The Darn Economy

Every time I turn on the news I hear more bad news about the economy.  And it’s been hard to see my family and friends suffer from it. Its hard to see the appeals for much needed donations to my favorite non profit groups come rolling in so often. Times are tough for so many people. Luckily I am a chaplain at a Catholic hospital so my job seemed pretty secure.

But little did I know that I was going to be one of the latest statistics in the current recession.  A few weeks ago I found out my hours were being cut in half and I no longer had a full time job.  I was sad and worried at first, then became angry, then motivated to find a new job.  Even though I saw very few job positions advertised in my field, I knew something would surface.  And I was reminded again that I am very lucky to have safety nets in my life, people who, if the bottom fell out tomorrow, could loan me a couch to stay on or a few bucks to get by. I realize that not everyone’s safety nets can do that.  Continue reading

The View from Chicago

 

Like an Easter morning

Joy has erupted

into exclamations, sobs,

and the crisp bliss of Unity. 

 

Anxiety and fear have stepped aside to

allow a new era to arrive.

Faces glow with the energy of peace

and harmonious sighs of relief make music throughout the city.

 

Just like God intended it, we live now the Truth:

The quality of a leader is transcendent of judgment and image. 

 

Another God-given truth is manifested:

History doesn’t determine the destiny,

for an individual or a nation. 

In the blessed air of a November eve

Souls rejoice and bodies dance. 

Brothers and sisters of every race, age, tongue, religion

and nation embrace with anticipation.

The scents of autumn offer a comforting affirmation.

Trees drop confetti and the sky paints a promise. 

 

Hope has arrived.

The world has changed. 

The Power of Postville

This spring, before there were tornados and floods in Iowa, there was a raid. You may have heard about it in the news. It was the largest immigration raid in the history of the country.

Here’s a few facts:

-380 people were arrested by ICE agents, when they raided the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the country, Agriprocessors.

-Most of the people that were arrested were from Guatemala.

-260 were charged as serious criminals for using false Social Security numbers or residency papers and most were sentenced to five months in prison.

-Several of these people were of Mayan decent and illiterate in English and Spanish.

-A lot of people sought refuge at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church.

-Many families were separated, and some mothers were allowed to return to Postville to be with their children but now wear ankle bracelets.

This past June, I finally drove out of my way to see the now infamous Agriprocessors meatpacking plant that I had never seen before although I grew up about 10 miles from it. The eeriness of the site was surreal. In the dark, I paused in front of the plant and glared at the endless Help Wanted signs stuck in the lawn. I was stunned when the lyrics of the Indigo Girls’ Shame on You came from the radio:

“There’ll be blue lights flashin down the long dirt road when they ask me to step out They say we be looking for illegal immigrants can we check your car I say you know it’s funny I think we were on the same boat back in 1694 I said oo la la shame on you.”

Later, on July 27th I went with some friends and Sisters from my community to Postville in an effort to ask for comprehensive immigration reform, an end to the raids, justice for all workers and integrity of the family. The event brought thousands from all over the Midwest.

Folks gathered for an interfaith prayer service at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church, where the crowd overflowed to the lawn. We heard ancient words in English, then Spanish, then Hebrew and then held them in silence. Verses such as Leviticus 19:34: “You shall treat the stranger who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” After the silence we responded “Give us Courage, Give us Hope, Give us Love.” Then in Spanish “Danos Coraje, Danos Esperanza, Danos Amor.”

As my heart and mind raced in that sacred silence I wondered, what is the power of this crowd? What is the power of these prayers?

At the end of the prayer service I heard the Archbishop of Dubuqe, Iowa, the Rev. Jerome Hanus, OSB remind us to be compassionate people with his voice full of emotion.

Then the prayers hit the street. We marched through the town and carried signs of truth and love and chanted things like “No More Raids!” and “What do we want?” “Justice” “When do we want it? Now!”

At the end of the day we rallied back in the church and heard prophets speak.

A young boy, Pedro Lopez, son of detained worker spoke the truth: “There should be no more tears,” he said. When he said it I don’t think there was actually a dry eye in the room.

The local baker, Elmer Herrera, spoke like a poet: “There is only one race. That is human. There is only one language. That is truth. There is only one religion. That is love.”

And, what I’ll remember from that day is that in Postville there is only one real power, and that is hope.

The Oil Prophet said, “Have Hope, not Fear”

I met a prophet just over three years ago while I was a Jesuit Volunteer in California.His name is Richard Heinberg and he is an economist who speaks all over the world on Peak Oil Theory. Although my theology professors would probably argue that if he doesn’t speak about the Kingdom of God he technically can’t be labeled prophetic, I beg to differ.I am not sure if Heinberg has any sort of religious studies in his background, but his message certainly had eschatological undertones.What I mean is that his presentation was heavy with fervor of end times, hope, and conversion.

I still vividly remember when my Jesuit Volunteer community read that Heinberg would speak to us about oil at our mid-year retreat.We rolled our eyes over the imminent boredom and made jokes about the seemingly inappropriate topic for a bunch of young socially active, service minded progressive Catholics.

It ended up that Peak Oil Theory was no laughing matter after all.Peak Oil Theory is about oil production and the global economy.M. King Hubbert originally suggested the bell-shaped production curve in 1956 and it was used to predict the United States oil crisis of the 1970s.The very simple explanation of the theory is that we’re approaching (or are at) the global limit of how many barrels of crude oil can be produced a day, despite demands for more.Heinberg is not the creator of the theory, but has written extensively on the topic. Being an expert, he explains it much better than I can.(I’ve heard his book Power Down is pretty good.)

After we heard Heinberg talk our eyes were bugging out of our heads and we were numbed by a new awareness that the world we grew up in was about to be no more.It seemed like a different type of rapture than the kind I had heard about from my fundamentalist Christian friends.Instead of some bodies being sucked up to heaven and the rest of us being left behind, there would be a different kind of chaos. We would see an economic recession within the United States and there would be violence because of an international food crisis.Oil prices would sky-rocket, unemployment would rapidly rise, and international air travel would become so expensive that it would become a luxury that only the very rich could afford. Suburbs and long commutes would become a thing of the past as cities would become gentrified.As a civilization, we rely so much on oil that the impact of Peak Oil would be felt in all industries and services: health care, education, and transportation. There would be all types of shortages and nearly everything would become more expensive.Oh yeah, and wars would be fought over control of oil, too.

Yeah, I’ll admit it.I’m a little freaked out by how prophetic Heinberg really is.I wanted to believe that his Peak Oil Theory was all gloomy bologna like the Y2K scare had been. But I can’t help but to remember his message as I hear the news nowadays.Heinberg is probably uttering “I told you so!” from his sustainable home in California while wondering why no one listened to him.

On our way home from the retreat my community and I imagined what the majority of our adult lives could look like if the world was really about to become so chaotic.Heinberg had ended his presentation by emphasizing that we should not lose hope.Certainly there would be chaos, and unfortunately many people would struggle.We must not lose sight, he said, of where such a drastic shift would take us. When we no longer can rely on oil for our daily existence then we’ll be forced to live sustainably.Many folks would finally walk to work, there will be less consumerism and materialism, we’ll begin to turn our faces to our neighbors with whom we’ll share gardens, worship spaces, jobs, and recreation.We’ll be community.We’ll be healthier and more respectful to Earth.We’ll be living like we were meant to live.

Sure, it’s going to be tough to turn ourselves into cooperative communities living simply like the pioneers.We’ll mourn the things that we won’t be able to have anymore, like abundant plastic and overseas vacations.To get to where we are going we must look out for one another and clothe ourselves with humility.We must teach how to live generously and nonviolently.Together we must put down our arms.We must do what we can to assist the farmers provide affordable food to all people, rich and poor alike.We must listen to our leaders who inspire us to act according to the virtues of unity, peace and justice.

Yes another world is possible: a post-Peak Oil world.It’s more possible than we realize.It’s already happening.It’s popular to eat local and organic food, to bike, to have a community garden and share housing.On the other hand, bottled water, gas-guzzling vehicles, and gluttony are becoming unpopular.So, while oil prices continue to increase and hurt people throughout the world, let’s not lose hope.We’re on our way to something different- we’re on our way to something better.