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
Oh,the Joy of a Daffodil
Finally I was able to pick some flowers from the garden, daffodils, to make a fresh flower vase. Last year I had daffodils and more flowers in March. Now with the chilly weather in the forecast for the end of April it looks like it will be May before the flowers really get in bloom. This climate change or climate cooling or warming is, according to some experts, beyond the scope of no return. Glaciers melt, avalanches increase on Mount Everest, sever droughts in parts of USA, mudslides in Washington State, lack of spring in Milwaukee, what is happening to our earth?
Earth Day was yesterday and celebrations go on until next week. But what can we celebrate when the ‘big powers that be’, mining companies in Guatemala, energy consuming giants in China and cars in USA just keep poisoning the earth in the name of money.
Money trumps democracy in elections, with person with most money usually the winner; Money is free speech according to our Supreme Court; Love of money keeps taxes low and poverty high; Now will money trumps the Earth! What good is money if we do not have a livable earth? We cannot eat money, use it as a shelter, plant in the group to grow it or even drink it.
My African niece just returned from visiting her family, 16 years after escaping civil war and extreme poverty in her home in Sierra Leone. I remember how much she seemed to suffer from the separation from her family that lives in poverty, even after the civil war. Although she was poor and a struggling student she would faithfully sent money home whenever she could. Now after returning to USA after a three week visit she is homesick once again. She told me how her family still struggles in extreme poverty but how joyful and full of life everyone was. After I picked her up and brought her here for some dinner and to pick up her car the first thing she did was to get a phone card to call home. It took her several calls to reach someone on the block her extended family lives. Although it was very late at night it turns out it was the day with electricity, every other day, and all the cell phones (no landlines after the war) were recharging and many in her family were watching a movie. She has a decent job here but has piles of debt from her education. Her family has little work and money but enjoys each other and lives life fully.
Making money trumps our environment but leaves us often with poverty of joy.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32
The classic question of ‘what is truth’ seems to be answered these days with the comments that truth is something relative and we all have our own truths. There is something to that comment, even Gandhi who called his life an ‘experiment in truth’ referred to his ‘opinion of truth.’ But many believe, as I do, there is some objective truth that we must seek and act on.
Jesus also said “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6) and “In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18: 37). In major religious faiths you find some common values and truths, like the dignity and value of human life.
If we believe something is true, like teaching killing at Marquette is contrary to our Gospel and faith than we have an obligation in conscience to act on this truth. Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement says that we must follow our conscience even if it is an erroneous one.
I noticed these days when you express your ‘opinion of the truth’ and explain why you believe this is true, people who disagree, often do not enter in a creative dialog but simply ignore you and your message of truth. I find this happened with my recent letter to the executive directors of St. Vincent De Paul voicing my opinion of the truth why the move to invest 3.2 million dollars in a store in suburbs was against the mission of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. So far they just ignored my letter as they have done many times before when I have said something they do not agree with. In other words, instead of recognizing someone’s opinion of truth’ and trying to reconcile that with you own ‘opinion of truth’ they just ignore the message. Clarification of the truth cannot happen where there is no dialog or discussion. Thus, all parties keep on doing the same thing which leads all further away from truth. There is truth in the world but unless we seek and struggle for the truth it will not be discovered. Truth is a result of creative conflict and struggle.
Pat Tillman NFL Star\Army Ranger
Conversation tonight with a friend reminded me of a web project I started and did not complete. It is a Retreat in Daily Life called “Finding God in all Things, a retreat for a pilgrim in a busy world.” It is based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola which is a four week retreat that has been converted into many forms. This one is in the form of 13 weeks of gathering of a small group with daily reflections. I have been thinking of finishing it for some time now and maybe this is the time. Although my work in my Growing Power Model Home Garden is just getting going my activities with resistance at Marquette University and change with St. Vincent de Paul Society are slowing down. I have been thinking of taking a time out from action for awhile and making more time for reading, reflection and writing. This project would be a good start.
There are a lot of projects I would like to do, especially one involving research and history. But research information and learning from history seem to be an unwanted commodity in today’s society so maybe focusing on the spiritual would be attractive. Working on the garden and doing some spiritual writing and reflections seem like a good way to spend the summer months. The garden is outside and the writing and reflection is inside.
Also by chance life just happens and offers an opportunity for reflection if we are looking for it. I have been talking a lot about reflexive shooting, killing without conscience but last night in escaping to sports on ESPN I found by chance a good example. It was an ESPN Outside the Lines story on Pat Tillman, the famous NFL football player who was killed by friendly fire by Army Rangers in Afghanistan. There were two interviews of Army Rangers present that day, 10 years ago, one with Pat Tillman on the hillside and one with a group of Army Rangers below that were firing on them, mistaking them for the enemy. The one with Pat Tillman being fired on commented that if the soldiers below had taken a few seconds before firing they would have realized they were shooting at their own guys. The soldier below talked about how they were trained to shoot at a target the commander officer was shooting at, without thought, just instinctively. After the death of Pat Tillman both soldiers suffered greatly with marriage problems and divorces, with alcohol and Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They never talked to each other but felt an overwhelming sense of guilt from this death, a result of military training of reflexive killing, killing with thinking or conscience.
The story of Pat Tillman’s death might be a greater understanding to a student of the results of military teaching to kill reflexively at Marquette than any research or preaching.
There are examples of our spiritual and value beliefs all around us if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. The tragic death of Pat Tillman is just one.
Rolling Grape Leaves of Delight
Today, Easter Sunday, Pat and I had made lots of stuffed Grape Leaves to take up to our son’s house to celebrate Easter with him, his wife and our three grandchildren. It is a favorite food for all of us. However, this morning our daughter-in-law called and said our son, David, had a virus, and it might be best if we did not come up. So for dinner tonight we enjoyed a wonderful meal of Grape Leaves and will do so tomorrow night and Wednesday for dinner.
Making and eating the Middle Eastern meal of stuffed grape leaves, the leaves which we picked in our backyard last summer, reminded me of a quote that has been in the back of my mind for awhile. It is a quote from the book Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. The book, published in 1939, is set during the Great Depression, and “focuses on the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, agricultural industry changes and bank foreclosures forcing tenant farmers out of work. Due to their nearly hopeless situation and in part because they were trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California. Along with thousands of other “Okies”, they sought jobs, land, dignity, and a future.” At the end of the book Tom Joad, the eldest son is forced to flee the migrant workers camp because of his struggle for human rights for the poor farm workers. Saying goodbye to his mother he says:
“Maybe it’s like Casey says. A fella ain’t got a soul of his own, but only a piece of a big soul, the one big soul out there that belongs to everybody. And then it don’t matter. Then I’ll be all around in the dark. I’ll be everywhere…Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a company thug beating up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad, and I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready…And when our people eat the stuff they raise, and the houses they build, I’ll be there too.”
Times have changed but in ways the poor are still suffering from the hands of rich and mighty. Struggling to take a stand in solidarity with poor by practicing the Mission of St. Vincent De Paul Society or resisting the teaching of war and killing at Marquette I am tempted to give up at times but keep on going knowing that I must take a stand and fight for what is right and need to follow my conscience.
If nothing changes in my life time, if our struggles for peace and justice fail, the belief in the Resurrection keeps me going. For if we are with people who struggle for peace and justice then we will be there, at least in spirit, “when our people eat the stuff they raise, and the houses they build” or when they Teach War No More at Marquette and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul devotes all its resources to the works of mercy. The Grapes of Wrath will become the Grape Leaves of Delight.
Marquette ROTC Protest
A while back Breaking the Silence received a rather harsh letter from a Marquette student telling us why we were so foolish protesting the military (ROTC) on the campus. I wrote back trying to be kind and sensitive in my response. He wrote back and I responded. Below, in dialog form are his comments, called ‘student’, and my response, ‘Bob’.
Student: You really think they teach killing to students? Please give me some examples. Please also show me Marquette ROTC curriculum that says the word “kill” in it. They’re taught to disarm the target, take down the target, etc. Typically in defense of their own comrades. Marquette ROTC students HARDLY see combat. You do realize you’re part of the minority in this argument. Do you even have curriculum that is CURRENTLY taught in ROTC classes? I don’t think that the University would hand you such documents and rightfully so.
Bob: The military admits and Marquette does not deny that reflexively killing, killing without conscience is being taught in military. I first heard of reflexive killing at Marquette University during the viewing of a film, approved by the military, called Soldiers of Conscience. You can now watch the film yourself on YouTube. There is an even a scene in the film of a ROTC class in which this is taught. The military ethics of West Point who narrates much of the film has a paper presented to military command in 2000 that you can find a link to at “Military Leaders’ Obligation to Justify Killing in War”
Marquette University has oversight of the curricula of all departments of the University except the three departments of Military Science, Army, Navy/Marines and Air Force. This is part of the contract with Department of Defense. You can verify this information with Provost of Marquette, acting one or past provost who is still around campus.
The movement at Marquette to resist ROTC at Marquette was student inspired. In the official History of Marquette University it states “By May 1968, the university issued a second set of rules, this time for ‘Faculty Participation in Disruptive Demonstrations.’ By then a key target was the Reserved Officers Training Corps, a fixture at Marquette since before World War II.” (Milwaukee Jesuit University, Marquette 1881–1981 by Thomas J. Jablonsky 329) This web page needs an update but the resistance to ROTC on campus is at least 46 years old. You will notice that in the early pictures of resistance to military on campus there were hundreds and hundreds of students participating in this resistance and, as you note, none today. There is many reasons for this but as a student at MU in 60′s I can say with some authority it is just not ROTC, but moral issues of civil rights, discrimination, apartheid, racism that no longer appeal to students as moral issues to act on.
Student: I don’t believe I called you a name, just stated fellow student’s thoughts of you and your organization. At this point you’ve pissed off most of the Marquette campus. Most students (maybe even all) are in support of what Marquette does and I have NEVER seen a student picketing on campus, sitting in on official campus business or anything else that your group does. I saw you disrespect a veteran on campus after he exposed your flawed logic. It was disrespectful and quite frankly it was sad. It disgusts me that your group harasses ROTC students in uniform. They are scholarship students who work hard and deserve to be left alone.
Bob: I believe your characterization of students at Marquette is degrading to students. As far as veterans I do not think you will find any disrespect of veterans. I have good friends who are veterans and even at students at time in ROTC at MU. Just as I was motivated in 1968 to take a stand against Vietnam War and selective service system I am motivated, in large part, by veterans today. The suicide rate among veterans and soldiers in the military is reported at 22 per day since 1968. At least one of those I know was a ROTC graduate of MU. If you really care about soldiers in the military and veterans I will be glad to supply you with reading materials and other stuff directly from veterans.
Student: Please take your fight to legislature, to the campus president or somewhere else where a decision can be made. For student’s sake, I hope you’re banned from campus. My faith system is mine and mine alone, I appreciate that you have a strong view on something in life, however I
don’t believe you should be throwing it in the faces of our ROTC students, US military veterans and the general campus population.
Bob: I take strong objection to the tone of this statement. You might have you own ‘faith system’ and set of values but I am a Roman Catholic Christian and share my basic faith system and values with millions all over the world. The Holy Father of the Catholic Church says “Faith and Violence are Not Compatible” and I believe that. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the priority of conscience overrides any government orders or even that of an administrator at MU. See Gospel Values Vs Military Values.
Student: Your picketing/protests and obnoxious and I’m not sure the Catholic Faith would support what you do either. Please ponder that. Take your fight to the right people, not the general student population. They think you’re insane (not calling you a name, just stating other student’s reactions to your rants).
Bob: On this Holy Saturday I have the strength to take any insults you or other students may use against any of us for expressing our conscience and deep faith. I would hope we could talk about all this person to person and face to face but that probably will not happen. I do hope you read this email and check out the links.
I accepted the fact that we cannot change anyone but ourselves but we can create an environment where we can civilly discuss and dialog on these moral issues.
Student: I will remain anonymous to protect myself.
Bob: Be Not Afraid!
Bob: Again thank you for responding. I hope you read and reflect on my response. God Bless You,
When is enough, enough, and one gives up fighting a battle. Since 1968 or earlier there has been a struggle to end military training (ROTC) on campus at Marquette University. I have traced some of that history, since 1968 on the struggle to end military training on campus. See history of this resistance from 1968. In Marquette’s official history book it says: “By May 1968, the university issued a second set of rules, this time for ‘Faculty Participation in Disruptive Demonstrations.’ By then a key target was the Reserved Officers Training Corps, a fixture at Marquette since before World War II.” (Milwaukee Jesuit University, Marquette 1881–1981 by Thomas J. Jablonsky p. 329) This web page needs updating but the resistance to ROTC on campus is at least 46 years old.
Today I received a 2nd anonymous letter from a Marquette University student telling us how foolish and terrible we are for protesting military training on campus and how no students supported us. We do not have students supported the movement at present but it was student organized movement. Without looking at the research behind our statements he criticizes us for making statements like the military training teaches killing without conscience and violates Gospel values. I can point out that Marquette or military has never denied these statements, which come from military manuals and how our Catholic catechism teaches us to put conscience over military training. But I doubt if it will do any good for the modern young persons, as many in America, are not interested in facts, research or truth. Everything, even faith and values, is reduced to that is your opinion and I have my opinion. I often used the phrase “Do you own thing” to summarize modern morality.
Does this mean the few of us left should give up the struggle to get military bases off this Catholic Jesuit University? I do not think so but it does challenge our tactics.
Looking back in history and in our times at people of conscience I admire I found Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. Dorothy Day, Fr. Jerry Zawada, Franz Jägerstätter, Lorenzo Rosebaugh, Roy Bourgeois and many more. Many of these suffered from living their conscience and values, we called names and insulted and many were killed for what they stood for.
Wait a minuet! This is Good Friday when we look back at Jesus, fully God and fully human, who was insulted, rejected and died for what he believed. We now call this man, strip naked and put on a cross, our savior, and many try to follow the way of Jesus.
I will write the Marquette student back again thanking him for his rejection of our message. At least he took the care to respond. There seems to be no way around it or avoid it, we must bear the nonviolent cross to be who we are.
I was in Federal Bankruptcy court this morning to show support for the victims of sexual abuse when the Archdiocese Bankruptcy plan was decided, a plan the victims felt was unjust and unfair. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has already spent 11 million plus fighting the victims and was proposing a very small amount to some of them. When I got there the hearing was already in process and being in the back of the hall I had a hard time hearing. But I did make out the lawyers for the Archbishop, who in the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church calls the shots making statement and objections over and over again. Finally the Judge said she would not make a decision on the plan today but wanted to go over it and ask the Archdiocese and insurance companies to clarify things.
When an old friend left I did too, figuring I would read about what happened or did not happen in the newspaper tomorrow. The lawyering up of the Archdiocese to fight tooth and nail the victims of sexual abuse really bothers me. Instead of reconciliation and settlement the last Archbishop of Milwaukee and the present one have decided to hide away in trust as much money as they could and spend the rest on lawyers fighting the victims. I knew money matters in politics, the one with most money usually wins, but now I am learning that money works in the criminal justice system. Poor people get little justice while those with money can spend so much to win.
People in solidarity with poor and marginalized can never win any victory, even human rights, any longer in justice system. People have tried it with major corporations like Wal-Mart or McDonald’s only to spend lots of money and lose. One of the parishes the Archdiocese, closed in 1993 to form the merged parish of Blessed Trinity, was sold for a million and half dollars. However, then the Archdiocese sued the new owner hired a bunch of lawyers, lost in court and blew most of it on lawyer fees. The leftover funds where at Blessed Trinity and when the Archdiocese closed and sold that church the money went to a ‘trust fund’ to protect it from anyone, including the poor and needy.
The Supreme Court of USA says institutions are people and money is free speech and destroys restrictions on campaign funding. Where is all the money going? To the lawyers and rich as you would expect.
I went to a local Lenten talk today at St. Francis Church and heard a Franciscan Capuchin priest, from the House of Peace, talk about the “Spirit of St. Francis”. St. Francis had a deep appreciation of the actual poverty of Jesus, born where animals were fed, homeless at age 30, died stripped naked on the cross and if it was not for one of his followers, Nicodemus, his body would be thrown on the garbage pile along with others killed by Romans.
When you look at Jesus this way, rejected and marginalized it is easy to understand how the sculpture of homeless Jesus sleeping on a park bench is so controversial. A statue of a ‘homeless Jesus’ sleeping on a park bench was rejected by cathedrals New York and Canada before finally finding a home in an Episcopalian church in an upscale neighborhood of Davidson, N.C. This statue startled this community. Jesus is huddled under a blanket with his face and hands obscured; only the crucifixion wounds on his uncovered feet give him away. Some neighbors feel it is an insulting depiction of the Son of God, and what appears to be a hobo curled up on a bench demeans the neighborhood.
This last remark reminds me of a suggestion a friend had the other night when he called me up to say the City of Greenfield, an upscale neighborhood near Milwaukee, had reversed its decision and would now allow a real estate develop to erect a 3.2 million dollar St. Vincent de Paul Thrift store in this upscale neighborhood, a store that should have been constructed for a fraction of the cost in the neighborhood served by St. Vincent de Paul, with the poor and outcast. He suggested that at the grand opening of the new store we bus people from North Central Milwaukee out to the new store to shop. City of Greenfield wants the money this new development will bring but do not want the people it is meant to serve.
I certainly believe that if Jesus would appear today he would certainly be a homeless person, maybe one of the people that hang out at the day shelter each day helping other homeless persons.
Any real reading of the Gospels show Jesus was a ‘rejected’ person with no place to rest his home. The people who killed this obscured man in Palestine are long forgotten but the name of Jesus, the homeless person, lives on.
It’s “Bob’s Your Uncle” Time
Many years ago, when I was new to the Catholic Worker movement and its House of Hospitably in Milwaukee I was concerned about the day to day existence of the house and its works of mercy to the poor. Michael Cullen, co-founder with his wife Nettie, told me not to worry, that God will provide what we needed in the house. We just had to do what we could do and God would do the rest. It worked.
Last Sunday our pastor passed on some words of wisdom he had received from an elderly priest when he was young. The priest had told him just to do the right thing and all would be well. Again God will provide.
This morning one of the members of our faith sharing group asked me about the phrase “Bob’s Your Uncle”. I told him it was a British slang word meaning “No problem”, “the solution is simple”, “there you have it”, “you have what you want, “all will be well”; I have heard some say the slang phrase has a meaning similar to English slang of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” I used it as my email handle, bobsyouruncle, and many persons, besides nephews and nieces, call me “Uncle Bob”. I like to think I have the attitude of ‘Bob’s Your Uncle’.
I needed all the “Bob’s your uncle” spirit I could muster tonight. I was writing an open letter to the Executive Director of the St. Vincent De Paul Society (SVDP) tonight to try to begin a dialog about the mission of the Society and the mission of our SVDP stores. I got a phone call from a person who was present at the City of Greenfield City Council meeting tonight saying the Council had reversed itself since a vote after the public hearing last week and was now granting a special use permit allowing the Executive Director and Real Estate developer to go ahead for the 3. 2 million dollar investment in a store in this suburb. (You can read about this store and dissension it caused in last Sunday’s newspaper at In quest for dollars, St. Vincent de Paul Society faces identity crisis.
I do not know what kind of secret behind the scenes was made to get the City Council to reverse its decision without any more public input but the news was devastating to hear. In my opinion it will be a real setback to the SVDP in Milwaukee, especially to the poor on the North side.
I will finish my letter about mission of the Society but it took all the “Bob’s your uncle” spirit I could muster to keep home alive that the society in Milwaukee can survive to serve those in need. Maybe we need to say “God’s Your Uncle”.
My hometown, Milwaukee
Today it snowed, tying some kind of record for winter days with snow and tonight the temperature is going down to 22 degrees. I saw a Cardinal bird today in the backyard but he or she is probably going back south or in hiding. The Cardinal baseball team is in town so maybe the bird came with them for the road trip.
Tonight a good friend who suffers from I call a brain illness or some call a mental illness told me, unexpectedly, that he needs to move out Milwaukee to one of two other smaller towns in Wisconsin. I asked him why and he said that ‘they’ were after him. He could not define who ‘they’ were. I told him about the great support network he has here in Milwaukee that he cannot find quickly in these two other towns, but that did not matter much to him.
Our conversation reminded me of many conversations I had with my son, Peter, who thought that if he just moved to another city all his troubles with his mind would be over. Actually he did go to San Francisco and Settle one journey and to New Orleans and Texas at another time. Both journeys ended with disasters since by changing locations he could not get free from his illness.
After the second journey he stayed in Milwaukee but kept talking about, up till the night before he died, about going to another city to live, most notably Chicago. However, I believe that deep in himself he knew that he could not escape the suffering he felt by moving. After his death our pastor said that Peter finally got to Chicago, where there was no more suffering.
This common illusion of persons with mental illnesses is deep in all of us. If only we could go somewhere else all would be good. A friend of mine got herself into some trouble in a northern city and had been talking with me today about how if she and her son could be back to California all would be well, despite the fact she and her son would need to live in a homeless shelter. Talking with her today, reality set in, and she will try to get herself out of the mess in her life where she is now.
Half jokey, I told my wife tonight that if we ever felt we had to get out of Milwaukee that I would like to go to Hawaii. From what I remember from my visits there when my brother and his family lived there, was that the weather was always nice, bright and sunny, the scenery was beautiful and people there had a laid back lifestyle.
I will probably live and die right here in Milwaukee, my home town. Not looking for change of locations my home town looks better and better to me each day.
During Lent I have been fasting at times from all food except bread and liquids. That has been good with only one major setback. When I do eat something, like going out for a Fish Fry last Friday, my stomach rebels and I feel sick for a few days. Who said that a person cannot live “by bread and drinks” alone? I think what is happening is when the body is free of sodium, fat, chemicals found in most food it enjoys the break. However, going back to eating fried foods or ones high in sodium wrecks havoc. I guess you cannot have you cake or food and eat it too.
We finally finished today grinning, sifting and storing the spices, basil, mints and hot peppers, we grew last summer, dried and stored away in the freezer. We, Pat and I, even made a spice jar for salads, consisting of sea salt, basil, mint, garlic powder, peppers and a little cilantro. Pat put some on the salad tonight and it was good. Herbs spice up all the food and do not make one sick.
Eating less in Lent has caused me to lose a few pounds but nothing significant. Maybe now that I can get outside and work in the garden, growing some healthy food, the exercise will help with losing weight.
The food we grow, herbs, lettuce, tomatoes, eggplant and beans as well as some of the healthy foods we buy do not make us gain weight or get sick. It is just all the other stuff we consume.
Be careful what you wish for. I wanted to get the word out about how our Milwaukee County St. Vincent De Paul (SVDP) is being run as a social agency not, as its mission states, for person to person contact with those in need. I got a reporter from the local newspaper interested and gave her all kinds of information about the Mission of the Society and the Mission of the SVDP stores. I also put her in contact with a very knowledgeable person on why a 3.2 million store in the suburbs was not a good investment and why we should invest a much lesser amount in the where we need a store in North Central Milwaukee.
The reporter decided not to use any of the information I had sent her or to even quote the two persons who testified at the Greenfield City Council against placement of new store in Greenfield. You can read the story yourself at In quest for dollars, St. Vincent de Paul Society faces identity crisis. At least the editor who writes the headlines got it right by saying how we face an identity crisis.
I hope the phrase any publicity is better than no publicity is true. Some of us will respond to the article but we need to be careful not to be defensive but to state clearly the mission of the Society is not to make money, run meal program or even to provide material items for the poor. The mission is of SVDP is below and the mission of the SVDP stores: “Serving Christ’s needy is the primary goal of all St. Vincent DePaul Stores. (See full Mission Statement of St. Vincent De Paul Stores below.)
I hope I do not regret encouraging this reporter to write this article but those of us who see, feel and live the mission sometime become like the poor and marginalized we serve, ignored and without much voice. So be careful what you wish for but continue to wish.
Norm, Everybody knows his
name at Cheers
Today two people, whose names I did not know, recognized me today and called me by name. One was at a prayer vigil for homicide victims when a local PBS radio person, who sometimes records our prayer, approached our small group before the prayer vigil and asked him if someone would comment on the bill the Governor just signed that would increased the number of sound boxes in the city that record gun shots and aide in locating where they were shot. I said I did not think much of the idea and with all the money we are spending on detecting crime and punishing people we could be doing something about the causes of crime, poor housing, high unemployment, racism, drug and alcohol prevention etc. After I spoke my piece he looked at me and said “You are Bob Graf”. I just said yes and we went on with the prayer service.
Tonight Pat and I took a friend from Chicago to a Brewers game. About the sixth inning as I was roaming the inner walkways looking for some popcorn to purchase when a group of young people passed me by. One of them said, “Bob give me five”, I did and said ‘hey’ not knowing who he was.
Milwaukee has always been one of these cities where everybody seems to know everybody or, at least, someone who knows both persons. I have always attributed this feeling as well as people talking to strangers in stores, ballgames or even, tonight, in the men’s restroom to the fact that Milwaukee had a high house ownership and people that grew up in Milwaukee, like myself, stay in Milwaukee or eventually come back to live. However, the fabric of home ownership is starting to break down especially in the North Central Milwaukee where there are hundreds of abandoned homes waiting to be torn down or sold, inexpensively, to a big landlords.
For whatever the reasons I enjoy this feeling of a small town in a major city and want to preserve it. It is nice to live in a place where, almost, everybody knows your name.
Ammon Hennacy, Catholic Worker and Christian Anarchist is one of my favorite characters in the Catholic Worker movement in the 20th century. Today someone sent me an article from the Salt Lake City Catholic newspaper called The ‘One Man Revolution’. The ‘One Man Revolution’ is a phrase that many of us have used to describe the spirit of the Catholic Worker and it is also the name of a book Ammon wrote right before he died in 1970. The book consists of seventeen chapters with each one devoted to an American radical. These included Thomas Paine, William Lloyd Garrison, John Woolman, Dorothy Day, Eugene Debs, Malcolm X, Mother Jones, Clarence Darrow and Albert Parsons.
Here are some quotes from his earlier book, The Book of Ammon, that describe a little of his way of thinking. “[T]he only revolution worthwhile was the one-man revolution within the heart. Each one could make this by himself and not need to wait on a majority.”
“We really can’t change the world. We really can’t change other people! The best we can do is to start a few thinking here and there. The best way to do this, if we are sincere, is to change ourselves!”
“Too many of us dissipate our energy by being ‘for all good causes,’ attending meetings and passing resolutions, organizing and presenting petitions — all this effort to change others, when if we really got down to it we could use this energy to change ourselves… We become tired radicals because we use our weakest weapon: the ballot box, where we are always outnumbered, and refuse to use our strongest weapon: spiritual power.”
Now days the words “Socialist” or Anarchist have taken on a different meanings but the truth that Ammon spoke still rings true. We can only change ourselves and if we took some of the energy we spend ‘for all good causes’ and used it on ourselves we could use our strongest weapons, our spiritual power.
I am guilty of using lots of energy trying to change the world and not changing myself. However, in my elderly years I have started to attend less meeting, sign less petitions, voting and tried to tap into myself and spiritual power.
Some people will not let me out of the ‘bag’ they put me in as an ‘activists’ but that is okay and should not be used as an excuse for not changing myself. All revolution starts with the one man (or woman) revolution.
Here is an open letter that I will try to send to Presidents of 54 Councils of St. Vincent De Paul in Milwaukee County. I say try because the names of conference presidents, like many things in the Roman Catholic Church, are kept secretive. Most members did not even know about this City Council public hearing.
Lessons Learned from City of Greenfield Public Hearing on Special Use Permit for SVDP Store
There was a public hearing Wednesday, April 2, at the City of Greenfield City Hall on granting a special-use permit for a St. Vincent De Paul store at the former Wal-Mart building in the City of Greenfield. For reasons of financial liability, the vote was 3–2 against issuing the special-use permit. There were Vincentians on both sides of the issue of this special-use permit. For me, the hearing had several lessons to be learned:
1)In my opinion, we need to radically restructure the Society of St. Vincent De Paul in Milwaukee to align it with our mission. If we are to “end poverty through systematic change” we need to start with ourselves. Lesson #1. More to come on this subject; if interested, let us know.
2)The real estate developer represented SVDP and argued the case for a special-use permit. He claimed the purpose of the store was to raise money to be given to conferences for funding work in the city with home visits. How would the suburban store ever be profitable with a 2.5 million dollar initial investment, plus payments to City of Greenfield in lieu of property tax and the heavy operating cost of the suburban store? However, if the proposed store in Greenfield could be profitable, its existence would be a violation of the principles, rules and spirituality of the Society of St. Vincent De Paul. Unlike other thrift stores, that exist for the profit of owners or to raise money for some non-profit’s mission, SVDP thrift stores are only meant to exist to serve the needs of the poor to buy inexpensive clothing, household items and furniture; and, to be of service to conferences for home visits. If a SVDP center makes a profit, which some claim our present store does, the money should be used for the greater mission of the SVDP, person to person service to those in need. SVDP stores do not exist to raise money for the poor as the Real Estate Developer suggested to the City of Greenfield. (See Mission Statement of SVDP and Society of St. Vincent De Paul Store Manuel, Mission Statement, p. 5). That is Lesson 2.
3)Another reason for the store was to have a place to drop off clothing. Residents of the suburbs and even some Vincentians fail to realize that we have trucks for pick up of clothing and household items. Other thrift stores, especially for-profit stores, constantly call to solicit items for pick up, using their names, such as Easter Seals, Disabled Veterans, etc. The for-profit stores give a small percentage of earnings to the charity. The non-profit, like Goodwill, use it for their mission of work training. By soliciting donations for direct personal service to the poor in our store and by our home visits, we can do the same, perhaps even better, with the large network of Catholic Churches. Donations of items could be tremendously increased. Lesson 3.
4)I realize that people drop off clothing and other items at the thrift stores that they shop at. Whenever I go to the Goodwill store on 108th street, I bring some used clothing or other small items. I am met by a couple of workers who take the donations from my car into the store. I do not like to shop in normal stores so I shop at Goodwill. The store is smaller than our south-side store but always has a variety of clothing that is marked for size and can be tried on easily. People drive by Lincoln and Forest Home or another centrally located store on the North side, and if they feel comfortable shopping there, would also drop off clothing and other items. In fact, there are many major thrift stores near Greenfield; but, there is only one major store, Value Village, a for-profit national chain, on the North Side. Poor people are very generous with the little they have and would support a store doing the mission of SVDP. Lesson #4.
There are probably other lessons to be learned from the City of Greenfield public hearing. Let us perceive and learn from these lessons; and, restructure our SVDP Society in Milwaukee to more effectively serve those in need. Lessons can be learned or lost.
Chickens come home to roost
We have all heard phrases like “the chickens come home to roost” or “what goes around comes around”; yet when it comes to learning from the lesson that what we sow is what we reap we are slow to learn.
When you have “letter to the editor” published in our local newspaper you are supposed to wait for two months before submitting another one. Yesterday I felt so strongly about an issue of public concern, the second shooting at Ft. Hood that I wrote a letter to the editor asking for an exception. To keep the letter around 200 words I did not say that the type of teaching reflexive killing, killing without conscience was happening at our own local Catholic Jesuit University, Marquette University.
I know it is a message people do not want to hear and the letter probably will not get printed but I felt compelled to express it. Here it is:
In investigating the tragedy at Food Hood and the rate of suicides with soldiers and veterans, reportedly 22 per day since 2008, the media or government is not looking into how military training has changed.
After World War II the military discovered that only one of four soldiers fired their weapons at the enemy. So the military developed a way of training which drills soldiers how to fire their weapons without making the conscious decision to do so. In 2000 CPT Pete Kilner, an instructor at the U.S. Military Academy, presented a paper to command stating the danger of this type of training. “Soldiers are conditioned to act without considering the moral repercussions of their actions; they are enabled to kill without making the conscious decision to do so….The problem, however, is that soldiers who kill reflexively in combat will likely one day reconsider their actions reflectively… This guilt manifests itself as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and it has damaged the lives of thousands of men who performed their duty in combat. (“Military Leaders’ Obligation to Justify Killing in War”) Today over 95% of soldiers fire their weapons at the enemy.
The military knows the grave dangers of teaching reflexive killing, yet continues to do so.
“What goes around comes around!”
A mother holds picture
of son with a mental illness
fatally shot by police
My friends have an adult son who suffers from a mental illness. Sadly, my wife and I know the trials of parents in this situation. My friends have made numerous attempts to get their son help with his illness. However, due to the mental health system and the nature of the illness they have been unable to do so. Our deceased son was taken to jail or the mental health center a number of times by police officers. Once I asked my friend, the mother, why she did not commit her son or call the police when he was out of control. She answered by saying she was afraid that if the police came they would kill her son. I thought that was an unusual response since the mother was very familiar with the mental health system and knew of the training the police used to go through how to deal with persons with mental illnesses.
The training is called Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). It is a training program developed in a number of U.S. states to help police officers react appropriately to situations involving mental illness or developmental disability. When I first heard about it the police chief in Milwaukee was a major supporter and wanted every police officer to have this training. Shortly afterwards we got a new police chief and I started to hear about more and more reports of shootings by police of persons with mental illnesses. When I checked into the program I discovered that the new police chief is not a supporter of the program but rather has invested police resources into what is called “data driven policing.” (Personally I call this a code name for the New Jim Crow). The local paper reports that we only have about 20% of police with CIT training and when calls come in about persons with mental health breakdowns they are often not called to the scene.
Yesterday on the TV news I heard about how a mother called the police on her adult son when he was having a mental health breakdown so he could be taken to the mental health facility. She went outside with her grandchild and when four police arrived they called her son out of the house and, according to her, after uttering a few words fired many bullets at him. Fortunately he did not die and is in the hospital. The police claimed that her son had a rifle in his hand when he came out of the house and that is why they shot him. She was a witness to the event and claims he did not have a rifle when he came out of the house and she does not understand why they fire multiple shots at him. The newspaper this morning only reported the police version the store that the police were justified in shooting him. Since police shootings of individuals in Milwaukee are always justified by the police and DA we probably will never know what really happened.
However, now I understand why my friend will not call the police on her son although he has no gun. She does not want police to kill him as often happens when police not trained how to deal with persons with mental illnesses respond. Calling the police for help with your ill son and than watching him being shot by the police is a mother’s worst nightmare.
During the liturgical time of Lent, the six weeks before Easter, I have been receiving from Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, a Melkite Catholic priest and director of the Center for Christian nonviolence regular reflections, that he calls “Lenten Examination of Conscience.” Reflection #7 caught my eyes yesterday because it criticizes church members, Father McCarthy calls 99% Christian, who find ‘loopholes’ in God’s word revealed in Jesus. This one starts with words and ends with a link to a 10 minute video reflection on “Gospel Nonviolence, Church and War.” You may not agree with it but it is interesting:
The Church and War
Christians, whether they be bishops or bumpkins, who speak 99% against war, capital punishment, abortion, violence and/or enmity are not proclaiming the truth that Jesus taught. They are treating Jesus’ teaching as if it were philosophy. It is not! It is the revealed will of God, or it is nothing. The spiritual blind spot, that underlies proclaiming this “99% Gospel,” this “Gospel with Loopholes,” is that such Christians have not grasped the totality of the difference it makes if God has really spoken His definitive Word to humanity in Jesus. For a Christian to say that God has to be corrected by him or her by their making the logical opposite of what Jesus taught as truth the new truth of the Gospel is just silly—but catastrophically destructive.
Ten Minuit reflection of Christian Nonviolence, ‘The Church and War.’
We actually got outside for a few hours today to pick up garbage and sticks in the garden and to reck leaves. It is just a start, a late one at that, but it is start to getting the garden ready for planting. The day was full of gardening but the night was full of sports. The Wisconsin mens’ basketball made the final four of the NCAA basketball tournament but lost the game tonight by one point. At the same time the Milwaukee Brewers went on to beat the Boston Red Sox in 11 innings by one run. The lost by Wisconsin was a bigger than the Brewers win but at least it was some consolation for this sometime sports fan.
The work in the garden left me refreshed; the two sports events left me unfulfilled. According to the discernment of spirits developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola I should learn what leaves me positive and what leaves me empty. But in our society of sports fanatics and artificial food the lesson is not so clear. Acting on what we know is best takes strength and courage that I do not always have.
Gandhi says: “Strength does not come from physical capacity; it comes from an indomitable will.” But I am not so sure about that. I know strength is more than physical strength but do not believe will power, no matter, how strong, is enough. I believe it takes some outside power. Working with the earth, it seems, makes one stronger than sitting in front of a TV watching sports.
Working with soil brings me in touch with something outside of myself while passively watching sports is like sleeping while awake; however, rest is good and sports are entertaining, take little effort and is something outside of ourselves and control.
Maybe a combination of active gardening and passive viewing of sports is best, or maybe not.
Palestinians protesting Land
Week in April 2005.
Of all the No, Give Me a Break happenings of last Wednesday, I forgot to mention one that was personal. On January 23, 2014 three of us were arrested for ‘trespassing’ by protesting in the Alumni Union at Marquette University. We had understood from the Vice President and Legal Counsel of Marquette that we were all to protest against military training, ROTC, on MU campus. We had done this a few times before after we were told it was okay and were not arrested or even told to leave by MU security. Believing we had permission to protest on campus we said we would live if we did not have permission. As we were trying to confirm our permission to protest on campus and were trying to contact administration officials, we were cited for trespassing.
My two friends’ court case and mine were separated. In the meanwhile I received a letter from the legal counsel of Marquette University who, after talking with the Vice President of Marquette, wrote me saying “that you were erroneously informed by DPS (Department of Public Security) officers that you were not allowed to protest on campus” and that the University does not intend to pursue this case and does not oppose the dismissal of that charge.
At my plea hearing I tried to tell the Municipal judge about the error in our arrest for trespassing but she would not listen to me and ordered me to pre-trial hearing. At the pre-trial I tried to present the letter to the assistant city attorney but she looked over my court record and saw that I had been convicted of trespassing after going on Marquette property having been issued a banning order, order of No Trespass last year. The order had been lifted by Marquette but she saw in the 1st paragraph that I was in an area of the union that was restricted for leafleting, something we did not know, and never considered the lifting of the banning order. She refused to listen to me and Judge called me and sent a trial date. When I tried to clarify the matter and show her the letter of the error that had been made in our arrest she would not listen. So now I have a trial date for case where I was “erroneously” arrested for protesting.
Now I know how it feels when a young man, a poor person appears in court and city attorney or Judge will not listen to you plea your case and you are pushed from one court hearing to another. My friends had another judge and assistant attorney and when they presented my letter the assistant city attorney said it only applied to my case and not theirs and although they were arrested in error also they too must stand trial. I plan to ask that they drop the charges or give me a change of venue. The other judge in municipal court was the one I had last year in my trespassing for breaking the banning order case and I know he will hear us out.
Watch out what you wish for. I have often said I wanted to be in solidarity with poor and marginalized. Now that I am being treated as the poor and marginalized I cannot complain and if I have to go to jail to make my point about the lack of justice in our court system I will. If I do not get a break I will go down fighting (nonviolently).