June 4 2008
variation of gun-totin chaplain cover
Great newspaper article of the book, Gun Totin Chaplain and interview with author.

Order Gun-Totin' Chaplain

Kelly Thomas

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

Barack Obama has recently resigned from his Church, the UCC (United Church of Christ), in Chicago. All of us are familiar with the controversy over the remarks of his now former pastor. I didn't get very excited as I understand preachers like the good Reverend Wright since I "are" one.

Preachers have to stroke their ego, create controversy, stir the mix, fire the people up with outrageous statements and views of oppression. The demomination, UCC, was created out of several other denominations and has moved to where much of their leadership are minorities. Minorities have felt oppressed. Reverend Wright has made a theme out of the issue and I understand. Obama resigned, he said, so that simply he would not have to deal with it, nor would the Church-too distracting (my paraphrased view).

Democratic presidential candidate and US Senator Barack Obama talks with a clerk before buying a necklace for his wife at a gift shop in Rapid City, South Dakota May 31, 2008.
(Rick Wilking/Reuters)
(Rick Wilking/Reuters)

I continue to be amazed at how religion seems to dominate so much of the political life of our nation; it's crazy in so many ways. Recently, I saw a "B" movie in a sense, Brooklyn Rules.

So much of Brooklyn Rules, amidst the "f" word, had to do with being a Catholic: the Virgin Mary, the total lack of reality in tying everyday living to the Church. "Let's go out and kill someone, go to Church and possibly confess, get forgiven for our sins and then be cleansed and ready for our next murder." Really!

Think about it. The views of the fanatical Islamists are somewhat similar to the Brooklyn Catholics. The Brooklyn Catholics, however, are not going to blow the infidels up nor think that they are getting seventy-eight virgins in heaven. However, if I had a pulpit and preached this, I could stir folks up; and, if a member of my Congregation was a possible future president, look out here comes the news media. Get it?

n this May 19, 2008 file photo, Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is escorted to the stage by tribal members at rally in Crow Agency, Mont. Montana's rural, overwhelmingly white voters would seem to play perfectly to the strengths of Democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., but observers and polls say she will have a tough time winning the June 3 Montana primary.
(AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)
(AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)

I recently saw this letter to the editor, "Not to be outdone by Obama's pastor problems, John McCain turns down another pastor's endorsement from a preacher who said that God sent Hitler to help the Jews reach the promise land. All these wacko preachers make me 'thank God' I'm an atheist." I liked it.

Just when you are at the point of shaking your head at how people use religion to convey such idiotic views or for their own purposes-making hypocrisy the rule rather than the exception-along comes something or someone that makes you stop and think.

Vincent Pannizzo, "Preacherman", a former PHD candidate, gave up life's comforts to preach to the homeless on the streets of East Oakland.

This someone was the subject of an article in the local paper. He is a young preacher in Oakland, California who somewhat mirrors the ministry of Jesus: walking among the down and out, dope heads, the poor.

From the account, there doesn't seem to be any reward for him personally, but I am slightly worried that now he has attained some notoriety, he might go "south" himself. It has happened before.

The "Preacherman" as he is called, has a flock of about 50 who mostly sleep on the streets. He gave up a comfortable life, a wife and child, and a possible PhD at Berkeley. What gives? He shows up seven nights a week-rain or shine-to gently sermonize and pass out sandwiches, blankets, and a few dollars he makes through day labor. There may be one chink in his armor: giving away money to dopers, etc., might be a motivator for them to show up and listen. But, overall, a minor thing.

It surely appears that the "Preacherman" believes his preaching. His message is very simple and basic and right out of the gospels. His prayer, "Lord, help us against the cold, the poverty, the loneliness, and keep us on the right path so we can love our brothers and sisters."

He works on odd jobs as a carpenter, hmmmmmmmmmm-sounds familiar: 'At his 30 minute service, he hands out a few dollars to each-about $50 from a deck rebuild job he had done--blankets and food.' "I don't expect people to become saints listening to me, I just hope they walk away with seeds in them that someday will flower. I want them to live better lives."

What gives? What would cause someone to give up a good life to live life on the streets with some elusive idea of helping people? Preacherman is a graduate of Rutgers. "I'm not nuts. I'm basically just a regular guy. But at one point I began really reading the Scriptures, and they really blew me away. God gave me faith. This is what I must do."

He got married right after college and was into his doctorate when he received the "calling." The marriage hit the skids when his wife couldn't deal with the homeless sleeping in their home. Yeah! "That was terribly difficult but we just disagreed about how I do this work, and I can respect how she felt." His ex-wife moved back East. He rarely sees her or his son. "It hurts like a thousand darts in my heart not to see them, but this is the path God has chosen for me."

The Preacherman's Mom said that "he was not an unusually devout Catholic growing up. She thinks his transformation began when, as a history PhD candidate, he began reading the Bible in one of its ancient Aramaic-language versions." The Mom says, "My son is a hard worker and a good man, but he simply dropped out of school and chose his calling."

The last time she visited him was about three years ago. "I didn't know where he was, but all I had to do was go to East Oakland and ask around to the homeless people. They all knew him."

Preacherman said he didn't start sleeping outside until four years ago when he decided the best way to reach his audience was to live like them. He sold his collection of 300 scholarly books, turned in his apartment key, and hit the streets. "It was pretty scary taking that step and I do miss the comforts, my family, all those things. But this is where God led me. And I will be out here until He has other plans." One non-homeless says of the Preacherman, "I was never that religious, but when you see the effect he has on these people who are just trying to survive, I have to say this: "You can feel God's love in him."

Contrast the Preacherman to Reverend Wright, Obama's pastor, or these mega church preachers. I am amazed. What would lead a promising young man who wanted to be a college professor to preach on the streets of Oakland like Jesus?

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