when necessary use words

Ravenswood Community Services, which operates out of my church, All Saints Episcopal, was recently featured in two articles which appeared in New York TImes via the Chicago News Cooperative:

“Outside a World of Wealth Stands the Reality of Hunger”
“Vandalism at Food Pantry Shows Best and Worst of People “

You know, it’s really tempting to make broad generalizations. It’s really tempting to talk about RCS as though it’s a group of Robin Hoods, robbing the sidewalk space of a wealthy neighborhood to *gasp!* feed “the poor.” You know, “the poor” who need our help, our charity? Yeah, this is totally a story you’d like to read. It’s a feel-good story; you can feel righteous anger toward the family with the carriage house across the street, while you sympathize with the line of hungry men and women and children who wait patiently for generously proffered bounty.

That story is also bullshit.

Our neighbors are neither rich jackasses nor voiceless Jacob Riis photographees, okay? Everyone in our neighborhood IS A NEIGHBOR, IS A PERSON, whether they come in for dinner or just live down the block. Even if they did, actually, complain to the alderman about the people waiting outside of the church on Tuesday nights. I don’t care. If those people showed up, I would still welcome them in. We are not in the business of “rescuing” people or fighting the good fight against the indolent bourgeoisie around us. We… feed people. Who are hungry. Who need food. Physical bread, spiritual bread, it’s all good. On Tuesday nights, we have food.

On Tuesday nights, we also have coffee. I work with Betty, who volunteers social work services every other week; on those nights, I head up beverages with a rotating cast of assistants. I have the privilege of keeping my schedule free on Tuesday nights. As a graduate student, I may actually make less money than some of our neighbors. (Actually, I’m pretty sure that’s the case.) But I have social capital that they don’t. I have a safety net, hard-won as it is. So I make the coffee. One of our neighbors sets up the cold water, the hot tea. And our other neighbors help me carry the coffee out, help me wipe the table, bring me the empty carafes and sugar bowls: we work together.

Here’s one of my favorite blessings, which we used at my campus ministry from time to time:

The Wisdom of God,
the Love of God,
and the Grace of God
strengthen us
to be Christ’s hands and heart in this world,
in the name of the Holy Trinity.

Sometimes, I really feel like every sermon I ever give, and every essay I ever write boils down to the same thesis: “shut the fuck up and actually do some shit, you guys.”

Or, as St. Francis said more eloquently: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

I’m glad to see that, in his follow-up article, Mr. Warren seems to have considered the power of his words, even if he isn’t checking his class privilege quite so much. Although the vandalism is very unfortunate, it did not do any permanent damage, and no one is holding any grudges. It’s sad that a window had to get broken and a church had to get flooded for someone to point this lack of grudge-holding out.


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