Saturday, September 13, 2008

What if Jesus needed a hot meal?

Last weekend I helped on the St. Vincent de Paul society mobile kitchen aka "The Breakfast Bus." It's an awesome idea - an old school bus with the seats removed, re purposed as a little diner on wheels. Five of us helped the bus' founder, Gerry, serve breakfast near a downtown parish.

I was cool with my orders to wear gloves and dish up sausage gravy over biscuits, but I was a little nervous about our homeless clientele. Gerry, of course, had no qualms. He saw a nomadic-looking guy out the window, and with a holler of "Hey, you want breakfast?" we were off and running.

The little benches on the bus tables filled and re-filled quickly as homeless men ate and left. They were all polite and grateful. One guy even passed up on seconds because "Jesus said don't be greedy." Jesus also said "whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me." Treating those men like Jesus meant offering them love and respect, but also treating them like regular people. That really came home for me when our bus full of poverty-stricken men started discussing the Cardinals and Rams' seasons. They were just regular guys who happened to be in a tough spot that day. I don't know their life stories, how they got the way they are, or if they will ever be better off. All I know is that I served them sausage links, and they said thank you.

The most dumbfounding part of the day were Gerry's stories about the health department. Recently a grouchy inspector wanted to shut him down. The man wouldn't listen to reason or Gerry's detailed explanations of how his sink and stove were up to code. It took some serious name dropping to get the inspector to lay off.

What was that guy's problem? It's not like Gerry was making people sick or ripping them off. He keeps the food hot and the dishes clean. He's helping people, for crying out loud. I am discovering that effective charity demands not only the courage to care, but also the patience to wade through red tape. Like the 80+ page HHS grant we have a month to prepare. Or the tax forms I keep Xeroxing for our proposals. We've gotta "render to Caesar," but was Caesar ever grateful for just a plate of scrambled eggs?

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