We meet the 1st and 3rd Thursdays at St. Gertrude's Ministry Center
(6214 N. Glenwood), beginning at 8:00 p.m. Folks are welcome to join us at anytime.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

ugly body

orange over me

upon still solemn sidewalk

silent under black

My breathing quickens.

the truth is too tight:

innocent men are confined

tortured to death

human-inflected trauma

in the name of national security

The cells of my eyes water what my heart holds.

my love, Jesus, tortured by thorns, nails, cross

laments stab while questions weigh on a helpless body

centuries later the crowds still scream crucify

My bones grind and stiffness sets into sore feet and knees.

prayers are uttered into Mary’s ear, as she knows

secrets of torture techniques told

“feels like drowning two hundred times.”

“hanging by wrists for hours, no sleep.”





My body shudders with shame.

trying to yell NO the over-used too-old sign bares challenge:

let it close, it needs to end.

sorrow looks through cloth pores

there, no dignity

here, fashions rush by wasting fast food, texting into cellular phones

ignoring the pain of the ugly orange body

I don’t understand.

This is the poem that floated through me when I wore a orange jumpsuit and black hood for the first time. I wore the ugly outfit at a vigil in Chicago on June 23rd as an act of solidarity.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Conversations with Thomas Merton

Written by Chris Spicer, with quotes from Thomas Merton provided courtesy of Mike Brennen:

Dear Mike:

How about a dialogue through some of his quotes:

Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.
Thomas Merton
Tom, I like that…the most heroic labor…the most difficult sacrifice. Of course peace takes labor and of course it takes sacrifice, but we all know that peace itself does not labor or sacrifice. Peace itself is GOD and in GOD’s time peace reigns. But fine, we have time and thank God we have Jesus Christ, who of course did labor and did sacrifice.

So Brother Matthew locked the gate behind me, and I was enclosed in the four walls of my new freedom.
Thomas Merton
Ha, that’s cute Tom. Confined but unconfined, it reminds me of a sermon of paradoxes by the great preacher Augustine who, reflecting on the birth of Christ issued a litany of them such as “He who was wise, was wisely silent.” The image of the gate behind and the freedom ahead, and the riddle of four walls with assumed floor and ceiling—calls to mind a style of knowing by koans, used in formation by some Buddhists in training. Early Christians sought by way of the teaching of paradox to open the mind of the neophyte to imagine a God who died, Jesus Christ.

Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present you will never find it.
Thomas Merton

Said well, Tom. Except, in what ways does the deepening manifest? If as you say solitude is not something…future? So if solitude is as infinite as you suggest, then, gosh, solitude is something more than experience. Not personal, not mine to know. Tom, are you suggesting that solitude is, what, an icon of GOD? Like looking at an icon disposes oneself to receive God’s revelation, so then may God, in one before solitude, reveal God-self. Fortunately, solitude is different than lonliness isn’t it? In solitude we are accompanied by God.

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.
Thomas Merton

Said another, the beginning of love is forgiveness. Tom, let’s say I let another be—as they are. Oh! But I want to reach out and touch, influence, and God help me, because if I’m so desperate I’ll seek to impose my will emotionally or otherwise. Who reminds us of the desperate act most—the lust after woman had by the human. Down a rib, he craved it back—to fit. I agree Tom, that in making another to fit our own image, we play as God.

The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little.
Thomas Merton

Now Tom, you’re beginning to sound a bit mythopoetic. Over and against dramatic being stands the rational self-conscious being. For being is real and in proportion to being we get bigger than our britches not by settling for too little, but by presuming we created too little. It’s our self-disgust that becomes the obversion of pride, when we think of ourselves inadequate images of God—that’s settling to the soil, dust to dust.

The first step toward finding God, Who is Truth, is to discover the truth about myself: and if I have been in error, this first step to truth is the discovery of my error.
Thomas Merton

Tom, absolutely. To recognize one false belief, just one! This will aid one to persuade ones will. And as the will reverts from a counterposition toward the true position, a process has begun, one of willingness to take into account reason, to expand one’s horizon and eventually to decide to believe and one day to consummate true belief in action!

The tighter you squeeze, the less you have.
Thomas Merton

One formula puts it thusly: be, act, have. And is God close fisted? Even Job, in prayer, remained steadfast with his grip of God’s hand, and in his doubt he preserved enough faith to credit God another chance, to recommit, to extend himself once more in a covenantal grasp.

The very contradictions in my life are in some ways signs of God's mercy to me.
Thomas Merton

Mercy. Mercy! Uncle!! Remember the codeword to get out of a headlock? When we can’t go on, what better prayer to show faith.

The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.
Thomas Merton

Tom, I’m not interested in the idea of compassion. Talk to me. You speak of basis. Now, I totally get—estoy de acuerdo mi hermano—that bit of interdependence. I’m an authority of belief, not an authority of knowledge. I am reliant on the heritage of those who have discovered God in their midst, loving, acting with compassion, recognizing the stranger as Jesus Christ. The heritage of their discoveries of the unrestricted presence of God has formed the basis of my belief. And then, by a miracle of physics—it’s my turn. Who is my neighbor? Tom, he’s a federal inmate sitting beside me in this halfway house and he’s searching on Bing web “Chicago cafĂ© rental rates”. He’s left to take an incoming call. From whom? To whom does he belong?

There was this shadow, this double, this writer who had followed me into the cloister. He rides my shoulders I cannot lose him.
Thomas Merton

Doppleganger, the Holy Ghost, divine muse, inspired Steppenwolf.
Keep connected brother!

We do not exist for ourselves.
Thomas Merton

We do. We exist for ourselves. Who? Listen closer. We listen to our-selves. We are many.

We have to have a deep, patient compassion for the fears of men and irrational mania of those who hate or condemn us.
Thomas Merton

Irrational? It’s to be expected. It’s common sense that we will be hated, despised, persecuted. Our mania is just fine with being condemned.

We have what we seek, it is there all the time, and if we give it time, it will make itself known to us.
Thomas Merton

I couldn’t understand what you mean Tom. All the time in the world, all the resources in the world, and I still don’t get it. I have a harem of hundreds. I am Solomon and I still don’t get it.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

On the Smallness of Green Energy

It takes a lot of chutzpah to quote E.F. Schumacher in an editorial that claims nuclear and fossil fuels have “smaller footprints” than renewable energy. Yet, Robert Bryce apparently thought he get away with it by referencing “small is beautiful” as a central theme in his June 7, 2011 op-ed in the New York Times entitled “Gas is Greener.”

A little background: Schumacher was among the first economists to make the argument for an economy based on renewable resources. In his book Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered (1973), chapter 4 (part 2) is titled "Nuclear Energy-- Salvation or Damnation?" If Mr. Bryce had read the book, he would know that Mr. Schumacher emphatically concludes the latter, by referring to a nuclear economy as "a transgression against life itself."

This abuse of Schumacher, and its implications are embarrassingly irresponsible. It would be like quoting Gandhi in an article applauding the merits of sweatshop labor for poverty alleviation.

The California Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) does not require “energy sprawl.” California’s largest utilities get roughly 18% of their energy from renewable sources already. In order to get 33% renewable sources, one approach would be to start by reducing consumption by focusing on energy efficiency without building any new power plants. Californians could also add small-scale distributed de-centralized wind and solar on rooftops and in backyards (Schumacher would approve) without even touching the desert habitat that Mr. Bryce is so concerned about. In fact, Californians have connected more than 3,000 MW of rooftop solar panels since 2006.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bryce’s estimates for the land impact of wind farms ignores the fact that individual turbines occupy less than an acre, and that 95% of land in a wind farm can continue under its present use after the project is constructed, unlike land dedicated to conventional energy technologies.

Speaking of "energy sprawl," Mr. Bryce doesn't seem concerned with the Appalachian wasteland desecrated by mountaintop removal coal mining, the extraterrestrial landscape of Northern Alberta's Althabasca tar sands, Wyoming's coal strip mines, the Marcellus shale watershed in New York and Pennsylvania where tap water is now flammable due to irresponsible drilling for natural gas, or the Pacific coast of (you guessed it) CALIFORNIA where dairy cows now contain trace elements of nuclear radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown.

The concern of "energy sprawl" may lead Mr. Bryce to ask what it might be like to live next door to another kind of power plant... he could start by asking our neighbors in Pilsen, 42 of whom died prematurely in 2010 due to the emissions of ComEd's Fisk and Crawford power plants.

This editorial should be seen for what it is: a shameless defense of status quo energy consumption and short-sighted economics in direct opposition to the overwhelming majority of public opinion which favors renewable energy development, especially wind and solar.

For what it's worth, I'd be happy to send Mr. Bryce my copy of Small is Beautiful so he can understand how Schumacher actually feels about comparing fossil fuels to renewable energy:

“The essential difference between non-renewable fuels like coal and oil on the one hand, and renewable fuels like wood and water-power on the other cannot be simply overlooked. Non-renewable goods must be used only if they are indispensable, and then only with the greatest care and the most meticulous concern for conservation. To use them heedlessly or extravagantly is an act of violence…”

Perhaps Mr. Bryce actually believes that all American power plants are indeed “indispensable” and the USA’s insatiable appetite for fossil fuels is not “extravagant.” Nevertheless, in an economy that runs on 92% fossil fuels and nuclear power Mr. Bryce has the audacity to claim that these energy sources are somehow smaller and therefore “greener” than the wind and the sun.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Post via Chris Spicer

The Red Eye reports a sensational event this Saturday. So what? Does it take us to the next level of comprehension? I admit I’m curious to know more about what these protesters have to say.

The Saturday protesters may, like those in a Melbourne demonstration pictured on the Red Eye site, carry signs saying “Stop Victim Blaming.” They may have other signage as well, instrumentally speaking with their bodies, baring flesh, and questioning the assumption of—scare quotes required—“dressing like a slut”.

Okay then, let’s question the assumption. Where do we begin? I’ll lay out a couple routes and let others add and subtract.

1. Within the sentence. Slut seems the operative word, assumption being: that’s bad.

2. Within the proposition. Dressing may or may not be good. It depends on the context.

3. Within the judgment. Is an ethics possible where someone’s dress in any way ameliorates the consequence that a society imposes on a perpetrator of rape?


Further questioning of the assumption isn’t necessary to prove the fundamental point. That is, we’re grown up enough not to be so crude as to take it for granted that all expression lies on a level. Psychological, literary, scientific, or philosophic levels could be recognized to exist in an act of expression according to the interpreter, and their critics.

Assuming you’ve linked to the article, you read of the reported assault and rape. A 22 year-old woman, according to prosecutors, accepted a ride to her Roger Park’s home in a police SUV from two on-duty cops. The report contends other facts, but for the moment lets’ break down two points. First of all, rape is a word I don’t like to throw around. But I have used it to make a point along with other words such as Jesus, and the Holocaust. Rape and the Holocaust are wrongs. They denote violence and connote soul devastation. They are evil but not of a level and therefore do not mean the same thing as words used metaphorically to denounce the violence of aggressors. Even as acts of coercion they differ as interpersonal direct violence in contrast to structural violence of a government aiming to exterminate a vilified people.

To go further with a Socratic maieutic art defining rape would mean for me to reveal some personal experience, of which I have none. However, I dealt with the threat of rape. Prison is statistically described as a place with an inordinate amount of rape. Some cited the statistic to me while I had the luxury of contemplating prison. I suppose they wanted me to know what I was getting myself into. Indeed, one of my celly’s told me straight up that in a world of predator and prey, I was prey. (Another inmate told me his worst fear was rape, not death: “What could be worse than losing your manhood” he said.) My reaction was “Why? What did I do to deserve that distinction? I have a slender build.

Second, it should be obvious to assume the innocence of the suspects until they are found guilty. But, and this is the strange truth of a condition, these suspects are Chicago police officers. I have to say I’m surprised. Again rape is an act of power. Not to belittle the disrepute of a Chicago police officer, I won’t; It wouldn’t be the first time a person in a position of authority became corrupt or went on a power trip. Cops use coercive power, generally, and that is the choice that gives me the most sadness. The choice, after all, is a choice, not a need; I believe the use of coercion is never needed. The so-called need to use coercive power is so unnecessary—and then, perhaps because of this same instability, it readily gives way to access.

Finally, I want to see the Saturday protesters. Not literally. I don’t have that choice right now, so, no pontificating here, I am choosing to see them spiritually. What could it look like to see the group as God sees them? Maybe not as a subjected group but as a crowd of self-realizing individuals who empower all to share beauty with confidence.

In a world where we had more integrative power our news could continually reinforce a world view of trust so that beloved community’s found affirmation and free publicity. Then a positive multiplier-effect triggered by the vulnerable self-offering of one to another or the multiple hands required to build a bridge would reproduce creativity, not disintegration.

To that end, here’s a brief anecdote for the weekend. A week ago I spoke at the White Rose in response to a statistic fatigue about the prison system. In brief I said hope derives from a practiced way of seeing the prisoner, as well as from a discipline of decoding for your neighbors the news reports of crime. To that end I have written today. Then at lunch as the conversation reached a moral, my neighbor turned the topic back to the root problem of blame. He said, “I used to blame but I stopped that. I wanted to keep that power for myself, you know what I’m saying? When I blame I give someone else power over me.”

For further reflection, recall the various avenues to question the assumption that blames the victim. When we say someone “dresses like a slut,” haven’t we some work to do on ourselves? Personally, since I read Colum McCann’s Let the World Spin I’ve developed imagination into the life of, well, realistic sluts. The prostitutes portrayed in relation to a pivotal character in the novel who is a priest, these women remain in my mind, alive! Not as objects of affection, nor even objects of compassion. I wonder if, when I next attend a funeral, I will think of one of McCann’s character’s named Tilly who knew no other way to raise her daughter but in her own trade and then, after taking a guilty plea to cover her daughter’s illicit prostitution, learns in jail that her just freed daughter, driven home by the priest who attended the courtroom proceeding, so tragically died in an accident, flung through the window of the van, her body crumpled against the shoulder railing, a yellow heel left under the passenger seat.

Biases are hard to iron out. I discovered my own while considering the context for “dressing like a slut”. Letting alone someone scantily clad to go out and paint the town red, what about the example of dressing “skanky” given by demonstrators? But wait, is a protest a context in and of itself, meaning that I attribute to its participants a moral character and endow them with a benefit of the doubt—assuming that the attire “of a slut” itself is not necessarily condoned? No, larger contexts subsume the context of a protest and therefore I believe the outward behavior is still morally reprehensible. I hope the demonstrators do not condone of the style of dress. I hope the underlying message is that some people are willing to risk solidarity with victims of rape, meaning they are willing to sacrifice the consequence of a voyeuristic and misogynistic male-majority. I hope the demonstration is about taking up the unjust burden placed on women in this society where a double standard of behavior structurally protects suspects of rape-crime.

To those for whom the risk-taking lacks right-intention, being with a mixed motive of wanting the thrill of “liberation”, I recommend the Catholic Saint of the day: St. Clotilda. Wooed by men of all the neighboring kingdoms, and demanded as a bride by the King of the Franks, Clovis the Great, this beautiful, witty, modest and pious woman sweetened the temper of her warlike husband. Then she won him over to God.