SMELL LIKE SHEEP.
I came to Chicago approximately 11 years ago. Did you ever want to get to something and just not get to do it?
I have been going to the gym since 1991, I just never get there.
It has been a lifetime dream to do Chicago.
While watching the Bucket List, and as I moved deftly on the floor crawling so as not to block the view of the television set from others, and during a state of unknowing in my life someone asked me, "Where are you going to go?"
I answered flippantly, "Chicago." I applied to Catholic Worker in Minnesota.
They assured me that I would be accepted time and time again. They told me that they accepted everyone. Hmm. And yet in retrospect that might have been all for the good...
I would live with the poor for a year on purpose to see if I could do it and if with little or no money would I be able to contribute to society. Poverty on purpose was born.
As I was leaving to travel to Chicago they stated otherwise changed their mind(s). I marched on.
My backup plan went into action. Arriving in Chicago I went to 53rd and Laflin to the Catholic Worker House there.
I stayed a few days and when it came time to be invited to stay I was told this was not to be.
My boss where I worked last, said "You'll be shot." Thanks for the send off. Keep it positive. And this Catholic Worker House seemed to parallel his sentiments. Although scared I told myself that I needed to find the beauty in this area. I did. I meet with the people in the neighborhood and they accepted me. I picked up papers on lots where garbage came up to my ankles.
Years before in Newburgh NY I had to do the same. Sitting in the car I didn't want to go into work because I was moody. How to find the beauty in a place that automatically doesn't to be in awe.
I was threatened and using the power of the pointed finger those who did it backed down. I was fresh off reading Obama's and Dorothy Day's books and seeing the first African American to be elected president, which was the fulfillment of Bobby Kennedy's prediction.
The time came when they needed to vote on my being accepted to the house or not and I was not invited to stay. And then I was summarily cast out.
It was then that I decided to start my own mission. Well not exactly at the time (now being in Chicago for 11 years) it took a lot of frustration and rejection before I decided to go out on my own and do something. It unfolded gradually. Standing near Moody Church where he had his vision. I thought,"start where you are," and so I began to clean up the mess around the corner bank. And yet the mission to be of service and loving and caring began much earlier.
Sometimes I wanted to run home, but I persisted.
Living in Pilsen, I witnessed what it meant to see bullets fly past one's face. With the help of newly met friends after a period of time, I was permanently housed and with the help of other religious groups and servants of God I assisted the poor. Or as I was calling them Ambassadors to Christ. Dorothy Day used similar language.
Pilsen had a shelter and endeavored once again to live the beatitudes. Be-Attitudes. And so with little or no money and with friends help I did some good works.
This isn't meant to be an autobiography or all inclusive story of my stories. People once excited by them now have their eyes glaze over; since, they are no longer interested in saving the world and can't just seem to find the vigor to exercise their faith. And still they do in many ways.
I'll cut to the chase. I ask for your indulgence and patience.
This past Christmas I was anticipating going to my favorite Catholic Church. It was a cold and nasty day. As I approached,the church I noticed a woman shivering in the cold with little proper clothing on and shoeless.
She was a nice woman. Today I glanced at her shivering in the cold, swaddled in a plastic bag and without any shoes. I curtly said, "Hello." My focus was on trumpets and garland and a manger, and singing and a rousing sermon. Inviting her in, she stated that, she "Didn't feel comfortable." I made it to the sermon.
My mind raced back and forth regarding what I should do for this woman. The father was doing a more than his usual outstanding job on his homily and I felt moved to assist the woman outside.
The weather was brutal. I once again invited the woman inside. She thanked me kindly and we sat in the damp and wet and just talked. I didn't want to be here especially in a situation that nothing could be done on Christmas Day. She was shoeless. Shoeless.
I'll Barney it down for ya all, outside cold, poorly clothed while the rich were inside in warmth and and splendor celebrating the birth of a God that lowered himself for humanity.
Finally thanks to the beneficence of others, I was able to get her some food at Elly's Restaurant, now closed and sold out to more condos for the rich.
Their service and food was supreme as usual.
By the time the service was over we had a little crowd, as Dorothy Day would call it, of God's Ambassadors. We ate together in the cold. A passerby dropped off the poorest excuse for pizza I have seen in a long time. Still it was food. We enjoyed it together as members of the body. Sometime later I joked about all of us being members of the body and some got to be the ass.
We were cold together and yet we still laughed and endured and sang together. At the closing of this gathering the woman offered me some pizza to take to other poor folk. She offered me food for someone else. Sharing and caring from her little wealth.
She was given a transit pass provided by a broker who is a friend. I wonder if she was a widow.
Somewhat discouraged, but trying to maintain a Cabriniesque, Little Flower, Dorothy Day, Christmas attitude I saw a man looking like an African American Santa, approaching. I didn't like dealing with him because he always used the same line. At the time I didn't know that yet and even at first I didn't trust him, he was yanking at my heart on Christmas.
"I haven't eaten in two days." For years this was his consistent cry.
On this Christmas food was bought for him based on the generosity of others after all like Schultz from Hogan's Heroes, "I know nothing." I had some guesses as to what was up based on experience having worked with the homeless. Drugs, alcohol, insanity, being sane in a bad situation, addiction to food or gambling, sex or drugs or just poor, all had some sort of malady whether they would admit it or not.
As the cars drove by and as he continued searching for money, and as people hastily ignored him, I joked about him needing a new line. We came up with a few.
My attempt to be Tony Robbins and break his pattern (although I didn't know it at the time that would go on for years). Was I being tepid?
One of my favorite pattern interrupts when dealing with the soon to be housed is asking, "What's your favorite song?" It usually brings them back to a better time and place. That day we sang Christmas Carols.
It almost felt like a useful Christmas and yet the people I served that day still didn't have a place to call home.
As Easter approached, we saw the election of a new Pope, his name as you know was Francis. That alone brought tears to my eyes. His actions and speech were right on target. I posted the Holy Thursday washing of the feet online. It got 1,500 views. Not bad.
And then The Smell Like Sheep Sermon, I posted that as well. Early on in Chicago I realized the difference between the loop and the areas that are further from the loop. Downtown the streets are well kept and for the most part the planters had flowers. Not so outside the loop.
I envisioned planting in those empty planters. After all we have been told secularly and religiously to dream big. Dream no small dreams. And contrary to that Therese of Lisieux prompted to do little things with great love. Teresa of Ávila told us not to be disturbed or be disturbed about nothing.
My dream, to have churches Adopt-A-Station. Planting brings down crime by 50 percent according to two Chicago studies and my friend who works for the Obama Administration, whether in poor areas or rich areas. I called it the Power of the Flower.
Unfortunately, even in the best church, even amongst the nicest priests bureaucracy remains.
Some many lots without flowers once in the South Side. And always ideas without legs to hold up the table. Landscapers throw out so much in the ways of bulbs and other perennials. And when I talked about these programs people agreed it would make a good business, be good for the environment as well as those needing employment. Also landscapers would have a better place to waste their waste.
Lastly, a man that I have seen, who needs housing, and whom I have seen many times, who went missing for a few weeks, told me that while he was sleeping in the streets he awoke to see himself on fire and drenched in fuel.
His friend rolled him over and the fire was out. Now partially healed, he attended Sunday mass in pain. Whether someone did this as was stated or even if it occurred by some accident, it is unacceptable. And just like Doubting Thomas I wanted to see his wounds.
And nonetheless it is accepted. People in the cold. Now I see the tinylittle woman in a door front that has been their for years.
Those critics who echo Scrooge's words to those collecting money should be warned, that his sentiments don't fly with me. Are their no therapists or philanthropist? Is this our America?
Are there no garages, or basements or oversized dog houses? Even the mangy, flatulating family dog gets a cold dark basement. Or why not a tent in the back yard? Do we need to suggest these concepts to Doctors and Lawyers?
Shouldn't we erect three tents during the summer for the poor on the church lawn. Don't like what you see? Let's exterminate them. That was a gallows joke that I shared with some really decent kids that came out to feed the poor on weekends. Let's not only exterminate them-lets make them into food. Shame.
I conceived of a basic tube that be self-cleaning and allow some protection from the elements and provided heat.
So when it comes to smelling like sheep, I must smile, for most priests smell more like Mennen, baby powder and Old Spice. No bid deal. This isn't a criticism of the religion, many years of doing and we never know what is being done behind the scenes unless we do.
Thinking of one shelter I asked the question,"Is that the kind of shelter that you would create?" All stated the answer was, "No." And I would ask, "Then why did they create this warehouse?"
And those despised homeless, they for whatever failure to thrive, or massive reasons of injustice, smell more like sheep's urine. Who are the saints?
I made a joke once. Yes. Just once. Talking to a friend I stated, "I could live in a heated dog house," without missing a beat he said, "heated?"
Sheep don't smell that bad at all urine in wool does have a memorable stench.
My thought process questions if the homeless are following the Biblical Edict better than most.
Are they the true lilies in the field and sparrows, who neither lack or want, or worry about tomorrow, the homeless?
And which of us hasn't experienced lack at sometime?
Even the birds do I expect. In my moments of frustration, in my attempts, to rejoice the best that I can, and as tears flooded my face, as my ears failed to follow the mass, I witnessed, a child learning to walk, falling and getting up again, and smiling and giggling.
The child ambled towards me, her father tried to guide him in a straight path and yet this child reached up and touched my heart and soul, when he touched my knee and spent some time unknowingly comforting one discouraged old man, who viewing his life and dealings with the church realized that his attempts to guide, and motivate had failed miserably, his batting average would be next to zilch.
The cherubic smile, was enough. This child took their time and reminded me of the beauty and intelligence of youth. In business, my plans were adopted, even though lots of times they didn't like the messenger. They were smart enough to steal intelligent ideas. Increasing sales and motivating the troops I enjoyed greatly. I was in the high 98 percentile with advertising sales.
At the very least, time will tell, if I have failed or not. Soon we will certainly all smell worse than sheep. I thank all those individuals who helped me in any shape or form and for those who hindered commonsense solutions and found a different view of Jesus's teachings, may you be blessed as well. For years I would see the man that sang carols that day. He still used the same line, how he hadn't eaten in 3 days, or that he wanted a cigarette or something to drink and most of the time whatever I had wasn't good enough.
Didn't smoke rolls, need a pack instead, wanted certain types of food and always more and more. Just like me. Always wanting more.
Did I see Jesus in disguise in him? Not really I saw trying to explain to a benefactor were the money went even though at it wasn't really a problem, the issue would come up later. "Give until it hurts..." Hmm. My heart had revolved and unfortunately it was moving in the wrong way. Thank you Saints for all the great work that you do and thank you for your patience in listening to this missive.
And years later I overheard a conversation regarding individuals that liked to get their hands dirty and how those who were called didn't have that. I thought to myself, "I like to get my hands dirty." And then thought better of changing their minds on what I could or couldn't do. Time had worn me out and so did endeavoring to live my religion.
What is our, "Why," of being Christian and are we any good at it?