Friday, December 25, 2009

Redistribution of Wealth and Personalism

A Linear Way

One of the primary tasks of the Catholic Worker is the redistribution of wealth. One way of looking at it is actually very simple: We take offerings from those who have in order to make it available to those who have not. We have the great joy and privilege of being the ones in the middle of this transfer--what a blessed place to be! I still believe that if people knew just how blessed it was, they would be knocking down our doors trying to steal our jobs from us.

The clothing "free store" is a great example: Folks have excess clothing and household supplies they are glad to give. Most of what we have received so far is in very good condition and given with great love and care--you can tell. Other folks are struggling so being able to clothe their families frugally is a big deal. We make it available to them. Goods travel from areas where there is a surplus to where there is a deficit. It doesn't sound like communism--it rather sounds like a natural, healthy equilibrium for all parties. Folks who need have the opportunity to be blessed by receiving, and folks with a surplus have the opportunity to be blessed by giving.

I am often shocked at how simple it is.

To paraphrase St. John Chrysostom, our possessions are the Lord's, however we may have obtained them. It is pretty much an audacious idea to think we actually own any part of God's creation. Sure, creation is a gift to us, but since we are all equal in God's eyes, wouldn't it be appropriate to share creation equally among each other? It is God's gift to all of us. If a greater amount of wealth and property falls into our sphere of influence, that just means we have more to distribute to correct the imbalance.

If God came to the door and delivered Christmas dinner for the whole neighborhood, it would be terrible for a small group of us to hog more than our fair share while others did not get any at all--some folks taking seconds and thirds and squirreling away extras in freezer bags with others not even having a single plate. Rather, you would distribute the food so that everyone had some and it would probably be based on their need--the family with the growing teenager would get more than the elderly couple, but each would get their fair share.

On a small scale, the right thing to do is simple common sense, as the above example shows. But this is exactly how we squander the resources of the earth! Americans make up 5% of the world's population but consume almost 50% of the world's resources--an imbalance that is hard to justify when 1 billion people are literally starving to death at any given moment in time.

A Personalist Way

This isn't to say that all possessions are bad. When people oppose a system of injustice that they are embedded in, sometimes they still think in those terms. As good capitalists, we have been trained to accumulate. This accumulation is a form of power and protection. We have more stuff so that we can leverage more safety and pleasure for ourselves than others. When we see the injustice in this, all too often we assume that the answer to accumulation is to de-accumulate. And when you consider environmental strain and the fact that there is so much wealth concentrated among so few people, there is a pretty easy argument to simply have less stuff.

Live simply, so that others may simply live . . . Reduce, reuse, recycle.

Those are good mottoes--up to a point. However, they are also the words of capitalists trying to reform while still using the tools and mindset of capitalism. I think one of the reasons that Americans have difficulty with following these mottoes is that they sense that the only way to be good is to have less of themselves in the world. That doesn't settle well.

When we've been trained all our lives to accumulate more stuff, then the idea of de-accumulation is almost a form of suicide. We rarely think of it consciously, but when we have spent so much time seeing our very worth in terms of what stuff we have, then to have less stuff might equate to trying to erase ourselves from the world.

This comes to bear particularly strong with the carbon footprint. When you sit down and do the math, it is hard to justify being alive at all! While any good plan for sustainability is going to have to address overpopulation at some point, we must be careful not to devalue life in the process. This is the danger of secular liberal philosophy--it seems to argue that the world would be a better place if you weren't here. That is simply not true.

The personalist philosophy which is at the foundation of the Catholic Worker movement reminds us to take a second look at this. Our personal possessions are truly that--something personal. The material items in our lives can be there to expand our person--our whole person. They are not just items in our possession, but can truly be a tool for the extension of ourselves.

A personalist might recreate those mottoes this way: Have more so you can give more. Or maybe: Instead of spending your life to have more, use what you have to live more life.

Accumulating a big house with a hefty security system is merely an accumulation for your body--it is a power move designed to keep the outside world out and to live a lavish lifestyle. On the other hand, accumulating a big house so that you have more room to share and invite the whole world in is an expansion of your whole person, not just pleasure and safety for your body but your heart and soul, as well. In the latter, you leverage the resources at your disposal to expose yourself to the world for service and the possibility of growth.

That can't be done with a mathematical formula but rather a personal change of heart.

It is not always about having less. It is about doing more with what you have--doing the kinds of things that expand your sphere of influence in the world not in terms of simply accumulating more power and territory, but an expansion of your whole being which involves service, risk, and growth. A certain amount of attention on safety is necessary to stay alive. But with too much obsession on safety you can spend you time and resources in a self-imposed prison, not really living fully.

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is an extension of Michelangelo's whole person. The paint and brushes allowed him to be more and to give more to the world. For others, having that 3rd house on the beach or a closet full of clothes that are never worn probably do not measure up the same way. Do the possessions at your disposal make you bigger or smaller as a whole person?

This is where the witness of the Catholic Worker movement is not limited to the official houses of hospitality. This is something we can all participate in. The Catholic Worker shows us how to turn our very homes and lifestyles into acts of service, a theme I have written about before here and here. We all have possessions. Are we using them to insulate ourselves from the world at someone else's expense? Are we puffing ourselves up with stuff we don't need while others are hungry out on the streets? Or we using the resources at our disposal for more opportunities for service and growth for ourselves, expanding our whole person?

There are no strict guidelines for this--it is a personal decision based on personal circumstances. how to translate this into addressing systemic injustice is hard. It is based on personal conversion, as one person may accumulate for power while another may accumulate for love. While the Catholic Worker tends to eschew institutionalization, many communities have found that it can be possible to come to a point where having a security system or an insurance policy makes sense given their circumstances. However, that has to be a lived decision that you come to by being embedded in your environment. From a personalist perspective, you have to ask: Does that insurance policy make it more possible to be available to the community or does it close ourselves off? Is it a good stepping stone to further openness or is it a step back?

Summation

I look at the redistribution of wealth in a linear way and also in a personalist way. Hopefully this shows how the philosophies at the core of the Catholic Worker movement (in line with Catholic Social Teaching) do not jive with either modern liberal or conservative ideologies, but are truly a third way.

The redistribution of wealth sounds like Marxism. Taking personal responsibility for ourselves and the world aorund us sounds like a Libertarian principle. Yet neither of these left of right wing ideologies fully captures what we are about.

Check pages 106-107 of The Catholic Worker Movement: Intellectual and Spiritual Origins for what I'm talking about. In this reflection, I draw heavily and directly from the French personalist philosophers Mounier and Cantin. You can peruse those pages online here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Nonviolence Training Workshop


Jasiu instructs while Ruthmary, Jonathan, Mary and Bob look on.

The Catholic Worker house was filled to the brim last Saturday, as 35 participants and 3 facilitators engaged in an 8-hour nonviolence training. The event was sponsored by the new Columbus chapter of Pax Christi. We were pleased to host Jasiu, Sherri and Mary of the Michigan Peace Team who drove through Lansing blizzards and ice to make this happen!

Pictured above are Sherri, Tom, Jasiu and Frank

As Pax Christi and so many other groups have shown us, nonviolence is the best and probably the only way to bring about true, long-term peace. However, just as I surely would not want to go into armed combat without adequate training, I certainly would not recommend attempting to resolve a conflict nonviolently without training, either! This is what groups like the MPT teach.

The morning session was an introduction to nonviolent communication skills--how to talk in a non-aggressive way and healthy, productive ways to respond to aggression.

A good portion of the afternoon was spent in role plays, working out ways that people could react in various situations to be a presence of peace. What would you do if you saw the police beating up a guy? What if you were part of a demonstration that went awry? Jasiu told a story about how he and his wife intervened when they ran across a man beating up a woman in public. Spouses and friends can become "affinity teams" and work out ahead of time how they might react as a team to situations like that.

As the pictures can attest, we took the roles of police, demonstrators, antagonizers, peace team members and bystanders. We put ourselves in the shoes of these people to see things from their perspective. Much of the work of the MPT involves being a peaceful presence at gatherings and demonstrations. They also send international teams to be observers and peacekeepers in troubled areas such as Palestine and, more recently, Mexico.

Jonathan, Kelly, Jonathan and Heather are deep in concentration above.

At our gathering were members of many different justice groups, different religious affiliations and folks ages 18-80. It was a wonderful opportunity to network. While the event was originally conceived as a chance for the new Pax Christi group to gel together, it ended up being a service we provided to the larger Columbus peace community. We are quite pleased with how it turned out, and we saw a snapshot of possibilities for the future--How wonderful it would be if the CW house could be gathering spot for the larger Columbus peace & justice community!

It is my belief that Columbus is ripe for this type of organization. We are a new and large city with many progressive elements, but we don't have the deep structures and our grassroots groups don't have the same long-term history like I saw in Cleveland and Akron. As prior generations have shown us, the key to any effective, nonviolent social change is to organize, organize, organize. Today, a larger percentage of the population want social change but there is overall less organization and, as a result, less effectiveness.
Fred, Joseph, Ruthmary, Mike and Jason gather around as an affinity team to work out how to handle a difficult situation ,with Bob looking on in the background.
Jasiu instructs the new team of "police officers" for the upcoming role play. Bob, Irene and Julia are ready for action!

* * *

In related news, one of the founders of the Michigan Peace Team, Fr. Peter Daughterty, was recently honored in India with the International Gandhi Award. He also has the distinction of being named the 2002 Teacher of Peace for Pax Christi USA (Dorothy Day was the first Teacher of Peace, named in 1978--some great names on that list!) I had the great privilege of meeting Fr. Peter at the recent Pax Christi gathering in Chicago, he said Mass and I later talked to him about the MPT.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Blessing

We often thank God
for all the material wealth in our lives.
We call it a blessing.

Indeed, it is true that the more God has given to us
really is a great blessing to us.

But the reason it is a blessing is not because we have more--
The reason it is a blessing is because we have the opportunity to give more.

By giving more we have the opportunity to be more
like God
and what truer blessing is there than that?
and what more wealth is there than that?
and what more reason is there to be thankful to God than that?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Untold Story: ESL

There is a story that needs to be told.

There was an amazing experience of grace at the Columbus Catholic Worker recently, at a much needed time. Bev, our trusty core member who started and led so many wonderful initiatives with us—English as a second language (ESL) classes, the free clothing store, and a co-founder of Pax Christi—decided to move on without us. We wish her well and offer prayers of gratitude for her many contributions.

I assumed we would have to let ESL go, as it was hard to figure out where we would find the time or energy to continue the program. It would have been very sad, as we are only teaching a small fraction of the people at this parish alone who hunger and crave ESL instruction (we teach approx 20, but there are 120 who signed an interest list with Fr. Pat!)

Our Catholic Worker community member Erin S would not let that happen. She freely admits to having absolutely no previous ESL experience, but her many years in non-profit administration show that she knows how to form a team to meet a challenge. She put a dream team together—Vielka, our long-time friend from Kairos who had already started teaching ESL the last couple of months, Erin K, one of our garden leaders who had spent a year in Costa Rica and loves learning about other cultures, and Ginger, expert host of hospitality.

They sat down one afternoon and worked out a plan. Magic happened. Ideas were shared. Someone had a spark and another could see where it could go. Let’s try this, let’s try that. They put a wonderful patchwork quilt together. Some folks have ESL experience, some have experience learning a language of their own, some just have all the gusto in the world. ESL was back on track! Not long after this new team took over, some more amazing volunteers appeared—Mike, who keeps showing up with trunkloads of ESL materials, Ginger has been recruiting tutors, Joan, Steve and Gilda all take their turn, and I keep the coffee brewing. Vielka is unbelievable, she is the anchor who is here night after night.

It is a FUN, dynamic environment and the sweetest sharing of hospitality. The building is alive with robust laughter and friendly cheer. Many of these students have been in America for 5, 10, sometimes 25 years without knowing the language here. ESL programs are in short supply and often cost too much. The ministry of welcoming them into our home and helping isolated people have the tools to do something as basic and essential as simply talking to the people they come across in their daily lives is immense. It is hard and intimidating to learn a new language, but folks feel safe here. They can take risks.

Along with mostly Latino students, we have also started drawing folks with a Vietnamese and Cambodian background—they are learning some Spanish as well as English!

The initial plan is to keep the classes running until Dec 15th for the holiday break. At that time, the group will evaluate their methods and schedules and put something in place to start up again hopefully in January. We’ll have a pot luck party on December 15th at 6:00 pm, feel free to stop by!

Numerous others have expressed interest, so we are looking forward to a dynamic team in the new year. If you have ever wanted to do it, you may be surprised how much you can do, even if you have never tutored English before!

I am in total awe of this team--in their teaching, in their enthusiasm, and, most especially, in the way they have each responded to God’s call in this. What a spiritual boost this has been!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Prayerful Discernment

The Columbus Catholic Worker is in a period of deep discernment right now. At our last open community meeting, we felt great relief in the decision to throw ourselves into prayer. It was the one light in what has been otherwise a sea of grey murkiness. We couldn’t see the path, but we knew our next step.

In light of this:

Please join us at 9 am on Saturday morning this week (Nov 28) for a time of community prayer.

We are quite pleased to welcome our friend Tom, who will be leading us in a meditation on the Lord's Prayer. Tom is a beloved member of St. Joseph's Catholic Worker House in Rochester, NY (the Rochester CW began in 1935 and was one of the first branches of the movement).

The main theme of this prayer is discernment. Before we can negotiate with the Church the new terms of our lease, we must first come to a decision as a community about who we are and what we are all about. What are the non-negotiables? Must we do overnight hospitality or can we fulfill our mission by providing the many and varied programs that we currently have? Are we willing to become a 501C3 nonprofit in order to do this?

The Catholic Worker movement is known for its adaptability to circumstances. This has been a building year for the community, and we were willing to try new things as we stretched out and formed ourselves as a community. Now that we have a foundation, we can reach for the stars. But what stars do we want to reach for?

We plan to hold our own prayer times, put together a prayer schedule, as well as encourage everyone to participate in the ongoing prayer life of the Church at Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, or any other Church service. We welcome everyone to join us in this! At Saturday's prayer, we hope to develop a schedule and ask people to join us at various times of the day for prayer--you could join us in person or from your own home.

Our group began with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and we hope and trust that we will continue to see where the hand of God may be leading us.

ALSO: The next Open Community Meeting will be Sunday, December 13th at 4:00 pm. We will continue our discussion of our present and future discernment. In particular, we will be looking at whether becoming a 501C3 non-profit makes sense.


We are reserving the 2nd Sunday of each month for the meetings. Your presence, prayer and presents are very much needed!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Panhandling

Many people often find themselves in heated discussions over panhandling. Some give, others refuse. Some give food, but never money. Some recommend giving out cards with contact info for the nearest social services instead of cash. Many don't know what to do. Each stance can be very principled.

There are no easy answers to panhandling. This is why the Catholic Worker movement has always stressed the importance of personal involvement with the poor. You just can't know what the "right thing" to do is unless you walk a few miles with the people you are helping, and even then the decisions are often difficult. Your spare change could buy someone a crack fix. Your spare change could also save someone's life with emergency food or medicine. There is no way to know for sure. There is no blanket solution that serves every person equally, as much as we might like one.

I tend not to support panhandling. I rarely carry cash, so that makes the decision easy. I would rather address poverty systematically rather than in some random way, but I don't pretend to know if that's the right decision or not.


An interpretation of "Lazarus and the Rich Man" from Luke's gospel.

However, I have to admit that in some ways I like panhandling, even though I would never wish that anyone had to do it. It does get people talking. It forces us to think about an issue that we'd all rather forget about. It is poverty getting right up in your face. If the panhandlers would keep to themselves and only ask for their needs at established agencies and shelters, most of the general public would never have to engage with them or ask themselves these tough questions.

The truth is that there are poor people out there every day, even if they do not make an effort to approach anyone. Yet, it seems much more real when it is up close and personal. We feel guilty if we turn away a panhandler--and it can really ruin a night out on the town. But the truth is that we turn away poor people every single day. The fact that there are some days when people do not ask us directly face-to-face does not change the fact that we know they are out there and that they need help.

Why should be wait until someone randomly finds us on the street and asks us for help? That's not a very strategic way of addressing poverty.

It is interesting that we feel a moral obligation to do something when asked directly, but often don't feel it otherwise. It seems to be part of the human condition. It is the same condition that allows us to be mortified at the picture of a single wounded person but take little interest in lists of bombing casualties of war victims we never see. We must always strive to stay personally involved because of this inherent tendency in the human condition--out of sight very often makes something out of mind, and, apparently, out of reach of our heart, too.

I've ever heard some people say they would like to see the soup kitchens and shelters closed down, bringing masses of people out into the streets begging from anyone they could find. This would force society as a whole to do some serious thinking about poverty. While I can understand the logic, I would never advocate for the poor to be used as pawns like that.

The Catholic Worker has always advocated for giving direct food, clothing and shelter to those who need it, even if that means we run the risk of being a "band aid" by cleaning up the mess that our unjust society has created. Out of mercy for the poor, we must help them--a hungry person needs food right away, and he can't wait for society to change to get it.

But we also work for long term, systemic change. We must ask the question, "Why are they poor in the first place?" Being approached by a panhandler on the street can be a big wake-up call, but we don't need to wait for panhandlers to approach us. For every panhandler there are dozens more who suffer in silence, never asking for help. Or maybe they just aren't able to find you. What are we doing about poverty every day?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

SOA Talk at Pax Christi Tonight

Don't forget to join us tonight at the Pax Christi meeting at 7pm. Jim Hodge and Linda Cooper will be speaking on their ongoing work on the School of the Americas (SOA). This is a timely topic, as this weekend marks the annual protest at the gates of Fr. Benning, GA. For those who can't be there in person, this is a way to still be in solidarity. Recent political upheaval in Honduras is also linked to the School of the Americas.

Jim and Linda are the authors of Disturbing the Peace: The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and the Movement to Close the School of the Americas. They have written prolifically about this topic in the National Catholic Reporter, as well.

This is also a very important topic as the new Pax Christi group discerns its own areas of focus. The SOA relates to injustice not only in Latin America, but it is also a lens through which we can see how America uses its political and military power in other parts of the world.

The talk will be at the Catholic Worker House, 1614 Oakland Park Avenue. See contact info on the right for more info.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Blessed are the Peacemakers--Nonviolence Training Retreat

For the Lord says, "Blessed are the peacemakers." Now a peacemaker is one who gives peace to another. But we cannot give another what we do not possess ourselves. Thus the Lord wants you first to be yourself filled with the blessings of peace, and then to communicate it to those in need of peace.

-St. Gregory of Nyssa, Sermon 7 on the Beatitudes

With this in mind, the Columbus Catholic Worker--in partnership with the newly formed chapter of Pax Christi--are hosting an all-day Nonviolence Training workshop. In order to be peacemakers, we must first cultivate peace on all levels of our being.

Facilitators from the Michigan Peace Team will be leading us from 9am until 5pm on Saturday, December 12th. Please RSVP to the contact info on the right hand side if you would like to attend! Lunch will be served. There is no cost, but donations are always welcome.

The training itself will cover a lot of ground, including these topics, taken from their website:


  • Experience the transforming power of nonviolence for oneself and society;

  • Learn about and practice skills for nonviolent peacemaking;

  • Learn of domestic & international violence reduction peacemaking efforts and opportunities for volunteering on projects;

  • Experience working together with others as a peace team.

They train groups from everything from nonviolent communication and consensus-building strategies for families and neighborhoods all the way to preparing groups for protests, acts of civil disobedience and for people who go off into war-torn parts of the world to be peacemakers.

Topics include working with hate groups, racial injustice, mechanisms for social change, nonviolent communication, etc. This training that we are having will not have a specific focus, so any and all topics can be covered. It is a great training for any people working for social change.

Please check the link above for other exciting components of the training, too numerous to mention here!

The Holy Trinity is peace itself. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three persons who are together as one Triune God. They are the living example of peace since they are diversity of persons united in perfect harmony. So indeed, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. And why is this? As this website says: "By imitating God's love of man, the peacemakers become children of God."

Take it away, St. Gregory of Nyssa:

Those who imitate God's love for human beings show forth in their own life the characteristics of the Divine Life. The Lord and Giver of good things completely annihilates anything that is foreign to goodness. This work He ordains also for you: to cast out hatred and abolish war, to exterminate envy and banish strife, to take away hypocrisy and extinguish from within the resentment of injuries smoldering in the heart.

Instead, you ought to introduce whatever is contrary to the things that have been removed. For as light follows the departure of darkness, these evil things are replaced by the fruits of the Spirit, by charity, joy, peace, goodness, generosity, and all the good things enumerated by Paul.

How, then, should we not be blessed, when we act as dispensers of the Divine gifts, since we imitate the gifts of God and model our own good deeds on the Divine munificence?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Wealth, Poverty and St. John Chrysostom

A hard truth for us to realize--especially Americans--is that wealth for one person generally comes at the expense of someone else.

I find it particularly hard to justify doing much of anything when 1 billion people are starving to death at any given moment in time. There is a real cost to living in a continual state of accumulating and consuming--excess resources are coming my way for some small luxuries when they could--and should--be going to someone else to keep them alive. I think of this with every decadent hot chocolate with whipped cream I indulge myself in at the local coffee shop, while typing this on my laptop.

However, intentional poverty is a tough go, and I have barely taken steps in that direction. I am choosing not to burden myself with guilt over it, but to slowly relax my way out of the entanglement with materialism and my inevitable complicity in the violence of the world that comes with it. I've been immersed in this system all my life, it will take a while to wind my way out of it.

Intentional poverty is beautiful as a means of spiritual solidarity with the poor. It also has a very practical side of simply breaking the cycle of consumerism and exploitation. There comes a time when a person simply cannot stand to participate in the madness any longer.

I lean on the words of St. John Chrysostom, bishop and doctor of the Church. It is easier to see these dynamics of wealth and poverty with our modern knowledge about the socio-economic systems in which we live, but in the latter half of the fourth century, St. John saw this just as clearly:

"In order that you may wear one pearl drop, countless poor people are suffering from hunger. What excuse do you make for this?"

"Do you wish to adorn your face? Do so not with pearls, but with modesty, and dignity."

"Take off all ornament and place it in the hands of Christ through the poor."

The idea that our possessions are on loan from God is a strong theme in St. John Chrysostom, as well as in other Early Church Fathers. We are merely stewards of Creation, and it is our job to make sure it gets to those who need it. Many people look to Native American spirituality for these ideas, but there is also a strong tradition right in the theology of the Early Church Fathers:

"Our money is the Lord's, however we may have gathered it . . . this is why God has allowed you to have more: not to waste on prostitutes, drink, fancy food, expensive clothes, and all the other kinds of indolence, but for you to distribute to those in need."

"Not to share our wealth is to steal from the poor, and to deprive them of their means of life. We do not possess our own wealth but theirs."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Two Gifts: Of Paint and Through Paint

It has become a tradition for many groups to memorialize September 11th by participating in acts of good works. This is in keeping with the spirit of togetherness that overtook America in the wake of 9/11/01.

The Columbus Catholic Worker was a site for over 70 AmeriCorps members and supervisors to be the beneficiary of their generous gift this year. Two groups of approximately 35 people each worked about 4 hours that day.

The focus was on the upstairs: Bedrooms were painted creatively and tastefully. Most now have two-tone color schemes and lively touches. Some of the rooms previously had a potential health hazard with large cracks and chunks of paint falling off--this is especially a concern as this 50 year old building no doubt has leaded paint on the bottom layers.. These were scraped and sealed under a layer of new paint.
Pictured above is the famous purple room.
A lot more than paint got put onto the structure of the Catholic Worker that day. With so many AmeriCorps members and supervisors working with us, we were asked if we would like to host an AmeriCorps*VISTA member of our own! A VISTA member is one who fulfills a 1 or 2 year commitment, working on a stipend, to help local agencies like ours develop our capacity for service. Developing new programs and building infrastructure so that our group can grow is the mission of a VISTA member.

We gladly accepted this generous offer and it took all of 5 minutes to discern a candidate: Joan, our master painter and Catholic Worker member who has given so much to the community so far: Organizing the canning classes, gardening, coordinating the Free Store with Bev, and numerous other projects. She had just remarked earlier that day that she may have to limit her involvement at the Catholic Worker due to getting an outside job--not so fast!


Smiling above is Joan, Master Painter and soon-to-be AmeriCorps*VISTA member!

Here is a group shot of the morning crew.
Pictures by VISTA member Miles.

Monday, October 19, 2009

On The Asparagus and the Catholic Worker

Gardeners will tell you that growing asparagus takes time. It must be heavily fertilized, and the roots need to grow deep. You will see beautiful, tender shoots the first year, but no fruit. Even with all that attention, you won't really see a harvest for 3-4 years. It sprouts and looks promising, but then goes away only to come back next year.

I always think of this when I consider the Columbus Catholic Worker. Our group started over 3 years ago. Cheryl and her children came up with the audacious idea of forming a community here in Columbus. After several months of meetings, a book study, dialogue with the Diocese and lots of heavy discernment, we tentatively began some ministries.

Pat & Glenda generously opened up their home as Emmanuel House and promptly began offering hospitality to homeless persons in Columbus. Their home was a true community house in every sense of the word. The door was always open and you could just drop in anytime and make yourself at home. Many great discussions happened there and friendships developed.

After many long months of trial & error and tough learning experiences, it was decided to stop offering hospitality at their home. Our other ministries subsided as well, and our group went into hibernation, not sure of our future.

But like the asparagus, we came back the next year, a little bit weathered but a little bit wiser.

While some of the ministries we began did not continue, it must always be remembered that we draw upon those experiences every day. We learned a lot about what we can and cannot do. In the midst of all that, I believe our group managed to make the world just a little bit nicer for some folks who really needed it, to paraphrase a line from Entertaining Angels. Not bad, indeed.

It is time for a well-deserved shout out to Pat & Glenda for creating a space for our community when it really mattered. You stuck your necks out on the line and took a big chance. You took a few on the chin, as well. There is little chance we would be doing what we're doing now if you hadn't done what you did before.

As our community faces an uncertain future at our current location, it is good to take a look back at where we've been. The only downside about naming people is that we are sure to leave out quite a few. Taking that risk, we'd like to mention that the initial incarnation wouldn't have been possible without Bill, Kathy H, Mary Ellen and all the other Mary's, Grace and Mark. Numerous others provided just the right help at just the right time, right on cue from the Holy Spirit.

We are always sowing in faith, never sure of the harvest. Please know that all of those efforts right from the beginning are continuing to reap a rich harvest, even if the location, the mission and even some of the people have changed. Every contribution of every type has left a ripple effect that stays present in our community long afterwards.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Free Clothing Store

Bev has been on quite a roll lately. Besides running the ESL program, helping start Pax Christi with Grace, and taking a share in the overall administrative tasks, she also has taken the initiative to start a Free Clothing Store. Joan has joined her in this project, as well.

We gave out our first items just this week. Representatives from CRIS (Community Refugee and Immigration Services) stopped by to pick up about two dozen winter coats. They are working with some newly arrived refugees from places such as Iraq, Somalia, Eritrea and Bhutan, and most of those folks are not accustomed to the quickly approaching Ohio winters!

This picture of a corner of the store does not do it justice, especially after many of our items have recently been cleaned out!

We also made the store available to students of our ESL classes this week. One woman was thrilled to walk home with a nice winter coat, having lived in Ohio for some time but never having a proper winter coat at all. She was beaming from ear to ear. Those moments of grace really help lift our spirits and reassure us that what we are doing matters.

As our stock builds up, we are looking at ways to make the store available to patrons of the food pantry or other groups in town. We may be open once a week, or on an referral basis, or maybe even daily in conjunction with pantry hours--it just depends on staffing and how much stock we have. We are starting slowly.

Next week, we are getting a delivery from the Cub Scouts of St. Matthew's in Gahanna. We are looking for help unloading the truck on Monday morning, Oct 19th at 10:00 am--call if you can help and park on the street, as school will be in session and there won't be room. We also need people to stop by in the days afterwards to help sort items. The house # is 614-267-3322.

We will take any clean clothing, shoes, and other household items. Right now, we are focusing on winter items, such as coats, hats, boots and scarfs. We are also on the lookout for children's clothing, as that is often a much-needed as children outgrow outfits so quickly.

When the representatives from CRIS were here, they had a couple boxes of items in their car they asked if we wanted--an assortment of paper plates and cups, which Joan can use for the Labre ministry feeding the homeless in Columbus, as well as some bottles of chocolate syrup and sprinkles, which are always welcome to augment our ice cream bar. It is wonderful to be part of "God's economy" this way--people giving and sharing what they have, and God making sure that it all works out.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fr. John Dear and Grace

Fr. John Dear gave the Ohio Dominican University crowd a very wonderful presentation tonight! He talked about his conversion into a peacemaker while on pilgrimage in the Holy Land. He described Jesus as the Incarnation of the God of Peace and asked us to consider the implications this has for our lives. He repeatedly mentioned the great peacemakers of our time: Martin Luther King Jr, Dorothy Day, and the father of modern peacemaking: Mahatmas Gandhi.

There was a brief session of questions and comments at the end. Time was limited, but Fr. John seemed willing to push it and entertain a few more questions than the allotted time. Just before he was about to call it quits, he allowed one more comment. Our friend Grace stood up and announced to the whole room the formation of the local Pax Christi chapter and our initial meeting coming up at 7pm on October 21st, here at the Catholic Worker house. She also invited John to attend!

Fr. John was glad to hear this and announced that membership in Pax Christi is a "no brainer." He said that it should be the first step any Catholic makes on the road to peacemaking, being a worldwide organization that bears the official support of the institutional Catholic Church. He encouraged us all to join Pax Christi and we were thrilled to hear his support.

It was then that the light bulb went off in my head, and I could have kicked myself. We were sitting on probably the most sympathetic assembly for peacemaking in Central Ohio and didn't even think to have a stack of fliers handy--a nearly blown opportunity, if it weren't for Grace. It is a good thing we do this in community and can cover each other!

I realized then that I have been spending way too much time in administrative muck and mire. My days have been a stream of phone calls and emails--insurance concerns, house cleaning rigmarole, negotiating with plumbers and arranging an almost endless run of meetings on this and that. I've taken my eye off the mission.

Peter Maurin assured Dorothy Day that if you look at the lives of the saints, you will see that when they did the work of the Lord, that the finances and everything else followed. Perhaps it is time to trust the Lord and put my energies back to direct ministry and let the Lord handle the bookkeeping.

Thank God for Grace--ha!

I encourage everyone to check out Fr. John's blog on the National Catholic Reporter or his website, which contains many of his writings and speeches.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

One Billion

You may have heard that one billion people are literally starving to death right at this moment. That is one in six people on the planet. The U.N. announced this statistic recently. The link is to an article by Fr. John Dear, who is coming to speak at ODU tomorrow.

We have all known for decades the enormity of global poverty, disease and hunger. As theologian Sallie McFague points out, that knowledge practically defines our modern era. Never before have people lived their entire lives knowing that an enormous amount of people are not just suffering, but actually starving to death. Even if you don't actively think about it, it is always there in the back of your consciousness.

People growing up in isolated villages in the Middle Ages, for example, knew their own suffering but had no idea what it was like on a global scale. If all was well in their village, they could rest knowing that had done their share. We never get that rest. Their saints were theologians. Our saints are humanitarians.

One of the things I remember the most from my childhood are those statistics that relief agencies spout out about how many tens of thousands of people die each minute, each second, each day. They haunted me then, they haunt me now.

We live in the Age of Information, and the information is grim. We don't talk about it much, but to think that it doesn't somehow affect us, that this information doesn't eat away at us and keep us awake at night, that is doesn't sit in our cells and cause cancers in our bodies, is probably mistaken. Jesus reminds us that we are one family on earth. If you stub your toe, the whole body aches, no matter how good your distractions are.

I see one billion people starving everywhere. It is changing the way I look at everything:

When I see people spending thousands of dollars redecorating their home and buying antiques, all I see are one billion people starving.

When I see people playing basketball in the park, I see one billion starving.

And yes, even when many beautiful things happen through the ministries of The Catholic Worker, I see one billion people starving. While there is no way to know exactly how God works, there are many times when I lie awake at night and realize that no one's going to live or die based on our ministries. God does work in mysterious ways, and it is possible that someone we help nurture through a retreat, or give food to through our pantry or teach in our ESL will somehow take that seed and sprout it into all sorts of good humanitarian work. But why must we hope for the Hail Mary pass, so to speak?

How can any of us justify doing any of the above activities knowing that one billion people are literally starving to death? I'm not trying to lay down a guilt trip on anyone, this is just a purely matter of fact, logical question. I don't understand why everyone on earth doesn't just stop what we are doing and attend to this like NOW. Maybe the collective shock of this information hasn't really hit home, yet.

If your mother were literally starving to death, you wouldn't go on retreat to "discern" whether you were "called" to help her. You wouldn't sip coffee with your pinky in the air and talk about it over polite banter with your friends. You would move hell and earth to get to her. You would break every speed limit to get to her in time. Jesus tells us to think of all human beings in the same way we regard our own flesh and blood family members and to have that same instinctive response to intervene when they are suffering.

I'm not suggesting that we give up all entertainment. I'm not saying we should give up helping others in our locale. I'm not suggesting we give up school or work or anything. I am not suggest we curl up in a ball immobilized by the enormity of the problem. But I am suggesting that maybe those one billion people ought to be the axis around which we orient our lives. We should make our decisions in light of them. What would life look like if we did that?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Peace Wednesdays

The efforts are underway to organize a new chapter of Pax Christi right here in Columbus, OH! Our second planning meeting is in the books and we have scheduled--and would like to draw attention to--some events around peace & justice coming up in the near future. Events will be here at the Catholic Worker House unless otherwise specified (address on the right).

Check out these Wednesday evening activities here or around town:

September 30, 7:30 pm: Come and hear Fr. John Dear give a presentation at Ohio Domincian University (see post below for details)

October 7, 6:30 pm: The Columbus Catholic Worker is holding an informal discussion on peace and justice on the 5th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan (and also just a few days after Gandhi's birthday: International Day of Nonviolence).

October 14, 7:00 pm: The third planning meeting for the local Pax Christi chapter will be held at the Columbus Catholic Worker, 1614 Oakland Park Avenue. All are welcome, or you can wait for the following week for....

October 21, 7:00 pm: This will be the first ever meeting of the local Pax Christi chapter! All are invited! We will be discerning the direction of our future ministries, getting to know one another, and just generally kicking it off. Plans are also in the works for a full-day nonviolence training retreat, held by the Michigan Peace Team. Updates will be given as they develop!

Hope to see you on these Peace Wednesdays!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lifestyle

The Catholic Worker movement has been a witness to the world in many ways since its founding way back in the depths of the Great Depression, over 80 years ago. One major way it has done this is by showing how to turn your lifestyle into an act of service.

Most good-intentioned Americans find themselves busy and their money spent. Just keeping a roof over their head and feeding their family takes most of their resources. They are lucky to spare a few hours or a few extra dollars at the end of the month towards a charitable cause.

But wouldn't it be amazing if all the time, talent and treasure spent doing these basic life necessities could somehow also be an expression of the Christian vocation to service?

Let's look at it financially. People who live with us in community pay a small rent. For example, a single person who works a full-time job may pay a monthly rent of $300 (we have different rates for single people, married couples and those with children, and we also negotiate based on how much someone works outside of the house). Anyone who has ever had to rent their own apartment, furnish it and pay utilities would know this is a really good deal. We wanted to set the amount high enough so that our bills would be paid and that members would take this commitment seriously, but also low enough to consider the extra hours spent doing ministry work by living here.

Still, even though this is for all practical purposes a very low rent, it adds up to a whopping $3,600 a year! Now, I am not one to begrudge the contributions of anyone, and God knows how much each nickels counts, but only the most generous and wealthy people could imagine handing over that much money to us in a single year. I couldn't have imagined donating that much with my expenses and salary, either, back when I maintained my own apartment just a few short months ago.

By no means am I trying to minimize the contributions of others, as we would not be in operation if it weren't for the dozens of folks who contribute who don't live with us in community. There is always that "invisible" person who also lives here--the combined contributions of outside folks who help us out. Your presence is truly felt and we would have to fold up shop without you.

I'm not suggesting that everyone out there should live in a Catholic Worker house. I do support Dorothy Day's original vision that each parish should have one, which means we need a whole lot more communities like this, but that is neither here nor there. What I am asking is this: Are there ways that you can turn your most basic living tasks and expenses into acts of service?

By living in a center of Christian outreach, we have more resources available to contribute because we simply live here. We'd have to mop and vacuum the floors anyway, why not do it at a center of Christian outreach rather than a private apartment? We'd have to write a check to a landlord or mortgage company anyway, why not write a check to a center of Christian outreach instead? But by no means are these the only ways to turn your lifestyle into service. You all are creative, hard-working people. What are some other options?

Many folks have gardens and fruit trees in your yard. You know how it gets toward the end of the summer when you have more than you can use and there is produce literally rotting on the vines. You already take the time and energy to grow it. One option is to pick it and give it to your local food pantry--or call someone like me who would be happy to do it for you! All the unpicked produce in backyard gardens in this town would probably exceed the storage capacity at the Mid-Ohio Food Bank!

You walk your dog anyway... it probably wouldn't be that much harder to also walk the dog of the little old lady who lives next door to you, and the dogs might love the extra companionship.

You drive your kids to school anyway. Would it be possible to carpool with the struggling single mom whose house you drive by everyday on the way to school?

Most of us have attics and basements full of junk--but your junk could be a treasure to a poor family who could use it.

The possibilities are endless! I'm not suggesting that people shouldn't go out of their way to help others--please do! But we all know how tired and busy we are and what the limitations are. The better strategy would be to find a way to integrate service into what you normally do anyway. Perhaps with a nickel's worth of extra effort you can double your service.

You can set up your lifestyle so that service is easy to do because it falls within the normal infrastructure of your day. This is one of the things that has most impressed me about the Catholic Worker movement. It makes ya think . . .

Some people choose a more dramatic adjustment by changing their occupation or living situation. I would never tell someone not to do that, but keep in mind it is the job of the laity to be a witness to the secular world, according to Vatican II--at work, in your neighborhoods and recreation activities.

Anyone who has ever held a secular job can tell you that the Holy Spirit needs willing hands, feet and hearts in those places more than anywhere! Be a peacemaker among all the petty squabbles and serious backstabbing that you see every day. If you are really passionate about recycling, for example, you might have a bigger impact starting a recycling program at your current job than quitting and working for a small environmental non-profit that is already doing a lot of recycling.

Suggest, coach and teach your business to be mindful of humanitarian causes and the impact of your business on the world and others. Sometimes a quiet voice on the inside of a business can do more than a screaming protest in the streets.

These are all important acts of service, and they can be done within the flow of your current lifestyle!

Pictured above are Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day, respectively.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Cornucopia


What are we doing with a mountain of rice, beans, corn tortillas and adobe spice seasoning? It looks like we are getting ready for a Latino party! In a sense, that is true.

Tuesday, September 8th is the first day that our St. Vincent de Paul food pantry will start its bilingual operation. They have asked Firstlink to send around 4 Spanish-speaking families for starters, to see how it goes.

There was a very positive response from the Latino community here at St. James the Less. Fr. Pat got a significant number of volunteers and they are all scheduled to help out each Tuesday evening. There was no hesitation from the Latino community to help.

One goal is to serve the Latino community without reducing the meals served to the English-speaking community. In other words, we are growing and serving more families!

Beverly and I recently visited the food pantry of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in the southwest corner of Columbus. In many ways, they are very much like the pantry in our building and it runs pretty much the same. However, we did learn some great tips which made the trip well worth it.

Latinos will certainly eat American food, but there is no reason not to find items that are particularly appealing to them. People often know how to stretch their food dollars better if they eat foods that are familiar to them. However, the Mid-Ohio Food Bank (which is the primary supplier of the food pantries) often does not stock large amounts of dry rice, beans, corn flour, etc. Pantries have to buy them.

The Guadalupe pantry is actually right across the street from a Restaurant Depot--a immense warehouse that supplies food to restaurants. They can get an outrageous deal on bulk items there, such as 50 lbs of rice for $15! What they do is buy the bulk items them repackage them into smaller quantities for individual families. They even have a vacuum sealer that can melt the plastic to fit each package. Is there anyone out here who has one they are willing to part with to a good cause?

Beverly made a generous donation to get us started with the above items. Along with other items that the pantry stocks, we'll be sure that these Latino families also take some some rice, beans, tortillas and the adobe seasoning (the stuff that makes rice turn red that you often get at Mexican restaurants). We'll also make sure we have a generous supply of hot peppers right from the garden! We are also looking for an inexpensive way to get masa corn flour.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Hasta Luego, Maestra Naomi!

It is with both sadness as well as glad tidings for her future that we say goodbye to Naomi, our Tuesday English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher.

I remember the first day of our ESL program, way back in early April (it seems so long ago now!) Bev and I were getting ready for the assessment sessions, and the mother-daughter team of Ruth and Naomi came to help out. I was nervous when the students first arrived, not sure how this would all work. There was an awkward silence as students walked in, and there was a moment when I worried if this would come together at all! Ruth and Naomi jumped in and starting talking and laughing with the students and got the ball rolling, and it has been rolling ever since.

A lot has happened in the last few months. Naomi started off helping out as a tutor. Bev would teach for the first 20-40 minutes of class, and then the class would break up as students paired up with tutors to drill what they had just learned.

It wasn't long before Naomi started researching more about ESL. She attended training sessions at the Dominican Learning Center. She started scheduling time with students for private, one-on-one sessions. Eventually, she began teaching segments of classes, and it certainly wasn't long before she was teaching the Tuesday night beginner's ESL class faithfully.

It has been a true joy to watch her grow in her love for ESL. It is quite clear that she really cares for the students, and she also has a lot of talent for ESL. So then why is she leaving, you may ask?


As a matter of fact, she is leaving in order to study ESL more formally at a school in Oaxaca, Mexico. She'll be there for a month, and then she will look for opportunities to teach ESL in Mexico for a longer period of time. That would be a great chance not only to develop as an ESL teacher, but also to grow in her Spanish skills, which are already quite good.

We are sorry to see her go but glad that she is pursuing this. We are honored that she was able to discover this passion and was willing to nurture and share it while working with us.

We celebrated with cake as well as some recently-made salsa (which, by the way, got some thumbs up from the Latino students!)


Pictured above is Naomi on her last day, Bev is in the background.

We wish you the best, Naomi! Good luck in your studies and upcoming adventures!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Salsa Picante!



Erin is proudly showing off a batch of just-finished jars of salsa!

Suzanne and Joan (L to R) are busy peeling tomatoes!

It is with no small joy to report the progress of the canning session at the house this past Sunday.

We had hauled out of the garden three boxes of tomatoes, a plethora of green peppers (many donated by my parents), and an assortment of hot peppers. It was time to make SALSA! Melissa came over to instruct a bunch of us how to make homemade salsa and then preserve it in jars for the upcoming months.

We worked hard all afternoon, each person assigned to a different vegetable: Joan and Suzanne cut and peeled tomatoes. Quinn was in charge of garlic. Kye worked on onions until it became tearfully apparent that Erin needed to take over. Alea chopped up green peppers; Pat chopped up cilantro. Melissa coached and mixed. We all taste tested.

Yours truly got assigned to cutting up hot peppers. I did so without gloves and paid the price three hours later when my fingers started to burn painfully (NOTE: Making a paste out of baking soda and water and leaving it on my fingers took the pain away--washing it off and repeating a few times helped as well).

Melissa shows Alea the finer points of chopping peppers.

The flavor was outstanding. All the work was worth it just to be a taste tester! We finished with a couple dozen jars of salsa. Folks took some home but the majority is here at the house. If you visit the house for an event in the months to come, you just might share in this delight.

Food preservation is an important ministry: It is a natural extension of our garden. It is an aspect of environmental sustainability to foster locally grown foods. It builds community. It preserves traditional ways of life that have been so quickly lost in the modern area--neighbors talking the kitchen while canning vegetables is something that would have been common just a generation ago. It is good and natural and right.

Quinn is deep in thought while peeling garlic. No risk of vampires or ghosts today!

Even more apropos is that these classes by themselves are already evidence of the fruit of community building--we met the teacher Melissa as folks from the neighborhood formed friendships in an around the community garden!

Now that we know we "can" preserve vegetables, we will keep that in mind as we select crops to plant in the garden and adjust the timing of their planting so they are ready at appropriate times. Filling our pantry full of jars of homemade salsa, sauerkraut, pickles and just plain ole tomatoes is something to look forward to!

Many thanks to Joan, who worked for several days organizing and cleaning the jars, to Erin, who provided the extra ingredients and helped with organization, and of course, to Melissa, whose unbelievable talent as a teacher as well as her knowledge of food preservation and willingness to share have really astounded us all.
Thanks also to the folks from St. James the Less, the Newman Center and other individuals who donated their old jars and canning supplies!

Now one burning question remains: Will the Latinos think our salsa is hot enough?

Kye asks, "Want an onion?"

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Michigan Peace Team

This was forwarded by community member Mary S., who knows one of the participants. This can give a profound snapshot of the kinds of things peacemakers do in the world! Most Americans probably do not even realize that people do such things.

It may seem like we are advertising for a lot of events that are not directly related to the Columbus Catholic Worker, lately. This is true. As we discern the direction for our justice ministry, we've selected a few noteworthy events that seem to resonate and relate to discussions we've had. When we sit in bewilderment in the face of injustice and wonder, "what in the world can we do about it?" something like the following can give some ideas:


Dear family and friends,

We may have told you (or you may have heard) that we are going to the West Bank in Palestine for a month with the Michigan Peace Team (MPT). We thought you might be interested in hearing more about this endeavor.

MPT is an international organization based in Lansing, MI that supports teams of 4-6 people to work to end the occupation of the West Bank and to advocate for a just peace for all Israelis and Palestinians.

We will be living in Palestine from approximately Sept. 10 to Oct. 10. Our goal will be to help prevent violence in simple ways: for example, walking kids to school to avoid harassment by illegal settlers or Israeli occupying forces, staying in Palestinian homes that are targeted for demolition, participating in nonviolent demonstrations near the wall that has been built to protect illegal settlers.

We will also use the new camera we have just purchased to document human rights abuses and other forms of harassment that take place in this area. To see the work that we are doing as members of the Fall Team, you can go to http://www.michiganpeaceteam.org/ and click on Teams. Reports will be posted there during the time we are there. We hope that, when we return, we will have an opportunity to share with you in person what we did and how we view the problems in that troubled country.

There will be six persons on our Team. Martha, Tom and Mary will arrive first and be followed by Lois, Fred, and Abby. We will live in a house rented by MPT. We know there will be a certain amount of tension, and perhaps even some element of danger--but we are not expected to be (nor intend to be) heroes, so we feel we will have a good experience and hopefully make a small contribution to the peace process.

If you would like to learn more about the Michigan Peace Team or would like to support their efforts for nonviolent peace in Israel/Palestine, please go to the above web-site. Your prayers will also be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,
Tom and Mary


* * *

Note: Another member of the Michigan Peace Team is Fr. Peter Dougherty, who we had the privilege to meet at the Pax Christi Conference last month. We hope to invite him for our opening retreat to kick-off the Pax Christi chapter here.

Fr. John Dear

I remember wandering into one of the workshops at the National Pax Christi Conference in Chicago, when I was there with Pat a few weeks ago. It was probably a fine workshop, but I felt a strong sense of restlessness--I had an impulse to leave and go elsewhere. Before the session began, I shot up and walked down the hallway.


I ended up at the workshop led by Fr. John Dear. It was entitled, "Put Away Your Sword: The Last Words of Jesus to the Church." I was periodically in tears and very powerfully moved during his talk.

So you can imagine I was very excited to find out that Fr. John Dear is making an appearance in town in just a few short weeks:

The Center for Dominican Studies Presents Special Event on September 30: “Living Peace: Spirituality of Contemplation and Action”

Ohio Dominican University’s Center for Dominican Studies is proud to present a special program about living peace on September 30, 2009 in the Matesich Theatre (2nd Floor of Erskine Hall at the ODU’s main campus-1216 Sunbury Road, Columbus OH 43219) at 7:00 p.m. The program’s speaker is John Dear, S.J. who is an internationally known voice for peace and nonviolence. He is a Jesuit priest, lecturer, organizer and retreat leader, and author of 25 books. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. To register for this event, email Sr. Catherine Colby, Director for the Center of Dominican Studies and Vice President for Mission & Identity at colbyc@ohiodominican.edu or call, (614) 251-4722.


* * *

As we lay the groundwork for starting a Pax Christi chapter in Columbus, there are few living individuals who can speak to the radical gospel message of Jesus' nonviolence as effortlessly as Fr. John Dear. While some may debate over these issues, Fr. John Dear makes it all sound as simple as breathing.

I absolutely encourage everyone who can make it to attend this conference.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Catholic Times

Brushing all humility aside, it is probably worth mentioning that yours truly was interviewed in the latest issue of The Catholic Times! The Columbus Catholic Worker is featured in the article. Follow the link above to see!

Many thanks to the diocesan Office of Ministry Formation for supporting and showcasing lay ecclesial ministers in the Church!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Salsa and Pickles, Oh My!

written by Erin

Two Upcoming Events

We are having a Canning Party for the Catholic Worker cupboard on August 30th. Your donated time and energy will help us host many folks over the winter with fresh produce from the garden. We will give it out as gifts to our ESL students and use it when preparing food for our other programs or other forms of hospitality. We will gather at 2:30 and go until about 6:00 pm. While this one is not a formal class, it is still an ideal opportunity to learn.

Also, after an overwhelming response, Melissa has graciously offered to have another Canning Class focused on Salsa and Pickles. We have selected September 9th from 6-9 pm. Please bring $3 to participate -- we will have pizza on hand to munch on and maybe even make a salad! Thanks to you all for participating in the previous class.

Please send an email if you can come to either event, so we can make plans. The class has a size limit of 12 people, and the last time it filled up.

Looking forward to some fun!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lay Ecclesial Ministry

The Office of Ministry Formation of the Columbus Diocese will be hosting a program called Foundations in Lay Ecclesial Ministry. It will take place over the course of four separate sessions at the Catholic Worker House.

This program is not affiliated in any way with the Columbus Catholic Worker except by simply sharing space. However, the Catholic Worker movement has been--throughout the last 80 years--one of the best snapshots of what lay ministry can be. We are delighted to host this program and welcome others who are interested and involved in lay ministry.

This program is a great introduction for people in all aspects of lay ministry, such as liturgical musicians, prison ministers, RCIA coordinators, youth ministers, marriage and family life ministry, or any number of other ways that the laity serves within the Church.

Please click this link for the program brochure, application form, as well as information on other workshops offered through this office.

Session 1: Vocation of the Christian Faithful
Sunday, September 27

Session 2: The Lay Ecclesial Minister
Sunday, October 25

Session 3: Spirituality of Servant
Sunday, November 22

Session 4: Introduction to Civil and Canon Law for Ministers
Sunday, December 20

Time: 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Cost: $100 (all four session taken together)
Applications due: September 1, 2009

From the brochure:

Foundations in Lay Ecclesial Ministry is a stand alone series of 4 sessions for current or aspiring Church ministers. It serves as a prerequisite for subsequent formation in the Lay Ecclesial Ministry Program in various areas of ministry specialization or the diocesan Diaconate Formation Program. The sessions are geared to assisting participants explore their sense of call to service in the Catholic community as well as developing their identity and gifts as ministerial leaders.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Yes, We Can!

Written by Joan

The Catholic worker house was filled with the sounds, sights and smells of people learning to can vegetables and fruits last Wednesday, August 12. Our canning class was a resounding sucesss thanks mostly to our new friend, Melissa Welch.


Melissa's expertise in food preservation, gained from a lifetime of personal experience, and her awesome talent as a teacher provided all of us students with the skills we needed to go home and start canning our produce with confidence.

Melissa arranged the class in such a way that every student got hands-on experience in every step of the process. With her clear and formidable voice she was able to instruct us as we worked and answer every question asked. No time was wasted as we peeled, cut, stuffed our produce into jars and cooked it in the canning kettle. It was mad and merry and lots of fun.

Our students were an enthusiastic group of men and women, including some whom we'd not known before as well as some folks who we did know, such as Suzanne, one of our gardeners; Peggy, our world-traveled visitor from the east coast who's had many interesting tales to tell; cool-headed Erin who handled a lot of the logistics and publicizing of the class; and me [Joan] and the raffish young man who is my beloved son. And at the end we all went home with the fruits of our labor--a jar of canned tomatoes and one of chunky applesauce, the memory of a delightful evening spent with new-found friends and the knowledge that, yes, we can do this!

Melissa generously offered to provide another class in early September, probably covering dill pickles and salsa, so we are all looking forward to that. She also offered private tutoring in her own kitchen to anyone who was interested!


I think it was interesting the way this class came to be. About a month ago, I was working in our community garden alongside a neighbor, one of the Erin's. I said to her, "You know, before too long we're going to have more veggies here than than we'll be able to eat. Wouldn't it be good if we could have a canning class so we could learn how to put some of it up for future use?"

She agreed, but neither of us knew anyone who knew how to can food. Not five minutes later a woman wandered into the garden accompanied by her little doggie. I went over to her to say Hi and it turned out that she lived nearby and came to visit the garden every day while she walked her dog.

As we strolled around she commented on the growing veggies: "That'll be ripe in a couple of weeks. These need to be picked now. Oh, those are very nice beets." And so forth. "Hmm, "I thought, "this is a woman who really knows about gardening."

So I asked her, "By any chance, do you know how to can food?" She laughed and said she'd grown up on a farm and had been doing it since she was a child. And that's how we met Melissa, our wonderful canning coach.

Isn't serendipity a delightful thing? And isn't working convivially with other people, doing something useful and good, a holy thing even if it may not seem particularly holy at the time (as your tomato skins pile up on the counter and the juice starts dripping onto the floor)? I think so. It reminds me of this:

"Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance said He!
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I'll lead you all in the dance said He!"

If you don't know this song, here are some suggestions: A rather gentle version with Donovan, clear, lively version with Barley Bree, a robust, audience-assisted version with Jim McCann, the Dubliners or Tommy Makem.

Please do join us in the next dance at the Catholic Worker House. We'll be having canning day on August 30 from 2:30 till however long you can stay. No experience necessary; you can learn as you work. This food will be used for hospitality at the House and as gifts for our Spanish ESL friends. Another canning class is planned for early September which will probably cover dill pickles and salsa; the exact day has not yet been determined.

And after that - who knows?


"True love is delicate and kind, full of gentle perception and understanding, full of beauty and grace, full of joy unutterable. There should be some flavor of this in all our love for others. We are all one."
---- Dorothy Day - co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement

Monday, August 10, 2009

Latino Food Pantry

We have been looking for ways to partner with the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, since we share a building together. We have dabbled in a few tasks, such as giving out groceries on occasion, unloading the truck and taking in donations. More recently, we have been able to contribute by picking and packing vegetables and even managing what we hope will be a regular milk delivery.

Their presence in the house has been a real blessing for us, as well. It is nice having people coming and going on a regular basis. They have helped fix up the basement, and their members have gotten involved in our activities. They have given us snack foods for some of our events.

Still, we have not found our niche yet.

We are continually reminded that the Latino community includes some of the more under served people in our city. We come in contact with them regularly through ESL and the Legal Clinic.

It turns out there is only one Latino-oriented food pantry in central Ohio! Our Lady of Guadalupe carries the weight, and they are in the southwest corner of Columbus. [See comment below, we have since discovered there are two others!]

There is no reason why Latinos could not come to our food pantry as it is now. However, the language barrier is quite substantial, so the referral agencies such as Firstlink and J.O.I.N. simply don't send them to us. It also helps to have foods that make sense culturally, as people know how to stretch a dollar better with their native foods. Advertising should also be done in Spanish.

We have been talking about making this pantry more accessible to the Latino community. We would have to add a rotation of bilingual support and then make some adjustments in terms of food ordering and translating documents. It may sound easy, but it will take a lot of work to integrate a new program into an existing operation.

The amazing thing is that we are so well positioned to do this, as if the Holy Spirit just lined it all up perfectly: The St. James the Less food pantry has been handing out groceries since 1954, and they know the food pantry business like the back of their hands! Our parish has a large Latino congregation who can assist with the workload. There is also a large population in the area who can benefit directly from the pantry. Our geographic location is just right, being on the opposite end of town as the other Latino-oriented pantry. The Catholic Worker is willing to manage this new operation.

Our plan is to offer bilingual support at the pantry one day each week, and then see how it unfolds. Initially, we wanted to open the pantry to Latinos on a separate day but decided to integrate it on a day when the English speaking pantry is also working. That may be a blessing as members of both the English and Spanish speaking communities will have the opportunity to mix and mingle. The two communities are not well integrated right now, mostly due to the language barrier.


The Holy Spirit seems to be moving us in this direction, and we are grateful for the exciting opportunities to serve folks in the near future! I am excited that we could be able to develop only the second Spanish-speaking food pantry in the city!

The two top pictures above are of St. Vincent de Paul. The bottom picture is Blessed Frederic Ozanam, who founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and whose writings on social justice helped pave the wave for modern Catholic Social Teaching.
ADDED LATER: Many apologies to other local groups! We have sinced discovered that there is a Latino-oriented food pantry at the Smoky Row Brethren Chruch Saturdays from 8-10 am as well as Christ the King Catholic Church Wednesdays 9-noon and daysThurs 3-6 pm, both in Columbus.