Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Portrait of Peace

The Peaceable Kingdom by Fritz Eichenberg.

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

Unsung Hero

There is absolutely no question that the wind beneath the wings of the Columbus Catholic Worker has been Erin W. (formerly S). She has been with the group almost since the very first days. I dragged her to the St. Therese Retreat Center as our fledgling group put our heads and hearts together to discern our future. In fact, I dragged her to lots of things, at the beginning.

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.

However, her reluctance was short lived. She soon became a regular part of our community life.

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!

And most of all, Erin, thank you!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Coffee Growers

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 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:

Check out her blog for the full story on the coffee growers juxtaposed against the tremendous poverty in Haiti:

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How to Do Activism

There are a lot of different things happening on behalf of social justice. Certainly, it is not ever quite enough, but there is a lot going on. Right here in Columbus, you can book your calendar quite solid attending one justice-related event after another each day of the week.

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

Reflections on Refugees and a Farewell!

by Kaitlyn

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

Immigration Rally: An Ecumenical Moment

We all have our causes. We have to pick what we are involved in and leave the rest. There is simply no time in the day to do it all. We'll burn ourselves out and be ineffective if we continually move from issue to issue.

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:

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Young Congolese Family

We have been hanging out with a young family from the Democratic Republic of Congo lately--a mother and three children. They recently arrived to America, and we have been helping out with a few things—they got clothes from our free store, produce from our garden, and they just came last night for ESL. The two young men got interested in the soccer playing outside, and Vielka went out there and strongly told the Latino guys to welcome them--which they did without any hesitation.

Kaitlyn and Joan have been communicating with one of the sons in French, and he then translates to his mother and siblings who don’t know any European languages. There is a refugee placement agency helping them, but we are trying to be an extra support as a family like this needs so much. Kaitlyn is tracking down further ways to help out.

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.

I saw an excellent documentary on the History Channel recently called Blood Diamonds: Beyond the Bloodshed (click the link to watch it). I was horrified to learn what has been going on in Sierra Leone and Angola—militia groups terrorize the countryside using gruesome methods of torture, amputations and rape intentionally to displace the population away from diamond mining deposits. They put many people into slave labor mining camps to finance their military actions.

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.

What has been going on in the Congo is not much different. Due to widespread sexual violence, eastern Congo right now is the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman or a girl. Disputes over mineral rights have fueled a war in which over 5 million people have died and 1 million have been displaced.

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!

I would recommend keeping a watch on this issue. This bill does not solve all problems, but it takes a giant leap forward to begin an accountability process.

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.

One way to make a difference is to urge companies that make electronics to use conflict-free materials. Click this link to learn how.

In the meantime, one young family from the Congo is trying to resettle in Columbus, OH.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Community Garden Dividends

When we first moved to this neighborhood, all we heard was the bad news: The plethora of break-in's, the danger of walking around at night, the wandering kids up to no good, the "unknown" element of the immigrants, you name it. Lock your doors, lock your windows, don't be out at night. This is what life is like here. Try as I might, I couldn't shake that image because that was just about all I heard.

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

Two-For-One Deal and Father Smith's Homily

You could have heard my heart drop to my stomach when Erin brought to my attention that I had accidentally scheduled the Open House for Ohioans to Stop Executions (OTSE) for the same evening as our first celebration of Mass in our chapel.

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.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Two Exciting Events! Mass and OTSE Open House

The voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord!”
(John 1:23)


The Holy Mass will be celebrated at the Columbus Catholic Worker chapel next week! Fr. Smith from St. Matthias will be presiding. Please join us on Thursday, June 24th at 5:30 pm.

Join us to celebrate the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist. As a community rooted in faith, we know that we will shrivel up and blow away like “dust in the wind” if this branch is not connected to the True Vine. So we come to the well to drink.

If you haven’t had a chance to visit in a while, this is a perfect time to drop in and pray together with us.

Our summer resident Kaitlyn, who is on break from Notre Dame University, is planning this and other events. Stay tuned for more details as others unfold!


Immediately following the Mass, we are hosting an Open House for the group OTSE (Ohioans to Stop Executions). They are working hard to lay the groundwork for possibly a new regional chapter in the Columbus area, and the Columbus Catholic Worker would like to support this effort in any way we can.

From their announcement:

Regional groups across the state are crucial in OTSE's efforts of activating members and potential supporters at the local level. For this reason, we are hosting an open house gathering on June 24th for those interested in meeting our staff and other community members while learning more about Ohio's death penalty and simple ways to help the movement. This is the perfect way for Columbus area supporters to get more involved in the work to stop executions in Ohio.

This will be at 6:30 - 8:00 p.m., with a short presentation at 7:00 p.m. about Ohio's death penalty and recent developments. Please R.S.V.P. by email to or by phone to (614) 560-0654. All are welcome, so please consider bringing a friend.

Folks can attend either the Mass or the OSTE Open House, or both. However, maybe it is not a coincidence that St. John the Baptist was himself a victim of the death penalty, so it is not hard to find a common thread between the two gatherings.

Bread & soup and refreshments will be on hand to share.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Clemency Petition

The following is from Kevin Werner of Ohioans to Stop Executions:

Earlier today, supporters of Ohio death row inmate Kevin Keith (pictured at left), who faces execution on September 15 despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence, posted a petition online urging the Ohio Parole Board and Governor Ted Strickland to grant clemency to Kevin.

Kevin Keith has been on death row since 1994. Now, newly discovered evidence points to his innocence of the crime for which he stands to be executed. This evidence has never been presented to a jury.

Kevin's case is so compelling that many prominent groups have filed supporting briefs on his behalf, including the National Innocence Network, an affiliation of over 50 innocence projects and legal organizations around the country, the Ohio Innocence Project, an organization that typically only works on non-death penalty cases involving DNA evidence, and a group of leading eyewitness and memory experts.

More information about his case can be found at: Please be sure to take a moment and sign the petition below.

Click here to sign the petition and to learn more about this case.

Monday, June 07, 2010

A Day in the Life

People often ask what we do at the Columbus Catholic Worker. In particular, volunteers and new live-in community members can walk around a big, empty house and wonder what all the fuss is about. People may not know how to plug in.

At the risk of coming across as self-indulgent, I decided to document my activities this Monday morning to give a snapshot of what life is like at 1614. This is not a comprehensive list, as other community members are doing other projects as well, but it is just a little slice of what one person is doing on one morning.

* * *

The day begins with morning prayer at 6 am. This is no small feat for a night owl like me, but things seem to fall apart when we aren’t praying consistently, and 6 am is the only time when we are all reliably at the house on a consistent basis. Jeremiah does a nice job leading us in the Liturgy of the Hours in the chapel, albeit with the lights on a little too brightly, I might add. I go back to sleep afterwards.

Coffee comes next. It is reassuring to say that coffee does not come first but rather second to prayer!

You never know what tasks are waiting for us on voicemail. Perhaps there is a Spanish-speaker looking for immigration advice, a parish question about grounds keeping or a person inquiring about living in our community. Today, it is a total of three calls from donors looking to drop off clothing for the Free Store. I return the calls and schedule a drop-off time later this afternoon.

I then place a call to a local organizer against the death penalty. Momentum is building against the death penalty, and we are ready and willing to help Central Ohio organize to that end. This Saturday, there is a gathering of Murder Victims Families at our place. Anyone out there who has ever planned anything from a high school graduation party to a social justice action knows all the work that goes into making an event happen—phone calls, transportation, refreshments, materials on hand, audio/visuals, scheduling kitchen duties, clean-up, you name it.

The next phone call is to the Diocese. Our summer resident Kaitlyn is working hard to develop the prayer life of the community. I won’t give away any secrets as to what plans are in the works, she’ll unveil those when the time comes! For now it is enough to say we have scheduled a time to meet folks from the downtown office to share ideas and coordinate activities.

Compost has been building up, so I consolidate our containers of food waste into one 5-gallon bucket, ready for a trip out to the garden later this afternoon. Recyclables are also gathered and put on the stoop, to be loaded into a car and taken to a local dumping station (Columbus has dozens all over the city, mostly at schools and fire departments).

The rains have interrupted our community garden workdays recently, especially the monsoon that hit last Wednesday evening. Our radishes are a bit past their prime and spinach and lettuce are quickly growing and need to be picked right away. If I get my act together, I can have some packets of salad ready to be given out at the Food Pantry tonight.

Speaking of the Food Pantry, an unexpected visitor came to the door. A young man said his neighborhood just had their yearly barbecue, and this time they added an extra twist: Attendees were to bring non-perishable food items to be donated. He brought several wonderful bags of items to give away. Pat was downstairs stocking shelves, so she and I gave him a tour of the Pantry.

We just got a new phone plan, as our previous provider jacked up our rates. Our old computer is not recognizing the new internet connection, so some troubleshooting is required. Like any business or home, there is no shortage of the day-to-day business concerns, such as working with utilities providers, plumbing problems, lawn care, shrubbery trimming, computers, etc.

The next conversation is with the maintenance man at the parish. We had some flooding in the basement last week. While the Food Pantry generously had the entire basement reconfigured to handle water drainage, there was so much rain last week that the windows themselves were holding back (unsuccessfully) literally gallons of water. I sought advice on how to best clean out the catch basins, as small trees have been sprouting out of them lately. I’ll be dredging them out this afternoon.

Creative juices seems to flow best somewhere between coffee and breakfast, so I am writing this blog post as well as another this morning. The blog is a great way to share reflections and to be a tool to promote issues and advertise events.

Later in the day I’ll do some light cleaning and make coffee for the ESL class & planning group tonight. Erin and Kaitlyn have been recording educational songs for ESL, and Linda, Vielka and Fran has been gathering real-world documents such as job applications to use for classes.

* * *

Admittedly, much of the daytime work above is administrative blah-blah and probably not too exciting. However, the nuts & bolts of the operation make it possible for the other things happen. The community really comes alive in the evenings and weekends as folks gather to directly do the ministries themselves. During the day, it can be quiet but with still lots of planning and preparing, and it is easy to be too busy.

Where else can you spend your days in such a rich environment of service? Picking fresh produce for the Food Pantry, gathering clothing for the poor, planning a social justice event against the death penalty and sharing theological reflections on the blog in the span of just a few hours! I also should mention how good it feels to begin the day in community prayer.

Every day is different. Just to give an example of how different, we had a Fair Trade coffee event after Mass at St. Anthony parish yesterday followed by a community meal & meeting in the evening. On Saturday we organized a new Reading Room and reconfigured the Office at the house. Erin’s group is working on the ESL curriculum and Joan has plans for the Garden and Free Store. Each of them has a story to tell as well.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bearing Fruit: National Pax Christi Gathering

Consider going to Pax Christi's annual National Catholic Conference on Peacemaking in Chicago this summer! Pat and I went last year, and it was a very good experience that has continued to reap benefits throughout this past year:

It was there that we met the folks from Just Haiti, and we have since begun a lovely relationship distributing fair trade coffee from Haiti.

It was there that we met the folks from the Michigan Peace Team. We invited them to our place in December for an all-day nonviolence training workshop.

It wast here that I first heard John Dear in person and have been transformed by his and Pax Christi's message of nonviolence: Never has violence solved a problem in any sort of long-term way. Only by breaking our absolute addiction to violence do we have any chance of solving the problems of injustice. I decided to take the Vow of Nonviolence and felt transformed.

Bishop Leroy Matthiesen won the 2009 Teacher of Peace award, and we heard him speak about his daring work in opposition to nuclear weapons.

We also picked up a number of hard-to-find books, DVD's and other materials on peacemaking. There were speakers on many issues and justice groups of all types representated.

Last but certainly not least, it was there that we made good contacts with the folks from the national office and have since begun our own chapter of Pax Christi right here in Columbus!

An added bonus is that Pat and I were the guests of Su Casa Catholic Worker and got a chance to tour their facility while we stayed there.

While Pax Christi is the international Catholic peace movement, there were representatives from many denominations, such as the Soujourners community, Mennonites, to name a couple. The peace movement is one of the most truly ecumenical experiences you may have.

With all that in mind, consider going to the conference this year! I'm sure there will be quite a bit of attention on Immigration Reform in light of the recent Arizona law, as well as our too-easily-forgotten international wars. Eric LeCompte (one of the speakers) is the former national organizer for the School of Americas Watch (SOAW), so I anticipate quite a bit of attention on SOA this year.

Click here for detailed information on the conference. You can register though that link, as well.

Maybe we can get a few of us to carpool . . . ?

* * *

From the Pax Christi facebook page:

This year's theme: Know Justice, Know Peace: Ending War at Home and Abroad and includes speakers Rev. Bryan Massingale, Jeremy Scahill, Elena Segura, Jack Jezreel, Sr. Dianna Ortiz, Dr. Megan McKenna, Rev. Joseph Brown, Eric LeCompte, Brigitte Gynther, Adrienne Alexander, Joe Grant, members of the Pax Christi Anti-Racism Team, and more. Special award recognition for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

Start Time: Friday, July 16, 2010 at 3:00pm
End Time: Sunday, July 18, 2010 at 1:00pm
Location: Rosemont Hotel O'Hare, Chicago

* * *

I left the conference last year impressed with the speakers but unsure whether the event had any long-term impact on me. Reflecting on the past year, it is clear that going to that conference really bore quite a bit of fruit! Like all things that are substantial, it just needed time to incubate and percolate before it could reciprocate.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Haitian Mass and Coffee

by Joan

We are all invited to a Haitian Mass and reception at St. Matthias Church this coming Sunday, May 22 hosted by Fr. Fritz Valcin who ministers to the Haitian community in Columbus. The Mass starts at 1:30. St. Matthias Church is located on the northeast corner of Karl and Ferris Rd.; the address is 1582 Ferris Road. Fr. Valcin suggested that people wear red for Pentecost along with some blue, blue and red being the colors of the Haitian flag.

As you probably know, the Columbus Catholic Worker has been providing fair trade Haitian coffee to Columbus in exchange for donations since shortly after the devastating earthquake hit that country. We've had great success with it - people really seem to like it. And we feel good about helping to support the co-op in Haiti that produces it and provides its worker-owners with a decent living.

We'll be setting up a table laden with our Cafe Lespwa coffee at the reception after the Mass. The reception will start at about 2:30. So please join us either at the Mass or the reception or both this coming Sunday. There should be some very friendly people, good food and music to enjoy and you can help us help some of the people of Haiti in a very tangible way. We need to set up the table at 1:00 so if you're coming for the Mass perhaps you could come a little early and help out with that.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Death Row and the Catholic Church

The State of Ohio put to death Darryl Durr just this past Tuesday. Attempts were made to stop this process, citing that Durr was allergic to the anesthesia. The circus continues in Ohio's saga of executions. Another execution is scheduled every month in Ohio through November (it was originally September when this post was written).

Some argue that justice was done. Yet a crime creates obligations, according to Howard Zehr. Victims and their families may need pastoral care. They may need financial support or help managing daily life. Society may need education to prevent further crimes. Yet, our justice system focuses almost exclusively on inflicting a penalty to the offender while leaving the rest wholly unaddressed.

Where is the Catholic Church on the death penalty?

The US Bishops have been working against the death penalty for decades, along with bishops from numerous other nations as well as the Vatican.

Pope John Paul II led the way by clarifying 2,000 years of magisterial tradition. He put strong limits on any Church support for the death penalty.

A key document is his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, the famed "Gospel of Life. It issues some of the strongest and most definitive statements on capital punishment to ever come out of the magisterium.

It speaks of the absolute respect for life and the indispensable nature of the fifth commandment. The Gospel of Life includes all life: Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity. In several places, the pope affirms that it is only God who is the absolute Lord of the life of man.

Evangelium Vitae was released to the world on the Feast of the Annunciation, fifteen years ago. This Feast Day announces the Good News of the Incarnation of Christ on earth. The very real, and not merely symbolic presence of Christ, is in everyone.

In the introductory paragraph, John Paul II writes that Christmas also reveals the full meaning of every human birth, and the joy which accompanies the Birth of the Messiah is thus seen to be the foundation and fulfilment of joy at every child born into the world.

Christ of the Breadline, by Fritz Eichenberg

Jesus was not speaking metaphorically when he said in the Gospel Matthew, For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35), as theologian Thomas R. Rourke points out. This presence of Christ is in each human person, and all humans share this common solidarity. As a result, John Paul II states that all killing, like the story of Cain and Abel, is fratricide--bother against brother.

Not only were all humans created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27), but the Mystery of the Incarnation of Christ brings that to fulfillment.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has adopted much of John Paul II's language and reads: The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

Adding: such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.

The Catholic Church's position is nuanced, and as a result it has been the source of a lot of confusion. The rather liberal way the Church has supported the death penalty in previous centuries has not helped in this matter, either.

The bottom line is this: The Catholic Church is basically saying it is not absolutely pacifist. The Church has not, and probably will not, ever 100% rule out the possibility of support for the death penalty. However, this is the furthest thing from a blank check of endorsement.

The overall moral obligation to value and protect all life--including the guilty--must be held alongside not just the right but the duty to protect oneself and the common good of society. If there is an immediate threat, the Church has declared that it will not rule out the death penalty as a possible response.

However, instances of this in the modern world are more in the realm of theoretical possibility rather than something that actually happens. Let's not forget the important clause that shows the scope of Church teaching: Such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.

When describing the "consistent ethic of life," Cardinal Bernardin summarized Church teaching by stating that there should always be a presumption against taking human life.

So then what can justify taking a life? Only a clear and present threat to other lives.

The focus of Catholic morality is living in the mercy of Jesus, taking Gospel risks to "be not afraid" and fostering not just life but well-being. Those should take preeminence over an emergency, last-ditch effort to treat violence with violence. That should only happen after all else has been tried and tried again and there is simply no other option.

In other words, the death penalty is not an acceptable means of punishment in a purely retributive sense. It is only considered a possibility when collective defense is factored in. When you consider modern prisons and research showing the ineffectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent, it is an extremely unlikely possibility.

Perhaps it would be easier if the Catholic Church could just say it was against the death penalty in an absolute sense and be done with it. That would be simpler. There are many who would like to see the Church embrace a wholly pacifist stance. Some say the Church is already saying that, since the death penalty is not a punishment per se but only a self defense of last resort.

To the average Catholic on the street, the intense theological debates over specific vocabulary do not change the reality that the Church is, for all practical purposes, thoroughly against the death penalty. The gap between absolute pacifism and where the Church stands is extremely narrow if not practically non-existent, to borrow a quote.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

In Short: Wow!

It is hard to believe how many projects were begun and completed at the community garden this morning. People brought a lot of skills and enthusiasm, and there were many hands to do the work. What a great way to spend a Saturday morning!

The best is to let the pictures tell the story:

A team installed the rainwater catchment system off of the old baseball backstop. Last year's system was taken down for the winter, and a modified version was put up today. Frank H. and Brian (above), with Perry looking on from below, are hard at work attaching the panels and gutters.

Perry & son are working to connect the downspouts to the large, 250-gallon drums that were donated by Coca-Cola.

Erin S. is posing next to a thorn less blackberry she just planted.

Earlier this week, Fr. John dropped off a box of thorn less blackberries that he dug up from his family's farm. Erin S., Erin W. and I planted them this morning in a rich mixture of last year's compost. Orchlene brought some stakes and a mighty sledgehammer to mark the location of the little shoots.

Paul and Jim (above) along with Kirk spent the morning sawing and hammering to fashion the new bulletin board. This will be a great way to post announcements, so that gardeners and visitors alike will have a sense of what is going on at the garden.

Suzanne "Queen of the Compost" and Jeff took the lead on building a sophisticated compost management system, using pallets donated by Lars.

Fresh compost will be placed in the bin on the left. As it breaks down, it will be moved to the middle bin. Ready-to-use compost will be in the final bin on the right.

Tim is busy above moving last year's stalks and vines into the new compost bins.

Erin K. and some neighborhood kids painted this colorful community garden sign last year. Joan is busy weather-sealing it, and it will soon be on display!

Zulma, Kirk and Erin K. are in the forefront above, with the bulletin board crew in the back.

The amazing thing is that this is truly a community effort, and no one person made this all happen. Contributions came from all over, and people made their presence felt.

That being said, a special shout out goes to Kirk, for doing so much of the coordinating and behind-the-scenes work to make sure people and supplies were ready this morning!

And the best part of all: There is always plenty of time for neighbors and friends to talk, eat donuts, and just have a good time!

In short: Wow!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Greening the CCW

The Great Catholic Worker Light Bulb Swap is underway! Believe it or not, there are around 200 light bulbs in the Catholic Worker house! So far, we have replaced about 75 with fluorescent bulbs. We've strategically targeted high-traffic areas and high-wattage bulbs, and we'll get around to the rest eventually. The good news is that the kitchen and most of the basement (where the food pantry is located) is already outfitted with long, tubular fluorescent lights, but that has still left quite a few more to swap out.

Used light bulbs can go to the Free Store and to a friend who donated dozens of fluorescent bulbs to us but who himself prefers incandescents (some people are very sensitive to the glare). At first, we waited for them to burn out before replacing, but now we have a way to make sure they won't get wasted, so we decided to swap them out now.

A new Energy-Star refrigerator also graces the kitchen, replacing a model from 1985. Funds were low, but there were some tremendous savings and rebates this past weekend, part of them through the federal government. Even though we didn't have time to properly raise funds, we decided to seize the moment and ended up saving 35% off the price of a new fridge. A generous donor took the risk and purchased it, hoping to split the cost with someone else if anyone out there feels called to help.

Our clothes dryer and washing machine are also at the end of their usable life, and we hope to raise money to replace those, soon. Not only does the live-in community use those items, but we also offer them to some struggling neighbors. While I prefer to air-dry as much as possible, a dryer is useful for bedding and for guests.

We can't wait to replace the 4 gallons-per-flush toilets with newer, 1.5 gallon units. Just do the math: Imagine a workshop with about 40 participants, each flushing 3-4 times over the course of a 2-day retreat. That's around 650 gallons for a single weekend, and that might be a conservative estimate! We already bought 3 new units, now we just have to raise money to get them installed and then move on to the other units (there are a total of 10 plus another in the food pantry).

Like a lot of poor families, it is hard to allocate meager funds in order to be environmentally efficient. It is heartbreaking to scrape together $700 for a new refrigerator only to see about $8-10 in monthly savings. It does add up and it does pay for itself over the course of about 5 years, but when you're broke it is hard to make long-term plans like that. However, the environmental savings makes the decision a lot easier.

There are also plans to research how the boiler system works in this building, as most of our energy costs go to heat the place. It can be expensive to bring in a boiler expert to do this research, but there is quite a bit of potential savings. The boiler itself may be fine, but the complicated valve and pipe system can dramatically affect efficiency if it is not set properly, we have recently learned.

* * *
Our core group member Erin just made some improvements on her house, and it is worth pointing those out as it can be useful for others to know about these things.

First off, she qualified for a free comprehensive home weatherization program! She did this by meeting certain income requirements. There was a team that came over to stuff the walls full of insulation, seal the duct work, and perform numerous other weatherization tasks. She also got a new furnace.

Check out this link for more information on this federally-funded program, and pass this information on to others. A local group called IMPACT did the work. The best way to start the process is to call IMPACT directly.

Replacing appliances and light bulbs are wonderful things, but the real hippopotamus in the living room is the energy savings that comes from a properly insulated home.

Last but most certainly not least, long-time Catholic Worker friend Jonathan through his company Rainbrothers will be out today installing two new rain barrels at Erin's house. The fresh water that runs off her roof will now be used to water her vegetable garden and flowers.

It took me a while to understand how rain barrels could be an environmental benefit, but it works like this: Instead of pumping city water that has been treated with chlorine and other chemicals, she can instead harvest the fresh rainwater from her roof. Significant amounts of water are overflowing the city sewers as they run off rooftops, roads and sidewalks. That water would normally be used to build up the local water table, but instead it is being flushed out in the drains. It makes no sense to drain away the water that is naturally falling onto her property only to pump it back up again, treated with chemicals.

* * *

There is still nothing better than plain old fashioned conservation. Despite all the advances in energy efficiency, nothing save quite as much energy as simply not using it in the first place!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Death Penalty Witness

L to R: Dave and Frank downtown on Fridays.

The death penalty is no laughing matter, but it is easy to trade a few smiles while holding a sign on the witness line.

I often struggle with the effectiveness of such a vigil. However, we are standing right outside of the State Capitol building as well as the offices of the Governor and numerous other government personnel. Lawyers, street vendors, judges, beggars, senators & representatives, students, bus riders, office workers of all types, tourists and others walk and drive past us every Friday. It is important that they realize there are people out there who are opposed to the death penalty. We are a visual reminder to them that folks care about this. We are a support to others who want to take a similar stand. We are a healthy challenge to those who don't.

As Daniel Berrigan and numerous other peacemakers have said, we are called to be faithful, not effective. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't take reasonable steps to be effective, either. Some folks scatter seeds in the wind, but a wise farmer will cultivate organized rows. The important thing is not to get too hung up on the results of our action, because we may never see them.

Standing the heart of downtown as folks mill around on their lunch hour is a good time and place to be doing this. I'd love to see the vigils expanded. Wouldn't it be great if folks were holding a sign at that very place five days each week? What if a rotation of people were doing this all day long? What if we had people all up and down the street in multiple locations? Folks would really take notice.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Grapes, Raspberries, Seed Starting and Final Introductory Meeting

Above, Fr. John discussing the finer points of grapes with Bob on Friday.

Our community garden was given a wonderful treat this past week. Fr. John, a local grape enthusiast and expert, offered us grape starters from his family's farm in southern Ohio. He also offered to give a public tutorial about planting and pruning grapes. We did this on two separate afternoons, this past Friday and Saturday.

There is a lot more to proper grape planting than I ever could have imagined! Fr. John showed us the nuances and tricks he has learned over his years tending grapes. We first dug large holes around the fencepoints. A special root hormone and beneficial fungi were placed around the roots. We used last year's compost, which is rich and ready to use, mixed with some topsoil and peat moss to put in the holes. The grapes were then planted, thoroughly watered, and covered up. They were also snipped to no more than two buds per plant.

Midge (the dog), Jean, Paul, Perry, Zeila and Joan look on during Saturday's planting tutorial.

After the planting, the group traveled a couple blocks to the home of one of our garden leaders, Orchlene. She had some unruly grapes in her backyard, so we got a chance to learn how to prune grapes and get them ready for the new year. I probably need to witness this a couple more times before I feel comfortable, but all of us did learn a lot. While doing that, we dug up 7 red raspberry plants that had spread like wildfired and were interfering with her grapes. Later in the day, we planted all 7 at the St. James community garden.

One of Orchlene's freshly-pruned grapes, pictured on the left.

We had plans to start a perennial garden this year, and the offer of grapes came serendipitously right after that. Also, the raspberries that Orchele would have just thrown away were like gold to us--buying 7 raspberry bushes would have set us back quite a bit if we were to buy them at a nursery. It is amazing how these pieces come together. The sad part is that we won't see any fruit from these this year and quite possibly not even the next, but when it comes we'll be so glad we did this!

The prior Saturday, Joan and Orchele led a seed starting session at the Catholic Worker house. Over a half dozen folks come out to plant several trays of seeds for the community garden as well as for themselves. There are over 15 trays of seeds perched in windows throughout the Catholic Worker house. They are sprouting nicely. We have several trays of marigolds (perfect as an organic repellent to garden pests), tomatoes, peppers, Brussels sprouts, cabbage--you name it.

A tray of new sprouts upstairs in the Catholic Worker house.

Planting our own seeds saves a great deal of money, and it brings us one step closer to the whole life cycle of our garden. We have been blessed with quite a bit of seeds still left over from last year as well as donations from folks this year. Fr. John also gave us a large zip lock back full of dried hot peppers--each full of seeds!

Zeila worked hard to save seeds last year, especially from marigolds. This year, we are going to focus on saving more seeds so that we can be a totally self-sufficient garden!

We had our third and final Garden Tutorial meeting last night. Suzanne "Queen of the Compost" led us in a presentation about the finer points of composting. Kirk followed that up with a round of "Garden 101" principles. We were happy to see a nice representation from the Latino and Vietnamese communities. Zulma gave a presentation at the Spanish language Masses last weekend, and we also got some participants from our ESL classes.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Today, March 24, 2010, marks the 30th anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador:

A prayer on the 30th anniversary of Romero's martyrdom

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.


(Prayer written by Bishop Ken Untener, attributed to the words of Archbishop Romero.)

From Pax Christi:

Oscar Romero is often called the "Martyr of the Americas of the 20th Century." He served as the Archbishop of San Salvador for three years. The murder of one of his dear friends, Father Rutilio Grande, caused him great pain and set him on a journey toward becoming one of the greatest prophets Catholic social justice activists have ever known. He spoke out against the government repression in El Salvador and against the poverty, hunger and helplessness of the majority of the Salvadoran people, during a time when those who spoke out and publicly opposed the situation were killed or "disappeared."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

And Justice For All Immigrants

See below for current actions of our community, our neighbors and our Church for the cause of Immigration Reform, including some events coming up this weekend:

Let's hear it for Rich Nathan, senior pastor of the Vineyard Church of Columbus for his excellent opinion piece on the need for immigration reform which ran in the Columbus Dispatch yesterday.

He cites the impracticality of deporting 12 million contributing members of society. The whole issue of immigration encompasses a broad range of problems, such as employers willing to exploit cheap labor, a nation running rampant with myths about the reality of illegal immigration and the sheer life-or-death desperation that compels these people to cross the border in the first place. He also explains that there are real, practical solutions available.

He writes:

Furthermore, enforcement-only policies are no solution. Deporting 12 million illegal immigrants is utterly impracticable. Not only would it cost hundreds of billions of dollars ($206 billion over five years, according to the chamber), it would destroy families and communities across the country.

The way forward is clear. We need to secure our borders, crack down on dishonest employers and require illegal immigrants to register with the government and meet certain requirements, including learning English, working and paying taxes before they earn the chance to become citizens. Such practical reforms would strengthen our economy, serve the interests and honor the ideals of our nation, and provide immigrants with the opportunity to fully join our society.

The full text is here of Rich Nathan's piece.

The vision is very similar to the recommendations of the US Catholic Bishops.

As a friend of mine says, "immigration is a reality." How do we deal with this reality? Putting up a wall from Tijuana to Brownsville is juvenile and infeasible. It also doesn't address the massive amount of illegal immigrants from Canada, Europe and elsewhere.

Keeping families together and allowing a temporary worker program so that folks can work in America and take steps toward long-term residency is needed.

As Van Morrison sings, you don't pull no punches, but you don't push the river. This river is flowing. It needs to flow. I believe it flows with the blessing of the Holy Spirit. The river of immigration flows with the Biblical thirst for justice, the hope for safe refuge, the faith in the Promise of the Promised Land, and the love these people have for their families which compels them to risk life and limb for a better tomorrow. If you get in the water and try to push this river, you will find yourself flailing and making a fool out of yourself as the water rushes past you.

Getting caught up in legalities is not how to look at it. The system is broke and people cannot wait until it is fixed. A crying baby needs milk today. Unjust laws need not be followed, especially when the sheer weight of the humanity of 12 million people is pressing against them.

* * *
Our Pax Christi group hosted Angela Johnston, diocesan Director of Latino Ministry last week. She showed the video Dying To Live. From the link: "Dying to Live" is a profound look at the human face of the immigrant. It explores who these people are, why they leave their homes and what they face in their journey.

Indeed, the human story can dispel many myths. The one fact that has stuck with me the most is the sheer desperation of these immigrants. These people love their families, their country and their culture. They are not sneaking into America on some "get rich quick" scheme or to rob us of free health benefits. Just consider the facts: Why would anyone risk their lives, live in long-term separation from their families and risk all sorts of other horrors to sneak into America? A person would only do that because their other options are worse.

To them, it is a sheer matter of survival. Economic and political conditions are so bad in their native land that they are forced to try. The ironic part is that those conditions are so bad in large part through the policies of the American government and international businesses.

* * *
From the Bishops' Justice for Immigrants website:

On Sunday, March 21st, JFI will host a Mass in support of immigrants with celebrants Cardinal Mahony and Bishop Wester at 11:00am at St. Aloysius Church (19 I Street N.W., Washington DC 20001). Afterward, please join thousands of people on the National Mall to urge our members of Congress to introduce and pass immigration reform legislation. With the expectation that comprehensive immigration reform could soon be considered by Congress, it is crucial that supporters of reform make their voices heard on Capitol Hill. Anyone that cannot attend the March 21st events can still take action in support of reform by sending electronic postcards to your members of Congress postcard.

From a Justice For Immigrants flyer:

Show your solidarity with comprehensive immigration reform

On Sunday March 21, thousands of people from across America—including some 25 buses from Ohio--will travel to Washington DC to call on Congress and the Administration to enact comprehensive immigration reform.

If you want to travel to DC, there are still spaces on a bus from Columbus. Contact Ruben at 614-571-1759, as soon as possible.

If you can’t travel to DC, join Columbus supporters on Saturday, March 20:

9 AM Parish Mass
10:30 AM Welcome & Prayer for Cross-Country Bus Riders
Christ the King Catholic Church
2777 E. Livingston Ave., Columbus 43209 (4 blks west of S. James Rd.)
Come out to welcome and support over 50 Californians from the faith-based community organization, PICO-National Network. They are stopping at Christ the King Church for a brief respite on their cross-country journey to DC. There will be brief witnesses to the need for comprehensive reform. Then we’ll send the bus riders off on their last leg of the journey with prayer & support.

Questions: Nancy Powers, Justice for Immigrants Campaign, Ohio co-coordinator
614-284-3692 or

You can also go here:
1 PM
Rally for Reform
Ohio State House
(as the buses leave for D.C.)

For more information about the need for comprehensive immigration reform, go to