Working Catholic – Community Colleges

Community Colleges

Droel_picture

Bill Droel

President Barack Obama is a champion of community colleges—not only in his recent State of the Union address, but regularly since the first days of his administration.

Tom Geoghegan, a labor lawyer here in Chicago, is not convinced. College, especially community college, “is not a sure route to the middle class,” he writes in Only One Thing Can Save Us (The New Press, 2014). The context is all wrong. There are hardly enough stateside manufacturing jobs to sustain our service/knowledge economy. The U.S. trade deficit is over the top. Authentic worker participation in decision-making is rare. Plus, students carry too much debt on their credit cards and need education loans. Then, there is the high dropout rate—a topic to be examined in a future Working Catholic column. For these reasons and more, says Geoghegan, a push for more college does not automatically make us better off.

Read more

Too Much Sentiment, Part I

The Working Catholic: Too Much Sentiment, Part I

Droel_picture

 By Bill Droel

“A Christian worldview can exist in writing that is not necessarily Christian,” asserts Lisa Ohlen Harris in the February 2015 issue of a terrific evangelical publication, Books and Culture. Meanwhile, she continues, “our own [Christian] literature often lacks the bite and angst our worldview ought to embrace.”

Harris has in mind most of the novels in the “Spiritual” or “Christian Fiction” section of many bookstores—though there are not so many bookstores these days. She doesn’t like all the sweetness and sentimentality. “We do the same with Bible stories, sanitizing and simplifying them,” she says. “The story of Noah becomes a sweet means of counting by twos instead of a story of apocalypse.” Life, she reminds us, is not tidy. Most tensions are not resolved in a moment during which we “receive Christ” and shout “yes and amen.”  Indeed, many tensions are never totally over. Read more

Workers’ Participation

Workers’ Participation

Droel_picture
by Bill Droel

Catholicism opposes collectivist or state-controlled economic approaches. At the same time it opposes an unregulated market and rejects magical economics, as implied in metaphors like rising tide, invisible hand and trickle down. Throughout the industrial era and now in our post-industrial times, Catholicism draws upon its principles of participation and subsidiarity to advocate for an occupational order or solidarism. This concept is known in France as corporatism, in Belgium it is called delegates for personnel or in Germany it is co-determinism or works councils. In the United States Catholicism translated solidarism as industry council plan. (When I say Catholicism, I mean that Catholic doctrine includes economic principles. That doctrine is derived from Scripture, natural law and experience and it is available to all people of good will. However, I admit that few Catholics have ever heard about their social doctrine.)

Tom Geoghegan argues for an occupational order in his latest book, Only One Thing Can Save Us (The New Press, 2014). He draws upon the successful German economy and thus uses their terms: co-determined boards and works councils. In a previous book, Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? (The New Press, 2010), Geoghegan mentions the Catholic influence on the German model; though in this latest book he leaves out that connection.

Members of a company’s works council are elected from among shareholders and employees. Shareholders always are in the majority and a shareholder is always the chair. In Europe the employee members belong to a union, but this union factor is not essential to the solidarism model. A works council is more than an employee suggestion committee; it has some authority. The council is not involved in setting wages, pensions, health benefits and the like. It concentrates on day-to-day operations like scheduling, departmental flow and improvements to the production process or to delivery of services. The result is a more motivated workforce with lower levels of discontent. Of course, not every works council is perfect. However, the standard model of company directors detached from the actual work space is, as the economic collapse of 2008 amply taught us, flawed in practice and, says Catholicism, flawed in theory.

Geoghegan is not observing our scene from a reclining chair. He can be seen every day in a Chicago courtroom, a neighborhood luncheonette, a train station, a union hall, a community theater or a church basement. Geoghegan is aligned with many causes and charities around our city. His book seeks something that relieves government of some regulatory impulses yet at the same time something that puts brake shoes on ragged laissez faire capitalism. It comes wrapped with several provocative ideas:

  • That under proper conditions unions might be better off not representing everyone in a workplace.
  • That a college degree may not be the ideal for most young adults if our economy remains as it is.
  • That nurses are uniquely poised to make our economy more inclusive.
  • That credit card consumption cannot possibly lift our economy absent a prevailing wage for all families.
  • That the Chicago Teachers Union is a positive influence (a topic of controversy around my city).
  • That clumps of fast food workers and others who walk off the job for a short time put meaningful pressure on the Democratic Party and, to a degree, the Republican Party to address family life issues.
  • Geoghegan loves our country and its legal, economic, political and educational systems. His ideas are the subject for a subsequent Working Catholic column.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work.

Service Projects

Service Projects

Droel_picture

Bill Droel

This is a sign of the times: Thousands of Catholic young adults now participate in service projects and even in a year-long volunteer corps. These volunteer opportunities are not only offered through Catholic schools, religious orders and agencies. Other denominations and secular institutions also have service projects in which Catholics serve along with others. Volunteerism is hardly new in our country, though service requirements in school, mission trips in college and post-grad volunteer corps are recent developments—at least in their current scope. In the old days young adults more or less sought out volunteer opportunities on their own, for mixed motives: to change society, to learn from a charismatic leader, or (in my case anyway) to meet women. Today’s young adults, their program leaders and the service agencies are all to be applauded.

Michael Laskey of Camden, writing in U.S. Catholic (11/14), wonders though if “the default approach [to young adult volunteering] is out of whack.” He is all for service but, he asks, how many young adults really form a relationship with those they serve? Like most North Americans, Laskey admits to a “preference for the quick fix.” Volunteering often becomes a one-way effort to get the job done, Laskey finds. Do young adult volunteers, he concludes, ever “confront any suffering or ask difficult questions about the world” or about themselves?

At one time Laskey’s own forays into volunteerism were premised on tackling “solutions to injustices.” He came to think that maybe it is better to “start with relationships.” His acquired approach, he says, seems more in harmony with Pope Francis’ themes of going to the peripheries to build “a culture of encounter.”

“Going out to others in order to reach the fringes of humanity does not mean rushing out aimlessly into the world,” writes Pope Francis. “Often it is better simply to slow down, put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others.”

Francis intends to encourage people and so admits that some might feel “offended by my words.” Yet, he continues, the dominant culture likes “the immediate, the visible, the quick, the superficial and the provisional.” Christian service, by contrast, should first be about encounter—not “simply an accumulation of small personal gestures to individuals in need, a kind of charity a la carte.” And second, it should “make an impact on society” by “working to eliminate structural causes of poverty.”

It is hard to create bridging relationships, says Paul Lichterman in Elusive Togetherness (Princeton University Press, 2005), his case study of nine volunteer and advocacy projects that explores the tension between lending-a-hand service and partnering. The less fortunate can seem inscrutable, Lichterman admits. So the best-intentioned volunteers often proceed with partial understanding, unconcerned with the larger map of the culture and civic world around the needy. The volunteers complete the task, yet have loose connections to the less fortunate and even to one another—not only in direct service projects but in policy campaigns, like for example those concerned with a living wage or with eliminating trafficking.

Young adult volunteering is a marvelous development. Its graduates are included in the powerful 2%. But their project leaders and the young adults might reflect on their experience with an eye toward the public arts of encounter: How will this experience carry over into my career and family life? Does this experience, perhaps in synergy with Catholic tradition, suggest any principles that can be used on my job or in my own culture? And did I develop an appropriate public friendship with my fellow volunteers and those we tried to serve?

Droel is editor of INITIATIVES, a newsletter about faith and work. Get INITIATIVES and Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis’ fuller thoughts on a culture of encounter, from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $10 pre-paid).

Thanksgiving Images

Thanksgiving Images

Droel_picture
Bill Droel

Our image of Thanksgiving Day is influenced by famous paintings, including from 1915 The First Thanksgiving by Jean Louis Ferris (1893-1930) and from 1943 the still popular Four Freedoms by Norman Rockwell (1894-1978). These images serve a purpose even though they compress history and though celebrations in most homes are not as serene as the paintings.

The Statue of Liberty is second only to “that star-spangled banner” as a symbol of our beautiful country. It is also a fitting image for Thanksgiving even though again historical facts about the statue have been compressed.

Frederic Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904), the son of Italian immigrants to France, was involved with a circle of people who considered the French movement for liberty to be their gift to the United States and they raised money to donate a statue symbolizing that gift. A preview of the gift appeared at the Philadelphia Expo in 1876, but it took until 1880 before a complete statue was delivered to the U.S. embassy in Paris. The French circle wanted the gift to keep moving in the sense that the U.S. should support and sustain liberty among freedom-seeking movements around the world.

It wasn’t until 1886, however, that the statue was dedicated in New York’s Upper Bay. In the meantime a private fundraising campaign in our country was needed to secure the statue’s site, particularly to finance its pedestal. Part of the fundraising was the auction of a 14-line sonnet, The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus (1849-1887). Her ancestors were Jewish-Russians who emigrated here before the Revolutionary War. At the time her poem was commissioned, Lazarus, sufficiently known in literary society, was volunteering at Emigrant Aid Society on the Lower East Side. The poem was mostly neglected but in 1903 it was written on a bronze tablet and only in 1945 was it mounted on the statue’s pedestal. The poem and the statue came to represent the thankful generosity of our country’s residents. So thankful, in fact, that we could open our hearts to “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

The statue’s symbolism of thanksgiving is, of course, reinforced by its proximity to Ellis Island. (I’m biased toward my home state of New York. But for the record, Ellis Island is mostly in New Jersey and Liberty Island itself is in New York.)

From 1892 to 1954 thousands of immigrants (including my grandmother), having just passed by the Statue of Liberty, gave thanks on Ellis Island for their arrival to our land of opportunity. Each generation of arrivals enriched our country with creativity, social capital, culture and faith—gifts to subsequent generations. Thus the table prayer on November 27, 2014 is not only one of thanks for God’s bounty, thanks for the privilege of residing in this country, thanks for the family and friends gathered, but also thanks for our ancestors and for those new arrivals who keep the gift moving.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a free newsletter about faith and work.

Gifts That Keep Moving

The Working Catholic
Bill Droel

Droel_picture

Gifts That Keep Moving

This is the season for gratitude. First up is our national day of Thanksgiving on which we express gratitude to God for our beautiful country and for our relatives, even those who are a tad rowdy at the day’s get together. Thereafter begins three and a half weeks of giving gifts at Christmas parties and at a family reunion or two.

Unfortunately, some essential features of gratitude have been lost over the years. First, a true gift must be given with a generous spirit. Not allowed are feelings like: “If I get him one, then I suppose I have to give her one even though she doesn’t…” Or, “I wish they’d have Christmas only once every ten years so I wouldn’t have to bother with shopping for and wrapping all this junk…” In other words, a true gift must not be the result of any coercion, including subjective feelings of guilt or resentment.

Second and yet at the same time, a gift is different from a monetary trade in that it imposes a non-quantifiable obligation on the recipient. A true gift is implicitly reciprocal and its essence is lost if the gift is not re-gifted.

Take the phrase Indian Giver. It is offensive, like the name of the NFL team in our nation’s capital. But specific to our lesson here about gratitude, our understanding of the phrase is also historically inaccurate.

Those who know something about the beginning of our country know that Thomas Hutchinson (1711-1780) was a wealthy merchant in Massachusetts, loyal to the British occupation. He was perhaps the first to put the phrase Indian Giver in writing. Given his cultural assumptions, Hutchinson and many others thought that Indians take back a gift as soon it is given. Indians, Hutchinson wrote, put gifts in the category of monetary trade in “which an equivalent return is expected.” The next thing you know, Indians will expect the settlers from Europe to give back the country to them.

Anthropologist Lewis Hyde of Kenyon College in Ohio explains that Native Americans had a profound notion of gratitude and that a phrase for someone who abuses a gift might better be Settler Giver.

Hyde sets a scene in his book The Gift (Vintage, 1979). A Puritan visits an Indian lodge. In hospitality the Indians invite the visitor to smoke a peace pipe. Upon leaving the lodge, the Indians give the red stone pipe to the Puritan. He displays it at home for awhile and then, so impressed with its decorative carving and feathers, he sends it to a museum in England. Later, other Indians visit the Puritan settlement and are astonished to learn that not only do the Puritans have no intention of giving them the pipe, but that it is now stagnating in a museum. The custom, not understood by the Puritans, is that every gift contains a spirit of generosity and that gifts circulate from tribe to tribe or house to house in order to symbolize mutuality. From the Indians’ point of view, the Puritans were the stingy, uncivilized ones.

“A cardinal property of the gift,” Hyde says, is that “whatever we have been given is supposed to be given away, not kept.” Given away not given back. “It is better if the gift is not returned [to its original donor] but is given instead to some new, third party,” writes Hyde. In a sense, giving is about passing around some useless thing. The power is in the circle of beneficiaries/givers. The action of the circle is “the container in which the gift moves.” Once a gift is treated like a market commodity, Hyde concludes, it only strengthens the negative spirits of selfish individualism and clannishness.

To be continued….

Droel is editor of INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a free newsletter about faith and work.

Thanksgiving, Part I

The Working Catholic
Bill Droel

Droel_picture

Thanksgiving, Part I

This past summer Oracle, Arizona reflected back to us two defining cultural images.

Oracle with a population of about 4,000 is 40 miles north of Tucson and it is slightly more than 100 miles north of Mexico. It was founded in the late 1870s as a mining town. It seems that Albert Weldon from New Brunswick, Canada took a ship, named Oracle, around Cape Horn and made his way to the Santa Catalina mountain area in Arizona. Two other immigrant prospectors joined him: Jimmy Lee from Ireland and Alex McKay from Scotland. They found gold and named their mine Oracle, in thanksgiving for a sturdy ship and for their discovery. By 1880 about 70 mines were staked in the area and a post office named Oracle opened to serve the workers.

The first image from this past summer is of an ad hoc ecumenical group called Heart To Heart that extends assistance to refugee children. This first image also includes donors to Catholic Community Services who have filled storerooms with food and clothing for the children. It includes about 100 people from South Side Presbyterian Church and other groups standing along the road in Oracle with signs greeting the children; signs in Spanish like Friends, don’t be afraid. Finally, this image includes leaders from Pima County Interfaith Council who are circulating a petition. Its provisions stress the need for each refugee child to have a specific attorney for a time, the need for access by pastors to detention centers or shelters and the need for a maximum one-year refugee card to ease a child’s anxiety while waiting out the refugee process.

The second image is of a Tea Party group, perhaps 60 people, standing alongside an Oracle street, shouting insults at refugee children. Adam Kwasman, a 31-year old member of the Arizona House of Representatives, was among the protestors. As Amy Davidson in The New Yorker (7/28/14) explains, Kwasman and company made two mistakes. First, the bus that the protestors harassed was filled with quizzical YMCA children (not refugees) on their way to a camping site. Second and contrary to the protestors’ claim, refugee children are not “illegal,” under the Wilberforce Act. Signed by President George Bush in 2008, the law stipulates that children, except those from Canada or Mexico, must have a judicial hearing before their immigration status is determined. From the time they come to the U.S. until a judge renders a decision, those children are legal.

So, those are two salient images of U.S. culture—the first an image of gratitude and the second an image of resentment.

Gratitude is the recognition that everything, including life itself, is ultimately a gift from someone, somewhere. For most people in our country, that someone is God. In the example at hand it is the recognition that nations must have borders and have clear, enforceable immigration policies. It is also, however, the recognition that no one in this country, except for Native Americans (who are .9% of the population; 4.6% in Arizona) has prior ownership of land or resources. Further, it is the recognition that our beautiful country enjoys freedom and opportunity because its laws and its culture have always attracted and retained immigrants.

Resentment is the opposite of gratitude. It is the feeling that: #1. I have made it, to a degree. And I have made it through my own hard work; and #2. That a group just below me is getting ahead undeservedly. And further that the group below is somehow getting ahead at my expense.

There is an unarticulated side-effect to resentment, explains Fr. Henri Nouwen (1932-1996). It is a murky fear or a dragging suspicion that “you have made yourself totally dependent” on something you cannot name and a feeling of powerlessness over the dependency. Resentment “is a smoldering passion preventing us from asking forgiveness.”

Each November our country pauses for an entire day to bring the first image of thanksgiving to the fore. Perhaps we need to institute a day of forgiveness for our resentment, a national Yom Kippur.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work.

Relevant Saint?

The Working Catholic
Relevant Saint?
By Bill Droel

Droel_picture

October is a great month for saints: St. Therese Lisieux (the Little Flower), St. Boniface, St. Damien of Hawaii, St. Teresa Avila, St. Luke, St. Jean de Brebeuf of Canada, St. John Paul II and several more. And October is also the month for the second most popular Christian ever, St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). But is St. Francis relevant?

No, not unless the goal is for young adults to quit their jobs, abandon their cell phones, roam about begging and maybe repairing a church building here or there. All the while dressed in a long hooded jacket.

Wait a minute: young adults do wear hoodies. Back in the old days a hoodie was called a capuche. St. Francis never picked a standard color, sometimes appearing in black or dark green. He didn’t intend to establish a uniform for his friends and he hardly was making a fashion statement, even a counter-cultural one. Eventually one group among his followers picked a standard color that reminded people of coffee mixed with foaming cream. That type of coffee, now popular with young adults, was called cappuccino. Thus, that group of followers were then and now called the Capuchins.

St. Francis never did anything; he never launched a project; he had no four step program. Instead, he spent his career extending gestures. And for some reason, the young adults of his time thought he was interesting. So much so that hundreds joined him, creating the Francis movement.

His gesture toward the latest innovation in town summarizes all his others. You see, before the 13th century few people needed any time-keeping device other than direct observation of the sun. But when the mercantile economy emerged in Europe, people wanted to keep appointments. So a clock tower was installed in the public square. St. Francis turned his back to the clock to remind people that a life fixated on clocks (be they now a cell phone app) and tight schedules and transactions is not ultimately satisfying.

It was the same message he tried to impart by disrobing in front of a church tribunal that was mediating a dispute between St. Francis and his father, a prominent clothier. St. Francis took off all his clothes. Fashion, ornaments, car accessories, and mansions are all ultimately unsatisfying.

St. Francis once made a courageous anti-war gesture. It was during the Crusades. He and a friend decided to walk across enemy lines and meet with Malik al-Kamil, the sultan of Egypt. In a surprising return gesture, the sultan conversed with St. Francis during an entire week. The gesture did not dissuade the so-called Christians from continuing their wrong-headed attacks. But once again, many young adults saw an alternative to senseless war.

Young adults today are understandably disenchanted. Star athletes betray their profession by abusing other people and by cheating in the very nature of competition. Prominent business leaders engage in pseudo-commerce, peddling products that are unhealthy and some that don’t even exist. Bishops cover-up the egregious behavior of some employees. Politicians needlessly stoke resentment and racism.

To be disenchanted means to be away from the magic. Who wouldn’t be jaded when it comes to the magical or miraculous in daily life? Disenchantment is a fixed by-product of modern life. People assume that modern culture will provide meaning, but in its drive for efficiency our culture must dispel enchantment. We are left with, at best, an upbeat and vacuously positive approach to life, otherwise known as self-help.

Science and technology and individuality are gifts that come wrapped within the modern and they are to be cherished. But we need also to be caught up or taken up or drawn in. Enchantment means to be aware of the alluring and mysterious; to be awake to hues, shades, dialect, mood and gaps in sequence. Enchantment is outside of clock time. It is a belief that the so-called past is existentially present and that the current moment has a future.

St. Francis was enchanting to many young adults. We need him today.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work

Urban Revival and Suburban Poverty

The Working Catholic
Bill Droel

Droel_picture
Urban Revival and Suburban Poverty

The N.Y. Times recently reported that the population of downtown Kansas City, Missouri has increased 50% over the last dozen-plus years. Entertainment venues, restaurants, the arts, higher education and office firms have likewise invested in downtown. Urban planners and developers there predict downtown residents will double within a few years. Kansas City is just one example of a remarkable trend.

This trend of urban revival was first pointed out to me in the early 1980s when Ed Marciniak (1917-2004), legendary Catholic labor leader and urban character, suggested we go for a walk around Chicago’s South Loop. “The Loop [Chicago’s term for downtown] is gradually expanding and repopulating,” he mentioned as we set out.

These strolls continued over many months to include Little Italy, East Humboldt Park, Cabrini-Green, Chinatown and more. We went to many delis for lunch; chatted with contractors; made appointments with officials, school principals, pastors, community activists, real estate agents and executives. We read hundreds of neighborhood newspapers—both current issues and library collections.

“This is something like gentrification,” Marciniak observed, “but different too.” When we reflected on and then published our findings, we called the phenomenon the new inner city. The trend, we noted, contained opportunity in general. But we also said it contained difficulties for the poor.

The current recession put the trend into a freezer. A booming real estate market peaked in early 2006, but then in December 2008 and following real estate experienced its biggest drop in U.S. history. Now, however, there is a qualified recovery. And thus, the N.Y. Times reporter in Kansas City is the latest of several writers who are resuming the walks Marciniak and I made in the 1980s.

Gentrification is a simplistic term for the changes, writes Alan Ehrenhalt in The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City (Alfred Knopf, 2012). “A better term is demographic inversion,” something not specific to one factor or another. It is rather “the rearrangement of living patterns across an entire metropolitan area, all taking place at roughly the same time.” Ehrenhalt’s examples in Chicago include the South Loop/University Village, Logan Square and a thorough case study of Sheffield/DePaul University.

The current recession did not really alter this trend, says Leigh Gallagher in The End of Suburbs (Penguin Press, 2013). It is the result of lifestyle changes, immigration patterns, global economic factors and more. The appeal of suburban life might persist, Gallagher writes, but the suburban locales of the 1950s to 1970s are passé.

Cautions are in order.

#1. Not all cities will succeed in revitalizing, explains Edward Glaeser in Triumph of the City (Penguin Press, 2011). “Human capital, far more that physical infrastructure” or other components, is the key. It is not primarily a matter of financing a new hockey facility or offering tax incentives to 20 riverside restaurants or putting 15 art studios in abandoned warehouses or bringing back streetcars. Cities attract and retain people rich in human capital (immigrants and young professionals) by facilitating “face-to-face relationships” in colleges, workplaces and sidewalk cafes. Not all cities have enough social opportunity and thus not all will enjoy a rebirth.

#2. These positive trends accelerate the isolation of the poor, making it exponentially more difficult for their children and grandchildren to succeed. Plus, as a subsequent column will detail, an area’s new inner city parallels its aging, poorer first ring of suburbs.

Marciniak and I were disappointed that with an entrepreneurial exception or two the parishes situated in the path of an expanding inner city were pulling the plug, particularly on their grammar schools. So-called pastoral planning seemed limited to the physical status of church buildings and the availability of a priest for that parish. Has the strategic plan of city churches changed much since 1980? To be continued…

Droel is editor of INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work.

Misguided Voters’ Guide

The Working Catholic
Bill Droel

Droel_pictureMisguided Voters’ Guide

Our U.S. Catholic bishops periodically issue a voters’ guide; most recently in the form of a 36-page booklet, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” Its next edition is scheduled for Fall 2015—in time for the presidential campaign. In light of themes stressed by Pope Francis the U.S. bishops will edit the guide to give more prominence to the “option for the poor and vulnerable.”

As long as editing is in process, I make this suggestion: Drop the project. No one is waiting to read what bishops think about electoral politics. Citizens who carry their Catholicism into the voting booth already know how they will determine their candidates. Further, bishops’ credibility is unfortunately so low these days that their effective witness will be restored only by humble service, not public statements.

There is also some evidence that young adults become further disaffected from the church when bishops and clergy wade into politics. One’s general ideology or politics (liberal or conservative) seems to drive one’s attraction to or neglect of regular worship, write sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell in American Grace (Simon & Schuster, 2010). The evidence, at least tentatively, says religious formation does not per se determine political temperament; political disposition drives religious formation. Read more