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)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Why The Encyclical About Climate Change Is Important

            In his recent encyclical “On Care For Our Common Home,” Pope Francis calls for all humankind to work together to address the effects of climate change.  Climate change raises air and water temperature, which produces frequent and severe storms.  It increases chances of draughts, wild fires, coastal storms and rising sea levels (Daniels, Page 4).  Climate change — in large part a result of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel consumption — affects our health, housing, employment, finances, access to healthy food, drinking water and more.

           Pope Francis acknowledges his predecessors in his call to action. Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict XVI all warned of the consequences of exploiting nature.  The scientific community overwhelmingly warns that our current path of exploiting natural resources is unsustainable.
What makes the Pope Francis’ encyclical important if the science and faith communities have already warned us about climate change?  It is important because of its urgent nature.  We urgently need to address climate change because the people who are affected by it the most are the poor.
The Pope’s messages in the encyclical—intentional or not—makes him the much needed champion of the cause. No matter how important an issue is, it won’t get traction without an enthusiastic and trusted champion.  The Pope is one of the world’s influential and respected faith leaders. He has devoted his life to serving the poor.  And as a bonus, he has a Master’s degree in chemistry. 
Most significantly, the Pope’s urgent call to action is not damning but rather enlightening, for the “Creator does not abandon us; he (sic) never forsakes his (sic) loving plan or repents of having created us.  Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home” (13).  We can reverse climate change if we take action together.  The earth is a live and can be mended.
It is time for those of us who deny climate change to acknowledge what is happening to the earth and the effort helping reverse the years of environmental exploitation.  It is also time for those of us on the sidelines to take action.  Governments, businesses, faith communities and millions of individuals are already taking action; it’s time to optimize our efforts.

Now for some fun!  Please enjoy John Oliver's take on the climate change debate.

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 (, 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; 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