Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Working Catholic: Words Matter by Bill Droel

In 1984 Msgr. Jack Egan (1916-2001), who at that time was director of Human Relations and Ecumenism at the Archdiocese of Chicago, sent a memo about race relations to clergy and lay leaders involved with Chicago’s Northwest Neighborhood Federation and with Southwest Parish and Neighborhood Federation. Egan was reacting to A Declaration of Neighborhood Independence, issued by the two community organizations.

“The language contained in this Declaration is inappropriate, irresponsible and divisive,” Egan wrote. His memo objected to the Declaration’s “name-calling and vituperation” and more particularly to its “race-baiting” and its “tone of violence.”

A newly published book, Vanishing Eden: White Construction of Memory, Meaning and Identity in a Racially Changing City by Michael Maly and Heather Dalmage (Temple University Press), looks back at those days. The authors also report on interviews they conducted among those who were children in those neighborhoods at the time.

Southwest Parish and Neighborhood Federation (which is the main case study for Maly and Dalmage) began with fanfare in 1971 to “halt white flight and neighborhood deterioration.” The Federation quietly closed in the mid-1990s, following a long period of ineffectiveness and irrelevance to neighborhood needs. In its prime, the Federation used astute analysis and sophisticated research to make some positive contributions. It demonstrated that rapid demographic changes on Chicago’s south side during the late 1960s and 1970s were not natural occurrences. Several external actors caused south side neighborhoods to decline, the Federation leaders said. Realtors, mortgage bankers, Federal entities and even city agencies all contributed to instability—either out of benign neglect or for a financial motive. Thus the Federation campaigned against what it called “unscrupulous” entities, especially around housing. For example, in order to stop panic-peddling the Federation obtained 50 non-solicitation agreements from area realtors. That is, “Don’t call us; if we want to sell our house, we will call you.”

Maly and Dalmage, like Egan, look closely at the Federation’s language. From the start it was a “language of grievance,” “a language of loss and victimization.” The Federation constantly told “stories of innocence, virtue, loss and abandonment.” The Federation was correct in identifying problems. But a constituency that identifies itself as an innocent victim only stores up ineffective resentment; an ironic outcome for a power organization like the Federation.

A significant step occurred when the Federation referred to neighborhood residents as white ethnics. This term, Maly and Dalmage explain, “allowed whites to assert a racialized group identity while still making public claims that their neighborhood battles were not racially-based.”

The cognitive dissonance persists among a fair number of the children—now near retirement age and now living in a first ring suburb. When talking about social issues, the two sociologists found, those whites frequently use the pronoun we or us, often without a conscious understanding that the pronoun implies a them. They innocently believe that we are morally respectable, that we earned our place and that we treat everyone fairly. They don’t think about structures of unjust exclusion.

For the most part these whites are not overt haters, though some presumably voted for Donald Trump in the primaries. They do, however, resent the system for undermining their parents’ idyllic community, just as they fault the system today for its bias against the white working-class.

In this blog and in Vanishing Eden, the Federation represents many similar groups back then and today. The tragic flaw, say Maly and Dalmage, is resistance to words like integration, racial harmony or healing. At no point did the Federation reach out to any black group that was also dealing with improper housing policies. Neither the clergy, nor the local politicians, nor the Federation staff, nor leaders of other groups give people a language and forums with which to grapple with economics, race, culture and more.

Maly and Dalmage moralize a tad too much. It is not easy to live the virtue of solidarity on the ground.  Yet some community organizations on Chicago’s south side gave integration a try back in the day and some are effectively doing so today. For example, the nearby Organization of the Southwest Community was formed in 1959 to deal with the same situation faced by the Federation: a white neighborhood with unusual real estate turnover and some deterioration. OSC, to the displeasure of some of its white leaders, went out of its way to include black churches at its founding convention. The longstanding Southwest Community Congress tackled bad housing practices in the Federation neighborhood. It pledged “to work toward peaceful integration.” The local clergy never embraced SCC however. Not far away the Beverley Area Planning Association successfully integrated a once precarious but now desirable neighborhood. And, to give one more example, the Oak Park Housing Center brought together bankers, city officials and neighbors to build a thriving integrated community. 

Language matters. There are, as Jeremy Engels explains in The Politics of Resentment (Penn State Press, 2015), always people with a microphone who artificially construct two opposing sides, thus deflecting attention from upper-tier decision makers who truly control local situations.  Sarah Palin, for example, is a master at using lots of violent metaphors and terms while simultaneously painting herself and her people as innocent victims. The strategy of blaming others does not lead to effective social change. In fact, it eventually further impoverishes those who employ it. And though Palin denies it, resentment can easily spill into violence.

Droel is a board member of National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a faith in daily life organization 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Yellow Golf Balls

Travelogue IV:  the Canary Islands

A week in the Canary Islands with our London son, daughter in law and grand kids – great – what could be more exciting and fun.  Even better – our son said we could play golf.

   I prepared.  I bought some yellow golf balls and dug out my yellow golf shirt with the hope of bagging a few birdies.

   It was an all inclusive resort with a clientele from England and Germany; the abundance of food and drink was amazing.  A large swimming pool in the middle of the complex was a fun place for all.   I stayed on the balcony where I had an overview of the fun and did some reading and reflecting.

   What about all this food just off the Moroccan coast of North Africa?  We weren’t far from where people are starving – from where people risk their lives to escape to Europe.  Decorative minarets on the resort buildings called for prayer. 

   The golf was wonderful.  We played well on the lush green golf course placed on the volcanic island not far from the Sahara Desert.  Our scores were good but my yellow golf ball strategy didn’t help much.  We never saw a canary in the Canary Islands. A brochure explained: the ancient Romans named the Islands using the Latin word ‘canis’ which means dog – the Romans found lots of dogs in the place.  The all inclusive included - ‘hot dogs,’ but I advised the family to abstain.

   Night prayers with the children was a wonderful experience and challenging – “Holy Mary Mother of God pray for us sinners now and at  the hour of our death - God bless us and all the kids - Amen.”  Five year old Mathew commented and had a question, “that’s funny – why ALL the kids?” “We don’t even know the French kids.”  I tried to explain – “You see Matthew, all humanity has the same essence - uh – wait a minute, Grandma - Matthew has a question – I’ll be right back.”  

   Life with family is participation in the joy of the Kingdom of God and so is concern and political action  for the human family.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Working Catholic: Parishes, Part II by Bill Droel

(Part I appeared on February 23rd )

It is a formula for decline to run a parish, indeed to run any enterprise, for the benefit of insiders rather than outsiders. People move away from a parish for normal reasons: a job relocation, downsizing or upscaling their residence, retirement or illness, and eventually death. Attracting new members always has to outpace the exodus. This no longer can happen by passively waiting for new arrivals to register with a parish. Growth parishes have to be comfortable with a variety of pastoral styles; they have to be proactive with programs that undergo regular evaluation; they have to systematically reach out to new residents and to others who spend time in or around the parish/neighborhood. Growth parishes have to sometimes tailor liturgies for, let’s say, an arriving ethnic group or for young adults. In a growth parish the regular visits to nursing homes and hospitals must be augmented by an effort—no matter how rudimentary—to meet health care workers. The disposition for growth means, for example, that the parish CEO (who may or may not be their pastor) and/or the school’s principal participate in the local chamber of commerce and have regular contact with nearby social service agencies and with administrators in the public schools or the community college and with local government entities. Likewise the leaders of a growth parish (its staff and its members) will schedule dialogue sessions with members from nearby churches (including Catholic parishes) and with those from any nearby synagogue or mosque.

Why don’t parishes adopt the option for growth?

Most chancery leaders act in good will. They think about parish planning, however, almost exclusively in terms of the relative shortage of ordained personnel and the budget for parish buildings and perhaps for its staff. Only thereafter might Chancery-types think about the needs and opportunities presented by the neighborhood or town and its people. In this they are like private planning experts or even like those who converse at a neighborhood bar or barbershop. They comment on a parish/neighborhood by naming its problems.

Growth parishes should not look over the shoulder to the Chancery. They should not follow along with the problem approach to planning. The starting point for a growth analysis is an identification of assets; the current parish assets, the positives of the neighborhood and the potential resources that at the moment are a half-step beyond reach.

A parish, to express this point differently, is not either member-centered or mission-centered. But it seems parishes do better when they lead with the mission of the church and allow the needs of members to follow. Be church and then become church. To build the base, go to the peripheries.

Some parishes do not adopt the option for growth because they like things as they are or, to be accurate, as they seemingly are. These parishes are ambivalent about change. In particular, they have low anxiety-tolerance regarding either race, or immigration, or gentrification. Often these feelings are unexpressed. In one example, however, parish leadership distributed lawn signs reading Save Our Parish. Guess what happened?

To be continued…

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

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Travelogue III - Signs of the Times (Mt. 16:2-3) Christianity

In terms of Faith, I identify myself with the response of the Charlotte, North Carolina Mother Emanuel Church to the viscous mass killing on the Church’s sacred ground.  From profound grief the appeal of the Church was:  Peace through forgiveness and non-violence.  The televised revelation was evangelical - Joyful Good News – as opposed to the ‘radical’ Christianity of evangelical Ted Cruz:  Peace through carpet bombing.  Since the ‘Amazing Grace’ experience underlined by President Obama singing the hymn, religious services are important to me; however they, at best, just touch the edges.

        Oh death where is your sting? Where is your victory? (I Cor. 15: 55)


Clare College Cambridge, England

   Cambridge University is an easy trip by train from London.  Our first place to visit was Clare College.  Joanne and I intended to go to King’s College for Evensong, but we got lost on the beautiful grounds surrounded by stately medieval structures.  Getting lost was an embarrassment to me because I always believed that I was supposed to have been born in the Middle Ages – I thought I knew my way around – what’s happening? A security guard ushered us into a large but dark chapel with the assurance that there would be evening prayers; we sat down in choir stalls and waited; the environment became more familiar.  Just before we were about to leave, two people appeared, the Dean of the College and a friend.  They greeted us and invited us to pray.  We did Vespers, Psalms and some scripture readings.  It was a quiet and prayerful time.

   After prayers we talked briefly with the Dean – a young man with learning beyond his years.  I asked some questions and he willingly and candidly responded.   

  What do you think of the current presidential campaign in the U.S. and the quest for the votes of the evangelicals?  He noted that ‘evangelical’ had many meanings.  Evangelicals in the U.S. interpret Old Testament readings without nuance.  He said he thought this was done to achieve a certitude that, especially out of context, just isn’t there.

   Scripture scholar Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, O.P. wrote in the Preface to a study of the writings and life of St. Paul:

I make my own what J.A.T. Robinson said in the conclusion to a much more challenging work, ‘all the statements of this book should be taken as questions.’ (1)

It seems to me that certitude is a matter of faith supported by common sense and a realistic theology.  The ‘radical’ Christianity of Ted Cruz is a Christianity of the Empire inaugurated by Constantine to support imperialism – peace achieved with violence.  It is a false Christian model that has been used throughout history.   

(1)  Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Paul a Critical Life, Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York, 1997, p. v.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Working Catholic: Realistic Voting by Bill Droel

The term intrinsic evil is appropriate in a philosophy or theology classroom where students are presumably acquainted with some Aristotelian distinctions. Used in a presidential campaign, the term asks too much of electoral politics. Our U.S. Catholic bishops employ the term intrinsic evil a dozen times in their 2016 election guide, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. The term’s use there is, in the opinion of “The Working Catholic,” one more example of moralizing; one more ingredient in the disenchantment and frustration of our citizenry.  

Politics is a “messy, limited [and] muddled activity,” writes Bernard Crick (1929-2008) in Defense of Politics (University of Chicago Press, 1962). Yet it is the most beautiful way of balancing public interests, lifestyle choices, conflicting rights, interwoven responsibilities and changing times. Politics (with its laws or policies) is always imperfect because politics is an exercise in this-worldly approximate justice. Its results at sunset must be renewed through the exercise of public virtues tomorrow morning.

“The passionate quest for certainty” is a great enemy of politics, Crick warns. “We must not hope for too much from politics.” Crick’s point is not that all politicians are immoral dealmakers. His concern is the mindset of citizens. Crick wants to strengthen democracy, which is the only alternative to all types of dictatorship. Principled people who want “total victories,” who “refuse compromise,” who have “ridiculous expectations,” and who eventually are disgusted with government actually destroy participatory democracy. Not every disagreement can bear the weight of high morality. Politics and public policies cannot fulfill the quest for moral certainty. 

It is a serious sin, says Catholicism, to knowingly and willingly obtain a direct abortion and formally cooperate in abortion. The 58million abortions in the United States since 1973 are indictments on a society that values individual liberty disproportionately over community and that cares too little about eradicating poverty and supporting family life. The number of abortions has decreased and can potentially decrease further in part through the daily practice of messy politics. Too much moralizing, however, makes politics impossible.

In a sensible tone Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, writing in America (2/15/16), defends the bishops’ voting guide. There are several issues that require a well-formed Catholic conscience—immigration reform, safeguarding workers, the conduct of war, abortion, governmental policies on marriage and more. Neither electoral party supports the Catholic approach to all current issues. So once inside his or her voting station, what is a Catholic to do?

“Voting for a candidate whose policies may advance a particular intrinsic evil is not in itself an intrinsically evil act,” says McElroy. Contrary to how the term intrinsic evil is often waved about, McElroy refreshingly explains that “it is not a measure of the relative gravity of evil in human or political acts.” Thus, it “cannot provide a comprehensive moral roadmap for prioritizing the elements of the common good for voting.” That is, it is an error to give one’s vote to Candidate A because her intrinsic evil score is only minus two, whereas Candidate B’s intrinsic evil score is minus four.

Though McElroy makes important points, “The Working Catholic” is not a fan of the bishops’ voting guides—this year or in years past. Is there an alternative to Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship? “The Working Catholic” makes this suggestion: The whole church might year-after-year invest in local citizenship programs that teach public skills, sensitive to Catholic doctrine. Such programs might include labor schools, quality community organizations and top flight adult education efforts. Such programs would not include so-called Catholic lobby groups. Lobbying is standard procedure. But a lobby group is not designed for the patient effort of citizen education; it already has an agenda.

Droel’s printed newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), is free to readers of this blog.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Working Catholic: Full of Grace by Bill Droel

The phrase Godless world is popular with some presidential candidates. In recent months it has also occasionally appeared in Catholic publications and catalogs. Catholics are mistaken to use the phrase or others like it.

Catholics believe in the Incarnation and the Redemption. God, through God’s creation and through Christ’s death and resurrection, is already in our holy world. Encounter with God for a Catholic is thus normally mediated through the world. Catholics experience grace (God’s love) through family, neighbors, co-workers and others. Catholics meet God in the sacraments; the little sacraments of daily life and the liturgical sacraments.

Most Catholics most of the time do not claim a so-called direct or individual relationship with God. The relationship is mediated. God’s love and God’s truth come by way of the world; by way of discovery in the classroom or the lab, inside the ups and downs of home life, through art, music or literature, through conversations and action on the job, through stories about one’s grandparents, and through the worldly accomplishments and setbacks of predecessors in the faith.

God’s grace is normally not loud or bright or immediately evident. That is why Catholics are given, as it were, special analogical eyeglasses and special analogical earphones to see and to hear from God who is disguised in ordinary circumstances. This is the function of the marvelous Catholic sacramental imagination. The Eucharist, to give one basic Catholic example, reveals God magnificently. But God comes disguised or concealed as a flat wafer (“work of human hands”) or a droplet of wine (“fruit of the vine and work of human hands”). God makes use of flawed worldly things (wheat, grapes) and people (bakers, vintners, fellow worshipers) to stay connected with God’s analogues, with all of us who are created “in God’s image and likeness.”

Because the world both exposes the love of God and conceals the greatness of God, Catholics need to meditate daily or at least weekly on one’s comings-and-goings. Catholics need to recall the details of the day and week to appreciate that God is constantly lurking about the world—the workplace, the home, the neighborhood.  Aware or not, appreciative or not, we never have a moment when God is absent from the world. It is wrong to presume that the world is Godless and that we somehow have to restore God to any alley, any medical complex, any union hall, any media hub, any trading floor, any park or museum, any airport or loading dock. God is already there. The world cannot be Godless.

Of course there is sin. Of course there are features or overtones of modern life that warrant Catholic criticism. Of course Catholicism, indeed Christianity, is counter-cultural. But it is also and mostly culture affirming.

Any strategy related to the phrase Godless world assaults God’s gifts of reason and science, God’s gift of nature and beauty, and particularly God’s living Incarnation in the world. Likewise Catholics should use the phrase culture of death and other negatives sparingly and with plenty of context.

For Catholics, the world is basically good through flawed by sin. The world is the place of encounter with God. The world needs healing and merciful kindness, yes. But God’s plan for the world does not need condemnation from self-serving and self-appointed messengers of God.

Droel edits a newsletter on faith and work. It is free from NCL (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Travelogue: January - New Orleans

S P Q R 

 The letters were tattooed on the muscular right arm of the young man getting off the plane in front of me.  Does he know what that means?  He had an explanation.  “Senatus Publusque Romanus; it means the Roman Senate and the people.  The soldiers of the Empire had this tattooed on the arm that wielded the sword.”

   Shouldn’t the Republican candidates for president sport this tattoo?  In their quest for the evangelical vote they advocate increased military action in the Middle East. Ted Cruz suggested carpet bombing.  It is the gospel - evangelium - of the Roman Empire – peace through military might as opposed to the Jewish, Christian program of peace through justice.   Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan writes:

We are at the start of the twenty first century, what the Roman Empire was at the start of the first century.  Put succinctly: Rome and the East there, America and the West here.  Put succinctly: they then, we now. Put more succinctly: SPQR is SPQA.

John Dominic Crossan, In Search of Paul, Harper SanFrancisco, p. 412.