our successes and hopes and dreams
      • Always try to solve things no matter how difficult.

     
    Remember this: we can do wonderful things if we just

      • Don’t dwell what ‘didn’t happen’;
      • Don’t hang around with those people who drag us down
      • Believe in ourselves – thinking we can do something is halfway to doing and being.
      • Learn from our mistakes, but don’t dwell on them; move past them, remembering what we learned from them;
      • Be open to new experiences; don’t be afraid to try – take a chance!

     
    Amen.
     
     
    Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 24 May 2015
     
     
    NOTE: This is part two of a series about how to have a new beginning, overcome old habits and how to discover joy in our lives. – deniray

We CAN Have A New Beginning

We all have dreams and hopes – things we want to accomplish, places we want to go, goals we want to achieve. And some of us work very hard to achieve those dreams. And some of us only allow them to only be ‘dreams’ in our heads and hearts. But we don’t have to let them stay as pipe dreams. We can all work toward making those dreams come true. . . if we just don’t let anything hold us back.

Over the next few weeks I will be addressing how we can

    • feel better about ourselves,
    • be more successful in what we want to do, and
    • be happier in the ‘here and now’,

no matter where we are in our life’s journey.

Today we are going to talk about what keeps holding us back from doing what we want to do and being what we were meant to be.

We all know that nobody can go back and start over; there are no ‘do-overs’.

    what is in the past is done. . .

    gone. . .

    We can never get it back

but we can all begin today and start a new beginning.

But before we can begin to really change our lives and begin a changed and dreamed of life, we have to stop doing some things that have been holding us back. There are lots of things that hold us back from coming from where we are to going where we want to be. Some of these are hardships (deaths of special people in our lives, illness) that are, for the most part, out of our control. We can’t do anything about them, but we can make the most of it, deal with it and move one.

And we all have set-backs in our lives (loss of job, homelessness, addiction). We have to remember that these can often be temporary – we can get past those and start of new beginning. There are a couple of things that we often do that really cause us not to be able to move forward.

The first thing we need to do is stop spending time with the wrong people.

    We all have experiences in our lives where we ran around with a crowd that makes us less of a person. And it is very easy, as we try to build a new life, to return to those who are we comfortable with. If we suffer from domestic abuse or addiction, the lure back to the ‘old life’ is extremely strong. And we often come back to the destructive behavior and lifestyle because it is familiar, comfortable. We think these are ‘our people’ – that they understand us, love us, and will support our growth. But returning to the ‘old life’ makes it almost impossible to start that new beginning.

    It’s kind of like the old saying: “why do you expect different results by doing the wrong thing even harder”?

    Life is too short to spend time with people who suck the happiness out of us, drag us down, or don’t want us to have a new beginning. If someone wants us in their life, they’ll support our growth. We need to stay away from anyone who continuously makes us feel small, insignificant, unworthy. Remember, a true friend is one who stands beside you when you’re at your worst, not just when you are on the top.

    We need to find a group of people who support us, want to grow with us, want to share the new experiences and achievements with us. I hope that each of you, in some way, find that within the community of In The Garden. We are here to support you, walk with you on the journey and show you that not only do we love you, but you are all children of God, beloved children of God.

Secondly, we need to stop running from our problems.

    None of us want to admit that we have problems. Most of us would rather not deal with them, some of us just ignore them all together. Some of us have the ‘head in sand’ philosophy – if we ignore them, they will go away. But we all know, they do not go away. We must face them head on. No, it won’t be easy.

    No one in the world can dodge every punch thrown at them. We may be able to deflect some, but there is always an uppercut that is going to get us on the chin. We aren’t supposed to be able to instantly solve problems. That’s not how we’re made. In fact, we were created to get upset, sad, hurt, stumble and fall.

    Look at little babies, if they don’t stumble and fall and get back up, they never learn to walk or learn all the wonderful things in the world. That’s the whole purpose of living – to face problems, learn, solve them and change our lives over time. This is what shapes and transforms us into the person we become. That’s what allows us to enjoy our life and the wonders of this world.

    Each and every problem or setback has a lesson for us to learn if we just listen, pay attention, and think about it. How many of us have heard as a child that we need to stand up and face a problem?

    Can’t you remember your mother or aunt or someone saying that to you? Someone who jerked you up by the back of the collar (or by your ear) and made you face the problem.

    We know that there is always a solution to any problem if we just look it in the face . . .

    call it what it is . . .

    and patiently and thoughtfully think about what we really need to do.

    And there are lots of people (in the new community) who are willing to help us solve the problem. The solution may not come quickly or be exactly what we would like, but there are solutions to any problem. Some solutions to problems may take time and others may never be totally resolved. But we cannot move on to a new beginning if we don’t stop running from our problems.

So if we want to move forward to a new beginning, we have to stop

    • Spending time with the wrong people
    • Stop running from our problems.

Remember this: we can do wonderful things if we just

    • Don’t dwell on the ‘didn’t happens’;
    • Don’t hang around with those people who drag us down
    • Believe we can – thinking we can is halfway to doing and being.

I would like for you to think in the coming week about times you have either faced your problems and found a solution or times that you were not so successful in overcoming obstacles. And for those who are willing, we would like for you to share them. Who knows, someone may be dealing with the same problem and your experience could help them.

Amen.
 
 
Delivered to In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 17 May 2015
 
 
NOTE: Ascension Sunday is something that has little or no reference for most of the people who frequent In The Garden. Their real needs are hearing of God’s love and how to take their lives, where they are, and make them better. ‘Better’ is a relative term to most of us; because of circumstances or decisions made in their lives, what is better for them may not seem significant to most of us, but to them just leaving feeling that they are loved and people care about them is more important to them than how we would feel if we won the lottery. These are God’s ‘least of these’ and it is our responsibility and biblical imperative and baptismal commitment to care for them.

Not surprising to me, there were lots of ‘amens’ throughout the homily; these people are far more aware of their shortcoming and hopes and dreams than most who sit in the conventional pews on Sunday. But what surprised me was the response at the end – applause and gratitude for talking about how to make their lives better in ways that were not theoretical, but things that they could and some would do. The community of In The Garden gives to me much more than I ever feel I share with them. – deniray

Jesus and The Blankets

Homeless jesusThe sculpture of a homeless Jesus sleeping on a park bench has caused an inordinate amount of negative comments, until it was finally placed in a more positive environment in Ashland, West Virginia.

Now it has gone from being an object of ridicule to a place of honoring those commandments given to us by Jesus:

    feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless (Matthew 22:35-46)

Many thanks to Kim, blogging as “Sandpiper’s Thoughts” for her posting of ‘Jesus and the Blankets’

http://sandpipersthoughts.blogspot.com/2015/02/jesus-and-blankets.html

 

Sunday Conversation with Mary Wetzel

NOTE: Mary is a friend of mine and an Episcopal priest for the Church of the Common Ground, a homeless ministry in Atlanta as part of the Ecclesia Street Church program. Here is her interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution about their program.

On Christmas Eve 2006, a group of people, most of them homeless, gathered at downtown Atlanta’s Woodruff Park and formed the Church of the Common Ground. Eight years later, while many congregants have come and gone, the church continues to go strong. In addition to the weekly Sunday service, there is morning prayer twice a week.

Once a week, there’s a Bible study and a nonmedical foot clinic where congregants can get their feet washed and tell their stories. Under the auspices of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, the Church of the Common Ground isn’t about fixing or converting people, says the Rev. Mary Wetzel, who has served as the church’s vicar for four years.

The church is about celebrating the people of God on their own terms.


The Rev. Mary Wetzel, vicar of the Church of the Common Ground, washes feet and listens to stories of people attending the church’s non-medical foot clinic. The church, which holds its gatherings in parks in downtown Atlanta, was founded in 2006 to serve people who are homeless.
 
 
Q: Why have church outside?

A: Some folks, for whatever reason, do not feel comfortable going inside. And they feel a little more comfortable coming just as they are. Our church provides another option. We have a van. I call it our mobile sacristy. We keep the altar and all we need for the services in it.
 
 
Q: Who comes to the Church of the Common Ground?


Parishioners of the Church of the Common Ground, many of whom are homeless, attend Sunday service in Downtown Atlanta’s Woodruff Park. From left to right are Eddie Conley, the Rev. Mary Wetzel, Eddie Holmes and Vivian Medina.

A: A variety of people. There are those who live in the area. Some folks who live in regular houses want to come worship with us. A number of the folks have gotten jobs, or moved into housing. We encourage folks to get involved in a church where they are living. Some will come to a church in the morning and then come to our church in the afternoon. They feel that it is their church.
 
 
Q: And why do you think they come?

A: I think folks come for community. There is a good core group of people that care for each other, and pray for each other. It is the relationships that draw them.

Gregory Mitchell listens to the Rev. Mary Wetzel, vicar of the Church of the Common Ground. The church, which meets in city parks, was founded in 2006 and many of its parishioners are homeless.
 
 
Q: What about the Church of the Common Ground appeals to you?

A: It really is a place where we can have such different theological beliefs and still come to God’s table. I can see the gifts that God has given the folks who come and how they use those gifts in the world. When I see how they are helping each other, that encourages me so much. And being outdoors, I feel God’s presence.
 
 
Q: Are the folks who come religious?

A: Very. Most know their Bible inside and out. They are very aware of God in their life. The first thing many think about when they wake up is, “Thank you Lord for waking me up today.” That hits me in my soul.
 
 
Q: So they aren’t angry at their station in life?

A: I wouldn’t go that far. You get angry when you know that people look down on you. Or you get caught up in a system that is so hard to get out of. But most are aware of the presence of God.
 
 
Q: Do you think your message would be different if you were preaching to an affluent congregation?

A: My message would be the same. There’s as much addiction and mental health problems in traditional parishes.
 
 
Q: And what is that message?

A: We are all God’s beloved. Since we are all made in God’s image, we need to learn the respect and dignity of very human being.

 
 

Three Wisemen Came

3KINGS
We are told in Matthew 2:1-12 that three kings who came from the East, following a star to bring gifts to the Christ Child .

Who were these guys that they would travel so far and for what?

We have all sung We Three Kings of Orient Are, singing about the their journey. These men were probably astrologists, or ‘magi’ – the word used in that time for people who could read the skies.

In Matthew, the Magi come to a house in Bethlehem, rather than the stable of the birth story. The three gifts were gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Legend has it that the three men were:

    Gaspar (or Caspar), who has brown hair and a brown beard (or no beard!) and wears a green cloak and a gold crown with green jewels on it. He is the King of Sheba. Gaspar represents the Frankincense brought to Jesus, signifying that people would worship this child.

    Melchior, who has long white hair and a white beard and wears a gold cloak. He is the King of Arabia. Melchior represents the Gold brought to Jesus, meaning He would be the King Of Kings.

    Balthazar, who has black skin and a black beard (or no beard!) and wears a purple cloak. He is the King of Tarse and Egypt. Balthazar represents the gift of Myrrh ; it is interesting that one of the first gifts to the Baby Jesus would be myrrh, the same spice that would be used by Mary Magdalene and other women to anoint his body after the crucifixion.

They made this long and arduous pilgrimage to bring gifts a small child born, who they recognized as the Messiah. This was the beginning of that small child’s life that would eventually end in death and resurrection and redemption of all people.

And just as the wise men brought gifts to the Christ Child, so have those who support In The Garden and its community, brought gifts for each of you. Gifts of our love and acknowledgement that we are children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus.

When you are through with your meal, please dump your plates in the trash cans to my right, then make your way to the Step Room. There you will be given a gift sack of lots of things that will make your holiday a little brighter. Then as you leave, you will receive your dessert and you can select a blanket donated by the Toll Gate Middle School in Pickerington.

Our prayer is that each of you have a Merry Christmas and blessed Christmastide.

Amen.
 
 

Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church On Capitol Square, Columbus, OH, 21 December 2014