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Saturday, January 08, 2011

Muslims, Jews and Christians working together at Christmas

More Yuletide reflections from Fighting Father Rob

Having just spent the past two days working at the Benton Harbor, Michigan Soup Kitchen, I find myself tired this Christmas morning. There are many things going through my head today: the recovering alcoholic who wrote/printed a short story and gave me a copy about how greatful he was to have found religion in his difficult road to sobriety. Then there is the fellow who dropped off a dozen or so bags of oranges just as I was getting ready to lock the doors on Christmas Eve. His comment: "They were on sale. I thought of the needy at the Soup Kitchen." (The Soup Kitchen is not in the best beighborhoods. Someone from the suburbs has to go out of their way to find it.)

The fellow with the oranges lifted my spirits, as did the recovering alcoholic. Neither have solved the world's problems of poverty, war, injustice, abuse, addiction, and more. But today is Christmas and sometimes small things grow into something much more.

I do not know what it was like for Mary and Joseph the day Jesus was born. None of us REALLY do. We can only surmise.

But I do know that it is written later in Jesus' life, the bible says he said, words to the effect:

"Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone."

On this Christmas Day, my family is still sleeping silently elsewhere in the house. The snow here in Michigan has covered the ground and is dripping from the trees. I can see the woods in the back of my house where sometimes deer, rabbit, and other creatures seek shelter and sustenance.

And I have awakened to my daily scan of the newspapers to read a story of Jews and Muslims in the Detroit area working together this Christmas in Christian missions, secular senior citizen centers, and elsewhere to provide comfort and relief to the vulnerable, the poor, the down on their luck: ... 1408/LOCAL

This Christmas morning, I am greatful for the warmth of my coffee and my house. I am greatful for my Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters who are working together about three hours drive from here to help the less fortunate. I am hopeful that a recovering alcoholic will find his Higher Power and has taken more than one step on the 12 steps he needs for recovery.

And to the fellow who dropped off the oranges at the Soup Kitchen, and the farmer the day before who dropped off 20 bags of apples, and for the Catholics and Episcopals/Anglicans who served warm soup, hot dogs, and Christmas cookies to the needy this past couple days, I say what Tiny Tim said:

"God bless us. Every one!"

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Christmas in West Michigan

Reflections from Rob Burgess about Christmas, homelessness and neighbourly love

We are in the midst of blizzard conditions here in West Michigan. A large Canadian cold front, those poor Canadians get blamed for all of our bad, winter weather, has just arrived with a vengeance.

A week ago, I had dinner at my pastor's with his family, another couple, my wife, and a homeless fellow who had been sleeping on our church's doorstep. The couple had gathered together enough funds to get the fellow a bus ticket to Florida, where he will spend his winter doing whatever homeless people do. We got him a hotel room for a couple nights before he left so he had a chance to clean and sober up, at least for a couple nights before his long trip across country. And fortunately he won't freeze to death sleeping on our church steps. But tonight, I worry about him in his new "home" of Daytona Beach, nonetheless.

Yesterday, I was in training at our local Soup Kitchen. Our director is in need of a couple weeks vacation over the Christmas season. The assistant is an 80+ year old who should not have to work seven days a week in her absence. So, I was tapped on the shoulder to step in and supervise for a few days.

As I was talking to our clients before and after lunch yesterday, I felt blessed to be in their presence. I also felt overwhelmed by the responsibility that I would have, if only for a few days. It is one thing to serve on the Soup Kitchen Board as Treasurer, to volunteer there several times a year with our church group, etc. It is another thing to have the responsibility to ensure the operation of the kitchen goes smoothly in caring for the 150 or so people the kitchen serves on a daily basis.

Some of our clients suffer from alcoholism or addiction. Some from a variety of mental disorders. I am not sure how Australia takes care of folks with these mental disabilities, but we here in the United States don't do a good job of taking care of those who suffer such maladies. Too many rotate between jail/prison and the streets without proper psychiatric or psychological care.

I did meet a 80+ year old veteran yesterday. I connected with him right a way mostly because while I had visited Hiroshima in 1975, he claims to have been there just after the atomic bomb dropped in 1945. Since he knew details about the bombing that one would only know having been there, I took him at his word. You could see the tears well up in his eyes even after 65 years as he told the story of victims of the bombing who were reduced to nothing more than a shadow on the side of a stone wall. He was a well spoken and gentle fellow. I have found myself asking myself (and God) why this fellow, a decorated veteran, has ended up in a soup kitchen with me some 65 years later.

I sometimes have a cynical side so I told my pastor upon arrival at church today that I now know a good place for bishops. You see, the veteran's name was Mr. Bishop. I apologize to all of the bishops out there, but I sometimes think they forget what it is like to be Mr. Bishop. Too much emphasis on church bureaucracy and fund raising and not enough compassion for the Mr. Bishop's and the other least of the world.

So, tonight I look outside my warm and toasty family room with our Christmas tree just here to my right. I am blessed to be here. Yesterday, I felt blessed to be in the midst of Mr. Bishop and all of the other guys and gals (and children) at our soup kitchen. Today, I hope that they have found a warm bowl of food for their bellies and a safe place for the night with a warm bed.

Father Dave, I appreciate your mention of the story or Jesus and the woman who washed his feet with her hair. I must admit there is a part of me that wonders out loud, like Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, if we do enough for the poor:

"Woman your fine ointment
Brand new and expensive
Should have been saved for the poor
Why has it been wasted?
We could have raised maybe
Three hundred silver pieces or more
People who are hungry
People who are starving
Matter more
Than your feet and hair..."

I leave you with those thoughts as I ponder the fate of the poor in Michigan during a winter's blizzard:

"Everything's alright yes, everything's alright yes." ...

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