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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dailey and Vincent | Poor Boy Working Blues | CBAFDBF 06-20-09

Tuckered Out Temp

Today I temped, four hours of very hard work putting door hangers on door knobs.  I worked in a team with a young recent college graduate who had just gotten a degree in graphic arts, and was dissatisfied that he had not pursued fine arts instead.  He observed that much of what they prepare you for in graphic arts today is computer generated graphics. often for games. And this wasn't what the young man was interested in.  But he didn't have the money to pursue a second degree in fine arts.

Walking up and down hills and stairs my feet, once young and strong, took a beating.  I was surprised at the toll the work took out of me, not only the feet but other parts of my body. Not a job for a sixty year old.

On the way back to the business we were fliering for, the young man and I began to talk.  He was from Oregon and I told him a funny story about hitchhiking through Oregon when I was 19.  My tied feet and body and my brain working to tell stories.  Now my arms are tired so my posting will be limited tonight, but I am reminded at how much I love the role of the story teller and the illuminator.  

Monday, December 13, 2010

GOOD: Water

Water Fountains, Job Applications and a Glass of Water

I love water fountains, not only because I get thirsty, but because they are a visible symbol of shared humanity.  A water fountain says that someone is going to come this way and say I thirst, just like Christ did on the cross and I have provided for this person I never met.  I planned it when I built this building, or when I paved this sidewalk.

The right of everyone to drink from a water fountain regardless of color became a battle line in the Jim Crow South at the peak of the civil rights movement. It was a central point of humanity that everyone had the same need for water and to deny it was to deny human dignity.

I got upset at Seattle's Mayor Greg Nichols when he had the water fountains in Seattle's downtown shut off to save money on the city budget.  It made downtown a little less human.  It said I don't care if another human being is thirsty. 

 When Seattle's new Mayor, Mike McGinn had the water fountains turned back on I was happy.  I made a point of going by the water fountain on Third Avenue every day I was downtown to take a drink.  If there was anything I disagreed with the new Mayor on. the water made up for it. 

I used to bank at Washington Mutual, until I switched to a credit union, and one of the branches I frequented was the branch in the University District.  That branch had a water fountain right by the main entrance.  Sometimes it wouldn't work for a couple of days, but WAMU, known for it's customer service and it's more humane approach to banking (until it got caught up in the mortgage repackaging mess) kept repairing it.  WAMU was known for donating to local charities and being concerned about the community, and somehow that water fountain is a symbol of that for me. 

Now, of course, since Chase Manhattan took over WAMU, that is a Chase branch.  I go in sometimes to get a roll of quarters for my laundry, and I have discovered that the water fountain sits shut off, never working.  Like downtown shoppers and workers in the Nichols days, I thirst for the sip of water I can never get.  It is a visible symbol of the huge bank that cares nothing for it''s customers or the communities it is in.  

There is a little known Washington State law, probably remaining on the books because no one cares about it.  In the 1930's as people went from business from business looking for work, the long term unemployed must have been unwelcome visitors to some of the businesspeople they visited.  They weren't always allowed to apply for work.  So the state legislature passed a law that there are two things a business has to do for everyone.  Allow them to apply for work --even if it's just to write it down on a blank piece of paper--and get a glass of water.  That's right, no business in the state has a right to refuse you a glass of water.  Because a guy going from business to business looking for work, might work up a thirst before he had a chance to get home.

I am tempted to go into the Chase branch in the University District just to ask for a glass of water and to apply for a job. Or maybe hand out free water on hot days downtown. Or maybe help someone, somewhere in the world that is underdeveloped, find a way to get clean drinking water.

When Christ said from the Cross "I Thirst" he was making a final statement of his identity with use, as a person of God completely God and completely human.  Everyday in a world with growing shortages of water someone says "I thirst" and Jesus says it with them.

BREADLINE BLUES by Bernard "Slim" Smith

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Culture of the Virgin of Guadalupe

Today we is the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which for me is one of the most important feast days of the Virgin  Mary.  It is important to me because it reminds me of the incarnational nature of Christianity.

When the Son of God became man be took on permanently, the stuff of this earth, and redeemed it.  And that stuff was not only physical flesh but the culture of man.  Everywhere that Christianity has gone it has adopted or adapted everything good from the culture that was there before and used those things to point to God.

When Christianity arrived in the Americas the cultural shift, the adoption of culture was even more radical.  Here a culture was born of the fusion of various Indian peoples with imported African slaves, pure Castilian Spaniards and Moreno Spaniards.  It was a culture that was European, Indian, African and Arabic. It was mestizo culture.
The Virgin of Guadalupe became the common denominator of that culture and the protector of those who were poor in the "New World".  

Spain had conquered Latin America, introduced slavery, then gradually did away with that slavery.  But she did not do away with the poverty The poverty lingered even after the revolutions that drove the Spanish and other conquers out of the New World.  But the mesitzo culture of Catholicism in the Americas provided the sense of dignity of all people, and through that, a hope for the future. When people think they will improve the lives of people by rejecting and overturning the religious and the culture of religion they make a fundamental mistake.  Without dignity and hope no system can progress or improve the basic lot of human beings.  Material progress may be stalled by the lack of the spiritual well being of people, but even if it progresses, people are left unable to deal with the fundamental problems of sin and death. And even if a social order, a state, be just, another thing is needed --for people to be loved.  It is religion that gives us the ability to solace ourselves from sin and death, and to share love with each other.  And in Mestizo Catholicism I see that all of the culture of Europe, Africa, the Americas, and now Asia also have been fused towards that end.

Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe

Today, December 12th, is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of Mexico and patroness of the Americas.  She is also venerated by Native Americans. As it is Sunday this year, it will not be celebrated at mass, although it may be mentioned in the homilies.  However, a few days ago, the Feast of Juan Diego, provided a second feast commemorating the events around the miraculous appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The origin of the tapestry showing the Virgin of Guadalupe, according to Catholic tradition, starts on December 9th, 1531, when Juan Diego, an Indian peasant, saw a vision of a young woman, who told him to have the local bishop build a church in that spot. The Bishop, a Franciscan demanded proof, and three days later he returned to the spot where he found flowers blooming in winter, itself miraculous. The Virgin instructed him to pick these and wrap them in his clock.  She herself arraigned the flowers, and when he unwrapped them before the bishop, the image of the Virgin was was on the inside of the cloak. 

Some have challenged the veracity of the story, saying it was a later invention, as the writings of the bishop do not mention the story.  However, a deer skin codex dated 1548 has been discovered that tells the story only a few years after it occurred.

There are many miracles associated with the tapestry itself, including that he has lasted nearly 500 years, while similar tapestries decay often after only 15 years. In 1926 a bomb left the tapestry unharmed and it repaired itself from an extensive ammonia spill in 1791.  An image found inside the eye of the Virgin, photographically enlarged, reveals all of the witnesses present when the tilma (cloak) was unwrapped.

Our Lady Of Guadalupe

The Mysteries of Guadalupe.

Virgin of Guadalupe, Catholic Miracle Symbol of Mexico

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Los Angeles Catholic Worker: Hennacy House of Hospitality

Street of Forgotten Men 1930s

Breadline Blues 2008

Catholic Workers Near Seattle

For many years the soup Kitchen in the Cathedral School kitchen at St. James Cathedral was run as the Family Kitchen which was a Catholic Workers project.Kathleen O'Hanlon supervised the kitchen and greeted the guests personally.I was privileged to volunteer there of and on.  The Kitchen had a tremendous sense of community between the volunteers and the guests.  Sometimes after serving I would grab a plate and go sit with the guests, many of whom I regarded as friends. And the volunteers I worked with were great people.  One woman and I were talking about our Fathers who had both gone to O'Dea High school and the Cathedral School.  We discovered they had been there at the same time, but her Father was deceased.  When I checked with my Father I found out they had been great friends.  As Kathleen always pointed out , the Catholic Workers were all about building community.

Due to other commitments in my life I drifted off and lost contact. The Family Kitchen was finally closed as a project and taken over by others. Not long after I lost my job I saw Kathleen in a coffee shop and was excited because I had not had direct contact with the Catholic Workers in a long time, and I suddenly realized that God is calling me back in this direction.

Kathleen told me that there were people in discussions for starting a new Catholic Workers group in Seattle, but that they were not yet ready to open the meetings to outsiders, because they are in a period of intense discussions and discernment.  Pray readers for the re-establishment of the Catholic Workers in Seattle.  The moment they are open to the public and I am informed of it, I will publish the information in this blog for my local readers. 

Meanwhile there are other Catholic Worker groups near by.  I am hoping that some of you may be able to participate in one of these groups.

The Tacoma Catholic Workers ( run the Guadalupe House, a Clean and Sober House.  They are also heavily involved in peace activities. Five of their members are currently on trail at the Federal Courthouse for thier activities with Disarm Plowshares Now.  The jury is out and has been unable to reach a verdict  They are charged with the criminal activity of trying to stop a nuclear war by interfering with Trident Submarines.   (
The email of the Tacoma Catholic Workers is . 

1417 S G St
Tacoma WA 98405
Phone: 253-572-6582 and 253-627-4347
Also you can contact Jean's House of Prayer (253)627-4347.

There is a Catholic Workers farm in Chehalis Washington. 
Bethlehem Farm Catholic Worker

508 Coal Creek Rd
Chehalis WA 98532
Phone: 360-748-1236
Publication: Bethlehem Peace Farm
Consider contacting the Bethlehem Farm Catholic Worker to volunteer your time or to participate in their community life. 

There is also a Catholic Workers group in Olympia: 
Bread & Roses Catholic Worker

Bread & Roses Catholic Worker
Olympia WA 98501
Phone: 360 754-4085 
Bread & Roses Catholic Worker Home Page
Consider contacting the Bread & Roses Catholic Worker to volunteer your time or to participate in their community life. 

In Portland:

Portland Catholic Worker
PO Box 11193
Portland OR 97211
Phone: 503-287-4230
Dorothy Day House: We are a small house which offers hospitality to single women experiencing homelessness or transitioning out of prison.
Consider contacting the Portland Catholic Worker to volunteer your time or to participate in their community life.

And just across the border:
The Vancouver Catholic Worker - Samaritan House
1143 E Pender St
Vancouver BC V6A 1W6

Phone: 604-255-1555, 604-251-0920 (Fax)
The Vancouver Catholic Worker - Samaritan House Home Page
Publication: The Christian Radical 

Prayer for the Intercession of Dorothy Day

Prayer for the Intercession of Servant of God Dorothy Day

God our Creator,
your servant Dorothy Day exemplified the
Catholic faith by her conversion,
life of prayer and voluntary poverty,
works of mercy, and
witness to the justice and peace
of the Gospel.

May her life inspire people
to turn to Christ as their Savior and guide,
to see his face in the world’s poor and
to raise their voices for the justice
of God’s kingdom.

We pray that you grant the favors we ask
through her intercession so that her goodness
and holiness my be more widely recognized
and one day the Church may
proclaim her Saint.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.


Prayer composed by Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of
The Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York

If you would like to submit the prayer requests of the results of your prayers to the Dorothy Day Guild, they can be contacted at:  If you live in the New York area they need volunteers for their effort to advance the cause of her canonization. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hard Times

Catholic Social Teaching Slideshow

Secret Lives of Parking Attendants

Thanks to my blog follower Spambot3049.q5fjksr.t90.tja.ji0yj, who maintains his secret identity, and surprisingly, leaves no spam.  He pointed out that I was an interesting writer for a former parking attendant. Mr Spambot was pointing out how easily overlooked the talents  or character of an individual maybe, until circumstances change.  I noted then that many of the parking attendants I had worked with had another side to them that the public did not see.  I am sure the same is true for bus boys, dishwashers and bike messengers alike.  So I am going to tell a few stories of people I worked with, leaving out their names, who showed another side of themselves to me, be that intellectual, moral or an interesting personal history. If anyone has a story about a service or blue collar worker who secretly rises above there rank, please leave it in the comment section.

One of the persistent images of a parking attendant in Seattle, and in certain other metropolitan areas, is that a parking attendant is most certainly African.  I assure you I was not the only non-African parking attendant working for my company.  One attendant I new was Thai and he had formerly worked in parking management in L.A. but found the work as a cashier or valet less stressful.  Before coming to America he was an abstract artist and became, briefly, one of the leading modern artist in Thailand.  But tastes change and just like movie starts, they come slowly, they go fast.

Another attendant I admired simply for the reason she was a parking attendant.  This Hispanic woman had started working part time simply to put her kids through Catholic school, and eventually became a full time worker after her kids graduated and her husband died.

Another fellow worker was an attendant when I first met him, but is now low level management. He was working on his master degree and at the same time he was authored  a dictionary, an English-Tigre dictionary (Tigre is  spoken by some Ethiopians and most Eritreans.)  This dictionary was intended for translating medical texts and articles from English to Tigre to help his new born nation develop medical care.

Another attendant I knew worked at an evening attendant because it was slow and he could do his real job at the same time.  He was a computer code reader, editing code on contract, well paid but without benefits.  The parking job had benefits.

Other Africans I knew had been members of one guerrilla faction or political party or another.  One young man had been raised in a guerrilla camp, as both his parents were militants. Another man, a friend of mine, was elected Mayor of a small town because of his connections with a political party, and because he spoke all of the languages in the spoken near that town.

I often heard disparaging remarks that "that other attendant, the African one doesn't speak English".  I never met one who didn't speak any English--they interviewed for the job in English.  Most spoke excellent English, and many far better English than the Disparaging Remarker (only a neologism will serve to adequate describe this type of parking patron.).  Disparaging Remarkers are often of a low educational level.   Often the attendant in question had a thick accent, as they were new to the country and had learned there English at home.  To understand someone with a thick accent one has to listen a little closer, which you won't do if you assume they are speaking another language. However they all spoke at least two languages, which made them better educated in that department than the Remarker.  Most in fact spoke 2 or more African languages and that is usual in East Africa. Many Africans I knew spoke more than one European language as well--often Italian, Russian or French.  Many East Africans, especially Muslims, spoke Arabic as well.  I have a friend who counted money in five languages every time I counted money in Spanish.  I told him to stop rubbing it in.

When I was working in the garages and lots my company managed at Virginia Mason there was an Eirtrean parking attendant I knew that loved good literature almost as much as I did.  While I was talking to him I saw one of the doctors coming and I decided to play a little game.  I started talking with my fellow attendant about Garcia Lorca, the famous Spanish poet.  My friend new who Lorca was and we had an erudite conversation going while the good Doctor walked by us.

I knew several attendants who had held jobs in government ministries.  In Ethiopia this was often the tourism ministry or the coffee ministry.

Many parking attendants were in school, others had acquired degrees in Ethiopia, which uses the British  system in it's schools.  Because they were school under the British system the degrees are often not fully transferable, even though the education is excellent.

I loved reading the New York Times, and until the company began a strict no reading policy, I read it when the garage was slow. Several other attendants I knew read it also, especially the African ones, because it had better international news, and they were from abroad.  And I knew more parking attendants that listened to NPR stations than to top forty.

And finally I knew two parking attendants who were priests in the Ethiopian Coptic Orthodox Church and one young  Muslim man who was studying to become an Iman. There was not enough money in their immigrant communities to support everyone who undertook the clerical life, and they theological studies didn't prepare them for more lucrative occupations.

A friend of mine works at Suzzallo Library on the University of Washington campus and she says there are a good number of homeless Ph D's who come to the library to read.  I guess it's true--you can only judge a book by it's content.


Kate & Anna McGarrigle - Hard times come again no more

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Brick by Brick

Today,  a little after 4:30 I took my umbrella and braved the Seattle rain and early dark to walk to church.  Seattle's dark and wet winters have been my challenge since I returned to my native city after years in California.
And yet somehow  braving the foul weather adds a sense of purpose to my walking to Blessed Sacrament.

The church is a beautiful brick neo-Gothic Cathedral like structure that has been restored to it's original design in recent years-in time for it's Centenary last year. I entered while most of the lights were still off, an extension of the dark contemplative mood of the green Seattle streets and the wet deep clouded sky.

I sat in the dark wood benches and looked at the wood trimmed back drop to the altar.  The brick has been restored to original condition, except for traces of paint in some places that would not come off. Red predominates the brick, but some of the bricks are light brown or chocolate. The ceiling is bare wood directly under the high roof.

I waited for evening prayer.  I could have joined, but I preferred to sit in the pews and follow as best I could.  In the Magnificant from St. Luke, chanted during the prayers Mary sums up the Old Testament and says that the poor will be given good things and the rich sent away empty. My prayers were for myself and all those suffering in todays economy.

At the end of mass sitting with Christ in my heart I looked again at the bricks of this beautiful church. I supposed that at the bottom was Christ himself, the foundation, and then the next bricks were St. Peter followed by the other apostles, then Mary and the early martyrs, and early doctors of the church, then the desert fathers and on up higher towards the vaulted roof, a new temple for Christ, in which we ourselves if our lives are prayerful and good, reside.

In Exodus we have detailed description of the tent in which the ark of the covenant is placed.  Later in the bible the temple in Jerusalem is described in great detail. But where is the description of the Christian Church. it begins in the book of acts and continues through the lives of the saints.  Our own lives are meant to be a part of it.

And here in this temple the poor can be treated with the dignity they are not treated with in the world in general.  When St. Lawrence, my confirmation patron was asked by the Romans to bring the wealth of the church, he brought the poor from the streets of Rome.  For this he was burned on the gridiron.

I walked home through the dark wet streets with Christ in my heart, vowing to him to tell you this.

Eric Gill-Christian Revolutionary

Eric Gill, 1882-1940, Catholic convert, Lay Dominican, artist,writer, typographer, influential person in the Arts and Crafts movement.From his youth on he had a tremendous interest in social justice.  Gill rejected the tepid Anglican conversion of his family and created his own system of religious thought.  Later he realized that his system was essentially Catholic, so he converted.

A stone carver, he soon acquired apprentices and the association of like minded artists.   They owned some communal equipment, including a printing press.  They felt there should be a spiritual order as well so they joined what was then known as the Third Order of St. Dominic, now the Lay Dominicans.

The group founded itself as a guild and became known at the Guild of St. Joseph and St. Dominic. This group was essentially modeled after the medieval guilds, but with some influence of religious organizations in it's constitution, and definitely in the English Arts and Crafts movement.  As many of it's members were Catholic much of their work was church pews, stained glass, etc.

The guild was influenced by Fr. Vincent McNabb O.P. who like Eric Gill and another member,Hilary Pepler, who had been a Quaker but became Catholic, had a passionate interest in social justice. Social Justice has the common good as it's purpose of action and is concerned with ther question of the distribution of wealth. The members of the guild tried to apply the distributist theories of G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc.  they owned land in common and equipment in common and owned tools of their trade as craftsmen.  They sought to depend not on large capital or on government. Eric Gill and the other members lived at the Ditching Common

Vincent NcNabb, Eric Gill and the guild influenced the Catholic Workers movement and specifically the idea of "agronomic universities" of Peter Maurin.  Indirectly they influence contemporary communitarian thought in general.

Eric was a pacifist who, like Dorothy Day, believed that peace was not possible without social justice. he called himself a "Christian Revolutionary" and believed in living a life of poverty.  He believed when we accept the life of poverty, will will attain peace.

Westminster Student Riots

A blog I follow, , A Reluctant Sinner has a few things to say about the rioting going on in Britain. 


Lost My Job

The Ballad of Unemployment by Tracey Petrillo

Odds and Ends

My squirrel  friend that I have been writing about--the one I feed every day, is getting a paunch.

The Dream Act has passed the house, only to be temporarily shot down today in the Senate. The Republicans were planning to filibuster the house version in the Senate and with the clock ticking on the current session, Harry Reid forced a vote to table, winning 59 to 40.  That allows him to call back the same bill before the end of the session.  Senate Republicans have been firmly against the bill, ruling from the minority on the matter.  Another way to get the Dream Act passed might be to make it a rider on the Agricultural Bill, forcing some of the Senate Republicans to vote for it.   For those of you who want to read up on immigration there is the classic "The Uprooted" by Oscar Handlin copyright 1973, showing how we are a nation of immigrants. The Uprooted won a Pulitzer Prize.  And on immigrants as agricultural workers, "Workers in the Fields, Spiders in the House"  by Ernesto Galarza, 1970 views it from the perspective of a farmworker organizer.  Also: Factories in the Fields, by Carey McWilliams, 1939 is the best early study of migrant farmworkers.

And More retreat on the labor front: the Robert C Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act was defeated in the house although it carried 214 to 193.  More minority rule at work. The measure was brought to the floor on a mechanism requiring a two thirds vote for passage in order to get around parliamentary maneuvers by the Republicans.  Since Senate Republicans stood firm against it and threatened  filibuster, the majority vote was largely symbolic. The bill was an attempt to fix mine safety problems after the Upper Big Branch explosion, the worst mining accident in 40 years. The owners of the Big Branch claimed it wasn't there fault, but I remember the old mine worker song  going "Union miners stand together, heed no operators tale."

And more in the minority rule department, house democrats are unhappy with the compromise virtually ending inheritance taxes and radically extending income tax breaks for the wealth.  The Republicans, after saying that no one should get a tax increase, made sure that most minimum wage workers would get a tax increase under the legislation.  In a parallel fight the minority Republicans, in order to reward the seniors who mostly voted Republican in the mid-terms, have stopped motion on giving senior citizens a  $250 bonus this coming year. Got to balance that budget somehow.   Oh, its a great time to be rich in America.  Otherwise, hold on to your job and your house.

I went to a seminar at Work Source on how to get an unemployment extension for going back to school.  It looks like it may be difficult, but possible.  The other difficulty may be in getting money for going to school--community college now cost about $1000 a quarter for 12 units.

Last nights mass at Blessed Sacrament for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception was uplifting.  Mary lavishes her motherly love on me, and then points me to her son..  Great homily by Fr. Chris, who also always points me to the Son.  

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dream Act Passed in the House

The Dream Act has passed in the house, a baby step towards a baby step into a rational immigration policy, but never the less that step has been taken.  The Senate votes at  11 AM tomorrow on the Act.

As a young boy I always heard stories of when various people in my family immigrated.  Maybe that is why I never was afraid of poor Catholic farmworkers crossing a border to work and feed there family.  Or maybe it was because of the Mexican family my sister befriended when we were young, who went to our parish.

As I grew up and studied history I read about the Know-Nothing Party, the briefed lived anti-immigrant movement that coupled electing people to Congress with burning down Catholic Churches.  And I heard of the signs that said "No Irish Need Apply."  I always thought that anti-immigrant sentiment was an anti-Catholic prejudice.  I identified with the immigrant.

And because I grew up in Seattle I also heard the stories of Mother Cabrini, who my Grandfather had known.  She went all over Seattle getting food donations to feed the poor--the poor immigrants.  I was taught that she was a positive example.  She became the patron saint of immigrants.

So For Mother Cabrini call the Senate and ask them to vote for passage. ( 1-202-224-3121 )

There are some critical swing votes if you are one of these guys constituents:

McCaskill: (202) 224-6154

Landrieu: (202) 224-5824

Hagan: (202) 224-6342

Lugar: (202) 224-4814

Bennett: (202) 224-5444
Hatch: (202) 224-5251

Voinovich: (202) 224-3353

Collins: (202) 224-2523
Snowe: (202) 224-5344

LeMieux: (202) 224-3041

Hutchison: (202) 224-5922

Gregg: (202) 224-3324

Brown: (202) 224-2315

Brownback: (202) 224-6521

Graham: (202) 224-5972

Stabenow: (202) 224-4822

Warner: (202) 224-2023
Webb: (202) 224-4024

Manchin: (202) 224-3954

Murkowski: (202) 224-6665

Hard Times Good Time: Rent Party

The rent party is a tradition that started in Harlem in the 1920's.  As the Great Migration out of the south moved into Harlem and added jazz and swing to the rural blues and folk music, the rent party became a way of using those blues and jazz to pay the rent.  Even before the Great Depression rolled in and brought hard times to the urban main stream, large parts of the rural and non-white urban work forces were already suffering.  Having recently migrated north in many cases, many of the black workers had not dug in roots deep.  They pitched in to help each other out.  And the rent party was one of those ways.  And maybe it's a cultural phenomenon whose time has returned.

In the rent party someone who didn't have enough money for their rent would invite their friends and neighbors to their place, or another larger place sometimes.  Tickets would be sold and extra for the food and drink. Sometimes more was collected by passing the hat. Jazz musicians would compete with each other in "cutting contests"  Informal music was the usual at rent parties so they are a folk institution. They are sometimes called house parties, house rent parties, skiffle, or boogie (from the Sierra Leone word bogi, meaning to dance. See

Got a friend who is behind on the rent in this great recession?  Get together and through them a rent party.

Rent, according to a post at the blog Corrente ( ),  has become 30% to 50% of the wage differential between the financial sector and the rest of the economy.  The last time that happened was during the late 1920's bubble that proceeded the great bust.  But we are already in a great bust.  Where do we go from here?

 I have posted some u-tube videos about rent parties, long a staple of blues, folk and jazz music. Enjoy and have a good time during these hard times.

Classic Harlem Rent Party

Peter Case "House Rent Party"

How To Throw a Rent Party

ROOMING HOUSE BOOGIE -- OO-BOP-SH'BAM featuring Jackson Sloan

The Origin of Capitalism

We live today in a capitalist society and few of us ever think to question where did this economic system come from, how did it evolve?  It obviously replaced earlier economic systems.   As Christians we have to ask what is good and what is evil in it so we may know what to approve and what to condemn.

Capitalism happened because of the explicit permission of the church, but for certain reasons and with certain conditions.  The church had always taught against usury, the loaning of money at interest or charging of interest in financial transactions. It ran against the ancient Jewish traditions and the Gospels teachings to lend freely.  Usury was perceived to leverage someones sufferings, someones necessities against them. By borrowing at interest to meet todays needs we cause future sufferings.

Today much borrowing actually benefits the borrower, because it allows them to acquire property, or else to start and expand businesses. But still today we see the old evil hand of usury in the payday lending industry, in the high rates of credit card interest on personal credit cards, in the terms of mortgages in todays mortgage market, and in the staggering interests on student loans.  Moreover we see it globally in the IMF  and World Bank lending practices, in which a nation indebts itself to the global community.

But in the late middle ages there was none of this.  What there was however, was a desire to organize the transportation of goods from the Middle East.  This was a great enterprise and there were few who could by themselves afford to undertake it.  And there was a great profit to be made by it.  And a great desire on the part of people to receive the goods that could be transported. So the church, in looking at this situation said we will not consider this usury because you are offering great potential benefit to every investor and to those who wish to by the goods. It will be exempt from the ban on usury that the church has made because it will be considered as something done for the good of all.

In a way, at that time, Capitalism almost conformed to the sense of sharing I  wrote of yesterday ( Sharing: ).   It was a shared enterprise in expectation of future benefit for all.  And capitalism brought the goods to Europe.

But over time, more and more wealth has accumulated into the hands of very few  (see the Top 10%  and )

So as a result of that the benefits no longer spread equally.  Moreover, as a result of the relentless drive to profit for the few, virtually all restriction against usury has vanished.  The interest allowed by the government now on credit card rates now are greater than the interest rates that the Mafia used to let loan sharks charge.  As a society we live deeply in the sin of usury.  

The question is what to do about it.  State socialism tried to fix it and created totalitarian societies that striped dignity from human beings by political power just as certainly as capitalism stripped it from them financially.    My hope for the future lies in how the church in recent times has reexamined the global financial markets and sought debt forgiveness for poor nations.  I believe that it is time for the church to reexamine how capitalism is functioning and provide moral guidance to change the direction of our society. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


 I've been looking in this blog at different means of changing the social order, creating greater equality and less poverty other than the traditional massive federal interventions or classical state socialism.  I'm not opposed to all federal intervention, but the principle of subsidiarity indicates that other means should occur first.

A lot of the things I have looked at are easily described with convenient labels like consumers cooperative or credit union, or municipal socialism, trade unions, etc.  But I heard an idea expressed in simple terms once by an old black woman in West Oakland who had grown up in Louisiana.  I was a community organizer there around the time of the 1989 Bay Area earthquake and it's aftermath.

I don't remember her name, but I remember her house, which I had been too.  It was a large old house with a long flight of front porch steps.  The house sat on a high foundation and I imagine, although I had never seen it, it had a large basement.  Those steps were damaged in the 1989 earthquake and she fought for a good long while before getting FEMA to pay for repairing them.

She explained to me once why she supported people working together in community organizations to help each other.  She said that where she was raised, in Louisiana, if you were a farmer and had a pig, many people often helped you take care of it.  One neighbor might provide the feed, another wood for the pig pen.  The Vet might birth and treat the pig without charge.  Then when it was time for you to slaughter the pig, everyone who had helped you raise it got a share.  It was that simple.  Cooperation in expectation of future reward as a simple social organisation.  No name to it, no elaborate social form. Just just shared in the work and the reward.

The Folk Brothers - Boarding House

Gregorian Chant - "Salve Regina"


The Immaculate Conception in Lourdes, France

Hail Mary, Full of Grace

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Catholic Church.  The Feast celebrates the state of Mary, that she was conceived, by a singular grace without sin, just as the Ark of the Convenient, in which the Hebrews carried the Word of God, was covered by the most precious metal, gold. The doctrine means, in effect, that Mary was prepared for being the Mother of God, the mother of Jesus, God incarnate, by being left pure, and not predisposed to sin.

This feast is in the first week of Advent, the period of preparation for the coming of our Lord, the period of hope, expectation, prophecy and trial that gets us ready for Jesus.  It is followed on the 12th by another feast of Mary, the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, one of my favorite feast days in the church.  Advent is a time of repentance of sin, like Lent, but unlike Lent, it is a period that looks forward from the time of Genesis to the birth of Jesus and the beginning  of his ministry.  Mary sums up the experience of the Hebrew people for us, and shares her motherly love with us, through her son. Mary is a New Eve, like what Eve was before she fell, and hence a Mother of all the Living, but by adoption rather than by natural order. In advent we strive to become a people of God, and she provides motherly love to us in that effort.

Putting aside for now the doctrinal matters of the church regarding this, let me consider my own reaction to Mary and to this feast.  I am a person who suffered the minimal attention of a mother, not through her fault, but by the fact that my mother herself suffered with mental illness and struggled with it.  Early on, from the first time I heard the song at 12 or 13 years old, I identified with the old folk song "Motherless Children".  I often turned to Mary, as a child, for the motherly love I could not receive from a mother confined to a hospital.

Similarly the poor that I learned early to identify with, seek her motherly love.  The feast of the Immaculate Conception is followed so closely by the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe precisely because she is not only the Mother of the Americas, but because she is the Mother of the poor.  She appeared to a poor and downtrodden Indian because she had to bring God's special love for the poor.  So this period of time in advent is a time when we must rededicate ourselves to the poor in preparation for the coming of Jesus.  Indeed he comes as a poor child, lying in a manager and is soon on the run as an undocumented person in Egypt. The Holy Family, in fleeing Herod represent poor immigrants and refugees everywhere in the world.

I am following this with some videos  posted from U-Tube

Odds and Ends

Tomorrow I  to a Worksource orientation on the steps needed to try to get into worker retaining on the unemployment ticket. (see prior post:  Pray for me please, and for all the unemployed.  And if you would, make that through Dorothy Day, Servant of God so she can get her first miracle by getting someone a job or reschooling in this economy and there by get beautified.  If she gets two of us jobs then she is a Saint!

Governor Gregorie has deserted Catholic social teaching on more and more things.  First she deserted it to the left by supporting the Washington Death with "Dignity"  initiative, under which disabled and elderly can be manipulated into killing themselves. Now she deserts it to the right.  She is planning to call a special session of the legislature for one day to get an up or down vote on her budget proposal.  It's kind of the bums rush to legislators that are busy carving out deals to save Washington Basic Health (our state health insurance for the low income uninsured) and Disability Lifeline (What remains of our old General Assistance program.)  The last budget she said her conscience would not allow her to do sign such a budget.  I think she has gone over to the dark side.

Justice for Immigrants ( and the United Farmworkers Union ( are pushing hard at the last minute to get the Dream Act passed.  The Dream Act allows a limited amnesty for those brought into the country as young children A summary from Justice for Immigrants says "The Act authorizes DHS to cancel the removal of and grant conditional nonimmigrant status to qualified aliens.".  They must have entered before 16, have been here continuously for at least five years, be of good moral character, have gotten a high school degree or GED,  not be convicted of a felony or 3 misdemeanors, etc.  It allows them limited amnesty to pursue education or go into the military, through which they can eventually get on the road to citizenship  The Dream Act has strong bipartisan support.  It is basic fairness to those who had no choice in their immigration, some of whom can no longer even remember the country of origin or speak it's language.   There is a video message on it from Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans at (   Please call your Representative or Senators and ask them to support the DREAM Act.  For the U.S. Senate:  202-224-3121.  For the House of Representatives:  202-225-3121.

And a release from the United Farmworkers Union 12/03/10

Farm workers are still society's canaries

United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez issued the following statement from the union’s Keene, Calif. Headquarters on the California  Department of Pesticide Regulations approving the use of methyl iodide in California's fields. 

Cesar Chavez said farm workers are society's canaries because they show the affects of pesticide poisoning before anyone else. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation just certified methyl iodide for use on fresh fruits and vegetables, especially the state's $1.6 billion strawberry industry. Methyl iodide replaces methyl bromide, banned by international treaty because it depletes the ozone layer. Methyl bromide was the last of five very toxic poisons the UFW targeted for abolition in the 1980s because of damage to both the environment and farm workers. The state is approving methyl iodide for use by growers even though the new fumigant is on California's official list of cancer-causing toxics and a state scientific advisory group worries it could poison the air and water. State regulators insist strict guidelines, enforced by county officials, will protect the environment and farm workers. But so many of California's good laws and regulations protecting farm workers are ignored by too many growers--and state enforcement has been a disgrace under both Republican and Democratic governors. It looks like farm workers will continue to be society's canaries.

A UFW fundraiser called me last night and I could not give.  My heart goes out to the farmworkers still struggling after all these years of having union with the most basic work place issues like water in the field, pesticides and even modest wage gains. 

It has been a dark day here in Seattle, raining, an early winter.  Pray for the homeless who will be out this winter in very wet conditions. It won't be until spring at the earliest that the cities plan for a new tent city takes shape.  The site they choose may have chemical pollution problems.  

Please pray for my sister Mary.  Her family can no longer afford there mortgage in once booming San Jose, and both she and her husband, Osmond, are disabled. They haven't gone into foreclosure yet, so perhaps there is hope. As a country we have worked through the first wave of foreclosures, the sub-prime loans and those who bought homes that they could not afford.  Now we are begging to work through the foreclosures from home equity loans that left people owing more than they could afford and more than the home is now worth.  Expect housing values to lose another 10% before we are done.  We also will have many people saddled with lifetime debt from student loans at usurious rates. Americans, it seems, have been working very hard for there bankers. 

In Nevada a immigration fight is dividing the state.  While some Republicans are pushing for Arizona style repressive laws even before the courts have ruled on the legality of the Arizona law, others are pushing for a plan that would allow immigrants to come out of the shadows.  If they have lived in Nevada and plan to continue to reside there, they would be able to obtain ID's and be treated like legal state residents.  The proponents of this plan want to limit it to those who have never been deported, as you are not an illegal immigrant, under law, unless you have returned after deportation.  You have simply committed a civil infraction, like jay walking, or speeding.  Come on admit it, haven't we all done something like that?   I always say undocumented workers, rather than illegal immigrants, because I live in terror of be labeled an illegal pedestrian in return.  I like the Nevada local amnesty plan, except that like the Arizona law it's a state law.  We can't be a nation with 50 different immigration policies.  That would cause chaos. As far back at the 1870's the Supreme Court ruled that only the federal government could pass immigration laws because of the 14th Amendment, the commerce clause and for other reasons. 

I am enjoying going to Jack in the Box now for a cup of coffee--I know--taking my life into my hands.  But by ordering the short one and asking for the seniors discount I get a .55 cent cup of Joe.  

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Top 10%

According to University of California Santa Cruz sociologist, William Domhoff the top 10% of U.S. population  now controls 85% of the wealth in the United States and the same is true globally.  The concentration of wealth in the United States is now higher than at any time since before the New Deal and World War II.  See Domhoff at

Domhoff in this essay shows us some obvious correlations between wealth and power.  The more wealth is concentrated in the hands of very few people, the less power the rest of us have to change anything.  Witness how the union movement in America has grown weaker.

Let me ask for comments on something here.  If the top 10% control 85% of the wealth and control power as a result, doesn't this become a sort of indirect violence against the 85% that do not have those economic levers of power?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Most Common Topic in the Bible

I learned recently that the most common topic in the bible is economics.  Read the bible carefully.  It is full of advice on money and land and full of injunctions to be kind to immigrants, to free indentured servants every seven years, to take care of the poor and the widows, to to fair in economic transactions. This much weight on economic justice and yet we ignore that to often in our Christian life.

Protector of the Indians

Bartholomew de las Casas O.P. or Bartolome de las Casas O.P. 1484(or 1874?)-1566, "Protector of the Indians" or "Shepard of the Indians" , first Bishop of Chiapas, Mexico has an important place in the history of the church in Latin America and in the relations between the Spanish and the Indians.  His works inspired Simon Bolivar.  He has been called, (probably somewhat of an exaggeration) the Father of Anti-Imperialism and of anti-racism.

His family, of French origin, originally named Casaus, settled in Seville.  His father accompanied Columbus on his second voyage and brought Bartolome as Taino slave as a trophy. which at that point in his life did not concern him.

 Bartolome obtained a law degree and sailed to the Indies on the third voyage of Columbus 1n 1498, acquiring slaves and land under the encomienda system.  But by 1510 he had become a secular priest, without yet giving up his possessions.  He did however oppose the Spanish treatment of the Indian slaves, who were harshly treated and forced to labor hard at tasks for which they had not training.  By 1514 however, as his conversion depended, he renounced all claim on his Indian serfs.

 He made a series of voyages to Spain to gain support for towns were the Spainish and Indians could live together in equality.  They dying King Ferdinand gave him the title of "Protector of the Indians" and a set of laws which were largely ignored, in spite of Barthome's efforts.  The Dominicans had preached against slavery and Bartholome followed suit with his own sermons.  By 1523 he joined the Dominicans.

He began to write on the history of the Indies.  He was made the Domican Vicar of Guatamala and helped  draw up petitions to the Pope on behalf of the Indians.  He persuaded the Spanish not to use force in Guatemala and used peaceful means of conversion.  He remained it Vera Paz.  He founded what today is the oldest church in Central America, at Rabinal, Guatemala where my friend Tim Conlan is (see

He made several trips to Spain to defend himself from charges, debate his opponents publically, and petition the court for support of his policies.    In 1542 he got the "New Laws" that abolished slavery and the  encomienda system. 

But his opponents maneuvered to get him appointed a Bishop hoping that his hands would be tied to a Bishopric and he would not be free to travel to Spain or elsewhere in Latin America.  He accepted the Bishopric of impoverished Chiapas hoping to settle up model communities there.  He went to Chiapas with 45 Dominican missionaries.  His efforts in Chiapas nearly cost him his life and he had soon to return to Spain to defend himself against the charge of high treason.  He appointed vicars to enforce his run that no one who continued to profit off slavery could be granted absolution.  He successfully debated his opponents and ultimately no verdict was handed down in the case. 

He retired to a convent in Madrid where he published many works and fought King Phillip II plan to use Indian labor for mining gold in Peru.  He remained largely in silence until his death. 

The process of his beatification at Rome began in 2000, although he is already a saint on the Anglican calendar.  Las Casas Institute at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, was inspired by his work.

De las Casas said, "Now Christ wanted his gospel to be preached with enticements, gentleness, and all meekness, and pagans to be led to the truth not by armed forces but by holy examples, Christian conduct, and the word of God, so that no opportunity would be offered for blaspheming the sacred name or hating the true religion because of the conduct of the preachers. For this is nothing else than making the coming and passion of Christ useless, as long as the truth of the gospel is hated before it is either understood or heard, or as long as innumerable human beings are slaughtered in a war waged on the pretext of preaching the gospel and speading religion."

Similar to de las Casas was  Bartolomeo de Olmedo, Chaplin to Cortez who tried to moderate his actions in Mexico. The two together are held up as examples of correct treatment of the indians.

A Prayer:
Let your continual mercy, O Lord, enkindle in your Church the never-failing gift of charity, that, following the example of your servants Bartolome de Las Casas and Bartolomeo de Olmedo, we may have grace to defend the children of the poor, and maintain the cause of those who have no helper; for the sake of him who gave his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

What is Justice?

Recently a friend of mine sent me an email with a link to a U-Tube posting from something called "Real Catholics" on the subject of justice.  I watched the U-Tube because a friend of my wished me to, and replied to him about what I thought.  I could only agree with some of the content, which I felt to be a one sided application of Aquinas that made one fundamental mistake in the definition of justice. It was also a one sided condemnation of Catholics who it classified as Peace and Justice Catholics, whom it held to not ever really be pro-life and the cause of abortions.  That is quite a charge, since very  few Catholics are involved in providing abortion services or actively encouraging it.  And many progressive Catholics are actively against abortion.  I myself have prayed rosaries in front of abortion clinics with my friend who refereed me to this site.  In fact once we were the only two. Here is what I said to my friend.

"Thank you for sharing this with me.  It is true that justice has to do with giving according to what is due. That is basic Aquinas.  However it is not true that it is the opposite of equality.  Sometimes treatment with an equal hand is what is due.  For instance if you as a parent always gave one of your children an extra helping of potatoes at dinner simply because he had red hair, like grandma, that would be a sin against justice.  

So relative equality is something that needs to be considered.  Not an absolute equality because that prevents giving according to what is due.  But like Chesterton I wish that the concentration of wealth into very few hands be replaced with opportunity for all.  I have always been against poverty, including, when I have been poor, my own.  It is the official teaching of the church that we have a preferential option for the poor.  Indeed there poverty is generally through no fault of their own.  A greater degree of equality in society provided it is achieved through proper means is good, but the vision of a classless society is foolish and can lead to replacing one set of injustices with another.  We have to remember which side of the Gates of Eden we are on

Now as to the things he said about "the social justice crowd", this is an unfortunate dividing of the church.  It's true that some "social justice" advocates have not followed the churches teaching on abortion, etc, but rather a party line of some tendency in society they believe stands for justice.  This is unfortunate and must be opposed.  

On the other hand, many are fervently opposed to abortion and are very pro-life. They may or may not regard the pro-life movement as there particular call, but they stand for it.  For example Consistent Life.  so I always urge everyone, wherever they are on the political spectrum to lend an ear to what the other guy has to say, and to dialog accordingly.  We can usually learn from each other, and besides, if a person is reasonable and sincere, isn't listen to them just given them their due."

I am unalterably opposed to abortions, which are an act of violence, and I do regard it as a more fundamental act of violence than the death penalty (if it is applied to the guilty) which I also oppose.  I also have a difficult time finding just wars to support.  I think that poverty is also a form of violence.   I invite any of my readers to post their disgreements with any of this here, because disagreement is the begging of dialog.  

Friday, December 3, 2010

Banging Your Head Against the Wall

When I was 14 I began to write poetry andI was  not terribly good poetry at that time in my life either not being a Rimbaud enfant terrible of poetry. When I was 15 I decided to submit my terribly not good poem to a high school literary magazine and in an exercise of parental love my father volunteered to type said poem, as I had not yet acquired that skill. Not long after enduring the transcription trial my Father asked me what did I want to do with my life.  I replied that I wanted to become a poet.  After turning a somewhat paler shade of white --iceplant white I believe is the correct shade--and stammering something about making a living he finally said, "Well then, you had better learn to type." My high school literary magazine did not publish my poem and I did not see print until a senior year journalism class.

Over the years, with the exception of one long period, I continued to write poetry, with almost no attempts at publication. A poetry teacher of mine, Joseph Stroud,  advised his class once, that if you wanted to be a professional poet, marry a rich woman. Herr Professor Stroud has written and published volumes of poetry, but he kept his day job teaching in a community college.   The poetry because my private alchemical quest, a secret delight and passion. (See my other blog on the arts: Notes, Jots, Flicks for the post, The Process of a Poem

I pursued other avenues of life including the public contact process  involved in community organizing by which I meet some unusual people. One of those unusual people was a man who had, before the Iranian revolution worked in Shah Pavlavi's secret police, the Savak. He explained that in order get a job working for the Savak he had to go down to Savak headquarters every morning and bang his head against a wall.  This was apprenticeship
Savak style, because he had to prove he could bang his own head before he would be allowed to bang heads while questioning suspects.  He went on, he said, to have a career in the Savak persuading students who had been seen abroad at anti-Shah demonstrations to switch allegiances and receive the gratitude of the government. That was of course, as opposed to  continuing to receive the ingratitude of the government.  After he suddenly became unemployed due to a revolution, he came to America and stirred some controversy in Napa by getting into an armed conflict with Iranians of a different political perspective. He seemed not far away from seeking a similar conflict with me.

Sunday I turned 60, and I am now almost 45 years from the day I turned my Father a paler shade of white. I am about 18 years away from my conversation  the the former Savak agent who seemed to not like my politics.  I have never made much of my life economically, although I have done a lot of interesting and good things in my life. I am however, as regular readers of my blog know, unemployed.

Today I went to the nearest Washington State Work Source office, seeking help with some aspects of my job quest. The main object of my visit was to have a conversation with an appropriate person on the possibility of worker re-education. The state will often approve additional weeks of unemployment benefits for worker retaining if a appropriate training program that can be finished in a few quarters can be found for a worker appropriately situated.   I got to talk with Jerry, who was helpful and amicable.  I began by telling Jerry about my Savak acquaintance and said I feel like I have been going through a similar job search.  I showed him my resume, with an incomplete college education and talked about turning 60 and we discussed the possibility of worker retraining.

The job skills I had in mind learning, HTML coding, web page writing. was, after some searching, discovered to be an in demand occupation.  The state of Washington has some complicated ways of classifying jobs as to in demand or not and the mere frequent or infrequent appearance of skill in job ad requirements seems to have little to do with the classification.

 For it seems that the job I am also unemployed from, parking attendant, is also in demand.  The fact that I have applied to all the parking companies in Seattle and not gotten even an interview, or that the job makes almost no appearances on Craigs's list or the Work Source lists, is irrelevant. This lists seemed to have been drawn up before the Great Recession going full swing.  The parking attendant jobs no doubt include valet, whose running I cannot keep up with at age 60, and lot checkers, for which job I do not process the required drivers licence, being an exceptionally bad driver in my opinion.   Jeff gladly discussed with me possible ways to get unemployment's approval for workforce retraining for me, including the affect of arthritis disability on me.

It appears that because I made more than the median wage in my industry and more than $11.20 an hour at the time of my dismissal I cannot approach the retaining from having made low wages, even through I had been reduced to 30 hours a week due to lack of work for a year and was forced out by a boss who thought I made too much money and replaced with someone making starting wage.  I believe in fact is is the wages I made that have prevented my rehiring into the parking industry, which prefers to hire at the bottom of the scale without respect to skill.  In fact, much of the industry is being automated, so many of those booth jobs have largely disappeared and yet the officially assessment is that in King County, although in no other  county in the state, I am in an officially thriving industry. The people who lost there jobs to machines or were replaced with lower paid workers provide little supporting evidence for my case.  Never the less Jeff was optimistic that it was possible that if I wrote a good personal letter stating my case according to personal circumstances, I might get approved, especially as I had chosen an industry that would increase my job prospects.

I was given a schedule with the prerequisite preparation seminar on it and some materials for on line computer training that I could take while pursing the other. I had a good time talking with Jeff, although I was partially discouraged at my prospects for such an improvement.

And by the way, I got an email yesterday.  It seems an online journal might publish one of my poems.

The Simple Way

A item in the latest issue of Peace & Life Connections from consistent life, along with some great material on the evils of abortion, lead me to a radical Christian community called "The Simple Way", modeled in many ways after the Catholic Workers.   They have a small intentional community, a sort of urban monasticism, in the middle of a low income area in Philadelphia.  They run a neighborhood park and provide some social help for neighbors. They have worship get togethers at there house on Fridays, but otherwise go to the nearby church.  They run a magazine called Conspire. They have a list of the 12 marks of the new monasticism including, "Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire".

That is quite a statement.  Having lived and worked in some of the abandoned places of Empire, I know it's not always easy.  From the little I have been able to read, they seem to be an ecumenical off shoot of the Catholic Worker movement and worthy of support.

Fr. Tim Conlan

These blog is about all those who suffering in the margins, just like those of us who live in rooming houses, are unemployed, etc.  Well that isn't just in the United States. That's all over the world--for example in Rabinal Guatamala

 Fr. Tim Conlan is a priest I know who is a missionary in Rabinal.  He works in the oldest church in Central America, built by Bartholomew de las Casas, a Dominican priest who was famous for his defense of the native peoples of the America and his opposition to slavery.  De las Casas went back to Spain for a while and obtained laws stopping the slave trade from the King --orders often ignored.  Fr. Conlan, like De las Casas, is a Dominican, and is dedicated to the people he serves.  I get emails from time to time from Fr. Tim and I have one to share with you.  I hope you can help his work.

Dear Friends,
As we approach a new liturgical year of 2011 and prepare for the
coming of the Lord of Life this Christmas, I greet you from Rabinal,
Guatemala with news and reflection. It has been over six months since
I last sent out a letter. As always I wish to thank all of your for
your prayers and support and assure you that you are in my thoughts.
Life is full of choices. May you be full of life. Peace to you. Fr.
Tim Conlan 
 Leaping the Wall
The wall of our farthest dream
Is the wall we must dare to leap. 
We dream by night, but it is in the day that we must leap. 
Our horizon is behind us in the hopes of our parents. 
It is before us in the heights we have known, 
But it is really only within us 
When we set no limits on the goal we can reach. 
The Mayan youth in the villages dream to leave 
And only return with pockets full of money, 
Loaded down with gifts and tales to tell, 
Exotic persons from far away lands, 
Or laden with titles and degrees, 
To show that they are worthy of respect. 
Yet that comes not with money or degrees.
The paths to the simple homes wind up and down the hills. 
No gates close off the entry way to the patios. 
No locks on the doors, only the snarling dogs 
Keep out those who do not have the password-- 
“Maria, purissima, to which the response from within is, 
“Concebida sin pecado original”. 
“Mary, purest”, “Conceived without original sin”.
Each family is an open book, 
Rooms filled with beds where life is shared. 
Intimacy is at a premium in the farthest corners. 
Privacy is a concept reserved for property. 
Life is in common and you must learn to make room 
For the uncommon ways of each one. 
Walls are foreign to the village and to the home.
Yet the first thing we dream of is putting up walls, 
With the idea of protecting what we value 
And gaining so much that everyone would envy us, 
Separating us from others who have less or nothing. 
This is the wall that success often builds. 
It is a wall within our minds, and countries build these walls. 
They are the cultures that define what is proper or foreign.
There was a high wall that fell 
From the force of the murmurs
Of a daring dream to be free 
It fell in Germany, where before, 
Other walls and fences with barbed wire 
Circled the victims of hatred in the camps of holocaust. 
And these fell too, but rose again with new vigor. 
Always the product of fear of too much freedom.
Now new walls arise 
On the border of the country that is most free 
With new guards and new ideas about freedom 
Freedom to buy and to sell, 
Free trade for products 
Free access to information on the Internet 
But the walls show there is fear 
Of that army of workers who want freedom to work.
The greatest wall is the wall of being content. 
We erect a wall of self satisfaction and stay behind it 
not looking for the next possible rung to scale. 
It is the wall of not imagining what is on the other side 
Of our blindness or contentedness. 
We are prisoners of our lack of curiosity and hope. 
Let us tear down these walls and prepare to leap for joy 
Up and over the horizon, and the dream to be free 
At the coming of the New Day of the Birth of the Saviour.
Dear Friends of the Mission in Rabinal,
As they say everything constantly changes, but things stay the same.
So it is with me, as we are on the eve of Advent 2011. I have been in
the process of changing my work, but am still in the same place in
Rabinal, Guatemala. I live in my same room in the parish house and
enjoy the company of the two diocesan priests who are ministering in
the parish. One year exactly has passed since they have taken over
and I can say that it has been delightful to live in the rectory with
I am dedicating more time to my educational programs and only helping
in the pastoral ministry on a limited basis. This last week for
example they went on retreat so I was in charge of the parish for five
days, and in December one priest will be on vacation so they are
expecting me to fill in. Mainly, I am working on the project of the
translation of the Sunday readings into the Mayan language and hope to
publish the book in the next couple of months which is one of the
projects that I had promised to do as of a year ago. So as you can
see things move slowly here, but there simply are not many people who
can help me on that type of work, so it depends on their time, but we
have made progress. I only pray I can finish it soon and hope you join
me in that prayer.
I can tell you that the new parish priests are slowly or not so slowly
transforming all the facilities into a different type of parish, but
it seems to be working very well, so I see good things happening and
do not feel that what we had worked for has been lost.
 Life in Rabinal
 Let me just share a recent experience that perhaps will give you an
idea of what life is like here. I think that often times we want the
big picture, but if you don’t get down to the details, you can’t
understand the larger reality. It concerns one of my students on
scholarship who is studying in the town of Coban, about 3 hours from
Rabinal. This boy is 17 years old and is an excellent student, going
into the last of the three year bachelor program in a computer school
which is on the level of junior college, so I hope he will be able to
get into the university in engineering which is what he wants.
Well, he comes from a small village up at the 6,000 foot level in
Rabinal and his father has had to work in town or at times the capital
at security jobs to support his family of 8 children. His mother is a
small and very beautiful woman, well, she was all that, but she just
died of cancer this last week at the age of 37 years old. The boy is
the oldest of the children. The father had asked me to go up to the
village to pray with her, but a few days later, when I got organized
to go up there, I called ahead to a catechist and he informed me that
she had been moved to the next town 40 minutes away by car in order to
receive the attention of a prayer man or curandero. 
I mention all this because sometimes people in the USA don’t
understand how all these different types of customs fit into the
Catholic faith. These people are Catholics and in the close family
there are members who are charismatics. But on the other hand there
are the Catholic prayer men who are also part of the Mayan tradition
and who use lots of candles and incense and make up medicines of herbs
and do all kinds of rituals to heal and drive out bad spirits. I
suppose the prayer man was both charismatic and traditional at once.
Of course, by that time she was in a lot of pain, but they reported
that she felt better. All of that is a sign of great faith in God and
love for the sick person.
I was in touch with the boy in his school and he was saying the
people in the village did not believe it was cancer, but some evil
So you say this is all very confusing. Not really. We who come from
the western culture have an absolute faith in the science of medicine
and we expect it can save us from all kinds of things, so we are
willing to submit ourselves to all the treatment which offers even the
slightest hope because we trust the people who offer it. And the
reason is that we are taught to all the means available to struggle
for things that have value, such as life. This faith in the science
of medicine is similar to the faith of the Mayan people in the art of
the curanderos and their rituals. Before the western medicine came,
the medicine of the curandero was all there was so it still has roots
and it comes together with ritual prayers. And part of that faith in
Mayan prayer men comes from the fact that the treatments of modern
medicine are more costly and beyond the reach of all but a few
indigenous people, and uneducated people do not trust the professional
people who have a different world outlook and speak at times in
incomprehensive technical terms. 
Now this family also has some understanding of modern medicine so the
woman was taken to the cancer hospital in the capital and after
examinations she was sent home and the husband told me that the
doctors had said the sickness was in various parts of her body and
they had no treatment for it. So I checked with the hospital since I
have helped people at that hospital and knew a social worker who
pulled out the file and confirmed that there was nothing they could do
for her. 
While this was going on, I was quite concerned for the father who
called me occasionally. I kept my own prayer vigil remembering this
woman each day in my Mass and generally concerned about the pain that
she and the family were experiencing. It is a helpless feeling, and
one that really only prayer can address. In these days before Advent
the church is reflecting on the coming of the Lord in the end time and
we all know that that comes for each of us in our death, some sooner
and some later.
 In the end the woman came home again and they advised me, so I went
up to anoint her and she could talk a bit and seemed at peace. I had
actually only met this woman once as I recall and she was so simple
and sweet, with a lovely smile, but after a month of thinking about
her daily, I felt like we had been communicating regularly. The
family where she was staying gathered around her bed. It was her
sister’s house in a neighboring village to her own, where her
brother-in-law is a catechist. You must understand it was a simple
house of adobe with a dirt floor as are all these houses in the
villages. Her 8 children were at home being cared for by the
grandmother. She died the day after I saw her.
The mother talked a few words to me the other day and so I thought
she might not be so close to the end, but it often happens that the
sick person waits for the priest and then they feel like they can
 For these mountain people the priest is a figure who carries
great significance. He is the one who has the key to the great mystery
of death. He opens the door to life beyond. There is no fear here. It
is home coming, pure hope. The life line that pulls us up to the new
life. The priest is always welcomed with great warmth and kindness,
as someone who brings peace and hope. So as people of a grand
tradition they use all their resources human and divine, and the
priest is one more of those. In all these means there is always hope
because in the end there is the one thing that cannot fail, pure
Now I mention all this so you understand that my role as a priest is
to minister where there is faith in Jesus and one needs to be quite
aware there are many different levels of faith. Jesus does not
exclude the other levels or condemn people for looking for cures in
rituals outside the church. Here the prayer men are Catholic and
invoke the Trinity and all the saints. God works through others just
as Jesus himself became man, or as doctors have studied their art, so
too the prayer man. My role as priest is to offer with love the prayer
of Christ and ask that he help people discern with wisdom how to help
the sick person. The simple ritual of the church is so succinct that
it appears effortless and we are not working up a sweat doing it, but
the faith is like that. It is joyful abandonment into the arms of God.
It does not depend on the multiplication of words or actions. It is
a risky affair to believe in Jesus as healer. God doesn’t need to
warm up like a pitcher to throw a ball. He just throws it.
So now there is a youth who will have to assume a new role in the
family. I told him his 100 hours of service while on vacation this
year is to spend time to be a good brother to his 7 younger siblings
and to support his father.
After the death of the mother, the father had given up his job as a
security guard, and owed someone money for the casket and fiesta of
the 9th day, so he took his son and three younger brothers to the
coast to pick coffee for two weeks before Christmas. There they can
make $5 6o $6 a day and maybe up to $10 if they work very hard.
Maybe this history helps you see what life is like here. 
 My New Role 
 So you ask what have I been doing to earn my keep? First of all at
the start of last year we trimmed the staff in my program from 4 half
time persons and myself as director to just one half time person and
me, with the idea that we would reduce our programs and not take on
new students, since I was uncertain where I would be in the future.
Last year there was a woman administrator and another woman was the
investigator who produced the CD on universities, so I kept that
person on this year, but made her the administrator so we have all her
talents in two roles. 
The big change is that this year I am in the office a bit more and
have some time to reflect on the quality of what we are doing, not
like before when I could only give superficial attention to details
since I was simply stretched too much with all the pastoral duties.
So the atmosphere has changed for me. I have a more personal
relationship with the youths who are on scholarship and have been
trying to develop a way to engage them in dialogue and reflection.
 First of all in previous years we had up to 200 youths receiving
help in all the programs, but only 25 who received the full
scholarships for various years. We always have announced the
opportunities on radio so 100’s of youths are helped even though we do
not see it.
I had good people working in the office and occasionally I would
direct them to make sure they were spending time with the youths to
find out how things were going and also to be in dialogue with their
parents, but I could never evaluate it in more than a superficial way.
I just trusted that the staff did so, but actually the students are
so busy and some live so far away that they hardly have time to sit
and talk, so it can easily become sort of a filling station approach.
They come to turn in receipts or give in their grades and it is just
human nature that it can get reduced to the most practical level
because on that level the staff is being monitored. It comes down to
keeping accounts and having receipts etc. since that is where the
pressure is.
 So I pondered this in the spare room in my mind to see what might
serve me in that pursuit. It happened that about a year ago I visited
a parish program near Lake Atitlan, where a couple of American nurses
were volunteering, and I explained I had a couple of young girls who
wanted to be doctors and I was interested in helping them understand
that career. The nurses gave me the names of a few movies of a popular
sort on the field of medicine, which I was able to acquire. So I
showed the two girls about 6 movies before they left to study, and we
had some good discussions about the social and moral aspects of their
 The dialogue that followed the movies was not easy at first until they
began to see that I really wanted them to give their own opinions, and
finally we established a mutual trust after the course of six movies.
It was a definite breakthrough in our communication.
So that was my seminal idea about movies being an instrument to
comment about a lot of values. Since then I have been investigating
movies and have used about 8 more movies with a group of 8 other
youths on scholarship who live in town. We have watched Iranian,
Chinese, Indian and of course, American movies. These have all been
very instructive.
 New Programs 
 This year we have developed two new workshops that we have put on for
the directors of the junior colleges and high schools of Rabinal. One
is about how to help students discern the career that best suits them
with all the materials that might be needed. The other is how to apply
for a state scholarship to various universities in a new program that
began just this year. I feel we are right on the cutting edge of
helping the education system deal with the changing situation. This
was a monumental effort on the part of the one woman who is my office
worker. She earned her pay this year just with those workshops plus
all the other things I ask of her.
Perhaps you are wondering what kind of junior colleges there are in a
small town of 7,000 people and in an area of 32, 000 people total in
our municipal area of 38 villages. Well, they are private schools that
give degrees of a practical sort and most of them are on a very low
level. Perhaps 20% of families can afford these schools, the rest of
the youth join the army, go to work in factories, do manual labor
locally or go to the USA.
Wonder of wonders, this year a new program of the state began which
offers scholarships for youths in various universities if they
maintain 70% grade point. We were able to catch the wave and so we
helped 22 youths apply in a 6 month period. We do not administer the
money or receive anything for our help to the students except the
satisfaction of having helped them to continue their study.

This year 2010 we will graduate 7 students and have a little fiesta as
always in the first days of December. The graduates this year are two
accountants, two primary grade teachers, one mechanic, one laboratory
technician, and one computer programmer. This last year 5 students
were in the university. At present four of our students are doing a
100 hours of service in Rabinal in other institutions during
vacations. 5 did their service during the year.

New Students for 2011

In spite of our efforts not to add new students this year we ended up
taking 4 new students, who will live outside Rabinal so it is a big
cost. It is complicated to explain why our efforts to downsize did not
turn out as we had planned. It is just so hard to take the final
curtain call.

We decided to keep the office open this next year 2011 since we have 9
people who will graduate in 2011 and the committee that helps me
monitor the money would have a hard time managing about 20 students
that still remain on our roll call. So the office worker will continue
to work on all our programs this next year. After next year we will
be down to 10 so it is more manageable by a committee. By 2015 the
last ones will graduate if all goes well. They will be two woman
doctors and an engineer in computation.
 New Ideas
 As I said I have been developing plans to interact more with the
students on discernment of their vocations. You have no idea how
little the students understand about university or careers. These
students come from little villages and their parents have never gone
beyond 1st or 2nd grade grammar school and so when they finish high
school no one has talked to them about what is ahead. They only know
the practical schools in Rabinal and do not understand what
prerequisites are needed in order to prepare for the university in
some field. So I developed a program to dialogue with them about
career choices.

You know my program is tiny in comparison to the needs.
 You will have
a hard time believing it but this year we gave the sacrament of
confirmation to almost 1000 youths who are 15 to 16 years old here in
our parish and of those I can only help a hand full with my little
office, but the point of my program is not how many I can help but
being sure we are really helping. Most of the youth are as poor as the
boy I wrote about at first, so you can imagine how many youths need
help. They have no books in their houses and the school does not
offer more than a few texts, so all their time is taken just taking
notes, as a result it is very difficult to advance. They need remedial
 Maybe I can make it more clear with an example. You know here in
Guatemala in the area of the Petén out in the lowlands on the
Caribbean coast they discovered the biggest archeological ruin so far
call Miraflores, with the ruins of pyramids that supposedly tower
above Tikal and probably were taller than the great ones of Mexico. At
that site they found great works of art that will revolutionize the
understanding of the Mayans, but to do so they had to work for a few
years to unearth the area until they hit pay dirt with the recent
discoveries and still it is hard to get into the area of see it all.
It may be another year or more before it can be organized.
It is like that with our students. 500 years of oppression and
poverty has left them buried in the tomb of not having hope to rise
up; it takes lots of encouragement and help for them to dream beyond
the lowly horizon of their own village and family.

Art is in.

Look at all the graffiti that the gang members scrawl on the sides of
buildings. It is an attempt to claim territory, but where the
children paint their pictures on the sides of their school or on
walls, no one defaces it. Some of the art work by the gangs is very
good. There are artists there. Look at all the tattoos they use to
give themselves new names and identity. It is art. We need more art
in our cities. We need to clean up the streets. Hold block parties
with dancing which we often do here. Some of the gangs have great
dancers. I have several movies about the gangs that explain their
social relevance.
 This year I have one youth who is on scholarship with us at the
National Institute of Plastic Arts in the capital. He is entering his
3rd and final year of the basic program. He just won the first prize
here in Rabinal of a small contest sponsored by the Coffee Industry
that has an office in town. So as part of his 100 hours of service I
have him painting a couple of art works for my chapels. One is of St.
Margaret of Scotland, Queen, who is patron saint of one chapel,
dedicated to my Aunt Margaret Concannon who left some money for the
chapel, and the other is of St. Cornelio, pope and martyr, who is the
patron saint of another chapel, dedicated to the parish by the same
name in Richmond, California which gave money for that chapel. I
tried to enlarge the little pictures from the Internet to make a
poster on vinyl but the image would not come out, nor the colors. So
he is painting on canvas. 
And this year we will have a second student on scholarship who will
begin studying in the same institute. The first young man is training
him a bit now. This new youth has been carving and painting cedar wood
masks of the personalities in the indigenous dances and seems to have
some talent. There are so many artists in Rabinal and even more
dancers. Many of the artists have died off and with them their art
because no one wanted to pay a decent price to buy their carvings on
the gourds that are famous here. The economy, my friend. It is part
of everything.

Hope springs eternal

Well my little program is one of many programs that exist. The
church has its share of them and the general society also. So many
people are trying to save this corruption ridden society. One thing
is certain, what is needed is holiness and wisdom to offer a remedy in
whatever program. I have become aware that it is the quality of
whatever we do that counts, not the quantity. We have to take the
time and have the patience to do well every little bit we do. There
are no short cuts. It is all a work of art meant to imitate the
creator. It must be done with love. I feel overwhelmed and I am sure
you do too with the magnitude of the problems. That is when we must
invoke the Higher Power, God himself.
So do me a favor and ask the Lord to guide me and you, so that
together we may find that true path of enlightenment. 
Peace in the Lord. 
Fr. Tim Conlan. 
Any help you wish to give for these projects should be sent to the

Dominican Mission Foundation
2506 Pine St.
San Francisco, CA 94115 
If you just mention that it is for my work in Guatemala, they make
sure it comes here or to the general fund if you wish, and they will
send you a financial contribution statement at the year’s end if you
wish. You can ask for the monthly newsletter at no cost. Sometimes I
put in an article or two a year in that also, but nothing this long.