Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Charity & Justice

Charity grounds our justice work,

Justice work gives vision to our charity.

The marriage between justice work and charity has always struck me as being a defining characteristic of the Catholic Worker movement. There is something about doing both that enhances the community and the mission. It brings a synergy with such a diverse group of people working together. The result is both balance and vision.

You may be campaigning for housing justice in one room with a homeless man sleeping on the couch in the next room. Another community may be working to bring emergency relief to Somalia or Darfur in the afternoon while spending the morning handing out food to their neighbors at a soup kitchen. There is involvement in the local as well as global community. There is dialogue between the rich and the poor. Poverty has a face, and charity has a direction.

We have seen this dynamic right in our own ministries here in Columbus. We are starting a book study on the School of Americas. We will soon be discussing some big issues of imperialism and military spending and how they are tied to atrocities in Latin America. In our ESL classes, there are people who have direct memory of those same atrocities on a very personal level. Some have lost family members and had to flee their homeland. They now struggling to learn English and survive in a new land.

When you hear that, you might pause. I certainly did. Suddenly, the book study is no longer coffee and polite banter. There is a seriousness and a reality that becomes present. We come out of the clouds and our feet start to feel the ground. We need this. We human beings can get lost in the abstract world of ideas and have difficulty connecting those ideas to real flesh and blood. People rattle off facts and figures about tens of thousands of people dying in wars and disasters, but can we really appreciate the scope of the problem that way? Just meeting one person who has been personally affected can do more than hearing all the statistics in the world.

In a likewise manner, if we don't work for justice we can easily burn ourselves out helping individuals. It would be worth everyone's time to find out if there is something we can do to address why they are suffering in the first place. Random acts of charity can be beautiful, but without focus one has to wonder if it is effort well spent. I wouldn't plant a field by randomly throwing seeds in the air. Why would I practice the Works of Mercy in the same way? And why would I do justice work without knowing what it is like at the street level?

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Taste (and Thirst) of Heaven

Picture of me from a couple of weeks ago--the garden has grown significantly since then!

Gardening has been a taste of heaven. It is not just the work that is being done, although that is lovely. It is not just the fresh produce we are eating and sharing with the poor, which is also wonderful. It is the fact that it is such a great experience of community.

A typical Wednesday night could involve a handful of people working in the garden. People work not just on their own plots but are often found watering and weeding their neighbor's, as well. Children of the gardeners as well as some neighborhood kids may be climbing the nearby mullberry tree, coming back with fingers and shirts stained purple from the ripe berries. People passing by express delight. Conversations happen, the work is shared, the harvest is on its way! It is gentle and simple and right.

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Our friend Jonathan from the Rainbrothers recently stopped by to help us with the water situation. What is the water situation, you may ask? Well, we have none. Gardeners have been dutifully bringing buckets and tubs they have filled at home. We were thirsty for a water supply on site.

The baseball backstop has provided the answer. Jonathan installed some metal sheets on the top to form a makeshift roof. He attached some gutters as well. All that is left is to funnel the rainwater into some downspouts and into rain barrels at the bottom.

You can see the whole project here. Joan and Tim are hard at work in the foreground, with Jonathan in the back

Here is Jonathan attaching the metal sheets.

If you stop by to visit the garden, be sure to help yourself to some sugar snap peas! They are growing up the fence on the east side of the garden.

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In other news, it has now become a lot easier to prepare the lettuce for the food pantry. Thanks to a donation of a new salad spinner from Erin, we can now bag up light and fluffy lettuce!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Book Study: Disturbing the Peace

Please join us as we kick off this justice ministry (by Erin and Bev):

The Columbus Catholic Worker is sponsoring a book study with authors Jim Hodge and Linda Cooper sharing their book Disturbing the Peace: The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and the Movement to Close the School of the Americas. The study begins July 12 and will meet for 4 sessions--every other week at 7:00-8:30 pm at the Catholic Worker House located at 1614 Oakland Park Avenue. Participants are asked to purchase their own book online or at a local bookstore and to read the first 4 chapters before the first meeting. We also have some copies of the book on site, so contact us to make arrangements.

Please RSVP to Frank here before July 9.

The following synopsis is a description from the authors who will be leading the study with us:

Examine the life of a once gung-ho Navy Lt. who, after working with war orphans in Vietnam, abandoned his military career to become a missionary among the poor in Latin America where he saw grave human rights abuses. After learning that the United States Army had trained the killers of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero and four US churchwomen, two of whom were his friends, he set out to close the US Army School of the Americas that has trained hundreds of assassins and dictators.

The larger story details how the SOA peace movement grew, drawing thousands of people from every faith and walk of life, including students, veterans, religious leaders, film stars like Martin Sheen and Susan Sarandon, death penalty foe Helen Prejean, and legendary musician Pete Seeger as well as the Indigo Girls. It’s a movement that has challenged religious and government leaders much in the tradition of Dorothy Day. The movement prompted the Pentagon to close the school, only to find it re-opened under a new name.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Two Upcoming Events--Please Join Us!

Please join us on Saturday, June 20th, at 6:00 pm for a Dinner and House Discussion. We will be hosting a couple of people who are considering moving into our community as live-in volunteers. It will be a great time to meet them and see if we are a good match. It will also be a good time for our community to talk about where we are and where we'd like to be. Your input and your presence would be greatly appreciated! We want to talk about some upcoming justice-related ministry events as well as our overall vision for being a house of hospitality, so please join us!

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Please also join us on Monday, June 22nd at 7:00 pm for an Ice Cream Social & Country Gospel event to show appreciation for the Dominican sisters. This will be held at the Motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, right behind Ohio Dominican University.

They left us a fully furnished and well-loved convent which is now our new Catholic Worker House. In particular, we want to thank Sr. Barbara, who has done so much to welcome us to our new place and facilitate this whole transition.

We will be serving ice cream and spending time talking with the sisters. The musicians include members of St. Francis parish who are generously donating their time and talents.

Whether you are new to the Catholic Worker community or a veteran, we would love to see you there to share this with us! We can use helpers to scoop ice cream, talk about the Catholic Worker with the sisters and just to socialize.

St. Mary of the Springs (motherhouse)
2320 Airport Drive
Columbus, OH 43219

Any questions, contact Frank. We apologize for the short notice for these events, but these were the best times we could come up with considering all the logistics and different schedules we had to coordinate. We hope to see you there!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Decked out in Green

Much of what you can do for the environment revolves on how you manage your clothing!

Buy fewer clothes. Remember, they all come from either agricultural sources (cotton, linen, wool) or oil-based ones (polyester, rayon), so a savings in either category has a tremendous ecological benefit. Buying less means less land scoured with conventional farming practices, less oil consumed and fewer toxins released. Shop instead at thrift stores and deck yourself out in retro style.

Since agricultural items grown for clothing are not eaten, there are much fewer restrictions on pesticide use. Cotton uses approximately 25% of the world's insecticides and more than 10% of the pesticides.

I feel spoiled that I now have 2 pairs of jeans. A few shirts and a few pants are all you need. I am sympathetic if clothing is your passion, but get creative with accessories and be honest about the fact that much of your wardrobe sits unused in your closet. Donate what you don't need to thrift stores.

Appliances account for 17% of household energy use, and aside from your refrigerator, your washer and dryer are the biggest consumers!

Wash your clothes less often. A day at the office does not require a thorough wash in heavy-duty laundry detergents! Hang them up to wear again (socks and undergarments excluded, of course). Each time you wash clothes, you use water, put detergents into the environment, increase the demand for plastics (containers) and use energy to power the machines and heat water. The best way to save on your laundry footprint is simply to not do laundry! You will also enjoy the added bonus of having more free time as you spend less in the laundry room.

Avoid clothes dryers! Just hang them up to dry. I have a large drying rack which takes care of business, and most items are ready within 24 hours. If time is an issue, I have found that running a regular fan pointed toward the hanging clothes speeds up the process with minimal energy use. If you are really ambitious, put them on a clothesline outside. The sun is a natural bleaching agent, so it can help you avoid the chemical variety of bleach. I only use the dryer when I am in a true hurry or occasionally as some items need to be fluffed and de-linted.

While we're at it: Avoid bleach. Unless you're washing hospital garments, it is just unnecessary and harmful to you and the environment.

Use energy efficient appliances. They conserve water and use a more concentrated detergent (reducing the amount of plastic container waste). Some dryers don't even use much heat at all, so they are a much better option than traditional varieties.

Wash in cold water. You will save on your hot water heater by using less energy and probably save your clothes from the stress of getting washed in hot water.

Use natural laundry detergents. They all seem to work just fine for me, and many smell great. You'll be saving on oil and phosphates from the environment, decrease your carbon footprint, and keep those toxins off your skin. In addition, consider using a smaller amount of soap. A lot of people use way too much!

Taken together, these steps are not very hard. Too often, we don't think about our clothing choices when we consider environmental stewardship. But everything from making clothes to maintaining them produces a significant strain on the environment. Keeping a simple wardrobe, washing it minimally and using natural cleaners can have a substantial environmental impact and help simply your life, too!

Monday, June 08, 2009

First Harvest

After some recent rainfall (as well as much careful watering by gardeners), this beautiful patch of leaf lettuce has sprung up nicely. It was time to go out there with a bag and some scissors!

Brought it home, washed and drip dried on the counter.

A deposit was made into the refrigerator of the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry downstairs . . .

. . . with a note.

I can't quite express what it was like tonight to bring that first batch of fresh produce from our community garden back to the Catholic Worker house.

Perhaps a few bags of lettuce in the fridge don't seem like a whole lot to get excited about! But when you consider the struggle, the anticipation and the hard work that has taken place for months and months to form our community and establish ourselves . . . to see this tangible, real life fruit of our labor is quite something. Just knowing that this organic, hand-picked lettuce, fresh from the garden behind the church and grown with tender care by parishioners, neighbors and Catholic Workers, will be on the dinner tables of some hungry families tomorrow is really something to behold and certainly gives me pause.

What we are doing is very simple. What we are doing is very serious. What we are doing is very joyful!