Grace for The Homeless

In previous blogs, I have challenged attitudes in Bucks County, PA regarding the homeless, being hard on some in the Christian community.

Christians are sinners saved by grace. Grace is God’s unmerited favor. That is, grace is God doing good for us that we do not deserve. In response for God showing us grace, Christians are to grow in grace and be more like Christ, and show grace towards others.

Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, [so let him give]; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” –2nd Corinthians 9:7″.

Many churches in lower Bucks County have opened their doors to the homeless. They feed the homeless and needy, talk with them and make them feel at home. They treat their guests as friends. One church in particular, Saint Mark AME Zion Church in Newtown, refers to them as “friends without walls.” To make guests at the meals as well as visitors to the church feel welcome, they sing “So glad you’re here, so glad you’re here, so glad you’re here in Jesus name…”

And they mean it.

Saint Mark hosts early Sunday afternoon meals once a month for their friends without walls. Officially, the meals start at 2 p.m., but some friends drift in as early as an hour before serving time. The church is open, and  people in the church are down where the meals are served, setting up. They chat with the early birds as they drift in.

Throughout the history of the church, some congregations have followed the Word of God more than others. An exemplary early church was The Church at Ephesus, which Jesus Himself praised for its patience. Patience is translated as “endurance under trial.”    This church got a lot of flack from the false religions in the city, but they kept the faith.

Other early churches allowed worldly views to pollute them.

Today the world tries to bring the church down to it’s level. Some “churches” just take on a worldly, judgmental view.

The Salvation Army was established with a mission to help the downtrodden, the poor, the homeless, even the seedy people of the street to give them a hand up to restore them through God’s Word. Today in Levittown, PA, however, the local Salvation Army Community Center helps the homeless grudgingly, not exactly a cheerful giver. They put on a show, much like the Pharisee in the parable in Luke 18 who bragged that he was not like the tax collector who also came to the temple but  faithfully followed the letter of the law.

The meals for the homeless at the Salvation Army start at 6 p.m., sharp. They are not welcomed in until then. And when they enter, social services director Queen Latifah prods them about like cattle and warns them about not running around the building and tells them generally to behave, as if they are children or criminals. There have been countless complaints about the queen, but the boss, Captain Caspar Milquetoast, doesn’t lay down the law. He once told me that he was going to keep her in the kitchen, but he didn’t follow through on it.

Particularly prevalent today is the politically correct, which dictates beliefs contrary to God’s Word. Captain Caspar evidently does not want to take a stand against the queen, for fear of the politically correct. He also didn’t take a stand against community relations and development director The Countess of Carlisle after she, in Stalinist style, punished me for disagreeing with her about the way the homeless are treated by thwarting my offer by an official from division headquarters as a writer for the Salvation Army.

On one occasion, a man who had recently become homeless came to the Salvation Army Levittown Corps (and it’s starting to be rotten at the core) for food. It was hot and he was flushed. I offered him a ride to the Levittown public library, where he could get the bus to the community meal and where an advocate may be able to help him, after I finished my volunteer work at the food pantry. As he was waiting in the uncrowded lobby, the Countess sternly told me he couldn’t hang around. After I explained he was waiting for a ride from me, she reluctantly acquiesced.

In criticizing churches I try to be as gracious as possible. Peace is not necessarily the absence of conflict. As Romans 12:18 says “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” But sometimes things must be said and action taken, for example, Jesus driving the money changers out of the church.

As was the case with the early churches, where the apostle Paul encouraged the churches to follow the Word of God, I encourage the churches to show grace towards the homeless, who were made in God’s image. The world, the Bucks County establishment, is cutting the homeless very little slack – they are mostly graceless. Christians must show God’s unconditional love to others.

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” — Matthew 5:16

Love One Another

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

–Matthew 22:36-40

Loving others in the homeless community by meeting their needs first was testimony given at the funeral service for Eddie McCulley held  today at the First United Methodist Church in Bristol, PA. Eddie, loved by many, as evidenced at the great attendance at the service, died in an RV fire in a homeless camp. Friends attending the service said that Eddie looked out for others – both their physical and emotional needs.

Eddie’s “adopted” daughter said that on one occasion when they bought some Chinese food, the came upon a man who told them he was homeless and hadn’t eaten for three days. They shared their food with him.

When people, including his “daughter” was down, Eddie was always ready with a joke and comforted others who were in the same circumstance as he was.

I didn’t know Eddie very well – mainly from the community meals – but he always greeted me with a smile and was very sociable. He informed me when he was promoted from Mayor of the camp to Governor, and sometimes asked me, his lieutenant (sometimes he called me his liege), if everything was in order.

At one community meal, one of the hosts asked us if we needed anything. “One scotch, one bourbon, and one beer,” Eddie said, tongue in cheek. The host took him seriously and replied “sir, we don’t serve that here; we’re Methodist.”

The funeral is a celebration of Eddie’s life, said the pastor and others who attended the service. We  all have a mission in life, the pastor explained; we are here for a purpose.

We touch others lives, as did Eddie.

A funeral is a time to reflect on our lives and what life is about, to realize what’s important in life. What’s most important, the pastor said, is Jesus.

This is what is important to me.

God wants us to love one another. The way to bring people together is to first love God. Years ago, someone told me about the God/people triangle. The closer we, at the bottom of the triangle, get to God, at the top of the triangle, the closer we get to each other.

People in the homeless community need to be there for one another. We are family and need to be there to edify each other. As the lyrics in the Sister Sledge say:

“Ev’ryone can see we’re together
As we walk on by
(Hey) and we fly just like birds of a feather
I won’t tell no lie
(ALL!) all of the people around us they say
Can they be that close
Just let me state for the record
We’re giving love in a family dose”

The hosts at a community meal for the homeless and needy sung We Are Family.

Indeed, we are family.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.”

–First Corinthians 13: 4-8

T-Rex is Back!

Tyrannosaurus Rex is back, running around Levittown, PA, bullying anyone who does something he doesn’t like, or just for sport. The root of his first name translates “tyrant.”

Lately, T-Rex has been temporarily contained in cages but, once free, in some public places he has been docile, on pain of not being fed. At a community meal, I almost accidentally sat down across from him. When I noticed him, he elicited a menacing warning, a look that could kill, and I kept away.

The most recent episode occurred at the Veteran’s Memorial in Levittown. When I arrived, just missing the Christmas party there, T-Rex had a smirk on his face. Initially I took this as a friendly greeting but then realized that he was drunk. And disorderly. Yet he orders me, a veteran, to leave the memorial because he doesn’t like my blogs.

Talk about tough critics!

I missed the Christmas party because I was visiting a friend who is getting treatment for alcohol addiction. He was vacated from the same neighborhood where T-Rex used to live. In his case, he finally came to his senses after being convinced by a Bucks County Ranger to get the help he needs.

At the memorial, the inebriated T-Rex started closing in on what he thought would be his prey, uttering inane grunts and groans. It sounded like he was saying that this grunting and groaning was the content of my blogs. An ex Marine got between us, trying to keep him at bay. I didn’t want to fight — just to be left alone. But I don’t like bullies and I was tempted to knock him out! I guarantee you, he won’t find overpowering me as easy a task as when he attacked mentally and physically weak prey.

People at the memorial also tried to convince him to stop his irrational rage — that I am not the enemy.

Not only was T-Rex bullying me, he was hurting his fellow homeless who visit the memorial. He was one of the ones who had gotten everybody banned from the memorial after the authorities came because some individuals were drunk and disorderly. It took some persuading the authorities to convince them to let thing go back to the way they were.

The woods by the library have been cleared of overnight campers, but the “all clear” sign is not out. In fact, the rangers are aggressively patrolling the woods for campers camping in a no camp zone. It was the mainly druggie homeless who triggered the raids on the homeless. Warrants for people also precipitated the raids.

A ranger asked me that if I see a certain individual who has a warrant against him to ask him to turn himself in. It will go easier for him, the ranger said, if he turns himself in than when they catch him.

Places for the homeless to go keep shrinking. Caring people have been trying to create shelter for the homeless but have been hitting roadblocks. Part of the problem is a result of hobophobia. For those of you in Doylestown, “hobophobia” means, according to the Urban Dictionary “The extreme and utter fear of hobos, or the homeless. This is usually caused by the lack of exposure to the homeless throughout the world. A dose of homelessness is an easy cure to hobophobia”

Whether T-Rex realizes it or not (he probably doesn’t), he is contributing to hobophobia.

Most people don’t know the homeless like I do. Bystanders witness a rucus among a group of people they perceive as being homeless. Not knowing the people in the group, or any homeless people for that manner, they tend to judge all homeless by the actions of certain members of the group.

There are people scattered out there who genuinely want to help the homeless find shelter. They have had some success in piecemeal fashion.

A guy who works for Bucks County who used to be a fixture at the Levittown Public Library — maybe my dangerous blogs scared him away (holy the pen is mightier than the sword, Batman) — told me he doesn’t buy the “housing first” stragedy. He said that people need to get themselves straight before they move into housing.

Assuming someone needing shelter needs help with serious problems, this would be a good strategy. But many homeless simply need a place to stay; they are not all addicts or nutcases. But as concerns the public perception of the homeless, the homeless need to get their act together, and hold problem people accountable for their behavior.

Homeless people at the memorial when T-Rex started acting up handled the problem the right way. But if the problem people don’t want to shape up, throw the bums out!

In Jurassic Park, a scientist argued that dinosaurs can’t co-exist with people. In the case of T-Rex, I think he may be right.