Thursday, November 17, 2011

Assorted Deepenings

Looking back on the busy day from the quiet repose of the evening, I feel peace of soul. I feel alive.

This afternoon I received a promotion of sorts at Neighbors Together. My supervisor, the staff community organizer, has asked me to create and facilitate weekly training sessions to develop leadership skills in our members. This includes teaching members the fundamentals of community organizing, outreach and networking, and storytelling. We will examine the infrastructure of government, the press, and social media. We will also develop basic interpersonal skills on which organization-building efforts depend, like active listening and conflict management. Basically, we will be learning together how to be engaged and effective citizens. Of course, for me the ultimate motivation for practicing good citizenship in this world is keeping faith in the coming city of God.

I call this a promotion because this work is a step up in complexity from outreach. Lately I have been making rounds through the cafe late during lunch and early during dinner to invite members to go with us to Riverside Church in Harlem on the 21st for a mass meeting in support of a citywide living wage campaign. Our soup kitchen is also concerned about the state of funding for food stamps and emergency food programs. So, I have asked our members to draft letters on paper plates to mail to our representatives in Congress. Last week, a few of our members visited Rep. Ed Towns' district office to discuss hunger issues with his staff, and although I did not attend, I helped prepare our members.

My voice is being granted greater authority, too. I conferred with my supervisor about the Occupy Wall Street marches that took place today, and we decided not to go. The occupation movement in New York City will not falter tomorrow for Neighbors Together's absence today. We feel that, now that the encampments are breaking up, the movement needs to figure out how to claim public (and private) space in more provocative and more empowering ways. Personally, I feel that, unless the occupiers begin to bring their disobedience directly into the spaces where the 1 percent are served (New York Stock Exchange, the banks, the Federal Reserve) and where the 99 percent are being assaulted (our state houses, our courts, our foreclosed homes), nothing more will be gained. But this is only one stage of the evolution that must occur. The other is that the movement must discover how to make its invitation to risky direct action more compelling to the great moderate middle of the 99 percent they claim to represent.

Receiving greater responsibilities is, to me, an affirmation of my talents and a validation of my ministry. I am thankful to Neighbors Together for keeping these opportunities for direct action open to our members. I am also humbled. Until now, I have organized privileged religious leaders who desire, in charity and justice, to empower the poor. Now, I will be organizing directly with the poor.


Today I felt deeply at home with the fraternity. This morning was the final class in a three-day series on the spirituality of the Gospels and Psalms. For two hours today we peered into two chambers of the penitential heart of the Bible, Psalm 51 and, in Luke 15, the parable of the prodigal son. This evening two of our friars from Manhattan visited for evening prayer and dinner. I am learning to savor these hours of gentle and quietly delightful company. By them, unbreakable bonds of fraternity are being welded. At our dining room table and around our hearth, I am learning how holy hospitality flows from and into prayer and praise.

Tomorrow afternoon we travel to Saugerties, N.Y., for a discernment weekend with 15 prospective candidates for the postulancy. Once again, our postulant class, the post-novices, and our professed friars will put on the best face of the Capuchins and make their best case for religious life with our Franciscan fraternity. Our setting, a villa on the Hudson River, is run by the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill. The weather will be cool in the day and cold to freezing at night, but it will be clear and bright.

I may be offline until Sunday or Monday. Please keep our friars, brothers in formation, and candidates in your prayers. Our religious life is a gift from God, but it must be presented anew in every generation by its unworthy recipients.

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