Thursday, September 20, 2007

Community Living

by Peter Maurin

The central act of devotional life
in the Catholic Church
is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
The Sacrifice of the Mass
is the unbloody repetition
of the Sacrifice of the Cross.
On the Cross at Calvary
Christ gave us His life to redeem the world.
The life of Christ was a life of sacrifice.
The life of a Christian must be
a life of sacrifice.
We cannot imitate the sacrifice of Christ
on Calvary
by trying to get all we can.
We can only imitate the sacrifice of Christ
on Calvary
by trying to give all we can.

I found this piece in The Green Revolution: Easy Essays on Catholic Radicalism by Peter Maurin, a man known for his action alongside Dorothy Day in the creation of the Catholic Worker Movement. Maurin focused his efforts on Houses of Hospitality, believing that all men and women have the right to shelter and community, but more so that the Catholic faith called its followers to provide this care to one another.

Meeting this calling has not been very easy. The LACW's home is one of hospitality, hosting guests with different needs, backgrounds, vices and destinies. Adding the guests' great diversity to the already unique conglomerate of community members is a recipe for an alternative lifestyle. To put it simply: there is no "average" day.

For me, growing up with two younger brothers was a challenge. When I was 19, being a neighbor to three twenty-somethings in the middle of the Willamette National Forest was a challenge. In college, living with my peers was a challenge. But none of these living situations can match the daily trials of living in community with the Los Angeles Catholic Worker.

This is not said with the intention of putting down those who live at the house, but simply to shed light on the compromises we must make to provide shelter, food and comfort (to a certain level). It is a devotional lifestyle to live in community. One shower to fifteen or more people, a donated van that came without an engine, and $15 per week are examples of the tangible sacrifices; but more outstanding are the emotional sacrifices. Privacy and silence have their limits. Witnessing the struggles of housemates, hanging on (or saying goodbye) to that last bit of patience and understanding, and exposure to new and different mindsets are more serious examples of the challenges we often face as individuals in a community.

Maurin understood Houses of Hospitality are truly Houses of Sacrifice, but also Houses of Christ. As a community, we greet each new day understanding the possibilities that our buttons will be pushed, our goals will just be out of reach, a sweaty day will go uncleaned, and that frustration rather than joy will rule the day. What keeps us going is knowing that despite these possibilities, these obstables, we are doing Christ's work to let each guest's humanity shine. We are trying to foster love. We are trying to actualize Christ's sacrifice. We are trying to give all we can.

To celebrate our efforts, we are venturing to a Sister House Retreat this weekend. We will share lots of food, lots of drink, and lots of laughter. This is a highlight of the LACW year, and I'm glad I'm able to join this year. So please keep us in your prayers for safe travels, blessed work, and continued energy.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

LA Story

Day by day, Los Angeles presents itself with new challenges and more surprises. The following stories are some examples...

The Photographer

Last Friday, as all Fridays, I vigiled against the war with the Catholic Worker outside a cluster of federal buildings. A man came up to Margaret, Sophie and I and took our picture. Turning his digital camera away from us, the passerby sneered, "I'm going to send this picture to my son in Iraq. He's going to blow it up to a poster and they'll use it for target practice."

As the man in his clean grey suit marched away, we stood in woeful silence. I was on the verge of anxious laughter while trying to ignore the all-consuming pit in my chest. Whether the man was sincere was not the main concern. The hateful words that lingered on the street corner, the mentality behind the action, and the underlying meaning of the threat were of more concern.

That day, Sophie, Margaret and I held signs that read, "BRING THE TROOPS HOME ALIVE!" "NOT ONE MORE BODY FOR WAR," and "STOP U.S. WAR IN IRAQ." Not surprisingly, the man silently walked by Catherine and her sign noting more than 3700 dead U.S. soldiers. He said nothing to the older couple just feet away. He instead turned his focus toward the young adults and gave us a piece of his mind with a voice full of anger and words soaked in hate.

After some time had passed, Margaret broke the silence. She discussed her interpretation of the reactions of all passersby; how each reaction proves that the men and women who see our presence are affected. Those who ignore or turn their heads do so because they are confronted with the reality of our world. Those who address us with anger do so because we are displaying an opposing opinion. Those who honk, wave, and smile do so because it is how they show solidarity.

While we protest the existence of this war that continues to plague our nation, we also protest the degrading use of human life. We are not commodities that can be gambled. We are not to be used and spat back into an unsupported and invisible life. Each man and woman who is sacrificing their well being within the armed forces is deserving, as we all are, of food, shelter, and community. That man can choose to think we are against his son; but in fact, we support his humanity.

The Foreigner

After a Wednesday night liturgy held at the Catholic Worker house, the young women of the community decided to walk a friend home in East LA. The sun had already set, but we were walking in familiar territory.

As we passed through the residential area, we were stopped by a group of young boys no older than 15. They looked at us, half of the group being white, and said with a sense of worry, "Are you lost?"

All the ladies chuckled and said, "No."

"Where are you from?" they asked in complete wonder.

Sophie, being from Altadena, replied defiantly, "Around here!"

The boys just looked at the gringas and scoffed, "Yea... right." But as we walked away from the condescending teenagers, they called after us in an endearing desperation, "Hey! You girls wanna play some football?!"

I do feel like a foreigner here in East LA. It has less to do with my language, age or race than my familiarity of the area. While I might not look like I fit in, I surely don't act like I fit in. I recently learned that Pasadena is northeast of LA... it is not, in fact, closer to the beach. Or my slow and uncomfortable immersion into a constantly sunny and dry city (I sweat, I squint, I burn--I miss rain). Despite my obvious non-LA-ness, the people I have encountered have been more than happy to explain how the lightrail fees work ($250 fine without a ticket!), complain about the heat with me, or simply ask how my stay is going. It makes the transition much easier.

My new goal is to begin meeting people outside of the Catholic Worker. Everything I do and know about Los Angeles is somehow connected to the LACW. I can feel a strong need to meet new people, have a life outside of the Catholic Worker. I need to have a little bit of social independence. I'm severely ready for that independence.

Lastly: Ben Lee and Ione Skye volunteered at the Hippie Kitchen this week.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Necessities for a Catholic Worker in Training

(1) Patience--There have been countless times I could have been rude to the guys on the Row, rolled my eyes at a community member, or given up on myself. But the patience that I have been granted during my time here has helped me stay my ground and not make too much more a fool of myself.

(2) Sense of Humor--Even if that means people making fun of me... constantly. Or guys on the Row looking at me saying, "Oh Lordy. You don't miss a meal, do you? You've got a healthy body!" Or when I'm watching the movie Moonstruck, and dreading Cher and Nicholas Cage and their completely dull acting. A sense of humor is quite helpful.

(3) Embrace the Smelliness--Everything reeks. You. Your food (only sometimes, especially if you've found it in the depths of the refrigerator or it's a moldy donation). The Row. The water. The things that smell good are Jeff Deitrich's cooking, clean clothes, and every once in a while I smell okay. Luckily, I don't have as much of a problem being a little stinky. It's part of the job description. I figure the things that need the help are the smelly things. Why stay clean and avoid the work when I can get dirty and get stuff done?

(4) An Open Mind--I, in no way, agree with everything the Catholic Worker believes and/or does. I actually don't think anyone at the house agrees completely. But together, we form our branch of the Catholic Worker movement. As part of that movement, it is important that we anticipate change and keep open minds toward the challenges, gifts, and unexpected moments that lay ahead. Without an open mind, the movement can't move. It's just stalled.

(5) Sacrifice--Sleep is usually the first to go; oftentimes sleep is sacrificed for the greater good of community (i.e.: helping someone with an early shift, staying up late to hang out with community members, etc.). Comfort and privacy are definitely high up on that list of sacrifice. While I have my own room, I'm not living a luxurious life here; and I share my living space with, currently, twenty-one people. Miscellaneous sacrifices also include air conditioning, cable, skim milk, fresh produce, my own car, and copious amounts of free time.

(6) Spiritual Commitment--Margaret used the phrase "intentional discernment" yesterday. It took me a little while to really understand what she was saying, but I realize that the Catholic Worker experience itself is intentional discernment. We welcome into our hearts and minds the opportunity to change our world. We look to our family, friends, leaders, and fellow humans to do the same. Hopefully this intentional discernment will bring answers whether it be to personal and internal peace or to a bigger picture. But the journey to those answers are just as important.

(7) A Good Liver--The Catholic Worker works hard, but we know how to play, too.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Another Four Months of Training

I have given a commitment to the LACW community to live here through December. What I will be doing when January rolls around? I have no idea. But for now, it's nice to know that I have a place I can call home for a little while before/during my job hunt.

The phrase "job hunt" describes so well the process I must go through. I only have a certain amount of energy and skill, and I can hunt all day long without hitting anything. The hunting range might even be completely desolate, or full of game that is too far out of reach. The prospect of the real world is a little bit of a shock to my system still.

In other news, the LAPD has issued Segways to some police stationed downtown.

And James Brown was released from jail last week!

Lastly, the summers in LA apparently do not stop in September. The hot weather, as I have heard from numerous native LA folk, may continue into October. (Yesterday was at least 100 degrees.) Oh joy of joys.