My first job Sunday after church was to put on a hairnet and plastic gloves and de-fat 120 chicken thighs. Not all by myself, of course; I had help. In fact, I was the slowest of the chicken de-fatters -- the others left me in the dust. But Jim and Sam kept adding to the pile of freshly-washed chicken at my elbow, so once in a while I would send a few thighs flying across the table to Susan or Jackie to reduce my backlog. They're good women; they took it well.
We were a good team, nine of us in all. it was not long before the large room filled with wonderful cooking smells, and it was not much longer before we were ready to serve.
The diners began to arrive. Old and young, most solitary but some accompanied. A Chinese man sat down at a table with his young son and elderly parents. Several Latino men shared a table with a tall, beautifully built young black man in baggy basketball shorts. Two old women sat together, and three ladies who looked dressed for church.
An expressionless young woman whose thin body and haggard face told the tale of her addiction beckoned wearily to another with the same face, who joined her for the meal. College students served them, fresh-faced kids their age, with lives so different from theirs, handing them their plates across the great gulf of experience that separated them. If any of the young people noticed how sad this was, there was no sign of it.
One man ate alone, given a wide berth by other guests. BANG,BANG!! he shouted, laughing conspiratorily at a response only he heard. BANG,BANG!! he said, again and again, and laughed. "Bang, bang in your head," a man at a nearby table said bitterly, but the first man paid no attention. His mind was elsewhere.
I remember when this soup kitchen began, filling the rudimentary kitchen and small parish hall of a small Episcopal church. That was thirty years ago. Now it has its own building, with a professional kitchen and plenty of room. Looks like it's here to stay.
The poor you have always with you, Jesus said, and it is so. In this rich country, some people line up outside churches to get something to eat. You're not supposed to say there's something very wrong with this fact, that it simply ought not to be, that it speaks a word of judgment directly to us, a word we need to hear. They'll call you a socialist.
BANG, BANG!!! the man said again, as he got up to leave. BANG, BANG!!!!