June 08, 2009

A Walk, A Protest, A Birthday, & A Death


“Jesus, the Blessed One, is poor. The poverty of Jesus is much more than an economic or social poverty. Jesus is poor because he freely chose powerlessness over power, vulnerability over defensiveness, dependency over self-sufficiency. As the great "Song of Christ" so beautifully expresses: "He ... did not count equality with God something to be grasped. But he emptied himself, ... becoming as human beings are" (Philippians 2:6-7). This is the poverty of spirit that Jesus chose to live. Jesus calls us who are blessed as he is to live our lives with that same poverty.”
--Henri Nouwen

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned (and am still learning) over the last six months can be summed up in Nouwen’s quote. As I’ve embarked on this life at the Cherith Brook Catholic Worker I’ve experienced many things that have challenged and stretched me in ways I never thought possible. Below are some prayerful reflections on a few things we’ve been up to at Cherith Brook.

On Holy Friday, about 100 of us walked on the downtown streets of Kansas City to reflect on the suffering of Christ as he carried his cross. There was one twist though; every station represented a way in which the “least of these” were suffering in our midst. I had the privilege of leading a station on behalf of our community in front of an organization called Hope/Faith Ministries. Like Hope/Faith, Cherith Brook acts as Simon did when he carried Jesus’ cross for a time. We try to be burden sharers, a relief to those who have carried a heavy load for some time.

This connection with Jesus and Simon was especially moving to me as it raised my awareness of how Jesus, like many I see daily, experienced the feelings of helplessness and loneliness during an intense moment of crisis. What is so remarkable is that Simon, like Cherith Brook, was compelled to act. He saw Jesus in struggle and couldn’t help but come alongside and offer some relief. At Cherith Brook we deeply believe in this kind of dependence, where we “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

Reflecting in front of a deportation court

A prayer: May we learn to share in the joys and struggles of our neighbor and the poor.

These past few months have brought with it things I’ve never before done. While on retreat recently, I attended a vigil being held at a deportation prison in Amsterdam. Here they housed illegal immigrants until they could be deported. It was a moving ceremony as we mourned those who died in a fire that happened at the prison a year prior, offered prayers that our friends behind the fences and bars would be treated like humans, and asked that we would learn once more what it means to welcome the stranger as the Israelites did with people like Rahab.

A flower hangs on these bars to show the illegal immigrants that someone cares for them

On another retreat recently, our community met up with many other Catholic Worker Houses to play together, eat together, worship together, and learn together. At the end of these retreats there is generally some sort of nonviolent action planned so we can physically stand in the way of whatever injustice we agree to address. It is a way for us to put feet to huge evils that in many cases paralyze us.

On this particular trip we spent the weekend learning about the privatization of our military and police force and what effect it has on the poor both here and abroad. After a weekend of prayer and reflection, we decided to act on behalf of those living in war-torn areas as well as those living in neighborhoods like the Historic Northeast. We decided to stand up against corporations that have a profit motive for continued war and conflict, against corporations that can’t be held accountable for their actions in any US or international court of law, against corporations that have massive human rights violations on their hands.

One hundred of us gathered at a large field that the Blackwater corporation devoted to war and violence in order to reclaim it for things that are life giving--hospitals, schools, gardens, and playgrounds. In the process of this nonviolent action, some people ended up getting arrested for standing up for peace and justice--the very thing Jesus calls us to. I know that last sentence may have freaked you out, but let’s remember that Jesus’ disciples (and Jesus himself) spent plenty of time in prison for being about the kingdom of God. Jesus and his followers were looked upon as social agitators because they were spreading a movement that wasn’t violent like the zealots but still did not fear the Roman sword. Jesus and his followers simply lived into the reality of God’s kingdom being at hand--where people would study war no more, where there would be no Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, where there would be no more pain or suffering. Basically, they took the greatest command--to love God and others--and went out to loosen the chains of injustice, always inviting people into the loving arms of Christ and welcoming people into the family--the church. This kind of movement upset the Roman empire because the Christians were breaking unjust laws and were proclaiming Jesus as Lord instead of Caesar.

Catholic Workers from all over the midwest

I was one of those arrested, and it’s not something I say as a way to boast. I say it in order to bring to our attention the fact that we live in a world where people are too busy with life to ever stand up for something. In fact, many times we even look down upon those who sacrifice their time to stand in solidarity with the hurting, shouting things like, “Get a real job,” as we whiz by in our cars. I’m not upset that people have shouted these things at me but it does sadden me that this is the accepted norm. As Christians, shouldn’t everything be flipped around? Shouldn’t we be the ones willing to make time to love those who are hurting? Shouldn’t we be the ones willing to suffer alongside those who are tossed aside and neglected? Shouldn’t the question we ask be, “Why are you too busy to stand up and sacrifice for something bigger than yourself?” I think that it’s the world that has truly gone mad when people become so wrapped up in busyness that we lose the eye to see the marginalized and broken, the poor and neglected, the widow and the orphan, the elderly and forgotten. After all, what is more important? Who is it we are called to serve? Money or people? We can only serve one master, so the question now is who will we serve? I pray that both you and I serve God instead of profit, as money vies for our attention and time.

A prayer: May we gain the courage to stand up against injustice as Jesus did while simultaneously living out the change we wish to see in the world.

This past May Day, Cherith Brook got together with the Holy Family Catholic Worker to celebrate the 75th birthday of the Catholic Worker Movement. It was a beautiful night filled with lots of great people, yummy popcorn, beautiful art, and an incredible talent show. As I sat and took in all the songs, poems, raps, and magic tricks I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear. I had never been to such a sweet gathering where so many different people with so many different stories and backgrounds came together to offer their gifts to the community. It was refreshing to see everyone hoot and holler after each person finished their act, without critique.

We’ve become so accustomed to the American Idol way of critiquing and ranking people according to their abilities that we have lost the beauty in simply accepting and loving what people bring to the table simply because it’s them bringing it. I was unbelievably grateful by the end of the night because I know I got a glimpse of what it would look like if everyone was free to be uniquely them, as God intended. I got to see what it would look like if we treated others as brothers and sisters, not competition to knock over in order to get ahead.

Cherith Brook played some old labor songs for the talent show

A prayer: May we slow down more in order to enjoy another’s company and appreciate the beautiful gifts they have to offer, without critique.

There are some people we meet in life that have a profound impact on us. One such man who was a frequent guest at our house was Wayne Walker. I say “was” because he recently died and is now at rest. A few months ago Wayne was living with us and on one particular night he was having some heart trouble. Our community had just finished with our Thursday night meal and was sitting down to watch a movie as his knock at the door came. Jodi and myself drove him to the hospital that night and there we encountered something really special. We laughed lots that night, but at one point in the conversation he broke down and started weeping. He said that he was so thankful for us to be there with him in the hospital because he didn’t want to die alone. He then went on to say that he was thankful for us to be there because he couldn’t remember the last time his family had done such a thing for him. He told us that he loved us like his own family.

That night stuck with me. As the months wore on we’d see Wayne every now and again, and he would usually drop by in his ice cream truck. We would purchase some popsicles and chat with him for awhile. About a month ago Wayne fell down some steps and died outside and alone. It devastated me given the conversation we had that night at the hospital. Every time I hear an ice cream truck now I think of Wayne, and most times I’ll pause to say a little prayer.

I tell this story because life is hard for many in our neighborhood. There is a lot of violence that happens here, and even though Wayne’s story may or may not have involved foul play, it made me realize once more why all of creation groans for God’s peaceable kingdom to be established once and for all. These types of stories remind me of how trivial and meaningless violence is. There are many in our neighborhood (and many countries all over the world) who quarrel over resources and property and dominance. Our God is a God of enough, a God of peace, a God of Love. When we really put things into perspective, as death generally does for us, suddenly the meaningless bickering is exposed for what it is--complete folly. Jesus had a good handle on what needed to be the guiding principle of his followers who were to work towards the kingdom of God, and that principle was love. Pure, sacrificial, unconditional love. If we don’t have that, we have nothing. We just perpetuate the violence, the hate, and the wars. What we need is the entire body of Christ to practice living out the reality of the Lord’s Prayer. From forgiveness to dependence on God for our DAILY bread, this world desperately needs a people who are ready to live out a different way--the way of Jesus. Let’s encourage one another towards that end.

A prayer: May we be a people of peace, a people of love, and may we constantly profess Jesus’ vision for the world and his children.

I share all of these stories to show the possibility (and beauty) of living the life of poverty Jesus called us to. It is not something reserved for people like Mother Teresa, it is a call for all of God’s children. When we practice dependency, vulnerability, generosity, and solidarity our lives change. We read the Scriptures differently; we see things differently; we love differently. The life at Cherith Brook is just one attempt to live into the poverty of Jesus, but it by no means is the only way. My prayer is that we will all live lives marked by the poverty of Jesus because it will lead to true freedom, true love, and true fulfillment...and you’ll have some good stories to tell. Peace be with you.


  1. http://www.prizerebel.com/index.php?r=1036734

  2. nick -- thanks for your reflections! i felt much of the same way after the May1 celebration- this is what catholic worker is about- come as you are, share your gifts, no one is volunteer or guest.

  3. Great that you made the protest. At the moment I am in Dijon, France enjoying a much slower life away from all the madness.