“… that doesn’t make it garbage.”

Everyone has seen videos of people in Manhattan walking past homeless people. Some people treat people who are homeless as invisible (at best) or worthless or a blight (at worst). Last night I was spending time with New York City Relief, making friends with people currently living on the street. I had an important list of names of individuals we had talked to and their prayer requests. (The International House of Prayer church prays faithfully for these people each week baEzra and Eddy, Noah and Chris and I thoughtsed on these lists.) Anyway, I absent-mindedly wrote down what one couple wanted from a fast food restaurant on the back of that list, and sent a couple team members to bring back the food. The volunteers came back with the food, but (of course) not with the list, which was now in the garbage! My mistake! And I was responsible for that list! I asked them to go back for it and try to “rescue” it, while I continued speaking with another homeless man who stopped by and wanted to talk. He’d been living on the street for “many years.” He saw the little drama unfolding about our potentially lost list, and said to me, “Just because something is in the garbage, that doesn’t make it garbage.” It was slightly out of the blue, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since. And the great thing is, it wasn’t me telling him that, perhaps to encourage him, but it was him telling me. It was a beautiful moment where we thought together about a simple but profound truth – and for me, it came from a surprising source. (I’m supposed to be the one dropping profound nuggets out there, right?) The thing is, it shouldn’t be surprising. Whether the woman suffering because she doesn’t have her meds, or the young guy who’s relationship with his father has devastated him, or the woman on the street because her husband’s violence almost killed her – these people are just like us – they have truth and wisdom like like we do (sometimes more than we do) – and only a few minutes spent talking to one or two of them makes that obvious.

When we’re down should we be “kicked to the curb?” When we desperately need help should we be considered a blight? Is our very presence a problem, so that others should rightly treat us as “invisible?” No, because no matter what happens to us, no matter where we are, we know who we are. We know who made us. We know who depends on us. We know who still believes in us. We know what we have to contribute.

It’s no different with people living on the street. They’re humans. They’re moms and dads, siblings, parents, aunts and uncles. They’re old and young. They’re single and married. They’re Christians, Muslims, Jews, and seekers of all kinds. They’re God’s handiwork. Others depend on them. Some are lucky enough that others still believe in them. And they have something to contribute. As Jesus said, you just have to have “eyes to see.”

So, next time, try to remember with me, “Just because something is in the garbage, that doesn’t make it garbage.”

Ministry to Homeless Friends: Lessons Learned

I learned one big lesson each of the first five times I ventured out with the team from NYC Relief (“The Relief Bus”).CBovzOnUkAA8QD6

1. Many might wonder, “The Bible says that God cares for the poor, but does he? How is that?” I learned that if you ask the poor themselves, “Does God care for you.” They are very likely to say “Yes!”

2. We often need to see results, and how what we do is important and a good use of our time in that way. I learned that simply kneeling down to talk to someone, looking them in the face, and showing them the love of God has great significance in itself. In fact, it’s exactly, specifically, explicitly what Jesus says to do. (He doesn’t tell us we have to save the world or force others to change.)

3. I learned from a friend on the street that, if I feel my wife can’t really hear me when I’m trying to tell her something, that I should just “Take her hand, ask her to sit down with me, and then have a conversation.” Simple. No doubt heard it before. It had a special impact this time. (But I still need to do it, so the story isn’t over yet.) I learned that I can learn from someone on the street – and why not?

4. I’ve been either in ministry or preparing for ministry most of my life, and most of that time I’ve had my nose in a book, and I’ve been “all up in my head.” When I met a bunch of 18 year old volunteers, and learned that in their ministry school, this do stuff like this most every day (street ministry in Manhattan), I learned that I had a long way to go understanding what God expects of me and how much more I could also be doing.

5. To do street ministry, you have to start by entering a “no-judgment zone” with anyone you will meet. It’s not about merit or blame. Our job is unconditional love. I learned that I can (and should) bring this same attitude home with me, and apply it on a daily basis (for instance) with my wife and children. Imagine.

If I am ever able to work more full-time with the Relief Bus, I will have to raise support. I’ve already been thinking about what I might say to church groups or interested friends. After four or five points, I know now that I would have to sheepishly admit (point #6), that I do this because I need to. This is how I so spiritual formation. Doing this changes me. It makes me a better Christian, and a better human (which, after all is the point of being a Christian). I don’t know at this point where it will all lead, but I’m all in.

Irritating People and Why they Irritate

Today I was praying, and for some reason started to think about someone I know who irritates me. (I admit that I’m too easily irritated, but that’s for another post.) When I had this thought – about this irritating person – I remembered a question from Geri Scazzero that I’m learning to ask:

“What does my response to [fill in the blank here – in this case,
the person’s name] say about me?”

And before I answer, let me clarify. I’m referring to people who are loud (I’m quiet.), people who are pushy (I’m accommodating.), people who are messy (I’m organized.), people who are crude (I’m usually fairly well-mannered.), people who talk too much (I’m often quiet.), people who are confrontational (I’m conflict avoidant.), people are all emotional (I’m subdued.), people who are arrogant (I’m ever so humble.), people … well, you get the picture. (I’m sorry if I offended you, my friend, please read to the end before you dismiss me entirely.)

So, “What does my response to a person who irritates say about me?”

Well, that question led to others:

Why do certain people bother me so much?

Is it because they’re not like me?
Do I think it would be better if they were like me?
Do I think it would be better if they were at least a little more like me?

And what exactly is the problem? Why is what irritating people do so irritating or frustrating to me?
Why am I so critical and often so judgmental?

Is it because I’m forgetting God’s “signature” in all his creation – the amazing diversity?
Is it because I’m fooled by the “disguises” that people come in? (Mother Teresa talks about how Jesus himself appears to us regularly in the disguise of the poor.)
Is it because I’m forgetting what a poor template I would be for this new humanity?
Am I threatened by people who are different from me for some reason?
Am I resentful of the extra work it takes to engage in a relationship with and love these people?

Oh, wow. I think perhaps this is where we were headed from the start. It could be that. I suppose that’s what God wanted to say to me today. This is why we started with irritating people in our prayer time. Ouch. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?


“If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed –
but hate those things in yourself, not in another.”
Thomas Merton

“Until we have seen someone’s darkness,
we don’t really know who they are.
Until we have forgiven someone’s darkness,
we don’t really know what love is.”
Marianne Williamson

Henri Nouwen, Richard Rohr, Peter Scazzero, Pope Francis, Jesus – and The Big Bang Theory

Bob Newhart appears again as Professor Proton in the most recent episode of CBS’s the Big Bang Theory. In a private conversation with Leonard, Professor Proton decides to ask Leonard something he’s been wondering about when it comes to his roommate Dr. Sheldon Cooper – “Why are you and Sheldon friends?” It’s a natural enough question, but particularly easy to understand in this episode where others and Sheldon all agree that he can be very “annoying.” Sheldon’s “quirks” shine through in every episode.

Sheldon exhibits a strict adherence to routine, a total lack of social skills, a tenuous understanding of humor, a general lack of humility or empathy, and displays textbook narcissistic behavior. He also has a very hard time recognizing irony and sarcasm in other people although he himself often employs them.  … Despite speculation that Sheldon’s personality traits may be consistent with Asperger syndrome, obsessive–compulsive personality disorder and asexuality, co-creator Bill Prady has repeatedly stated that Sheldon’s character was neither conceived nor developed with regard to any of these conditions. (Wikipedia)

It’s in this context that Professor Proton wants to know, “Why are you and Sheldon friends?” When I heard Leonard’s answer, I was in a mild state of shock. “He’s broken, and he needs me”, he said, “… and I need him.”

Leonard doesn’t explain how or why he needs Sheldon. Is it because he’s broken too? Is it because of what he learns from Sheldon about himself? about life? about loving well? about what really matters?

Does he learn from their relationship how to look beyond the shell of a person? past the dysfunctions? past the brokenness? past the likely diagnoses? Does he learn not to insist, like so many of us do, that others ought to “be like me” or be “normal” in order for us to accept them? welcome them? truly love them?

If you’ve read much of what’s been written by Henri Nouwen, Richard Rohr, or Peter Scazzero  (among others) you’ve been reminded how much God means for us to learn from marginalized people (children, the poor, the dying, the elderly, the despised, etc.). If you’ve heard Pope Francis lately, or seen what he’s done, you’ve seen him living out the love of Jesus towards people like Sheldon who don’t fit in.

I remember early in my first year of Bible College, seeing one of the jocks – a really handsome guy, sitting and talking in the Snack Bar with someone who was a “reject” by most standards. You know – not attractive, not athletic, not particularly smart, not cool – not popular! I’m ashamed now to say that I still remember that incident because, at the time, I couldn’t understand it. “Why was he doing that?”

I’m sure that jock was not only more athletic and handsome than me, but also a lot more spiritually mature. Maybe if I would have asked him back then for an explanation, he would have said, “He’s broken and he needs me … and I need him.”

I hope I’ve grown enough since that day that I wouldn’t be so confused seeing something like that now. I want to be like that jock, and like Leonard Hofstadter in his love for Sheldon Cooper. I want to love someone who doesn’t fit in, who isn’t cool, who others ignore – or despise. I want to love someone who, as I love them, God uses to teach me about myself, about life, about what really matters – even simply about what it mean to love in the first place.

Remembering Isaac – a prayer

May you rise from the place where you are bound
as Isaac did from the altar where he was bound –
as one forever changed.
With a new sense of self
a new love of life
a new understanding of God’s love for you
a new sense of God’s presence with you.

And may you rise from the trauma of your altar –
the loss of control
the fear
the pain
the despair
As Isaac did,
resurrected to a new life
a changed life
a life redeemed again
in a second, more powerful, deeper conversion.
To a life transformed
an experience transcended
a place not known before.
To a deep place of satisfaction in God
confidence in his care
and in his love for you.
To a body profoundly healed.

– for Tina, and for all of us

Richard Rohr On Downward Mobility

“The path of descent is the path of transformation.
Darkness, failure, relapse, death, and woundedness are our primary teachers, rather than ideas or doctrines.”

“The soul has many secrets. They are only revealed to those who want them, and are never completely forced upon us. One of the best-kept secrets, and yet one hidden in plain sight, is that the way up is the way down. Or, if you prefer, the way down is the way up. In Scripture, we see that the wrestling and wounding of Jacob are necessary for Jacob to become Israel (Genesis 32:26-32), and the death and resurrection of Jesus are necessary to create Christianity. The loss and renewal pattern is so constant and ubiquitous that it should hardly be called a secret at all. Yet it is still a secret, probably because we do not want to see it. We do not want to embark on a further journey (the second half of life) if it feels like going down, especially after having put so much sound and fury into going up (the first half of life). This is surely the first and primary reason why many people never get to the fullness of their own lives.”


“Soul knowledge sends you in the opposite direction from consumerism. It’s not addition that makes one holy, but subtraction: stripping the illusions, letting go of the pretense, exposing the false self, breaking open the heart and the understanding, not taking my private self too seriously. Conversion is more about unlearning than learning. In a certain sense we are on the utterly wrong track. We are climbing while Jesus is descending, and in that we reflect the pride and the arrogance of Western civilization, usually trying to accomplish, perform, and achieve. This is our real operative religion. Success is holy! We transferred much of that to our version of Christianity and made the Gospel into spiritual consumerism. The ego is still in charge. There is not much room left for God when the false self takes itself and its private self-development that seriously. All we can really do is get ourselves out of the way, and honestly we can’t even do that. It is done to us through this terrible thing called suffering.”


“Some have called this principle of going down to go up a “spirituality of imperfection” or “the way of the wound.” It has been affirmed in Christianity by St. Thérèse of Lisieux as her Little Way, by St. Francis as the way of poverty, and by Alcoholics Anonymous as the necessary First Step. St. Paul taught this unwelcome message with his enigmatic “It is when I am weak that I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Of course, in saying that, he was merely building on what he called the “folly” of the crucifixion of Jesus—a tragic and absurd dying that became resurrection itself. You will not know for sure that this message is true until you are on the “up” side. You will never imagine it to be true until you have gone through the “down” yourself and come out on the other side in larger form. You must be pressured from on high, by fate, circumstance, love, or God, because nothing in you wants to believe it, or wants to go through it. Falling upward is a secret of the soul, known not by thinking about it or proving it but only by risking it—at least once. And by allowing yourself to be led—at least once. Those who have allowed it know it is true, but only after the fact.”


Adapted from Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,
pp. xxiii-xxiv and pp. xviii-xix, and from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p. 46, day 49
(Available through Franciscan Media)

The Daily Meditations for 2013 are now available
in Fr. Richard’s new book Yes, And . . . .


My “Ministry”

I’m anxious to do.
You’re anxious for me to be.
I feel like rushing.
You refuse to be rushed.
I feel unfairly deprived and overlooked.
You want to humble me
to make me appropriately small
to sit with me in my losses.
I want to be of use to others.
You want to search me
to come to me in my obscurity
changing me.
You want to see if it’s love for you
or love for myself
whether it’s love for others
or love for honor
that motivates me.

It often seems unfair,
but in your love you are saving me
granting me this daily death to self
giving me what I most need
but don’t know I need,
changing me.
And in your love you are embracing me
that I might know that if I have you
I will want for nothing
that you alone suffice.
And in the end, I will know
that everything I thought was me,
and everything I held onto so desperately
was finally nothing.
I will know that
you have given me over to death
that Christ may live in me
and that my inner dying might grow
to reach my death from without.
I will know that you are everything
that in you alone I have all I need
that you alone suffice.