Friday, February 13, 2009


In the name of Jesus Christ, you are to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely.

I broke my own rule today. I gave forty bucks knowing that at least some of it will probably go for booze and cigarettes for Shawn and his wife. Most of it will go for food. They are crashed in the apartment of a pot smoker who eats all their groceries in the night, but it’s that or a panel van under the bridge. Not much of a choice with nighttime lows heading for the teens. Meanwhile, they wait for the outcome of the low-income housing lottery.

Yes, we live in a country, state, and city where having a roof over one’s head is a game of chance.

I’ve always been partial to the margins—those spaces that frame the story, a whiteness that begs to be marked with argument and response or, as in ancient Bibles, the extravagance of precious pigments, silver and gold leaf. Illuminated texts, they are called: shot through with color and light.

And now I find myself in a new kind of margin, skirting the edges of the crowd. Where I’m traveling, the drunk on the sacristy steps interrogates this story titled “America in the 21st Century” or maybe just “Humanity.” Two young boys running the streets after dark duck into the bright light of the parish hall, all tough and bluster, for their only meal of the day. These margins are filled with question marks, broken windows, expired tokens. But also written here are love and mercy and worship. Everywhere: the fingerprints of God.

Alongside the story of the deaf homeless woman—her baby due in February—a jotted memory: the liquid green of light through leaves, lush hum of wings from the dogwood tree. There is nothing so merciful as a swarm of bees. Throbbing with life, singular of mind, they endure the cold. All winter, the innermost bees migrate outward toward the cold, making room for those on the edges to migrate in. It’s a perpetual dance, an unwritten contract, a blurring of margins that defies even January.

Never give cash. Except when the need is real and deep. And who’s to say what’s real, how deep the wound , how burdened the flesh.

Two crisp twenties. A brown paper bag of sanitary napkins—“womanly things”—his wife needs.

“Meet me here tomorrow, 12:30. You can store your food in the church refrigerator until your housing gets sorted out.” I waved goodbye from the doorway.

Hunched against late winter, he kept to the broken sidewalk that borders the city street.


  1. Seems to me that God knew the conundrum knowing what to do in all situations) would be too much for us--thus providing the Holy Spirit. Between that and "mercy triumphs over judgement", we have not only light but a fall-back position as a servant. And Lord help me, Oprah got this one right--"When we know better, we do better." Seeking to do the right thing is not sin, even if there is a bad result. We become better servers by serving, however inadequate.Look how well your mama's forced servitude has served you, and now us (I've become a big proponent of vicarious learning from other's mistakes hahaha).

  2. Should be a parenthese before the work knowing in the first sentence...

  3. Mercy triumphs over judgement--I'll be carrying that one in my back pocket from now on.

  4. That and love covers a multitude of wrongs. It's the real butter kind of love that makes a whole recipe taste good just because it is.