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)