A blog by Bill Hess

Running Dog Publications

Support Logbook
Index - by category
Blog Index
The journal that this archive was targeting has been deleted. Please update your configuration.
« Technical glitch causes Loft final day delay, so I go local: the wind blows; my weekend wife; when the night lights of Wasilla outdo those of Times Square | Main | David Alan Harvey Loft Workshop, entry # 17: Times Square, p6: chosen from above »

David Alan Harvey Loft Workshop, entry # 18: Times Square, p7: Street Preacher - Read the Bible. Believe in Jesus. Go to Heaven.

Those who have been with this series from its beginning, seemingly so long ago but now nearly done, will recall that I first ventured out from the workshop hoping to shoot a photo essay on Mormon missionaries at work in New York City, but I could not gain the cooperation of the top mission authority. My effort failed. Next, I set out to photograph street preachers in New York City. I wandered here, I wandered there, and found not one street preacher.

By the final shooting afternoon of the workshop, I did not have a single image upon which, in the short time left, I could possibly build a photo essay. My workshop mates had all experienced pain and frustration as they underwent the sometimes withering, yet always building and somehow always encouraging, critiques of David Alan Harvey, but now all had essays of power and beauty coming together. I, alone, had nothing. I, alone, charged rapidly down Humiliation Road.

In desperation, I turned to Times Square, to see what kind of secular religion I could find there.

On the final evening, I had barely arrived back on Times Square to see how I might finish off my final shooting hours when I set off to cross the road and suddenly found myself facing this fellow, brandishing his cross like a weapon: "Repent, sinner," he greeted me, "The hour of the Lord is at hand."

A street preacher! A missionary! At work in New York City! I was overjoyed. I quickly shot this picture.

We chatted and I took a few more images, the level of wild-eyed, seeming insanity, grew stronger in each one. He told me that he was Russian Orthodox, but also named a litany of faiths that he said he had previously served. Soon, maybe, he said, he would take on another faith. He would then be out here preaching on behalf of that faith, too.

I have met many Russian Orthodox people, priests included, and none of them look quite like he does. I soon realized that he was not really a street preacher at all - but an impersonator, an actor, employed by no one but himself, even if perhaps he sometimes believed the role he played was real, that he was who he impersonated. Disappointed, I moved on to try and finish off my Times Square secular religion essay - as you have seen it unfold.

The hours passed. I kept busy, shooting this, shooting that, worried sick the whole time. I had discovered that I did not have my iPhone. I was certain I had left the loft with it. I feared I must have lost it on the subway. Off and on throughout the evening, I stopped tourists and asked them to call my number. Some shunted me aside. Some called.

None got a response. I had one fellow send a text to my number, with instructions on who to call, should anyone receive it. A couple of times, I got so upset about that phone, I wanted to give up, go back to the loft, proclaim this trip to be a lost cause and sulk. Instead, I shot and shot and shot.

Then I decided I had more pictures than I would be able to deal with. I was tired. I was hungry. I had hours of editing ahead of me between now and the morning critique session. I started back toward the subway... and then, I found this woman... extending this pamphlet toward me. She spoke: "Read the Bible. Believe in Jesus. Go to Heaven."

I accepted her pamphlet, which I would have done even if I had not wanted to photograph her. I would have done so not to be converted but because I have been a missionary. She was growing old. She had undertaken a miserable task - to stand on the street in a worldly, secular, place, admonishing an endless river of flowing, mostly uninterested and indifferent tourists to, "Read the Bible. Believe in Jesus. Go to Heaven."

I did not know the forces and experiences of her life that had brought her to preach in Times Square, but I did know her ultimate goal - to find joy, if not in this life, then in the life thereafter.

Furthermore, in an odd sort of way, I caught a reflection of my stalwart, ever-preaching, gently admonishing, pioneer-descended, ultimately broken-hearted, Mormon mother in her.

So of course I would have taken her pamphlet, photo or no photo, just to give her a fleeting moment of joy.

We talked for a couple of minutes and she told me her name. That was four months ago. I have forgotten, but I do not want to indifferently refer to her as "the street preacher," "the woman," or "the missionary." I want to refer to her by name. So I will call her, "Ruth," because Ruth is a good Biblical name. So is Mary, but that might be pushing things too far.

So, for the purposes of this little photo story, this street preacher is Ruth.

As you can see, although it would hurt this passing woman in no way, not everyone was willing to undertake the very simple act of accepting a pamphlet, in order that she might give an old woman a moment of joy - or even to acknowledge her presence.

In fact, few were willing to accept a pamphlet. Some, a minority, it seemed, did at least acknowledge Ruth's presence.

Ah, a child!

"Suffer little children and forbid them not to come unto Me; for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven."

So spoke Jesus Christ, as quoted in the Bible, King James Version - King James being the version I grew up with. I think Mom practically had all of King James memorized. I do not exaggerate. I know quite a bit of King James myself. King James is the only Bible I care for. There is beauty in the language of King James, beauty I find lacking in the other, bland, versions. But, reader, if you find comfort and truth in the other versions, if they speak more clearly to you than does King James, then cling to them.

It is the language of King James and also of the Book of Mormon that first put language into my head - that, and the cussing of my father. My Mormon father loved to cuss. So do I.

Damnit, anyway! For hell's sake and hell's bells. Like hell! Thora - don't give me Hell! Well, I'll be damned! So cussed my father. And so cuss I.

He pretty much kept it there, but on a few occasions when it seemed appropriate, I heard him drop even the "F" bomb - or the "S" word. And so it is with me.

I am tempted to do so right now, but I am writing about a missionary, preaching the gospel. It just doesn't feel quite right. So I won't.

Maybe later. In another post.

But I digress:

Perhaps the little child would have accepted the pamphlet, but the adult quickly shunted her on by.

Their eyes were affixed on the glitz and glamour of this world. They stood staring at whatever glowing thing they were staring at for probably two minutes. Not once did they even glance at Ruth. She kept her hand and the pamphlet extended toward them the whole time.

"Read the Bible. Believe in Jesus. Go to Heaven."

Ruth first extended the pamphlet to the middle aged couple but, their faces hardened, they turned away. A young woman walked just in front of them with a baby hanging over her front. The young woman paused, reached back, and accepted a pamphlet.

Maybe the young woman was their daughter, and the baby their grandchild, because all of sudden the expression on the face of the man changed. The man took a look at the pamphlet in the hand of the young woman. His face softened. I am a dad. When my face hardens, my daughters can easily soften it, too. 

Ruth reloaded.

Now, following the example of the young woman, the man accepted the pamphlet. The woman observed his action, but did not seem happy about it.

Yet, she took a pamphlet herself. She did not look at Ruth. She did not smile. She spoke not a word. Her face did not soften. She held the stone fast in her face... but... she did take a pamphlet.

Christian soldier Ruth had scored three for her Lord.

"Read the Bible. Believe in Jesus. Go to Heaven."

She scored another - although, again, without the slightest hint of acknowledgement of her presence, save for his acceptance of the pamphlet.

"Read the Bible. Believe in Jesus. Go to Heaven."

A group of young people, all of them fairly hip looking, came walking in a line. I wondered what they would do. "Read the Bible. Believe in Jesus. Go to Heaven," Ruth greeted them.

The young man had a heart. He accepted her pamphlet.

Then they discovered that their act, which might be called one of Christian charity, had been documented. They looked a little horrified.

"Read the Bible. Believe in Jesus. Go to Heaven."

Again and again Ruth spoke these words. Over and over and over. How many thousands, tens of thousands, perhaps, maybe even hundreds of thousands of times might these words have left her lips over the course of her ministry?

I asked her what church she served.

Jesus's church, she said.

Far, far, more people did not accept than did. At times, Ruth looked exhausted. Discouraged. It seemed that maybe she was ready to stop. But no.






"Read the Bible. Believe in Jesus. Go to Heaven."

Ruth persevered onward.


Onward Christian soldier

Marching as to war

With the cross of Jesus

Going on before.


Ruth - Christian soldier, sword in hand.

Times Square, New York City, New York, USA, Planet Earth.

Reader Comments (9)

In my little town, when I was a child, there was a woman who would stand on the corner and shout out to passersby about God. He was, in her mind, an angry God who was about to rain down destruction on all of us unworthy pissants of the world. Our only hope was to approach Him with fear and trembling, to beg Him for acceptance. She wanted us on our knees right there. She shouted her message from the street corner in front of the bank, and she did not stop. She always frightened me a little. At her side was a child about my own age who stood there in her long dark dress. I wondered what it would be like to have a mother like that, a mother that could shout forever and never grow hoarse. (Yikes!!!) Seriously Bill,this went on for all the years that I knew this town. I grew up and moved away, and 25 years later, came back. There was a woman standing on the corning preaching hell fire and damnation, and beseeching us all to fall on our knees right there.

The child had grown up.

Some folks will praise the work of 'Bible Betty', and wonder at the amount of people she has converted. Myself, I never saw anyone fall on their knees to pray with either of them. I think that fear is a fleeting thing, and does not lead to a converted life. I could be wrong.

Bible Betty no longer preaches. I am not sure what happened. If you were here, you'd surely have 100 questions for her. All I know is that I see her sometimes, stooped and pulling her little wire cart of groceries home. I rarely see her anywhere else.

January 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdebby

Wow. I like that essay a lot. I am going to go back and really study the pictures this time. I needed to read the words first. Now, I can take my time and look and look. Thank you.

January 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKathryn

Damn, damn, double damn, and Hells Bells, were two of my mother's favourite cusses. I had forgotten that. My mother's god ruled her life and in the end left her broken. I think she had the same perseverance as Ruth though in making sure the rest of us got the message. Had she lived, perhaps she would have been handing out pamphlets on some street corner. "Read the bible. Believe in Jesus. Go to Heaven."

January 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGrannyj

Thank you Bill. That was very interesting. I have never been to Times Square or even NYC. Oh, every News Year Eve I have seen shots of the crowds waiting for the ball to drop. I wonder if Ruth comes out that night to preach too?

In the little town I grew up in, I knew all 5 preachers. I would see them on our street going into the post office and if I was going in too, they would say, "Good morning, Katie." But none of them would have given me anything or preach to me. I would have to go to their church to hear them preach. Things were done differently in Iowa I guess. I liked it that way. They all knew my parents took care of my religious needs. If I did something wrong I could detect a little fire and brimstone on occasion. But they would always love me after the outburst. Mainly my father if I would come home too late and I had his car. It must not have been too bad, as he would let me take his car when I needed it later.

We had one little church who was noted for fire and brimstone. The kids in that church could not dance or go to the movies. But on occasions they would be seen coming out of the theater in a different town where their folks wouldn't see them. I know none of us would ever tell their parents we had seen them at the movie. I suppose God may have told their parents if he thought it really mattered.

In the summer we could hear the preacher raise his voice at his parishioners when we would walk thru the park on a hot night and the windows were open. It didn't sound like a very friendly place and couldn't figure out why anyone would want to go and hear someone yell at them. People must have gotten tired being yelled at as I just saw they had closed the church after 100 years. I guess they just couldn't take the yelling anymore and stayed home. Maybe they yell at each other now.

I don't think any local photographers ever took pictures inside the church of the preacher yelling, Perhaps for weddings. They had a picture of the outside of the church in the paper, but the preacher wasn't passing out pamphlets outside.

Times are changing. I doubt if you would have gotten any pictures if you visited our little town. Not street preachers, anyway. We did have a few colorful people staggering out of the bars on Saturday night. A few of them did show up in church on Sunday morning, but they never looked very happy. The wives never looked very happy either. You might have been able to do an essay on them. A before and after type situation. I guess you would just have to know the crowd.

Grant Wood captured it in a painting. That guy with the pitchfork looked like Mama had made him go to church every Sunday morning, no matter how bad his head felt. He was probably a closet drinking Baptist. I bet Mama commissioned Mr Wood to do that painting as a punishment to him. Repent! Read the Bible. Go to heaven. Perhaps Times Square has too many people and the missionaries got lost in the crowd. They really stand out in the smaller towns. Thank heaven you didn't have to capture them in oil on canvas.....on sight.

I liked Ruth. She seemed dedicated in spite of you taking her picture. Thank you.

January 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Gunka

"Ruth - Christian soldier, sword in hand.

Times Square, New York City, New York, USA, Planet Earth."

The most beautiful caption I've read in a long time.


January 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Smith

I'll act differently the next time I pass a street preacher, moved by your kind example. The photos of Ruth make my heart heavy. I see a woman whose only satisfaction in this life seems to be her belief in what comes next. Your photos are exquisite.

January 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercuriouser

The strangest thing about religion, to me, as a person that was raised with no faith and no religion, is the dogged attempts of those that have it to share it with others. I sometimes am graceful to those Jehovahs and Mormons and others that come to my door to share their beliefs, but other times I am not as polite. I mean no harm to those that catch me on a "less than patient" day and I never mean to be rude, but sometimes I don't have it "in me" to even listen to a small amount of information regarding a faith that I will never share. One can be a good citizen and help others in need without having to be a christian or mormon or any other religion. I understand the people that don't want to listen to "Ruth" or take her pamphlets. Can't we sometimes be okay without god or without religion?

That being said, your photos are beautiful and share a bit of place and time and life that only your camera captured.

I really don't want to be a curmudgeon, but sometimes I come off that way. Religion can be a sore point for those of us that don't have it and friends that don't quite understand how we can possibly live without it in our lives.

January 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAKPetMom

Debby - I would indeed and I would to photograph her - if only with her cart of groceries.

Kathryn - I hope in your second viewing, you found things that you missed the first time around. That's how it always is with me, with movies, essays, books or whatever.

Mrs. Gunka - It seems to me there is a whole book in the little scenario you just laid out. Maybe a set of books. And maybe some more Grant Wood paintings, if he were only around to still create them.

Justin - Thanks!

Curiouser - That is good, but of course not all missionaries are as benign was Ruth. I advocate civility and friendliness in any case, but, just like highly among political people, there are some missionaries or religious people who are zealots who will not allow you to have a decent conversation with them - unless you capitulate to their demands. So, be friendly, because most folks are decent, but be prepared to bail if it becomes necessary.

AkPetMom - as to your first puzzlement, there could be many reasons, but I think there are three basic ones. First, to adhere to any faith is to decide that the physical pleasures and other rewards that you must give up to be part of that faith - such as time, tithes, etc. - will be more than offset by the spiritual rewards you receive. Ofttimes, many of those rewards cannot be experienced until after you die. And I believe that no matter how strong one adheres to and believes in their religion, deep down, there is always at least an ounce of nagging doubt. So, the more you can surround yourself with others who believe as you do, and the more people you can persuade to believe as you do, the more affirming it is that your faith is true and worth the sacrifice and the less you regret giving up whatever it is your religion requires you to give up.

Also, if you sincerely believe, then you likely believe that only those who follow the gospel that you hold to will make it to "heaven," whatever your concept of heaven is. If you love people - family, friends, whatever - you do not want those people to be left behind when you go to your heaven. You want them there with you.

Third, it is a tenant of many faiths, Mormon and Jehovah's included, as well as many or most or maybe all evangelicals that you have a duty to convert as many others as possible and you will be rewarded for it. From the standpoint of the institution, it could be pointed out that the more people parishioners bring into the fold, the stronger the institution becomes economically.

I think that in my past posts I have made it clear that, while I grew up with religion, I am not religious anymore. I hold to no religious belief whatsoever. So, of course, I feel that you can be okay without God or religion. At the same time, I recognize the importance of religion in the history of my people, all people, and I respect those who have strong beliefs - so long as they do not go overboard in trying to impose their believes upon me.

In the case of Ruth, I see a great deal of difference in accepting a pamphlet from an old lady on the street who is not going to pin one down into any kind of discussion than from someone who is. Her entire spiel was 9 words. It is a simple matter to accept a pamphlet from her and then deposit it in the waste bin on the next corner if you like. When one does accept it, one causes her to feel a little bit more valuable of a human being. She get to feel just a moment of the joy that she otherwise awaits to feel on the other side.

January 24, 2012 | Registered CommenterLogbook - Wasilla - Beyond

in the workshop, we only saw two frames of Ruth, and i can't remember offhand if one of these made the final edit - but it seems that your time with Ruth yielded a much more condensed, more poignant, and more existential treatment of your essay. This is a complete story all by itself and now her expressions have a much more solid context. I'm glad you're posting the final essay, Bill, but now I'm really curious as to how you would have personally edited it, and what other mini-stories you may have shot. Most intriguing!

January 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZun Lee

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>