I have met the enemy…

If you were to travel to Reading or Norristown or Lansdale or Phoenixville or Allentown, or almost any town and asked where the homeless shelter was, you would readily find an answer. You would most likely be told where folks in need would go in the daytime, and where they can sleep. 

In Pottstown, there is no such place during the daytime, all year long.

In Pottstown, The Salvation Army has a long and beautiful history of providing day and night shelter for families. This history isn’t about drug addicts or laziness or violence. It is about being sure that families with children don’t have to live in tents in the woods. It is a loving effort, run so well that Pottstown has every right to be proud. Of course, The Salvation Army cannot begin to serve all of those who come to their door in need and crisis. 

In Pottstown, The Warming Center at Al’s Heart is now providing a safe, warm and dry place for single people in the winter months. Al’s Heart will not be open next year. There will be no shelter like this next year. There will be no winter shelter in Pottstown next year, and I want to tell you who is to blame.

First off, you cannot blame PAED ( Pottstown Area Economic Development). They are quite clear about what they are interested in. Their Mission Statement boldly says that they are interested in economic development. They want to get more money in taxes, create jobs and improve or remove buildings in need. They even have the Pottstown Borough Manager as a board member.Interesting. They have no stated interest in the lives of the poor or marginalized as their mission.

Also, you cannot blame the borough council. They will tell you all about how they are unable to have a homeless shelter in town. But let’s face it, these good people are elected, and I can assume that they are of the belief that the folks in their ward don’t care about the homeless.. 

But here is who you can blame. Blame the people that perpetuate the foolish notion that providing care for people in need will somehow make their hometown worse. That suddenly people that live in Pottstown will invite thousands of violent lazy drug addicts to our town. That is unproven nonsense that people say when they think that they are more deserving of life’s necessities than others. It’s what people say when they don’t know any better.

Blame the people that support and elect the council members who vote to keep the marginalized at risk. 

As you can see, to quote Walt Kelly, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” That’s right, us. You and me,

We are the ones who will not speak up en masse and elect council members that are not indifferent to the needs of those that struggle to live on the margins. 

We don’t tell PAED that what they are doing is good, but they  should stay out of matters that are not included in your mission. 

I have been to L.A. Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenixville, Seattle, Lansdale, San Francisco and Norristown. In each of those places you will find people working for economic development, and other people providing services for those in need. They are not mutually exclusive. In fact, both groups are necessary for a town to be healthy in the greater sense.

Next Winter there will be no winter shelter in Pottstown, even though a building has been donated for that purpose and a million bucks in matching funds have been promised.

It’s our own fault. 


Street homelessness is expected to explode in Pottstown in November 2022. 

Due to a potent combination of indifference and a lack of knowledge, along with the position of Pottstown borough council, street homelessness can only increase next winter. 

It is a shame that it will come to this, particularly because a kind gentleman has offered a building for shelter. Also, there has been a promise of significant matching funds; enough to provide people with  a safe, warm and dignified place to go. 

Sadly, the people and the local government and Pottstown will not allow this to occur. It is convenient to blame the borough council. Of course their response is that there is an ordinance in place that will not allow shelter in Pottstown. However, shelters, by virtue of the population that they serve, must be walkable. 

The awful truth is however that everyone else in Pottstown allows this to occur. I like to believe that if all of the Pottstonians truly understood the situation, they would force this situation to change and I believe they would encourage and invest in it. 

I fully understand why people think that it isn’t good to see so many poor folks on the streets in Pottstown. But we have to recognize that most of those people are not homeless, but they are Pottstown residents.

What is difficult to understand though is that the people in power that say they don’t want to see poor folks on the street also will not invest in the change that will give them somewhere to go. This is unique to Pottstown. Many of our neighboring sizable towns support daytime and overnight shelter for those in need. You can look it up.

The greater issue I believe is this. Next November, as things begin to cool down there is no plan to provide any Shelter for homeless folks and Pottstown. My assumption is that the thirty or so people that will sleep in a shelter this winter will need to find a warm place on the street. Or, they will find some way to get a tent or a blanket and camp out in nearby woods. This is quite temporary because local police have been known to tell those camping out that they need to leave and they are encouraged to head towards Berks county. I rather doubt that Berks county has encouraged them to say that.

 Here is the long and short of it. Like every other town around us there will always be a homeless population. We can come together as a community to provide somewhere safe for them during the day, and at night, or we can pretend that we don’t have to do anything and then complain when we see them huddled in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk. This can and should change. I really have no confidence that the borough council will have any reason to act with appropriate kindness and mercy until thousands and thousands of voices tell them that this is something we must accomplish together.

 I tremble for my town of Pottstown when I hear the Haves telling the Have Nots where they may walk, or sit, or sleep.

The Shame Of Pottstown

There are two groups in Pottstown that are at odds with each other. For the life of me I cannot understand why. 

One group is called PAID, Pottstown Area Industrial Development. This is what they do, from their website:

Pottstown Area Industrial Development, Inc. (PAID) is a 501c(3) non-profit corporation originally formed in 1965 to promote commercial and industrial development in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.

The other group is called Pottstown LIFT, Living In Faith Together. This is what they do from their website:

Pottstown Living in Faith Together (LIFT) is a not-for-profit corporation based in Pottstown, PA that provides facilities and support for charitable programs that address community needs such as overnight homeless accommodations. I am a board member of this organization.

These seem like two necessary things for Pottstown to be doing, but very different from each other.

Pottstown LIFT is quite proud of the fact we were able to create some winter shelter for those who would otherwise be on the street during the COVID winter of 2020/2021. We are housed in a former Roman Catholic School, and for the very first time in Pottstown history we were able to do this with the unanimous support of Pottstown Borough.  We were also given permission to be open in this way for the 2021/2022 season.

Operating a shelter like this has some challenges, particularly in dealing with personnel, but there is experience within the group, and help from local churches and volunteers. Most of the challenges stem from two areas:

  • Pottstown provides nothing in terms of bathroom facilities for people that are homeless. The ensuing problems are obvious.
  • The Shelter opens at 8 PM. We intend to serve Pottstown locals only on a first-come basis. People have to line-up outdoors in the cold to get a spot. Vying for a position has its challenges. LIFT does not have enough room to house all who come to our door, and distance requirements from CDC guidelines limit the number we can serve as well.

A truly wonderful opportunity has come to LIFT as a gift. It is the gift of a building to operate long term, and for much longer in the year. If you believe that no one should have to sleep outside in the cold, then you would most likely agree that no one should be forced to sleep outside at any time. 

Pottstown has never offered this kindness to it’s homeless citizens. I find that heartless, and contrary to the attitude of other nearby towns such as West Chester, Reading, Coatesville, Norristown, Lansdale and Phoenixville, all of whom have shelters located in their towns.

Pottstown LIFT has a building and is willing to raise private funding to refurbish and staff it. However Pottstown Borough Council has turned us down.  

You see, Pottstown has a rule that boils down to this.  You cannot shelter homeless people in the same area as other residents. We requested a zoning variance regarding this nasty rule and were turned down. 

I am paraphrasing when I say that the borough manager has suggested that we explore other areas outside of the borough, or in municipalities that don’t have this forbidding ordinance. We were told that not one single borough council member was in favor of our requested zoning change. Let me also mention that the Borough Manager is on the board of PAID. 

The  History    

When downtown churches in Pottstown could no longer accommodate homeless men and women due to the pandemic, PottstownLIFT came to their rescue by leasing an old school building from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and welcomed them with coffee, hot chocolate, snacks and love every night of the week through the entire cold season. The program became known as “Al’s Heart”. Although PottstownLIFT will sponsor Al’s Heart again this year, it is widely known and understood that the emergency approvals from the Borough that permitted this operation cannot be repeated in future years.

Consequently, a local citizen offered to donate an unfinished and vacant structure as a location for PottstownLIFT to continue their mission. While the property is not in the downtown business district, it is in a town residential neighborhood and so an amended ordinance would need to be carefully constructed to allow the mission to operate there. Things appeared to be moving in a supportive direction until an old and established organization called Pottstown Area Industrial Development (PAID) got involved. 

PAID is a 501c(3) non-profit corporation formed in 1965 to promote commercial and industrial development in Pottstown.

While many of the Pottstown businesses were appreciative and supportive of the work done by PottstownLIFT, apparently a handful of the wealthier business owners are opposed to having any temporary sleeping accommodations for the homeless anywhere near the town and engaged PAID to successfully oppose the petition for an amended ordinance. The denial is cold- hearted and ignores that for years the downtown churches used to house these folks in cold weather without any additional negative repercussions to the downtown. In fact, providing them with a place with bathrooms, showers, and laundry for 12 hours out of 24 would be a vast improvement. The fact remains that the homeless will continue to have the right to walk through the town. The hope of some of the business leaders and PAID that this denial will somehow eliminate homeless folks from the town is unfathomable.

Let’s look at this for what it is. Pottstown, unlike almost everywhere else, refuses to even allow support for those in need of safe and dignified shelter. People that have to walk everywhere shouldn’t be asked to walk “outside of the borough,” or to another town. 

Every Jewish, Christian or Muslim follower knows that we are mandated to help the poor. But this is not a question of faith, it is a question of decency. 

Folks that live in Pottstown without a permanent address are no less than any other resident. Pottstown is not going to rebuild it’s downtown by forcing fellow Pottstonians out. 

Lacking the moral courage to do the right thing for our community is an outrage to the call for charity that all Jews, Christians and Moslems hear and understand. 

Shame on Pottstown Borough Council and PAID.

I tremble for my town of Pottstown when I consider that the “haves” can tell the “have nots’ where they can sleep, or even where they can walk. 

 Rev. Dennis Coleman, Christ Episcopal Church, Pottstown.

Thoughts of hope from an aging radical.

Before I get to the good and hopeful part, I feel as though I need to share some background. Not because you need to know anything about me, but because this reflection, that ends with hope, is about the glimmer of change that I recently witnessed.

I was raised in a violent time, in a loving family. I am aware that this is an important part of my formation. Evil seemed to come from a distant and abstract place. 

I was twelve when JFK was murdered; it made an impact on me primary because I could see that it broke my mother’s heart. For certain, I became radicalized on April 4, 1968. In the midst of a foolish and divisive war, Brother Martin was murdered. It wasn’t so much that it was unexpected, it simply didn’t make sense. Medgar Evers and Malcolm X were already gone, but the murder of MLK seemed to make their life and death more present. Perhaps then, like now, it takes an unimaginable evil for folks to finally have had enough. 

I was an anti-war protestor at age seventeen in 1968. In another year I would be a draft dodger. When Robert Kennedy died in June, it seems as though it would always be death to anyone that chose to speak out against evil, no matter who they were, or how loving and eloquent their message was. In another few months, “the whole world was watching,” at the Democratic Convention in Chicago where protestors became criminalized. We had learned nothing from the riots in Detroit and Washington.

A significant part of the anti-war “movement” also joined in what we then called Civil Rights protests. I was one of them.

As a suburban kid, there wasn’t much happening in my neighborhood, so the protests happened in Philadelphia. The adults had ruined the society and the earth, and there was a rising voice to say so.

An interesting description of the craziness of the times, for me, was this. In the summer of 1968 I was beaten up by a bunch of black kids my own age, in my own hometown, for being white and alone. Later that summer I was tossed around by a bunch of white men, because I marched for Civil Rights. 

By 1969, at age eighteen, I had stopped watching TV news, so as to avoid hearing the nightly body counts. Then came Watergate, absolute proof that the older generation was immoral. That was when I stopped reading the paper. I have not taken part in the news in any way since then, although Facebook makes it a bit difficult to “not know.”

So, as a radical, anti-war, civil rights activist news junkie, I had had enough. Embracing a more contemplative, born out of despair, stature, I embraced Quaker thought and Amish ways. The scriptural encouragement to be “in” the world, but not “of” the world was soothing and appealing. Enter Jesus.

Along with all the ills of the world, I was discovering that, particularly in the anti-war movement, it had become too much like theater, and too much about TV coverage. We were recruited to gather at the Philadelphia Airport, when we knew that soldiers returning from Vietnam would be flying commercial, so that we could call them baby killers on their return home…for TV.

I have told you all of these things, just so that I can speak about today. 

I have been encouraging those who criticize protestors and looters to try to understand that these just might be the actions of good people who have simply had enough. A tipping point. A few listen.

Last Sunday I marched in my first protest since way back then. It was decidedly a different experience. Admittedly, my home town of Pottstown is far from any burning city; but it seemed to be filled with a rich diversity of people who had also just “had enough.” It was a beautiful and diverse gathering that included some of each of us. Young, old, children, latino, black, white, asian, even police in uniform from all over that came to march, not to protect or defend. 

My big surprise that there was an absolute lack of individual theater or any drama. It was just people, in the most loving way, walking together to shout with one voice. There was much kindness.

While too many are embracing a leadership that speaks with the voice of divisive bullies, I can tell you now that I have seen the best of people, in a terrible time.

 I have hope. 

Proverbs 24:14 Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, there will be a future, and your hope will not be cut off.

For the love of God, make it stop.

More shootings. They seem to be coming every day now. Like many, I feel hopeless and horrified.

I am slowly giving in to the understanding that I need to blame myself. My silence is promoting evil, because I mount no reply to a clearly transparent political response that blames video games, poor parenting or gay people.

I say nothing to the people that twist around the Constitution to defend their right to own and use twenty-first century killing technology based on an eighteenth century law. 

I don’t challenge a president who “God blesses” cities, and then incites hatred. He will never take responsibility for his part, because he can’t see it. I can see it, and so can many more

Authority is mainly a moral power; therefore, it must first call upon the conscience, that is, upon the duty that each person has to contribute willingly to the common good. Pope John XXIII

Bishop Daniel Gutierrez has nailed the solution, even if we have to be patient about it. Every election from here until whenever necessary is a single issue election. 

Each citizen must ask of every elected official one question.

“What are you doing to make it stop?” If the answer is nothing, or whatever you deem to be too little, vote them out. 

The thundering voice of citizens is greater than any lobby, and carries greater consequence than any campaign contribution. 

Politicians will immediately change course and support anything that helps them in the next election. We need to tell them what that is. We know that a politicians expression of “thoughts and prayers,” is a vain attempt to pretend sympathy. It is disgusting in its transparency.

It’s about the vote, and if you don’t think that we the people have the power, consider this:

In 1920, the populus created enough of a stir to force the shut down the sale of alcohol. 

In 1933, the populus created enough of a stir to repeal that silly notion. The House and Senate clearly supported the voice of the people, to keep their jobs, both times.

This is an American solution to an American problem. We need to use the tools provided to us. The right to vote. 

Protecting the rights of gun owners has enabled Americans to murder children, and our neighbors. 

Every citizen must ask of every elected official one question. “What are you doing to make it stop?” If the answer is nothing, or whatever you deem to be too little, vote them out. 

We have to ask ourselves, and each other:

“What are you doing to make it stop?”


Reflections on The Kindness Diaries

I have been watching The Kindness Diaries. I have found it to be quite moving indeed.While watching, two things continuously occur to me. If you care to know, read on.

Begging or Bullying?

I spend most days with folks who find themselves needing to do exactly what the star of the show does, asking for help, with nothing to offer in return. In their case however, it’s for real.

Leon begs. Allow me to qualify that, by using my own definition.

When people have to get what they have to get, they way that they get it will always be understood as some form of begging or bullying. After all, they have to get what they have to get.

That is the explanation that I always offer to folks that “have,” when they are confronted with the exact situation that you see on the show. Leon begs. Sometimes though, he is so direct that it is off-putting, almost confrontational. That’s a mild way of bullying.

I offer this is as help, as a way to understand their actions when someone confronts you about something that they need, as Leon does. People do what they have to do, to get what they have to get. They have to find some way of begging or bullying to get it.

After all, what would you do?

The Gift Of Kindness.

We are all touched when we experience the acts of kindness on the show. It’s just awesome when Leon makes the big and kindly and unexpected presentation as a reaction to their kindness.

In my view, we are touched more deeply when the regular folks react kindly and provide a meal, or gasoline, or a safe place to sleep. It touches something inside of us when we see the generosity. It also touches something in us when Leon receives a cold and callous “No,” to his request for help. We see ourselves in the response of others. Our own sense of selfishness is pushed forward in our mind. We also recall our own better angels as we observe generosity in action.

Why do we react in the way that we do? Why do some say yes, and some no? Why do we?

We say no when we judge that the other person is not worthy of our generosity. It’s that simple. Deal with it.

We say yes for one of two reasons, or a combination of them.

  • One reason is that we recognize the situation as something that we have experienced ourselves. We know the feeling. Or,
  • We don’t bother to judge the person, we only react to the situation. Someone needs something from you and you have it to give. That’s it.

My final comment is this. If you are inspired, or perhaps shamed, into wanting to be more generous to those in need, try this:

  • First, see Jesus in the face of the other.
  • Second, know that you don’t need to wait for someone to approach you on the street. There are plenty of shelters, and free meals, and clothes closets and street ministries and churches where homeless folks depend on the the generosity of others. They are in every town or city because in every town or city there are people that need to do what they have to do to get what they have to get.

If you need help in knowing where or who you might serve, let me know. Or just ask around.

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?1 John 3:17


On Having A Grandfather From Kensington

Roots. We all like to know about them. Mostly, we want to celebrate them or glorify them and sometimes we indulge them. These are all good things in my view and far better than denying your roots, as some seem to do.
Recently, I ran across a cool little emblem that shows a handful of Shamrocks that were pulled from the ground, roots and all. On the bottom, it read, “I’ve Irish Roots”. I like that. It got me to thinking about roots and somehow or other it took me backward to some old memories and it reminded me, with a bit of pain, that I owe a debt to my grandfather.

My grandfather was Irish; I know that because he told me he was. Also, there was a tattoo that backed it up. Like many Irishmen, he was a tall strapping fellow of about 5’6 and 135 pounds. His graying hair was always in a neat crew cut. I once overheard my Dad describe him by saying that he walked sideways like a crab when he got drunk. I recall him walking like Jimmy Cagney, with long, energetic strides as though he were heading to something important. I can assure you that he was not.
I never actually saw the crab walking, myself. I suppose that I was in bed by then.

When my Dad mentioned the crab-walking, it was fun and funny and sometimes he would act it out, to everyone’s amusement, including my grandfathers. It was good-natured fun and I recall how everyone around the table roared. Later they all groaned, in fun, when he started a story that began “When I was building the Ben Franklin Bridge…” I think that they had heard that particular story before, and I suspect that it immediately preceded the aforementioned crab walking.

Now if I say to you that he was “all Kensington” you probably know what I mean. I am not trying to be too particular or condescending about this. I’m just trying to make my point. You know what I mean if you have roots in Kensington, but it extends to Fishtown and Frankford as well. Maybe even some of the outlying areas. If you don’t what it means if someone says, “He ain’t nothing but Kensington”, I shall try to illuminate.

People in Kensington are not rich, but they are proud and they bind themselves together by having fun. I have vivid recollections of ringing in the New Year, just off Lehigh Avenue, by rattling pots and pans, while others used actual pistols as noisemakers. New Years Day was always pork and sauerkraut although no one seemed to know why. My mother, a Kensington girl, would use phrases like “Christmas in Kensington” when someone came into a few bucks and didn’t mind spending it, and she would always be surprised if a wedding didn’t become a fistfight.

Most of my memories are of summer. Men in strap tee shirts, with a beer in their back pocket, arguing about baseball and complaining about having to go to work. The whole street would be outside, gathered around the stoops. I recall the sound of the radio in the background and laughter in the foreground. Stick ball and hose ball and half ball and pimple ball. The men playing with we boys. I don’t recall a lot of career talk. It seems as though a job was to provide enough income to get you through, and no more. I recall hearing the word “disability” quite often. My grandfather knew that word.

My Grandfather can be best explained in these three vignettes.

1. Every Friday, he played the number. It was always the same one. If you don’t know what this means, then I suppose that your family left Kensington for Delaware County (Or the Great Northeast) before mine did. Playing the number was a bookie thing, not a Pennsylvania Lottery thing. One day, the number actually hit. Now a term that you will never hear from the proper Kensington Irish Gentleman is “Savings Account”. Money was meant for spending and living without it for four or five days of the week was ordinary financial planning. By the time my grandfather got home, he was out of cash, yet laden with riches. True Riches. The most notable thing was that he drove home. The day that he learned to drive was the day that he hit the number and bought a car. He took that car everywhere that he went before he lost it a few weeks later. (This is not poetic license; he lost the car and he took it like a man.) He bought, for my grandmother, a TV, which already had the rabbit ears wired to it, so I suspect that it wasn’t new. He also bought her a Tony Bennet record. She was ecstatic. The balance was spent on cases of Ortleibs Beer and he proudly stacked them floor to ceiling in that little shed room that is often behind the kitchen of a row home. These were the considered and careful choices of a man who saw himself, at least for that moment, as a winner.
2. He was wonderful to me. Every summer I would go to stay with him and my grandmother for a week or two. Sometimes he would have a job, so the visit wasn’t as much fun, but he would always manage to keep his work week down to three days maximum. I recall swimming in the Delaware River, near Penn Treaty Park, under his “supervision”. I am not certain if it was already illegal to swim there or not. He took me there because he knew that I hated swimming in the public pools around the neighborhood because they were so crowded. (Note to foreigners. “Swimming” in an inner city public pool means trying to find a place to stand. Any real swimming was out of the question). He always took me on the El and the streetcars and my visit was always planned so that I could see Willie Mays play against the Phillies. We would get the cheapest possible seats and went for the “Kensington Upgrade” which meant grabbing two sensational and unused seats, with the admonition to “look like you belong here”. After the game, he took me to his tappy. I would sit at the bar, and have unlimited cokes to his unlimited beers. He would introduce me to everyone by name and title and he was clearly proud of me. He would say “This is my grandson, Danny” and then whisper that I shouldn’t tell my grandmother that he brought me to the tappy. I, of course, knew that it was wrong to be there, because my grandmother would always say, on our way out the door “Don’t you take that boy to no tappy, Jack”. I understood the Coca-Cola bribe without his explaining. I really didn’t understand why he would say, “Don’t tell ‘em I’m not really your grandfather”.
3. He wasn’t really my grandfather. My grandmother had two husbands that had left her. I can see why. One took the time to divorce her, but the other went into hiding. For this reason my grandmother and he were “living together” which was pretty brazen living, even by Kensington standards. I didn’t know all of this when I was a boy. I only learned the story when my grandmother left him when I was in my 20’s. She decided to move in with my parents, apparently so that she could complete the job of being a completely useless mother to her own daughter, who was my mother. Jack was, by the reports that I got from my aunt, heartbroken. His cure was predictable. He took even harder to the bottle.

I never saw my grandfather after that. I am a worse man for it. I intended to find him, but waited too long to do so.

After a few years, I was able to track down a place where he had been working. I called there and asked to speak to the owner. I explained to him who I was and why I was calling. He was a nice man and I could tell that he believed that I was a grandson looking for his grandfather and not a bill collector. I felt his discomfort when he let me know that he had to “let him go” a year or so previously. He politely alluded to a drinking lifestyle as the cause. I thanked him for his honesty and recalled telling him in a lighthearted way that I wasn’t surprised. I then I asked if he had any idea of his current whereabouts. “Son, I liked Jack, I did. But he had a problem. He died a while ago…on the street”.

He lived and he died in Kensington.

When I think of my roots, I think of Kensington. I think of my grandfather and that he loved me.
I feel bad, more than I can explain, that I did not stay in touch with him.
I would have told him that I remember him fondly and with respect and gratitude.

Is there a greater legacy?

A little too Catholic…

In a mortuary chapel at street level in Norristown, the doors were opened in darkness to reveal a million candles and a four foot, veiled statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The veil was removed, the statue was sensed and blessed by Bishop Gutierrez.

The platform holding the statue was lifted up by four men.

As we began to process around town, the singing of an (unfamiliar to me) Mexican song stopped, and just before the little band began to play I heard these words.

“This might be a little to Catholic for me.”

I get it. After all, I am a pasty white Irish guy that has spent 95% of his church time in an Episcopal church. I cannot recall processing around town in freezing cold with the sound of tubas and accordions and songs in Spanish while four guys, who were clearly proud of their appointed duty, followed an energetic incense bearer with a statue.

In fact, I didn’t know much of anything about Our Lady of Guadalupe.

In case you don’t, here is a snippet.

According to tradition, Mary appeared to Juan Diego, who was an Aztec convert to Christianity, on December 9 and again on December 12, 1531. She requested that a shrine to her be built on the spot where she appeared, Tepeyac Hill (now in a suburb of Mexico City). The bishop demanded a sign before he would approve construction of a church, however. Mary appeared a second time to Juan Diego and ordered him to collect roses. In a second audience with the bishop, Juan Diego opened his cloak, letting dozens of roses fall to the floor and revealing the image of Mary imprinted on the inside of the cloak—the image that is now venerated in the Basilica of Guadalupe.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, also called the Virgin of Guadalupe, is a very big deal to Mexicans. Guadalupe

The procession ended at the church altar, as the statue of the virgin was removed from it’s base and enshrined in a huge display of roses. Bishop Gutierrez celebrated the mass in Spanish (it sounded right to me) and Fr. Andy Kline told the story, alternating between Spanish and English.

There was more singing and tuba, as we all processed to a meal, lovingly prepared by many of our Norristown neighbors of Mexican heritage. We ate, talked, and laughed. A five-year-old Mexican boy ran up to me saying “Padre!” when I stooped down, he smiled and kissed me, big and wet. I loved it, although it was decidedly un-Episcopalian.

I was enriched by the experience, I’ll bet many were.

Now for the rest of  the story…

Norristown is an interesting place, many think of Norristown for it’s significant number of people that live on the margins. More interesting is that it is one third African-American, one third Latino (primarily Mexican), and one third white. That can make for interesting and unnecessary divisions.

Bishop Gutierrez properly insists that St. John’s Church must reach out to the Latino community, we have a responsibility to do so. This is a difficult task, what with language and cultural differences along with the fact that they are primarily Roman Catholics.

When the Bishop said months ago that we were going to have a celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we began to educate him on why it wouldn’t work. We attempted to explain how, among other things, the Roman Catholic Church down the street had a long history of really doing it up for the occasion and what could we add to that? Plus, we’re not Roman Catholic, and we don’t know what to do and why would people come? He never heard a word.

Fr. Andy Kline lived for a year in Mexico as a student. He knows something of the culture and is fluent in Spanish. He understood why this would be very difficult to pull off. None of this mattered to Bishop Gutierrez.

So now we get to the beautiful part of the story. Good Fr. Andy pushed further into the Latino community, making friends and enlisting help for the celebration. His charm and persistence paid off. Although, as pastor, he hosted the event and invited the Mexicans into Episcopal St. John’s, it is fair to say that they took over. They decorated the church with gorgeous flowers, all donated, they provided musicians, they taught and sang the songs with great spirit. They read the Bible readings. They provided the meal.

In leaving, many Episcopalians and Roman Catholics remarked that they were looking forward to next year.

Thank you Fr. Andy for all of your hard work. I hope that you were pleased to have the church filled with new and old friends and different and joyful sounds.

Thank you Bishop Gutierrez, for not letting us talk you out of your vision.


With the help of  The Spirit, you have created a new “Us”.

Guadalupe3 Guadalupe2



The Miracle Of The Blessed Hoody

I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not, in fact, it might be several coincidences. But that’s up to you to figure out. My job is to tell the story.

It happened just this way.

I met him at the shelter next door to the church. His name is Joe and I liked him right away.  I liked him right away, even though he kept interrupting me when I was trying to lead 9:00 devotions. They were good interruptions, the engaged, inquiring type. We talked about the radical nature of Jesus and how we don’t seem to be able to accept real love and lovers in this world.
Afterwards we talked a little, he’s a bright guy.
By 10:00 I was on to the next thing.
At 11:30, I was at the church, which is just next door to the shelter. There is a meal there most days.
We gather in, I pray a little, then it’s lunch for 150 or so. Joe was there, we talked a little, mostly silly stuff.
I hung around with the lunch crowd until about noon, and then went up two flights of steps to the clothes closet that we run at the church.
We take donated clothes, give them some love and organization and then folks can come in and get some nice clothes for free in a hopefully dignified way.
Around 12:30, Joe lumbered up the steps. He was winded and needed to sit down for a minute. I asked Derrick, who works with the men’s clothes, to see if he could help Joe out. Derrick found him a coat that he liked. Joe stayed in the chair.
I asked Joe if he needed anything else.
“ I need an XL hoody, it’s really cold out” Joe said. I wasn’t sure if he was saying that he was sleeping outside or not. I generally don’t ask, as it’s none of my business. It’s also undignified.
Derrick came back and reported that we didn’t have any Xl hoodies, to which Joe replied that he needed one because it’s really cold out.
I told him we don’t have one.
Joe thought a minute and then told me that I should really pray that he gets an XL hoody, because of the cold and all.
When someone asks me to pray for something, I do, right there and right then. I asked Joe to stand up, we held hands in the midst of the chaos of people looking for clothes, and I prayed.
“ Lord, Joe here needs an Xl hoody, and you know why.”
“It’s really cold out,” Joe added.
“ So Lord, as we have none here at the moment I pray that very soon someone will donate just what Joe needs, and we can get it to him.
Also Lord, I ask for some patience for Joe, so that he can wait and trust until we find something for him. Amen.”
Joe added, “ I can be patient, but I’d sure like one today. Amen.”
I was smiling when I walked away.
Looking at my phone I saw that I had a voicemail. It was from about an hour earlier. A pleasant sounding lady said that she was going to bring some clothes right over, no need to call back if it was Ok.
I went to the back door to see if anything had been dropped off.
I was met by an older woman that had already brought a few bags and boxes and set them on a table. She said her husband was getting the last one.
I grabbed a box to take it into the sorting area. On the top of the pile was a gray hoody. I set the box down to check the size. It was XL.
Of course it was.
I put the hoody across my arm and went out to get some more of the clothes. The husband was there with the last of it. We chatted a little, I thanked him.
Then I said to him, “ You have to hear this.”
I told him about Joe, and the need for an XL hoody, and the prayers, and Joe’s impatience. I told him about finding the gray hoody right on top of the pile. We both laughed, and then a serious look came over him.
He paused before saying, “That was my gray hoody. I’ve had it for two years and only worn it once. I was going through my clothes an hour or so ago and I just thought to myself that I ought to give that hoody away, someone probably needs it more than I do.”
No other words were needed between us.
I’ve told this story a few times in the last few days. People either say,”What a blessing,” or “ What a coincidence.”
I tell them that is for them to decide, I’m just telling the story.
Oh, by the way, at about 1:30 I walked back to the shelter, hoping to find Joe. He was there.
I walked up to him and handed him the hoody and said. “ One hoody, XL.”
Joe looked at me, smiled broadly, and said. “It’s about time.”
We both laughed.

Kolkata 2018

Four months ago Joni bought the tickets for our dream vacation; two weeks in Kolkata working with the Missionaries of Charity. You know, the Mother Teresa outfit.

Joni made this trip all alone two years ago, but for six weeks. That amount of time isn’t always possible, and when she suggested that we go together for two weeks I agreed. After all, she knows what to do and I like hanging out with her.

I write this from the airport terminal in Philadelphia. Airport terminals are evil places. They only function for one reason, a place to wait. Since that is their only function, they make sure that you are as uncomfortable and cramped as they can can get away with. Then, you will get up and walk away to buy some

thing for eight times it’s value. I am considering that right now, if the lady across from me won’t end the phone conversation with her sister in Texas that just had knee surgery.

We have a long time to wait. Extra time. Unplanned time. You see, the first leg on the way to Kolkata is a stop in London. There is a five hour layover, which is the perfect amount of time for our daughter and her family to drive two hours from their home in England and have a visit. That’s the way Joni planned it. We can  see daughter Heidi, son in law Ron ( on his birthday ) and two of our grandchildren that we haven’t seen in a few years. Flight 728 departs at 8:45, arriving in London at 9:00 AM.  And then, we see this:


Our new departure time is midnight, which eliminates our visit with our family. I am sad and angry, Joni is all sad. I have flown hundreds of thousands of miles in my life and been delayed hundreds of times. This feels different though, perhaps it’s the callous way that the American Airlines were so indifferent to finding another flight for us. More than likely though, I’m just so disappointed that Joni’s careful planning is wasted and we won’t see our family. Or maybe it’s this stinking uncomfortable chair. I think maybe I’ll get up and go buy a $300 neck pillow.

I hope that I don’t have anymore to write tonight…

Well, there is more. Our flight didn’t quite make it at midnight. In fact, we lifted off for London at 3:30, after many, many explanations and excuses that both conflicted and confounded. It was not unlike a Trump rally, with the exception that we finally got to where we hoped to. Of course, we missed our connections by hours but now seem to be headed for Mumbai and may actually arrive in Kolkata earlier than planned. (I’ll probably regret saying that, I’ll let you know if I do).

So, we missed seeing family and this was the highlight of our time in London.



London to Mumbai is 4500 miles. Eight and a half hours flying time. Somewhere in our travels, Saturday went missing altogether. When we were boarding the flight that will take us from Mumbai to Kolkata. I had to ask if it was morning or evening. Usually you can tell that it’s morning because you just woke up. We haven’t slept much, but in three hours we should be in Kolkata.

Mumbai airport is beautiful and modern and is very western looking.


Please note the Starbucks and Irish bar.

India has lots of people. They seem to be quite pleasant and mannerly, even when they are climbing up your back in line. Butting in line is an art form here. The taxi ride to our hotel was harrowing . There are things like “red lights” and “lanes” that I am used to, but they are little more than a suggestion here. Think of the OT quotation “and each person did what was right in their own eyes.”  Everyone must use the horn in the same way that they use headlights at night…constantly. Thirty minutes from the airport, in what I am hoping is the poorest part of this city, we arrived at our swanky digs for the next few weeks. The ownership remembered my wife and greeted her warmly.


Tomorrow we get to work.

Joni says-I was very happy to arrive in Kokata this morning after a disappointing trip.  Flight to London delayed by 6 hours due to “maintenance ” problems.   So we lost our opportunity to our daughter Heidi and her family.  Needless to say, I was weepy during our check in.   But my daughter took it in stride with a, “That sucks, can you buy me something nice in India.”  The good that happened was we missed our connection in London and received a much better travel plan, just two more flights ans an early arrival in Kolkata.  All went well despite the fact that I almost got into a rumble with a large group of Indian women going through security.   They were a gang, all wearing the same burqa, red with lettering on it like a NASCAR driver.  They pushed and shoved me around while in line, but I held my own and my temper.  So much for the “ladies” line.  Caught in a torrential rain at the airport, between the monsoons and the humidity, I  don’t think I will dry out till I get home.  Poor Kolkata, looks a little worse for wear since I was here a year ago.  Now the Hotel Galaxy is much improved, paint, tiled floors and a bathroom door, super.  Looking forward to seeing the sisters, the kids and getting to work tomorrow .

Dennis says…

6:00 mass with the sisters, then the morning greet.


Mother Teresa’s tomb is next to the room where we worship.We signed up for a tour of the nearby Lepers Village on Thursday, having no idea what that entails. The work today was at place that raises orphans. There are three groups, and they are referred to as blind, handicapped or normal. I worked with boys, between ages of four and eight that are handicapped physically and mentally. We assist them in therapy walking , roll them around in makeshift wheelchairs,feed them and clean them. Plus, we goof around a little. These boys are well looked after and shiny clean. First thing in the morning I got to help with the laundry,which is hand washed and  clotheslined to dry. I felt like my grandmother, only thinner.

The volunteers here come from all around the world. Some come to serve Jesus, most come for the admiration of Mother Teresa and for a chance to make a difference. Surprisingly, most don’t seem to look for an opportunity close to home.

Here is your fun photo of the day.     61E8EF3F-EB07-4DE1-9A31-72EDD5E26BD1.jpeg

Joni says…First day of work. Awake at 5:10am and out the door by 5:30.  Easy to get ready when all you have to do is brush your teeth, wrangle your bushy hair in an elastic and put on something that is cool, dries quickly and can take a hit. Arrived at “The Mother House” for 6 am mass, followed by 7am breakfast of Chai tea, a banana and a slice of white bread.  Breakfast hit the spot, but the best part of the meal was connecting with volunteers from around the world, Uraguay, Mexico, Spain, Wales, UK, China and Japan.  Lovely people.  7:30 on the bus to Daya Dan for work.  The bus hardly stops for us to board, is crowded, hot and bumpy, but you get what you pay for, about a dime.  After the bus, a tuk tuk ride and we’re there.  Dennis worked downstairs with the boys while I was upstairs with the girls. I made up cribs, did laundry by hand then worked with the girls.  Ages 4-12 with various disabilities and gorgeous smiles, we had some fun.  I did have to put my foot down and deny a tiny little girl her 3 rd cookie.  She was relentless and so cute, it was hard to say no.  After work dennis and I had lunch with about 8 volunteers. We secretly picked up the entire check, 10 people and the bill was $25, we were hardly generous at that price.  Formal registration was at 3pm, many, many people showed up and it took forever.  Met a nice father and son from Boston who volunteered after their wife/mother experienced volunteering and found it to be life changing.  After this a nap, then a late dinner at Raj’s Spanish Cafe.  Stopped at a street shop, looking for a sweet.  The man was trying to entice me into buying his finest chocolate…a box of Kit Kat bars.  😳. Now I am pooped and must bid Y’all a good night. 

Dennis says…It is of some comfort that son Patrick and fiancée Amanda are house sitting while we are away, although I am a bit troubled by the question “Did you guys know there was a beehive in your back room?” We didn’t, but I’m sure he will handle it. Work this morning was again at DayaDan, the home for orphan boys. Our afternoon shift at Kalighat, a home for destitute and dying people brought in from the streets, has been monsooned out. In some places the water was knee deep in the streets. If you’re wondering why we don’t walk on the sidewalks, it’s because the sidewalks are a place for commerce or residence. I rather like the absence of things like codes. If you want to live on a section of sidewalk, go right ahead. If you want to build charcoal fires on the sidewalk and cook and sell the food,it’s all yours.

Tomorrow in the morning we go to special masses, it’s the anniversary of Teresa becoming a saint and it’s a big deal.

Todays photo is of me, representing DIOPA love under the gaze of of Mother Teresa.


If I appear a bit off, we just walked thirty minutes for 6:00 Mass.

Joni says…ahh, the end of an interesting day.  As usual, a 5:30am walk to mass.  I had my phone out for pictures, but missed a picture of “chicken boy”.  As we walk, from behind us is the sound of chickens clucking.  Then who rides by on a bike, but a young boy with about 50 live chickens hanging of the bike.  Poor chickens.  Worked again at Daya Dan and did massive amounts of laundry by hand.  Hanging clothes on the roof in the 100 degree sun makes for a good morning.  I am still amazed at the different rules for hanging up laundry. Certain clothes/linens hung up on certain clothes lines and in their own unique way.  I did learn, “Pants,pipes!” today.  So at least I have that valuable knowledge for tomorrow.  It did warm my heart knowing that Dennis was on the ground floor caring for the boys while I worked upstairs.  It is a gift to be able to work together like this.  I am a lucky girl.  Just made it to the Blue Sky Cafe for lunch before the monsoon rain it.  Had a leisurely lunch, followed by a leisurely cup of coffee and yet the buckets of rain continued.  Foolishly, we decided to walk the one block to our hotel in the rain with one little umbrella.  Really, how bad could it be.  Oh Lordy, the streets were knee deep in water and it felt like buckets of water were being dropped on your head.  Needless to say we were drenched and decided to skip afternoon work for a leisurely reading in bed afternoon.  I just could not motivate myself to walk for about a mile in that weather. The rain did finally stop and all that water disappeared, so we enjoyed a nice evening walk after a late dinner.  Another great day.  Tomorrow is the feast day of St. Teresa of Calcutta.  Should be interesting.

Dennis says…Five years ago we travelled to El Salvador. My mission was to become reeducated and reenergized on Liberation Theology. I was, and I was able to find ways to further incorporate this understanding into my work at home. This quote by Lilla Watson sums it up perfectly.

“If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

I learned a lot in El Salvador simply by walking alongside people and getting to know them. I do today in Norristown.

I can’t really say what I have come to Kolkata to learn but I am willing to explore. I know a question that I have. Why would hundreds of people come from all over the world to serve “the poorest of the poor” here, and not expend a fraction of the resources required to help those in need that are close to home?

This morning we jammed into the worship space at The Mother House to honor the woman that has mobilized thousands to join in the work for the poor and for Jesus. There were more than 100 sisters, 30 priests, an Archbishop, lots of us volunteers and a ton of press.

Why were we all here?

5A59E8E5-D1C6-456F-8ED3-5E63C1672F39.jpeg St. Teresa’s tomb, decorated for her feast day.

Dennis says…

.Delhi Belly. That’s what they call what I have. Joni says it’s bacterial and like the flu. I started with it Wednesday night, and was unable to get up for work on Thursday or Friday. Thursday has been a day off for the sisters since the beginning,in the early fifties. What I really missed was the trip to the leper community, which I’m certain Joni will tell you all about. I’m beginning to feel better, perhaps because I’ve given it to Joni.

Here are a few photos. One is where men pee…he other is where they bathe.

Joni says…Joni remains in sick bay.

Dennis says. It’s a little before five in Kolkata, the sun is up and it is quiet, my favorite time of day. Yesterday we spent a fair amount of time taking the boys to a nearby park, I escorted a 6 year old blind gentleman. There were balls to kick and swings and seesaw’s and the usual fare. None of them seemed like a good idea at first to me, but Sathyan’s obvious delight of being pushed on a swing encouraged me to just treat him like a seeing boy, and see how he reacted. He reacted like a seeing boy, he had fun. I received some criticism as I walked behind him up the ladder of a very tall sliding board. I had no idea if the sudden downward trajectory would frighten him, but down we went together. We landed on our butts together at the bottom in the mud. After a brief silence, he applauded. Sister applauded, I sighed in relief.

Many of the guests at The Galaxy Hotel have come to work for The Missionaries of Charity. People from France, Bangladesh, Mexico, Spain, Belgium,Portugal, China, England and Ireland. Some for six months, some for a week most for two to four weeks. So many different languages are spoken, and so many people are fluent in several. As an American I only need to know my own language and  can expect everyone else to know it also. Joni and I are often separated by two generations from our coworkers. Sometimes, by their culture, they defer to us because of age. Sometimes they must think that we are frail as their grandparents, the way that they defer. They don’t get that we see ourselves like them, physically. We are nobodies boat anchor.

Early in almost every conversation people will subtly fish around for my opinion on Mr.Trump. My best response seems to smile while giving a thumbs down, which opens the gates. Basically they want to know why I would elect such a man. Mostly, I just shrug my shoulders.

The conversation that I want to have is about why they come here. What has motivated them. The answer that I often get is troubling. Apparently Mother Teresa is a bit of a rock star. More on this later, I have a bit of listening and thinking to do.

Soon, I’m off for Eucharist at an Anglican Church, taking the day off from the early Mass at Mother House. Then, off to work.  Thursday is the off day around here.

Your photo of the day. This is our private laundry center at the Hotel Galaxy. It’s nice to have ensuite laundry so close to the shower.


Joni says…Well, greetings.  Y’all haven’t heard from me in a while because I did in five days on this trip what I avoided during the 5 weeks of my previous trip, yep, I got the dreaded “Delhi Belly”.  Haven’t been out of my room for three days until this morning.  No need for gruesome details, although I feel I made penance for quite a few sins.  On Thursday I traveled with about 20 volunteers to Titagarth, the town where one of the leprosy villages is located.  Please note, I have been educated, there are no lepers, only leprosy.  Sister instructs us to take no valuables except a change purse for transportation costs.  We will take a bus, then a train to our destination and the train is rampant with pickpockets.  For once I am not the oldest in the group!  Marion from the UK is 79 and frail.  But she is a trooper and we are all in this together.  We arrive and are greeted by a priest.  He answered our questions and the took us on the tour.  First the weaving room, a very long dark corridor with women on one side and men on the other. The women sit on low bricks and spin the thread.  Across from them, the men work the looms.  The rhythmic sound of the looms is soothing, almost musical.  Everyone stops their work to greet us with a Nameste.  They are making the material for the sisters’ saris and the linens for all of Mother Teresa’s home. Gorgeous material, but will not be sold to the public because, due to ignorance, anything a person with leprosy handles is considered tainted.  By the way, all the workers have been cured of leprosy, but the disfigurement is permanent. We walk through beautiful vegetable and fruit gardens to the hospital. About 100-150 men an women are being treated for leprosy at any given time.  It takes 6 months to 2 years to cure the disease.  Once cured they go back to their families, but will forever be outcasts.  There are dorms for the orphans who had leprosy, but their families will not take them back.  The will live here till they die.  I use the word orphan because that is what the priest used. The residents were well over the age of 40 or 50. Typically I think of children as orphans, but at any age, without parents and family we are orphans.  It’s so sad. Then we headed to the next building.  I heard children’s voices and was dreading seeing children suffer.  Nope, it was a day care center for the workers’ children, all happy and healthy.  One of my fellow volunteers brought his guitar and we all sang a song for the kids.  So we have many, many countries represented in our group, what was the song we could all sing?  The Lion Sleeps  Tonight.  We then walked through the pig pens and goat pasture (we got to see a goat born, super cool). Back to where we started for tea and biscuits.  Father stated if we wanted to volunteer at this facility you have to spend your time there as the commute is too dangerous. What?!  The return trip is a whole other story, for tomorrow .

Dennis says… You wouldn’t expect to see a goatherder tending his flock in the middle of the city…at least I wouldn’t.


Of course, I didn’t expect to see fifty chickens hanging upside down from a bicycle either, but now I see it every morning. I guess if you get far enough away from home, everything is different. Different by design. The streets in the slums of Kolkata are where commerce occurs and they are narrow. Far too narrow for a delivery van let alone a truck. Bicycles pull four foot long by five-foot carts piled far higher than any orange-vested, strapped in Lowe’s forklift driver would allow. Rickshaws carry loads that exceed the weight of the driver ten times over. All so very different.

Actually, it’s only different to me, and I need to keep that in mind. India doesn’t appear to be very diverse. Everyone looks so similar. But they are Hindu, and Muslims and Sikhs. They are from India and Bangladesh and Pakistan. What seems to be in common is their good nature and peaceable way.

Even growing up as a flaming redhead I never felt so much like an anomaly. I haven’t met any other Americans here, on the street, at a restaurant, at our hotel or amongst the volunteers at the Missionaries of Charity. Because of that, sometimes we get stared at a bit, and are asked unusual questions. People sneak pictures of Joni, she of the blond and purple hair. All are kind.

Here is my point. I am a stranger in a strange land. Everything around me is different than I know. My appearance is vastly different from everyone I see and although most can speak a bit of my language, I know none of theirs. And it doesn’t matter one whit. There are no mean and degrading words for me as a minority. No profiling.

While I am grateful for the acceptance, I feel a bit ashamed of some of the folks at home.

Joni says…Now let’s talk about that train ride back from the leprosy village.  We volunteers were told that the return train would be very crowded, loaded with pickpockets and does not wait for you to fully board. Okay, I think I can do this.  We are trying to stay together as a team of 18 volunteers, because there are only a few who know what station to get off and how to then get to the bus.  The train arrives.  Oh lordy, there are people bulging out of every door. I don’t mean hanging out, but bulging.  A solid mass of moving humanity.  We are directed to push on, and I mean actually mean push.  This was no time for genteel manners or personal space which does not exist in Kolkata anyhow.  I tried.  I put on my best roller derby girl face and shoved the bulge, but, alas, was unsuccessful, as were 7 others.  We stood there in disbelief.  None of us left behind knew where to go.  But we rallied as a team an came up with a plan to board the next train.  Now Marion was part of our team.  Brave, frail, 79 year old Marion.  Tom and Seamus, a father/son pair, stated they would sandwich Marion, one in front of her and one in back and get her on the bus.  Here comes the next train, no less bulgy than the last.  Off we go.  We shove our way on only to her women’s cries of “ Ladies only, ladies only.”  Oops, this the ladies only car, although there were just a few ladies on it, if you catch my drift. Tom and Seamus quickly abandoned Marion and ran for another car.  We got Marion on.  We did it.  I was packed in with the “ladies”, one hand grasping my small backpack to my chest, the other trying to grab onto anything.  We arrive at the next stop and this mass of women begin moving both in and out of the door.  With much determination, I barely managed to stay on the train.  Our posse moved to the back of the train.  As we did, I looked at my backpack and saw that all three zippers had been moved, one fully open.  Nothing was gone, I packed wisely and brought little of value.  I warned my friends, and sure enough, Rachel had her money stolen.  Still packed at the back of the train car, we are trying to determine what stop to get off and how will get back to the door in time.  We have not given up and are even having a bit of a laugh.  Then comes a guy with a display of bags of popcorn on a tall stick.  You have got to be kidding me.  We can’t move, women can’t get around him, but they are buying up the popcorn and snacking away.  Marion had no patience for this, told him to go away and even swatted sat him.  He did not care and didn’t move, business was good.  Luckily we soon found out that the last stop was ours and departure should be easier.  It was a little bit, but the actual train station was much like the inside of the train, shoulder to shoulder, back to front people.  Tom and Seamus showed up and we were happy to see them.  We managed to get back to Mother Teresa’s House all intact except for some money.  As we departed, we were triumphant, we survived the train!  Yay.

Dennis says… Looking for Jesus in India

I don’t know anything about India really. Just how much can you know about a huge country with over a billion people in two weeks? I know just a little bit about a slum area of Kolkata, I have not come here for sightseeing but to learn how to improve my ministry to the poor by going to where the world meets to serve the “poorest of the poor” as Mother Teresa says. I haven’t traveled far, a thirty-minute daily walk to Mother’s House for Mass at six AM, followed by a breakfast of banana, slice of bread and Chai tea. Following additional prayers and instructions, we head off to the various houses for work. It’s a short walk and then a long bus ride that costs 7 rupees, or ten cents. Everything is cheap here, everything. For example, our modest hotel room is $14 per night, for both of us. Considering the gasoline and food that we won’t buy at home, we are actually spending less money than we would in a normal two week period. Our only real expense has been airfare.

Daya Dan, where I work, houses orphan children. I work with the 31 boys, Nearly all of them have mental and physical challenges. Only a few can speak. I begin my day by hand washing tons of laundry and making beds while the sisters and workers bathe the boys. We then gather for prayers, and two of the boys do their best to read a prayer and the Gospel. It’s difficult to listen to them struggle and quite moving and beautiful. Sister beams with pride as they read. Then it’s therapy time, many of the boys have braces put on their legs and we just walk around. A boy that I spend a fair amount of time walking with has Downs Syndrome and MS. But he walks and sometimes giggles at my foolish antics aimed at encouraging him to walk a little more. After feeding the boys a small snack, the volunteers, workers and the sisters get a break, with tea and sweet biscuits. This is when the volunteers get to visit together, and from whence my consternation begins.

There are 28 million Christians in India, but that’s only 2% of the population. 85% are Hindu, 11% Muslim. Nearly all of the volunteers are Christian, except for Max who is from China and claims to have no affiliation to any religion. They come primarily from Europe and Japan. I ask, “why do you come here and do this work? Mind you, these are good people and are devoted to this work. Almost always the answer has two parts. Fistt, they say that they want to help people, and secondly, they know that Mother Teresa’s life was dedicated to helping others. None of them come for Jesus, they come for Mother. I see good and trouble in this.

Mother Teresa is a brand. Her constant use of the term “ the poorest of the poor,” immediately removes the ability to judge anyone for their poverty or circumstances. You just help, it doesn’t matter how they got to where they are. Her ministry to orphans began by removing children, the type we see at Daya Dan, from trash heaps. How could you not help? I only wish that I could better communicate this sentiment to Americans, where it’s just too easy to ignore someone in need if you can blame them for their own circumstances. Why would help someone that is lazy, or an addict? It’s not true, and it shouldn’t matter. The thing most in common too American homelessness is a wide expanse of mental health issues.

Anyway, the beautiful teaching of Mother Teresa is that Jesus suffered, and we are to serve the suffering. She knew Jesus cast no judgment on the poor but did on those who were self-righteous enough to believe that they didn’t suffer because they didn’t deserve to. Most importantly, Mother never made it about her, it was about Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. She pointed to Jesus, thanked Jesus and praised him. If you read her private letters you can see that she was so engaged with the suffering of Jesus that she could feel it herself, and therefore feel it in others. I believe that she would chastise those who come to Kolkata to serve her and her ministry. Perhaps Jesus is too difficult for us to truly grasp and so we need Mother Teresa as our example. It is hard work to devote everything to Jesus as she did, but for all that I love and respect and admire about her,  I need to let her be the light that shows the pathway to our salvation. Jesus.

Photo of the day. Men bathing on the street. At first, I felt guilty of spying, but they are bathing on the street. Imagine if this was your best choice.


Dennis days…

Kolkata observations. These are physical differences I considered as I was on my way home. This is my next to last post on the trip. The last one will be when I sort out some of the spiritual knots I seem to be tied up in.

-Driving. Let’s get that out of the way first. This will probably include the most whining.   The most important thing to know about driving in Kolkata is that you should never stop, for any reason. Just slowing down is frowned upon. Then, you have to figure the number of lanes available for you to drive on, and add one more. It’s a system that works pretty well if your from here, or a lunatic. Other than that, don’t drive here. In America, the competition for street space is you vs. other cars. Here you have to contend with rickshaws, bicycles that are like rickshaws, bicycles that haul five foot long trailers, regular bicycles, buses, tuk-tuks, (these are three-wheeled motorcycles with a roof and a bench seat, they seat three plus the driver,) the occasional private car, lots of motorcycles,tons of taxis, and people walking. Except for the people, there is a symphonic assortment of horn noises, and horns are used constantly, particularly when you are signaling your intention to create a new lane, which is anywhere that your particular vehicle can fit. By the way, vehicles do not have to give way to pedestrians, not one bit. In the event that two vehicles are vying for the same spot, it’s a duel. If I didn’t mention it, sometimes there is a herd of goats to contend with.

-Food preparation and eating. I suspect that kitchen utensils last a long time, apparently, they are a secondary choice for fingers. Also, eating utensils are often for show only, you eat with your hands.

-The people I worked with and most of the non-Indians were European and Asian. Kolkata isn’t a hot spot for Americans. I met one other American on the trip.

-Everyone I met and spoke with from India was kind, kind of low key and gracious. Of particular note were Sikh men. They seemed to be a bit more refined in dress and speech and quite kind.

-Dogs. On the Kolkata streets, there are dogs, and they don’t bark. Because the humans are largely indifferent to them, they have no territory or people to protect. So they just hang out quietly.

-“Where you from?” After talking with folks for a while, this question comes up, it’s just natural. When we said America, a brief silence would follow and then some careful way of asking what we thought of Trump, or if we “liked Trump.” I have no interest in debate on the topic, but wanting, to be honest, I would say something like “ I don’t care for him.” Two things followed every time. They were relieved by the answer and

Then Indicated their own feelings. To a person, they despise Trump. Several people asked, hoping for an answer that I could not supply, how such a man could be President of the U.S.

-I am a stranger in a strange land, I cannot speak the native languages…and yet everyone is so kind, helpful and welcoming.  Here is an example. On Sunday morning I get a cab to church and agree to a sum where he will wait for me, and then take me to work.

We get to church and I pay for that portion of the trip and tell the cabbie that church will be about one hour long. Babu promises to be there in one hour. He wasn’t. I’m not quite sure where I am, but I have an address for where I want to go. I walk a bit looking for a cab, with no luck. Then I happen upon two policemen. As I am trying to ask for help, they begin saying “No English.” A man, 70ish, appears and says that I look like I need help. I agree that I do. “Come and have some refreshment with me,” he says, which I am suspecting is a scam for me to buy his breakfast. Actually, he offered to buy mine. We talked a while, and then walked me to a cab and got me the Indian rate (about 1/3 of foreigners). Apparently, I looked befuddled, because he then got in the cab. when we arrived, he walked me to the door. Amazing.

-No alcohol, no coffee. For 16 days, I had no coffee. I think that the last time I did this I was fifteen. It’s a tea drinking country. It also lacks the drinking culture of America. In my hometown, there is a bar every couple of feet. I saw one place that sold alcohol in Kolkata but was told that some of the swanky hotels have hotel bars. The last time I went 16 days without some kind of alcohol…was a long time ago.

From Dennis, Final thoughts.

As mentioned earlier, I was troubled by the lack of Jesus in India. So many fine volunteers, so much hard, sometimes grueling servant work all around me in the various houses of The Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata. None of it was done in the name of Jesus. I respect those fine people that say that they simply want to do their part to help those in need. However, I worried that it might be a bit self-serving. I was equally troubled by the people that said they were doing it for Mother Teresa. In my gut, I worried that the servant message of Jesus was simply absent.
Anyone that knows anything about Mother Teresa knows that she served the “poorest of the poor” as her way of serving Jesus. I believe that she would be appalled at the notion that people were called to serve her.
Mother Teresa has started 517 houses, all aimed at serving others, all in the name of Jesus.
Still, I worry about two things. First, while the work is being done, and people are truly helped and served, Is God’s Kingdom being built up if there is no proclamation of Jesus in the work? Secondly, I worry that the service to others can start and stop in Kolkata, rather than inspiring those world-wide volunteers to bring this ministry to their own cities and neighborhoods. Simply put, Can we transition from serving the “poorest of the poor” to simply serving “the poor,” and doing so without judgment? I hear far too often that Americans in poverty are getting what they deserve through their own laziness and addictions. While I know this to be largely untrue, I believe that our judgment of the poor and homeless in this way is the greatest barrier to finding if not solutions, at least some relief.
I struggled greatly with this until I finally realized that it’s all none of my business. After all, anyone that serves “the least of these, is serving me,” Jesus says. Whatever their motivations or inspirations are, simply do not matter, and I have no need to understand them.
After all, the Kingdom is spreading. Maybe we shouldn’t deify Mother Teresa, but instead simply look for Jesus in her works of service. Perhaps we simply cannot envision the Jesus that washed feet, but we can see him in a withered and smiling old lady, wrapped in blue and white.
From there it is a very short distance to go to see Jesus in the face of every one of those beautiful volunteers that I was pleased to work with side by side.
As MT says:
“How do you know, love, and serve God?  How do you prove that you love Him?  In the family, the father proves his love by all that he does for his children, for his wife.  We prove our love for Jesus by what we do, by who we are.”
A typical Kolkata street scene. Lunch anyone?
IMG_0089 So long, for now.