Tuesday, June 30, 2015


      President Obama’s eloquent and moving eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney at the historic Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston was healing balm for our grief and the festering open sore of racism in our country. 

   It is fitting that the president spoke under the auspices of Emanuel A.M.E.  Church often referred to as “Mother Emanuel.”  The name “Emanuel” is borrowed from the Old Testament (Is 7:14.) to refer to Jesus in the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew. “…and they will call him Emanuel, a name which means ‘God is with us’.” (Mt. 1:23)

   Mother Emanuel – God with us as Mother is unusual in the patriarchic traditions of Judaism and Christianity, but the image – description of God as Mother is found in both traditions.  Rabbi Marc Brettler writes:

          "In some places, Isaiah 40-60 depicts a ‘kinder, gentler’ deity by  depicting God as female. …  (49:14) Zion says, /’The Lord has forsaken me, / My Lord has forgotten me.’ / (15) Can a woman forget her baby, / Or disown the child of her womb? / Though she might forget, / I could never forget you. / (16) See, I have engraved you / On the palms of My hands, Your walls are ever before Me.  

         "Here God is ‘The Excellent Mother’ who cares for her children so    much that their picture is engraved or tattooed on her palms." (Marc Zvi Brettler, How to Read the Bible, The Jewish Publication Society, 5766 * 2005, p. 204.)   

    In the Christian tradition Our Lady of Guadalupe serves as Mother God with us. She is the patron saint of the Americas.

   Will we take advantage of the blessings of Mother Emanuel with an effective struggle against racism? 

   And what about classism, Mr. President – will the secretive T. P. P. trade agreement (Trans Pacific Partnership) take into account income inequality – the basic rights of Asian and American workers, -  and Mother Earth? With faith in the unseen, I hope so.  

Listen to President Obama's speech at Mother Emanuel Church.

Listen to Matthew Andersen's verse on Peter Mulvey's "Take Down Your Flag."

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Working Catholic: Family Structure by Bill Droel

The Vatican-sponsored World Synod on the Family continues this fall and a companion Family Congress (www.worldmeeting2015.org), in which Pope Francis will participate, occurs September 22-27, 2015 in Philadelphia. So far, most reports about these events focus on internal church matters like annulment procedures and inviting the divorced to the Eucharist. These topics carry some importance but are hardly the sum of family life concerns.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the most famous piece of social science analysis. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003) was principle author of The Negro Family: the Case for National Action (U.S. Department of Labor; www.dol.gov). Its 53 pages were controversial from the start and the 1965 report was soon shelved under accusations of racism. Only recently is it given critical examination.

“The liberal denunciations of Moynihan were terribly unfair,” writes Nicholas Kristof in N.Y. Times (3/12/15). Not only liberals, says America Magazine (6/15/15). “Moynihan’s report was misunderstood by both the left and the right.” “The onslaught of misleading attacks on the report and its author” were a mistake says Peter Steinfels in Commonweal (4/10/15). “Moynihan was right in broaching the delicate subject of the relationship of family breakdown and poverty.”

Moynihan believed that poverty is more complicated than a lack of dollars and cents. The family “is the key institution for socialization,” his 1965 report said. Yet, “families were breaking up under economic and social pressure” and, the report says, “the breakup of poor black families contributed to the spread of crime and unrest [and other problems] in the cities.” 

Noted sociologist Robert Putnam in his engaging book Our Kids (Simon & Schuster, 2015) updates Moynihan’s concern with new statistics. In 1965 the situation was glaring among blacks. Today, says Putnam, it is spread throughout poor and working-class groups, particularly increasing among whites. The majority of poor and working-class couples do not use the institution of marriage. About 65% of children in these families are raised by only one parent most of the time. These children have more health issues and are overly represented in social service agencies and in juvenile court. A household headed by a non-married couple or a single-parent household “is not an uncaused first cause” of poverty, warns Putnam. Cultural, economic and individual variables are quite entangled. But—as Moynihan attempted to say—there is a correlation between a family’s structure and its economic prospects.

 Thankfully, it is no longer taboo to converse, research and act on the topic of social policy and family life. However, the experience of 50 years ago yields some cautions:

§  The situation is not about race; it is about poverty.
§  The lack of marriage is not the direct and isolated cause of poverty. Nor will poverty be reduced simply because more couples are somehow cajoled to walk up the church aisle or visit a justice of the peace. More has to happen.
§  It is a mistake to think that those people with problems are over there and we over here carry little or no responsibility for their behavior or for poverty.
§  It is a mistake to think that moral character is inherent across an entire family, an entire neighborhood or through successive generations. A healthy and whole environment makes it easier for someone to be holy, but each individual is responsible for their own character.
§  It is a mistake to think that government programs alone can fortify family life and eradicate poverty. In fact, as Moynihan said, some government programs have “rotted the poor.”
§  It is equally a mistake to think all government assistance is counterproductive and wasteful of taxes. Moynihan, for example, was among the very few senators to vote against President Bill Clinton’s elimination of AFDC welfare. Some government assistance in some places in some quantities is beneficial. Government jobs in particular have an anti-poverty, pro-family dynamic. Cuts in funding to Amtrak, to the U.S. Post Office and to many social service agencies are detrimental to family life.

 Bishop Blasé Cupich of Chicago, drawing upon Putnam’s research, links the church’s concern about family life to issues like “comprehensive immigration reform” and a living wage for those in food services, in retail and for “untenured college professors.” This family life perspective, shared by other Catholic leaders, must make its way to the top of the agenda for the World Synod on the Family and the Family Congress.

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

Monday, June 15, 2015


Creation - Ma'ase Bereshit

   When we talk about the global crisis, the crisis of global climate change, just what are we talking about?  I will use comments on an article by Stephen Wheeler, “Urban Planning and Global Climate Change” which appears in The City Reader, edited by Richard T. LeGates and Fredrick Stout to answer the question.   Editors define the problem in an introduction to Wheeler’s article. 

   No matter how effectively urban planners change plans for cities of the future, so much damage has now been done to the earth that world   cities will experience severe climate change-related problems. … Heat waves will likely increase mortality among people and animals.  Climate change will affect agriculture and food availability.  Water scarcity will become a problem as mountain snowpacks and glaciers melt.  Shifting global air circulation patterns will cause droughts in many parts of the world.  Storm surges and sea level rise will require costly flood protection systems and may flood cities built near sea level regardless.  … These changes will likely require the relocation of millions of people and in hard hit areas may produce political instability and even provoke wars. (City Reader,  Routledge London & New York, 2011, p. 458)


   Time measures the movement of history, but does it show a straight line of progress?  The climate change crisis indicates we are spiraling back to the beginning as described by the book of Genesis.

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the heavens and the earth the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. (Genesis, B.C.E.)  

   The Gospel of John adds:

   In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. (John C. 1 Vs. 1-5, circa 100 – C.E.)

    Does the “Word” represent – creative intelligence?  For the German idealist Hegel (1770 – 1831) the final cause or ultimate moving force of history was the detached spiritual; for Marx (1818 – 1883) it was formless matter.  Lincoln, a man of thoughtful analysis and common sense, indicated at Gettysburg that “We the people” – “under God” determine history.  (1863)


   There are many examples of willingness and attempts to do something about climate change.  AFSCME District Council 37 executive director Henry Garrido is quoted in the May 25th issue of The Nation

   Labor must stand for more than working conditions.   We must stand for more than contracts.  We must stand for environmental justice-otherwise we will become irrelevant.  The issue of climate change is the biggest threat to our humanity. (The Nation, 5, 25, 2015, p. 16) 

If Labor is on board, with its potentially invincible political power, there is still hope.    

Tree of Life - Milan Expo 2015 - Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Working Catholic: Student Jobs by Bill Droel

College students who this summer land an internship, experience a mission trip, do academic research or go on an expedition are privileged. Most are grateful for the opportunity. Many of their fellow students will spend the summer on ordinary workaday jobs; some of whom simply continue with the part-time, even full-time job they have during semesters. Some of those jobs are appropriately weather-related: on landscaping, as a caddy, in the tourist sector and the like. Others will be in retail or in a small office. Of course, a fair number of college students will, more or less, be unemployed this summer.
In days gone by, summer college jobs were more likely than today to be in a factory or in construction. Government contracts, a more robust manufacturing base and consumer demand allowed for student employment in those settings. The industrial, farm and construction work for students in days gone by was a school for virtue—at least in the foggy memory of some old-timers.
Novelist Richard Ford, whose latest is Let Me Be Frank With You (Harper Collins, 2014), was a railroad hand during his college summers. Check the engine oil, the brakes, the couplings, the trucks; keep an eye on signals; don’t let engineers in the yard hit any railroad cars or people. After awhile, Ford took the controls at night while the engineer seemingly dozed off. He moved 100 cars from one track to another, keepings an eye on other workers, staying aware of the engine’s brakes, throttle and gauges. It sounds intimidating, he admits, but a conscientious “19-year old boy could do these things. They let me do them.” That kind of work, Ford says in New York Times (10/20/13), taught him plenty about regular people.
Dave Shiflett is now a songwriter. In Wall St. Journal (4/24/15) he recounts his college summers moving furniture and working in a warehouse, which included some welding and driving a forklift.  The experience was as good as a course in multiculturalism or in physics, especially the physics of safely (or in Shiflett’s case, dangerously) operating a tractor or a welding torch. There is, he writes, value in the unglamorous “grit and glory of traditional summer work.”   
Be it in retail, in a restaurant, in an air-conditioned office or with a service agency, all summer jobs (like all jobs that basically conform to the plan of God) can be profound. Follow these steps (not necessarily in this order):
#1.  Observe. Pay attention to those around you; fellow workers, customers, suppliers and others. Get beyond what’s on the computer screen. Put aside your own media device. Ask some good questions.
#2.  Judge. Reflect on the bigger picture. For example, why are people paid what they are paid? Beyond the normal grousing about the boss, why does this place feel angry? Or maybe why are people here so dedicated? Is this company going anywhere? Sometime after each shift (or at least regularly), jot down these reflections.
#3.  Act. Try to talk with someone about the tension between your tangible experience and your picture of an ideal world. If your father isn’t your workplace boss, try expressing this to him. Or among your drinking friends go a tad deeper by articulating this tension. Not by complaining about work, which everyone does. But creatively grapple with the possibilities and also the limitations of your workplace and its workers, including yourself. And then, take your wisdom back to the classroom in August. 

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Working Catholic: Food Processing by Bill Droel

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) is a standard on high school summer reading lists; that is, for those high schools that still expect education to occur beyond the classroom. It was first published in serial form in 1905 for a Kansas City weekly newspaper, Appeal To Reason. The author’s intention was to highlight the exploitation of immigrant workers in Chicago’s stockyards. The book’s positive outcome, however, was directed elsewhere. As Sinclair put it: “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.” To the public The Jungle was an alarm about food safety, not so much about the safety of workers. Thus soon after publication, President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) advocated for and Congress passed two major food policies and established a department which is now called Food and Drug Administration. So what happened to the workers?

            Chicago’s Union Stockyards closed in 1971 (though two small slaughtering houses still operate in that neighborhood). In our country slaughtering and meat packing now takes place in the South. Chicken and other poultry, for example, is processed in Arkansas and North Carolina. Beef and pork are still packaged in the Midwest, but now in smaller plants in remote towns.

            Ted Genoways in The Chain: Farm Factory and the Fate of Our Food (Harper Collins, 2014) takes us to the Hormel Meat factory in Austin, Minnesota. The entire food industry—from planting corn or raising a calf to lunch at a restaurant or dinner in the kitchen—is remote to us. Austin is tucked away on IS 90, west of Rochester and about a dozen miles north of Iowa. Hormel’s infrastructure is also deliberately remote. The chief executive has a Texas address but, as Genoways discovers, there is no such place. Some of the workers likewise, though for a different reason, have phony IDs. Since the Great Depression the Austin plant has specialized in Spam—the kind that comes in a can. The current recession has put Spam production into overdrive.

The pace of work is what Genoways means by The Chain. In a so-called pilot project the government now allows some automated plants to run the production line as fast as possible. “Upping the speed of slaughter…set off a wide-ranging and sometimes disastrous series of events,” Genoways says. A dirty and perhaps infected carcass more likely makes its way down the line. Workers suffer more injuries, including a nerve-damaging infection that is only detected later. Our relatively inexpensive meat “comes at a high cost to its workers,” Genoways concludes.

What can be done? The workers in Austin and in other nearby plants are nobly represented by United Food and Commercial Workers. In 1985 they staged perhaps the “most notorious and rancorous” job action in our country’s history. That story plus and an insider’s account of meat inspection as well as more from Genoways and other journalists and, late this year, a return visit to Chicago’s stockyards… all of that will appear in a subsequent Working Catholic columns.

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

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Working Catholic: A Race Man by Bill Droel

It was cold in the parking lot after the funeral, but I lingered long enough to chat with an elderly priest. “We were about to get our first assignments out of seminary,” he began. “A teacher gave me some advice: Stay away from Falls; he’s a race man. Well, I was bold in those days and I replied: No, he’s a man of justice.”

The funeral, celebrated at St. John of the Cross in Western Springs, Illinois, was for Arthur Falls (1901-2000), a medical doctor, a pioneer in race relations and a lifelong Chicago Catholic. He was indeed a “race man” or a militant, but not in the sense of episodic, sloganeering skirmishes that result in little more than superficial media coverage. Falls was confrontational, but consistently worked inside hospitals, schools, housing agencies, businesses, parish committees and more to achieve incremental policy changes.

Lincoln Rice in a new biography of Falls, Healing the Racial Divide (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2014), supplies some background on my parking lot conversation. From about 1937 to 1942, Falls met regularly with seminarians away from church property to talk about urban issues and race. The group—which totaled about 30 over the years—included Msgr. Jack Egan (1916-2001), Fr. Martin Farrell (1911-1991) and Fr. Howard Matty Hoffman (1916-2004), Rice tells us.

Falls founded and joined scores of organizations in his steady persistence to end racism. A partial list includes serving on the executive board of the Chicago Urban League, facilitating an interracial dialogue group in the Morgan Park/Beverly neighborhood, active member of the Federation of Colored Catholics which became the National Catholic Interracial Federation, committees and ministries in his south side and then Western Springs parishes, founder of Chicago Catholic Interracial Council, founder of Committee to End Discrimination in Medical Institutions, member of Fellowship of Reconciliation and member of Congress of Racial Equality.

There are at least three Catholic Worker Houses in Chicago today. But do its members know who founded the first one here? Arthur Falls in 1936. He is also responsible for integrating the masthead of the New York Catholic Worker newspaper.

All the while, Falls was a husband, father, practicing doctor, a surgeon and for a time chief of staff at Provident Hospital.

Falls “was strongly grounded in Catholic theology,” Rice says. He was particularly animated by the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, which holds that each person regardless of status is godly. Falls, of course, was aware that Catholics (including himself) and Catholic institutions did not consistently live out their own beliefs. He was fond of saying that when it comes to the Body of Christ, the doctrine is “mythical not mystical to too many of its members.” And because of this doctrine it is, said Falls, a heresy for Catholics and others to tolerate racial injustice.

No one—white or black—goes to confession—now or back in former times—and admits the sin of racism. Treating racial injustice as a heresy, suggests Healing the Racial Divide, might be more effective than calling it a sin.

Falls believed in the power of moral suasion and appealing to people’s informed conscience. He was a militant, but a militant for interracial justice. Falls believed that black equality benefits blacks and whites alike, explains Karen Joy Johnson in a March 2015 essay for the cyber-publication Religion in American History (www.usreligion.blogspot.com). Even as early as the 1930s this stance put Falls and others against those who wanted black-only organizations. Because of Falls’ insistence on interracial life, Johnson writes, he “refused to attend one of the colored parishes” as so designated by most Catholic clergy in Chicago. Participation in a regular neighborhood parish was thus for Falls a protest.

Falls’ optimism about dialogue was never, Rice continues, uncoupled from “dedication to a long and bitter struggle.” An impulsive, impatient struggle will never bear fruit. Falls plotted campaigns with the precision he brought to his surgery. Only campaigns led by thoughtful people grounded in the virtue of hope will succeed.

We don’t know how Falls would specifically react to current events. However, Rice quotes a 1968 interview. Some protest movements, Falls said, have “a great deal of vocalization and very little cerebration… I realize it’s not as dramatic a cry to shout We want competent teachers instead of We want black teachers… But that’s what’s needed… I’d rather have [those in the classroom] think science than think black… We’ve already heard all the things the white man has done… Now the thing to think about is what we do now.”

Lincoln Rice PhD is a theology professor at Marquette University.  He is a long time member of the Catholic Worker 'Casa Maria' community.

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

Monday, May 4, 2015


May Day of 2015 will be remembered as a significant day in U.S. history because of dramatic events in Baltimore. 

   The Milwaukee Voces de la Frontera – workers’ center May Day march is to remember the sacrifices of immigrant workers in Chicago and Milwaukee who in 1886 challenged police, the National Guard and a Justice system designed to serve the interests of capital.  We also marched because workers are still being abused; it’s a moral issue.

   The Milwaukee County Sheriff and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the Federal Government collaborate to separate families intent on working to achieve a life as intended by the Creator.  This year’s march highlighted this issue and its injustice.

    May Day in Baltimore saw the U.S. democratic system demonstrate integrity.   Commentators on the recent spasm of police violence have said that justice is impossible, because of the close relationship of the police with States – District - Attorneys.  Police then continue violent action with confidence and impunity.  But, Baltimore States Attorney, Marilyn Mosby, elected on a reform platform, brought criminal charges against six police officers for the murder of Freddie Grey.

   Voces de la Frontera and the New Sanctuary Movement recognize Latino roots in Africa.  Slaves were transported not only to North America but also to South America and the islands of the Caribbean.  Jesuit Peter Claver ministered to slaves as they disembarked in Cartagena, Columbia.  We embrace our North American brothers and sisters of African ancestry and join them in the cry for justice.  ‘Black lives matter.

Saint Peter Claver, S.J.  ministering to slaves arriving at Cartegena, Colombia.  The plaques is on display at Saint Benedict the Moor Parish in Milwaukee

   “It’s so beautiful to see people of so many nationalities here together,” said Maria Hamilton at a rally before the Voces march.  She is the mother of Dontre Hamilton, an unarmed African-American man shot dead by Milwaukee police officer Christopher Manney one year ago.  Manney was fired for not following proper police procedures but was not charged with a crime by Milwaukee D. A. John Chisholm. 

   Milwaukee May Day marchers expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, the Hamilton family, and the people of Baltimore.