Wednesday, August 26, 2015

‘Watchman by Harper Lee, A Review

Isaiah 21:6  For this is what the Lord has said to me, ‘Go and post the watchman, and let him report what he sees.’

           The recently published novel, Go Set a Watchman* by Harper Lee is an American classic about Justice.  John Rawls established an American philosophy of justice with his treatise, A Theory of Justice.**  Harper Lee wrote the novel;  both are insightful and provocative.  Harper Lee wrote her first novel with feeling and fascinating characters, presenting a personal understanding of justice.

           In the Watchman, Atticus Finch and his sister Alexandra represent the western heritage of Greco-Roman justice where slavery and suppression of women is acceptable. Finch’s daughter Scout, Jean Louise is able to see the overall battlefield in the struggle for human rights.  Jean Louise (her name rings of Joan of Arc, Jeanne d’Arc) represents a distinctly American concept of justice which, since Lincoln at Gettysburg, posits literally that ‘all are created equal.’ Despite dialogue in the book that indicates the South of the 50’s as rooted in fear and hatred of Koons, Kikes, Katholics and Komunists, the novel’s main characters eventually agree that equality is the goal and that it is a question of time and individual moral leadership.

          Religious services reflect the narrowness of the culture.  In contrast, Scout comments about the morning ‘service’ of the mockingbirds who sound the chirping of all birds.  Harper Lee’s prize winning novel To Kill a Mocking Bird*** was published in 1960, but the recently published Watchman was written before Mockingbird.

          The novel continues to resonate with current messages: the Black Lives Matter movement and the struggle over immigration reform.  A friend of African ancestry pointed out to me that the racism against immigrants is the same as that against Blacks.  “They believe that they are the good and we are the evil.” However, Jean Louise points out to her father Atticus, we are all human and therefore all have basic rights whether the law recognizes them or not.  There is justice and there is Justice.

    The fascinating characters in the prize winning romantic To Kill a Mockingbird originated in the long unpublished realistic Watchman.   Some may find the story of the Watchman difficult to imagine because the To Kill a Mockingbird paints Atticus Finch in the 30’s as a moral giant.  Go Set a Watchman, set in the 50’s, shows his racism.   Doesn’t this indicate an important truth?  Atticus Finch favored fairness, but with limits.  Aren’t we all like that?  There is racism and there is racism; it can be measured in degrees and it still dominates modern America.

              It is tempting to designate Calpurnia, the Finch’s African American maid, who raised Jean Louis, as the “Watchman.”(Calpurnia was Julius Ceasar’s wife who warned him not to go to the Senate where he was assassinated.)  But the ‘Watchman’ role is for each and every one of us.  Jean Louise’s Uncle Jack advises her of her destiny.  Atticus’ brother Dr. Jack Finch is an anglophile; he struggles with the burden of moving from the culture of Victorian England to the 50’s South and from the 50’s South into the modern age. Uncle Jack Americanizes a quote from the 17th century English poet John Donne, “Every man’s an island," Jean Louise. "Every man’s watchman is his own conscience.”  With this advice Jean realizes her identity as a woman and as a moral force.  At the end of the story, she indicates she will stay in Macomb and fight for civil rights.

*Harper Lee, Go Set A Watchman, Harper Collins, New York, 2015
**John Rawls, A Theory Of Justice, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1971

***Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Collins, New York, 1960

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Working Catholic: Rules Part II by Bill Droel

One chapter explains why “it’s better to receive than give.” Such surprising rules make Matthews’ book a classic. “Contrary to what many people assume,” he writes, “the most effective way to gain a person’s loyalty is not to do him or her a favor, but to let that person do one for you.”

Take for example a college graduate’s job search. The typical approach is well-described in another classic, What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles (Ten Speed Press, 1972). The young adult makes a list of potential employers (probably using the Internet) and sends each a confidence-flavored resume and an assertive cover letter lightly peppered with exclamation marks. A few more preliminary research hours and a more supplicating approach are probably more effective. Is there someone in the young adult’s circles who might have a weak-link connection to the prospective employer? Might your research uncover that your dentist with whom admittedly your link is weak or maybe the neighborhood funeral director have some connection to a board member of the bank or hospital where you seek employment? Ask a favor of your dentist. Maybe she feels too remote from the bank officer to comply, but she is now invested in your search. The circle of weak-link contacts is growing.

Candidates for office often make the rounds of social clubs, churches, union halls and the like. They tell the citizens what they the candidate will do for them. Matthews describes a famous candidate who avoided the normal circuit. Instead, he and his many family members walked around asking for favors: Can you put John Kennedy’s sign in your window; can you host a house meeting on Kennedy’s behalf? This smart politician, Matthews says, “is not so much demanding a gift or service.” He or she understands that to make a friend, you ask a favor. The successful public person offers “the one thing he [or she also] wants: the opportunity to get involved.”

Matthews has an advantage in compiling his adages and examples. He travels in story-telling circles—in legislative halls, in reporters’ hangouts and more. Those circles are fewer these days. Instead, there is a fair amount of texting and social media exchange about superficialities—what I had for breakfast or where I am going this weekend with no moral or lesson included. Yet public savvy comes through sharing and reflecting on stories.

There’s a clerical grapevine in Chicago. It is, I suspect, withering or is mostly given to gossip. But at its best the clerical grapevine is another example of a story-telling culture that contains lessons for public life.

There’s the old story about a newly minted monsignor who gives a scheduled talk at a conference attended by the then cardinal. The monsignor mentions the desirability of ordaining women. Of course, he had to appear on the chancery carpet, but walks from the cardinal’s office out into the sunshine. This story yields the adage all Chicago priests know: It is better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.

There’s the one about the newly ordained priests awaiting their assignments. All knew to dread one far away parish and its SOB pastor. The chancery bureaucracy announces the placements over the course of a week—six on Monday, a couple more each day thereafter. The dread increases down the alphabetical line, until on Friday Fr. Zimmer gets the news. He initially balks, but he goes to meet Fr. Tyrannical. After a week the pastor comes to him and says: “I’m not feeling great. OK with you if I go to Florida for a few months?” Sure enough, the pastor dies in Florida and the newly ordained, who handled matters superbly, is made pastor of that terrific parish with many leaders shedding few tears for the departed predecessor. The grapevine adage: The last shall be first. Or, take your lumps early; there’s a plum waiting.

To be continued….

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a print newsletter about faith and work.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Working Catholic: No Rules by Bill Droel

       Saul Alinsky (1909-1972) could not tell less experienced organizers more loudly or more frequently: There are no rules. Creative life is for fluid people.

       Alinsky’s insistence caused cognitive dissonance in many of his novice disciples. They read his Rules for Radicals (Random House, 1971) and concluded there really are rules for public life. They memorized his adages: “The action is in the reaction,” or “Reconciliation means one side gets power and the other side gets reconciled to it,” or “Personalize the target and polarize the issue.” Each of Alinsky’s so-called rules was supported by examples from his reading of history, his contact with John L. Lewis (1880-1969) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations and his own pioneering organizing efforts.

Alinsky’s rules, properly understood, are more like manila folders (in his day) or e-folders (for today). That is, label the folder with bold marker. Then, as you read and particularly as you experience, put examples under the relevant rule or in the corresponding folder. Then use those folders to interpret additional reading and again especially additional experience. Without folders, so to speak, a body of reflection cannot develop and each new thing is just one more random fact or activity. In a sense, curious reading and creative action and deeper reflection quickly become a dynamic process—one not easily torn away from the others.

Business literature should be used in the same way. Yet many people glam onto the latest business book (or latest self-help book) and think it is a template for tomorrow’s day at the office. Unfortunately, many writers of popular how-to business books and self-help books are like their readers: There is too little sustained reflection that goes into their rules for success and the result is a hodgepodge of personal incidents that don’t contain too much wisdom. Perhaps that is why Warren Buffett, upon being asked to name his favorite business book, reached back for an oldie: Business Adventures: 12 Classic Tales by John Brooks (1920-1993). Originally a series in The New Yorker, each “tale” derives a lesson or rule from a specific company. Buffett was hardly looking for one-to-one matches from those 1960s situations. Buffett treasured the creative thinking and action—or lack thereof—in Brooks’ examples, not so much the precise situations.

Peter Drucker (1909-2005) wrote several business books that might appear to be how-to texts. They are loaded with adages and rules: “Abandon what one proposes,” or “Performance trumps conformance,” or, sounding like a Biblical commandment, “Know thy time.” Yet Drucker understood his rules to be like folders to sort and reflect on experience. Events in themselves reveal nothing, he wrote. The only method, he insisted, was one that allows someone to test their opinion against reality. His books were not from the how-to genre. In fact, his Drucker’s best books, like Management (Harper & Row, 1973), are akin to humanities texts.

Chris Matthews authored a classic on public life: Hardball: How Politics Is Played (Free Press, 1988). Each chapter title is an adage or rule derived from Matthews’ reading of history and his extensive experience around elected officials and in the media. Yet again, anyone who reads Hardball with the intention of following one or another rule in the week or month ahead will soon wash out of public life.

A subsequent column will feature some of Matthews’ rules and will consider morality in the hardball game of business, politics and community organizing. A column will also explain the process for acquiring one’s own rules for success in public.

Droel edits a print newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).

Wednesday, August 5, 2015



(What is ousia – essence-taste? Aristotle 7th book Metaphysics)

Although Pope Francis’ encyclical, The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) is addressed to Roman Catholics, it was widely read and drew favorable comments from every quarter.  It was not intended as a sectarian document urging Catholics to raid other faith groups for recruits.  The encyclical insists on dialogue to achieve the common good advocated by Jewish-Christian-Muslim Scripture. 

    Francis’ encyclical On Care For Our Common Home (Laudato Si) is clearly intended for all.  The climate change crisis is similar to the threat of nuclear destruction faced by Vatican II.  The message is that people of good will need to join together to avoid disaster.

    The climate change encyclical does not avoid difficult philosophical questions.  Francis notes that the epistemological paradigm used in science dominates our thinking and is not suitable to look to solutions for the climate change and pending disaster. (#107)  This is a problem for epistemology that goes back to the time of Abelard and Heloise (12th century) with the battle between the universalists and the nominalists.    
   Empirical science has successfully focused on the individual and the collective, thus producing inventions that can make life better for humanity.  Empirical science successfully produced cars, airplanes, pesticides and drones.  This bright light of success has unfortunately reduced the ‘essential’, Aristotle’s ousia, to the ‘un-real’, a product of the imagination and therefore the term humanity or all men is meaningless.  Such thinking has prevailed since the philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) and later, the existentialists attempted to relegate the essentialists to past history. 

   Abraham Lincoln differed. What does “all men are created equal” mean?  Lincoln could be classified as a modern essentialist; he saw “All men are created equal” as including the slaves and having meaning yet to be developed, e.g. gays have rights also, humanity’s duty to protect the planet.   Author Gary Wills traces Lincoln’s thinking to the Unitarians and Transcendentalists of his time. (cf. Gary Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg, Simon & Schuster,  1992, p.104.  also blog, “Faith & The Labor Movement”, April 1, 2013)

Linoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois with Bill 'Lincoln' Lange and family

   Moral philosopher and former Harvard professor John Rawls (1921 -2002) would have supported Lincoln.  He contended that the equality of humanity was intuitive and based on experience. (John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press Cambridge, MA. 1971, p. 118) For Rawls, and Catholic Social Teaching, because of common humanity people have rights and duties.  (Ibid. pp. 27-28, 32, p. 333)

   To recognize that climate change is a crisis is to accept the conclusions of science; to do something about it is to recognize our common humanity with rights and duties. Pope Francis challenges us to cooperate and break out of the political structures of destruction dictated by an individualistic philosophy of economics producing inequality and a technology that ignores ultimate causes.

   Francis’ Encyclical is instructive and inspires faith in the hope that our common love of – humanity & nature will guide us towards resolving the climate crisis.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Working Catholic: Free Choice? by Bill Droel

      Rebecca Friedrichs doesn’t want to pay her union dues. And indeed, because our culture is premised on individualism some workers can now legally opt out of their dues.

Friedrichs, whose workplace is represented by California Teachers Association, wants something more. She wants no payroll deduction for what is called agency fee or fair share service fee. This is an amount between $350 to $400 a year given to a union for negotiating her contract and handling any grievance she may have. Friedrichs doesn’t want the union speaking for her in the public sphere at all and she thinks an agency fee is a violation of free speech.

Friedrichs does not have a moral objection to any union position in the sense that a particular topic touches on her religious liberty—a matter like abortion or, let’s say, marriage policies or even evolution. Her objection covers anything the union says about classroom size, teacher evaluation, the merits of charter schools and the like. The union, by the way, is not allowed to leave Friedrichs off its lists, allowing her to handle any situation on her own.

Here are remedies Friedrichs might take:

·         She could apply for a job at a school without a union. Some Catholic schools, for example, do not have a union, though some do. Friedrichs, however, prefers her current workplace, presumably in part because its union wages are higher than in nearly all private schools.
·         Friedrichs and her like-minded friends could go to union meetings and lobby for positions or officers they favor. That is, they could reform the union from within. But that approach is out of sync with our penchant for individualism.

So Friedrichs, like many people who disagree with one thing or another, got a lawyer. She is now on the way to the Supreme Court, as early as October 2015 or sometime in 2016.

Friedrichs and her co-plaintiffs may or may not be religious. The natural law, however, applies to all of them. The natural law upholds rights. It is not though beholden to individualism. It blends responsibility with rights. On this workplace topic natural law says:

·         People are interdependent by nature; we are not ragged individuals.
·         A society with many buffer groups is healthier than a total State.
·         Unions are a primary buffer group. Not every workplace needs to have a union, but society at large must have many bargaining unions within it.
·         A workplace with a union is by its nature a closed shop. That is, an employer in such a workplace cannot, among those eligible for bargaining, hire some union members and some workers who are not. Collective bargaining quickly becomes dysfunctional if some are in and some are out.
·         Simple quid pro quo justice or fairness requires all eligible workers in a union shop to join and participate in their local. They thus can enjoy the benefits of one another’s sacrifices and contributions.

U.S. law has a basis in the natural law. But specific court cases weigh multiple values. Friedrichs may win her case, maybe not. Without endorsing any one union or any one position of any union, her behavior and that of her co-plaintiffs in this matter is a blow to the already fragmented social network in our society. On other civic matters (participation in voluntary organizations or active membership in a church or in a precinct or even care for extended family members) Friedrichs and the others might be exemplary. This column treats a limited topic; it has no need to know about her other involvements.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a free printed newsletter about faith and work.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Working Catholic: Action First by Bill Droel

Young adults do not so much need a meaning in life as an experience of living. Despite or because of our cosmopolitan culture and global economy, too many young adults get caught up in a small circle of co-workers and friends while communicating mostly about small comings and goings.

            Meanwhile, many young adults are disaffected from churches. Could it be perhaps because, at least in part, churches don’t offer an experience of living? Some churches deliver moral standards and dogmas in a compassionate, pastoral fashion. Other churches, more or less, serve up entertainment in the form of snappy hymns and stylized self-help preaching.  Upbeat hymns, good preaching and fellowship over robust coffee are well and good. But a rousing prayer service or a church’s sensitive staff cannot alone contribute to a young adult’s experience of living.

Some young adults are open to an alternative to our vacuous culture. Many young adults are uneasy about the future. But those young adults will not connect to a well-meaning church that assumes young adults are detached bystanders.

We can all benefit from an appreciation that our place in the created world comes from acting in the world—acting critically, a tad out-of-step, and in the public company with others.

Ed Chambers (1930-2015) was longtime director of the Industrial Areas Foundation and an influential political thinker. His 50 years of intense involvement with community organizations led him to conclude that “the body trumps the brain.” We have “two social partners,” he said. “Other people and the world itself… And to understand them we have to experience them.”

Chambers was critical of overly academic education and our culture of passivity—TV, celebrities, shallow texting and the like. It is really possible to “go through life without acting much,” he wrote. Boredom, the antithesis of action, sets in. We tend to give up. We don’t truly engage our social partners because we “lack a compelling vision of what could be.”

Chambers invoked Catholic philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) to champion the priority of experience. Heidegger’s phrase being-in-the-world implies a curiosity about one’s surroundings and an intentional presence to others. That type of being does not usually occur in academia, Chambers concludes. It is “based on action.”

To be clear, an emphasis on action does not mean that an individual’s own situation can substitute for received collective wisdom. Further, one’s lifestyle or gender or ethnic/racial identity devoid of effective action is not a mark of credibility. Nor is activity the same as reflective action. Undigested activity is not a body of sustained experience.

Some young adults get involved in church-sponsored service projects—sometimes over a weekend, other times during Spring Break and even year-long commitments to voluntary communities. These are a start. For the activity to have any lasting benefit, however, the volunteer project, just as with a young adult’s job must be put into a tradition of social doctrine and democracy. Follow-up is also crucial because habitual action plus quality reflection adds up to a virtuous life of power.

The road, if you will, goes in the other direction from that taken by those in academia and in many churches. Along the opposite direction experience precedes abstractions. On the experience of life road, young adults are church (at least church in process) within their normal work and family settings, regardless of the potentially attractive resources inside a church building.

Chambers wrote three booklets on the theme of experience: The Body Trumps the Brain, Being Triggers Action and The Power of Relational Action. They are available from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $4.50 each, pre-paid). Droel serves on NCL’s board of directors. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Working Catholic: Hometown Brag by Bill Droel

           Political commentators derisively call it The Chicago Way. They refer to our machine-style politics. Its motto, of course, is Ubi est mea? (Where’s mine?) It is accompanied by corruption and then jail time for some, including in recent years a Congressman and two Governors.

By contrast, two commentators point to a positive Chicago Way--our style of being Catholic. “As U.S. Catholic histories continue to be written, the Catholic Midwest in general and Chicago in particular will highlight the emergence of the post-Vatican II pastoral church,” writes Tom Fox, editor of National Catholic Reporter (, 6/8/15). Fox pays tribute to recently deceased Chicagoans Eugene Cullen Kennedy (1928-2015) and Bob McClory (1932-2015). He also mentions our Fr. Andrew Greeley (1928-2013). Kennedy and the others “embraced a rich sacramental vision,” Fox says, believing that “the divine imbued all matter and the sacraments [the formal ones and the many small ones] were aids to open our eyes to the richness of God’s all-embracing love.”

Fr. Bruce Nieli, CSP, writing in U.S. Catholic (, 7/15), pays tribute to Chicago as the place where, before and after Vatican II, several Catholic lay movements began or had a strong base.

These are the two primary characteristics of the Chicago Catholic Way: a sacramental imagination and lay-led social action. But first some caveats.

§  The Chicago Catholic Way is not immune from corruption. For example, several leaders in the selfish part of Chicago’s political life are Catholic. Further, the scandalous mismanagement of abusive Church employees was as bad here as elsewhere.

§  The Chicago Way of Being Catholic is not exclusive to our city nor is it the only good way. Simply, certain elements of Catholic tradition are accented here.

§  Many of those who practice the Chicago Catholic Way now do so as cultural Catholics. That is, Mass participation among young adults is no better here than elsewhere.

Chicago Catholicism is sacramental or analogical. It sees similarities between pedestrian encounters and the grand. The Incarnation is taken seriously here. God for us is found in ordinary things and surroundings. We suspect, as Greeley often said, that the world is enchanted.

Primarily—at least in my experience—this means an animating belief in the real presence of God in the Eucharist. But in Chicago the weekend Eucharist quickly leads to the Mystical Body of Christ; that is our co-workers, neighbors and family members, especially the poor. 

That weekday Eucharist disposition, at least in our better moments, allows us to regard others not as if we would hypothetically regard Christ, but as if the most renowned and the most dejected Chicagoan is Christ in some real sense.

This, in turn, leads to the second characteristic: Chicago’s tradition for social action. Nieli mentions the Christian Family Movement, which although it began at Notre Dame in 1940, took off in Chicago beginning in 1942. He also names the community organization movement as a Chicago product, beginning among Catholic parishes here in 1939. Nieli credits Chicago with a strong presence of other Catholic movements, including the Catholic Worker, Cursillo, Young Christian Workers, Young Christian Students and the like.

The two characteristics—a sacramental disposition and social action—reinforce each other. The Chicago Way appreciates that liturgy and justice are reciprocal. There is even a slogan in Chicago: “The liturgy is the second school of social justice.” (The family, of course, is the first school.)

Chicago has problems in its neighborhoods, its jails, its health facilities, its legislatures, its businesses and more. And the Catholic church here is sluggish for many reasons. But with some creative thinking and some young leadership the Chicago Catholic Way can continue to contribute to our common life in the Midwest, to U.S. Catholicism and to all of Christianity.

Droel is author of Church, Chicago Style (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $2)