Veneration and Holy Fools!

If you walk into any church with ties to ancient Christian history, you may be struck by the beauty of the icons that line the walls and the saints depicted gazing outward invitingly. The interesting thing about saints is that we often think of them as having always occupied this place of honor in our houses of worship. Once they’ve been canonized, saints are commemorated for their holy life and their stories serve to encourage and remind us to continue to struggle in pursuit of holiness. But for the majority of these venerable ones, their time on earth was not spent saturated with laudation. Quite the contrary, in fact. Many were fiercely hated, even by their own churches. It is only in retrospect that we call them holy and admire their faith.

Perhaps the saints that illustrate this fact most profoundly are those that fall into the category of “holy fools.” In the ancient Christian tradition, holy fools are those individuals that feigned insanity to combat vanity, both personal and societal. These saints are some of my favorites, not because they encourage me, but because they terrify me. The lives of the holy fools are filled with acts that defy social norms, often bringing the need for repentance into sharp focus. Much like the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, who performed such acts as cooking his food over dung to call attention to the sin of Israel, the holy fools lived in such a way as to prick the conscience of a society. The most emblematic of the holy fools was the seventh century saint, Simeon of Edessa. This man masked his piety with acts of absurdity, upsetting conventional definitions of holiness. It is said that he often disrupted church services by throwing nuts at attendees and blew out candles, provoking the wrath of the seemingly pious. He would at times eat meat on fast days and walked around the city gate with a dead dog tied to his belt. He was known to preach against excess and neglecting the poor. He challenged those that would define holiness according to mere institutional conformity rather than acts of truth religion – the care of widows and orphans, as the book of James says.

What terrifies me about St. Simeon is the fact that he could very well have been someone that I have met on the streets of Kansas City. His behavior certainly corresponds to that of someone I might normally consider “mentally disturbed,” a “menace to society,” or simply anyone that makes me feel awkward or uncomfortable. I would have hated being around St. Simeon, and I know this because I don’t like being around anyone that upsets my normal schedule or asks me to give of my time or energy. Figures like St. Simeon, and to some degree, the stereotypical vagrant, make me uncomfortable because they remind me that something is wrong—in my heart and in my society. St. Simeon called attention to the failure of dead religion to care for the poor, and the raving beggar on the street calls to attention the failure of our society to care for those that are abandoned and marginalized. Holy fools disturb the peace – the false peace of indifference and spiritual stagnation.

I often find myself romanticising figures like the holy fool or the prophetic voice because I like the idea of someone who goes against the grain of society. Before I aspire to holy foolishness, however, I remember that these types are often hated because they disturb the “peace” – they also disturb my “peace.” That false peace is often my own complacency, my dead religious piety and refusal to give of myself. When I ignore the voice of those that prick my conscience, I find myself often ignoring the voice of God. It is, after all, the foolishness of God that these holy fools are emulating. The prophecy of Isaiah says of the Messiah that “He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” God often shows up anonymously and speaks through the most unlikely of characters. If I listen to the cries of the holy fools, I become sensitive to the presence of God in those people and situations that disturb my “peace.” Those that upset my life may not be simple inconveniences, they may be the way that God seizes my attention and makes me aware of his heart for the poor. In doing so, He invites me into veneration, to recognizing everyone around me as the presence of God.

I’m no holy fool (just a regular one) and I don’t know how to live prophetically; but I am trying to treat everyone I meet as a potential saint. To do this, I ask for God’s grace to listen and to be attentive to hear His cries for justice in the mouths of fools.

Article by Jonathan Reavis

Charity and Veneration!

“Charity is so called because we give it even to the unworthy.” —St. John Chrysostom

Before coming to Kansas City and working at RS, I was a professional artist and lover of interesting and obscure music. The thing that any artist or lover of obscure music begins to understand is that there is tension that happens when opposing aspects of a piece of art, work with each other. This is a concept that someone has to grasp in order to appreciate any work of art; not just for what makes that work of art intriguing, but to understand its maker's intention in creating it. Surprisingly, I have found that this same concept is the key to an understanding of the work that we do on 31st and Troost.

When my family and I first arrived in Kansas City, I was asked by a good friend who was visiting us from California, “what is success going to look like?” This seemingly simple question was in fact a multi-faceted inquiry that consisted of several months of deep conversation between the two of us on issues such as class, race, the distinction between religion and spirituality, and if there was purpose in poverty. Needless to say, I could only answer with a long pause and an honest, “I don’t know!” At the moment those three words left my lips, I realized something that was simultaneously painful and yet liberating. Everything that I thought I knew about ‘poverty,’ everything that I thought I knew about the ‘poor,’ and everything that I thought were the ‘answers’ were really just speculation and theory. All of the theories and speculations I came to Kansas City with were undone and proven inadequate in the presence of the flesh and blood icons of Christ that I was now face to face with in my work at RS!

At this point allow me to state the obvious. The Icons I see on the walls in my parish and in my home don’t display the effects of generational poverty. They don’t suffer from the fallout of years of addiction or even worse being born with developmental issues due to the addiction of the mother who gave them birth. They don’t fail to say, “please” or “thank you” when we provide them with the help they have asked for. The Icons I see in church show me what the Kingdom of Heaven is, but the icons of flesh and blood in midtown KC show me who the Kingdom of Heaven is for. 

When I began to understand that the issues of the community we serve at RS are the fruit of generational poverty, and what that really is, I began to understand why the bible speaks so much on the service and protection of the poor. Generational poverty rips at the fabric of society by placing families and individuals in systemic and prolonged crisis. This perpetual state of crisis is often the catalyst and sustaining agent for trauma for both these groups and the communities they constitute. 

Lets be clear; when talking about the life of trauma that characterizes generational poverty, we are not talking about a few bad choices here or there, some bad luck or the results of laziness, we are talking about horrors and tragedies that are consistent, prevalent and soul destroying on a community level. Ultimately, when I look at the individual stories and issues facing the community we serve, what is common for all of them is not so much a level of need, or that they may or may not be of agreeable disposition; rather, it is the harsh fact that they all recognize that they are human beings in need which goes beyond their ability to help themselves. The thing I have begun to understand is that charity given to those who I find pleasant isn’t charity. Often the real work is learning how to help those who by their behavior don’t seem to deserve help. This is exactly where tension comes into play.

For many in the modern world, the cross has become a symbol of oppression, bigotry and injustice; moreover, one could say that the association of these terrible acts with the cross of Christ is valid. I for one am actually inclined to agree. The caveat I would offer though, is that it is precisely these acts of hatred and injustice that make the cross so powerful. It is in the command given by Christ to those who would be his disciples to actually love those who would spitefully use you, to forgive those who would treat you as an enemy, and to give to those who ask, that reveals the transformative power in charity. Anything else simply serves to make someone feel good about themselves. 

If there is a solution to generational poverty, it lies in the understanding that we must see the tension that is necessary to produce real change, and that tension is the commitment to help the individual, not according to whether they are worthy or not, or whether they were pleasant and polite. Dr. Martin Luther King profoundly stated, that hatred cannot drive out hatred, only love can do that. Initially I was driven by a desire to see a large, sweeping change. It’s the idea that one at a time will not cut it. But a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and each person we serve is a link in a larger chain. I see now that the right idea is to focus on the link and not the chain.

Whether it is through direct services or simply being present with them, by being a healing presence for those who have been cut off by society at large and even their own families, we seek to affect a larger change by focusing on the person, where they’re at and as they are. These are the very people we are committed to serve. These are the people falling through the cracks. It’s never easy, but we believe this is the key to helping the community. 

Article by Fr. Deacon Turbo Qualls, Reconciliation Services

Racism as Iconoclasm

The greatest danger in the modern world is the attack on man as the image of God. That God became man in order to unite man to God is the only sure Divine underwriting of human worth. We have value because of the image we bear" (Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas).

Earlier this afternoon while at Reconciliation Services I was speaking with a young man whom I have known now for about a year and a half. He is very bright but admittedly troubled and he is working through the issues that aren’t so uncommon for most young men of his age. On this particular day, he was commenting on a book about the history of Christianity in Africa which I had given him the week prior. He had just finished the section that was speaking about the repopulation of the earth by the sons of Noah; Shem, Ham and Japheth. After having a relatively simple (as much as that is possible) and quick discussion on allegory and genetic possibilities, my friend gave me a side-eyed glance and said to me, “so if Noah was given the job of repopulating the earth, then that means we (human beings) are all related, right?” To this, my best answer in the moment was to quote Jimi Hendrix, from his song Machine Gun where he assumes the character of a lamenting soldier, who in midst of the carnage and murder of combat, observes: “evil man make you kill me, evil man make me kill you, even though we're only families apart!”

The Apostle John taught that if you hate your brother you are guilty of murder (1 John 3:15). These are the strongest of words, especially for us here in the United States where we are seemingly in an unending cycle of racial tension. For many of us, the best we can do is to throw up our hands in resignation, and to do our best to “mind our own business.” I admit that this type of resignation in the face of such deeply entrenched attitudes and issues, seems like the wise choice; however, as the old adage states: those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it. For me, the hard fight for understanding of the theology of the Icon by the ancient Church has been the greatest antidote against the atrophying doom of ignorance.

The iconoclast period was a period in the history of the ancient Christian Church, that lasted roughly 90 years (730-787CE and 813-843CE) where the controversy over the use of the Icon in Christian worship violently erupted. In short, the iconoclasts saw the Icon as idolatry; where as the Orthodox saw the Icon as the proclamation of the incarnation of God in the flesh. The final triumph of the Icon and the reasons behind it are explained best by the hymnography sung by all Orthodox Christians on the first Sunday of Great Lent. This hymn says: 

“No one could describe the Word of the Father; but when He took flesh from you, O Theotokos (Mother of God), He accepted to be described, and restored the fallen image to its former beauty. We confess and proclaim our salvation in word and images.”

If I were to boil this down to an essential statement, I believe it would simply say that the Icon explains what words alone cannot. It reveals to mankind that God loves His creation. That God would humble Himself and become a man like us, is too great of a mystery to simply be pronounced with words. How is it then, that racism is the new Iconoclasm? Racism not only blinds our ability to see those who simply look different than us as being made in the image of God, it can go as far as to distort our vision of them into horrific caricature. We all have family members that we struggle to get along with; accordingly, most have also had the experience of having a friend that is closer than a brother. This phenomenon is the proof, that relation is something deeper than biology. It’s about relating.

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The ancient Christian church affirmed the veneration of Icons because she discerned that the Icon could not be properly seen with just fleshly eyes, that ultimately there was something hidden behind the wood and paint. Therefore, the destruction of the Icon had little to do with the simple vandalism of a painting; rather, it was a flat out assault against the great mystery of God becoming man, to affirm his love for man. How much more of an affront is it, when we see the assault upon our brothers and sisters who are living icons, because of their outward appearance, because of biological facets like skin color and hair type? Like the Iconoclast of old, is it not because we are blind to what lies beneath? Is it not Christ who is the very archetype of every man? Panayiotis Nellas, a Greek theologian wrote:

“…It thus becomes clear that the essence of man is not found in the matter from which he was created but in the archetype on the basis of which he was formed and towards which he tends… As the truth of an icon lies in the person it represents, so the truth of man lies in his archetype (Christ).” (Deification in Christ, p33)

In looking back to ancient history, I have found that the answer to the racial strife that lies in the hearts of so many in this country isn’t an easy fix, but it is a simple one. History can be a very tricky course to navigate, but sometimes the most complex concepts are best explained simply, and in regard to understanding the Iconoclastic tone of racism, I think I’ve heard it best summed up by an abbess of a monastery in California who recently said, “God doesn’t make junk.”

Article by Turbo Qualls, Case Manager - Reconciliation Services

Our Reason for Existence

The word 'Venerate' sums up what we do and how we operate here at Reconciliation Services but what does it mean?

Recently a close friend visited Diveyevo Convent in Russia while on pilgrimage. This was the very place where a famous Orthodox Christian monk, St Seraphim of Sarov, labored as pastor. In 1921, the fourth year of Soviet rule, the Diveyevo Convent was destroyed; the bells were silenced, churches and cells were emptied but in recent decades it has undergone a renewal and has been restored as an active monastery.

St Seraphim of Sarov

St Seraphim of Sarov

While visiting, a priest of the Convent began to share with my friend something unusual that had been happening in last two years. The priest related that a painted wooden icon all covered with soot, previously unknown, had been discovered on the monastery grounds. All sensed that it was very special but the soot obscured the image entirely. So they began to perform prayers in front of the icon every day in the church. After several months the faithful found a little spot on the hands and on the forehead that began to be lighter. They continued to pray and within a year they saw a face appear. Within two years the icon was miraculously and totally restored! Under the soot was none other than St Seraphim himself!

When I heard this story I thought it was a powerful image of the human condition and cure. Rather than political rhetoric and argument usually wrapped up in blame, this story gives us a way to sidestep the pitfalls in discussing how to "serve the poor" and opens a way for both the rich and the poor to seek mutual healing and reconciliation.

Each of us is in fact a living icon, created in the image of God but striving to recover our likeness. Each of us is covered over in layers of soot; various trials, experiences, passions, addictions and struggles. Through contact with the love of God communicated through the tender actions of other fellow strugglers, the true person is revealed. This story has become the primary way I understand the work of Reconciliation Services and thus the meaning of the word Veneration.

There are many ways of speaking about human beings, especially those of our neighbors who are in need who come to 31st and Troost. At RS we seek for every action—be it emergency services, self-sufficiency services or economic community building—to be an act of veneration. What we have found is that by treating each person with authentic respect and seeking to reveal their hidden strengths rather than "fix" visible deficits, people who otherwise felt hopeless find dignity, strength and solutions.

Reflecting on the Year

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Most of us know the pain of falling and bruising or worse, breaking something. Feelings of embarrassment or loss of dignity and vulnerability often follow. In gifting every person who comes to Reconciliation Services with the dignity and respect that we ourselves need when we are hurting, places us on a level playing field with our clients. This is a step forward on the road to our mutual healing. The many practical services that we provide with the generous help of our donors flow from the awareness of our own vulnerability and our desire for love from our fellow human beings. In partnering with us in our mission, you are helping us achieve our vision that those who come to 31st and Troost who have fallen through the cracks find dignity, strength and the solutions they need to build vibrant community together.


This year has been an amazing year of growth for RS in furthering our mission to build community by revealing the strength of those we serve, providing emergency services and promoting self-sufficiency. In 2014 our assets grew by 30%, new revenues by 10% and we helped 2,800 people receive emergency services! To increase our success even further in 2015, continued participation and collaboration between businesses, government bodies, non-governmental organizations and individuals like you is critical.

I want to thank all of our donors for your vital support and belief in our vision. We’ve been on an amazing journey together so far but the best part is just beginning. I look forward to seeing what we achieve in the coming year.

Fr Justin