"It seems to me that to organize on the basis of feeding people or righting social injustice and all that is very valuable. But to rally people around the idea of modernism, modernity, or something is simply silly. I mean, I don't know what kind of a cause that is, to be up to date. I think it ultimately leads to fashion and snobbery and I'm against it."
Jack Levine: January 3, 1915 – November 8, 2010
I have been looking at this report from The National Coalition For The Homeless about the increasing number of cities which are making the distribution of food to the homeless illegal or imposing unworkable and unsustainable restrictions on that distribution. Under many of these laws it would have been illegal for Jesus to have fed people who had been following him and for other people to have given food to him and his closest followers who had left their homes and, so, were homeless. One thing that jumped out at me was the city of Manchester, New Hampshire, the one on the map of cities closest to where I live, also the home of the Archdioceses of New Hampshire. In that case the effort to starve the homeless out of the city is to ban the distribution of food on public property, in the center of the city, where most of the homeless people are, allegedly allowing the distribution only in residential areas, where any such effort will certainly be resisted by area residents. From that section of the report: Bill Sullivan, President of Do You Know Him? Ministries, states that moving to a residential area will only make matters worse. He states, "We can't be in a residential area. We start setting up at 6 o'clock in the morning and we have anywhere between 200-300 people and that's not a quiet group Certainly among the responsibilities of the bishop and other clergy in Manchester, New Hampshire and other cities where these laws are adopted is to break them, publicly, to do what Jesus said to do in the gospel, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to do justice to the least among us. These laws are a test of the real belief in the gospel of Jesus by those who profess a belief in that gospel. The failure to break these laws, to challenge them and to overturn them is a scandal that the Christian churches can't afford to sustain. If any clergy, if any bishops are not willing to sustain the criticism they will get from following those most frequent and most strongly asserted obligations in scripture then they have willingly relinquished their claims to authority to teach them. The words in their mouths will be made meaningless and impotent by their own failure to make them real in life. Merely opposing their adoption in theory and then acquiescing to them in fact will not be enough. You should instruct bishops in their responsibility to, in fact, break these unjust laws, you should instruct Catholics that they are an open and serious violation of the most plainly stated teachings of Jesus, the prophets and the disciples. If these teachings are not to be taken that seriously, what else in scriptures can be? I will be breaking them at my earliest opportunity.
Every so often I think of Tim Anderson and wonder how he is. He's an author of some very good short stories, or, rather, accounts of his life as a gay truck driver which are not what most people would think on first reading that description. He is a very sympathetic and close witness to lives that would generally not be mentioned. For me, they are some of the more deeply religious things I've read. Some are profoundly sad, documenting the least among us and people who could become the least through the most casual of circumstances. I think this one. Beautiful Loser may have been the first one I read, I think I was looking for a quote from the Leonard Cohen novel of almost that name when I came across it, many years back. It is about what happened the night a young, truck stop prostitute asked him if she could use his radio to find customers. Tim Anderson's account is one of the sadder and more insightful things I've read like that. For reasons I won't go into, it hits far closer to home today than I'd ever have expected then and which I can't bring myself to go into.
Re-reading it reminds me of this article that was in The Guardian last year, in which an atheist, Chris Arnarde talked about how surprised he was to find religious faith in the drug addicts and prostitutes he was photographing after he left his job on Wall Street.
I eventually left my Wall Street job and started working with and photographing homeless addicts in the South Bronx. When I first walked into the Bronx I assumed I would find the same cynicism I had towards faith. If anyone seemed the perfect candidate for atheism it was the addicts who see daily how unfair, unjust, and evil the world can be. None of them are. Rather they are some of the strongest believers I have met, steeped in a combination of Bible, superstition, and folklore. The first addict I met was Takeesha. She was standing near the high wall of the Corpus Christi Monastery. We talked for close to an hour before I took her picture. When we finished, I asked her how she wanted to be described. She said without any pause, "As who I am. A prostitute, a mother of six, and a child of God." Takeesha was raped by a relative when she was 11. Her mother, herself a prostitute, put Takeesha out on the streets at 13, where she has been for the last 30 years, It's sad when it's your mother, who you trust, and she was out there with me, but you know what kept me through all that? God. Whenever I got into the car, God got into the car with me. Sonya and Eric, heroin addicts who are homeless, have a picture of the Last Supper that moves with them. It has hung in an abandoned building, it has hung in a sewage-filled basement, and now it leans against the pole in the small space under the interstate where they live. I don't know if Tim Anderson is still writing but I hope he is. He was writing a blog, and as bloggers do, he went to another one. And it looks like if I'm going to find him again, I'll have to break my resolution and do Facebook. I hope he's doing well, now retired from being a trucker. His Christmas Village stories and others also show he can be rather funny as well. We've had very different lives and come from different generations but he's shown me parts of life and life as a gay man I'd never see from a gay perspective, including the lives of straight people. His story prepared me for some really bad news I got today and I thank him for that.