Northwest Catholic’s Thursdays in the City

In a segment on NBC 30, see students at Northwest Catholic sharing time with kids at the Green House.

By | 2017-06-14T06:24:59+00:00 June 14th, 2017|Uncategorized|Comments Off on

HCW T-Shirts Now Available

Yeah, that’s Jada and Tylon P. modeling our new Hartford Catholic Worker t-shirts. The shirts read “The Hartford Catholic Worker” above our logo. Below the logo is a quote from Daniel Berrigan S.J. “Know where you stand and stand there.” We will be giving our graduates t-shirts at the graduation party. Not graduating? No worries. Hit us up for one for only ten bucks!! Throw in a couple more bucks if you want it mailed to you but wouldn’t it be better to come by and pick one up? Sizes: Adult S, M, L, XL, and XXL. Colors: Orchid or Pistachio.


By | 2017-05-18T21:37:37+00:00 May 18th, 2016|Uncategorized|Comments Off on HCW T-Shirts Now Available

Sister Samaritan

Sister Samaritan

Christopher J. Doucotgood-samaritan

I once met a Samaritan man at Jacob’s Well in the Palestinian city of Nablus which is home to about 500 of the one thousand or so remaining Samaritans. He was an outsider among outsiders. He is neither a Palestinian nor an Israeli, he is not a Christian, a Moslem or a Jew. He is a stranger in his homeland.

When we read the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) today from our Twenty-first century Christian perspective we typically identify with the role of the Samaritan and proudly claim those in need as our neighbor. This morning I want to reconsider who the neighbor is in this parable and I want to suggest that identifying with the Samaritan implies a mandate we may not be aware of.

In considering the parable of the Good Samaritan we have to begin with a look at what is signified by declaring him “Good”. Like the Samaritans of today, the Samaritans of Jesus’ day were outsiders. Despite their centuries long claim to the land and their adherence to the Torah they were not welcomed as children of Israel; they were outcasts not Jews. In the Book of Sirach, Ben Sira writes: “My whole being loathes two nations, the third is not even a people:*The inhabitants of Seir* and Philistia, and the foolish people who dwell in Shechem. (Sirach 50:25-26) The “foolish people” who are “not even a people” are the Samaritans. The parable is the story of the “Good” Samaritan because the Samaritans as a people were not seen as Good. Good is used here pejoratively like it is sometimes used today racists- like the man I met last summer in Voluntown who referred to the “Good” Black people he knew in contrast with the “bad” majority.

In the story a lawyer questions Jesus about what he needs to do to inherit eternal life and thus foreshadows what the rich man will ask Jesus in chapter 18. Unsatisfied with Jesus’ response to love God with all his heart mind and soul and his neighbor as himself the lawyer, being a lawyer, further interrogates Jesus by asking who is his neighbor. Jesus responds with the story of the Good Samaritan and we all assume that Jesus is making the case that the wounded man is the neighbor. But that is not Jesus’ point. On redirect Jesus interrogates the lawyer asking who was neighbor to the wounded traveler: the priest, the Levite or the Samaritan? In doing so Jesus is redefining neighbor. Presumably the priest and the Levite, and the lawyer as well, were using the law to conclude that the wounded man was not their neighbor. Jesus, though, wants to define neighbor as someone who is an agent of compassion. The neighbor is not one who needs help, the neighbor is one who helps those in need.

The Samaritan, despite his status as a stranger and maybe even an enemy, is the neighbor in this story because he acted with compassion toward someone in need. The Samaritan came to the aid of the wounded traveler because through his status as a despised outsider he had a different perspective on the situation. He literally saw things differently because of his outside and subordinated status. To use a sociological term, his social location as a member of an oppressed group engendered in him an analysis of the situation that did not rely on the laws that codified his oppressed status. As someone who knew oppression he could identify with the suffering of the man in the road, and he knew that the right thing to do was to be in solidarity with the man by offering assistance. Laws may keep us from doing wrong, but love prompts us to do justice.

In 1996 a small group of Ku Klux Klansmen had a rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They were met by three hundred righteously indignant anti-Klan protestors. At some point the protestors noticed a man in their midst with Nazi SS tattoos and a Confederate flag shirt. The group transformed from a gathering of protestors to a mob. They chased the man, threw him to the ground and began kicking him and beating him with sticks. At that point an 18 year old Black woman named Keshia Thomas separated herself from the throng and threw herself on top of the man to protect him from the beating. Sit with that for a moment: a young Black woman risked her personal safety to protect a man who was her self-acknowledged enemy.

Through the story of the Good Samaritan Jesus is extending the Great Commandment to include love of enemy by showing that by acting compassionately we transform our status from enemy to neighbor. This holds true regardless of whether our former enemy accepts us as neighbor in turn. How we respond to someone in need; be they a stranger, a wounded man, a beggar or an enemy, is between God and us. What that person does with our response is between God and them.

In the story of Keshia Thomas we clearly see the parable of the Good Samaritan replayed in real life. Keshia is the Good Samaritan; maybe some of the Klansmen that day went on to refer to her as the Good N…..

In this rendition of the Good Samaritan the Klansman is the wounded traveler and he represents white America- not in so far as white Americans are taking a beating these days- despite a recent study by Harvard University that found “whites believe that they have replaced blacks as the primary victims of racial discrimination in contemporary America”. No, the Klansman represents white America in that he is a white male in a racist, sexist society. Let me explain. I am not saying that all white people are racists or that all men are sexists.

I am saying our society is both Racist and Patriarchal, which means that our society is White dominated, white centered and white identified as well as being male dominated, male centered and male identified. (see: The Gender Knot by Allan Johnson) To be white and male dominated means most positions of authority in our society are occupied by white men: think about Congress, CEOs, religious leaders, the legal world, the medical world and higher education.

To be white and male centered means the primary focus of attention in our society is on men and white people. To illustrate this just consider the Academy Awards or Hollywood films in general. Very few films have two or more women in central roles who do more than talk about the leading man, and if a film has a woman lead or more than a token number of Black actors they become chick flicks or Black movies. Whereas movies that have a white male as the protagonist are accepted as portraying the human condition (Interstellar, Dances with Wolves, All is Lost). That is, the particular experiences of the dominant group, white males, is elevated to a universal experience.

To be white and male identified means that our core cultural ideas as Americans about what is good, preferable, or normal are associated with masculinity and whiteness. An obvious example of this is so-called good hair which means long, straight hair, that is, white hair. There is a new beauty store in our neighborhood that is actually called Good Hair– it sells toxic hair straightening chemicals and weaves of hair imported from India. Millions of dollars are spent annually by black women in America as they try to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards.

Despite my saying explicitly that the Klansmen stands in for White America not because he is a racist but because he is white and male in a society which has historically privileged whites and men I’m guessing that every white person hearing me is at least uncomfortable with the analogy. We want to be the Samaritan, we want to be the good guy in the story. But here’s the thing- we have to remember that the Samaritan is the despised outsider. The Samaritan knew how to be neighborly precisely because he was a persecuted outsider. In the wake of her heroism Keshia Thomas was derided by the protestors as a “race traitor”. For white Americans to identify with the Samaritan we need to be prepared to be called race traitors by our white friends and families.

The notion that the Samaritan acted differently because he saw things differently and that he saw things differently because he inhabited a subordinated social location is the central thesis of the work being done by professor Patricia Hill Collins at the University of Maryland. Collins argues in her work on Black Feminist Epistemology that if America is to become its promise, that is the land of the free, we must act differently to root out systems of oppression that privilege men, white people, straight people and wealthy people at the expense of Black and Brown people, women, gay and lesbian people and the poor. But in order to act differently we must first think differently. However to think differently we need to acknowledge that knowledge is first produced by our lived experiences.

Obviously the lived experiences of men and white people are very different than those of women and Black people, and so to think differently we need to also see differently. Now, as a white man I cannot change my social location, I will always be a white man, but I was able to change my perspective by changing my geographical location. By moving into the north end of Hartford twenty three years ago in search of authentic relationships with poor persons, Black and Brown persons, I began to see things differently. “Elsa Barkley Brown

[explains] “all people can learn to center in another experience, validate it, and judge it by its own standards without need of comparison or need to adopt that framework as their own.” In such dialogues, “one has no need to ‘decenter’ anyone in order to center someone else; one has only to constantly, appropriately, ‘pivot the center.’”

New lines of vision inevitably produce new insights. For example my understanding of how our system of mass incarceration has racist underpinnings began by seeing things I would not have seen if I didn’t live where I do: like witnessing a Black teenage boy handcuffed and on his belly being beaten by a half dozen police officers. I’ve seen the children I work with in handcuffs because the police couldn’t believe the bikes we gave them weren’t stolen; hassled by the police for walking in groups of three; and arrested for trespass on the front porch of the buildings they live in because the landlord has painted this warning on the front door: “No Loitering, No Trespassing, Police Take Notice, Tenants Included.”

If we want to honestly identify with the Good Samaritan we must actively pivot our centers by seeking out authentic relationships with oppressed persons because through these relationships we will see the world differently. Instead of being blinded by the privileges we may enjoy because of our membership in the white race, the male gender or the upper class we will see oppression in action by witnessing the suffering that is the bitter fruit of our privileges. It was their status as double outsiders, as Black women, in a racist and patriarchal society that sparked epiphanies in Keshia Thomas and Patricia Hill Collins. Likewise Womanist writers like Alice Walker and bell hooks, and womanist theologians like Katie Cannon and Delores Williams, all Black women, are providing critical insights about our society, hope, and the struggle for liberation precisely because through their double outside status they see the world differently. And consider the three women who launched the Black Lives Matter movement: Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors, it should come as no surprise that these women are likewise Black women, in fact two of them are triple outsiders as they self-identify as being queer.

With the story of the Good Samaritan Jesus is urging us to seek solidarity with those who are oppressed because in so doing we will see the world differently. We will more clearly see the effects of racism, poverty and violence and through authentic relationships with oppressed communities we will be in a better position to act compassionately and struggle collaboratively for justice and liberation. Finally, by transforming the meaning of neighbor from a community  member in need of charity to someone who acts with compassion towards anyone in need, Jesus has answered the lawyer’s initial question about how to gain eternal life by telling the lawyer to go and do the same as the Samaritan. We must go and be merciful towards those who have suffered under our oppression and together we must struggle for liberation.

You know, for what it’s worth I’m hoping president Obama nominates a poor, Black woman to fill the empty seat on the Supreme Court. If he is need of some candidates I know plenty of women in the north end of Hartford that could fill that seat with a wisdom of experience the court has never had.



By | 2017-05-18T21:37:38+00:00 March 14th, 2016|Chris' page|Comments Off on Sister Samaritan

Pope Francis Gives a Shout Out to the Catholic Worker before Congress

Most Catholic Workers have at some point been to the Capitol to witness against government policies that denigrate the dignity of life. Heck, many of us have been arrested in nonviolent acts of civil disobedience at the Capitol for saying some of the same the things Pope Francis told Congress in his historic address on September 24th. It was a remarkable feeling of joy, pride and vindication to hear the pope condemn the Death Penalty and the arms trade yesterday while holding up Servant of God Dorothy Day as a model Catholic and a model American. Click on the link below to see an interview with our friend and, Dorothy’s granddaughter, Martha Hennessy

By | 2017-05-18T21:37:40+00:00 September 25th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Pope Francis Gives a Shout Out to the Catholic Worker before Congress

17 Protesters Arrested After Blocking Hartford Intersection During Rush Hour – Hartford Courant

This is an excerpt from an June 8 article on The Hartford Courant.

HARTFORD — Police arrested 17 protesters who blocked Central Row during rush hour Monday afternoon as part of a Moral Monday demonstration.

The protest began at 4 p.m. as protesters locked arms and stood in the street. Many held signs saying “Black Lives Matter.”

The protesters chanted and refused to leave despite warnings from police, but otherwise remained calm and peaceful. Police began making arrests about 4:50 p.m. and loading people into vans. Police Chief James Rovella said the 17 taken into custody would be charged with disorderly conduct.

Those attending the protest said it was held as part of the Black Lives Matter movement aimed at making changes to the criminal justice system, prisons, schools and housing they believe will help the African American community. The protesters were a mix of young and old and black, white and Hispanic.

Read the full article at The Hartford Courant.

By | 2015-06-20T10:21:57+00:00 June 9th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on 17 Protesters Arrested After Blocking Hartford Intersection During Rush Hour – Hartford Courant

Hartford Couple Devoted To Serving North End’s Poor: ‘All We’re Doing Is Loving’ – Hartford Courant

This is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the May 22 Hartford Courant.

Jackie Allen-Doucot grew up with eight siblings in Hartford’s South End, and as a young woman, she thought she’d have a big family, too.

She and her husband, Chris, had two sons after they married in their early 20s, and not long after that, they started an after-school and Saturday morning program for children in Hartford’s North End.

“We do feel like we have a bigger family than our two,” Jackie said.

The couple and their friend Brian Cavanaugh bought an abandoned house on Clark Street in 1993 and turned it into St. Martin de Porres Catholic Worker House of Hospitality — a home base for their life’s work fighting injustice, promoting nonviolence and serving the poor who live around them.

Read the entire article at The Hartford Courant

By | 2015-06-20T10:14:59+00:00 May 25th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Hartford Couple Devoted To Serving North End’s Poor: ‘All We’re Doing Is Loving’ – Hartford Courant

Baccalaureate Address For Trinity College, May 2015

Compassioñeros on the Liberation Frontier

Baccalaureate address, Trinity College, Hartford
May 16, 2015
Christopher J. Doucot

Back in April when I met with Rev. Read and her team she mentioned that they had been engaged in a yearlong dialogue with some of you, exploring how we, people oftrinity097 faith, are to exercise our liberty. This is a seminal, and perennial American question. What does it mean to be free in this land of freedom?
For much of our history the pursuit of freedom was conflated with notions of conquering the frontier. Perhaps this comes from our creation myth of a persecuted people crossing the frontier of the vast Atlantic Ocean seeking religious liberty in Plymouth in the 17th century. In the 18 and 19th centuries the frontier was the seemingly boundless land west of the Mississippi river. “Go West, Young man” Horace Greeley is alleged to have exhorted New Haven’s own Josiah Bushnell Grinnell in 1833. Going west captivated the imagination of the nation for a century, and was reenacted, repeated and re-imagined through song, sonnet and film long after the frontier was closed. Closed, that is, until 1962 when President Kennedy declared the moon to be a new frontier which we must conquer because, in his words: “there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people”. A few years later Gene Rodenberry, through the voice of Captain Kirk would declare in the opening monologue of each Star Trek episode that space was the final frontier. Forgive me if you are a Trekkie- but Kirk was wrong.
This afternoon I hope to set you on the path of exploring the greatest, most overlooked and perhaps the most difficult frontier of humanity. It is a frontier that can’t be conquered but could be closed. It is a frontier that exists at once in space- not outer space but right here in Hartford among other places, and at the same time it exists in our hearts and minds. It is a frontier that ought to challenge perceptions and limitations of freedom with the more potent potential of liberation. The frontier I’m speaking of is that chasm between Lazarus and Dives. It is a frontier that renders a caste of people untouchable in India just as it renders them invisible in America as they clean our homes, care for our aged and infirmed, or simply beg for spare change outside a Dunkin’ Donuts.
In a most un-American way this is a frontier that we not only have shied away from- it is one we have built walls around to protect us from it. In Detroit it is represented by a half mile long wall built in 1940 to separate Black people from white people in order to protect the home values on the white side. In Florida it is represented by the gates of neighborhoods where the stranger is explicitly unwelcomed. In cities across our land we have encircled our downtowns with moats of parking lots and interstate highways to protect these islands of suburbia from the alleged danger that lurks in urban neighborhoods. In its most despicable form this frontier is marked by the razor wire and concrete behind which 2.3 million Americans are currently imprisoned. This frontier is the margin of our society. A place where hungry folks fed today by a Salvation Army will be hungry again tomorrow, and the next day, if we can’t muster a liberation army- a nonviolent liberation army that is. It seems to me that salvation and liberation are flip sides of the same coin. When we engage in liberation struggles we are partnering with God in a holy effort to vanquish those remnants of the kingdoms of this world which now delay the full realization of God’s kingdom in our midst.
In our romantic collective recollection of Pilgrims, Cowboys and explorers our default perspective is that of the Pilgrim, the cowboy and the explorer; and so their tales are noble ones that reflect core American values of freedom, independence, and individualism. But we know a more honest recounting of how we settled the frontier requires consideration from the perspectives of the other people present. What did the Massasoit and the Nauset people think about the Pilgrims? And what did the Taino people of Puerto Rico think of Columbus? What did the enslaved survivors of the middle passage think of the Sons of liberty? How did the slaves living in Monticello understand their owner’s declaration that all men are created equal? And what of the Chickasaw and the Choctaw, the Apache and the Navajo; what did they see from their side of the frontier?
Expansion or invasion? Settlement or occupation? Explorer or conquistador? Freedom fighter or slave holder? An honest accounting of our pursuit of the frontier reveals a series of counterpoint tensions: while we pursued freedom we owned others, while we celebrated independence we relied on the labor of others, as we declared freedom of religion we forbade the religion of others. Left unexamined these contradictions will continue to bedevil our national psyche and imperil the future of America’s grand experiment in freedom. A freedom that doesn’t include the “other” is not exactly freedom.
We cannot go back in time, it is too late to prevent these contradictions but a frank exploration could tap the energy inherent in their tension to transform ourselves and our society. Just because we were a society where plantation mansions existed because slave quarters existed, and where homesteads prospered into cities while civilizations were slowly erased on reservations, and just because we are today a society where ghettos exist because suburbs also exist, we don’t have to remain a society where liberty is sparingly parsed out to those on the margins by those in the center. The current economic inequality and racial strife in our land need not be our destiny. This frontier of the margins is not a product of nature but of our own making; to cross it we must first confront a more foreboding frontier inside ourselves.
In the sixth chapter of the Christian gospel of Matthew, Jesus instructs his followers about how to give to the needy and how to pray, he admonishes them to have a right relationship with money and to have confidence that God will provide for them. And then he tells them to “first seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness”. In the gospel of Luke Jesus reveals that this kingdom will be found by looking inside ourselves, which may well be the last place most of us would think to look. Introspection is not among the more recognizable character traits of Americans. Indeed, as I’ve just described, much of the American project has been outward looking. If our gaze is perpetually outward we may find some measure of personal liberty but we will never find true liberation. Liberty is too often a solo project, sought for and by individuals or, at best, a particular group. Liberty is freedom to speak, to pray, to gather, or to be left alone. Whereas, liberation is a human project which seeks to free all of us from assaults on our inherent dignity. Liberation includes the aforementioned freedoms but it seeks to balance those freedoms with responsibilities to one another and especially to the vulnerable among us. The pursuit of liberty is not the project of liberation if it doesn’t lead to freedom from hunger, freedom from fear, and freedom from second class status for all of us.
Before there was Facebook, an exclusively exterior project that is all about portraying a best, and false, version of ourselves, many folks kept diaries and journals which were never meant to be read by anyone but themselves and perhaps their God. This was an exclusively interior project where we often searched for our authentic selves- maybe one of you will develop an app for it, but until then turn off your phones if even for just a half an hour a day and look within.
To look inside we must practice some type of mindfulness discipline be it prayer, yoga, meditation, fasting, whirling like a dervish, chanting like a Buddhist, or sitting silently like a Quaker. Even a cursory look inside ourselves reveals that fundamentally we are all the same. We are all sacred temples of the Holy formed by the clay of this earth, forged by the wombs of our mothers, and animated by the Ruah, the breath of God. Before we are rich or poor; white, black or brown; male or female; young or old; before we are American- we are human. We are sisters and brothers of one family equally deserving of a fair share of the bounty of this world sufficient to live a dignified life. This is not news to you, indeed it is the basis of the Golden rule which can be found in just about every faith tradition.
I am Catholic, in my faith tradition I am instructed by Jesus that if I am to love God with all my heart, mind and soul then I must love my neighbor as myself and I must love my enemy too. When I was an undergrad at Holy Cross in Worcester my limited understanding of love made this sound at best quaint and at worst absurd. And then I read several of Dr. King’s speeches in which he broke down love into the three Greek terms for love: eros, philios, and agape. When Jesus tells his followers to love their enemies he isn’t suggesting that we get romantically involved with them, that would be eros. And when he tells us to love our neighbors he isn’t suggesting that we are going to be best buddies with people who have different tastes and personalities, that’s philios. Rather he is telling us that we must feed hungry people as we expect to be fed and clothe naked people as we expect to be clothed and we must house homeless persons as we expect to be housed. And we must also be patient with others as we hope them to be patient with us, we must forgive others as we hope to be forgiven and we must teach others as we too hope to know more. This is agape.
As a young man on the cusp of adulthood I was faced with a dilemma, one that maybe you are facing right now. I was calling myself a Catholic, and yet there was no clear evidence in my daily life that I was loving my neighbors as myself and at that point in my life the thing most important to me was to be authentic. I didn’t want to be what Holden Caulfield from the Catcher in the Rye called a phony. I didn’t go around claiming to be a football player just because I went to football games on Saturdays so why should I call myself a Christian just because I went to church on Sundays? It was around this time that I learned about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement she founded. There were people trying to actually love their neighbors, and enemies, with food, shelter and community rather than empty words. I was full of zeal and full of myself.
One Friday night of my junior year I took a homeless guest staying at the Worcester Catholic Worker to dinner in the main dining hall at Holy Cross. My companion’s name was Kenny. He was in his early twenties, he was unshaven, his hair was wild and he could have stood under the shower a bit longer that morning. On our drive from the Catholic Worker to Holy Cross a beggar approached us while we sat at a red light, before I even thought to do a thing Kenny had given this man the change he had earned that day collecting bottles and cans. Our dinner at Holy Cross was a disaster. Kenny was clearly a stranger at a place that struggled to welcome strangers in their midst. It didn’t take long for the snickers, smirks and dirty looks to become too much before Kenny asked to leave.
I was furious with my classmates.
It took years of looking inside for me to accept that I should have been furious with myself. In my haste to cross the exterior frontier between the privilege of Holy Cross and the poverty of the streets, I had neglected to confront my interior frontier. I had gone about things in reverse because I never for a moment gave serious thought to how dinner at Holy Cross would likely be very uncomfortable for Kenny. Closing the frontier between Kenny and the center of society doesn’t require Kenny to move to the seat of privilege, rather it requires the privileged to move to the margins and meet Kenny there. Liberation is not about asking the oppressed to visit their oppressors in their halls of plenty, it is about abandoning halls of plenty in search of authentic relationships, right relationships with the oppressed.
It took me twenty years and a couple of experiences in concentration camps in Darfur during the 2005 genocide to finally get this. My first experience took place in Kalma camp. There were 100,000 people in this camp, mostly women and children. Many of the women had been raped. They arrived in this camp after walking across the desert for weeks after their villages had been burned to the ground. The camp itself was little more than endless rows of desert igloos, huts maybe four feet high and three feet wide that were made of woven twigs covered in burlap and litter. When I stepped out of my air conditioned Range Rover I was punched in the gut by the furnace blast of the sun. It was 120 degrees outside, the air was still and the sky cloudless. The only shade to be found was inside these huts and I learned that shade was the only thing in these huts when an elderly woman stepped forward, took my hand, led me to her hut and motioned for me to go inside. In doing so I filled the entire space and so she sat in the sun outside the entrance as we spoke through an interpreter.
My next experience took place with my then 12 year old son in Derej Camp, which was an unauthorized camp that held 12,000 people. This camp was unauthorized because the people there had strategically set it up across from an African Union Force military barracks. The dictator, Omar al-Bashir, had warned all the aid agencies that if they attempted to deliver food or water to the people of Derej their workers would be arrested and their ability to minister to the 2 million people suffering in places like Kalma would end as they would be kicked out of the country. So my idea was to bring food to this camp every day for a week in a nonviolent effort to provoke the dictator into deporting us for feeding hungry people in order to bring awareness to the world at large about what was going on. (In fact I was inspired by the lunch counter demonstrations in the American South that were organized by your commencement speaker the Rev. James Lawson.)
The dictator ultimately ignored us but on our last day we witnessed the miracle of loaves and fishes and learned its true meaning. We had purchased two cows, had them slaughtered and brought the beef to the people on the edge of the camp. These people would have arrived during the previous 48 hours. We asked them what they had eaten the day before and they told us that they were not among the “lucky ones”- their words. It turned out that the lucky ones were those folks who had received a modest bag of nuts and dates that my son and I had been distributing that week. We were able to give away maybe a thousand of these bags every day and each bag was scarcely enough to provide a single person a single meal. So the people on the edge of camp told us they were not among the lucky ones but then they told us the lucky ones had shared.
Here’s what I learned from Kenny and the people of Darfur:
Kenny taught me that charity can be an occasion for sin. Here I am defining sin as a strain on one’s relationship with God. Charity is unavoidable in this world but it can be an occasion for sin when it is done without regard to seeking an authentic relationship with the recipient. Because I had only done charity and had never received it, I was utterly ignorant of how humiliating it often is to beg for a basic human right. This humiliation is, in my mind, directly proportional to the pride experienced by the giver. By entering into an authentic relationship with oppressed persons we become aware of this humiliation and we hopefully seek to prevent it by partnering with oppressed persons to seek justice, and end the need for charity. This is the process of practicing Shalom- not simply seeking peace but seeking right relationships. If we desire a right relationship with God we must seek a right relationship with the poor and oppressed.
The people of Darfur taught me that if we want a right relationship with the poor and oppressed we must seek a right relationship with wealth. When the old woman welcomed me into her hut she gave me everything she possessed, which was the shade in her hut, to relieve my suffering. I use the word possess rather than own, because how does one own the shade? The people of Derej took this lesson a step further when they shared the food that my son and I had shared with them. They recognized that the food they possessed did not belong to them alone but rather to all of their companions who were likewise suffering but because they were unlucky enough to be in a different place in the camp they were unable to get a bag for themselves. The food the lucky ones shared was through them but not from them. Likewise the food we gave to the lucky ones was through my son and me but not from us, we possessed it because we had received from others the money to purchase it. Isn’t this the nature of all the wealth of this world? Ultimately the bounty of these lands and the water of this planet do not belong to us. They belong to the One who created all things of this world and they have come into our possession, rightly and honestly or not, in order for us to be just stewards of love. When we share we are nothing more than God’s middlemen and women pursuing of justice.
These two profound lessons were not taught to me by doctors of philosophy in the exclusive centers of learning I attended- Holy Cross and Yale- but by invisible and forgotten practitioners of love living in the frontier of the margins. What lessons await you at this frontier?
The distance of this frontier between the privileged and the marginalized is very often much greater in our minds than in our lived reality. Your four years here at Trinity should have revealed as much since just past these hallowed halls, across your lush green fields and on the other side of a wrought iron fence this frontier beckons you. Many of you ventured into this frontier before you sat through your first lecture when you participated in Do it Day four years ago- let Do it Day be a rehearsal for a Do it Life.
The time for phoniness, both personal and national is over. Our history, our integrity, and the precarity of the current moment in America confront us with two basic questions: will we reproduce patterns of segregation in our choice of where to live? And will we perpetuate systems of oppression with the careers we choose to pursue?
When we limit our meaningful relationships to those who come from our same race, class, gender or generation we miss out on the wholeness of God and we stunt the possibilities of walking into a just, joyful and jubilant world.
If America is to keep her promise of liberty and justice for all we must cross the rubicons of inequality and injustice, not as conquistadores of noblesse oblige performing anonymous acts of charity but as Compassioñeros of liberation seeking shalom.
Resist the triumphant voice of a nation that once urged you to go west. Resist that voice as a siren’s song whose chorus is to look away, look away, look away, and instead look inside yourself and listen to God speaking to you through your conscience. If you can’t hear God there maybe you need to get closer to where you can hear Her in the cries of the persecuted or in the laughter of the poor. Whirl like a dervish, or chant like a monk but above all listen closely and you ought to hear God calling you to the margins.
Go to the margins young Compassioñeros, go to the margins.

By | 2017-05-18T21:37:41+00:00 May 18th, 2015|Chris' page|Comments Off on Baccalaureate Address For Trinity College, May 2015

Is This What the Kingdom of God Is Like? – OnFaith

An except from an article by Chris

In Matthew 10, Jesus sends out the apostles, exhorting them to declare unambiguously “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” As I type these words, it’s a crisp morning. Spring has finally sprung and so snowdrops have replaced snow banks at the foot of the fence. A rain shower at dawn has left pools for the songbirds, which are now serenading me.

My office is three stories up, and so my office window frames a masterpiece: a pallet of maple branches pregnant with orange and crimson buds eager to burst with new life. In the serenity of this moment, it is easy to believe that the kingdom of Heaven is at hand. But then the melodies of nature are interrupted by the piercing shrill of a fire truck (really, I can hear a siren now) exiting the station on the corner. In Hartford, the fire department are the first responders, so I wonder: “Has someone been shot?”

The kingdom: a false promise?

Several people in our circle have been shot over the years. There was Mark, a street person with schizophrenia, a heroin addiction, and an eagerness to be helpful. I once stood between him and a kid who was maybe 16 years old who was pointing a gun at him and threatening to kill him. The kid pistol whipped me and took off. Mark’s life was spared that day only for him to be shot dead six months later.

There was Herbie, the boy who at 13 couldn’t tell me what he wanted to be when he grew up . . . maybe because he knew he wouldn’t. At 17, he was shot and bled out in a gutter.

There was K.J., who was gunned down on his own porch while his mother was inside watching television. His father, a firefighter, was working the night the call came in that there had been a shooting at his address. K.J. was only 14.

How is it that children can be gunned down in the kingdom of Heaven?

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By | 2017-05-18T21:37:42+00:00 April 24th, 2015|Chris' page|Comments Off on Is This What the Kingdom of God Is Like? – OnFaith

Why Racism Is America’s True Original Sin – OnFaith

An excerpt from an article by Chris on

For the last 25 Good Fridays, our community has prayed the Stations of the Cross outside the gates of the U.S. Naval Sub Base in Groton, Connecticut. The Sub Base is home to a fleet of nuclear submarines and a museum glorifying the first nuclear submarine, the U.S.S. Nautilus, and the missiles it threatened humanity with.

As we walk this modern Via Dolorosa, we recall how Christ continues to be crucified today. In years past, we prayed for Christ crucified by drones strikes, Christ scourged by water boarding, Christ crucified by Shock and Awe, Christ crucified by poverty because we have not heeded president Eisenhower’s warning and have not only picked guns over butter, but bombs over bread.

Over the years our prayers have sometimes included nonviolent acts of civil disobedience. I have been arrested at the Sub Base and at Electric Boat, where these weapons of mass destruction (dubbed “ovens without walls” by retired Catholic archbishop of Seattle Raymond Hunthausen) are built, many times — as has my wife and my late mother-in-law (a WWII vet).

This past Good Friday we decided to pray for Christ crucified disguised as black men and women who have been killed by the police.

All this getting arrested has led to our having something of a relationship with officers from the local police force. Spending hours in the back of a cruiser or in a holding cell with a cop who’s curious as to why I would get arrested with my 75-year-old mother-in-law. Turns out, that’s a rather conducive atmosphere for testifying about faith, about believing that only God can protect us, about the imminent threat these weapons pose to world peace, and about our affirmative moral obligation to say “no” before they are ever used, again.

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By | 2015-06-21T09:46:52+00:00 April 11th, 2015|Chris' page|Comments Off on Why Racism Is America’s True Original Sin – OnFaith