The Epiphany View from Oakley Street

As I look out over the yard from my back deck, even though the morning is frigid cold (close to zero), there is a little brown patch of earth over in the corner. It's the compost heap, doing what compost heaps always do, which is rot. In the process, heat is produced. It gives the birds a place to set down on that isn't cold and ice, and it's making fertilizer for my garden this coming spring.

If I look south, the house next door was damaged by a fire the night before Thanksgiving; for months the tenants had complained to the landlord, but nothing was done. That fire made 14 people homeless (although I just saw them a couple of days ago and they had managed to get another place to live, but they were homeless for almost two weeks. The place is a wreck.

If we cast our eyes a bit further afield, we find (surprise!), more of the same news that we've heard all year long. There continue to be riots in Indonesia, I'm getting email and letters about economic and political troubles in Malaysia, Russia has to import a large amount of its winter food supply, North Korea is threatening to sell nukes to anybody with hard cash, and its missiles can now reach US bases and fleet in Asia, plus Tokyo, Honolulu, and Anchorage. There are massacres in Africa and East Timor. The World Bank and IMF are stealing the rice from the food bowls of the poor.

Here at home, the House of Representatives has voted to impeach the President on two counts (doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, IMHO). The US Government has levied tens of thousands of dollars of fines against Voices in the Wilderness for taking food and medicine to Iraq and bringing back photographic evidence of the effects of the US embargo on the people of Iraq. We continue our policy of holding an entire nation hostage, killing thousands of poor people (many of whom are children) every month. As the United States stock market is reaching for new highs, the welfare "reformers" decide to target "child only" welfare cases, while Congress votes huge new billions for defense (the proposed spending increase is more than the entire US budget for food stamps, Earned Income Credit, SSI, and TANF). Look for new cuts in means-tested poverty programs in order to help pay for this. And the Bible says, "What you plant is what you harvest."

None of the above is new, you've read versions of it many times over the past year of Justpeace cyber-publication. But these mile posts along the journey of the American Empire towards collapse are only part of the story. While we can find many reasons for pessimism, there yet remain signs of hope. It's like my backyard view; on one side, a slumlord's ruin, on another side, a harbinger of the summer's harvest. You will look in vain for them in the corrupt bi-partisan regime in Washington, D.C., where the rich build political empires by telling lies about the poor. No, they are to be found closer to the ground, at the grassroots, on the margins and the edges, perhaps covered by snow, under a viaduct, tiny hints of green struggling to survive in the cold and inhospitable atmosphere created by the structures of sin that afflict this world. "And it came to pass in those days, that there were homeless people abiding in the abandoned trailers by the Kansas River over by the cement plant, and suddenly, there appeared a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying. . . "

During the past year, I've tried to chronicle some of this on-going rush of information. Here's some things I'm noticing in this information flow.

There is a new "ecumenicity" about the movement for justice and peace. I've been to meetings lately where people who have some really diverse agendas have managed to get together for specific projects, useful things that need to be done. This is good, because justice is something that affects all people, not only Catholics, or even Christians.

There is a strong spirituality about the movement for justice and peace. People of many different faiths are finding some common ground in basic principles which are found in the justice teachings of the Church -- things like human dignity, subsidiarity, and the importance of work and participation. This is to be expected, because we Catholics would say that one of the sources of our justice teaching is natural reason and law. In any event, people are understanding that spiritual transformation must go hand in hand with structural change for justice and peace to become daily realities on this planet.

I see a growing understanding of the inter-connectivity of life. The justice and peace teachings of the Church, when taken seriously, make important demands upon us. As we form our consciences in accordance with the justice teachings, the way we live changes. We spend our money differently, we read the newspaper with new eyes, we listen to others with new ears, we make different allocations of time and effort.

Information is critical, and there is a lot of it out there, grasping it is quite a challenge (not to mention indexing, filing, sorting, and using it productively). The opportunities that this information flow open up are vast and promising.

The creation of a culture of life and love is not the work of a day, a year, or a decade. It happens moment by moment, decision by decision, as we seek to apply in concrete situations the Gospel teachings that are the basis of our faith. We do not know what all the details are of the journey ahead -- and it may be an increasingly rocky journey, the falls of empires get that way -- but we do know the importance of fidelity to the call of God and the cry of the widow and the orphan for justice. It is to be found as much in the small things as in the big ones. Each time we do a "mitzvah", a good deed, we not only take our stand against the forces of darkness and the culture of death, we help to create structures of beauty and goodness, even if that which we do seems small, inconsequential, anonymous.

Epiphany is a time to celebrate the unveiling of Christ to all people -- and that includes the excluded, the marginalized, the poor, the foreigner, not forgetting the rich and the middle and working classes. In the coming year, may all of our actions show forth the splendor of the truth of this Gospel.

Robert Waldrop, Justpeace Webservant

Epiphany 1999

A Prayer for Social Justice

Almighty and eternal God, may your grace

enkindle in all persons a love

of the many unfortunate people

whom poverty and misery reduce

to a condition of life unworthy of human beings.

Arouse in the hearts

of those who call you Father

a hunger and thirst for social justice

and for fraternal charity in deeds and in truth.

Grant, O Lord, peace in our days,

peace to souls, peace to our community

and peace among nations --

Amen.

Pope Pius XII

A Scripture to Ponder in 1999

We then have strayed from the way of truth,

and the light of justice did not shine for us,

and the sun did not rise for us.

We had our fill of the ways of mischief and of ruin;

we journeyed through impassable deserts,

but the way of the LORD we knew not.

What did our pride avail us?

What have wealth and its boastfulness afforded us?

All of them passed like a shadow and like a fleeting rumor;

like a ship traversing the heaving water,

of which, when it has passed, no trace can be found,

no path of its keel in the waves." Wisdom 5:6-10

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