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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Homeless Wind

A chilly wind blows across the homeless plane

Through the souls of those without addresses or fame

On the sidewalks in the doors forgotten people merge in impotent night

With dreams of prosperity love's touch living the hopeful life

An overhang against the rain

A ward against earth's heatless grip

Enough blankets to still the wind
Success ...

by Michael Burgwin

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Funny Way of Saying It

Those of us who enjoy the temporal wealth of homes and money frequently remain disconnected to our own “poverty.” Thus, we find it difficult to connect with others who are actually living in physical poverty. For instance, many view the homeless, the addict and the poor as the real losers in life. However, with a little honesty and soul searching, we begin to connect with our own personal brokenness, our own sins – like this guy …

A well to do gentleman is walking along the street in a big city. A homeless man calls to him "Excuse me Mister, can I have $5?" "Will you buy booze with it?" asks the gentleman "No." Says the homeless guy. "Will you gamble it away?" asks the gentleman. "No." "Will you come home with me so my wife can see what happens to a man who doesn't drink or gamble?"

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Why we Love the Poor

Christian thinkers have agreed with the claim that one must love other people for themselves and not for an earthly reward. As Jesus Christ said “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies ... For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?” (Matthew, 5:43-48; cf. Luke, 14:12-14; Acts, 20:35). Indeed the Christian manual Didache (c. 100) claims that the true Christian must give to everyone that asks without looking for repayment. Hence several Christians such as Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215), Lactantius (c. 240-320), Basil (c. 330-379), Ambrose (c. 340-397), Jerome (c. 347-420), Augustine (354-430), John Cassian (c. 360-433), Dorotheus of Gaza (c. 505-565), and Gregory the Great (c. 540-604), as well as the Hindu text Bhagavad Gita (c. 500-200 B.C.E.), assert that one’s love is true only if one is willing to love someone who may not return one’s love.
Excerpt from .... Vincelette, Alan, “Unconditional Love,” in Encyclopedia of Love in World Religions, ed. Yudit Kornberg Greenberg (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2008), v. II, pp. 647-649)
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Monday, January 28, 2008

Thomas Talk

It's no ordinary Monday! Today is celebrated the feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Thomas was the dominant thinker of the middle ages. He combined the science and philosophy of Aristotle with the truths of Christianity, holding that Aristotle got "it" right." However, one catch - without Christ in the equation he did not capture the whole truth.

Saint Thomas identified the Eternal Law or the Divine Reason of God that governs and orders the entirety of creation. He would say that the Eternal Law is "imprinted" on all things including all men. He also identified Natural Law which is that part of the Eternal Law that is presented to humans in the forms of logic and reason. Thomas is famously known for the Summa Theologica. Unfortunately, it was never a work he personally completed after his own human reason paled in comparison to a supernatural revelation of God that took place in his life just months prior to his death. Refusing to continue on with the writing project, students completed the Summa Theologica for Saint Thomas.

Nevertheless, Saint Thomas Aquinas views of serving the poor come from a philosophical perspective. He believed that private property is necessary for human life and is an extension of Natural Law. He acknowledges that under Natural Law all property is communal, but also contended that the addition of private property was an extension, and not a contradiction of Natural Law.

He believes that possession of private property is necessary because: (1) men will more resolutely and attentively take care of things if they possess them instead of the goods being held in common by all or many others; (2) possession advances order rather than chaos and confusion as responsibility can be determined; and (3) private possession promotes a more peaceful state.

However, in regards to serving the poor, He also said that while the ownership of goods should be private, the use of person’s goods must be in common (so that the poor and needy can have their share) or must be in service of the common good.

Joyous feast day to all Saint Thomas Aquinas parishes, colleges and organizations!

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Modern-day Saint Speaks

Responding to Four Good Reasons (see Thursday, January 24, 2008) a reader reacts to the notion that our life in Christ is made more complete when we experience suffering for doing the good just like our Master who was also misunderstood, despised and rejected. Anonymous lets a modern-day saint speak … "The more Jesus intends to raise a soul to perfection, the more he tries it by suffering. So rejoice, I say to you, in seeing yourself so privileged, in spite of your unworthiness. The more you are afflicted, the more you ought to rejoice, because in the fire of tribulation the soul will become pure gold, worthy to be placed and shine in the heavenly palace." - Padre Pio

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Charity and Feeding the Poor Begins at Home

Unlike newspapers that can stack up in the garage, most families are unaware of the amount of food that is wasted. It quickly disappears down the garbage disposal without a second thought. The average four-person household wastes about $600 of food each year. Meanwhile, the working poor in America as well as the homeless often struggle to find their next meal.

The US already produces enough food to feed every citizen, but so much of it is wasted. About 40% of all food produced in America is never consumed. That amounts to more than 29 million tons of food waste each year, or enough to fill the Rose Bowl every three days. Nationwide, food scraps make up 17 percent of what we send to landfills.

One non-profit organization has become creative in reducing food waste. The Food Bank of Central New York encourages member food pantries to run an “open choice” pantry, letting families pick what they need and want instead of prepacking boxes. They also run a service called “Second Helpings,” where prepared, uneaten food is frozen by restaurants and caterers — then they pick the food up and deliver it directly to homeless shelters, member soup kitchens, emergency shelters, and other places that serve hot meals to those in need. Food Bank of Central New York has a “Fresh Foods” program that picks up donated perishables daily from grocery stores and delivers them to sites where people wait hours for the chance to take home fruits and vegetables, milk, juice, etc. Finally, they work with local farmers and wherever possible to glean from their fields after the harvest what won’t be sold in order to give to people who can’t afford to buy.

Possibly looking at the problem and entertaining solutions like Food Bank of Central New York, will help inspire us to seek do the right thing with our own food supplies. Helping the poor and homeless begins with wise use of food beginning with meal planning, grocery store outings, curtailing impulse buying, effective food storage and better use of leftovers. Just like charity, we discover feeding the poor begins at home.

More on the Internet

Information provided by HIA blogger Jonathan Bloom who is writing a book on wasted food in America. Visit

Friday, January 25, 2008

From Honor and Privilege to an Historical Perspective

Responding to the reality that according to God's word, we can actually meet and see the Lord in the poor, the homeless and the abandoned (see Looking for God? Monday, January 14, 2008) blogger Liz said... "Experiences like the one we shared on Sunday night remind us that God is so present and that he is looking out for everyone - like the cold and hungry woman on her bike looking for some help [at 10pm]- and we gave it to her. And we all benefited from it. It's an honor and privilege to do God's will."

Passing along an historical perspective concerning The Weight of my Wretchedness by Sor Juana Ines De LA Cruz (see Friday, January 18, 2008) Ernesto said ... "Beautiful indeed …. Consider how she was ordered by her bishop to destroy all her work because he said, 'It is not proper for a nun to be writing about worldly things.' According to some historians, she destroyed about 90% of her work - because of her vow of obedience. But it really sounds to me it was more about “evil envy” creeping into the motives of some of the religious leaders. Some of her works, like this one posted were not destroyed because they were already in the hands of some of her friends."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Four Good Reasons

Not long ago HIA posted, “Preaching the Prosperity Gospel to the Homeless?” (see Thursday, January 3, 2008). The "Gospel of Prosperity," popular in America for decades now is the notion that God wants to bless the faithful with earthly riches and minimize suffering. On the surface, it’s a nice notion, but in reality not the life Jesus led or promised His followers. To the contrary, Jesus experienced suffering and so suffering is co-shared by His followers.

In yesterday’s Mass Gospel reading (Mark 3:1-6), Jesus enters a synagogue and meets a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees scrutinize Jesus’ every move to see if he will heal on the Sabbath. Jesus knew their judgemental and hardened hearts. He said …, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather destroy it?” They remained silent. Of course Jesus was not intimidated. He chose to do the good and so the man was healed. Immediately the Pharisees went out and took counsel with the Romans to put Jesus to death. It is here in this story we clearly discover that doing the good exposes Christians to suffering - not alleviate it.

No matter at work, at home, while serving the poor, helping the abandoned and the forgotten - when doing the good, we should not be surprised when we suffer undo scrutiny, criticism, rejection, anger and more when doing what is right. But that is good news!

Thus there are four good reasons to believe that our life in Christ is made more complete when we experience suffering for doing the good just like our Master who was also misunderstood, despised and rejected:

Reason #1: Jesus in His own words tells us …"You will be hated by all the nations" (Matthew 24:9, 14). In other words, no matter where you go - doing the right thing just like Jesus did, in His name - you will suffer.

Reason #2: Paul calls our following Christ the "filling up of what is lacking in Christ's afflictions" (Colossians 1:24). In other words, God's purpose is that the afflictions of Jesus that purchased our salvation be imitated and demonstrated in all true believers.

Reason #3: Jesus sent out the first Christians by saying, "As the Father has sent me, so send I you" (John 20:21). "If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household …" (Matthew 10:25).

Reason #4: A fourth reason is that Paul said to Timothy, "Take your share of suffering as a good soldier of Christ…" (2 Timothy 2:3). Paul also asserts, “But share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling...” (Timothy 1:8).

Welcome to the Kingdom of God!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Iraqi Veterans Losing Battle

For as long as the United States has sent its young men — and later its young women — off to war, it has watched as a segment of them come home and lose the battle with their own memories, their own scars, and wind up without homes. To the dismay of many Americans, Veterans make up 25 percent of homeless people in the United States, though they are only 11 percent of the general adult population, according to a recent VA homeless report, (see Tsunami Effect, Thursday, November 8, 2007).

In an article published Saturday January 20, 2008 AP writer Erin McClam reports on the growing concerns of homelessness conquering Iraqi war veterans. She said … “This is not a new story in America: A young veteran back from war whose struggle to rejoin society has failed, at least for the moment, fighting demons and left homeless.

“But it is happening to a new generation. As the war in Afghanistan plods on in its seventh year, and the war in Iraq in its fifth, a new cadre of homeless veterans is taking shape.

“And with it come the questions: How is it that a nation that became so familiar with the archetypal homeless, combat-addled Vietnam veteran is now watching as more homeless veterans turn up from new wars?

“What lessons have we not learned? Who is failing these people? Or is homelessness an unavoidable byproduct of war, of young men and women who devote themselves to serving their country and then see things no man or woman should?”

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

We See You Saturday

One morning in November, the realization hit that reaching out to the homeless is about seeing the unseen (see "We See You Saturday" Monday, November 12, 2007). This past Saturday, the delivery of supplies to the poor living under bridges and on city streets is about “seeing” people - in much the same way that Jesus takes the time to see the short guy Zacchaeus up in the tree (see Sunday, November 4, 2007) and blesses him. We do the same when we take time to encounter and “see” the normally unseen. On this occasion we had a chance to see an entire organization that is serving the poor, Transition House (photos). The home helps approximately 150 residents at any given time to transition out of a life of poverty and homelessness.


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Monday, January 21, 2008

The American Dreamer

“… I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; ‘and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together ‘

“With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

“And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

‘My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!’

“And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

“And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

‘Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
’” M.L.K. (+ April 4, 1968)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Saint Paul the Apostle Parish and School Teaching Endless Love

Great educational institutions like Saint Paul the Apostle Parish School encourage children to learn in a wide variety of ways. Last Friday evening's Sandwich Builders touched all the senses as families made 824 lunch packs for the poor and homeless. Take in the atmosphere and photos as everyone experiences endless love through touching, tasting, doing, feeling, seeing, experiencing, hearing, laughing and giving.

Coming on Tuesday, Saturday's outreach photos.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Purist

In regards to Savings Wretches Like You and Me, (See Part I & II, Monday, January 7 -Tuesday January 8, 2008) KMHD writes ... "I agree with MD. We have no right to change the language to suit our own likes and dislikes. John Newton used the word "wretch" because he truly felt he was one. I am a purist when it comes to language and hate to see words in the English language morph into words that mean the total opposite. History and language go together. If we change the language to suit our needs, we change history and lose the truth."

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Friday, January 18, 2008

The Weight of my Wretchedness by Sor Juana Ines De LA Cruz

The more grace prompts me to move up to the heavenly sphere, the more the weight of my wretchedness casts me into the depths.

Virtue and custom struggle in the heart, and the heart is in agony while they do combat.

And however strong virtue be, I fear it may be vanquished, since custom is very great, and virtue is very green.

The intellect is clouded in dark confusion. Who can light the way if reason itself is blind?

I am my executioner. And myself''s own prison. Who saw that sin and suffering are one and the same?

I am reluctant to do that thing I most desire to do; and for this reluctance suffer penalty.

I love God and sense myself in God, but my very will makes what is comfort, a cross, what is haven, a storm.

Suffer, then, since God commands, but let it be such, that my sins bring suffering not my suffering sin.

Sor Juana Ines De LA Cruz (+1695) was a Mexican nun and poet, dramatist and spiritual writer.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Riches to Rags

In the 1980s, authors Waterman and Peters set out to discover success in American business. They asked the question in their book In Search of Excellence, “Is anyone doing it right and are they doing it right here in America?” Today, we ask the same question, but with a new twist, “Are any Americans following the Lord in His call to serve the poor and are they doing it right now?” A resounding yes! Sister Antonia Brenner rocks.

Sister Antonia Brenner (photo) was born into an Irish-Catholic family and was baptized Mary Clarke. She was raised in the exclusive community of Beverly Hills, California. Her father was a very successful businessman and provided well for his family. After twenty-five years of marriage and after most of her seven children were out of the house, her life drastically changed. In a period of just a few years she found herself divorced as well as house and possessions sold. She began to serve full time the prisoners at La Mesa penitentiary in Tijuana, Mexico. A place where the most notorious and hardened criminals are housed.

At the La Mesa penitentiary, she lives in a 10’ x 10’ concrete room with a cot as her bed, and with a Bible and Spanish dictionary nearby. Prisoners know that daily roll call is not complete until she shows up in the line right along side them. Mother Antonia provides not only spiritual guidance to the guards and inmates, but she also helps with basic material comforts for prisoners such as blankets, toiletries and medicines.

After over three decades of service, Mother Antonia Brenner calls Tijuana her home. She condemns crime, but loves the sinners and the victims. Her love and guidance for the poor and the forgotten have made a difference at the prison and as a result many who were imprisoned there have sought a better life.

Do you know of anyone that's doing it right? Share your thoughts!

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Ruthlessly Hawked

NEWS: AFP writer Justin Cole reported yesterday that US mortgage lenders targeted minorities and people with low incomes in recent years as the "best candidates" for subprime home loans, with devastating economic consequences, a report claimed Tuesday. The report by the United for a Fair Economy (UFE) advocacy group said subprime mortgages, home loans issued to Americans with scant finances, were "ruthlessly hawked" and that a "solid majority of subprime loan recipients were people of color."

The report's authors said many blacks and poor Americans were deliberately targeted by lenders marketing a range of money-making home loans that were sometimes confusing for borrowers to understand.

"Hungry for new and different products, the financial services industry added features to these loans -- exploding adjustable rates, balloon payments, penalties for early re-payment -- that hobbled their recipients financially and made it unlikely that they would be able, after a brief honeymoon period, to repay the loans at all," the report said.

COMMENTARY: The social injustice of the poor in cases such as this is not the fact that there are poor or weak people in the world. Those we will always have with us as Jesus said. But, it is the reality that in our society we actually treat badly the humble, the weak and some of the most honest persons among us.

Unjust business practices that prevent families from keeping their homes contribute greatly to the problem of homelessness. The prophet Amos describes the evil this way … “You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain… You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil.” (Amos 5:10-13).

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Changing Wretch-filled Lyrics

Regarding changing hymn lyrics to conform to our modern culture of self-esteem and the post, Question? (see Wednesday, January 9, 2008) M.D. comments ... "That's a difficult question, which should not be answered without some thoughtful consideration of the hymn's author and its theology. The lyrics of that hymn are somewhat of an autobiography, since John Newton was truly a moral "wretch," having been involved in the slave trade and indirectly responsible for the misery and death of thousands of souls. John Newton sang of the amazing unmerited favor that effected his own redemption and moral transformation.

"Changing his lyrics to correspond to our modern spiritual understanding of ourselves would be analogous to rewriting the Old Testament to have the Hebrews come into Canaan by peaceful persuasion and not by warfare. No matter how discordant the Hebrew conquest of Canaan is with the understanding we have about God from Jesus, we really don't have the spiritual or intellectual right to change the scriptures to suit our own theology. The scripture is what it is, and the same can be said for John Newton's hymn.Moreover, the theology of John Newton is really not far from the mark in reference to all of us.

"Certainly, none of us has been involved in the culture of slave trade. But, we have allowed ourselves to be carried by the culture of ruthless capitalism, or totalitarian socialism, or chauvinistic Americanism, chauvinistic Catholicism, chauvinistic Protestantism, chauvinistic Judaism, chauvinistic feminism, pagan environmentalism, etc. Each of us has fallen under the condemnation that comes from living under those cultural "powers and principalities" that stand against God's own rule or Kingdom. Each of us, therefore, is a slave to some "ism" or other and a "wretch" in his or her own way. We all stand condemned and in need of moral transformation, or redemption, just like John Newton."

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Looking for God?

Many say, "there is no God." Yet others say, "where is He?" But God is revealing Himself to us constantly, just not in the ways that we would like to believe. The prophet Isaiah in chapter 57 tells us that God lives in three places:

1. "On high I dwell ..." (just look into the night sky or Google Images "galaxies")
2. "And in holiness ..." (check out people like Mother Teresa and the lives of the saints)
3. "And with the crushed and the dejected in spirit ..." (photo, see Gregory living behind the Valero gas station at Alameda and 5th in Los Angeles or see a prisoner - a widow - the abandoned.)

Isaiah continues ... "To revive the spirits of the dejected, to revive the hearts of the crushed. I saw their ways, but I heal them and lead them; I will give comfort to them and to those who mourn for them." Isaiah 57:15-18

So, God is not elusive after all as some may think. We have immediate places in our world that we can go to see Him. Why not check God out in all three places and see Him in full Force?

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hell is "No Exit"

The problem of moral evil (when bad things happen because of human actions) has been a long-standing philosophical debate. Responding to "Hell is Others?" (see Saturday, January 5, 2008) Anonymous said... "From what I remember from Existentialist studies, Jean Paul Sartre actually said "hell is other people," meaning that others make our lives a living hell. The reference is from the play "No Exit." I personally believe that Sartre is right. Hell is other people. People can make our lives a living hell. I don't believe it has anything to do with being self-centered or with the sins that you've mentioned. It has more to do with how people treat us."

In response, another Anonymous said... "Most of Sartre's plays are richly symbolic and serve as a means of conveying his philosophy. The best-known, Huis-clos (No Exit), contains the famous line in French, 'L'enfer, c'est les autres.' Literally in English it translates as 'Hell is others' or 'The hell is the others.' However, it is usually translated with the implied meaning, 'Hell is other people'."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Concern for the Wealthy

In reference to Saving Wretches Like You and Me (See Part I & II, Monday, January 7 -Tuesday January 8, 2008) M.R. expresses his concern for the wealthy and encourages compassion for them as well as the poor... "I know already that the poor will inherit the earth and that many of them, while lacking faith in men, keep their faith in God. But often times, there are also the rich who lack in spirit. Christ says it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Yes, I think that may have to do with the pressures of the material world and what wealth brings to the rich person in the form of responsibility. There is a great need to minister also to the rich. Of course, my feeling is that, by ministering to the rich (spiritually), we can meet the material needs of the poor."

Friday, January 11, 2008



Among the wonders worked by Jesus Christ, can any match the healing compassion He showed to lepers? Somehow the wretchedness and horror of their condition represent everything about our lives that express our brokenness and poverty, and yet, nothing is impossible for God. When the leper approaches Christ filled with faith, an entire life is changed in an instant. The on-going Epiphany of Christ through the ages makes that very offer available to each one of us.


Lord, open our eyes that we may see You in the poverty of our brothers and sisters. Lord, open our ears that we may hear the cries of the hungry, the cold, the frightened, the oppressed. Lord, open our hearts that we may love each other as you love us. - Blessed Mother Teresa

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Project 50

J.F. sends in a story spotted in the LA Times January 8, 2008. It is reported by staff writer Susannah Rosenblatt ... "A recent survey counted 471 people regularly sleeping in encampments on 5th Street’s skid row in downtown Los Angeles. Fifty of the most "at risk" transients have been identified and will receive special consideration for housing by the county Board of Supervisors. They are scheduled to vote soon for the three-year, $5.6-million pilot program called Project 50, which is designed to provide immediate housing and services for the participants.

"The 50 categorized as most at risk had been homeless for at least six months with at least one chronic ailment, such as HIV or liver disease, or recent emergency room visits or hospitalizations. The members of that group visited emergency rooms 120 times in the previous three months and had lived on the streets an average of 9 1/2 years, according to the survey.

"The process of moving someone from the streets into an apartment could take as little as a day or up to six months, said Beth Sandor, Los Angeles field director for Common Ground, a New York City nonprofit group that is helping coordinate the L.A. effort. Common Ground launched a similar, largely successful effort to house homeless people living in Times Square."


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Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Keith Drury (Associate Professor, Indiana Wesleyan University) contributed over the past two days a compelling commentary on John Newton’s song, Amazing Grace. (See Saving Wretches Like You and Me, Part I & II, Monday, January 7 -Tuesday January 8, 2008). And so the following poll begs a response:

Is the term “wretch” only for the poor, homeless & addict? Should Christians take liberty to change lyrics making songs more palatable in our culture of self-esteem? Substitute Amazing Grace, God “saved a wretch like me” for ... “that saved and set me free?”

Please scroll down and vote!

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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Saving Wretches Like You and Me

Part II

Today’s blog brings to a conclusion Keith Drury’s compelling commentary on John Newton’s hymn, Amazing Grace (see Saving Wretches Like You and Me, Part I, Monday, January 7, 2008). He writes, “Self-esteem theology teaches us we’re deserving. Being basically good we expect basically good things to happen to us. We expect God to provide money for our new house, college tuition, and funds for our latest adventure in missionary tourism. We expect good health and a fulfilling life and good grades and pretty girlfriends and a husband that meets the criteria on the list we made at youth camp. We are entitled to these things. So why be grateful when we get them? We abhor sacrifice and suffering for ourselves and only love the idea when the stories are about people far in the past or far away on the planet. Being fairly good people we think we deserve a fairly good life. Even heaven is nothing to get excited about—after all, God has such a crush on us—where else could he send us? This is why we tune in to preachers who will tell us how good we are and how much God is totally absorbed with blessing us with material possessions, fulfillment in our careers and really great sex lives. Is the reason Christ died—for cars and promotions and good sex?

“Of course, there are occasional sour notes in the choir. They usually come from some conservative reminding us of our total depravity. These guys take Romans 7:24 seriously—they believe that we all are wretched. They string verses like Job 25:4-6 and Psalm 22:6 with the Romans verse to make a necklace of wretchedness and wormlyhood. They claim that even our good deeds are besmirched by sin. You were bad before you were saved and you are still bad now. Nothing good lies within you. You are wretched and poor and blind and naked. You are a worm! It is only by God’s grace that you are set free—so be grateful!

“The rest of us just sing louder and drown out these sour notes. There are far more choir members singing songs of self-esteem than conservatives singing songs of total depravity. Since we’ve already rejected their “worm theology” we just ignore their warnings. We continue to preach a happy face doctrine of self esteem. People like it. Which is why so many on Sundays have changed the lyrics of Amazing Grace. We might think John Newton [along with the homeless, addicts, jobless and all other losers] was a wretch and worm, but not us, thank you very much. We’re far better than that.”

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Monday, January 7, 2008

Saving Wretches Like You and Me

Part I

About one year ago, Keith Drury an associate professor at Indiana Wesleyan University authored a compelling commentary about John Newton’s song, Amazing Grace. (See Saving Wretches Like You, January 30, 2007 at He writes, “It is hard to sing some songs the way they were written. They just go against our grain. Few folk today want to sing John Newton’s Amazing Grace the way he wrote it: God “saved a wretch like me.” Or, how about Isaac Watts’ hymn, Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed, “for such a worm as I.” It isn’t nice to call people wretches or worms. It’s not good for their self esteem.

“This is why we change the lyrics to make songs more palatable in our culture of self-esteem. We substitute “that saved and set me free” or “for such a one as I” for the outdated wretch-and-worm references. We have removed the wretches and worms from our theology. While we might agree that the whoring-raping-slaver, John Newton was a wretch, none of us will volunteer for wretchedness ourselves, and we know for sure we’re better than worms. To be quite honest we don’t believe we were ever wretches—even before getting saved. Basically we think of ourselves as fairly nice people who became Christians and added meaning to our lives. We were told “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” So we signed up for this wonderful plan. Sure, we had sinned, but we had done no sins that God didn’t “understand” or that are not done by church folk now. Our sins were mostly sins of ignorance or immaturity—nothing that deserves the label wretch or worm. [Those are terms best used to describe addicts, homeless, bums, hobos, gypsies and other types of losers]

“We Christians believe we were basically fairly good when we found God. And we’re even better now. Salvation is “all about me.” We like to say, “If I were the only person on earth, Christ would have come to die for just me.” This beefs up our self-esteem. To be quite frank, we actually think God needs us, and is actually quite lucky to have us. That’s how we see our devotions, for instance. We imagine a lonely God who is hungry for our company. When we don’t have devotions on some days, God mournfully walks away singing Larnelle Harris’ song, “I miss my time with you.” If we were totally honest we’d change the lyrics of another song [I need Him every hour, evr’y hour I need Him] to, “He needs me every hour, evr’y hour He needs me.” To be continued tomorrow…

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Great Words of Wisdom

Responding to the blog's Christmas post, "Behold I Stand at the Door and Knock," (see Sunday, December 23, 2007) BB.Boy passed along some great words of wisdom ...

The foolish work for money,
Not other values, so they get only money.
The clever work for improvement;
They gain success and money.
The wise work for goodness and charity;
They receive friends, success, money,
And happiness.

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Saturday, January 5, 2008

Hell is Others?

The famous french philosopher John-Paul Sartre once said, “Hell is others!” (Photo, Dante and Virgil in Hell circa 1850 by the artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau) His philosophical thinking obviously promotes self-centeredness. Biblical based theism would reverse Sartre’s statement and say, “Hell is self” meaning, “selfishness.” The sins of egoism, pride and selfishness divide us from each other and thrust a person into isolation from God. Unchecked, it delivers a person into perpetual and mortal loneliness.

All types of "homelessness" at its core is aloneness stemming from the conditions of sin at work in each one of our lives. Sin divides us from a relationship with God and from each other. “Homelessness” and most loneliness result from the sins of pride, arrogance, selfishness, self-centeredness, self-absorption and superiority. When these types of conditions are rampant within our individual lives and within the lives of families, churches and other groups – there may be a house, but there will not be a home. Everyone involved will experience isolationism and thus “homeless” conditions.

New Testament based theism calls the person out of self and into community. In Mark chapter 10 Jesus promises the Christian an extraordinarily large community of people - brothers, sisters, mothers and children a hundred times as much if they leave everything to follow him. In Christ we find the exit from the hell of self-absorption. It is here that God wishes to nourish, bless and move each one from aloneness and into community. He restores our souls by giving many friendships as well as new and dynamic relationships. We are no longer homeless, but home.

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Friday, January 4, 2008

Homeless Freeloaders!

On a special edition of ABC 20/20, John Stossel examined homelessness in America. He asked: "Does America "create" more homeless freeloaders, because of our compassion? Does it make it worse? Should we help able bodied homeless or are we creating a culture of dependency that makes it difficult for people to improve their lives?"

One viewer responded, (true story): "When I was 22 years old I saw a "homeless" person with a "will work for food" sign in a snow storm. My heart ached for the man. I went to the store and purchased a jacket, gloves, and food. I drove back to the corner and gave him what I had purchased. He said "thank you", but didn't seem appreciative. I assumed he would have eaten some of the food immediately, but he stuffed the food in his bag and didn't eat a thing. As I drove away perplexed I looked in my rear view mirror and the man had begun to walk to the far corner of parking lot. I was curious so I drove around the block and came back.The man got into a brand new Chevy Corvette!!! I kid you not! I was shocked and disgusted." The viewer, from this one experience felt qualified to agree with Stossel's premise: American compassion may be "creating" homeless freeloaders. So, there it is ... someone has apparently figured out the complexity of poverty in America by one charitable encounter gone bad.

Thanks be to God that His mercy is not of the same rationale as humans. If it was, all of us would be in a lot of trouble at the moment of death as well as on Judgement Day. If Jesus measured mercy the way we do (thanks be to God that he does not) - he could hypothetically write in a blog some time, somewhere, something like this: "When that Mr. or Ms. so-and-so arrived at the gates of heaven, I couldn't help but remember when they were 30 years old. I sent a "neon sign" to repent of their sins. They changed just for a short time, but old habits of lust and wrongdoing crept back in. Oh well, humans must be alike so I think that all of them here-to-fore are going to have to dig their way out of hell. I refuse to help any of them based on my experience with Mr. or Ms. so-and-so! Love, Jesus."

Obviously, we are grateful that God does not deal with us in this manner. God is pure love. But unfortunately, humans can be very unkind and extremely unmerciful to losers and sinners. And yet, we are all losers and sinners in one-shape-or-form. When all is said and done, this type of unmerciful thinking toward the homeless is reminiscent of the parable that Jesus tells of the wicked servant. In the story, the servant gets forgiven an enormous debt, but then goes out and refuses to be merciful to a fellow servant who owes a small debt. In the end, the master finds out about the injustice and throws him into jail. Then, he is tortured until the very last penny is paid. (Matthew 18:21-35)


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Thursday, January 3, 2008

Preaching the “Prosperity Gospel” to the Homeless?

Recently, Associated Press religion writer, Eric Gorski reported a story about a generous Christian by the name of Cindy Fleenor. Each night she invited into her living room television preachers that told her, “Be faithful in how you live and how you give; God will shower you with material riches.” And so the 53-year-old accountant pledged $100s a year to evangelist Joyce Meyer, to faith healer Benny Hinn and a local Tampa, Florida preacher. The blessings never came. Fleenor ended up borrowing money from friends and from payday loan companies just to buy groceries.

Eric Gorski reports that all the ministries mentioned here are among six major Christian television outreaches under scrutiny by Senator Charles Grassley. The probe is essentially calling into question those who preach the "Gospel of Prosperity," or the notion that God wants to bless the faithful with earthly riches. Some argue that “prosperity preaching” is a Biblically sound message. Others say it is a distortion of the truth. It has evolved from "it's all right to make money" to it's all right for the pastor to drive a Bentley, live in an oceanside home and travel by private jet.

Oral Roberts and Kenneth Hagin — and later, Kenneth Copeland — trained tens of thousands of evangelists with a message that resonated with an emerging middle class, said David Edwin Harrell Jr., a Roberts biographer. Copeland is among those now being investigated. The teachings took on various names — "Name It and Claim It," "Word of Faith," and “the Prosperity Gospel.”

But would the “Prosperity Gospel” work, say for the 74,000 homeless living in Los Angeles, many of them Christians? There is no doubt that God wants to bless his followers. Jesus however, describes the nature of our blessings when he says, “Blessed are the merciful, they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7) When we are patient, kind, loving, forgiving, giving and merciful to the poor, the criminal, the orphan and the widow – we confirm God’s generous mercy upon ourselves by receiving His free gift of eternal life that we do not deserve. We get to go to heaven by God’s mercy! Heaven and eternal life are the blessings and riches that God has promised each of us.

When Jesus developed his preaching of compassion for the poor, there is no doubt he was acutely aware of the piercing Old Testament scripture of Proverbs 14:21 which says, "Anyone who despises his [poor] neighbor commits sin. But blessed is the person who is kind to the poor." Our blessings are eternal and spiritual – the best type – they are better than money! John tells us, “We know that we have passed from death into life because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.” (1 John 3:14)

When we give alms, show mercy, love and kindness to the poor and homeless, we have an opportunity to confirm God’s gift of eternal life. His blessings therefore are not temporal, but spiritual - the reward of eternal life with God the Father, our Creator. We don’t go to hell as each one deserves. Christ blesses us with adoption as sons of God. (Galatians 4:5) And so we discover that there are blessings for giving out of love, but it more than likely will not be a new car or winning the million dollar lottery.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A List Better than the Age-old New Years Resolutions

Happy New Year! A whole new year lies ahead. For most, the thought of the future is both exhilarating and worrisome. It’s exciting to think this may be the year that the million dollar lottery is won, the job promotion comes or the trip of a lifetime takes place. Yet, we don’t know the flip side of the coin. Could this be the year that my company goes under, I lose my job or my health unexpectedly turns for the worse? Could this be the year of another “Katrina” or California-type wildfires leaving one destitute and instantly immersed into homeless conditions?

Of course only God knows our futures. He knows everything, from its beginning to its end. Because we don’t know the future, there are a few things we can do to prepare for whatever may come our way. The following is a list better than the age-old New Years resolutions – 99% of those fail. This plan is sure:

* Dedicate a minimum of 30 minutes of prayer/spiritual reading to God in the morning and in the night. As a result, God will reward you this year with a glad rejoicing heart and strengthen you with grace in the day of harm.

* Find the poor and “homeless” at your job, grocery store and wherever you go and serve them well. Show them kindness and hospitality. Many have even entertained angels unawares. By doing so, God will reward you this year with a glad rejoicing heart and strengthen you with grace in the day of harm.

* Forgive! Make a list of all those who have hurt (no matter how terrible) and offended you. Now forgive them. Then, in the day of trouble God will show mercy upon you. “Blessed are the merciful, they shall obtain mercy.” As a result, God will reward you this year with a glad rejoicing heart and strengthen you with grace in the day of harm.

* Serve! Get plugged into an outreach that serves the poor and the homeless like the Los Angeles-based St. Peter’s Scalibrinian Mission in Chinatown or Skid Row's Midnight Mission. God’s consolations and peace will be yours when you give even an hour or two a week of your time. Give alms to the poor through groups that serve them. As a result, God will reward you this year with a glad rejoicing heart and strengthen you with grace in the day of harm.

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