Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My Worst Thanksgiving

I sat on my couch with a watered down bowl of Campbell's Tomato Soup and a grilled cheese sandwich.  It was an incredibly surreal day after having experienced 20 years of big traditional family Thanksgivings.  The food wasn't bad and I had a roof over my head but what I remember most about that day was looking down at my plate and thinking, "This cannot really be happening."  I was alone. Utterly, completely alone.  Not just alone though.  I had been forgotten.  No one called, no one invited me over.

My dad had died the year before and with that death came the loss of my entire family, and a lot of friends as well.  Hundred's of people showed up to my dad's funeral but not one of them thought of me a year later.   I was the sheep that no one came to look for.  I was the burden that no one wanted to carry.   I was essential to no one and dispensable to everyone. 

Soon afterwards I lost my apartment and became homeless. I began bunking on friend's couches; struggling to get through school.  People were confused about my situation  They wanted to care but didn't really want to get involved.  I think they missed me as a friend but were overwhelmed with the chaotic mess my life had turned into so they stayed away. Things slowly and eventually improved but remembering that one moment in my life, sitting and staring at a bowl of red soup always makes my chest tighten.

Loneliness is a hard thing to forget especially around the Holiday's. 

It is not enough to be grateful.  It is not enough to say the words that we are thankful for this or that blessing.  Gratitude, just like love and forgiveness, are not nouns.  They are verbs that require action.  They require a response, proof that we are indeed so very thankful for the blessings in our lives. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Silly Little Parties.

Our plans for the Thanksgiving Food Baskets and the December Christmas Party are well under way. Special thanks to everyone who has donated towards the food baskets.  There are still some things we need so message if you would like to help.

Father David Medina, in his homily this past weekend, said that helping the poor is a lot like caring for our children when they are ill.  Many times there is very little we can do to actually speed up the healing process.  But we can give our children medicine, we can give them hugs and snuggles.  We can show them in so many ways that they are loved and being cared for.  It may not do a lot to actually heal the illness but it makes our children feel safe and protected.  Similarly, we can protest and fight against the systems until the end of our days and these are not erroneous actions even if we are unsuccessful.  But we must take time to love those whom the systems are oppressing.

Sometimes our  community parties seem a bit silly.  Especially when we are at home planning how many teddy bears we need to buy or what kind of cookies to bake.  Don't get me wrong, the parties are super fun but at times it seems a bit silly is all.  It actually may be silly but these parties are far from superficial.

We are not just giving teddy bears.  We are giving middle of the night hugs when the police sirens are blaring.  We are giving something nice to dream about while they lay in bed and hear their mom crying.  We are giving a friend when the weekends feel long and lonely and tummies are empty.

 And when Santa Clause only visits the homes of the wealthy, these bears and other toys can be unwrapped and serve as a reminder that the Infant Jesus does not just visit the poor, but He  chooses to live with them and love them.

We are giving the moms and dads and grandparents a nice evening with their kids, full of music and games and toys.  We are providing a small amount of relief in the never ending stress that accompanies poverty.  And in the corner of the party, while the kids are eating cookies and having their faces painted, we are quietly providing a day or two worth of food for the family.  We are interacting with these families and listening to their stories, easing their burdens just a little bit.

Are we erasing oppression and eliminating poverty?  Not even close.  But we are, I hope, showing the poor that they  are loved and cared for.  And in that, I hope we are serving Christ.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Things we are doing, Stuff we are praying for:

Hey Everyone!  We mostly need everyone's prayers.  If you would like to do more, here is what is upcoming:

November 26 we will be delivering 40 Thanksgiving Baskets to RiverGlenn Apartments.

We would like each basket to include the following:

A small ham or turkey
1 box of stuffing
1 box of butter
1 bag of rolls
I can of cranberry sauce
1 can of green beans
1 bag of potatoes
1 pie

On December 21st we will be having a Christmas Party with the residents of RiverGlenn.

We are collecting 30 each of the following:

New Build-a-Bears (the ones valued at $10) completed with cardboard house.
Christmas coloring book
Pack of Crayons
Warm Kids Blankets
Winter Hat
Winter Gloves

We will also be handing out 30 Food Baskets at this party to include the following:

1 Whole Chicken
1 small bag of potatoes
1 pie
Can of Corn

We also hope to provide a $10.00 Walmart gift card to each adult. There will be about 50 adults.

We are praying for support and participation in these efforts.  If you wish to help in anyway, you can message us on FB or email to catholicworkertulsa@gmail.com

Monday, September 23, 2013

I Am Such a Jerk

Two weeks ago I had a moment of honest charity.  I won't go into the details but suffice it to say that I was pretty darn proud of myself.  And I used the opportunity to try to convince God that I was ready for more. 

"See, God?  Did you see my obedient and compassionate spirit?  Surely that is proof that I am all yours and you can trust me to care for the least of your children."

Now I can't be sure, but there is a high likelihood that God snorted back at me.
Because then Saturday happened. 

Allow me to set the stage.  It was my birthday celebration day.  So good moods and happy, shining faces were all around.  I had cards telling me how much I was loved and appreciated.  The sun was shining and it was just a tad chilly, so the weather was perfect.  We had eaten breakfast together as a family that morning and spent several hours discussing our role to stand up for and have compassion on the poor.

So, you see, there was really no excuse for my behavior.

My daughter had taken my car to vacuum and clean it for me and then she ran to the bookstore to find me a generous and well thought out birthday gift.  On the way home, at a stoplight, she was lightly bumped by the car behind her.  The gentleman followed my daughter to a nearby Target parking lot to inspect the damage, which was minimal.  A couple scratches.  Hardly noticeable.  He gave my daughter his name, tag number and phone number.  He was polite and respectful.  The condition of his car and his dress indicated that he could be poor.  My daughter, rightfully so, came home and expected our family to be compassionate.

I was a jerk.  Out of nowhere an intense fury rained down on my home and I began screaming.  At my daughter, at this bungling fool who hit her, at my deductible.  And I called the police.  An officer came out, ran this man's tag and information, which of course came back with no insurance and a traffic warrant out for his arrest.  The officer offered to go and arrest him and I responded with the words, "Go Get Him!" 

Bastard hit my new car, he deserves to be in jail.

That night I received the following text:

"Mam, I want to apologize for hitting your car this afternoon.  My wife passed away two months ago and I have been struggling trying to raise our 1 year old and 3 year old kids on my own.  Without my wife's income  my car insurance, along with a lot of other things, has lapsed but I promise if you get an estimate I will pay you cash, if I can have some time.  The officer came to my house.  If he puts me in jail there will be no one to care for my young boys.  Please, can you have mercy?"

Matthew 18.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Luke 6

Looking at his disciples, he said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Love for Enemies

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

39 He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.

41 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Explaining Syria to My Pacifist Children

My children have been raised on the stories of Les Mis, Hairspray, Newsies and Rent.  They don't always have to be musicals.  We watch Alkeela and the Bee, Freedom Writers and, because they love them so much, we throw in the occasional documentary as well.  Even my youngest children have been watching edited versions of movies that portray the struggle of the marginalized of our society since they were way too little.

During our summer vacation, we spent 50$ just so my children could stand here:

Later that day, we drove to Birmingham and went to the 16th Street Church. We talked about the children who were killed and others jailed during the civil rights marches.  


 And we stopped and chatted with three homeless men who live at the Birmingham Civil Rights park, "A Place of Revolution and Reconciliation" and we talked about the irony of the entire situation and how disappointed MLK would be to see three African American homeless gentlemen living on the very spot where others died so they could have a better chance at justice.

So, basically,  my kids are always pumped up and ready for a righteous fight.  A fight for justice.  A fight to stand for the oppressed and abused.  It is a pretty hyper-sensitive way to live actually, especially when there is no fight to fight on a daily basis.  I feel sorry for their teachers because my kids will defend the Church and the poor beyond their own pride, reputation and social standing.  I hear that class discussions are tricky.  We laugh at ourselves a lot.

But now my children may have a chance.  We are on the brink of another war.  Perhaps a bad war. And they have questions.  

Last night we began by googling the history of this most recent conflict.  It began in 2011 when some school children were kidnapped and tortured by Syrian government forces after they wrote some anti-government opinions on a wall.

The citizens saw the injustice and went to the street asking for justice and democracy.  During the peaceful protest, Syrian government forces shot their weapons into the crowd and killed 4 people.  At the funerals of these victims, the government shot into the crowds again, killing another one.

What began as a peaceful protest had now turned into a full fledged civil war and it has been going on for two years now.  The Syrian people against the Syrian government.  It is violent.  So many have been killed.  So many have fled.  It is really terrible.

And now we hear that the Syrian government used weapons against its own citizens.  Chemical Weapons that are so horrible they are internationally against the law.  People suffered under the torture of these weapons.

Can you feel it?  That gut wrenching awareness of the horror going on in Syria?  Hell yes! Bomb Them! Bomb them to God!  How can we let such horror go unpunished? 

My kids felt it too.  They had lots of questions but two main topics arose:

1.  Why shouldn't we go to war against such evil people?  
2. If war is not an option, do we do nothing?

1. Why not war?  Although my brother and I disagree on so many things, including this, he gave them the most perfect answer...I quote

" If we hit Syria, dominoes start to fall. What does Iran and Hezbollah do? What does Russia do? Will there be a follow-on ground invasion to secure those chemical weapons, otherwise who gains control of those - al Qaeda?

What happens when Egypt then explodes along with Gaza and and the Golan heights, then Israel is forced to respond. Now you have a regional war. With Russian backing one side and us backing the other. It's a world war 3 scenario again."

That is why we don't bomb them. It doesn't solve the problems of evil in Syria, it just spreads the evil to the rest of the world causing senseless death and destruction.
2. Do we do nothing? No. We don't do nothing. We pray. Don't mistake my intent or giggle. I am not saying that we quietly hope or we think positive thoughts. We don't update our statuses or tweet our desire for peace.  We don't use our wish as we blow out candles. This is not superstitious nonsense.
We commit to days of fasting. We blow the dust off of our rosary, call our friends and start meeting at church in the wee hours of the morning and the late hours of the night. We call down the intercessions of our holy Saints, of Saint Michael the Archangel and of God The Almighty Creator of the World and the Heavens above it. Don't screw with me on this. I am not joking. If Christianity is the faith you have signed up for, than we must believe that Jesus told Peter and every disciple who would follow to put down his sword, his gun, his bomb and his righteous vengeful spirit.
Now is the time. Join in Prayer.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Making Bad Decisions

One of my favorite Catholic Worker stories is the tale of the diamond ring.

"Tom Cornell tells the story of a donor coming into the New York house one morning and giving Dorothy a diamond ring. Dorothy thanked her for the donation and put it in her pocket without batting an eye. Later a certain demented lady came in, one of the more irritating regulars at the CW house, one of those people who make you wonder if you were cut out for life in a house of hospitality. I can't recall her ever saying "thank you" or looking like she was on the edge of saying it. She had a voice that could strip paint off the wall. Dorothy took the diamond ring out of her pocket and gave it to this lady. Someone on the staff said to Dorothy, "Wouldn't it have been better if we took the ring to the diamond exchange, sold it, and paid that woman's rent for a year?". Dorothy replied that the woman had her dignity and could do what she liked with the ring. She could sell it for rent money or take a trip to the Bahamas. Or she could enjoy wearing a diamond ring on her hand like the woman who gave it away. "Do you suppose," Dorothy asked, "that God created diamonds only for the rich?"

What a waste of resources.  Giving this poor women a diamond ring when the money could have gone for a more practical purpose.  That is the way we think, isn't it?  We are very earthly, considering each financial decision with a magnifying glass of economic scrutiny.  Wondering if our interest rates are passing the Dave Ramsey seal of approval.  Maybe we are hoping that God, when our judgment comes, will be so impressed with our credit rating that not only will we get into Heaven, we will win a free t-shirt too.

Catholic Worker is does not have a history of making safe, practical decisions.  Dorothy used her rent and electric bill money to print the first issue of The Catholic Worker.  She was late with both bills, so I sure hope God didn't pull her credit report to see if she was overdue.  CW is not practical.  Christianity is not practical.  I refuse to be practical. 

I will not enter Heaven as God's unprofitable servant.  I will not take the faith and joy and money He has given me and bury it in some bank account somewhere out of fear that it will be misused.  I will not be scared to live on the fringe of society.   I will not wait for permission to do the right thing. 

In 1939 heading into 1940, Dorothy wrote her new resolutions:

"To pay no attention to health of the body but only that of my soul. To plan each day upon arising.  And in the evening examination of conscience.  To waste no time.  More charity."

I adopt these resolutions as my own.