We started by building an 8′ X 2′ box in our three-season room, and (with help of good persons at Growing Power and some worms) grew, with mixed results, salad greens and seedlings for the first summer’s garden. As the seasons change, our focus shifts back and forth between the sun-room and its evolving Growing Power Home Garden Project Box, and our Growing Power backyard garden, where we use the rich soil, worm castings and worms from the indoor box outdoors. Same system yet different.
Digging in the earth can uncover all kinds of things, and so can digging deep in ourselves. In my online journal, I have been recording daily reflections on the progress of our efforts in adapting the Growing Power model to our home and garden, mixed with my observations about life, peace, justice, faith, family, community and friends. Enjoy. Thank you! — Bob Graf
“Our voice will be heard.”
When low income people of color, African American or Hispanic, have all the facts and moral values on their side, predominately white middle groups, no matter their good intentions, just cannot hear or do not want to hear the facts and moral values being presented. Some call this racism. Often the poor or low income just give up trying and settle for what the white establishment gives them. Sometimes they speak and act out.
Here is a statement of low income and marginalized persons. When they peacefully picketed with the message they were threaten with arrest if they did not leave the property. (See No Room for the Poor in SVDP) When they respectfully asked for a dialog with leaders and staff of Milwaukee SVDP they were ignored. To give up or to keep struggling is the question they face. So far they will struggle on. If you would like to join in the struggle of this unnamed group send you name to be added to this petition. If you want to join the group send you name and email to
We the people, voice for people in need,
Because the mission of “Society of St. Vincent de Paul is “Inspired by Gospel values, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic lay organization, leads women and men to join together to grow spiritually by offering person-to-person service to those who are needy and suffering…”.(1)
Because “St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Stores throughout the United States are an association of lay employees and volunteers dedicated to serve our needy sisters and brothers. All who come to are stores are welcomed with dignity and respect. We hope they leave as friends to shop with us again. Those who cannot afford the clothing, furniture and other household items they need will be provided for through a Vincentian initiated referral system……Serving Christ’s needy is the first purpose of all St. Vincent de Paul stores.” (2)
Because Milwaukee is one of the poorest cities in the U.S.A., the most racially segregated city in the USA, with the highest rate of incarceration of African American males in Wisconsin with highest rate of incarceration in the USA which has the incarceration rate of citizens of any country in the world, (5)
Because “In the Society, all our money, (income, donations, and debts) belongs to the poor. The Society has held from the beginning that the funds donated to the Conference belong to the poor. …… Like Conferences, Councils act as custodians of funds given to the Society, understanding that they belong, ultimately, to the poor.” (3)
Because “Councils may receive funding requests from charitable organizations outside the Society. Funds donated to the Society, however, must be used only for works that involve the personal service of Society members.”(3)
‘’Because home visits to people in racially impoverished are being severely limited by Central Office of SVDP,
Because the Milwaukee SVDP Greenfield store, after seven months of operation and over four million dollars of investment* shows no signs of being sustainable let along profitable,(4)
Therefore, We the people, who all SVDP money belongs to, demand No More Money of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Milwaukee County be invested in the Greenfield SVDP thrift store but rather but rather being invested in SVDP conferences that serve the needy and to create, not investigate, a SVDP Thrift store in North Central Milwaukee.
(1)Rule of Society of St. Vincent de Paul
(2) Mission Statement of St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store
(3)Manuel of St. Vincent de Paul Society of USA
(4)Based on the projected and approved 2014–2015 SVDP budget and small bits of information given to members of Milwaukee SVDP.
3.2 million dollars of loans from Securant Bank and Investment firm managing SVDP Trust Fund.
Interest on two loans $160, 000 per year
$500, 000 of Money being raised in present campaign
Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) to City of Greenfield $15, 000 per year
Property Management Fees $37, 940 per year
Condo Association Fees $15, 000 per year
Compensation (40 employees) and Operating Cost for Greenfield Store not covered by sales.
Four Million Dollars Plus of Money Belonging to Poor investing in Greenfield Store
(5) See MAPS http://www.nonviolentworm.org/Main/MAPS
“We must do what is most agreeable to God. Therefore, we must do what our Lord Jesus Christ did when preaching the Gospel. Let us go to the poor. ” Blessed Frederic Ozanam founder of Society of St. Vincent de Paul (1813–1853)
An elderly woman at the block party last Friday gave me a sheet of quotes on “The Gift of Prayer.” Here are some to start the new month.
“If you sincerely want to pray, keep silence.” Mother Theresa
“Seven days without prayer makes one weak.” Allen Bartlett
“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” Martin Luther
“To look around is to be distressed. To look within is to be depressed. To look up is to be blessed” Author Unknown
“The more we empty ourselves, the more room we give to God to fill us.” Mother Teresa
“Talking to God is my stepping-stone to never walking a moment alone.” Nancy Marthaler
“If I should neglect prayer but a single day, I should lose a great deal of the fire of faith.” Martin Luther
“Prayer changes things.” Author Unknown
“Prayer is exhaling the spirit of man inhaling the spirit of God.” Edwin Keith
“Life is fragile. Handle with prayer.” Author Unknown
“A burning passion coupled with an absolute detachment is the key to all success.” (M.K. Gandhi, “The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi)
Each day I receive, what I call, two picture quotes. One each day is from a site in India that puts out a quote from Mahatma Gandhi. The one for today is above. This one was particularly meaningful since it made me aware of the struggle inside to balance my passion with detachment. The success that Gandhi is talking about, in my opinion, is not always the success of the world but the success that one is doing the right thing and the peace that success delivers.
I naturally tend to be passionate and detachment but not often at the same time or to same degree. It is good to be passionate about persons or a cause but getting too attached to persons, things or causes can bring disappointment and misery. It is good to be detached from people, things and issues but we need people, meaningful work and some things in our life to survive.
After the baseball game yesterday we took our seven year godson and his eight year old brother downstairs in the stadium to participate in the Sunday tradition of running the bases after the game. There was already a long line when we got to what we thought was the end of the line. We will there for awhile till the game end. A man behind us in the line pointed out that was not the end of the line. That was okay but then he added we were there only 30 seconds which was not true. As we were walking by him to the end of the line I said he was right about us breaking in the line but wrong about it being only 30 seconds since we had been there for about five minutes. He reiterated his comment about 30 seconds and I found myself getting mad at him. My passion got a hold of me. As we walked on and on, looking for the end of the waiting line, I was upset that I got upset over such a little thing as the time we were there. The line keep going on and on and by the time we got to the real end it was halfway around the stadium. Someone estimated we had an hour wait and the kids were not that interested in running the bases, so we left the line and went outside where the two boys could run around before going to our car. In this small incident passion overwhelmed detachment.
Sometimes I am passionate critical about action of leaders of our Catholic Church and even in one letter to editor hinted that they were hypocrites, actors who were just pretending to do what they preached. Once when I was speaking critical about the Catholic Church a person, a former Catholic, asked why I was still a Roman Catholic, a good question. I make no excuses for my passion to practice what we preach but do not always keep my detachment from what Church officials say but do not do.
I do not believe I will ever be perfectly passionate yet absolutely detached. But the success of the balance between passion and detachment, like most good things in life, is worth striving for.
As a young man I tried to be colorblind,
But could not be, since inner prejudices
Were in me and would not leave no matter how hard I tried.
As I grew older I realized that in our society
Being aware of the color of a person’s skin
Was the first step to overcoming prejudice and racism?
Now I am old and see the various colors of human beings.
I now see people in black, white, brown and all colors of the rainbow.
Now I can understand that “Black lives Matter”.
This understanding does not take away my belief
That all human lives matter but enhances it.
We need to see color before overcoming our own racism.
Today we took our godson and his brother, racially mixed, to a professional baseball game.
I saw in the stands predominately a white audience and on the field African-Americans, Hispanics and Whites baseball players.
Friday I went to a block party in North Central Milwaukee
Where I was the only white person among African-Americans, young and old.
Today I went to my Catholic Church and saw about 75% white people attending mass, about 20% black and about 5% of other races.
Seeing in color enriches life and helps me to understand
“Black Lives Matter” without saying “All lives matter.”
The Mayor of Milwaukee wants to spend millions equipping police with cameras
That catch the policeman in action.
The cameras will see people in colors,
And hopefully the police can see people in color and not pretend to be colorblind.
The white owners of the Milwaukee Bucks are getting a major welfare grant
Of hundreds of millions to build a new area in the heart of white downtown Milwaukee.
One of the white owners also owns a mortgage company that owns homes in North Central Milwaukee,
And now is giving money to city to avoid mortgage defaults and restore houses.
Maybe if the white Bucks owners, the white mayor, white police chief and white City Council President
Could see the color of people they would realize that all this is fine and good,
But if they took money from the new arena, from cameras and housing grants
And invested it into people of color in a predominately African American North Central Milwaukee and predominately Hispanic in South Central Milwaukee,
They could significantly make structural change in the city in poor housing, poor education, poverty, high unemployment, and family breakdowns
That create an environment of violence, poverty and racism and the increasing concentration of poverty in these areas.
Many poor people of color can see the color of people
And would know better than whites of what to do with all that money.
Seeing the color of people opens our worlds.
In these postings I have often talked how it is harder and harder to poor. This statement of how it is to be poor comes a friend in the local Catholic Worker House of Hospitality in their recent newsletter. There is much more but if you really can hear and see this is all you can handle.
“People are becoming poorer and poorer because States are making demands on them. In our State of Wisconsin, it is not possible to own a vehicle if you do not have insurance. You may not own a home unless you have fire insurance. You must have health insurance or suffer penalties. You are led to believe that you must have a gun to insure your family’s safety. What happens more often than not is that you pay lots of money to insurance companies without getting anything in return. It seems to be legal theft. A minority person seeking work, for example, must usually rely on public transportation to find and go to work. If there is no public transportation to the work site, the person cannot hold the job. If the person wants to buy a car the person must pay almost $200 a month to one of the thousands of insurance companies first.
If the person does not have insurance and is pulled over for a traffic violation the person will face a huge fine or spend time in jail. The poor become poorer. If we at Casa Maria had to buy insurance for our vehicles used for pick ups of needed items for the houses and our guests when we first started the house in 1967, by now we would have paid more than a half a million dollars to an insurance company. That is money that would not have been able to be used to house the homeless, feed the hungry, help prisoners, etc. We have had minor accidents with vehicles, and if we caused damage to another vehicle we made sure that we paid for the damage we caused. We have always trusted God to provide. Christ said that if the birds and plants are taken care of then certainly we humans, the children of God, need not worry.
Our society, which claims to be “Christian” does not believe that God will provide and, thus, demands that we need insurance companies to take care of us. Insurance companies give enormous amounts of money to political candidates so they will enact laws demanding that people get different types of insurance or suffer penalties. If a claim is made, more times than not, the insurance company will find some fine print in the document you signed that will exempt it from having to pay for any damage caused. If the company must pay for any damage, know that your rate will automatically go up each month. In the end, the company will gain back any money it had to pay out. When you see insurance companies building bigger and bigger buildings in our cities and buying up land and houses both here and abroad, you must realize that the companies are only out to help themselves, not you, to insure themselves of more profits from you. What are we to do about this? We must resist this injustice by not cooperating with the powers that be, and give what we have to the economically poor rather than to these very wealthy corporations who take away our freedoms and further pauperize the people of the world. “What you do to the least of these you do also to me.” (Christ) ----Don Timmerman
Today I went to a block party on the street behind the Center Street Library. Pastor Shelia, one of the group of residents of North Central struggling for civil rights of residents was the organizer. The block party was to celebrate the 83rd birthday of a resident who live in the senior housing building on the block and to give young people some fun, encouragement and teaching from the Pastor.
The seniors from the center were gathered around the birthday girl on the sidewalk in front of 55 and above housing unit. I ended up spending most of the time talking with these seniors. The birthday woman was dressed in white and very much a woman of God. Another woman on the corner had a spiritual ministry and gave me a wonderful page of quotes as well as some socks and deodorant. In days to come I will put the quotes on quotes pages. A few were quotes that I have been looking for. This made sense since this woman had a very strong faith in God’s will and the belief that if we give ourselves over to God ‘all will be well’. Another elderly man who live in the senior complex told me of how in all his life in Milwaukee he had never been at “fish fry” at a restaurant. I found this hard to believe but he also said that his late wife would have him bring fish home on Friday nights from the variety of cooked fish stores in the area.
Later, in the early eve, my wife and I went out to a fish fry at one of the many restaurants in Milwaukee offering Friday Fish Fries. It struck me that many low income do not go out for Friday fish fries very much because the cost of eating out, something that does not really bother those of us in middle class.
On the way home we stopped at new frozen yogurt place where you can fix your own combination of yogurts and toppings, weigh them and pay by the weight. The place was packed so I had to drive around the block while my wife ran in the chain store and purchased yogurt. I asked for a cone of some yogurt but she came back with two cups of a variety of yogurts and toppings. I guess they do not even sell cones. The cost of two cups of yogurt we purchased were probably the same or more than cooked fish my friend brought home to his wife and family for Friday dinners.
I feel I am living in two worlds, one behind the invisible wall on North Avenue, the beginning in my calculations of North Central Milwaukee, home of many impoverished persons; and the other on the West side of Milwaukee where I grew up and still live.
The woman I met full of spirituality told me it did not matter where you live or what your race was as long as you live in the peace of God. My goal is to find the peace and blessings that only God can give in both of these worlds.
Today’s flowers from rain garden
Our street is being redone. We got all types of mail and papers inside the door saying we might have our driveway blocked for a while. My wife took the information seriously and as soon as construction started moved her car to a side street. I figured there would be all kinds of warning right before they blocked the driveway and stubbornly refused to move my car. Today returning home in my wife’s car we found our driveway blocked with street debris. My wife was nice about my stubbornness to relocate my car so now I will need to use her car until I can get out of the driveway. Being stubborn, once more, made me look stupid.
Being stubborn can be good when you are being persuaded to drop your persistence and perseverance. But there is a fine line between persistence and stubbornness. Being persistent is admirable but stubbornness is stupid.
Over the years working in the garden I can see what plants work and under what conditions. If I persist in growing a particular plant that is good, but if I persist using the same old way that failed than I am being stupid.
I remember reading, a long time ago, a line from a poet saying “Man is made to make mistakes.” It was refreshing to hear at a time in my life where I was a perfectionist and afraid to make a mistakes. However, I have found that making the same mistakes over and over again leads people to stigmatize you and keep you in a box even after you learn from your mistakes and move on.
We can learn from our own mistakes and from history. However, I find myself often making the same mistake and our leaders, political and religious, making the same mistakes over and over again. Life, like the perennial flowers that grow in my rain garden, changes but comes back again. If we can learn how the flowers come, bloom, die and return to bloom in fuller fashion, we can learn “where have all the flowers gone” in our life and what we need to do to bring them back. If we do not learn the lessons of living and dying and living again the flowers of our life will go and not come back. “Where have all the flowers gone”?
Today is the fifth anniversary of my son’s death. There is no better way to honor him than by speaking out against the hypocrisy of the institutional Catholic Church. Here is a letter to the Editor I wrote tonight to the local newspaper.
In the last two days, August 25 and August 26, in MJS there are articles on the Archdiocese revised plan filed in bankruptcy court. The sexual abuse victims keep saying the plan “does not do enough to ensure the protection of children or hold the archdiocese accountable for its past actions”, while the Archdiocese keeps spending more money on lawyers and in the revised plan is now compensating more victims. The disturbing line in both articles is that the Archdiocese will now take “2.4 million from two funds it maintains for continuing education of priests, and orphans and other welfare needs.”
The Archdiocese already has been accused of not doing much for the increasing number of impoverished African-Americans and Hispanic living in Milwaukee. Yet now they are going to take money from ‘orphans and other welfare needs.’
I am 72 and a lifelong Catholic in Milwaukee yet this move by the Archdiocese in Milwaukee deeply disturbs me. Perhaps the local leaders of our Catholic Church should read today’s Gospel in which Jesus says to the religious leaders of his time: “…you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.”
Was Jesus talking about Cardinal Dolan hiding money in the cemetery fund?
Evicted in Milwaukee
I get frustrated when I do not get done all I want to do in a day. People call, I need to call friends, people need rides, directions are wrong, the new computer does not work as planned, weeds get in the way in the garden, I forget things, time runs out and life gets messy when you at least expect it. Daily I need to realize it is not so much ‘how much you do’ but ‘how you do it’.
The quality of doing comes from reflection. As Thomas Merton and many others who saw deeply into life, taught us, we must retreat and see the bigger picture in order to act effectively in the future.
History, also, can teach us. Yet, as it seems so often true today, we ignore the lessons of history and make the same mistakes today as we did in the past.
I was notified there were three homicide prayer vigils tomorrow morning. In Milwaukee we sadly are having a record year of homicides. But if we look at the neighborhoods where the majority of homicides are occurring we will see they are in North Central Milwaukee, 85% plus African American and poor and South Central Milwaukee, 85% plus Hispanic and poor. We know from history that these areas of high concentrations of impoverished minorities encourages an environment of violence. Also we know from history how to break the cycle of racism, poverty and violence, yet we do not.
I thought today of writing city, county and state politicians ten common sense steps to end this increase in violence. But I know they do not want to hear them and do not want to make the investment in the short run that would save us, not only from senseless violence, but money in the future. Sacrificing in the short run for the common good of society in the future is not so popular. Everyone, like the digit devices they use, wants instant answers and solutions. I have called this phenomenon of needing an instant response ‘insatinity’, the need for an instant answer like a digital device can provide.
The USA commits acts of war in countries all over the world, Yemen, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan. This violence and senseless killing leads to more violence and senseless killing just as it does in the areas of our city of a growing number of impoverished people.
We do not need more studies, more books, more discussion and more talk to tell us what to do. We know from history and reflection of what we must do to end violence and killing in our cities as well as in the world. We need to learn it is not the quantity of what we do but the quality of how we do it that matters.
On Sunday morning we woke up to the message that Mary Byrne, our very good friend, and friend to many, had died. Pat and I had just visited Mary last Friday at the nursing home where she had been moved after a recent hospitalization. She had just entered hospice care and through her daughter had asked to see family and friends one last time. At our visit Mary said that once she accepted death and hospice care she had felt a deep sense of peace and her family was doing well with her decision. She had been in and out of the hospital over 17 times the last few years and knew it was time to prepare for death. She engaged us in a lively conversation about her family and friends, what a blessed life she had lived and how she had prepared for her death, all with her grand sense of humor. As we were leaving and gave her an embrace she asked me what I was now working on. I mentioned briefly how I was trying to work with minority people in poverty to struggle for their rights and she nodded her approval.
This last visit contained the two elements I remember most about Mary, her deep concern and support for social justice and her sense of humor. Over the years Mary was a big supporter of human rights movements and when she was too old to take an active role she was a supporter of those of us who were able to struggle. Occasionally she would invite Pat and me over to the Catholic Home for dinner. She had lived in an independent living apartment there right to her last hospitalization. At these dinners, and afterwards in her apartment, she would ask about how we and our family were doing and share with us updates of her family and friends. Her husband, a professor at Marquette University was also active in social justice and human rights and his name comes up when I investigate activism on campus in the library archives. Sadly he had died young and left Mary with five children to raise. From all reports from her children she encouraged them to be active in social justice issues and passed it on to her grandchildren. I know her support and concern to me, even when others were ignoring my concerns, was important.
A good sign of her wonderful sense of humor was her ‘joke ministry’ by email to family and friends. People would send her humorous jokes by email and she would pass them on to everyone on her list. Someday you might receive three or four and some days one or none, but it was something you could count on to make you laugh and lift your spirits. One of her last ‘joke ministry’ jokes is below. It is about electing our first woman president in 2016, Maxine. Living in an unjust world, especially when one is ill or depressed, humor is necessary for survival. Mary, 88 years young, was a woman full of compassion and humor.
Jesus was killed for
not being political correct!
In today’s liturgy at our Church there were two, short and long versions, of one of Paul’s letters for the second reading. The short version left out the part of wives being submissive to husbands, which taken out of context can be offensive to women. The reader used neither one but read a politically correct version using words like ‘partner’ instead of husband or wife. The priest, celebrating sixty year in the Capuchin religious order, clearly had not been notified a the new reading and had designed part of his homily putting into cultural context Paul’s letter about man and wife joining and being one.
Now I can understand some of the backlash about using “politically correct” language. I can understand when our priest uses “Our Mother and Our Father” in the Lord’s prayer since God is not male or female but have a hard understanding this morning’s reading where the whole letter was rewritten. I guess it is the easy way out, rather than explain the cultural context of a passage, just rewrite it so it does not offend anyone.
Avoiding conflict seems to be the name of the game today in all walks of life. A liberal talk show host on MSNBC and longtime supporter of President Obama criticized the new trade agreement that secretly is being passed and will, according to all representatives of working people, be harmful to workers in this country and around the world while being very profitable to corporations who wrote the trade agreement. As far as I can tell the other networks, conservative or liberal, have failed to give much coverage to this new major trade agreement. All the candidates for President, Republican or Democrat, are not talking about it either. The president criticized the talk host’s network and his show and he were canceled.
This avoidance of difference goes to all walks of life. You are one side or another, with us or against us. There is no clear moral right or wrong. Inquiry about the truth is called “your opinion or my opinion.” We each “do our thing” and all is find if no one is hurt. The days of ‘creative conflict’ seemed, for the most part, to be gone. ‘Conscience’ is a word seldom used in many circles of life.
Interesting enough in today’s Gospel from John 6, Jesus gives a hard message to his followers: “You need to eat my flesh and drink my blood” to have the spirit and life of God. Jesus makes it clear that is not talking his human flesh or blood but talking about life in the Spirit of God. This talk, however, which is a mystery, is too hard for some of his followers and they walk away. He asked the other disciples if they too are going to reject him. Peter answers for them saying he does not understand this talk either but will follow Jesus since they believe he is showing them the Way of God.
Jesus does not minced words and speaks the truth although it eventually get him killed for speaking the truth, in parables, paradoxes, stories and mysteries. Jesus was not “politically correct” even to some of his followers but his teachings by word and example lives
Black=Hispanic See bigger graphic
You know when you have watched too much TV news when you see the same news story appear on the TV on the same stations or another station time after time, day after day.
You know when your city is ignoring poverty and racism when study after study shows racial segregation and poverty on the increase in your city. Today on Public Radio I heard how US census data from 2009–2013 shows the Milwaukee Metro Area among Fastest Growing Areas of Concentrated Poverty. The report by the Century Foundation shows nearly “45% of African-Americans in the Milwaukee area live in high poverty neighborhoods, versus 39% in 2000. Milwaukee has the ninth highest concentration of black poverty in the United States. And it comes after a period when things had generally gotten better here, and around the country….
Even more dramatically, the report also found Metropolitan Milwaukee’s concentration of Hispanic poverty grew from 5.3% in 2000 to 43.2% in 2013, placing seventh nationwide in that category.”
This study, along with other analysis that show Milwaukee as the most racially segregated city in the USA and the second poorest city in USA in a State that has the highest incarceration rate of African American males, is recognized and then ignored. One of the authors of the study said on radio that a major contributor of this racial segregation of the poor is caused by the rapid development of housing in the suburbs and in downtown Milwaukee, and is not matched by any effort for housing for low income persons. Many suburbs have put in permit regulations so that a house must have 3000 square feet to build. So much for modest housing.
As last night’s posting and other postings written on this Diary of a Worm demonstrate, it is more and more difficult to be poor. Sadly many people of all races do not recognize that they are perpetuating racial segregation of poor people in Milwaukee. Until we realize how we are growing Milwaukee into a racially segregated city based on income it will continue to grow. Maybe we are moving backwards, toward slavery, as some of my Black friends in North Central Milwaukee claim.
The poor, people in need, are difficult to organize, not because of their opposition but due to their oppression by politicians, middle class and rich. There are so many organization that claim to be helping the poor, but are keeping them down.
This morning I attended three prayer vigils for homicide victims, all in North Central Milwaukee, the most racially segregated area in Milwaukee, the most racially segregated city in the United States (85% African American) and the poorest area in Milwaukee, the second poorest city in the USA. I understood poverty, poor education, high criminalization, high unemployment as some of the cause of an environment that encourages, not justifies, violence and homicides. However I do not think I fully understood the “breakdown of the family” as a cause till today.
My friends who live in North Central Milwaukee have told me of how in the past the area was a thriving community, with close family and friend ties. Now as you drive from one homicide site to another you noticed the number of houses waiting for demolition, the number of empty lots where house once existed. But also, today, I noticed the number of house that were sale by a broker or by contacting the city. I noticed about eight of these houses driving from homicide site to another one. It sounds like a great plan, the city will sell you these houses for $1. However, there are conditions: You must commit to the money to bring the house up to code, which can $30, 000 or more and live in the house for five years. If one has $30,000 or more they can buy a house ready to be lived in or, in the case of Habitat for Humanity, build a new house. And, if you spend 30 to 50 thousand dollars to rehab the house you now own a house in a neighborhood infested with abandoned houses, slum landlords and falling house values. This circle of housing vacant or torn down leads to people moving to rental properties, being homeless and moving away. The breakdown of the families and neighborhoods is escalated.
I have driven a number of central city residents around the area. They are quick point out houses where family and friends once lived. One of my gripes about the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Milwaukee is that many in need in North Central Milwaukee live in areas they do not serve and when they do make home visits to families it is often months after the initial call to Central Office. A friend tried to make home visits in this area recently to find some of his contacts had called 4–8 months earlier and now had moved, did not respond to phone call or had gotten what they needed already. The mission of St. Vincent de Paul is not to give out things but to build person to person relationships between poor and members. How can this be done when people in need are “not in the right area” or do not have basics household items like beds, stove or refrigerator which St. Vincent de Paul is the only source, of many hundreds of organization serving people in need in North Central Milwaukee.
When I was trying to get the million dollars plus the Church received by closing and selling my former parish I was inspired by friends to write a parable of what would happen if the million dollars was used to provide beds, stoves and refrigerators for people in need. The essay was called Thy Kingdom Come on Earth as It is in Heaven. I even wrote a proposal from the parable of how the money could start a sustainable fund to serve people in need for years to come. The parable and proposal was ignored or just given a pat on the back and ignored. The million dollars plus went to bankers to put in ‘trust fund’ for ‘future church use.’ Presently there is four million plus of “money belonging to poor” borrowed or donated that is being invested in a store in the suburbs. The store is supposed to generate profits to help the mission of the Society in Milwaukee to serve people in need but after four million plus of investment and over six months of operation cannot be sustainable let alone profitable.
People in need understand what is happening to them, the racism and oppression they face, but often feel hopeless to do something about it. People claim to know best what is best for the poor but by imposing their way of doing things and helping people in need are actually contributing the problem of poverty and run down neighborhoods. A priest friend in India, who was from the lowest sector of India society, told men how he prayed to God to once again be like the poor he served, blessed and full of grace. He got a response from God, he said: “I have given all my graces and blessings to the poor and you must go there to find it.” Blessed Frederic Ozaman, founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul said something similar:“We must do what is most agreeable to God. Therefore, we must do what our Lord Jesus Christ did when preaching the Gospel. Let us go to the poor”.
Computer learning curves can be steep especially when one’s email account has been comprised. Just when you think you got your computer the way you want it, something happens. I can understand why a number of older persons just do not have computers or why so many young people rely on smart phones for communicating, not computers. I complain about not having time to read books but if I could get some of the time messing with computers back I could have read a library by now. The balance of computers vs. human interaction and use of imagination is made harder by the new technology coming out all the time and the urge to keep up with it.
When I was young we were told that with the advance of technology we would have more leisure time. However, the opposite seems to be true. The more technology the more work is expected from fewer workers. One’s leisure time seems to be filled with technology.
This afternoon we stepped out of a theater on the East side and were looking on our app on phone for a restaurant around us. We were in an area full of restaurants, some a few yards away. Since it looked like rain we decided to get our car first in nearby parking lot. After we crossed the street by the theater we saw a German bar and restaurant. We went it and enjoyed a delightful, quality, not so expensive German food and I a beer, Pat a local-made root beer. Just looking and seeing turn out to be better than any phone app.
I am glad there is no app or computer that can tend to our gardens, flowers, herbs and vegetables. Gardening is a good escape from the world of technology. Enjoying nature does not have a high learning curve and is a more simpler\complex beauty. Nature changes naturally while technology changes rapidly.
My wife and I were having dinner outside, after a day of Church, swimming and little fishing in Algoma, WI on Lake Michigan. I looked up and saw this large tree blowing in the wind. The wind that day made for some great waves in Lake Michigan to stand in and was really blowing the tree.
This reminded me of one of my favorite folk songs “Blowin’ in the Wind” with the refrain: “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind.” We have been talking about “letting go” and allowing God to work in us so this seemed the perfect imagine to end a relaxing weekend.
In the Gospel of John Jesus tells Nicodemus how someone can be born again: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” There are lots of mysteries in life we do not understand. By allowing ourselves, like the tree, to blow in the wind we can be “born of the Spirit”.
How do we attain this Spirit of allowing God to act thru us? A wise man once wrote the way to this awareness of the Spirit working with us was silence. His disciple asked him how we obtain this silence? The wise man answered “by silence.” In silence we can hear the sound of the wind but “cannot tell where it comes or where it is going”.
It is not important where the wind comes from or goes. However, allowing ourselves to blow in the wind we can find the answer.
I have been silent in these postings quite a bit recently. But I am still here and trying to be in solidarity with some of the people who struggle to live below the poverty line, 32.8% for African Americans in Milwaukee a local foundation tells us.
Today a friend heard the St.Vincent de Paul staff were trying to have me arrested. Even if this is true it is a real insult to people in need who are striving to see “money belonging to poor” not thrown into a suburban store.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said something to the effect that the more he is active the more time he must spend in prayer and reflection. I am no Martin Luther King Jr. but try to use this advice, although not so successfully. He or someone else also said that to be truly alive you needed something worth dying for. I am not ready to die for any cause yet, but can handle insults, marginalization, being ignored on behalf of my faith.
So I am silent but just taking a time out, to work in the garden, write, organize and pray.
Tonight the Roman Catholic Archbishop said a mass of peace in one of the local Churches. I did not go for a number of reasons. A big one being because I have a hard time with persons who preach one thing but do not act on preaching.
I will be back soon since writing clears my head. For now I am still here, silently.
Driving Ms. Lucille home tonight after our meeting at the Center Street Library in North Central Milwaukee, I noticed many Milwaukee Police cars, some with their light flashing. One particular gathering of police cars even frightened Ms. Lucille, 87, and a veteran of the civil rights struggle in Milwaukee. I reminded her that we were behind the wall that separates North Central Milwaukee from the rest of the city. See M.A.P.S. for how this part of the city is the poorest in the city of Milwaukee, the second poorest city in the USA; has the highest incarceration of African American males in the State which has the highest rate of incarceration males and has extremely high unemployment and a very weak public school system.
I came home to read the email about the four prayer vigils for homicide victims tomorrow. All four were males, most likely African Americans who were shot and killed within the borders of North Central Milwaukee. Moderate whites and suburban people want to ‘help’ these people in North Central Milwaukee but dare not go into this area. As the people of North Central Milwaukee suffer more poverty and are more marginalized the more people outside of this zone talk but do very little. I like to tell persons there is a wall along North Avenue with Silver Spring on north, 60th street on the West and the Milwaukee River on the East. When they question me about it I explain it is an invisible wall that many us can see and feel.
Last week visiting my Grandson, who has probably never been in North Central Milwaukee called the area the “Ghetto”. At first I felt offended by this label but the more I thought about it the more I agreed. It is like the Jewish Ghetto in Poland and Watts in L.A. People of race or religion are isolated and ignored. Voices of these racially segregated people are seldom heard unless they act out with riots or nonviolent action. What will it take to hear the voices of the poor in North Central Milwaukee?
To all my moderate, liberal or progressive friends I love and respect you but I am starting to feel like Martin Luther King Jr. when he wrote these lines in his letter from the Birmingham Jail
“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”
When I was still a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, (SVDP), in good standing I was allowed to attend Executive Board meetings and to talk when I was told I could talk. At one of the meetings the treasurer of the Board was talking about how investing millions of dollars in the suburbs of Greenfield for a thrift store would produce a return on investment. When I was allowed to speak, I challenged him to show how such a store would make a return on the investment. He said that information was propriety and only executive board members, staff and hired consultants could see it. I asked the board members present if they had seen this secret plan of how the store would make a return on such a large investment of “money belonging to the poor.” No one raised their hand. (Maybe the President of the Council did??)
When I was in the business word as a publisher of a direct mail advertising we sold ads to businesses of all types, funeral homes to fast food restaurants. In my sales presentation I had a formula that showed what it would take in sales to make a return on the investment of an ad in our magazine. Since our direct mail advertising magazine used coupons the results were easy to measure. If a business person did not make a good return on investment on the ad, they might buy another ad, but if they did and it did not produce they would usually not try again. Fortunately our magazine produced profitable results and I was able to consistently sell the same business over and over again.
At the next SVDP board meeting one of the board members, the former District Attorney of Milwaukee, a friend, said he had read the document about how the heavy investment in the Greenfield Store would produce money to serve the needy. I asked him about it. He replied that he read it but did not understand it. He is one of three members of the board that has raise over $600,000 for the Society with most of it, $500, 000 going to Greenfield store.
By what the central staff has revealed over four million dollars of money belonging to poor, has been invested in the Greenfield store already. (See Chart below). After six months of store operation it seems like the store is no way sustainable yet along profitable. Even if there is a ‘trickle down’ in the future the Greenfield store is a money hole that like another venture of central staff in 1995 to form a social agency will take money from the poor before it ends. The poor are saying “Enough, No More of Our Money for the Greenfield store.” The mission of a St. Vincent de Paul Thrift store is “Serving Christ’s needy is the primary goal of all St. Vincent De Paul Stores.”