Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category
- Vipassana and Alabama’s highest-security prison:
To date, 430 inmates have gone through the Donaldson Vipassana meditation program, the only one of its kind in North America. There’s a waiting list for the quarterly sessions, and the state wants to expand the offering to its women’s prison.
- Yoga in the NBA:
… there are the Los Angeles Clippers, a long-moribund franchise which isn’t often associated with progressiveness. Yet that’s exactly what they are when the subject falls on yoga in the NBA. For the past eight years, they’ve employed yoga instructor Kent Katich to work their players through yoga sessions, with Katich gradually becoming more involved with players’ training regimens each season. Even though he’s not listed on the staff directory on the Clippers’ website, he travels with the team and is on the court pregame to help warm up players.
- Hollywood A-Lister Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology: The Church Of Scientology, Fact-Checked
I was in a cult for thirty-four years. Everyone else could see it. I don’t know why I couldn’t.
Also check out the Fresh Air interview with Lawrence Wright, the reporter who wrote the cover story on Haggis for the New Yorker:
- Tolerating the Intolerant: This BBC Heart and Soul report on religious tensions in Britain caught me off guard. I had no idea groups like the ones described, are active in the UK.
… one of the groups behind the blasphemy law in Pakistan is also active in the UK. The religious extremists are accused of spreading a hate message against members of other Islamic sects who they regard as infidels
- How to Deal with Criticism Well: 25 suggestions grouped into Personal Growth, Emotional Benefits, Improved Relationships, Time Efficiency, and Self Confidence.
- Mindfulness meditation training changes brain structure in 8 weeks:
… For the current study, MR images were take of the brain structure of 16 study participants two weeks before and after they took part in the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. In addition to weekly meetings that included practice of mindfulness meditation – which focuses on nonjudgmental awareness of sensations, feelings and state of mind – participants received audio recordings for guided meditation practice and were asked to keep track of how much time they practiced each day. A set of MR brain images were also taken of a control group of non-meditators over a similar time interval. Meditation group participants reported spending an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises, and their responses to a mindfulness questionnaire indicated significant improvements compared with pre-participation responses.
… “It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.” says Britta Hölzel, PhD, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. “Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.”
Amishi Jha, PhD, a University of Miami neuroscientist who investigates mindfulness-training’s effects on individuals in high-stress situations, says, “These results shed light on the mechanisms of action of mindfulness-based training. They demonstrate that the first-person experience of stress can not only be reduced with an 8-week mindfulness training program but that this experiential change corresponds with structural changes in the amydala, a finding that opens doors to many possibilities for further research on MBSR’s potential to protect against stress-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.” Jha was not one of the study investigators.
- States Help Ex-Prisoners Find Jobs: It took a fiscal crisis to make public officials realize that compassion and forgiveness, does make sense in certain situations.
All told, the 50 states and the federal government spend $69 billion a year to house two million prisoners, prompting many budget cutters to see billions in potential savings by trimming the prison population. Each year, more than 600,000 inmates are released nationwide, but studies show that two-thirds are re-arrested within three years.
“An exorbitant amount of money is dedicated to incarcerating people,” said Nancy La Vigne, director of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute. “There are ways you can go about reducing the number of people incarcerated. The best way to help them successfully integrate into society and become independent, law-abiding citizens is to make sure they get a job.”
Pushed by faith-based organizations and helped by federal stimulus money, California, Michigan, New York and other states expanded jobs programs in recent years to give prisoners a second chance and to reduce recidivism. The nation’s overall jobless rate is 9.4 percent, but various studies have found unemployment rates of 50 percent or higher for former prisoners nine months or a year after their release.
- Slow food meets mindfulness:
Food can be a source of genuine pleasure and gratitude if approached in the right way, but usually we’re too busy doing other things or caught up in our own thoughts to even taste what we’re eating. (Audio below)
- ABC News Beliefs program: This Shambala post highlighting an ABC interview with Matthieu Ricard led me to other videos from this ongoing series from ABC news. Here are episodes featuring meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein, and tensions between believers and the New Atheists.
- The world’s disappearing food tribes: How traditional food production may offer the world a sustainable model. From this year’s Terra Madre conference:
- Our Digital Afterlife: What happens to the bits you’ve generated and stored across many online services, after you pass away. I’ve actually been thinking about this topic a lot over the last few months. This NY Times magazine article and Forum interview (see audio below) should get more people motivated to start planning for the future of their digital assets. The services that exist at this point still seem rudimentary. For really heavy sharers (on Twitter, blogs, Facebook, etc.), I would love services able to produce digital biographies as well.
- Sep/2000 Shambala interview with Jerry Brown: The interview was from a decade ago, but still, I’m hoping Jerry draws on some his past spiritual practices to govern California this time around.
… How serious would you say your engagement with Buddhism has been?
I’d say that when I went to Japan it was very serious, because I practiced every day for six months and did four sesshins [traditional one week period of intense zazen]. This was at Kamakura; I did two sesshins under Yamada-roshi and two under Father Lasalle, a Jesuit at a Jesuit retreat house there.
… How much meditation do you do now?
I haven’t been sitting lately, not like I should be. I have a cushion right in the middle of my room; it’s sitting there, but I’ve sat infrequently. It’s an intention, but not a strong enough intention! But definitely an intention.
You visited Mother Theresa in Calcutta in 1987. What effect did this experience have on you?
I spent about three weeks working there, mostly at her home for the dying, the Kalighat. I was very impressed and moved by the volunteers who came every day, by their presence and their serving attitude. People from around the world just showed up and helped bathe people, fed people, wash down the floors. It was a very good feeling to be involved in that.
I experienced Mother Theresa as a person of really clear authority, something I hardly ever encounter. She was someone who spoke in such a way that I was inclined to listen, to follow. I felt this woman was speaking out of some enlightenment, some clarity in her way of seeing. When she said that this person lying on the floor from the streets of Calcutta is Jesus, and what you do for him, that is Jesus, well, it was not only supremely Christian, it was supremely compassionate. She manifested her being and was grounded in a way I’ve seen in very few people.
- Buddhists in the US Military: Heart and Soul on how the US Military struggles to accomodate minority religions. Some Buddhist countries (e.g., Thailand) have robust militaries, so military service among Buddhist practitioners is “possible”. The challenge faced by non-Christians in the US Military is the large and vocal contingent of Evangelical Christians.
- Healthy Alternative to China Gel: China Gel is popular among yoga practitioners, I myself have come to appreciate it.
After a cardio-sculpt class involving repeated lunges with hand-weights or when I’ve had one asana too many, the last thing I want to slather on my aching body is China Gel.
I realize that sounds kind of sacrilege, since China Gel’s considered the muscle remedy of choice at many New York City gyms and yoga studios. I can see why it’s popular: The topical pain reliever has a handful of ingredients that make sense—like menthol and ginseng. But it has way too many ingredients that don’t, like Triethanolamine (a skin, immune system, and respiratory toxin), DMDM Hydantoin (a formaldehyde releaser), and dyes like Blue 1 (CI 42090) and Yellow 5.
- Mimi Silbert on Delancey Street’s rehabilitation model: As Jerry Brown starts his term as Governor of California, I’m hoping he listens to experts like Mimi Silbert. A SF success story, Delancey Street is now found in five other US cities.
We take applications from people who have hit bottom, from prison, jail or walk-ins. Residents who have been at Delancey Street awhile interview all applicants. The minimum stay is 2 years; the average stay is 4 years. We have 3 rules: no drugs or alcohol, no physical violence, and no threats of violence. The goal is to learn to lead a productive crime-free, drug-free life of purpose and integrity. Everyone learns a marketable skill (the goal is 3 skills), and earns at least a high school equivalency degree. Advanced education is available.
Silbert on Options for Dealing with Criminal Offenders:
“I am going to describe two options. One option: you get put somewhere where you don’t have to work, where you don’t learn anything, where the government – the taxpayer – pays $40,000 to $50,000 dollars. Here’s the second option: the government pays nothing, you have to wake up at 7:00 am, you have to work eight hours a day, you must get educated, you must volunteer in the community… Which would you rather see?”
- Thought-full Meditation: I’ve written about the scandal which engulfed Sally Kempton’s guru in the past, and I still haven’t found any indication that she’s distanced herself from some quotes attributed to her in the midst of it. Nevertheless, I look forward to reading her columns in the Yoga Journal! From the Feb/2011 issue:
From the Yoga Vasishta text of high Vedanta: “Consciousness plus thoughts is the mind, Consciousness minus thoughts is God.”
- Reverend Samuel Rodriguez: Described as the leading voice in the Hispanic Evangelical Christian movement, Rodriguez spent an hour on KQED Forum weighing in on immigration reform and gay marriage. I still don’t get his opposition to gay marriage (I’m thinking purely in terms of the separation of church and state), but at least unlike other evangelical leaders, he isn’t homophobic.
- At Home In Our Bodies (an interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn):
… You change your relationship to the pain by opening up to it and paying attention to it. You “put out the welcome mat.” Not because you’re masochistic, but because the pain is there. So you need to understand the nature of the experience and the possibilities for, as the doctors might put it, “learning to live with it,” or, as the Buddhists might put it, “liberation from the suffering.” If you distinguish between pain and suffering, change is possible. As the saying goes, “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.”
- $12M film on Paramahansa Yogananda in development: Two factions mired in a series of lawsuits hope that a film about their teacher leads to reconciliation. (For more on their longstanding battle, check this 1999 SF Weekly profile of Donald Walters — a.k.a.Swami Kriyananda.)
Los Angeles Auto Show co-owner Lisa Kaz and filmmaker Jonathan Yudis have their work cut out for them as producers of a proposed $12-million movie about the life of Indian mystic Paramahansa Yogananda, who introduced America to yoga in the 1920s.
Kaz attends Ananda Worldwide and Yudis the Self-Realization Fellowship, California-based religious organizations that have long been at odds, although they share the same meditation techniques and spiritual master: Yogananda.
“Since our master was all about harmony and compassion, it’s a shame that there is still so much bitterness between Ananda and the fellowship,” Kaz said. “I’m hoping that my work with Jonathan will help get Yogananda’s message out to as many people as possible, that’s the bottom line.
“But I also hope that, by example, we can help bridge the gap between our organizations in a way that could lead to reconciliation,” she said.
… Kaz, 47, and Yudis, 38, teamed up in February to create a cinematic portrait of Yogananda based on a script by Kriyananda called “The Wayshower.” They expect the project, which is scheduled to start filming next year, to be funded by investors including members of both Ananda and the fellowship willing to overlook their leaders’ political warfare.
The two crossed paths when Yudis answered a call on Facebook for professional assistance with the project.
“We’re a terrific team: I’m a businesswoman and Jonathan is a trained filmmaker,” said Kaz, who has formed a production company to spearhead the film.
- Needs, wants, and Buddhist Economics:
Now as an adult, I’ve adopted a Buddhist economic heritage characterized by modesty and restraint. It’s an economy that distinguishes between “need” and “want.” The needs of any one person, household, or township are finite, while wants are without limit. Wants reside in the mind, a product of thought, while needs are of the body, consisting of such reasonable necessities as food, clothing, shelter, and medicine. A simple analogy makes the distinction more tangible: wanting to eat is eating when you feel like eating; needing to eat is eating when you’re hungry. It’s a distinction upon which the survival of earth’s delicately balanced ecosystem relies.
From the late Bishop Oscar Romero:
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise…
We cannot do everything,
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well…
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders;
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
- Another interview with Kausthub Desikachar: Grandson of Krishnamacharya and son of T. Desikachar, and the moving force behind the limited edition book Masters in Focus, Kausthub Desikachar has a valuable personal (and historical) perspective on Yoga.
Yoga is fundamentally a spiritual practice. And it shows how these different people connect with this idea. For T Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois, who is very devotional, it was through religious practice. For Indra Devi, it was more meditative. For TKV Desikachar, it’s a bit more reflective. Watch carefully that photograph where he is lecturing on God. The question he asks is, “What is God?” not “Who is?” So even though all of these teachers are fundamentally belonging to the same thread of yoga, their expression of [their] spiritual side is unique to each. This is wonderful. Isn’t it?
… At an age when people usually start to contemplate retirement, T Krishnamacharya had to start life afresh, as India became a democracy and funding for his yoga school was cut. This was a very hard time for him. When BKS Iyengar traveled first to Europe to teach, despite being “invited” as a yoga master, he was made to sit in the “non-white” tables to eat, even at the places he was teaching. He suffered humiliation in the form of racism for many years. Family members of my own father had to present him as an “engineer” to find a bride for him, as being a yoga teacher in the 1960s was not at all respectable.
… The primary function of Yoga is spiritual–to remove our suffering in various layers–whether it’s physical, physiological, emotional, or psychological. That’s why yoga was created. In the past, yoga was not created simply for an exercise routine. Unfortunately the sad reality today is that many people associate yoga as a physical form rather than a spiritual thing that is much deeper. That’s really why we need to rethink why we’re doing yoga–not what yoga we are doing but rather why we are doing yoga and if it’s serving the purpose or function that it’s meant to serve.
For example, I feel that in a majority of situations the function of yoga has been lost. There are many, many cases where this practice of yoga on the purely physical level has been causing people a great deal of injury.
- Still going strong at 92: Yoga teacher Tao Porchon-Lynch from 2006
- Sustainable Prisons Project: This amazing partnership between the Washington State Department of corrections and Evergreen State College has three goals: green-collar eduction and training, sustainable operation of prisons, and scientific research and conservation.
- The Tibetan Book of the Dead (A Way of Life / The Great Liberation): I’ve watched this 2004 documentary a few times, most recently last week. Following monks in Ladakh as they guide families through the death of their loved ones, one appreciates the importance of rituals in the live of Tibetans. Plus I love Leonard Cohen’s narration!
- Helping Your ‘Good Old Dog’ Navigate Aging: Really informative Fresh Air interview, featuring Veterinary behaviorist Nicholas Dodman, co-author of Good Old Dog: Expert Advice for Keeping Your Aging Dog Healthy, Happy and Comfortable. Earlier this year, we had a scary few weeks with our 14-year old cat. She pulled through and is now fine, but I wish I had knew more about the pet health care industry going in.
- Eco-asceticism: Heart and Soul explores how members of different religious traditions use voluntary simplicity as a key tenet of their spiritual life.
- Walking Tours as Karma Yoga: FACETS is a Fairfax, VA organization that assists “.. men, women, and children who are homeless or are otherwise precariously housed”.
… On Nov. 7, FACETS hosted a walking tour around Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax,where each stop taught participants about the nonprofit. FACETS offers programs and services at locations in Fairfax County, including Centreville, to those who are homeless.UUCF serves as a hypothermia shelter for two weeks every winter. The free hypothermia program had 236 participants in 2009. About 100 of those participants signed up for case management. Of those, FACETS has been able to move 18 to permanent housing.
… After the walk, participants volunteered to put together emergency kits and design scarves for homeless people. Other activities included frisbee and yoga provided by Sun & Moon Yoga Studio. “It’s Karma yoga,” said Cynthia Maltenfort, who taught the yoga session. “[Yoga] helps all of us. We all get more grounded and are happier. … And it’s for everyone. We want people to know that. No matter what age or abilities, it’s for everyone. It’s about being aware and being in the moment.”
- Hindu Group Stirs a Debate Over Yoga’s Soul: From the NY Times
… a group of Indian-Americans has ignited a surprisingly fierce debate in the gentle world of yoga by mounting a campaign to acquaint Westerners with the faith that it says underlies every single yoga style followed in gyms, ashrams and spas: Hinduism.
The campaign, labeled “Take Back Yoga,” does not ask yoga devotees to become Hindu, or instructors to teach more about Hinduism. The small but increasingly influential group behind it, the Hindu American Foundation, suggests only that people become more aware of yoga’s debt to the faith’s ancient traditions.
Gratefully Walking the Talk
May all beings everywhere be happy and free. May I offer my life to all beings everywhere.
As we turn our hearts to gratitude this season. we acknowledge the incredible abumdance and blessings in our lives. Spiritual seekers might naturally ask. “How can l give back?” This mantra offers us a path.
Lokah means “location, place, realm, all universes existing now.” Samastah comes from the Sanskrit word same and means “all beings sharing that same location.” Sukhino is from sukha, or “happiness”. Bhav means ‘divine mood or state of unified existence? Antu translates to “may it be so”, as in, “I promise to do that.”
Lokah samastah is a common mantra in yoga classes around the world. We all have a sense of what it means in the abstract, theoretical sense. Its a bit harder to put the mantra into practice by examining and observing how we treat others, not just in the theoretical, abstract sense, but in real terms. On the one hand. we feel incredibly privileged to practice yoga. On the other hand, we know at some gut level that our practice must ripple out externally to have long-lasting meaning, to carry through.
Ruth Lauer-Manenti, a friend and fellow Jivamukti yoga teacher tells this story in her book An Offering of Leaves. A few years ago her cat got very sick, spent two months in the hospital, and died. The vet bill amounted to what she earns in a year and she didn’t know how she would pay. The bills started coming, and she set them aside in a pile. A month passed, until one day she opened all the bills. Several of the bills were identicaL but the seoond to last showed that a significant portion had been paid, and the last bill showed no balance due. She asked her husband, “Did you pay the bill at the animal hospital?” He hadn’t, so they figured out that a kind benefactor must have paid. She was so touched, she started to cry.
Ruth says she sees herself as a person who gives, because she’s always dedicated herself to charities and other causes. Like most of us, she sees herself in many ways throughout her life both giving and not giving. We see ourselves do everything that we do, and it leaves an imprint, a samskara. Then that imprint is projected out into the world. If we see ourselves as people who give, then we will live in a world where we see others in the same way. That’s how we create our world.
The aim of yoga is to purify our hearts to get to a point where kindness toward others comes naturally and easily. I once heard a yogi say that its important to walk the talk. We chant the mantras, and also challenge ourselves to take on their meaning. How can my life contribute in real terms?
I have long-admired individuals who are able to dedicate their lives to fight for social justice and help those in need. I know people from many different spiritual traditions who combine their spiritual practice with voluntary simplicity/poverty and social justice work. As part of a series of Seva profiles, I wanted to share a column passed on to me by a dear friend, a long-time admirer of the Catholic Worker movement. In this beautifully written essay, writer Jeff Diethrich uses the occasion of his 40th anniversary as a member of the LA Catholic Worker to reflect on what the Catholic Worker movement means to him.
From the Oct/Nov 2010 issue of the NY Catholic Worker:
Forty Years an Agitator By JEFF DIETRICH
May you grow up to he righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Like many of my generation of Vietnam War resisters, I was a fugitive from the law on September 15, 1970. When I exited the plane at Kennedy International Airport, I was a young long-haired hippie draft resister who thought that you could not trust anyone over thirty. I had recently refused induction into the military, left the country, hitchhiked throughout Europe and Atrica, and six months later when I came back to the States, I fully expected to be arrested. Somehow, miraculously, I slipped through customs without notice. I had three dollars in my pocket when I stepped to the curb in New York and stuck out my thumb with more bravado than I actually felt, seeking a ride back to my home, three thousand miles away in Los Angeles. I had the same three dollars in my pocket two days later outside of St. Louis, when a psychedelic VW bus picked me up. “We’re going to a peacemakers conference,” they said and took me to what sounded like a dubious gathering in the woods not far from the city.
It could easily have been a rainbow hippie gathering or a flower child lovein, but instead it turned out to be something far more substantial and profoundly life changing. lronically, the Peacemakers were old people – I thought they were ancient, but they were probably only in their late forties at the time. Founded in the midst of World War II by three Union Theological graduates who went to jail rather than fight, the Peacemakers were a self-described “anarcho-pacifist” organization, whose members had continued their lifelong resistance to war and injustice by demonstrating, marching, sitting-in, and refusing to pay taxes. They participated in the southern Freedom Rides and committed civil disobedience against every Cold War weapon system introduced by the US. Beaten, jailed, and reviled, still they persisted in stubborn resistance.
Such heroism by “old people” was edifying for the newly-minted radical I fancied myself to be. But even more revelatory for me was my encounter at the conference with some young people from the Catholic Worker. Though I had been raised a Catholic, gone to regular Sunday Mass and attended Catholic schools most of my life, no mention of Dorothy Day and the soup kitchen subversives of her radical Catholic Worker movement had penetrated the sanitized suburbs of my youth. The young folks from the Milwaukee Catholic Worker ran a soup kitchen and hospitality house, and they had recently come from the courtroom drama of the Milwaukee I4, where their founder, Mike Cullen, and thirteen others, had been sentenced to lengthy prison terms for the crime of burning draft files to protest the war in Vietnam. As I listened to their story, a light suddenly went off in my head. This is what Jesus would he doing if He were around today, I thought He would be feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and burning draft files!
It was what the Buddhist call Samadhi – in a flashing moment of realization, I understood that all of those Gospel stories I was vaguely familiar with were not just spiritual allegories; that the life ofjesus was not just some sacramental metaphor; that the Sermon on the Mount was not just a quaint collection of spiritual poetry; that Christianity was not just a set of dogmas and prohibitions; that we were not supposed to worship Jesus – we were supposed to practice Jesus. It was the most radical thing I could imagine, and it was being done by Catholics, a group that had been thoroughly purged as irrelevant from my recently formed radical soul.
I still had the same three dollars I started out with when I arrived back in Los Angeles, ten days later. In a kind of epic journey of self-discovery, strangers had taken care of me, fed me, housed me and transported me across the country. I had been given the gift of an insight that very shortly led me to the front door of the newly founded LA Catholic Worker, where I was, only thirty minutes after my arrival, made editor of the community’s not-yet-published newspaper, The Catholic Agitator. Each day we fed the poor of Skid Row, greeted county jail releases with coffee and donuts, and regularly protested the Vietnam War.
On Sundays, the small community gathered around the dining room table, with friends and supporters, with bread and wine, to read the Gospel stories and celebrate a simple liturgy In the context of our daily life of community, service and resistance to the war, the stories and liturgy came alive to me in a way they never had in the high church environment of silken vestments, linen altar cloths, and smoky incense. I prayed that I would be able to stay at least a year at the Catholic Worker before the FBI arrested me for draft refusal. because I knew that when I was brought before a judge, I wanted to be able to say with conviction, “I am not a coward. I do not refuse to serve; I simply refuse to serve the way you want me to serve. Like Jesus, I choose to serve life and not death. I am ready to go to jail.” Ironically, I had found a home in the Church that I had so thoRoughly rejected as irrelevant. I had caught a glimpse of the original founding spirit. I had found a place to ground my radical sensibilities – a radical foundation that stretched back 2,000 years to Jesus, and even further to Moses and the Prophets.
It now has been forty years since I first encountered the Catholic Worker, and I still feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless. And though I have never burned draft files, I have poured blood and oil on the steps of the US federal building to protest the Persian Gulf war, cut the fence around the Nevada Nuclear Test Site to protest nuclear weapons, occupied the bell tower of the LA cathedral and appropriated the Cardinal’s bulldozer to protest the Church’s extravagant building project, blockaded the bathroom of City Hall to get port-a-potties for those who sleep on the streets, and placed my body under the giant tires of a dump trunk to protest the city’s theft of property from the homeless. In all, I have been arrested over forty times for various civil disobedience actions.
Some years ago, as part of a courtordered sentencing report, a federal probation officer wrote of me: “Mr. Dietrich is a sixty-year old man who works in a Skid Row soup kitchen. He makes fifteen dollars a week and has no bank account or assets and is thus incapable of paying a fine, “Over the years, he has been arrested scores of times and seems to be undeterred by incarceration. It is my opinion that further incarceration of Mr. Dietrich would serve no purpose, and would, in fact, be a waste of the governments resources.”
Next year I turn sixty-five, and in preparation for my “retirement years,” the Social Security Administration dutifully sent me a statement of my earnings. In 1970, the year that l came to the Catholic Worker, I made $2,553.82 in 1971, I made $0; in 1972, I made $0; in 1973, I made $0; and so on right down to 2009, when I also made $0. For my entire life, I have earned a big fat zero.
Some might ask, what’s the point?
You have created nothing, you have earned nothing, and you have not ameliorated injustice. There are more hungry people on the streets of Skid Row than ever, and there is another War going on that is more intractable than the one in Vietnam. What do you have to show for your forty years of toil? It is one thing for an idealistic youth to devote a few years after college to community service. That’s commendable and it‘s even helpful when applying for graduate school. But beyond that, it is something of a waste of time. talent resources, and an expensive education. After all the protesting, after all the years of work for social change, after all the decades of unremunerated service, what did you accomplish? By any reasonable standard, you are a failure.
Though I am old now I still operate out of the youthful assumptions that originally attracted me to the Catholic Worker–that basic sense of simplicity and the immediacy of the Gospel put into practice, that call to give up everything and become a disciple to serve those in need, to confront war and injustice, to be a human being, and to do all this outside of the context of an institutional apparatus, whether that be state or church or foundation or nonprofit corporation. To meet human needs in a human way–that is what appealed to the youthful pilgrim in me. Moreover, while l have not seemed to have accomplished anything permanent, the Catholic Worker was not founded with an eye towards permanence. It simply is just a living witness to the Gospel ethic of humans responding humanly to one another.
In a culture obsessed with the beauty and glamour of youth, Dorothy Day understood that it was the idealism and courage of youth that attracted young people to the challenging life of the Catholic Worker. She understood that the Gospels in practice, enfleshed in the world, were perennially a project of youthful fervor – they Were, in the words of poet and songwriter Bob Dylan, “forever young.” forever appealing to those who were willing to give up everything. to risk their lives and their futures on the possibility that feeding the hungry. sheltering the homeless, and burning draft tiles was the most compelling and efficacious and audacious thing that one could be doing. Those folks were usually uninvested in careers or jobs or professional advancement, the substantive elements of the culture, and thus by definition, “young”.
I believe the Gospels are the best story We have. They are the singular counter-narrative to our consumerist, war-mongering, media saturated, technologized, dehumanized, deathoriented culture. The story of the Gospels – the triumph of goodness and mercy over the powers of death and domination – cannot be proven, and we may not accept the story on faith alone. But we love the story so much that we want it to be true. Yet the only way to make it true is to live our lives as if it were true. To will the story into existence by our own living testimony to its veracity, thus giving witness to our deepest hopes for humanity-that is what attracted me as a young person to the Catholic Worker; and that is what still attracts young people to this day.
It is simply a love of the story and the existential recognition that the “making of the story real” is the best and perhaps only hope of humanity. What we do here at the Catholic Worker is so small and insignihcant, this practice ofthe insubstantial, this act of living poetry, this hope against hope. But, it is absolutely essential to the salvation of the world that we give witness to this alternative reality – that we say with our whole lives and our whole beings that there is another way of life, a more human and compassionate and meaningful way to live. I hope that I have lived my life conformed to this Gospel ethic, shaped by this movement that continues to call young people to respond to a suffering world, to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
But, the truth is that while young people are attracted to the Catholic Worker, very few young people actually stay at the Catholic Worker long enough to become “old people.” Along with a handful of others, I am a rare exception. If I believed in luck, I would count myself a fortunate man indeed. But I do not believe in luck, and thus I must count myself exceedingly blessed. However, even though I feel blessed, I do not consider myself particularly saintly or wise or spiritually evolved, in fact, quite the opposite. But I do think that I am probably a more compassionate, sensitive and courageous person than I would have been had I not spent my entire life at the Catholic Worker. And though I am an “old person” now and I cannot boast any more of long hair, in fact quite the opposite, I am still a hippie at heart and I still aspire with fervor to the Gospel project of being “forever young.”