Friday, April 29, 2016

The Working Catholic: Rules in Church by Bill Droel

High school students need clear rules applied fairly. Chaos reigns in classrooms and hallways when rules are too vague or are unevenly applied. Teachers in a well-ordered school automatically dismiss a misbehaving student’s plea: “I didn’t know there was a rule.” Of course, the student really means: “I didn’t know I would get caught.”

 Moral formation occurs in high school. It is impossible, however, in a high school classroom to teach the difference between private morality and public morality or the difference between rules and pastoral guidance.

Some years after graduation many students do though draw upon their high school experience to appreciate these differences. For example, three or four students, now a year or two out of college, meet. They note that a former teacher, maybe a religious brother or nun, has recently married and has disclosed—for whatever reason—a decade long dating relationship. “The private hypocrisy is irrelevant to the competence the teacher displayed in the classroom,” the former students conclude.

“Well, what about abuse,” one of them asks? “That’s not private morality,” one of them correctly asserts. “Abuse by a teacher is misusing public authority.”

These same former students can always recall an incident from high school where they got caught misbehaving and yet where a strict teacher or dean “let us off the hook” or “said a couple words and let us go.” Why? The incident was just before an important football game or because a student was already reeling from some sad news.

Some adults, it seems, have a low tolerance for ambiguity. Some of the low ambiguity types want church officials to clearly declare and consistently enforce rules. Others among the low ambiguity types want to make their way without any rules, without as it were any second guessing. All of the low ambiguity types are unable to hold onto the creative tension between private morality and public morality or the tension between rules and pastoral guidance. One type says: If any rule is loosened, the moral threads of society will eventually all pull away. The other type says: If there are any rules at all, there is no freedom.

A proper tension between rules and pastoral practice is not relativism. It is adult maturity. It is a tension. Habitually drifting into pastoral practice quickly leads to a life of making exception, to soft relativism. Habitually drifting into rules is soon associated with hypocrisy and righteous judgment of others and often with scrupulosity.

Both of the low ambiguity types are currently having their say over Pope Francis’ letter about marriage and family life—commenting almost exclusively on its passages about divorce and the Eucharist. One type thinks any change in “the rule” about Eucharist and divorce will lead to a wholesale forfeit of morality. The other type thinks “any rule” about lifestyles or the definition of marriage is a violation of rights.

A handful of major themes emerge from Jesus’ life and teaching. Number one is probably: Repent and be saved. Number two is: Never allow the rules to inhibit compassion.

Adult life is hard. A parent, a teacher, a union steward, a judge, a pastor and others have to continually keep seeming contradictions in creative tension. It’s hard, but real life is lots of fun for those who keep tensions afloat.

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

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)