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Archive for December, 2013

Insidious

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Today, while delivering mail, I noticed an ad for the Ohio Lottery in the DPS.

(DPS is “delivery point sequence” mail, sorted and ordered by computer. This has made my job ever so much more pleasant; while we once spent up to four or five hours in the office sorting mail, now it is more like one and a half or two hours indoors, with the rest outside).

The lottery ad was not anything close to full coverage; just scattered here and there.

When I got to the one subsidized housing development on my route though, every single address received an ad.

I have spoken before in defense of the logic of the poor buying lottery tickets, however stupid it may appear, given the odds: “Of course the odds are astronomically against a big win. But they are astronomically against whoever in fact scores the winning ticket too. It could be me.”

But the State knows the odds; knows full well that what it is doing is preying on the hopes of the hopeless, that it in fact is taking far more from the poor than it will ever deliver to them.

Insidious, absolutely insidious.

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Remember This Guy?

I dunno; was he assassinated or something? Maybe a double substituted?

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A Second Vocation

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One of the perks of being a letter carrier is that many people give you gifts at Christmas. This year, among other things, I received over $50 in gift cards for Burger King. As the place does have salads, various kinds of chicken, and low fat fries, it is not impossible to eat reasonably healthy there, so I have been using my cards.

The other day the young man who took my order asked if the Post Office was hiring. I told him that I was not sure, but he could go to the website (www.usps.gov) and see if they were accepting applications. I noted that it would beat working at Burger King; while our last, arbitrated, contract ended up cutting new hires’ wages by a third, it is still about double minimum wage, with long term substantial wage increases if you stick it out. I said that surviving on BK wages must be hard. He said, yeah, he has four kids. Man, I replied, that must be rough. He said not only that but his work had been cut to thirty hours a week, lest they have to pay for health benefits, as the new health care law stipulates.

“Sons of bitches”, I replied, and pointed out that the guys higher up in the corporation were living lives of ease, their wealth the fruit of his labor. And I noted the nascent movement among fast food workers agitating for a minimum wage increase; he was vaguely aware of this.

Indeed, looking it up later I found that the CEO of Burger King makes $6.5 million a year. Next time I see the young man I will make a point to tell him this.

This has become a sort of second vocation for me, stirring up low paid workers.

I am sort of in an interesting place. I am a letter carrier. I get a decent wage, but with seven kids at home and a wife who stays home with the young ones, my life has a lot in common with lower wage workers. Granted, aside from the wages I have many advantages from my union job that they do not share: paid sick leave, generous vacation and holiday pay, a pension. And the people I work with, though technically working class -they earn their bread from physical labor- live solidly middle class lives. Only one other carrier has more than three children, for one thing, and I am the only one whose spouse does not work outside the home. If you make a carrier’s salary and your spouse has a middling job, you have a six figure household income. Nearly all of them live in nice houses on either acreage or in a subdivision.

Me, I live in a working class neighborhood, and our house is old and funky. My neighbors struggle.

I have found that most low wage workers are too immersed in trying to make ends meet to think much about the bigger picture. But I also find that when you take the time to talk to them, they quickly grasp the injustice of their situation.

Like the guy at the Speedway gas station down the street. He was conversing with the man ahead of me in line and made some comment about not being able to afford something or other on minimum wage. I expressed surprise at this; wasn’t he a manager? Yes, he was, he said, but had been told that maybe he would get a raise if profits were high enough. When I got home I did some research and found that the CEO of his company made some $3 million a year, which fact I shared with the manager the next time I saw him. He no longer works there, and I hope he has found a better job.

Thus, my new vocation.

Call it consciousness-raising, or call it hell-raising, or just call it agitation. If we are ever going to challenge the corporate capitalist system, the one Francis calls “unjust at its root”, the one that has destroyed the working class and left the poor in desperation, even as the wealth of the rich grows to obscene levels, the raising of awareness among the victims of the system is a good place to start.

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Good Rich, Bad Poor

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The Moral Minority

This somehow seems relevant when we are celebrating the birth of a child born in a cave, soon to be a refugee:

‘The House, refuge of the shrunken-heart caucus, has passed a measure to eliminate food aid for four million Americans, starting next year. Many who would remain on the old food stamp program may have to pass a drug test to get their groceries. At the same time, Congress has let unemployment benefits expire for 1.3 million people, beginning just a few days after Christmas.

These actions have nothing to do with bringing federal spending into line, and everything to do with a view that poor people are morally inferior. Here’s a sample of this line of thought:

“The explosion of food stamps in this country is not just a fiscal issue for me,” said Representative Steve Southerland, Republican from Florida, chief crusader for cutting assistance to the poor. “This is a defining moral issue of our time.”

It would be a “disservice” to further extend unemployment assistance to those who’ve been out of work for some time, said Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky. It encourages them to sit at home and do nothing.

“People who are perfectly capable of working are buying things like beer,” said Senator James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, on those getting food assistance in his state.

No doubt, poor people drink beer, watch too much television and have bad morals. But so do rich people. If you drug-tested members of Congress as a condition of their getting federal paychecks, you would have most likely caught Representative Trey Radel, Republican of Florida, who recently pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine. Would it be Grinch-like of me to point out that this same congressman voted for the bill that would force many hungry people to pee in a cup and pass a drug test before getting food? Should I also mention that the median net worth for new members of the current Congress is exactly $1 million more than that of the typical American household — and that that may influence their view?’

Read the rest of this extraordinarily fine article by Timothy Egan, from The New York Times here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/20/opinion/egan-good-poor-bad-poor.html?_r=0

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To Flower in Countless Lives

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“. . . the Incarnation means that Christ gave Himself to human nature to be its supernatural life, as the seed gives its life to the dark hard earth. Christ, sown in the soil of Mary’s humanity, was the seed given to human nature, to flower in countless lives, to be unnumbered springs, flowering, harvest, resurrections of the human heart.”

Caryll Houselander

Icon by Jyrki Pouta.

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The War Against Christmas

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No, not that one, the one Bill O’Reilly and Sarah Palin trot out every year to keep their troops defensive and pissed off.

I’m talking about the one waged in my own life.

Much as I love the reality of the Nativity, I am a letter carrier. This is the hair-hairiest time of the year for us. I have been delivering mail in the dark for a week (I wear a head lamp, like a coal miner), coming home exhausted, trying to squeeze in Christmas shopping and other preparations.

Though nothing, I hope, will ever rival the Christmas a few years ago, when my bride was home with a sick baby and I had to do a marathon shopping trip on my one day off, a couple of days before the feast. While coming down with the flu.

I ended the long day sitting in a Chinese restaurant, as the chill I had been carrying all day long broke into a fever.

It would be one thing if the soundtrack to all this was composed of lovely carols, reminding us of “our dear Saviour’s birth”, but no. In every store and on the office radio all I hear is Holiday Music, all about Santa and reindeer running over grandma and dogs barking out “Jingle Bells”.

In the office, where I spend the first two or three hours of the day, the radio is tuned to the oldies station, which is where you get to hear, besides Paul McCartney’s “classic” Wonderful Christmas Song (hard to believe that this is the guy who wrote “Penny Lane”) Bruce Springsteen singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and Madonna oozing “Santa Baby”.  The one actual carol that is played is by Stevie Nicks, in which she slowly strangles “Silent Night”. The oldies station is where you hear pop stars slaughtering classics, or worse, penning their own Holiday Music.

All pretty depressing, and all militating against the spirit of the Nativity worse than any militant secularist brigade of the Tea Party’s feverish dreams.

I doubt I will be posting much between now and Christmas; say a prayer that grace may touch me in spite of it all. I do plan to attend Christmas Liturgy at St George Romanian Cathedral; Bishop John Michael’s homilies are reliably spiritual and challenging.

Which I am going to need by then.

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Meg And Her Sisters

Yesterday I posted a video of the phenomenally talented Meg Rubin. It turns out she is hardly the only talent in the family. This is a video of Meg and two of her sisters, as remarkable as her solo tune. Both of these songs were composed by Meg Rubin…

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Just Wow

I have learned a lot on Facebook.

Like all those tests that people post. I have learned that I am 78% right brained, which is probably why I feel a bit out-of-kilter, and why I am a little too perceptive, which makes me uncomfortable in social situations too often.

And I learned that my mental age is 28, which sounds precisely right.

And I have learned that it is futile to argue with idiots and ideologues.

But I have also learned that there is an unheralded huge talent loose in the world, in the person of one Meg Rubin.

I learned this from a FB post by her aunt, Maria Garvey O’Grady, whom I dated briefly in the early 90s. Indeed, I believe that I met Meg, who is in her mid-twenties,  when she was a small child, as we had visited her family.

Meg Rubin’s father is Jewish, a convert to Catholicism, and her mother is NYC Irish, and Meg’s amazing voice, with such depth and range, is a testament to what can happen when two such gifted tribes merge.

 I am just stunned…

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From the latest interview:

Some of the passages in the “Evangelii Gaudium” attracted the criticism of ultraconservatives in the USA. As a Pope, what does it feel like to be called a “Marxist”?

“The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”

The most striking part of the Exhortation was where it refers to an economy that “kills”…

“There is nothing in the Exhortation that cannot be found in the social Doctrine of the Church. I wasn’t speaking from a technical point of view, what I was trying to do was to give a picture of what is going on. The only specific quote I used was the one regarding the “trickle-down theories” which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and social inclusiveness in the world. The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger nothing ever comes out for the poor. This was the only reference to a specific theory. I was not, I repeat, speaking from a technical point of view but according to the Church’s social doctrine. This does not mean being a Marxist.”

You announced a “conversion of the papacy”. Did a specific path emerge from your meetings with the Orthodox Patriarchs?

“John Paul II spoke even more explicitly about a way of exercising the primacy which is open to a new situation. Not just from the point of view of ecumenical relations but also in terms of relations with the Curia and the local Churches. Over the course of these first nine months, I have received visits from many Orthodox brothers: Bartholomew, Hilarion, the theologian Zizioulas, the Copt Tawadros. The latter is a mystic, he would enter the chapel, remove his shoes and go and pray. I felt like their brother. They have the apostolic succession; I received them as brother bishops. It is painful that we are not yet able to celebrate the Eucharist together, but there is friendship. I believe that the way forward is this: friendship, common work and prayer for unity. We blessed each other; one brother blesses the other, one brother is called Peter and the other Andrew, Mark, Thomas…”.

Is Christian unity a priority for you?

“Yes, for me ecumenism is a priority. Today there is an ecumenism of blood. In some countries they kill Christians for wearing a cross or having a Bible and before they kill them they do not ask them whether they are Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox. Their blood is mixed. To those who kill we are Christians. We are united in blood, even though we have not yet managed to take necessary steps towards unity between us and perhaps the time has not yet come. Unity is a gift that we need to ask for. I knew a parish priest in Hamburg who was dealing with the beatification cause of a Catholic priest guillotined by the Nazis for teaching children the catechism.  After him, in the list of condemned individuals, was a Lutheran pastor who was killed for the same reason. Their blood was mixed. The parish priest told me he had gone to the bishop and said to him: “I will continue to deal with the cause, but both of their causes, not just the Catholic priest’s.” This is what ecumenism of blood is. It still exists today; you just need to read the newspapers. Those who kill Christians don’t ask for your identity card to see which Church you were baptised in. We need to take these facts into consideration.”

Read the whole interview, from La Stampa, here: http://www.lastampa.it/2013/12/14/esteri/vatican-insider/en/never-be-afraid-of-tenderness-5BqUfVs9r7W1CJIMuHqNeI/pagina.html

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With Love and Tenderness

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My bride has long said that when she hears grumbling about undocumented Latino immigrants, she wonders how people can reject the “little mother” of Guadalupe. Apparently the Holy Father agrees:

“When Our Lady appeared to Saint Juan Diego, her face was that of a woman of mixed blood, a mestiza, and her garments bore many symbols of the native culture. Like Jesus, Mary is close to all her sons and daughters; as a concerned mother, she accompanies them on their way through life. She shares all the joys and hopes, the sorrows and troubles of God’s People, which is made up of men and women of every race and nation.

When the image of the Virgin appeared on the tilma of Juan Diego, it was the prophecy of an embrace: Mary’s embrace of all the peoples of the vast expanses of America – the peoples who already lived there, and those who were yet to come. Mary’s embrace showed what America – North and South – is called to be: a land where different peoples come together; a land prepared to accept human life at every stage, from the mother’s womb to old age; a land which welcomes immigrants, and the poor and the marginalized, in every age. A land of generosity.

That is the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and it is also my message, the message of the Church. I ask all the people of the Americas to open wide their arms, like the Virgin, with love and tenderness.”

 -Pope Francis

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