Wednesday, March 5, 2014

John Dear Public Lecture

April 3, 2014 at 6:00pm Simple Supper and John Dear & Panel of Local Activists
Challenging Us to Get Involved, Take Action, and Join Campaign Nonviolence KC!
Community Christian Church 4601 Main Street, KC MO  64112
Limited to 300 participants  RSVP to

John Dear is traveling the nation February through May 2014 promoting his new book The Nonviolent Life  and encouraging everyone to take part in Pace e Bene’s powerful new movement for nonviolent change—Campaign Nonviolence.
John’s new book The Nonviolent Life  focuses on three important aspects on the path toward becoming people of nonviolence: being nonviolent toward ourselves; being nonviolent to all others (including creation and creatures); and joining the global grassroots movement of nonviolence.  According to John, “most people pick one or two of these dimensions, but few do all three.  To become a fully rounded, three dimensional person of nonviolence we need to do all three simultaneously.”
In conjunction with his book tour, John will be promoting Pace e Bene’s Campaign Nonviolence which seeks to help everyone become three dimensional nonviolent practitioners.  Through a movement of education, action and networking, Campaign Nonviolence hopes to inspire others to continue the way of active nonviolence practiced by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. toward a world that works for all.
Co-Sponsored by:  Journey To New Life, Peace Works KC, MORE2: Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity, Holy Family Catholic Worker House, Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet-St Louis Province, American Friends Service Committee-KC, Loretto KC Peace & Justice Committee.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

New Online Collection of Dorothy Day’s Writings

The Dorothy Day Collection at is a new online collection of her writings.

Included are all 721 columns and articles from The Catholic Worker newspaper, written from 1933 until her death in 1980. In addition, there are the texts of four books and selected articles from other publications.

A new format makes it easy to browse, search, and download the documents as PDF and Word files. There are also themed groupings of articles available in PDF and ePub formats.

The Dorothy Day Collection is equally readable on a computer screen, tablet, or smart phone.

The Catholic Worker Movement website began in 1996 and is the collaborative effort of many people affiliated with the movement: workers, scholars, archivists, writers, editors, and webmasters. Over sixty volunteers collaborated to digitize Dorothy Day’s writings.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cherith Brook Advent 2013 Newspaper

Our Advent 2013 Newspaper is now online. Be sure to read it and let us know what you think.

Cherith Brook Advent 2013 Newpaper

Ode to Joy

By Eric Garbison

     In Luke’s account of Christmas, the angel tells the dusty, tired shepherds not to be afraid.  Our news is good and it will bring you “joy.”  Matthew says that when the star stops above the stable “joy” overcomes the sages from the East.  The coming of the Christ child elicits joy, one that the entire world could recognize.
     The word “joy” has caught my attention lately; it’s not in my vocabulary.  I wonder if I’m alone in this?  There’s lots of talk about “happiness”—“Do what makes you happy!” or  “Why am so I unhappy?” Perhaps we have all been socialized by the utilitarian credo: “avoid suffering and maximize your happiness”?  And then we chase after it in a tired, anxious and depressed fashion.  But when was the last time someone described their day as joyful? 
     If there is a New Testament equivalent to our word “happy” I have yet to find it.  Perhaps because what we mean today by happiness is not part of the  
vision of God’s New Creation.  I suspect it’s because  the joy coming about through God’s new order is something entirely different. 
     Paul is very clear that joy is a fruit planted, tended and grown in us by the Spirit of God.  Indeed, he calls it a spiritual attribute second only to love and the preface to peacemaking.  Perhaps part of its spiritual quality includes the fact that when Paul writes, “count it all joy” he doesn’t leave out the suffering bit.  It was “for the sake of joy,” after all, that Christ endured the cross (Hebrews 12:1-2).
     It’s curious, however, that Paul doesn’t list joy as one of the spiritual gifts. If it describes the feeling born from the Christ-child’s coming, and if it belongs to those who live now by the freedom of God’s Spirit, then shouldn’t it be recognized as a gift God gives to some that benefits the rest of us?
     I am convinced there is such a charism because I’ve experience it.  When you meet someone like Nate Licktieg, one is immediately stunned by his sparkle.  There is so much about him that oozes joy.  How many first-time guest at our house have not been able to hold back a smile, chuckle or full-blown laughter when encountering Nate.  Some are so caught off guard by his quirky cheer that they try to dismiss him, but it doesn’t last long.  Eventually all are drawn in by his magnatism. 
     When our rooster starts crowing in the middle of the day, I suspect Nate is somewhere close by.  He mimics our rooster so masterfully he can get an almost instant reply.  I’ll come outside to find Nate propped against the fence, head thrown back, red curls dangling and throat thrust forward in full boast that seems to make our rooster jealous.  Then he turns to me with a side-ways grin and a “Hey!” 
     Sometimes I puzzle at the nature of his enjoyment of life.  I want to uncover the secret.  So I enlist him in service:  Can you help me bring over some food from the cafĂ©?  Sure!  Can you set the tables, “Sure!”  Can you feed the scraps to the chickens?  Sure!  Sweep the floor? “Sure!” turn of the light?  Sure!...Sure!...Sure!   
     Certain days I’m inclined to doubt Nate’s sincerity.  So I make a game of it. Is there something I can come up with that Nate will complain about? (why do we want to douse the joy of others?)  I don’t mean to be cruel, just skeptical.  But born from Nate’s natural playfulness is a little teasing out of me.  His authenticity makes it contagious.
     On a bad day I become annoyed with Nate, I confess. How can he always be so damn cheerful?  Doesn’t he know what’s going on around here? Doesn’t he know how hard life is? How hard HIS life is?  I prowl about in the shadows waiting for some sign of irritation, some flaw in his joy so that I can catch him and shout, “I knew it!”  But as I peek around the corner Nate jumps out, “gotcha!” and giggles at the game.  Of course Nate gets irritated at times and in his own ways, but our humanity does not undermine a charism, it only clarifies its source.
     In reality, Nate’s life is filled with the struggles of poverty.  He lives from check to check, eking out his meals where he can.  But his joy is also a real, authentic.  Perhaps Nate’s gift is to help us be hopeful in spite of all the facts.  Perhaps equal to his bleak material needs is his ability to find and inject joy into life and behalf of the community.  His presence is a force and it is infectious.  Standing somewhere between a St. Francis and “Holy Fools” (the silly saints of history) Nate is carefree amidst the chaos of poverty. I mean, there is something divine going on here that’s impossible to create with our human effort.   
     Activists are often stereotyped as naysayers, dooms-dayers and gadflies.  And as Catholic Workers we have more than our share of them all.  Our daily exposure to poverty, abuse, addiction, violence of street life can feel weighty.  Going up against the growing leviathan of Nukes and Drones can suck the joy right out of you, with despair quick to fill the void.  After years of the dirt of poverty, the mundane chores of hospitality and the incessant knocking, more than a few of us have gotten the grumpy bug or become too serious for our own good.  The Nates of our lives are God’s gift to us.  They are Christ’s joy incarnate, reminding us that without delight we will likely drowned in our despair.  
     From the stories I’ve heard, I doubt the first impression Dorothy Day left those who met her was cheery. But from her writings she clearly knew the call to joy.   Reflecting back on their Christmas celebration in 1955 she wrote, “All this merry making lightens the heart, and makes one realize how necessary it is to cultivate a spirit of joy.  It is psychological truth that the physical acts of reverence and devotion make one feel devout, the courteous gesture increases one’s respect for others, to act loving is to begin to feel loving, and certainly to act joyful brings joy to others, which in turn makes one feel joyful.”  In her devotion to the Christ of Joy she called others to “the duty of delight.”  
     This duty is not shallow escapism; we do not desire joy in spite of the tragedies of the human experience, but amidst them.  And perhaps this is one of the most important gifts we can bring to the suffering, violence and poverty of our world.  In Christ’s New Age the tables have turned: my poverty of spirit is exposed by the power of joy which then overflows into my life and sweeps me away in its abundance. 
     We have made so much pageantry out of Christmas that we have forgotten it’s tragic poverty—Jesus born in a stable.  And yet, the story reveals  that the human response to this is not dullness or depression, anger or anxiety—its joy to the World, a joy that overcomes.  This is the Christmas story. Thanks, Nate, for the reminder.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Festival of Shelters Event Cancelled

We are presently going through significant changes at Cherith Brook and we are still trying to find our grounding and a healthy stride.  As a result we regret to inform you that we have decided to cancel our annual Festival of Shelters event.  We hope that in some way during that Jewish Holy time you will remember that we were all at one time homeless wanderers and that you will remember the homeless woman, man and child in some act of solidarity. And please keep us in your prayers during this new season in our lives.  


Eric, Jodi, Allison and Lonnie

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cherith Brook Ordinary Time 2013 Newspaper

Our Ordinary Time 2013 paper is now online. Be sure to read it and let us know what you think.

Ordinary Time 2013

Life on the Margins
by Amy Hansen-Malek

When I was 19 years old, I moved from rural IL to the urban core of Milwaukee, WI with the vision of “giving to the poor” and “helping to save the lost.” I had my hero’s cape tied snug around my neck as I came to teach, feed, and clothe those on the margins of society. I’m now 36 and still live in the urban core, near Cherith Brook, where the sights of economic oppression can’t be missed. It’s not uncommon for me to see a man walking by my house carrying his home on his back or for me to pass someone holding a sign asking for money. Piles of trash seem endless next to the run down buildings in my neighborhood.

Through these years, I’ve wrestled with what it means to truly love those cast to the margins. Some days I still put on my hero’s cape, wanting to offer my advice to the poor on how to turn their lives around, as if my riches and way of life are better. Offering acts of compassion by giving food, clothing, or other resources comes easy to most of us and God does ask us to give to those in need. However, I’ve come to understand how these good intentions can be hurtful. The resources often come with strings attached, like insisting “they” listen to “us” describe how to fix “their” problems or having “them” commit to “our” programs. These good intentions also can be hurtful because they often fall very short of addressing or even acknowledging the injustices that often cause persons to be in need of resources in the first place. There are other days, when instead of wearing my cape, I carry stones in my pocket. I get frustrated by the signs of poverty and crime around me and find myself wanting to cast stones of judgment at those living on the margins, for surely it is they who are responsible for the endless trash I see and the daily crime I read about, right?

When I find myself wearing my cape or casting stones, I try to remember what James tells us in Chapter 2: 1-10. In my own words, the story goes something like this:

A poor man enters a community and is asked to sit at the feet of others in the community. He is preached to, fed, and clothed but not viewed as having any value to offer the community. A rich man enters a community and is invited to sit “with” the community. The community thinks the rich man has great resources and knowledge to share. He can use his wealth to help the poor man sitting at their feet better his life, so the poor man’s life can look more like the successful rich man’s life. However, the community has it all wrong. The poor man has the real riches because he has faith and he has inherited the Kingdom. The rich man is really poor because he lacks faith and has not inherited the Kingdom. The rich man is actually responsible for injustices that exist in the community. If you see more value in the rich man than the poor man, you have sinned. To commit one sin is the same as committing all the sins.

When I first moved into the city, I mainly saw poverty and problems around me, but I now try to remember and “see” that I live among great wealth. The person walking by my house carrying his belongings on his back may know more about the riches of the Kingdom than I’ll ever know. He may be rich in faith, faith that I lack in my life.

Throughout scripture, God reveals God’s self to and through those viewed as outcasts. Perhaps we see this because they were the ones ready to receive the Kingdom. The world they lived in didn’t allow them to be valued because they were unclean, uneducated, sinners, or half-breeds, as the Samaritans were called. They weren’t invited to sit “with” the community. When the world they lived in didn’t value them, they were ready for a new community, the Kingdom community. In the Kingdom community, which Jesus offered, they were accepted instead of kept out and discriminated against.

If we really want to become like Jesus, we can’t ignore that he walked “with” those on the margins and became a marginalized man. As Jesus showed the in breaking of the Kingdom among those on the margins of society, he showed how the Kingdom community differed from the culture around him. Walter Brueggmann, a well-known theologian, writes in Prophetic Imagination, “The compassion of Jesus is to be understood not simply as a personal emotional reaction but as public criticism in which he dares to act upon his concern against the entire numbness of his social context. “ Compared to many, I am a rich person. I can’t deny my place as the rich person in James’ story. I have, even if unknowingly, participated in injustices toward the poor since many injustices are systemic in nature and perpetuated by those with wealth. At times, I become numb to the painful experiences of those around me living as outcasts and find myself walking by as the Levite did in the story of the Good Samaritan (Note that it was the outcast who stopped for the man in need in this story). As I have tried to shed my cape and empty my pockets, as I have come to know more persons living on the margins, I have experienced more of the riches of the Kingdom.

Instead of wearing a cape or throwing stones, maybe at least part of what it means to love those on the margins is simply to sit at their feet and learn about the Kingdom. In doing this, we might learn about our own needs and their real needs. What’s more, we might be able to erase the “us and them” language, and instead, we could value one another and be together in community.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Cherith Brook Advent 2012 Newspaper

Our Advent 2012 paper is now online.  Be sure to read it and let us know what you think.

Advent 2012

God Made Flesh

Our nation loves war.  If you have been listening to any of the political speak lately, you will be hard-pressed not to find examples of violent language used to describe a whole variety of things.  We have declared war against Afganistan, Iraq, crime and drugs.  At the same time, we have also declared war on the poor, the prostituted, the undocumented, the refugee, the felon and the panhandler.  We project ourselves as ones who are right and righteous while simultaneously dehumanizing those who aren’t like us - those who are deemed to be wicked and unworthy of camaraderie. 

The fruit of all this division is oppression and marginalization.  This separation allows us the space to reduce whole races, ethnic groups, genders and classes to a subhuman status.  That’s how a society can dismiss an entire country “because they are all terrorists” or a homeless person “because they are all lazy drunks who are unworthy of compassion.”

Jesus was also the victim of this kind of labeling.  He was mocked by Nathaneal because of the town He came from: “‘Nazareth!  Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46).  This encounter demonstrates the prejudice and labeling present in Jesus’ day, but it also reveals something more; something beautiful about the heart of God.

Speaking about Jesus’ birth, Henri Nouwen stated, “Jesus is God-with-us, Emmanuel.  The great mystery of God becoming human is God’s desire to be loved by us.  By becoming a vulnerable child, completely dependent on human care, God wants to take away all distance between the human and the divine… We usually talk about God as the all-powerful, almighty God on whom we depend completely.  But God wanted to become the all-powerless, all-vulnerable God who completely depends on us.”  One might also recall the passage in Philippians that speaks of Jesus as one who made himself nothing, taking on the nature of a servant (Phil. 2:6-8).  All of these examples involve a path of downward mobility.  God’s own Son was met with criticism because He came from a neighborhood of low standing, not unlike the neighborhood in which Cherith Brook is situated.  Instead of building God’s kingdom by rubbing shoulders with the political elites of his day, Jesus made himself low; Jesus practiced solidarity.

This aspect of Jesus’ ministry is timely as we enter into the season of Advent.  As we collectively look ahead to the day God became flesh and bone, it is important for us to remember that Jesus was not born into privilege or wealth.  Jesus was homeless.  Jesus’ family were political refugees.  Jesus was undocumented.  Jesus begged for hospitality from others.  Jesus spent time in jail.  Jesus was even sold for 20 pieces of silver.  On a different level, God chose to practice downward mobility by sending Jesus—God made flesh—into the world as a baby who was fully dependent on Mary and Joseph for survival.  God became human, lived our suffering, and through the sacrificial nature of solidarity gave birth to a new, reconciled community. 
The act of God becoming flesh, depending on us, and then redeeming us provides a new framework for us from which to operate.  It reminds us of the significance of caring for others in sacrificial and sometimes inconvenient ways.  Instead of letting our taxes be the only way the poor are cared for, we are reminded to directly help our neighbors in need. Instead of spending all our efforts trying to attain power and prestige, we are reminded of the Christian’s call to the margins and to the practice of the kind of downward mobility Jesus modeled for us.  In doing so, we avoid the popular criticism of the Christian as one who will pray for someone but will “pass the buck” when it comes to raising up the lowly by living in solidarity.

God practiced solidarity by becoming flesh and bone.  Jesus practiced solidarity by living on the margins and dining with sinners.  When we practice solidarity, we find there is no longer rich or poor, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, man or woman.  By stepping down, we break the divisions that separate us and create a more lasting peace.  We invite the felon to dine with us.  We invite the homeless into our homes.  We welcome the foreigner into our communities.  Instead of declaring war on the panhandler, the prostituted, the felon, the undocumented and the refugee, we call them brother, sister and friend.  In doing so, we embody the way of the kingdom of God—the eternal, reconciled community.

As we draw closer to the day God was made flesh, let us rejoice in God’s beautiful expression of solidarity.  May it draw us closer to those on the margins - to those deemed unclean and unworthy.  By removing all distance between us, we know that the hymn, “Peace on Earth,” will not only be sung at church but will become a reality in our homes.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Cherith Brook Ordinary Time 2012 Newspaper

Our Ordinary Time 2012 paper is now online. Be sure to read it and let us know what you think.

Ordinary Time 2012

Being Placed: More On Stability 

Jodi and I moved five times in the first ten years of our life together—Fort Collins, Des Moines, Bratislava, Durham, Kansas City. Add to that almost two years in Atlanta, and back to Kansas City and we have experienced more than our share of mobility. I’m reminded of the main character in Wendell Berry’s book, Jayber Crow, who, after dropping out of school says, “It made me happy to have all my belongings in a box that I could carry with one hand and walk wherever I wanted to go.” Indeed there is something exhilarating about this freedom of movement.

At the time we thought little of our transience. It mostly felt logical (education), necessary (a job) good (a call to ministry), loving (to be near family) and, at times, a little adventurous. Our middle class culture expects this of us, to be sure. Yet looking back, it feels very different. It’s as if we have lived in the middle of everywhere but aren’t from anywhere. No roots. What one of Berry’s characters calls being a “theoretical person”.

This year we have been reflecting on stability in our community. In our last paper I shared some of what I’ve been learning about stability as a commitment to love: learning to love those particular persons around me; being willing to speak into their lives out of love and commitment to them; being willing to face that within myself that is unable to love.

Another question stirring in me is the relationship between stability and staying put. I don’t want to pit my experiences in Eastern Europe or the Deep South against the virtues of stability. They were filled with moments of clarity about our call to ministry and personal self-discovery. Besides, permanence comes with its own baggage like parochialism, close-mindedness or fear of strangers . Awareness must also be given to things like acedia, a vice recognized by monks whereby one can be present in body, but emotionally unconcerned about community happenings, withdrawn from central moments of communal life, or present only in a melancholy demeanor. So Benedictine Michael Casey wisely suggests we should not assume stability means never moving. “Stability is not a matter of immobility or resistance to change but of maintaining one’s momentum.”

But sometimes I wonder how being a “citizen of the world” (and I doubt such a thing is possible) has handicapped me from making commitments to a place? It seems inevitable that stability will require of me learning to be present to a concrete community, struggling to know it intimately, and accepting the limitations of its history and mine.

This value of committing to a place is one of the greatest lessons I have learned working with street friends in our neighborhood. Contrary to what we might think, homelessness is not instability, but the battle for greater stability amidst the volatility of life.

Ironically, for many of the homeless we know, Northeast Kansas City was and is their home. Their roots go deep into the happenings of the neighborhood. They attended Scarritt middle school, graduated from Northeast High school, went to VBS at Bales Baptist, or worked in the JC Penney’s distribution center.

For some, our chickens bring back childhood memories of gathering eggs in their own yard. Our garden reminds them of a family garden and steamy home-style vegetables at dinner.

Our own buildings are part of this memory stream as they recall shopping at Bob Mead’s hardware store, getting their hair cut from Freidley’s barber shop or watching a movie across the street at what is now a church.

And so they refuse to stay at the shelters or relocate. They find a corner in a friends house, tuck themselves in the shadows of abandoned buildings or bed down in the overgrowth rather than be forced out. I am often surprised at what great pains folks released from incarceration will take to make their way back to the area. Whatever challenges homelessness has brought to their lives and identity, this place is still an important part of their story. It’s home and they are staying. And when we stay, we become part of their story and they of ours.

What is the lesson in committing to a place? Perhaps it is that we moderns are the truly homeless, and the mainstream church shares in this displacement. We lack a real sense of commitment to community for the long haul. When we struggle with deep issue like generational poverty or our personal idiosyncrasies, wholeness can begin in the place where we stand. Stability requires us to abandon easy solutions or quick fixes.

In many of his writings, Wendell Berry calls the virtue of being rooted in a place “membership.” His character, Jayber Crow, reflects back on years of commitment to his place on earth called Port William,

“What I saw now was the community imperfect and irresolute but held together by the frayed and always fraying, incomplete and yet ever-holding bonds of the various sorts of affection. There had maybe never been anybody who had not been loved by somebody, who had not been loved by somebody else and so on…It was a community always disappointed in itself, disappointing its members, always trying to contain its divisions and gentle its meanness, always failing and yet always persevering a sort of will toward goodwill. I knew that, in the midst of all the ignorance and error, this was a membership; it was a membership of Port William and of no other place on earth. My vision gathered the community as it never has been and never will be gathered in this world of time, for the community must always be marred by members who are indifferent to it or against it, who are nonetheless its members and maybe nonetheless essential to it. And yet I saw them all as somehow perfected, beyond time, by one another’s love, compassion, and forgiveness, as it is said we may be perfected by grace.”

It also seems to me that commitment to a place nurtures stability because of a thousand daily acts and local life patterns that give us a sense of belonging. In this short time we have worked hard at establishing local patterns. Buying from our neighborhood grocery store or investing in a local business that employs our neighbors is not simply convenient, but it helps our lives overlap. One of the cashiers is a former homeless friend and behind each encounter and warm greeting is a celebration of her success.

Sending Diana and Henri to the local school brings us in relationship with families that live just a few streets up. Our evening walks take us in the direction of their homes. When we ride our bikes to church we see street friends in their fuller rhythms and appreciate them in new ways. Old patterns seem to merge into new ones, until ultimately there is a web of connectedness that is the gift of time.

Planting perennials can be seen as a spiritual discipline of this sort. Three years ago we planted peach trees in hope and anticipation. This year we awed as peaches emerged and giggled as they grew and ripened. Last year we planted pecan trees, an act of faith, for as saplings, they have no fruit yet to offer. Each year they survive I am more invested in their health, more devoted to their survival. And the desire within me grows to see their fruit.

This parable of the pecan tree begins with the assumption that I am tending the tree, that I chose to plant it and continue to care for it. In short, I am the cultivator of it. But those thousands of daily acts in one place have their effect on me, too. As the tree roots mine the earth, so my roots are winding their way through the darkness and we are being born anew from the same soil. As Jayber Crow reflects in his old age, “ I had laid my claim on the place, had made it answerable to my life. Of course, you can’t do that and get away free. You can’t choose, it seems, without being chosen. For the place, in return had laid its claim on me and had made my life answerable to it.”