Thursday, February 17, 2011
Support for Ohio's death penalty is crumbling. Over the past month, we've witnessed remarkable activity by high profile individuals who are questioning whether Ohio is being well served by the death penalty. The most recent round of criticism came from Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul E. Pfeifer on January 19th when he said, "I think the best thing is for the governor to commute them all...and say we don't need the death penalty in Ohio any longer."
On January 25th, Terry Collins, retired director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, who witnessed 33 executions during his career, wrote an opinion editorial in the Columbus Dispatch, saying, "The reasonable course of action for state officials is to begin to have serious and thoughtful conversations about whether Ohio's death penalty remains necessary, fair and effective. My experience tells me that our justice system can be even more effective and fair without death rows and the death penalty."
A flurry of newspaper editorial boards across the state has echoed the sentiments of Justice Pfeifer and Terry Collins. The Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote on January 30th, "Ohio corrections officials are still having the wrong discussion about the death penalty." The Board went on to write that commuting all death sentences would, "bring closure to the families of victims who now must endure endless appeals...and it would guard against the chance of an innocent person being put to death."
The Toledo Blade Editorial Board said on January 31st, "It is reasonable to ask whether Ohio has applied the ultimate penalty fairly and enforced it humanely. If the answer is no, as it appears to be, then the time to debate how to improve the system is now, before anyone else is executed."
Matthew Mangino, a former district attorney, wrote an editorial in the Youngstown Vindicator on February 6, 2011, saying, "After years of reviewing death penalty verdicts rendered through a statute he helped write, Justice Pfeifer wrote, 'I have come to the conclusion that we are not well served by our ongoing attachment to capital punishment.'"
One of the most telling statements came from John Murphy, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association in an op-ed to the Cleveland Plain Dealer when he said, "If we are to seriously discuss the death penalty and related issues, perhaps we could first be clear about what the process is now and what is happening under current law." Mr. Murphys comments suggest there is a lack of understanding by, presumably, the individuals for whom he speaks (county prosecutors), as to how the current death penalty is being administered or applied.
This is eye-raising stuff.
All of the statements, opinions and editorials support the notion that momentum for change to Ohio's death penalty is building like never before. We are in the beginning stages of a statewide discussion or debate about the usefulness of Ohio's death penalty. In the coming weeks we will see legislation introduced by Representatives Ted Celeste (D) and Terry Blair (R) that will repeal the death penalty. When we know more about the proposed bill, we will send you more specifics.
OTSE's staff is digging in and preparing to turn the tide in Ohio. We invite you to join us in this work because we need all hands on deck. We need you to let us know what you're willing to do to help us repeal Ohio's death penalty. Some of the areas we need your help are the following:
• contact your state representative and senator and ask for a meeting (we can help).
• volunteer to write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper (we can help with this one, too).
• invite our staff and a speaker to your community group, faith community, school, etc.
• add your name to our sign-on letter complimenting the repeal bill.
• make your contribution to our repeal campaign.
If you're ready to join us in the campaign to abolish Ohio's death penalty, get in touch with our office today at 513-543-1585 or 216-688-1180!
We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?
I look forward to sharing more news with you in the coming weeks about our campaign to repeal the death penalty.
P.S. If you're ready to make a contribution to support our campaign to repeal Ohio's death penalty, send your check made payable to "OTSE" to 215 E. 14th Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202 today. You can also make a donation through the PayPal feature on our website by clicking on this link. Thank you!
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
--Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense
Monday, February 07, 2011
Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well."
Before the twelve were sent out to wash the feet of others, Jesus made a point of washing their feet, first. This is a great model of servant-leadership--for the twelve, not just for Jesus.
All too often, leaders forget they are servants. In outreach work, a reverse problem exists: all too often leaders forget to be served. We can be too proud, too independent, too self-assured. Some of us have accepted help in the past but have forgotten the lessons for the present. If we do not let our feet be washed, too--and let them be continually washed--we could be at risk of falling into co-dependent patterns or fostering a subtle arrogance.
We want to help "those people," and there is a distancing in those words. It is important to believe--and truly believe--that there but for the grace of God go I.
Before any of us goes into the business of doing Christian outreach work "for the poor," it may be a fine idea if we cultivate an intentional aspect of our lives where we allow ourselves to be served. Even if have already been there before, it is important to be in the present with this.
The intentional poverty of the Catholic Worker movement goes a long way toward this end. However, since the poverty is intentional, what often happens in practice is that a true solidarity with the poor is hard to achieve. Intentional poverty is not the only way to achieve this, though.
If/when the Columbus Catholic Worker is revitalized, I would like to suggest that all who participate maintain as aspect of foot washing in their lives--both the giving and receiving.
Monday, January 17, 2011
A monumental problem facing would-be entrepreneurs in impoverished nations is the lack of access to funds and others resources. Whether you want to be a goat herder in Kazakhstan or open a family restaurant in America, one universal fact is true: Businesses need investment and capital. However, folks from villages in Mongolia, Uganda, El Salvador and the Philippines have difficulty securing loans.
A downside of capitalism is that the best way to get a traditional loan is to have the ability to pay it back! Banks try to avoid risk by lending to people with a good credit history and other factors. This becomes a barrier for folks who are trying to enter into the system. The poor stay poor while the rich have the opportunity to get richer. It can be frustrating and disappointing to appeal to larger banks and nations to reverse trends and make funds available to these people.
Something needs to be done to level the playing field. Microlending is one of the leading ways to do this. "Microlending" is a general term for any lending done to folks who generally would not have access to traditional loans due to credit history, location or other circumstances. Many are simply living in a "pre-banking" society. Microlenders often use infrastructures and modes of traditional cultures to build networks of accountability, communication and support.
The genius of Kiva.com is that it makes use of the magic of the internet to take the case directly to the world's citizens. For example, you, as a citizen of the USA, can make a loan directly to a citizen of Azerbaijan. There are few intermediaries and gatekeepers in the way.
What are these loans for?
- A farmer in Mongolia to purchase 2 animals to start a cattle breeding business.
- A courier in Uganda to buy a motorcycle.
- A hairstylist in Bolivia for the purchase of equipment to expand her business
Field partners of Kiva identify people who are good candidates for microlending. You can view their profiles and loan requests on the Kiva website. You, as a lender, can pick which person you want to lend to. As the person pays the loan back, you are paid back as well. You would then have the option to withdraw your money, apply it to another loan, or donate it to Kiva to cover operating expenses.
Just for fun, you can link your contribution to any number of groups for some healthy competition. Groups are organized around national identify, religion or other interests, such "Australians," "Kiva Christians" or "GLBT," just to name a few. It should be pointed out that the group "Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious" lead the way by far. Their combined achievement is nearly double the next largest group, "Kiva Christians."
As with anything, be sure to do your homework. Microlending has been abused in some cases, where it can resemble loansharking if not handled appropriately. The poor are vulnerable and are often exploited the easiest by the wolf who comes in sheep's clothing. Also, microlending is not the only way to alleviate poverty, but it is a good first step. Nations with entrenched, systemic poverty and political injustice may not be brought out of that by the success of a few entrepreneurs. However, to those few entrepreneurs, it may make all the difference in the world.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Saying the word "anarchy" in a conversation usually sets off a variety of triggers in the listeners. Whether people yay or nay it, one thing I have noticed is that there usually isn't a lot of follow-up conversation on the topic. People already have a set idea of what they think it means.
Many people coming to the Catholic Worker expect the value of anarchy to mean that there would be no structure, rules or authority at all. This simply isn't true. Christian anarchy is not what we commonly think of as political or social anarchy, which would be some kind of lawless, random condition where nobody has any rules or agreements with each other.
Christian anarchy is the furthest thing from simple rebelliousness or disdain for authority. Christian anarchy is the response from a person who has gotten to a point in their faith and social justice awareness where they are willing to make a deep commitment--the commitment is to Christ--and to take responsibility for the consequences of that commitment. The commitment is to put the commandments of Christ over the law of the Land. When those two sets of obligations are in conflict, a Christian anarchist may make the decision to break a law in order to give witness to their true allegiance to God. They also most likely do so knowing they may pay some hefty consequences, such as jail time, violence or even perhaps martyrdom. We should render unto Caesar what is Caesar's--but we should always be aware that much of what Caesar thinks is his is really none of his business, and some of it might really be the Lord's.
Those who ran the underground railroad a 150 years ago were true Christian anarchists. Through their faith and by examining their conscience, they decided that they could not support the laws of the land which bound people into slavery. They helped and supported runaway slaves in direct violation of the law. They took risks, and I would imagine that some paid some serious consequences. Many folks today see a parallel with supporting undocumented citizens against an unjust and unfair immigration system in America.
Keep in mind that a general frustration with authority can certainly be the seed of a true Christian anarchy. It is encouraging to see people who don't just accept authority without questioning it. And sometimes you need to thumb your nose at authority! However, that can get tiring, too. It is also wonderful to see people who are willing to put on a yoke--if it is the right yoke. A true rebel must have a cause, and a cause requires commitment.
People can be surprised to find that houses of hospitality often have many pages of rules and expectations for members. The goal of those rules is to find a way to avoid stepping on each others' toes. If we share the same space, we are bound to cause hurt feelings or worse if we are all approaching our life and our work with different assumptions or sets of criteria--so let's agree on what the criteria will be. Rules may be as reasonable as saying that if you use the hammer, put it back. That is not an attempt to oppress people who use hammers, it is more of a courtesy to the next person who wants to use it so they don't have to spend wasted hours looking for it, or so we don't have hammers laying around in random locations. Yet, it may crimp the style of people who don't like to put things back, but in the end is is better than crimping the style of folks who never can find a hammer when they need it.
To give a simple example, one person's desire to be messy may conflict with someone else's desire to be tidy, and left to a purely random anarchy the messy person would always win. Sometimes it is important to make decisions collectively because if all decisions were random acts of individuals we would not be left with a very fair system, we would simply aways tend toward the lowest common denominator. One person's right to smoke comes into direct conflict with someone else's right to breathe clean air. If one smoker lived in a home with ten non-smokers, anarchy would hold that the smoker could smoke and the rest would simply have to deal with it. Having no limits on individual behavior can end up limiting others. There's no way around that, because our lives are always inter-connected. With that in mind, the best we can do is find the fairest rules possible for everyone.
Good rules should function like traffic laws. They should make life easier, not harder. When I drive around a blind curve, I am reassured to know that if there are any cars coming in the opposite direction, they are most likely going to keep to their side of the road. It would be unfathomable if there were no traffic laws. Just imagine if every trip to the grocery store involved life or death consequences! Accidents do happen and mistakes can be made, but overall people do follow traffic laws and we are the better for it.
Sometimes that means there are silly instances such as stopping at a red light at 3 am on a dark country road when it is clear there is no one going to cross the intersection. Still, we stop, and it is better to do so than to start on a slippery slope of picking and choosing which law to follow and when--even though that's exactly what Christian anarchy is! How can this be? Christian anarchy should involve a time of prayerful discernment AND most importantly the opportunity to discuss a decision with the larger community before deciding to break a law. An individual may decide to act even if the larger community advises against it, if their conscience compels them to do so, but the important thing is that they go through a process of soliciting feedback before simply making a private decision in isolation. It can lead to unwise or even dangerous behavior if people simply act as if "they know best" without checking that assumption with others. Therefore, the paradox is that Christian anarchy must be lived out in community!
To live in a society that is purely random where people simply do as they do and expect that somehow it's all going to come together beautifully with no intentional coordination is unrealistic. The Holy Spirit sometimes enables a sort of "holy chaos" like that, but let me tell you from experience that that doesn't always happen. The larger Catholic intellectual tradition supports an organized society with rules and structure. In America, we are often saturated with a worldview that comes from the Founders through the Enlightenment and Protestant Reformations. They would have it that "the government that governs least is that which governs best" and "government is evil, but a necessary evil." They have the very valid point that there must be checks and balances on power and bureaucracy. However, the Catholic tradition has a more favorable view of government. Government is simply necessary. When it functions well, we are better off than without. Humans cannot live together without some open and acknowledged conversation about how we are to live and work together. As Aristotle says, "to be human is to be in community." There's no opting out of the difficult conversation of coordinating our lives with those around us. Instead of calling it an evil-but-necessary process, let's just call it a necessary process.
What makes Catholic Worker house rules different than many other organizations and businesses is this:
1. The rules are determined by the people who are most directly affected--the people who live there or work there. They are not imposed by a management team 3,000 miles away.
2. The rules are changeable. If circumstances change or if individuals have special needs or exceptions, we can always re-gather together to amend things.
If folks don't like the word "rules," there are other ways of looking at it. It is an agreement by people who live and work together to honor each others' needs and requests while also giving breadth to be who they need to be. Good rules should not be about control. They are actually about freedom--putting some structure in place so that people can be more. It is hard to move forward if we are always stepping on each others' toes or un-doing what each other has done. It would be impossible to drive to the grocery store if the roads were a total lawless state.
Many CW houses try to function by a near-total consensus model. Now, I think everyone should have an experience of true consensus in their lives. It can be a wonderful exercise to learn how to talk, how to listen and how to be sensitive to each other's needs while advocating for your own, how to hang in there until true resolution is reached. However, it also can be very tedious. It can be hard to function if house meetings start at 7 pm and continue until 3 am until consensus is reached. As Pat used to say, let's just delegate so we can get some sleep.
We must also remember too that delegation is also a form of respect and responsibility and can be perfectly appropriate for Christian anarchists. It is about honoring the fact that someone can simply take on a particular job and we can respect their ability to manage that sphere of influence. Catholic Worker houses should be careful not to overstep the Catholic value of subsidiarity--which means that no outside authority should come in to manage something that local people can do for themselves. Some decisions in CW houses do not need to be group decisions but can instead be delegated to individuals. We don't need consensus on whether the trash is taken out at night or in the morning. As long as the appointed people do it when it is necessary, let them figure out the nuts & bolts so the rest of us can do other things with our time. We should respect their ability to take care of it without babysitting--unless their action affects others, in which case those needs need to be heard.
At the Columbus Catholic Worker, we have reserved consensus for "important decisions." What determines an important decision? We don't have set criteria. If a decision seems important enough, if it affects others, then we chime in. If not, we don't need to.
Many use the concept of "anarchy" to thumb their nose at rules and responsibilities in general. In truth, Christian anarchy is the pinnacle of commitment and responsibility.
Can a commitment to Christian anarchy lead some to advocate for a more general political anarchy the way the word is most commonly understood? It can and does for some individuals and communities, but it does not have to. Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin both advocated for a "strong Abbott" model of leadership in Catholic Worker houses of hospitality.
I have never really liked rules much. I have always been the first one to break them, especially if I sense that people are enforcing them just for the sake of control. But the older I get, the more I realize that part of being a healthy, holistic human being is setting the parameters for how we live and work with others. There is a time to break boundaries, but there is also a time to set them, too. That can and should be an exercise is respect--both for myself and for others. Let's always hope that our experience of community and structure is one about respect and compassion and not about oppression. By keeping the conversation always open, as we do in Catholic Worker communities, there is always hope for making a better and better community, and for correcting ourselves if we do get off track.
Sunday, January 02, 2011
A couple months ago, St. James the Less Church told us they plan to reacquire the building to use for parish functions. We discerned that we didn't have the time, resources or direction to make a seamless transfer of our ministries from one location to another in the allotted time. We were given four months to move--longer than what our lease required but not quite long enough under the circumstances. We decided that Christmas would be a natural time to wind down and take a short--or long--hiatus.
Our Free Store has been distributed to other Free Stores in the city and state. We are currently looking at plans to relocate ESL and Pax Christi elsewhere. The Community Garden will hopefully remain on site under the direction of the gardeners from the parish and neighborhood. We'll still make Fair Trade Haitian Coffee available. Other ministries may or may not remain, that will be under the discretion of the parish. It would be wonderful if what began with us could still continue after our departure.
The St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry will still occupy the basement and they will not be directly affected by our move.
It's hard to count the blessings of our time at the "old convent"--just a little over 2 years exactly. I think it's fair to say that you just had to have been there to experience it. If you were, you know what it was like.
We had a final potluck and prayer time just the day before moving out. We recounted our ministries and memories. It was clear that ultimately it was about people and it was about community. Folks shared experiences of warmth and hospitality. Friendships were formed, connections were made, ministries began and spun off, and hopefully, to paraphrase Entertaining Angels, maybe life was made just a little bit easier for a few folks who really needed it. We'll never know the extent of our reach, but we sowed in faith and in that faith we have hope.
Yet, even as we try to wind things down, the ministry life of our community just seems to sprout up in all sorts of ways. Requests and opportunities to distribute fair trade coffee have been growing. There is quite a bit of excitement to start up that house of hospitality for refugees and immigrants--something we wanted to do years ago, and it is an idea that just seems to stay with us. Donations and inquiries into our community are increasing. Still, it is time to rest, gather strength and discern our next steps.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra's den, and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair.
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea."
New American Bible, Isaiah 11:6-9
Saturday, September 11, 2010
She kept her distance at first. She didn't join the core group for a long time. But if there was a problem or work to be done, guess who was there? That's right. There were times when I felt abandoned, and she would step in--in fact, that's how she joined the core leadership team in the first place. In the last four years, she is the one person I could call on who would be there, even if it pertained to a ministry she wasn't actively a part of. Even when she was an "unofficial" Catholic Worker, she perhaps best embodied the spirit out of any of us.
She was the one rubbing Glenda's feet at night (literally) as the stress and strain of providing overnight hospitality was wearing on folks. In fact, it was Erin who actually referred Al and Pandora to Emmanuel House in the first place (the guests who stayed the longest), and she played a key role in helping them move on. She was there when I had guests in my apartment.
Her direct ministry contributions are a long list. She steered the ESL group for the last 10 months, including single-handedly rescuing it from the brink. The beautiful, warm and inviting atmosphere of our ESL program owes a large debt of gratitude to her. Erin loves teaching: She often had the class dancing and singing, as she pulled out ideas from her nearly endless array of camp songs and games. Students love her. She led a book study this summer and last summer. She organized the Swap Parties. She provided key leadership to get a number of ministries off the ground, ministries that were the fruit of the whole community but which might never have happened without her--the Garage Sale, Canning Classes, etc.
She's been a mentor and friend to just about everyone who has come through the door here at 1614.
However, her contributions perhaps are best thought of as qualitative more than quantitative. She has been a huge support behind just about everything. She has always been there to lend a hand when emotions bubble over, when there would be a need for conflict resolution (which you can imagine happens in community). She has provided endless advice and insight into our administrative processes, finances, community building, lease negotiations, you name it. Few of our ministries have not been impacted by her superb strategic planning skills, either through her direct facilitation or as a sounding board for others. Her fingerprints are everywhere. I almost never have walked into a difficult meeting without first consulting her, and the few times I did I regretted it. She's been there to help people move boxes, paint a wall, jump down to the food pantry to help in a pinch or just rap on the phone for a couple of hours. She's also been one of our best tour guides and can throw one heck of a party!
For better or for worse, the CCW decided on a somewhat hierarchical structure with a director, core leadership group, leaders of specific ministries, and volunteers. [It is also my hope that we can eventually morph back into a more communitarian structure, but that is a story for another day.] The director role is fulfilling and wonderful, but it can be a very lonely place to be. It is also an illusion, as no one can do that job without a near-constant lifeline of support from somebody. That person to me has been Erin. Personally, Erin's been on my emotional speed dial the last few years. When times get tough, when the world is bearing down on us, when circumstances have been dark (and there have been some really dark times), she is the one who takes the call. She's been my paramedic, my nurse, my psychotherapist as well as my general care practitioner. It is hard to imagine how much whinning and ranting she has listened to from me!
Hopefully, folks in the larger community know of her and are aware of her contributions, but I think all too often she has managed to stay enough on the sidelines not to get noticed. I apologize for this. Certainly anyone who has walked through the door here knows her well. She has been there in all the big-little things that never make the headlines, but if you have been around, you know how important they are and what a presence she has been.
Erin's moving on a bit. She's still our friendly neighbor, and I hope she'll never be a stranger here, but she has decided to put energy elsewhere for a while. It is a rest well-deserved for a job well done. Whether we see her again tomorrow, next month, or next year, regardless, it is long overdue to give a proper shout-out to her!
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Snapshot of some of the coffee growers in Haiti.
Kim from Just Haiti keeps a blog about her peace & justice journey and covers many topics such as Columbia, Palestine and, of course, Haiti (see below for link).
The above picture is from her blog and shows some of the folks who make the coffee we enjoy so much here in Columbus. They are celebrating receiving one of their first checks for the profits from their coffee and decided to crack open some beer and have lobster on the beach!
Keep in mind that "beer and lobster" is not standard fare in Haiti. It is a strong symbol that even in the tumult, turmoil and outrageous poverty in Haiti, at least a few people are able to breathe a sign of relief and take more steps forward in life than back. Your purchase of their fairly priced and fairly traded coffee just gave these folks a chance at a better life.
You may be amazed to discover what other kinds of tremendous changes your coffee dollars are supporting in Haiti, and they go far beyond a celebratory dinner among friends. Here is the full story from Kim:
And now on to my favorite topic: coffee! I had some great meetings with the coffee growers' association (called KDB) and feel optimistic about what is happening there. I brought them their first check of profits from coffee sales. The way the project works is that they get a fair trade price for their coffee, and then after taking out expenses from the sale of it, they also receive the profits. The profit they made was higher than the original price we paid for the coffee, and the original price was much higher than market price. It just goes to show that somebody is making a lot of money in the coffee business, and it is not the growers.
I went with them to open their bank account, where they decided that three people should be signatories, and at least two have to sign before money could be removed. They were so proud...it is the first time for any of them that they have money to open an account!
The growers are working to expand the association to include more people. During a meeting, one of the growers said to the people that we are not only just growing coffee in this project: we are regenerating the coffee business in Baraderes. Until the mid-1980s, coffee was the main industry in Baraderes. It was destroyed when the coffee market crashed all over the world. It is a long story about why it collapsed, but basically it was because of an ill-conceived USAID project that funded large plantations of poor quality coffee in Vietnam and Brazil, thereby lowering the prices all over the world and thus putting small farmers out of business and exacerbating poverty in some of the poorest places in the world, including Haiti. We are regenerating the coffee industry in Baraderes, but in a way that benefits small producers, and not plantation owners or large multinational coffee companies.
Another person talked about how the association was not just about coffee: it is also about forming community and becoming like family for each other. With their profits, one thing they have done is to create a fund that will provide money for health care if people get sick, and they are also talking about ways to provide an advance to growers on their coffee sales so that they can pay their children's' school fees. They are also using part of their money to provide food to needy families after the earthquake (Just Haiti is also helping with that). I am proud to be a part of this, and I know that many of you are supporters in one way or another, and you should all be proud, too.
Before folks start thinking that Haiti is all "beer and lobster" on the beach, here is a snapshot of Baraderes, the region where the coffee is produced:
Thursday, August 19, 2010
There is so much going on, but so much that needs to be done. It is quite easy to get lost in the confusion. What do you do? How can you make a difference?
I recommend the following two-part strategy: First, pick an issue that is near and dear your heart. The Good Lord will guide you in this. It may even be something that surprises you, perhaps an issue you never expected. A chance encounter with a stranger may open up a whole new world for you (as a side note, there is no such thing as "chance").
But I would suggest not stopping there. The second part is this: There is a time to leave our picks and our shovels in the fields, drop everything and run to help our brothers and sisters on a particular cause. Sometimes the timing is just right and the momentum is such that it makes a difference to pull together now. In case you are wondering, all signs seems to be saying that this issue is Immigration Reform right here in the USA.
So work on a particular cause and leave some room to jump in when many hands are needed. As you reach the depths of that one cause you may find that it is fundamentally related to most other (if not all) causes for justice. For example, I may work against the death penalty, but to me what the death penalty really underscores is the extent of the radical love of Christ--even the most heinous criminal is not outside of that love. Certainly this love is not contained within the issue of the death penalty but rather spills out into everything else. The death penalty becomes a lens through which to see the whole. If this love of Christ even includes them, then that mus radically alter how we treat everybody.
This isn't the only way to do activism. I also have quite a bit of regard for groups that work on a multiplicity of issues. A smorgasbord of social justice is a very important witness to the holistic reality of life here on earth--you can't subdivide justice into this cause or that cause, but rather all justice is related, and it all matters. It makes no sense to be thoroughly against abortion but offer not even a nod to work against war or the death penalty. The very ideology under the right to life is just that--the fact that all life matters.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Well, it’s my second to last week as a volunteer resident at the Worker, and I’m finally writing! My name is Kaitlyn and I will be a senior in college, majoring in Theology and International Peace Studies. Over Christmas break this past year, while exploring and discerning what the summer might hold for me, I stumbled upon two wonderful opportunities in Columbus: Community Refugee Immigration Services (CRIS) -a non-profit Refugee Resettlement Organization - and The Columbus Catholic Worker at St. James the Less.
During fall semester I had volunteered at the South Bend Catholic Worker with their Weather Amnesty program, spending the night with 10 homeless men once a month when the temperature was below freezing. It is an incredible community, focused on hospitality to the homeless, and I was touched so deeply every time I volunteered. When two people from home mentioned that they had heard of a Catholic Worker recently begun in Columbus, my heart leaped! I found this blog the night before I returned to school in January, stopped by to help sort clothes for the free store the next day, and emailed Frank shortly after with the daring proposal of living here this summer. He was enthused! I was welcome :) In the Spring I interviewed for an unpaid 8-week internship with CRIS, and embarked on both adventures on the 1st of June.
The past month and a half has surely been blessed, filled to the brim with lively, eclectic souls who have inspired and touched me in many ways. Growing up in the suburbs, I had never spent time in the part of Columbus where the Worker is located, surrounded by many immigrants, refugees, and low-income families. It has been eye-opening to be immersed in such cultural and social diversity, to see so much poverty and need in my home town, and to expend my energies doing such meaningful work.
The refugees I have worked with this summer at CRIS have truly been Christ in disguise. I have felt so intimate with Christ serving some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of our community. On days when I spend a lot of time doing paperwork, or behind a computer screen, simple moments of client contact give me so much joy and life. Some of my favorite moments…
A Muslim man from Sudan taking our Job Readiness class gently explaining the 5 pillars of Islam to me, and then pouring me a huge glass of juice, emptying the carton he had brought for his breakfast...
A Somali woman inviting me into her home, serving me a hot cup of milky tea, and spending 30 minutes communicating with hand gestures and teaching me words in her language...
Spending an afternoon with a Bhutanese family with 3 kids, enrolling them in school, and then taking them to the library to sign up for summer reading; the older boy singing Nepali pop songs with abandon in the car, and little 5 year old Sriza holding my hand and talking my ear off, though I didn’t understand a single word…
The refugee families often arrive directly from refugee camps where they have spent 2, 5, or even 17 years waiting for their case to be processed. They often arrive with nothing: no English, no home, no money, no job. We pick them up from the airport, find them an apartment… and my job is to prepare the apartment by getting them furniture, food, and a welcome basket. We also enroll the kids in school, teach a Job Readiness course and ESL, apply for social security and welfare benefits for the families, and help in any other ways we can.
Though they have little to nothing, the refugees have shown me more hospitality and generosity than I have ever encountered before. One day, my co-intern and I were on our way out of an apartment complex where many refugees live. An Eritrean woman wrapped in colorful cloth, with a gentle face worn by the sun and etched with wisdom and life, came outside and began speaking to my co-intern and I in Italian! She spent 2 years in Italy before coming to the US. My co-intern attempted to communicate in Spanish. Next thing I knew, she was inside the apartment, and I was being ushered in too, by the woman’s 28 year old daughter, Marta, who speaks some English. They placed a piping hot plate of Injera (a crepe-like flat bread) and a red, tomato-ey dipping sauce in front of us, then offered us coffee. The mother brewed Eritrean coffee in a beautiful Eritrean metal flask on the stove, plugged it with a piece of sponge to filter it, and, after scooping 2 giant spoonfuls of sugar into our little cups, poured us the most delicious coffee I’ve had since traveling in Italy! We drank it on a beautiful little wooden table, carved by Marta’s brother back in Eritrea. Before we left, we helped Marta understand and explain to her elderly neighbor the instructions for a hair-dying kit.
Marta and her mother have little possessions, struggle to get by, and yet shared so many beautiful gifts with us: the gift of their culture, their food, their home, their kindness. I couldn’t believe their hospitality, given to two complete strangers! It reminds me of Abraham in the 1st reading from this weekend, who runs out to greet the three visitors and bows to the ground in respect to invite them to stay and wash and eat. I wonder, “What if we all opened our doors to each other? What if we shared our food, our possessions, our homes, our cultures, with open hands, without fear? What if I approached each new person I met, each stranger that came to my door, with love and warmth in my eyes, as if I were greeting Christ himself?” Perhaps we would see more clearly that we belong to each other, that we are one human family… and that there is enough to go around.
My time at the Worker has also taught me about the gift of hospitality. It is amazing to live in a place where the door is always open; where people are always coming in and out, to drop off clothes or fresh vegetables, to volunteer, to hold a meeting, to receive food or clothing, to learn English or receive legal services…
I’ve been reading Dorothy Day’s autobiography, The Long Loneliness, throughout the summer. Dorothy says something profound about Peter Maurin that I have been meditating on: "He made you feel that you and all men had great and generous hearts with which to love God. If you once recognized this fact in yourself you would expect to find it in others... It was seeing Christ in others, loving the Christ you saw in others. Greater than this, it was having faith in the Christ in others without being able to see Him. Blessed is he that believes without seeing."
The wonderful, unique people who form the foundation of this Catholic Worker community live believing in the Christ in others. Whoever happens to come to the door, whether a bubbly young college student, a family of Congolese refugees, or a woman suffering from abuse who lives down the street, I have seen them greeted with warmth and energy, given whatever food or drink or service they need, treated with a dignity and love they may not receive elsewhere. I am quietly challenged every day by my fellow Catholic workers to have faith in Christ in others, no matter how hidden He is, no matter how intimidating or different their outer appearance might be. If I approach each person with love and peace, rather than fear or defensiveness… that might bring out Christ in them, bring out their goodness that is hidden behind a tough exterior!
The days and weeks have flown by so quickly – I can hardly believe this brief and beautiful 2-month visitation will soon be over! Each day has gifted me with a new neighbor, a new friend, a deeper understanding of the experience of the poor and vulnerable, and a stronger sense of my identity and responsibility as a member of both a local and global community. Not to mention a stomach full of Somali bread or fresh-baked beets from the community garden! I am so incredibly grateful to the Catholic Worker community for welcoming me, teaching me, being patient with my busy schedule, loving me, and inviting me to offer my gifts to the community. Your openness and encouragement has really helped me to thrive and to make home these past few months.
As I reflect upon the joy of this journey, yet feel the winds of change coming, I am reminded of this quote, which I will leave you with:
Ours is the pain of constantly pitching our tent and folding it up again, of befriending strangers and bidding them goodbye, of loving the world but never being truly satisfied with it, of pouring our heart and soul into a project others have begun and still others will finish. If we would not be torn by the tension of this truth, we must learn to live provisionally- to measure the road well. We need to make the most of the occasions when we can gather by the roadside to break bread and compare directions. Joy must be discovered in the going as we never really arrive, not even in a lifetime.
-Kristine Malins, medical missionary
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Yet, there comes a time when momentum is gathering and the timing is right to leave our picks and shovels in the fields and rush to join with our neighbors in solidarity on a single issue. The time is now and the cause is immigration reform.
Last night was a proud moment, as leaders from many churches and faith-based groups gathered together to call for a reform of our immigration system.
It is time to take a stand so that Ohio does not fall victim to the mentality that is making Arizona start to resemble a police state--with citizens needing to carry their papers as if it were the Soviet Union. Folks live in fear of vigilante groups intimidating the population, even terrorizing people who are here legally.
As people of faith, we have heard the cry of the poor. Our immigrant sisters and brothers have been abused and exploited by the immigration policy of the United States:
* Our businesses take advantage of immigrants for cheap labor and by putting them in hazardous work conditions. The threat of deportation prevents people from complaining.
* Our immigration officers split up families, often leaving children behind to fall prey to gangs, drugs and violence.
* Our current immigration policy is unfair and unfairly enforced. It is easy to become a citizen if you are a professional basketball player, but odds go down considerably if you are a poor farmer. Also, few in the USA seem worried about undocumented immigrants from places such as Canada or Ireland. The real concern seems to be Latinos and others with different skin color.
* Our own so-called "fair trade" policies have impoverished much of the developing world, virtually forcing people to leave their homes for a shot at a better future. For an example, look at corn subsidies which pay our US farmers so that they can sell their corn below market rates--they have almost destroyed the local agriculture markets in Mexico, impoverishing people who once made a good living as farmers.
* US-trained military have terrorized the populations of Latin America for decades in a systematic policy of war, torture and rape, leaving many risking all they have to flee to the north. These military actions interrupt development and put down movements of people struggling for better standards of living.
It has long since been time to reform our immigration policy.* * *
This is a humanitarian issue. What would compel someone to leave their family and their homeland behind, to risk life and death to cross the border illegally, to work for less than minimum wage in hazardous conditions in the USA? The only logical answer: The alternative is worse.
Most red-blooded Americans would cross hell and high water to do the same for their own families. This is a family issue.
What does this mean? These people should be classified as refugees fleeing for their very lives and need to be harbored and given asylum as such. At the very least, if people come to America to work there should be a way to naturalize into this country and remain here if they have built a life here. Families should be kept together.
* * *
I have to admit I’m a sucker for sentimental moments. One of the reasons I love being in peace & justice movements is that there is no better place to see people of different faiths working together, genuinely respecting each other and respecting the differences they bring to the table. Yesterday, I saw some of my heroes from different faiths standing—literally—hand in hand on the stage in front of us.
People brought their unique perspectives and flavor, such as the Jewish rabbi who sounded the ram’s horn which reverberated both throughout downtown and deep within our bones. The ministers, priests and pastors showed—either directly or indirectly—their reverence for each other and they fact that they have learned from each other.
People say there are moments when you get a taste of heaven, and for me this was one—when the whole body of God’s people stand as one. Nobody was trying to make a name for themselves or steal the spotlight or refuse to give ground—yet they all stole the spotlight and they all gained ground!
This is how it is supposed to work. When differences are things that enhance rather than detract, when humility does not make us smaller but rather makes us bigger. This is a group of people practicing what they preach, reminding us of who we are as a people.
* * *
The above picture will serve as a reminder to always carry a camera to have a chance for a do-over! Still, everyone else looks great, so in all humility here is our little Catholic Worker group and some friends: Kaitlyn, Frank, Nancy (from Justice for Immigrants), Erin K and Erin W.
* * *
Of particular interest were the counter-demonstrators. They were staged along High Street, hoping to distract our rally with the honking of detractors. I didn't hear much honking, but there was some.
Some of their signs read:
What part of illegal don't you understand?
Slavery was once legal, too. In fact, folks who harbored escaped slaves in the Underground Railroad could have faced the harshest of penalties. Now, we call them heroes.
Another sign simply read: John 10:1
Woe to anyone who tries to reduce the Gospel of John, which its sophisticated interplay of themes and symbols, into a one-liner. But I just had to look it up. It reads:
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.
It is quite a stretch to think that the "sheepfold" here implies citizenship in a political state such as the USA, but I'll play along for a moment. Let's read a little more of the passage. Here's the very next verse:
But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
So wait a minute... those who do not enter through the gate are like undocumented people in the USA, but whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd. So does that mean the rest of us citizens of the USA are shepherds? What does THAT means? Let's look at more verses:
Although Jesus used this figure of speech, they did not realize what he was trying to tell them. [seems to be a common problem]. So Jesus said again, "Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.
In other words, the gate is not the border crossing station, as the detractors seem to be implying--Jesus is the gate. All who enter through him are saved. And Jesus seems to be okay with people coming and going to find pasture, if they need to feed themselves. The end result is that through Jesus, they are to have life and have it more abundantly.
And that's all we are doing with immigration reform: Through Jesus, we want people to have abundant life. The border crossing station is not the same thing as the gate of Jesus, so we need to make the border crossing station resemble Jesus a little more so that people can come and go to find greener pastures and to have life more abundantly.
* * *
The grim reality is that the USA accounts for only 5% of the world's population. We consume nearly 50% of the earth's resources. What else can we do but share?
A great reference is the US bishops website: www.justiceforimmigrants.org
Friday, July 16, 2010
Minerals are right at the center of much of the fighting all over Africa. Diamonds are a major culprit, but in the case of the Congo it is rare minerals used in cell phones, laptops and digital camera. Some of the fighting is just for sheer profit--legal or otherwise--and other times it is to fund military actions of one kind of another.
There is a movement now to market “conflict free diamonds.” This is to give some assurance that the diamonds you buy do not come with this kind of history. I applaud the efforts but right now the “conflict free” tag is not very reliable since there is not yet sufficient third party monitoring, but it is a step in the right direction.
Coincidentally, I’ve been gettin action alerts about the Congo from Catholic Relief Services. Right now, there is major legislation pending to address this very issue. The bishops in the Congo themselves and other human rights groups recommend more accountability—to bring a reliable “conflict free” label to all minerals through the entire supply chain.
I got a text message this morning from CRS saying that the provision below to include “Congo conflict minerals and other transparency provisions” got approved by the US Congress and will make its way to the desk of the President soon!
We have heard many gruesome stories about genocide in Africa in recent years: Rwanda. Darfur. Zimbabwe. Sierra Leone. The list goes on and on. It may be hard to believe that a situation could ever be any worse than those, but reports are showing that the war in the Congo right now is considered the deadliest since World War II.
Wednesday, July 07, 2010
Those negative elements--both real and exaggerated--were the image and voice of the neighborhood.
Something like a community garden does not remove all those elements, at least, not at first. But it shifts the focus. The amazing and wonderful people who participate in the community garden were already there in the neighborhood. The neighborhood just needed a forum through which the positive elements of the community could be nurtured and given a place to shine.
When I walk around the neighborhood now, here is what I see: The house of our friends from the Vineyard and the neighborhood kids nearby they watch over . . . There are some St. James the Less parishioners who have been leaders in the effort . . . there's the woman who is a canning expert walking her dog . . . and others who have been gardening mentors always willing to share advice and a helping hand. I see friends and many safe havens.
In times of fear, people often choose to close themselves off. Instead of sharing our gifts widely with the world, we can choose to keep them contained behind closed doors or only share them at some far off site on weekends. This is very understandable--why do something if it is going to be trashed, unappreciated or if you are threatened in some way? However, this creates a domino effect as the negative elements in a neighborhood start to dominate the landscape more and more.
What we learned through the community garden is that there are many wonderful people with amazing talents right here, right now. People garden for fun. They garden to give produce to the needy. They garden to get to know their neighbors. It is time for them to set the tone for the neighborhood. Their talents and enthusiasm, caring and love, need to be placed on a hill where all can see. We're writing a new story about this neighbood, and what a tale to tell!
One of the main problems in modern American culture is the isolation. It seems like the bumper sticker of America is that Nobody knows their neighbors. But that's only part of the story: Street gangs know their neighbors and so do drug users. Kids know their neighbors, but kids being kids need parental guidance to turn that into a positive association. People have many wonderful things to share, not only their talents but also the gift of themselves. They just need a forum through which to do that.
Some neighborhoods have been trying to fight isolation. They may have a yearly barbecue or some other activity. However, there's nothing quite like a neighborhood project that we can all get involved with: Let's build something, let's grow something, let's help somebody.
Perhaps this is what Peter Maurin meant when he envisioned to "create a society where it is easier to be good." The garden is built by the community. It was simply the infrastructure that was needed. Someone needed to get the ball rolling and do the logistics to open the possibility. The neighborhood transforms itself through the grace of God, the best we can do is loosen up the log jams that have accumulated.
A community garden reaps so many other benefits: We grow food for the needy. We share ideas about gardening and growing healthy, organic produce. We're all eating more fresh produce than before, and more cheaply, too. Many friendships have developed. When people talk about this neighborhood, they now talk about the garden. What about all the negative elements? Those are still there, but maybe, just maybe, they are losing their hold on the spotlight and may perhaps even lose some of their bite, too. Only time will tell.
In the meantime, we can celebrate the bounty that is the community garden: The friendships, the enthusiasm, the gift to the poor, the building up of the neighborhood, the showcase of the skills and talents of neighbors, a positive impact on the enviornment, and a rather beautiful little garden right here, right now.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Some people claim that there are no such things as accidents. In this case, there couldn't have been anything more appropriate than celebrating the Eucharist as a community while steeped in work for social justice. Ours is a two-for-one deal: You come for one and you get the other. The life of prayer and the work for justice are inseparable. We should have planned it this way in the first place!
The fact that this was the Feast of the Birth of St. John the Baptist--himself a victim of capital punishment in a most twisted, political climate of envy and power--was not lost on us.
A couple of events at our house have moved me to tears, and this was one of them. Folks gathered in quiet prayer in the chapel before Mass. The room lifted in song, strong voices. Fr. Jim Smith speaking the words of the Eucharistic Prayer like a poet savoring each morsel that falls from his lips.
The only downside was that the A/C made it difficult to hear during the first part of Mass, until we switched it off. Fortunately, Fr. Smith left us a printed copy of his homily to post online, so that it can be shared widely, including to those of us who didn't catch it all the first time!
Many, many thanks to Kaitlyn, our summer resident, for taking the lead in planning this Mass. Our hope is to host Mass at least once per month with a rotation of priests. She is busy working on that schedule as we speak.
Fr. Jim Smith's profound homily is as follows:
As you know, after such an auspicious Beginning, John Ended in jail. And from his prison he sent messengers to ask Jesus if he were the One. Jesus replied: "Look at the signs of God's Kingdom: the deaf hear, the blind see, the lame walk and the Poor hear the Good News."
Those may have been sufficient signs for John but you and I need more assurance. For us, signs of God's presence are health, wealth & success. Marginal people may evoke our pity; or arouse our anxiety about how vulnerable we Also are. But they do not remind us of God. For us, power & glory stir up inklings of God. So, where IS God?
Liberation Theology thinks that God became human so God could become Poor. Maybe so She could relate to them. Because poverty is un-fake-able. Even God cannot get away with being merely 'poor in spirit' - real poverty has to be experienced. So God became a poor, vulnerable baby human. And that was the Fault Line of human history: the radical, irreducible difference between a Rich God & a Poor God.
But history is written by the Victors: exploits of Kings, cleverness of cardinals. That history values strength, power & success. But what if history were written by Victims? What a different set of values that would extol! Destitute people don't need a million - a dollar will do. Starving people don't demand a banquet - a little rice is fine. Homeless people don't long for a castle - just being out of the cold is a blessing.
And Those are precisely the values which drive you & me back to our basic humanity. That is how poor people force God's presence into a rich world. Because God cannot find a foothold in a Velveeta culture; God cannot leap out of a whipped-cream society. Which means that any time we buy into secular values, whenever we move beyond basic food, shelter & clothing, just then, we pass into the world of the Un-necessary, the Super World. That is when we require Underworld people to shame us back to the basics, the simple necessities.
We must be innocent of Gandhi's Seven Modern Sins: Wealth without work, Business without morality, Pleasure without conscience, Politics without principle, Knowledge without character, Worship without sacrifice. As both ancient John and modern Bonhoeffer learned in prison: "It is not by some religious act that we become Christian, but by participating in the sufferings of God in his world."
We do not have to romanticize poverty - it has an irrefutable power all its own. Nor should we read Scripture in a simplistic, naive way. God does not have to like the Poor - but She is responsible for them. God does not help them because they Deserve it but because they Need it. Someone said that God takes care of the Poor by Default - because no one else does. So, the Kingdom is finally not about rich & poor or good & bad. God's kingdom is about the indigence of us All. In light of which differences of wealth & status are immaterial. Literally, Im-material.
Maybe you have read Flanner O'Connor's vision of the Kingdom: "A vast horde was rumbling toward heaven. White trash clean for the first time, black people in white robes, freaks & lunatics shouting & clapping & leaping like frogs. And bringing up the rear was the tribe of Our Kind of people: who always had a little of everything and the wit to use it right. They were marching with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were singing on key. Yet, one could see by their shocked & altered faces that even their Virtues were being burned away."
Of such as these is the Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven.