Acknowledging White Privilege: An Act of Veneration

Ed, a middle aged white man from North Carolina, took the microphone and said, “I frequently observe in myself a lot of racism. I flee it by fleeing social media and internet usage ... but it comes up anyway, over and over. It comes up especially when I hear the term ‘white privilege.’ I ask you, how can I combat this?” Giving up the microphone, Ed, sat down. We were both attending the annual St. Moses the Black Brotherhood conference.

I first met Ed a few years ago when he visited my church. He stayed long after others left the sanctuary. Ed loves to polish brass for the churches he visits and he’s meticulous. He even carries with him a kit of soft bristle brushes, homemade paste and scraps of rag. As he polished the furrows of a single candlestick from the altar, he revealed beauty hidden under the wax, the soot and the stain. The vulnerability and thoughtfulness of Ed’s question at the conference was as thoughtful and as revealing as his work on our church brass!

I have thought about that moment at the conference for some time now. What impacted me the most was Ed’s vulnerably in exposing his heart in front of a large group of primarily African American people. Ed broke the silence and took a risk. He began by saying, “I frequently observe in myself a lot of racism.” I remember thinking, “What would our world be like if more of us white people were willing to be this vulnerable?”

Like most white kids raised to be “Midwest nice,” my parents would not tolerate racism in our home. I don’t remember a single instance when my parents spoke in a racist way. In fact, I thought little about racism until about a decade ago when I read an essay by Dr. Peggy McIntosh entitled, “White Privilege: unpacking the invisible knapsack.”  It was then that I began to understand more clearly how racism works and how it relates to me.

Dr. McIntosh writes,

“As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects— white privilege—which puts me at an advantage.”

As a white man I had no problem acknowledging that racism was a real struggle for many. However, I had never considered my participation in the perpetuation of racism by default, by not acknowledging how I benefit from it. Dr. McIntosh helped me to realize that racism is not only individual acts of meanness but an invisible system conferring dominance and preference on my group. This is white privilege!

I benefit from a society that is still entangled in racial bias - a society where my skin color does not put me at a disadvantage. I don’t get tailed by police when I drive through nice neighborhoods in my rusty Ford. I don’t get followed around while I shop. My name on a letter or resume does not provoke questions about my race or intelligence. When people engage me, I am automatically perceived as financially stable.

My white privilege became especially real to me recently. My friend and I both have teenage sons. I’m white and he’s black. I’ve never had to teach my son how to act if police see him playing with a toy gun. He has. I’ve never had to caution my son that people may assume he is up to no good when out with his friends. He has. I’ve never had to explain to my son that no matter how smart he is or how hard he works, he will always be seen as inferior by some people because of his skin color. He has!

Dr. McIntosh writes,

“I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.”

My personal knapsack came with economic, educational, gender and racial privileges. Acknowledging this privilege is not about feeling guilty or disavowing my heritage. Being born a white male doesn’t automatically mean I am a racist! Rather, in acknowledging my white privilege I am choosing to use this privilege to help others who unjustly bear burdens I do not.

St. Paul wrote, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). To acknowledge my white privilege is to engage the faith that was given by a Savior whose first public sermon began by proclaiming ‘liberty to those who are oppressed' (Luke 4:18). Racism is a heresy, a rejection of the idea that every person is made in God’s image and likeness and worthy of veneration. As a Christian I am compelled by the Gospel to acknowledge racism, to reject its every form, and to repent for it in my life and, where I discover it, in the life of my forefathers.

Ed’s vulnerability at the conference reminded me of things I had read and seen through my work at RS. Breaking silence and taking risks to talk about the impact of racism and white privilege is an act of veneration and love. Like Ed, I desire to be meticulous about cleaning away the wax, the soot and the stain left from the legacy of slavery, racism and segregation on the furrows of my heart. When I acknowledge that I have white privilege it leaves me with the question of, “What do I do with it?” For, “to whom much is given, much is expected" (Luke 12:48).

Article by Fr. Justin Mathews, Executive Director of Reconciliation Services.

The Gift of Veneration

The day I met Fana she was slowly walking down the middle of Troost Avenue. I stopped and asked her if she was okay and suggested she move to the sidewalk. I’m not sure she understood me then. 

After many months of seeing her on the street and in and out of our church and at Reconciliation Services, she seemed like she had become more comfortable with me. In her broken English she would ask me questions. She always asked me about my “babies.” Mostly she was quiet. I learned that she had emigrated from east Africa. She lived in a group home and had lost custody of her children due to her mental illness and instability. 

One Sunday after church I noticed how badly worn her shoes were. I asked her what size she wore. I had collected some donation items earlier in the week and I had a great pair of shoes in my car that had never been worn. They were even her size. What a wonderful coincidence I thought. 

When I took her out to the car and showed them to her she said she didn’t want them. Here I was trying to help her, to give her what she needed! I didn’t understand. But then again, I never asked her if she needed (or even wanted) new shoes. I saw her torn and dirty shoes and I thought I could fix that for her. 

The following week a friend and I asked Fana if she wanted to go to the store with us and pick out a pair of shoes. She seemed excited to go with us. It was fall and with winter on its way I tried to steer her towards some sensible options. She didn’t like what I picked out. She kept returning again and again to a pair of flashy and impractical wedge slip-on sandals. 

Against my better judgement we got the sandals. Fana seemed happy. 

The next time I saw her she wasn’t wearing the sandals. She was wearing her old tattered shoes. Didn’t she like them? Had she lost them? Had she sold them? I didn’t ask her about them because I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer. 

C.S. Lewis wrote, “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.” 

I saw someone who needed shoes and I gave her shoes. I saw a need and honed in on a practical solution. That’s a good thing, right? But giving Fana a pair of shoes was well within the realm of what I could spare. It didn’t stretch me or challenge me. It didn’t necessitate time or attention—things that are much harder for me to part with.

I have written a quote on a chalkboard in my house by French philosopher Simone Weil. It reads, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” My giving was more of a knee-jerk-reaction to a need than an act of generosity. 

Over the course of many months of driving her to and from church and talking with her on the phone I did have more time with Fana. I learned of her sadness in losing her children. I heard her story of how she traded one world of suffering for another. I saw her frustration with her inability to understand the language and the place she now found herself in. I saw that in her tattered old purse that carried bits of plastic bags, random found objects, and what seemed like trash, she also carried the beautifully intricate beaded jewelry she made. 

St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:3 that “though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor … but have not love, it profits me nothing.” 

Fana needed so much—a home, a job, her family restored, her mind restored, and even some new shoes. But what I failed to understand till much later was that what she enjoyed about going to the store to pick out those shoes was the attentiveness that was offered to her then. 

Giving that is separated from love is empty. And generosity without attention is common and limited.

Fana is not unlike others I have met through Reconciliation Services. Trauma, displacement, abuse, poverty, mental illness, sickness, and addiction rob people of their dignity and so much more. By honoring and deeply respecting people, Reconciliation Services labors to cultivate true veneration for the people it serves. It is a generosity that is born out of attentiveness and it goes far beyond a quick fix for an immediate need. 

Fana has moved to another state. We have talked on the phone a few times since she moved. I never did see her wear those silly sandals. But in the end it wasn’t about me giving her the shoes I thought she needed—the quick fix. In the end, I needed to see that the most generous gift I could offer her was attention.

Article by Jodi Mathews

Guilt, Empathy and Veneration

I have never suffered discrimination because of my racial identity. My mother was adopted from Korea as a young child and my father was born into a white American and English family. For the most part, I have identified as white for all my life. Growing up, most of my peers were white and I didn’t really have any exposure to Korean culture. My Asian ancestry has never really been a source of discomfort for me, and my Asian physical features have only seldom been pointed out as indicators of difference. The one exception to my life of racial anonymity comes from a time when I worked at Starbucks.

It was during a slow block of time during my shift—around 2 or 3pm—when a semi-regular approached the register. He was a middle-aged white man, generally chummy with the baristas, and typically ordered a plain black coffee. I normally spent my entire shift working the bar, but on this day, I was manning the register. As the man approached the counter, I greeted him and asked what he would like to order. The man’s brow furrowed as he silently gazed through the top of my head and fixated upon the menu behind me. Assuming he had not heard me, I repeated my question, to which he responded with a grunt and crossed arms, his eyes still refusing to acknowledge me. When a few seconds had passed, a co-worker stepped in and took the man’s order without any trouble. I was later informed that the man refused to be served by me because he thought I was Vietnamese. Apparently, he had fought in the Vietnam war and was known to make derogatory remarks about Asians generally.

My gut reaction was one of confusion, but I didn’t want to react with offense. Perhaps this man had experienced trauma from his war experience. Perhaps I represented what he perceived was the source of his pain. I didn’t feel personally responsible for his trauma, and likewise I didn’t feel it right that he held a single racial group responsible for it. The experience did, however, provide me with a brief glimpse into what pain the man might be carrying, in the light of which any personal offense I held quickly faded.

Dostoyevsky says in Brothers Karamazov that “everyone is guilty for everyone else.” In the brief interaction in Starbucks the man projected blame upon me for actions that I didn’t commit. Momentarily I felt guilty for something beyond my control and initially it felt unjust. However, once the initial offense faded, I was able to see a fellow struggling human being instead of an instigator of aggression. Perhaps I would have felt similarly if I were in his shoes, I began to experience a sense of compassion.

In our culture guilt is usually utilized to demarcate the limits of moral responsibility rather than to be in solidarity with the human race, as Dostoyevsky seems to suggest. We tend to use personal guilt to confine blame to an individual person or situation. Initially I didn’t want to be held responsible for this man’s pain, especially when I hadn’t personally done anything to contribute to it (to my knowledge). Patience, forbearance and empathy for another are perhaps foreign to a common understanding about guilt and blame. However, such traits of compassion are at the core of what it means to belong to a family, and more, the human family. This image of familial responsibility is laid out in the Lord’s prayer.

St Cyprian of Carthage, a Christian bishop in the third century, wrote of the Our Father:

Before all things, the Teacher of peace and the Master of unity would not have prayer to be made singly and individually, as for one who prays to pray for himself alone. For we say not My Father, which art in heaven, nor Give me this day my daily bread; nor does each one ask that only his own debt should be forgiven him; nor does he request for himself alone that he may not be led into temptation, and delivered from evil. Our prayer is public and common; and when we pray, we pray not for one, but for the whole people, because we the whole people are one. The God of peace and the Teacher of concord, who taught unity, willed that one should thus pray for all, even as He Himself bore us all in one.

The Biblical model for asking forgiveness then, is not one of individual guilt alone. In the case of my story with the Vietnam veteran, I was held responsible for things that I personally had nothing to do with. I came to symbolize an unjust war, the lack of care for war veterans and the trauma of combat. However this man is a part of God’s family and therefore a part of mine. So the question I had to ask myself was, “could I share in his guilt and pain?” There was very little I could do in the moment, but instead of rejecting this man and his pain, I experienced grace to resonate with his suffering. I experienced grace to reflect upon ways in which I could repent of a culture of indifference .

In response to the immense suffering in this world, and the guilt that we all share, I cannot simply bow my head in detached sorrow. I want to find ways to begin to think differently and to act differently. Thinking differently about guilt will affect how I pray and how I live. As St. Cyprian suggests, I can ask for forgiveness for the pain and the guilt of the whole world. Accepting responsibility for my culture and for my history is not meant to cripple me with unproductive guilt. It is meant to remind me that I am not an individual unto myself and that I am a part of the ills and cures of this world.

Veneration is the essence of our work at RS. Veneration describes the attitude and the act of respect for “living icons” – people made in the image of God and therefore worthy of profound honor. By implication we all partake of that image, and so share in the pain and guilt of this world. Veneration, then, can also include acts of solidarity and empathy. In the last few months, there have been a number of tragic events circulating the news with plenty of pain and guilt to go around. Instead of distancing myself from the pain in an attempt to exonerate myself of any responsibility, I am striving to turn away from any of the ways in which I participate in a culture of hate and fear. I am connected not only to countless suffering people, I am also connected to those structures and histories that have perpetuated suffering. So, as I pray for the forgiveness of our debts, I also pray for the wisdom to know how to act in ways that heal the wounds inflicted by our sins.

Article by Jonathan Reavis

Veneration and the Hidden Redline

When I was a child my siblings and I used to divide our playroom with masking tape to keep each other out. Now as a father of three boys I see my children doing the same thing. Why is the instinct to separate and divide ourselves from each other so strong? You've likely heard of a form of legal division in real estate development in the US called “redlining” which began in the 1930’s. At that time, literal red lines were drawn on city maps. Development proposals and home appraisals divided our cities into so-called desirable and undesirable investment zones. The real purpose was to limit investment to artificial boundaries so minority communities and the white majority could live legally integrated while functionally hyper-segregated. The practice of redlining may no longer be legal, but we are still finding ways to separate from each other.

The by-product of redlined investment was sharp disinvestment that cut deep social and economic divisions into the heart of our city, the scars of which can still be seen along Troost and in our community today. While beautiful new plazas, suburbs and public amenities were developed on one side, the other side of the redline saw development of a whole other kind, hidden from the view of the majority. Redlining built communities where traumatic life events are so common they are considered a rite of passage for some children. Redlining paved financial dead end roads that led to sweeping economic stagnation when businesses closed and jobs went south, figuratively and literally in KC. Redlining landscaped a built-environment of social instability that eventually fractured the pillars of traditional community foundations from the internal and external pressures caused by poverty, fear and hyper-segregation.

Born in the late 70’s it's hard for me to imagine a society where this all made sense. In my work at RS I have tried to distinguish my perspective and my belief about people who are different from me from the beliefs of previous generations. In all honesty however, as I have worked in struggling low-income communities, I have come to recognize there is much inherited partiality in my heart still needing to be healed. In tense moments I catch myself wanting to find a way to control others or push people away. I am tempted to treat people as though they are an interruption rather than a neighbor. There is a hidden redline in my heart. I do not intend to draw it, but it is there, inky and bold. Maybe you have seen this hidden redline in your heart too?

The redline in my heart doesn’t appear as classic racism or focus attention on certain people; its boundaries frequently surprise me. Sometimes the redline has to do with issues related to someone’s religion, cultural values, dress, speech, attitude, etc. I will attest, when the redline appears it is demanding and dogmatic. It is as if a person’s mere presence threatens what I believe, my sense of self and what I know to be true. Sometimes it feels like the ground would quake if the tremor of emotion could escape the laces of my shoes. Sometimes I want to lash out and make the redline loud and clear - you and I are different! Why is this instinct to separate from each other so strong?

I recently finished a book by a modern Orthodox Christian monk, Elder Thaddeus, who said, “Everything, both good and evil, comes from our thoughts. Our thoughts become our reality.”  While reading this book I was reminded that it is not actually an instinct that compels me to want to separate from others who are unlike me - the tendency to redline is not a part of my God-given nature - but the redline is a product of entertaining a whirlpool of negative thoughts, conscious and unconscious, about another person or their community. The redline in my heart is a result of the sinful thoughts I cultivate and these thoughts have the power to shape my reality. 

I have asked myself what to do about this problem. Can I erase the redline in my heart? Can I really change the way I think about the complex and difficult people or places I encounter? If so, how? I have come to believe that this side of heaven only the greatest saints erase the redline - people like Mother Teresa, St. Maria of Paris, St. John of Kronstadt are a few modern examples. I know from these Holy ones that there is more I can do to erase this sinful division between myself and the other, but it takes real work and intentionality.

A prominent architectural feature of Orthodox Christian churches, the iconostasis, is a contrasting type of division to the division created by the redline, but the iconostasis has helped me understand what to do about the hidden redline in my heart. 

The Iconostasis is a wall of sorts that partitions the sanctuary, where the priest stands before the altar, from the nave, where the faithful stand to sing and pray. On the iconostasis hangs icons of Christ, Mary, St. John the Baptist and other holy men and women. I remember the first time I attended an Orthodox church service how troubled I was by the iconostasis. I saw it as a dividing line separating the clergy and the laity, like a redline in the church. When I spoke to my priest about the iconostasis he challenged me to change my thinking. 

He said, “try not to see it as a dividing line but as an acknowledgement of the division between God and man that was created by man’s sin. Face the iconostasis,” he continued, “and pray deeply ...The icons adorning the iconostasis, those holy men and women, are the proof of the possibility of real transformation and reconciliation with God, and with others.” He was saying that the iconostasis does not function to divide us but to make present the possibility of our ultimate reconciliation through acknowledging and facing the division that exists.

I was totally blown away by this explanation! Over the years as I’ve prayed in church facing the iconostasis I have discovered how this holy partition functions just as he said, as a place of meeting, transformation and reconciliation.

Although the iconostasis is a holy symbol of reconciliation and the hidden redline in my heart is a sinful symbol of division, the idea that I have taken away from the iconostasis is this: I will only be transformed by acknowledging and facing the redline in my heart and praying to Christ for healing grace. I can’t simply ignore it or think cultural diversity training or some other program will erase it. It is a human stain too deeply imbedded within my thoughts for simple solutions. I must acknowledge and face the division that exists within. That is what RS is all about for me, a place where the dividing line is acknowledged and faced, prayed before and transformed by grace so that the true strength in each person can be revealed. With every gift given, every act of service delivered, every job created, I am given the opportunity to acknowledge and face the redline in my heart and to love the other in front of me, whoever they are. I want to be more like the saints on the iconostasis. Their witness encourages me to press on towards the goal.

So when I meet that difficult person and my thoughts begin to race as the redline is drawn, I pray for help to seize the opportunity, to see the person in front of me as a living icon, someone to venerate not someone to push away.  And in choosing not to redline the other by acknowledging and facing the division in my heart on a daily basis I believe we can find real healing and transformation together.

Article by Fr. Justin Mathews, Executive Director of Reconciliation Services.

Venerating People Over Place

When we said goodbye to the suburbs a few years ago and bought a house east of Troost in KC the irony was not lost on me. We might have looked like one of those families that was sloughing off the confines of suburbia with its immaculate lawns, cul de sacs, and conformity. People may have thought we were on a mission to snatch up an old home for a steal and buy into the increasingly popular urban lifestyle.

This resurgence of city living is very much fixed on the place, the location, the older homes, and interesting architecture in the city scape, or even nearby pubs and artsy shops.

But my family—my husband, three young boys and myself—didn’t move to Hyde Park or Westport where the cool factor is significantly greater. We chose east of Troost, what seemed to many like an identity-less, rougher part of town that was more of a passageway to other places rather than a desirable destination in its own right.

We moved because we wanted to be close to our church and the community we had been growing to love through ministry work at Reconciliation Services at 31st and Troost. It wasn’t about the place or the location. It was about entering into a community where our hearts were called to struggle and to love others.

I didn’t want to be some outsider family that was moving east of Troost to fix things, fix people. I wanted to blend in, to really enter in and to be a part, to be authentic. This is where I wanted to build community afterall.

The fact is however, that I don’t blend in very well. I’m a middle-class, white woman who moved to a predominantly African American community that is economically stressed. I am like the poster woman for gentrification. I move to a depressed part of town and I bring my ideas of community—what that looks like and who belongs there—with me. I want to restore my old house and beautify my garden. I also want safer streets and better quality shops nearby. I want a place that feels good, beautiful and safe.

In the midst of this struggle and tension I have this little mantra: People over place. When I am daydreaming about the mountains or the ocean, when I fantasize about some beautiful paradise or an amazing new house, I remind myself that my deepest desire is always to put people over place. It has so little to do with me impacting someone else and so much more to do with me striving to see beauty and truth in others, in myself even.

The core mission of Reconciliation Services is to reveal the strengths of those we serve, to restore dignity. This mission can bring the kind of development and restoration that really offers lasting change - it is the development and restoration of people. It isn’t some underground initiative to fix or change people but rather a sincere working together to bring to light what is good and true and beautiful - what is already there waiting to be revealed.

Restoration can’t help but alter things. When you move into an old house and labor over renovating and restoring it, you alter it. When we move to a different part of town, where people have different backgrounds and different struggles to us, when we get to know the people around us—us sharing with them and them sharing with us—we alter one another.

I’ve decided that this idea of blending into my neighborhood is not really possible for me. I  want to be light, to love. Light and love alter things. They spill over onto the people around them and they permeate the places they inhabit. But I also want to find ways to see light and love in my neighbor, understand better who they are and what makes them precious.

These connections are so much easier to make with people who are like me. There are some neighbors around me with similar values and backgrounds who have proven to be easy company. But what about the man named John who walks down my street daily to the gas station to get a beer? What about Tamika, who lost her dog recently and lives alone? What about Charles who seems to drink the day away on his front porch? What about the older ladies in the nice house that rarely come outside? What about the family that rents “that” house at the end of the block?

These folks are every bit a part of my community yet so unknown to me. They are more important than the old houses and the latest city plan to better the neighborhood. But man, it sure is easier to hone in on those measurable initiatives, to change the look and feel of the neighborhood than it is to discover the inherent beauty of the people who occupy the neighborhood and to honor their history and struggle.  

It doesn’t really matter if our heart’s path leads us through the wilderness or the urban landscape. The place is just the place. But the people, the people are everything.

Article by Jodi Mathews

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

Violence or Veneration?

“And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, ‘Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.’” (Zechariah 13:6 KJV)

What is true reconciliation? Some think of it as balancing a checkbook, others a husband and wife making up, still others overcoming the issues of discrimination and prejudice in our culture. While all of these reflect pieces of reconciliation, the Messianic prophecy above causes us to go deeper. It carries with it a sense of deep suffering to restore a friendship. The Messiah considered the wounds He received to have been received from His friends.

  • Many New Testament references convey this idea:
  • “Greater love has no man … than to lay down his life for his friends (Jn. 15:13);
  • “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God…” (Rom. 5:10);
  • “in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both in one body to God through the cross” (Eph. 2:15b-16a).
  • And, St. Paul says that “God, …  reconciled us to HImself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of  reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18-19).

In times of war, terrorism, family traumas, pressures over competition to keep or find a job, temptations abound to blame the “other” as the problem in order to secure ourselves. Instead of seeing an enemy as a friend who doesn’t realize this yet, social and political solutions are often presented as the rationale for demonizing the other and excusing ourselves. Fr. Seraphim Rose often reduced the choice of a Christian as “saving our soul or saving our skin.”

As Christians, we follow the Messiah Jesus in seeing the other as our friend. Like St. Paul taking the debts of Onesimus as his own in Philemon, v. 18; or the Good Samaritan assuming the debt of the robbed and wounded man in Luke 10:35, so, we that are “strong ought to bear the weaknesses of them without strength and not just please ourselves” (Rom. 15:1 NAS).

Such a way is reflected in an event in the life of an early Christian, Paulinus the Merciful, Bishop of Nola, Italy. The only son of a widow under his care was taken as a slave by pirates. Having nothing with which to pay the ransom, he traded himself as a slave for the boy. He worked as a gardener for the pirates and eventually won their favor and was able to restore as well all the captives from Nola!

The refusal to pay back evil for evil, to turn the other cheek, to exhibit long-suffering are signs of the Christian on the Cross. There we are invited to join our Lord in His prayer, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). Of the Cross, it is written, “Thou hast stretched out Thy most pure hands upon the Cross, and gathered all the nations, as they cry: O Lord, glory to Thee!” (Troparion, Sixth Hour of Royal Hours for Holy Friday).

Seeing the end from the beginning enables us to overlook and forgive much. We see the other as they are in Christ: an icon of God, an eternal brother or sister, a co-heir of peace, joy and the communion of love for ages to come. For this reason, we respond to violence with veneration, to slander with silence, and to crushing words with creative love. Why? Because we are followers of Him that declared, “he that does not gather with Me, scatters” (Mt. 12:30).

On the corner of 31st and Troost Avenue, people are gathering … to Christ and one another. May He that stretched out His arms on the Cross to gather us all into One enable us to share with Him in this ministry of gathering, of reconciliation, of venerating the other we encounter each day as the friend of Christ, the icon of God.

Article by Fr. Alexii Altschul, Reconciliation Services Founder

Blessed Are Those Who Reconcile

When my family moved to the urban core of KC over three years ago, friends and family cautioned us, “It is more dangerous over there!” Some said, “It isn’t safe!” The narrative of our part of the City had been told in terms of its crime and instability.

The neighborhood alerts on our community boards do sometimes reach a fever pitch, announcing another suspicious person, another break in, or worse. But it’s the city. We expect that, right?

Violent acts and violent rhetoric seem to dominate our landscape. From suicide bombings in far off places to murderous rampages and vehement speech closer to home, violence presses in on us. We turn on the news or browse the headlines expecting it, even looking for it. It seems inevitable to us that certain places or certain people would be violent.

But violence is as close as our own hearts.

I have cringed at the sound of a mother berating her child at the bus stop. I have called the police when the argument heard coming from a nearby house sounded like it was turning dangerous or if I heard gun shots closer than I’d like. I have taken an alternate route on my walk when I encountered two women shouting and degrading one another. Yes, violence is pressing in, but it is also pressing out.

In 1 John 3:15 it says that, “anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” That isn’t some flowery metaphor or shocking image. It is fact. An act of hate is murder.

So what makes me different from the mother berating her child at the bus stop? Nothing, really. I despise her behavior. I despise what she represents. I despise how she treats her child. Therefore, I despise her, hate her, murder her in my heart.

In the end I put myself in the place of judgement over these violent “others” and assume that they are just degenerates and perpetrators, forgetting that their story is most definitely one of victimhood as well, with complicated and traumatic stories that have played out time and time again.

So how do we battle violence?

Reconciliation.

Gentleness, forgiveness and reconciliation. These are the weapons we must use.

We see examples not only in the Bible but in Christian saints, modern day activists, and mystical teachers—of how peace can disarm violence. St. Seraphim of Sarov, a Russian saint entreated, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” We see in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:9 in the Bible, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Peace is this thing that we must acquire, hunt down, work for, struggle to maintain. We are urged to close the gap between ourselves and others in peace and reconciliation. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who reconcile.

It seems an overwhelming proposition to me to take on a violent culture, the vehement rhetoric of today’s warmongers, the institutions and religions that perpetrate violence. That is why I must make my most strategic battlefield my own heart. This is where I begin my struggle to overcome violence. From there, who knows what may come!

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Article by Jodi Mathews

A Tale of Two Queens

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

When we hear of rumors of civil unrest, when we see images of angry and often unfamiliar looking people, we may begin to feel the weight of worry and anxiety over our daily lives and how society may or may not affect us. Sadly, we often feel helpless in our ability to filter out these images. My colleague and good friend Terrence Freeman often talks about the theater of the mind. It is in this space of our thoughts that we can begin to build nightmarish narratives. In this age of social media, images and words are often charged with unfiltered opinion like never before. It is in this climate that old stereotypes may become infused with new and often uncontested power. One that is particularly damaging and incredibly poisonous is the image of the Black Welfare Queen. Poisonous because it is insidious in its ability to set a tone that can often permeate a person’s perceptions and potential interactions with a whole cross section of people; namely, African American women. Furthermore, it is damaging in so far as it can provide the fuel for micro aggressions, or flat out hostility, that is played out against an unknowing other, i.e. the woman who is trying to juggle her tired and fussy kids at the grocery store.

The interesting thing about the narratives that we often invest ourselves into, is that they tend to come from a place that is easily accessible, comfortable and unchallenged. What if we were to step back from the lens of our worldview and to try and see the world from a different perspective? Perhaps then, we might begin to see that the experiences of others are not only different from our own, but the way these individuals have processed their experiences are radically different too. In other words, we may assume we know what someone else is going through, or why they have made the decisions they have made, but the simple truth of the matter is that we don’t know!

Some of the most powerful interactions I have had at Reconciliation Services have been with these “welfare queens” and make no mistake, what made the interactions powerful was the ability of these women to not necessarily shatter, but rather to turn the stereotype on its head. What the stereotype tries to present are women who are undisciplined, immoral, materialistic and gross. However, what I have experienced are women that are surprisingly resourceful, dedicated to their children, deeply spiritual in their time of need and wonderfully creative!

The idea of revealing the strengths of the community we serve isn’t just a slogan at RS, it is something that we experience daily. To be clear, it was in the engagement and willingness to see these women for who they are, and not exclusively their circumstances, that began to correct the negative narratives that have played in the theater of my own mind.

Often, we forget that stereotypes are caricatures, shadows of something real. In opposition to the caricature stands a reality that can only be experienced by actually seeing these women for who and what they are: Icons of Christ. This reality of bearing the image of God is so much more than lofty theological ruminations, or sentimental ponderings. It is often visceral, unavoidable and illuminating. For many of these women, the trauma they have experienced should simply have crushed them. Yet, something inside them pushes them forward. Something inside them chooses to love and to hope.

Black Madonna of Czestochowska

Black Madonna of Czestochowska

In the dining room of RS there is a large picture of the Black Madonna of Czestochowska, the Queen of Heaven. In this icon her face is soft, but troubled. She bares two scars on her cheek, all the while never wavering in the supportive embrace of her son Jesus. This icon does so much more than passively sit as a decoration in a dining room; it silently teaches, inspires and reveals what is hidden, but still very much there. It speaks of the resilient strength, hope and faith of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and it reveals the same qualities in the community we serve here on 31st and Troost. Even if someone isn’t religious per say, I believe the narrative of the young Mary of Nazareth, who in spite of incredible obstacles chose to never give in and to push forward in hope, can be seen as inspiring. Accordingly, it is the ability of so many of the mothers we serve at RS to push forward in spite of incredible social obstacles, and personal mistakes, to be selfless in their devotion and love for their child, that forms a different kind of impression on the theater of my mind. This indelible impression is that of a woman who is worthy of  honor and respect, because she hasn’t allowed any obstacle (including asking for help) to keep her from the devotion and care of her children. A woman who like the icon of Mary, bares scars! When I remember that scars are the reminders of battles survived, not lost, it leaves me with a vision that is actually heroic. The fact that these women are in front of me, looking for a path forward, resilient and refusing to surrender in the great battle of their lives for the sake of their children, makes them nothing less than heroic.

Article by Turbo Qualls, Case Manager - Reconciliation Services

 

Casting Out Fear: Perfect Love and Veneration

Most children are afraid of the dark. Places that, when lit, are normally benign and ordinary, take on a foreboding quality in the darkness. The stairwell to the basement is the lair of ogres and monsters poised to snatch the ankles of the poor soul tasked with retrieving the family's Christmas decorations or a pound of meat from the storage freezer. The darkness is home to all manner of terrors conjured by the unknown.

I have a vivid memory of the first time I became aware of my fear of the dark. I was around eight years old. Of course, I had experienced fear of the dark prior to this moment, but I distinctly remember acknowledging my fear as something I could combat. I had awoken from sleep in the middle of the night by an urgent need to use the toilet. My room was located on the opposite end of a long and dark hallway that led to the bathroom. I dreaded the long walk to the toilet as if it were through the valley of the shadow of death itself! In reality, the distance was probably only a few meters. As I walked down the hall, I could feel the fear creeping up my back and materialize as a dark presence stalking my movements. For some reason, despite my anxiety and the cries of pain radiating from my bladder, I resolved to confront my fear. I resisted the urge to sprint down the hall and deliberately walked slowly. Part of me was attempting to convince myself that there wasn’t really anything to fear in the dark. Another part of me was challenging the darkness, the demons, and whatever other monsters lurked behind me and in the shadows. “Do your worst,” I whispered to the darkness, all the while hoping that nothing would do anything, especially not the worst. After what seemed to take several aeons, I arrived safely in the refuge of the bathroom and relieved myself. It was the bravest moment of my life.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, through the mouth of a wisened elder in Brothers Karamazov observed, “[F]ear is simply the consequence of every lie” (Brothers Karamazov, 58) While it seems a little harsh to say that my childhood self was afraid of the dark as a consequence of lies, I certainly was afraid of fictions created by my imagination. Fear rears its menacing head when the unknown is filled with lies or untruths.

1 John 4:18 says that “perfect love casts out fear.” I have often wondered what is meant by perfect love in this passage. In verse 12, John says, “No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.” God’s love is perfected, or completed, in us when we love one another. God’s love is complete when it is participated in. This is a profound statement and lies at the heart of the mission of RS to venerate the living icons of God in our community. John says that no one has seen God but that we abide in God when we love. Loving the other is a way of “seeing” the invisible God. John takes this idea so far as to say that no one can love God when he doesn’t love his brother. Loving one another is loving God. This is the perfect love that casts out fear: the love of the other.

I am not all that different from my eight-year-old self. I still fear the darkness, but instead of the darkness in the bathroom hall, it is the darkness of my ignorance. When someone walks into RS behaving strangely or is dealing with life challenges that seem insurmountable, I am gripped by fear. When I alienate someone I radically disagree with in politics, faith, or philosophy, I am gripped by fear. Like a child, I make monsters out of people when I imagine what resides in the darkness. But, as Dostoyevsky said, this fear is produced by a lie – a lie I create. My fear of the other is birthed from a lack of relationship, a void filled with assumptions and untruths. This fear is cast out when I receive God’s perfect love and choose acts of veneration - respect and honor toward others.

Veneration is best practiced in much the same way I combatted my fear of the dark as a child. In order to see others as living icons of God, I need grace to slow down, to challenge the darkness of my ignorance and to listen. Although it may be uncomfortable and every part of me may long to run away in terror, perfect love would have me linger. Perfect love—the love of God extended to me and to those around me—desires to illumine my darkness. Perfect love invites me into relationship with those that I fear; it invites me to see God.

Article by Jonathan Reavis

Paying Attention is a Form of Veneration

Recently I tried something dangerous with my sons: forging! Fires ablaze, molten hot steel, and heavy hammers wielded by an 11 and 13 year old; not usually a recipe for a successful outing but the Boy Scout troop we are a part of decided to give it a try last weekend. Like the other dads, I was brimming with manly excitement on the day the campout began. I knew nothing of forging but I made a quick study on youtube and purposed to pound out three railroad spike knives and a few great memories with the boys. However, in the process of working on our first project something happened. Through it I learned three valuable lessons about the importance of cultivating my attention rigorously in order to live a life of love and veneration.

After our first few blows against the cold anvil steel, I placed our railroad spike in the flame of the forge to heat up again. I then turned to reposition the tools but by the time I turned back, half of the spike had melted away! One minute we were making a blade worthy of the Dwarfs of the Lonely Mountain, the next all we had was a molten twig like the leftovers from a sparkler on the 4th of July! In an instant I learned that when you are forging, nothing, not one thing, can overtake your attention.  

Cultivate attention to preparation
Here in lies my first lesson. I should have spent more time surveying the setup, prepare the tools, and coordinating roles with my son before we began. The Scripture says in Luke 14:28, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has what is needed to complete it?” Attention to preparation is an essential part of any work worth undertaking but I was too excited to slow down and prepare properly. Additionally, my son’s excitement to get started was hard to resist. Like a young man with zeal but little knowledge, I thrust the project into the fire before all was prepared and ultimately paid the price. I believe this lesson is as true in forging as it is in my work, my prayer life, and especially in my relationships. 

Cultivate my attention daily and purposefully
You should have seen the disappointment on my son’s face when he realized that the early form of his blade was now only slag in the fire. Slag is what you dig out of the coal ash when you make a mistake like this—molten rock and metal fused into a useless lump. His disappointment lingered almost as long as the oily soot on his cheeks that day. I felt terrible as if somehow I had caused his distress directly. He tried to hide his frustration as he sat on a stump near the forge but would not speak for a long while. Here is where I learned my second lesson: if I do not cultivate my attention daily and purposefully, accidents happen and these can strain the relationships with those I love the most. Now, I can rationalize this accident, size it up against “real trauma” and say it wasn’t my fault, but I know that would be just another distraction. I needed to pay attention to my son’s disappointment and look into my failing, the slag in the bottom of the forge of my own heart, to remind myself of why deep intentionality with my attention is worth the effort.

Cultivate attention to the state of my heart
As my son and I returned to salvage the project the best we could, another problem arose. It kept taking longer to heat the spike and make it pliable. The fire was quickly waning. A more experienced friend taught us why. In forging, slag builds up over time as a natural process of creating and can plug the fan beneath the flames and kill the fire. A good blacksmith, he said, pays attention to the flame and periodically sifts the coals, dredges up the slag, and removes it. 

As I reflected on this later, I remembered that St. Paul wrote about slag in his letter to the Church in Rome when he said, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...” (Rom 3:23).  Slag builds up in my heart and removing it is critical to keeping the fires of inspiration hot. Simply put, I need to cultivate attention to the state of the flame in the forge of my heart. I know to do this but regularly I let my attention get drawn away by distractions. I know how to remove the slag too. For me this is regular confession to God in quiet reflection daily. I’m embarrassed to admit how difficult it is to make time to do that. In my heart there are projects incomplete, bits of intentions left undone, and parts of prayers dangling mid-sentence—all melted away in moments of distraction. No wonder the fires of inspiration flicker somedays! I am so thankful for learning this third lesson.

My wife has a quote on the chalkboard in our house by Simone Weil, a French philosopher, Christian mystic, and political activist, that says, “Attention is the purest form of generosity.” I appreciate that reminder. Learning to cultivate my attention is a form of charity, veneration and love that takes sacrifice and practice, especially in my work at RS and with my family. 

There are so many exciting projects but without attention to preparation, accidents will happen. There are people who count on me and our RS team daily who are struggling to survive and succeed, and without my cultivating attention daily I will inadvertently disappoint and fail those who I care for the most and finally, I need to lead by example in cultivating attention to my heart and removing the slag to keep the flame burning hot enough to be effective. There is no greater gift I can give myself and those I love than well cultivated attention. 

By the end of the weekend my sons and I had completed three railroad spike knives and polished them to a brilliant shine. We were exhausted but I had learned a lot about an ancient art and the cultivation of my attention as an act of generosity, love, and veneration.

Article by Fr. Justin Mathews, Executive Director of Reconciliation Services.

Veneration as Celebration

As a mother of three boys, I know the power of celebration. It is one of a mother’s many responsibilities, to celebrate. I rejoice in the accomplishments and milestones of my guys. I watch them grow and learn, always looking for moments to celebrate, to venerate. And when the awards don’t come and the race is not won, I still encourage my kids, I still value them, I still celebrate and venerate them.

It is easy to celebrate a child, especially our own. We see such joy, such potential. We may even see our own strengths and influences in those celebratory moments. And in their innocence and humility, children see little shame in seeking praise. So, we readily celebrate small things. We honor the mundane. We venerate them simply because of who they are.

At Reconciliation Services we talk often of the mission to see each person we come in contact with as a unique person created by God and therefore worthy of veneration, celebration, honor. That word honor is synonymous with both venerate and celebrate.

That connection between celebration as veneration was so tangible to me recently.

It was a very active Friday night meal at RS. It was a cheerful energy, the kind that good food and intense conversation can conjure. Sometimes in that crowd there is a quiet celebration waiting to happen. Sometimes I am blessed enough to get to be in on it.

David walked in and greeted me as he often does.

“Do you remember me?” he asked. “Of course I do, David. I haven’t see you in awhile.” He told me he had a birthday recently. “I turned 52,” he said. I congratulated him of course and told him that I, too, recently had a birthday. He pointed out that I share a birthday with his uncle and then he named several people he knew with birthdays near my own. He recalled each person’s age and birthdate.  “You’re really good at remembering dates,” I told him. “Yeah, people say I am pretty good with numbers,” he said.

Then he reached inside his big winter coat and pulled out an envelope. He opened the envelope, which had his name neatly written on the front. “Would you like to sign my birthday card?” he asked. “Of course I would. Thanks for asking.”

David is a tall, quiet man. There is no arrogance in him. He is guileless and simple and gentle. He often wears multiple coats and carries a black leather satchel. You won’t likely see him without his hat on or a hood pulled up over his head. He is poor. He is homeless.

At first, I felt quite sad for him. Had he been carrying that card around for days just hoping someone would know, would ask to sign it? Only, David wasn’t sad. He was smiling, like he always does, and he was excited to see me sign his card. It wasn’t a sorry attempt at pity or attention. David didn’t announce his birthday to the room full of people gathered for the Friday night free meal at Reconciliation Services. Surely we would have sung to him, congratulated him, patted him on the back. He didn’t make his way around the room adding signature after signature to his precious birthday card. He asked me, just me.

David offered me a personal invitation to know him, to celebrate him. He made himself so vulnerable to me and in turn challenged me to be vulnerable too. I don’t like to feel vulnerable. I like my boundaries. I can serve the Friday night meal with a smile and willingly pour cup after cup of lemonade and wipe table after table. I keep moving. I keep doing.

David’s invitation was immediate and profound. It couldn’t be hurried or brushed aside. He cut right through my walls and said, “See me.” Was he an angel sent by God to test me, to prove me? Was it the voice of God Himself, saying, “I invite YOU”? Perhaps.

I’ve never carried around my own birthday card, seeking signatures. But I do long to be known, to be celebrated. David’s openness really challenged me. It brought me back to that place at my very core that longs to be close to God, to welcome his participation, his presence. Being vulnerable with one another makes this closeness possible--closeness with one another and closeness with God. We return to that celebrated state, that place of veneration, where we honor and are very much honored as well.

Can celebration be as simple as signing a homeless man’s birthday card? Yes, it is a good place to begin.

I remember you David. I see you. Thank you for inviting me to celebrate you, to venerate you. And thank you for venerating and celebrating me also.

Article by Jodi Mathews

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

Approaching the Homeless as Icons of Christ or as Problems to be Fixed

Sometime last Fall, my wife and I went to see a movie. I cannot recall the film’s title, which might speak to how forgettable it was. The events that transpired after we left the theater however, left a lasting impression in my mind. As we walked toward our car which we left in a grocery store parking lot, we encountered a couple, a man and women in their mid to late forties, asking passers-by for help acquiring the items on their grocery list. The two were homeless, which I gathered from the repeated petition offered to multitudes of disinterested strangers: “Will you help the homeless this evening?” This man and woman were “the homeless,” and I was the “not-homeless.” As the couple approached us, I directed my attention toward the man, a tall, thin figure with tired eyes, and answered his question timidly, “I might be able to. What do you need?” Before he could answer, his companion interjected, “oh no, he doesn’t want to help us.” She obviously picked up on the poorly masked hesitation in my voice. I was used to being asked for money while walking the streets of Kansas City and had prepared myself to resist a sob story that culminated in asking me for whatever spare change I had in my pocket.

The man gestured for his partner to be quiet and went on to explain to me that they were indeed homeless and that they had two kids. He explained that his family hadn’t eaten properly for about a day and hadn’t bathed for longer. He told me that if I could just get them something to eat, and maybe some toothpaste, it would help them out a lot. As he was explaining their situation, the woman watched me skeptically. I was unnerved by her cynicism, but I was even more shaken by the fact that she had called me on my feigned generosity. So, in an effort to prove to her (and perhaps to myself) that I was actually a really caring person, I entered the grocery store, bought a couple boxes of Cliff bars, a tube of toothpaste and a pack of toilet paper, and presented the couple with my offering. The man looked almost surprised that I had actually come back with something and that I hadn’t just pretended like I was going into the grocery story only to find a covert way back to my vehicle. He thanked me with a smile and then timidly asked me if I wouldn’t mind also buying them some soap. In my eagerness to yet again prove my kindness, I bolted for the grocery store doors before the man could finish his sentence. As I entered the store, the woman shouted after me to pick up some soda for the kids, if I could. This last request gave me cause to stop momentarily, but moments later, I emerged with a shopping bag containing two bars of soap and a six pack of orange soda under my arm. As I presented the couple with my second round of gifts however, I was met with looks of disappointment. The couple preferred a two-liter bottle to the six pack and liquid body wash to the bars of soap. I became immediately embarrassed and slightly offended. Why were they being overly demanding and weirdly specific about the things I purchased for them out of the kindness of my heart? In my frustration, I quickly ended our interaction and hurried off to my car explaining that “I had to be somewhere.”

As my wife and I drove away from the parking lot, I reflected on my reaction to the couple’s requests. Then I remembered, from an experience traveling without a guaranteed place to stay, that it was ideal to minimize the clutter I had to carry with me. Perhaps the couple preferred the two liter bottle because it was less unwieldy than six loose cans. Maybe they didn’t want bars of soap because they probably didn’t have a personal bathroom. It’s much easier to carry around a bottle of liquid body wash that has a lid and can be easily stored. It was well into the evening by the time we had encountered the couple. They had likely been asking for help most of the afternoon and had probably been met with mostly cold shoulders and aggressive rejections. Perhaps they weren’t being overly-demanding, they may have just wanted to get what they actually needed when I offered to help.

Most people know what they need, and if they don’t, why would I make assumptions? Christ himself, who by all accounts is the most qualified person to make such judgments, served people first by listening to them. In Matthew 20, when Jesus healed two blind men that were being silenced by the crowd, He listened to them. He ignored the mob and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” When Jesus met a Samaritan woman in John 4, he first asked her for a drink of water and offered her living water while unpacking her life story. In my interaction with the homeless couple, I didn’t listen to them. I was too distracted by how their need reflected on me and my virtue. I didn’t approach them as people, but as problems to be fixed.

The overarching value that drives the work of RS is veneration–the act of honoring and reverencing everyone as living icons of Christ. Catholic theologian and philosopher Jean Luc Marion makes a profound distinction between icons and idols. He says, “Whereas the idol results from the gaze that aims at it, the icon summons sight in letting the visible be saturated little by little with the invisible” (God Without Being, 19). In other words, idols are static images created by us; icons are persons that bear the presence of God. Idols reflect the image of the self, icons reflect the image of God. I created idols out of the homeless couple when I only saw them as objects of my philanthropy instead of the very presence of Christ.

Regrettably, I don’t remember the names of the couple I met last Fall. At the time, they existed only as members of a category: the homeless, and I made homeless idols from them. I could only hear and see what I wanted to hear and see. But veneration requires that I listen. It requires humility and the admission that I don’t actually know all the facts. It requires patience and an awareness that a person knows their own story better than I do.

I am grateful for what I learned about myself through interacting with this couple. They were a gift to me and a catalyst for a change of heart and attitude within me. My desire is to be able to cast aside the idols of my own insecurity and learn to really venerate the living icons around me.

Article by Jonathan Reavis.

Making a Heartfelt Connection

At Christmas time so many people are moved with compassion to volunteer. They come to help others but often by the end of the meal I hear them say, “I got more out of volunteering than the guests received tonight!”  I know from experience that what may seem like a passing comment is actually a sign of God’s presence. So, I listen in! Often, in moments like these a heartfelt connection is being made between the person who is serving and the people who are being served. This is a connection that can be kindled and can grow with time. Youth volunteers, in moments like these often make heartfelt connections that impact the course of their lives: to believe, to love, to let down defenses, to become a neighbor to someone in need. I want to share a story from my own life that illustrates the point.

I was only seventeen when I left Kansas City one Fall bound for Reynosa, Mexico. I was one of twenty rowdy teenagers traveling in a conversion van loaded with plywood, tools and song books. We were going to Reynosa to build homes for the homeless. Our work site for the next five days would be a dry lake bed that had been turned into a city trash dump. This pile of decaying waste, just across the border from San Antonio TX, served as a squatters camp for the most vulnerable of this little barrio.

Jose and his family lived close to the edge of the dump. He worked odd jobs and his family picked through the trash for recyclables to sell or reuse. They had just enough money to survive but not enough to afford proper shelter. Every night the family of nine crammed into an immobile, beige and rust colored station wagon to sleep. I worked with my friends to build a “house” for Jose’s family. In reality it was little more than the shed my parents used for storing their lawnmower. I felt so good about how we were helping Jose’s family and my part in it. Truth be told however, I had not actually spoken with Jose and I only knew a sketch of his life story from our group leaders. The distance dividing my life from his was vast. In spite of my sincere desire to help and be really present, I realized I didn’t have a heartfelt connection with Jose or his family.

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On our final day in Reynosa, as the last shingle was nailed down on Jose’s new roof, he surprised us by preparing a special meal. On metal folding tables, surrounded by multi-colored plastic chairs, was a spread of food. To us twenty teenagers it seemed like a spread intended for the show Bizarre Foods. There were meats of unknown origin sitting in uncovered dishes in the hot sun. There were sugar cane coca colas in glass bottles, boiled cactus and all manner of other supposedly edible things. Honestly, I was afraid to eat most of it and I wasn’t the only one! Our group leader who sensed a rapidly approaching and, potentially disastrous moment, whispered in English, “You are all going to eat everything on that table and smile! This meal represents months of wages for Jose and his family. They want to eat with you to thank you.” We blessed the food and I cautiously nibbled my first bit of cooked cactus. Soon I was gobbling up the scrumptiously authentic Mexican feast!

As we broke tortillas together and shared a bottle of soda, I felt God’s presence. I realized at that meal there were no longer rich volunteers and a homeless family, we were simply friends breaking bread and giving thanks. Right then my relationship with Jose and my understanding of his “needs” and my role in “helping” radically shifted into proper alignment. As we finished supper and prepared to leave, I was unexpectedly moved to tears and my chest ached hard. I had made the heartfelt connection with Jose that was initially missing between us. I know I received more from Jose and his family than they received from me! I am forever indebted to them.

Do you remember a time when you made a mutual heartfelt connection when serving someone in need? I would love to hear about it. Share your experiences in the comment below.

Article by Fr. Justin Mathews, Executive Director of Reconciliation Services.

 

Practicing the Art of Thanksgiving

Last Friday I wiped tears and a bit of drool from the unshaven chin of Stevie, an elderly African American Korean war Veteran leaning against his walker as he sobbed and said, “I still love you…” He wavered as he watched a much younger woman wearing a blonde wig get on the bus in front of RS at 31st and Troost. I wasn’t sure of their connection but I was sure of my role in that moment: to help him begin to give thanks in the midst of his circumstances to overcome his sadness. Stevie and I went inside and sat down to eat a hot meal together.

Thanksgiving is a powerful weapon against sadness when practiced well. It is a way of life and a worldview. Some even say it is what we were created to do - to give thanks. But I will be the first to admit that giving thanks takes practice. I see much around me that I am not thankful for - violence, drugs, poverty, apathy, trauma, abuse, and neglect. If I were not careful to daily practice thanksgiving I know I would be overwhelmed.

I believe every person can find strength in difficult circumstances by practicing the art of thanksgiving. Here are four of my practices that you may find helpful:

1. Look for things worthy of thanks. I’m learning to look for things worthy of thanksgiving everywhere. Sometimes giving thanks can be hard because my eyes are not trained to see thankfully, so to speak. There is so much negativity in this world that glimmers for my attention. It is easy to squander time on unworthy things but all around me, even in blighted neighborhoods, war zones and crumbling circumstances, there are things worthy of thanks and praise. I just have to refocus to see them. This means slowing down, becoming more aware and paying attention to the beauty that is actually there - everywhere present and filling all things. I have walked Troost since 2008 and I have seen the purple chicory that pushes through cracks in the sidewalk concrete, I have heard the laughter of friends at the bus stop, I have gazed at artful old building cornices and celebrated the diversity of people living in the city. When I refocus, thankfully all is transformed!

2. Get to know the people in your neighborhood. I’m learning that the more I build relationships with people the more I am thankful for them. I call this living like Mr. Rogers: “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” I’m an extrovert so talking to new people is easy for me. But building relationships can be hard for others. I’ve seen this especially at our Friday night meals where some volunteers find it difficult to come out of the kitchen. It can be hard to bridge the gap, but more often than not it’s worth the hard work. Without relationship and connection, people can become viewed as only stereotypes - black, white, lazy, rich, poor, powerful, weak, etc. What I’ve learned is that once I take time to get to know someone’s story the stereotypes fade and it’s easier to find common ground. Then, I can give thanks for them. An added benefit is I get to share my own story too.

3. Let the history around you infuse the present. I began studying the 200 year history of Troost Avenue when I began volunteering with RS in 2008 - I was amazed. I found out I work near to where famous people used to live at the turn of the century. Geographically, this was one of the the highest points in KC (years before the skyscrapers were constructed) on land that was once a 165 acre plantation with forty slaves. Across the street stood the old Majestic Theater where jazz legends played. All of a sudden the floor tiles of the old department store in the building RS now calls home, echoed with the heels of shoppers and vacant lots came alive. I’ve learned that the way things are now can make more sense by understanding the way things were then. I value the history of Troost and its people more by understanding how Troost got where it is today. By reading about the history of the place in which I find myself, I venerate it and give thanks for it.

4. Give thanks with others. I love sharing songs and stories. In doing so I am practicing the art of giving thanks by giving thanks with others. Without this sharing aspect my thanksgiving is somehow incomplete. I’ve found that people who share their thankful thoughts are contagious. Their thanksgiving can brighten my day or de-escalate a tense conversation. When I feel overwhelmed by my own circumstances giving thanks is a quick way to gain perspective again. Sometimes I even keep a journal of thanks and return to it when I need encouragement.

Every Thanksgiving holiday I recite at the dinner table Thank you, O Lord, the last sermon given by Father Alexander Schmemann given on Thanksgiving day 1983. These powerful words were uttered in the church at St. Vladimir’s seminary, where he was ordained just two weeks before he lost his swift battle with cancer. He begins his sermon by saying, “Anyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation!”

As we seek to practice a life of thanksgiving may it become salvific for each one of us. May thanksgiving help us discover joy in unexpected places and people and may this joy be contagious to those around us.

As you seek to practice the art of thanksgiving, what often overlooked things are you thankful for? Leave your comments below.

Article by Fr. Justin Mathews, Executive Director of Reconciliation Services.

What I Do Have I Give You

We are continually confronted with those in need. Sometimes it may seem obvious. Other times it is not as easy to see the need. One Thanksgiving I drove up to an on-ramp for the highway and a man, who looked homeless, held a sign that read, "Why lie? Need money for beer." Another time, while working at the Nashville Rescue Mission, I had a woman tell me that in one day she made $400 while panhandling. Then there was a time I was driving to church in Tennessee and noticed a man lying in the ditch next to the off ramp. He was shaking violently and obviously in need of medical attention.

At first glance or first interaction, we might balk at someone's motives or assume many things about their character or how they ended up where they are. Only in relationship with people do we begin to understand their story, what brought them to this place of need. After a little bit of time and conversation I found out that the guy with the beer sign didn't really want to buy beer. He was trying to use humor to attract attention, hoping someone would offer to help him get home since he was stranded. The woman who seemed to be raking it in by panhandling, was living in fear for her life due to abuse and the only place she had to stay was the shelter. She lacked the confidence and know-how to move herself beyond the street corner. And I picked up the guy in the ditch. As I drove him to the hospital, I learned that he was a veteran with severe PTSD and was suffering demented tremors due to alcohol withdrawal. 

Yes, some people who panhandle are lazy, but many are infirm, abused, traumatized, alone. Without relationship, how can we discern these things? Truly, anyone who is standing on a corner begging, who places themselves under that scrutiny and possible humiliation, has some secret sadness, longing, something in need of redemption and restoration.

These interactions, and many more like them, have forced me to think more deeply about the panhandler, the beggar, the drunk. We often ask the wrong questions when we come in contact with someone panhandling. Do they really need my money? What if they buy beer or drugs? Why don't they get a job? Don't they have more dignity than to beg?

These are not the most important questions. This approach does not put us face-to-face with a person in need, but rather a nuisance or problem to be handled. Rather than trying to justify their need or our role in rescuing, I propose that we instead practice mercy, stewardship, veneration, and preparation. 

Practice Mercy: Mercy is hard. Mercy gets in the way of what we really want--justice and fairness. Mother Teresa said, "If you judge people, you have no time to love them." When we turn our hearts towards mercy, we find that it is difficult to judge. It is difficult to accuse and suspect. Mercy can be a powerful act, especially when dealing with our enemies or those we feel are undeserving of it. Mercy means you see the other person, even in their sin and brokenness, even in the consequences of their own choices, and you love anyway. Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy." It can mend the heart and restore faith. Consider how others have shown you mercy ... even when you didn't deserve it. 

Practice Stewardship: There really is no such thing as a "self-made" man. We are who we are because of the love and labor of those who came before us and those who surround and support us. We cannot regard ourselves as powerful possessors, but rather as faithful managers of all we have. The Scriptures remind us that to those who have been given much (and I would add earned much), much is expected. St. John of Kronstadt was a faithful priest in Russia at the end of the 19th Century who served the poorest of the poor. He said, "As the sun, the air, fire, water and earth are all common to us, so also in part are food and drink, money, books and in general all the Lord's gifts shared in common; for they are given in common to all, and yet are easily divisible for distribution amongst many." Inasmuch as you are a member of a family, a community, a human race, steward rightly your time, talent and treasures. Part of being a good steward is giving. Give for the good of others and out of gratitude for what you have been given.

Practice Veneration: When we practice veneration we find that we cannot despise anyone for their appearance or their asking. We should be respectful and hold good intentions towards everyone, especially the poor. Everyone is worthy of compassion and respect as each person is a living icon of God, made in His image. To disrespect this icon is to cruelly wound our own soul. But it is difficult to love and venerate our neighbor. Sometimes they are very unlovable and the image of God is hard to see. In learning to practice veneration we should attempt to be without suspicion, doubt, or a tendency towards minute investigation. Jesus said, inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto me. To be kind, brotherly, open-handed and loving towards our neighbor is to share and participate in extending God's love to all around us. 

Practice Preparation: Oftentimes I carry a dollar or two with me during the day to be sure that I have something to give, at least to the first few people that ask. Practice preparation by thinking about how you will respond before you are asked. If we do not have money to give we can still give our attention, a smile, and the respect of listening without judgement. I try to prepare myself not to question or judge the story that goes along with a request for money. But you do not always have to give what is being asked of you in order to be merciful. In the book of Acts the apostles were walking by a man who was begging for money and when asked, Peter responded, "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you." 

One simple way of practicing preparation is to direct someone to professional resources that are available at places like Reconciliation Services, where trained staff and volunteers are ready to help those most in need. On our website under the programs tab you can find out more about the many services we offer.

As the Thanksgiving holiday arrives, how can you express your thanksgiving by practicing mercy, stewardship, veneration and preparation? Follow us on Facebook and leave a comment about how you practice these things. 
 

Thanksgiving: A Time For Expressing Gratitude

The season surrounding Thanksgiving is perhaps my favorite. As family members make plans to visit, we begin preparations for the highlight of the holiday: the Thanksgiving meal. Not only do we make room for our guests during this season, we welcome extra hands ready to perform various tasks. In the kitchen, everyone is given a role. Perhaps an uncle runs to the market to fetch the turkey, a sister boils and mashes the potatoes, or a brother prepares a pie pan for pumpkin filling with the help of mother. Around the Thanksgiving table, everyone has a place and everyone has a job.

The Thanksgiving meal bears a lot of similarity to the high point in Orthodox Christian liturgical worship: the Eucharist. This word comes from the Greek word meaning “thanksgiving,” and is best expressed as the bringing together of many to share in a holy meal. A Eucharistic act—an act of Thanksgiving—is truly recognizing that everything we have is a gift, our gratitude compels us to share what we have with others. In so doing, we receive the invaluable gift of the presence of God and the joyful presence of others. This Eucharistic vision of generous thanksgiving is at the heart of our work at RS. We strive to create an atmosphere where everyone has a place because many of the people that walk through our doors do not have that important sense of belonging.

A couple of months ago, a young man named Thomas came to us needing assistance finding a job. A major barrier to his acquiring employment was the fact that he didn’t possess any form of identification and did not have the $25 to secure it. After completing our digital literacy training program, which gave him the tools necessary to search and apply for a job online, Thomas was able to acquire a state ID through our Document Assistance Program. He then spent weeks applying for jobs online using our internet cafe, and his efforts were rewarded: Thomas accepted employment as a cashier at Home Depot. This Thanksgiving there are so many others like Thomas coming to RS to find a place to belong.

For many within our community like Thomas, RS exists as the only place that offers the kind of love and warmth that surrounds the Thanksgiving meal. Our work to provide that place is only made possible through your gifts.

This Thanksgiving will you consider giving a generous one-time gift of $25, $50, $100 or even more to provide a place of belonging and the hope that so many others need? Your help would mean so much right now. Please join us and all our guests around the table of Thanksgiving by supporting the work of RS with your kind donation!

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.