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Diary of a Worm’s Life in a Home “Growing Power” Box and Garden

Rain Garden July 31, 2009

Front Lawn Garden

Garden 08/02/09

Click below to read any post in full, and to post your comments on it.

Where Has All the Humor Gone? - Thursday, September 30, 2010

Worm Humor

I have noticed that everyday humor for those who claim to be working for peace and justice has diminished.

The recent raid of the FBI on peace and justice activists and all the fuss and discussion it is causing made me think back to the sixties when we were followed and our phone calls were tapped. We used to make light of it. One time when police were following us we drove to a department store downtown, all except the driver got out, and scattered throughout the store. Another time we made a ‘wanted poster’ of the head of the tactical squad, Frank Miller, and posted in at our bookstore, Rhubarb, which another Frank Miller and I had started. We thought it was funny but I guess he did not and had me arrested for no good reason. We knew our phone at Casa Maria, the Catholic Worker house of hospitality was tapped and often we talked to the FBI directly by picking up the phone and talking. I can go on with stories but maybe you get my point. We had fun with those ‘watching us’ but it did not distract us from the real issues and we did not react to it. Nowadays, even humorous remarks are taken seriously and everyone seems so angry. There is not much humor left in the movement. We need to go to TV shows like on the Comedy Channel or cartoons like SpongeBob to get our dose of humor.

It is okay to be angry; many of you know that I am often angry. However, the original tea party was a symbolic act taken by persons with a sense of humor. The British then, or the modern day Tea Party might not think so.

I used to have three or four person regularly send me email jokes as part of their ministry. Now, through death or being too busy, I get only a few jokes. Email, words frozen in writing, seems to be so serious.

Where has all the humor gone?


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Persistent and Consistent Message - Wednesday, September 29, 2010


A friend wrote me today how this Diary of the Worm has moved away from some big issues like criticism of Walmart, which he likes, and more into issues like Restoring the Rims at a local park or Closing the School of the Army at Marquette University. This is a good observation since I have consciously tried to limit my activities to local, at-home issues, besides the Growing Power Home Garden Model.

I realized a few years ago it is better to do something deeply and intensely than to do lots of things lightly. I still think I spread myself too thin but at least I am letting the concerns and issues come to me rather than reaching out to them.

In the Growing Power model of gardening or farming that I was taught the attempt is to get the most production out of the smallest area. Thus vertical growing, using worm castings to enrich soil, using ‘tea’ and intense growing all come into play.

The same model goes for living, making the most of each moment and focusing on specific, attainable goals, like resurrecting the rims or closing the Army Base at Marquette.

Too often today one interest group or political group is pitted against another, and they often lose sight of their common goals. The “Tea Party” talks about cutting taxes and the peace activists talk about the excessive of war spending. They are played against each other instead of working together for the same goal, cutting taxes by eliminating wasteful military spending.

Again we can learn from nature. The energy I put in the rain garden and vegetable garden in front of my house has paid off with two great looking gardens with fresh flowers and plenty of vegetables with now low maintenance.

Today some of us wrote an open letter to four leaders of morality in Milwaukee asking them to do the right thing and close the base schools of Army, Navy/Marines and Air Force at Marquette University, a Catholic Jesuit University. Will they listen to this letter? Probably not, but tomorrow we will make an appeal to Catholic Workers around the world to join us in our struggle, since Marquette University also hosts the home of the Catholic Worker archives. Then Friday we will have a Breaking the Silence Freedom March on the Marquette campus. Will these three efforts make a change? Probably not, but if we are consistent and persistent in our message we shall overcome one day.


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Deep Down New Blues - Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Two ways to deal with the blues is song and humor. This morning feeling blue I wrote this word poem to express my feelings about the stuff that has happened to my friends and me recently.

Deep Down New Blues

We sing the blues of the past but I got the Tuesday deep down new blues.

It is Tuesday Morning and I cannot afford a car and am waiting for a bus.
The bus routes have been cut and the buses on the routes have been cut.
It takes me four hours on the bus to get back and forth to my one hour class.

We sing the blues of the past but I got the Tuesday morning deep down new blues.

My friend is sick and I do not know what to do.
She’s got no money and no insurance.
I do not know what to do.

We sing the blues of the past but I got the Tuesday morning deep down new blues.

People say I am angry and whine too much.
I am angry and whine at times
But that is no excuse for ignoring me most of time.

We sing the blues of the past but I got the Tuesday morning deep down new blues.

I say things to friends they do want to hear,
Teach War No More or No Moore War Spending.
But I cannot help saying them when they are happening here at home.

We sing the blues of the past but I got the Tuesday morning deep down new blues.

Politicians say how well they treat poor persons with mental illnesses,
Yet they lock them in isolation cells in jails, cut back funding every year for care,
And the largest home for poor persons with a brain illness is the House of Corrections.

We sing the blues of the past but I got the Tuesday morning deep down new blues.

They say we need more jobs
Yet when I call the county office about food stamps
I am put on hold for hours since there are not enough workers.

We sing the blues of the past but I got the Tuesday morning deep down new blues.

My peace and justice friends talk and talk about peace and justice.
That is good but they fear to disturb or upset anyone.
Whatever happened to “people need to be disturbed, that their consciences need to be aroused,” Dorothy Day said.


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Poor and Defective Instruments - Monday, September 27, 2010

Today on the feast day of St. Vincent De Paul, a man who struggled with the poor and voiceless, I am questioning my own efforts at peacemaking, (Teach War No More) and justice (Resurrecting the Rims). Due to my weakness I find myself being ignored, rejected and marginalized on these and other issues. Some call my efforts arrogant and self-righteous. Knowing the poor and powerless are often treated this way does not make me feel better. Looking for words of comfort I found these quotes from Thomas Merton.

“…They [referring to participants in a walk from San Francisco to Moscow plagued with many difficulties] are all concerned about the fact that their own human failings and incompatibilities came out a bit. That is all right, though. It has to be that way. Another form of poverty that we have to accept. We have got to be instruments of God and realize at the same time that we are very poor and defective instruments. It is important to resist the feelings of resentment and impatience we get over our own failings because this makes us project our faults onto other people, instead of bearing their burdens along with our own…” — from letter to Jim Forest, January 5, 1962, The Hidden Ground of Love, p 261

It is sometimes discouraging to see how small the Christian peace movement is, and especially here in America where it is most necessary. But we have to remember that this is the usual pattern, and the Bible has led us to expect it. Spiritual work is done with disproportionately small and feeble instruments.. And now above all when everything is so utterly complex, and when people collapse under the burden of confusions and cease to think at all, it is natural that few may want to take on the burden of trying to effect something in the moral and spiritual way, in political action. Yet this is precisely what has to be done.” — from letter to Jean & Hildegard Goss-Mayr, January 1962. The Hidden Ground of Love, p. 325.

Maybe being a poor, small, feeble and defective instrument is not so bad, or maybe saying or feeling that is arrogant and self righteous.


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Gentle And Kind Truth - Sunday, September 26, 2010

My efforts to present my ‘opinions of the truth’ in a gentler and more kind way over the last few years seem not to be working. My latest effort came today with the gentle and kind creation of a web page, Resurrect the Rims. This page along with organizing a local gathering at a nearby Church is an attempt to have an open and honest discussion on the question of whether prohibiting teens and young adults from playing full court basketball in daylight hours is really good for the neighborhood, county park residents and the park itself.

My hope is that this attempt will not be ignored as have my other attempts on other issues to have a civil and honest discussion of questions. A few years ago I even had the President of Marquette University saying we could debate the question of military bases on a Catholic campus, only to find the so called ‘peace persons’ at the university killed the debate.

However, failure or being ignored cannot stop one from speaking their conscience, even if it is their ‘opinion of the truth.’ Like Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement I say: “My understanding of the teaching of the Church is that we must follow our conscience, even an erroneous conscience.”

This attitude might come across as ‘arrogant’ at times, especially when I am pushing my ‘opinions of truth’ as Gandhi calls them with enough respect for other opinions. Speaking and acting on our conscience and ‘opinion of the truth’ is necessary, but that we must try to do it in a gentle and kind way is difficult.


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Failure of Technology - Saturday, September 25, 2010

As I was I downloading pictures from my camera disk to my computer, I accidentally erased all the pictures on the disk. There were a few on the disk that I was planning to use. I spent a long time trying to undo my error but could not. I felt like a failure when it was human error on use of technology that failed.

Technology has brought us to great heights in the world, look at the ability to communicate quickly around the world. However, technology has brought us to new depths of darkness, look at the military drones and the atomic bombs.

The failure of technology is probably why I am attracted to low tech enterprises, like growing power home model gardens and Air Insulation Resource AIR systems. People I admire, like Gandhi, used technology but did not allow technology to use them.

Some of the pictures that were lost were to be used for the new web page on called Resurrect the Rims. My hope is that using simply a diary, history and facts, I can show how depriving youth and young adults from playing full court basketball at the nearby county park would not help make the neighborhood safer. Now I will need some new pictures.

I am using the technology of this web page, although it is simply wiki technology, to talk how the exuberance and failure of technology can make us feel, if we let it.


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Wisdom of a Four Year Old - Friday, September 24, 2010

2010 Sugar Creek
Catholic Worker Gathering

Today is the 41st anniversary of the Milwaukee 14 action, the burning of selective service records in Milwaukee in 1968. The story I have to offer today is from the Midwest Catholic Worker gathering I attended last week in Sugar Creek, Iowa.

Many Catholic Worker families brought their children to the gathering. There was a small room in the basement with lots of legos for the children to play with. One time I walked into the room and there was only one four-year-old boy playing with the legos. He had built a small figure that had knives as arms. I asked him about the toy figure and he said it was a good guy who fights bad guys. Thinking of this as a teaching moment I said that I liked bad guys. As we were talking I noticed he built another lego toy person. I asked him who this was and he said it was the bad guy. I started to grasp the bad guy and say how much I liked him. He told me, No, that the bad guy was really a good guy. I asked him what he meant and he said that in ‘war’ the good guys fight the bad guys and the bad guys are really good guys who fight what they say are the bad guys.

Later at lunch I saw him sitting next to his mom and proceeding to say as best as I could what this four year old had told me. He smiled and said: “Do you know where I learned this from?” His mom said where did you learn it from? He named a TV cartoon show, one that clearly his mom did not want him to watch. She said where did you see that show. He said at Grandma’s house. Oh, the wisdom of a four year old.


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Creative Speaking of Truth on Rims - Thursday, September 23, 2010

Front Yard Garden

Tonight on the way over to Doyne County park to check on the basketball rims I took the picture of my front yard, the falling beauty, that I promised in my post the other night. Here it is.

I got to the park to find it full of activity, youth playing soccer, people on the golf course, persons walking, biking and running on the trail, children on the playground but No basketball rims on any of the four backboards. I saw a young man from the other night standing on the courts with a basketball in hand. He said he had been there for about 15 minutes. And there were no rims although there was plenty of daylight remaining. Either the ground crew had forgot to put up the rims today or had taken them down early.

Talking with this young man from a few blocks away who just wanted to shoot some hoops after a long day at work I became more convinced of the need to struggle to bringing back the basketball courts, especially the full court that so many youth and young man, age 13–35, have enjoyed over the years.

The tactic of writing emails to the County Supervisor responsible for taking down the rims with facts and comments on the situation certainly does not work. The more I write the more she attacks me, making me the enemy so she can ignore the message: The full court basketball players are not responsible for all the woes of neighborhood complaints she claims to receive. She certainly did not appreciate my applying wiki definitions of discrimination and scapegoating to the situation, although in my opinion of the truth they certainly do apply.

One neighbor today called to suggest that we call a neighborhood meeting at the local church on this issue, and seeing all the activity today in the park, except basketball, suggested to me making a web page of the story of the fear of the rims at Doyne Park.

This situation calls for creative nonviolent ways of speaking the truth civilly about the rims removal. Any ideas?


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Worm of Man - Wednesday, September 22, 2010

After a local county supervisor tore me about today for questioning her taking down some basketball rims in a country park, since she was blaming the young men and women who play basketball for neighborhood problems, I am starting to wonder if speaking my conscience is worth the trouble. But I know that I cannot stop. For as Dorothy Day and Gandhi said: “My understanding of the teaching of the Church is that we must follow our conscience, even an erroneous conscience. My reading of Cardinal Newman confirms that. I think it is in Boyer’s life of Newman that he quotes Newman as saying he drank a toast to conscience first, the Pope second.” (Dorothy Day in the Catholic Agitator 1, no, 9, Dec. 1970).

If I am wrong about the need to speak out about the immorality of teaching war at a Catholic Jesuit University, the inconsistency of the same university hosting the military and Catholic worker archives, the injustice of blaming basketball players for the woes of county residents around the park, why do not people tell me why I am wrong and how my conscience is ill informed, rather than attacking me personally? I guess attacking the messenger, which in my case is easy because of my faults, is an easy way to ignore the message.

Today I brought some of the worms from the Worm Condo into the house in the GP Home Box in the sun room. A friend from Madison who had used my driveway to park to attend the baseball game asked me what I do for my worms. I said, not much, just feed them and make sure they have water and the right conditions. I told him the worms were ‘working worms’. All they do is eat, digest, poop and procreate.

Worms have the simplest and smallest of brains. They are not bothered by name-calling or what people think of them. They just do what they were created for. I guess just being is being a worm of a man.


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Mother Nature Does Not Discriminate - Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My friend Annie, as I was driving her to a Doctor’s appointment today, told me that today was the beginning of fall. That was interesting since it was cool yesterday and very warm today. Perhaps Mother Nature did not get word yet of the change of season.

When I got home I observed that the front yard garden, although dying, was beautiful and full of color. I meant to take a picture but forgot before it got dark, earlier and earlier now that fall begins.

The struggle to keep up the full court for basketball at a neighborhood county park took a blow today as all the rims were taken town. A small group of neighbors, without consulting the young men who play basketball in the park had decided to take down only one rim so there could be no more full court basketball playing. But now the “powers that be”, whoever they are, decided to take down all the rims and discriminate against not only the young men playing full court basketball but all the neighbors and children that use the park to play and watch basketball.

As I have mentioned in an earlier posting, since the death of my son and best friend who suffered from the stigma of an illness I have become very sensitive about any form of discrimination, be it to young men or woman, persons of certain races and sexual orientation or persons with brain illnesses. Discrimination breeds war, violence and poverty.

Mother Nature does not discriminate. The sun shines on the rich and poor and a storm knows of no race or gender.


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Easy To Vote and Discriminate - Monday, September 20, 2010

Today I discovered once more how our society is institutionally structured to discriminate against the poor, the ill and persons in need. Today I drove my friend Ann, who has been suffering from serious pain for four years, to another doctor’s appointment. However, this one took over 3 ½ hours of our time and only resulted in a 20 min. visit with a doctor that she is required to undergo a five hour screening to be qualified for another treatment program that might ease her pain. The appointment was across town from her apartment and she would have been unable to attend by any means except by car. Because of her illness she is unable to drive herself. It was at a very rich and large shopping center/mall and she was given poor instructions as to the office location. It was difficult to park, get her a wheelchair and find the elevators to the office. We were late when we finally got there and the doctor said she was cutting the one hour visit to 20 minutes and would let my friend in pain know in two weeks if her government insurance would allow the rest of interviews necessary for the trip. Simply no pay no play and more pain.

The full court basketball hoops still remain in the nearby county park although the local politicians continue to threaten to take them down as a solution to a few neighbors’ reports of disorder, which seems to have no relationship to basketball playing. The young men, of various races, did not even know they were to be denied this recreation and certainly not allowed to speak for themselves on this issue.

I have experienced even very good persons that want to serve those in need discriminating by putting up barriers between them and the persons they serve. When my friend tried to give me something today for my driving service to her in this frustrating attempt to get help I told her that I was the one who owed her something for allowing me to be with her during this dreadful adventure.

Today two phone polling services called me for my opinion on candidates in the Novemember election. As I stated in my posting, Why Not Vote I do not intend to vote in future elections. This stopped one person from asking questions but not the other I guess it is easy to vote and discriminate.


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Death and the Catholic Worker - Sunday, September 19, 2010

Christ of the Breadlines,
Fritz Eichenberg

I returned home this afternoon from a gathering of persons in the Catholic Worker movement from the Midwest at Sugar Creek in Iowa. Being with all those kind and wonderful persons in a beautiful country setting, the numbness and hardness of heart since the death of my son, three weeks ago, started to melt. Starting to feel the loss of my ‘best friend’ hurts, but being there, in such peaceful surroundings, helped to ease the growing pain.

Tonight, the wife of a dear friend, Jim, who recently died after a long illness, called me to say that Dismas Becker, a dear friend of both of us, died tonight. Hearing of Dismas’ death was sad but not a shock. He had been in great pain dying at home for a very long time. With some of his other friends I had visited Dismas last Tuesday. After our common friend Jim died we had moved our gatherings on Tuesday to the home of Dismas, who had been a member of our Tuesday group as long as he could.

Dismas had wanted to die for a long time. The widow of our common friend told me tonight that when she called to tell Dismas that Jim had died he told her he was ‘jealous’. Jim did not have pain when dying, unlike Dismas.

Last Tuesday, when we went to his home to visit, he was in a hospital bed in his front room, aware, but so close to death. As I held his hand, gave him a drink of water and saw him struggle for words, I felt a deep peace come over me. He was comforting me on the loss of my son as he lay dying in pain. When I tried to make light conversation with him he gave me his famous smile. His smile, his joy of life, will be something I will always remember.

Tomorrow I will be back to the driving ministry, taking my friend Ann to yet another doctor’s appointment as she struggles to find the source and relief from her great pain. People dying and suffering from pain — Dismas, Ann, my son and best friend, Peter — are great blessings in my life.

Many of the Catholic Worker families had brought their children to the gathering. Talking and playing with the young children, so full of hope and imagination brought great joy to my life this weekend.

Unlike most of the persons gathering this weekend I do not live in a Catholic Worker community of hospitality. However, by being with the suffering and dying I feel the most like a Catholic Worker, being a friend to persons in need, as the person blesses me. Yes Dying and the Catholic Worker movement are explicitly joined together.


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Edit Out Personal - Thursday, September 16, 2010

I have noticed recently that many persons will agree with you if you talk in general terms like: the war in Afghanistan is wrong; Marquette should not teach war; do not discriminate against young adult African males. But when you make these statements personal people do not want to hear them: the war in Afghanistan kills innocent people; Marquette teaches values contrary to its own values; taking down a basketball court without reason hurts young adults. Principles are okay if they are not personal.

Recently I wrote a letter to the editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel criticizing two county politicians who I believe have decimated the mental health system in Milwaukee County and caused great harm to those with brain diseases.

Both politicians won in yesterday’s primary election and today the letter appeared in today’s editorial section of the newspaper. I was careful not to attack any one and worried that sentences like “The House of Corrections house has become a house of horrors for persons with mental illnesses” would keep the article out of the paper but that was not to be. But these statements were not edited out. What was edited out of the letter was the personalization of the general statements. Here is the letter; words in bold were edited out.

Dear Editor,
I admire Sheriff Clarke’s effort to build a suicide barrier on the Hoan Bridge and County Executive Walker’s effort to build a new Behavior Health Center. However, as a father of a suicide victim and a friend to a young man who also suffers depression, I suggest they first look at the institutions they now run, the Milwaukee County Jail, the House of Correction and the Behavior health center.

The greatest horrors my son and friend suffered were at these institutions. The county jail puts persons with brain diseases into isolation padded and lighted cells. The cutbacks at the Behavior Health Center by County Executive Walker has meant the lost of good doctors, nurses, treatment services. The House of Corrections house has become a house of horrors for persons with mental illnesses.

My friend once was taken to the Behavior Health Center after a cry for help. After he had been stabilized with the correct medication he was taken to the House of Correction on a probation violation. The first thing they did was to take away his new medications and replace them with ones that increased his suffering. He was out of it for months and could only sit on his bed and suffer. Cutbacks by Sheriff Clark on food, drink and medication only made matters worse for this young man and others who are poor and suffer similar illnesses.

Sheriff Clark and Executive Walker ideas for spending money on building might be of a good intention but the money would be better spent on correcting the conditions they have created at these three largest institutions in the county for persons with brain diseases.

Be general and edit out the personal?

I am going to take a few days off to spend some time with a Catholic Worker Midwest gathering. The Diary of Worm will be back, hopefully rested and inspired on Sunday.


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Banning Slaughter - Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lady Gaga at MTV Awards

I heard and saw on the news that Lady Gaga, in her consistent attempt to be outrageous, wore a dress that looked like it was made of meat to the MTV music awards.

Tonight on the news I heard that the spending on the gubernatorial race in Wisconsin by the two candidates may top 50 million dollars, an outrageous amount.

The people killed by warfare, bombing, guns, missiles and drones, in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan is outrageous.

The corporate greed that has brought our great nation down is outrageous.

The article on Banning Slaughter by Kathy Kelly in the Featured Article section should cause outrage within all of us. In Teaching War and spending more money on war we are contributing to the slaughter of human beings. This is outrageous.


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A Good Day - Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lettuce Lake 2008

I am feeling some peace this evening, more than I have felt since the death of my son nearly three weeks ago. Looking back at why this feeling of peace, doing an examen of consciousness, I can see why.

For one I gave up fighting for but not working on two issues on which people were using me and my human faults as a way to avoid a message. I remembered the description of nonviolence by Judith Brown in her book on Gandhi: It is “striving nonviolently to the point of sacrifice rather than fighting to attain one’s vision of truth.” To struggle, to “speak truth to power” and to act on our words and belief, is necessary for peace of mind but to struggle nonviolently and accept rejections and insults is difficult.

I also heard from a number of friends today, some with requests for aide and some with just words of support. My Sierra Leone nephew and one niece called today to just say hello and offer support.

Also I was blessed today to be in the presence of my friend Dismas Becker who as close to death as humanly possible but can still manage a smile and grasp my hand.

However, probably the most joy came today when I went from the wrong side of the street in early evening to talk with the young men who were playing basketball on the full court that is threatened by a few residents and local politicians. The first group of 10 or 11 young men I met were a family, literally, brothers, cousins and friends. Some of them have come from work and some from school. Amidst the second group that came to challenge the winning team of the first game there was a barber and Iraq veteran. Other individuals came, one a local 8th grade (white) student.

Watching these young men play game after game of basketball was exciting. The energy they were spending and the skill was a joy to watch. A cyclist dressed in black, looking like a police officer, came by to watch. He said he often stops from his 5 miles bike ride at the park to just to enjoy and watch these young men play basketball. I told him about the effort to eliminate the full court and he said that was wrong.

This morning I got up early, for me, to go to Mass at the local Croatian church that borders the park. I asked the pastor about the controversy on the basketball courts and he said, as I believe, that the full court should stay and the young men should just obey the rules and regulations of the park. Something the young men playing basketball today would agree with.

What makes a day end peacefully; maybe it is the start of the day in prayer or appreciating people and having them appreciate you. All I know it was good day.


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The Wrong Side of the Street - Monday, September 13, 2010

I live on a street where the other side borders a County Park with a par 3 golf course, a soccer field, and playground and basketball courts. Most of this summer the backboard and rims were taken down while the park was being renovated. As soon as they were put up there was a movement from some people bordering the park to remove them. First they said the renovated basketball “hoops”, as they call them, were a source of bicycle thefts in the park. They held a meeting last week that I was unable to attend. Yesterday the same small group that borders the park said that the basketball playing was the source of vandalism, noise, swearing and fighting, all things that as a frequent user of the park I have not noticed. They said they decided to take down one basketball rim and backboard so there can no longer be full court basketball games. What they did not say, is that the young adults who drive to the park to play these full court basketball games and then leave are mostly African American males. These groups of county residents who use the park were not consulted in this decision. The persons bordering the park say we neighbors cannot understand this issue because we live on the other side of the street, not bordering the park.

This decision to deny these young adults a place to play basketball, five on five, strikes at the heart of a concern that many of us share: the demise of the young African American male. They are dying on the streets, seven homicide vigils this week, or being locked in our prison system only to be let out on the streets in a desperate condition.

During one of the prayer vigils for homicide victims today a young looking African American male came by to pray with us. It turns out that he was walking to a church many blocks away that would help him with a bus pass to seek a job. Since our next prayer vigil was in the direction he was walking I offered to drive him part of the way. It turns out that he was just let out of prison after three years a few weeks ago for an illegal drug conviction. He was from East St. Louis and had been here visiting his mother when he ‘caught’ the time. Now his mother had moved back to East St. Louis and he was dropped off in Milwaukee from prison with nothing to his name and no family or friends in the area. He had a very temporary place to stay and was desperately seeking a job so he can have money for food and shelter.

The unemployment rate for young adult African American males in the Milwaukee area is over 50% and the rate of those with a criminal record even higher. I pray he can catch a break and find the employment he seeks.

So I may live on the wrong side of the street, but I feel compelled to fight for the one backboard and rim that might help some young man to enjoy life, stay off the streets and stay away from the crime and activity we all, on the wrong side and the right side of the street so fear.


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War Is Hell - Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hell by Peter Graf

Today a friend sent me a quote from today’s Writer’s Almanac remembering General Sherman. He added his own note saying: “When General Sherman said ‘war is hell,’ he was theologically correct.”

The quote speaks for itself and is just another reason why we should Teach War No More in our schools.

September 12, 2010 / Writer’s Almanac

On this day in 1864 Union General Sherman wrote to the Atlanta City Council: “You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.”

General Sherman had just captured Atlanta. Along the way, his soldiers had taken part in something known as “total war”: They’d burned down crops, confiscated millions of pounds of corn and feed, and destroyed thousands of horses and mules and cows. They’d wrecked bridges, torn up railroad tracks to make train transport unusable, and they’d destroyed telegraph lines. In late August, they’d forced the surrender of Atlanta, occupied the city, and demanded that it be evacuated.

Atlanta’s mayor protested that evacuation was not necessary and it was harsh and cruel. General Sherman responded, in a letter on this day: “War is cruelty.”

From Atlanta, General Sherman marched to Savannah, the infamous March to the Sea, where his troops caused about $100 million worth of damage with “total war” tactics.

The following spring, in May 1865, he wrote in a letter to a friend, “I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting.”

In 1879, he spoke to the graduating class at Michigan Military Academy. He told the young cadets trained for battle:

“I’ve been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It’s entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that someday you can use the skill you have acquired here. Suppress it! You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. […] I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!”


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Why Not Vote? - Friday, September 10, 2010

a meek inheritance by
Peter Graf

With the Wisconsin primary election a few days away I ask the question: Why not vote? The question could be taken two ways. One is to say that voting is important and we have no good excuse to not vote. The second way is to say there is a reason why not to vote. These days I am feeling more of the second understanding of reasons why not to vote.

Over the years I have waffled. Sometimes I take the position of Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker who never did vote, feeling what really matters is what we do for others and an internal change of heart. I can usually pick the winners of any election, usually the person with the most money. Voting seems to be a major distraction from doing the right thing ourselves by leaving it to the politicians and corporations and special interests that control them. Look at all the persons who voted for our president who ran on the notion of ‘change’ only to see more war, a new nuclear bomb plant being built and a health care bill written by the insurance industries.

However, usually at the end I do go out to vote, if only for the least objectionable person. It is like when you feel like relaxing by watching TV and you look for the least objectionable program to watch. Also I feel, like many Americans, that it is my patriotic duty to vote and that it will make a difference. It is what ‘normal’ people do.

Since the death of my son I have realized more and more that in this country, as it is now, voting does not make a difference and is just another distraction, like the media blitz about the pastor wanting to burn Qur’ans in Florida. Sometimes it is good to turn the TV off and just do something else. So when I ask the question why not vote I am now asking why vote.


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Ears To Hear, Eyes To See - Thursday, September 09, 2010

Holy Ramadan

Pat and I have received many wonderful letters, notes, emails and phone calls about the death of our son. One message came today that was particularly intriguing for me since it connected some of my reflections on scripture with the universality of spirituality. Also it came today, the last day of fasting for Muslims, during the month of Ramadan, commemorating the revelation of the Qur’an, Islam’s sacred scripture, by the angel Gibril (Gabriel) to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. I was in the Middle East Store where many Muslims were preparing for the great “Festival of Breaking Fast” tomorrow.

Sadly this also is a time when one pastor of a small church in Florida is getting international attention by his threat, full of hate and misunderstanding, to burn 200 Qur’ans.

The Christian scriptures that stand out for me are from Psalm 95: 7–8: “Today, if you would hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” In the Gospels Jesus often talks about having “eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear.”

Now the quote sent to us by a friend. It is from a book about Joan of Arc, called “Joan”, by Donald Spoto.

“There followed one of the most important moments of Joan’s trial, in which she spoke a basic tenet of universal spirituality:

Questioner: Do your voices and spirits stay with you for a long time? Joan: They often come to Christians who do not see them, and I have often been aware of them among Christian folk.

It is axiomatic that God does not play favorites. Joan of Arc is only one among many, one of the celebrated in history among those who made an enormous impact on the world and whose actions were predicated on an experience of God. Every true mystic, everyone who has known a fleeting experience of the eternal, knows that this world is interpenetrated with that of the spirit. God is not distant; those who have died are in God and are therefore not distant. The world of angels, spirits and saints is but one sort of hierophantic language to describe the real presence of another world, beyond but in the midst of our own.

This is not to speak of necromancy or bogus spiritualism; it is to affirm that everything in the world belongs to God, who manifests [Himself] in and through creation but is neither defined nor limited by it. “Voices and spirits often come to Christians who do not see them.” That is a wise indictment of spiritual torpor, a failure to ‘hear’ and to ‘see’ the truth that, as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

Can you put these thoughts together — Peter, hearing voices, universal spirituality? Maybe we need a touch of madness to have the ears to hear and the eyes to see.


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Jobs For Waiting - Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Today I tried to cancel my late son’s food share card. I called the customer service number on the card and after a number of electronic messages and a very long wait I finally got to talk to a human being. She said she could stop money from being put on the card for food, but to really cancel it I would need to call the local Milwaukee County office that establishes eligibility for food stamps. She gave me the number and I called.

After many electronic messages, being disconnected a few times and an extremely long wait I finally reached a human being. I told the person at the county office answering the phone what I wanted to do and he said he would connect me to the proper person.

By this time I had already invested about an hour of time waiting to perform this simple task so I decided to wait. During my waiting, as I did the previous hour, I put the call on speaker phone while I did my regular chores, washing clothes, checking my email, preparing some food for dinner and such. This time a message kept coming up saying my phone call would be answered in the order it was received. About every 20 or 30 minutes the speaker phone element would stop working and I would switch to another phone so I could continue my work while waiting. After the 3rd time the speaker phone went dead and after two hours of total waiting to cancel the food card I gave up and hung up.

I have noted before how poor people’s lives are full of such waiting. People wait for food stamps, wait for jobs, wait for medical attention and on and on until they get some help or give up. However, this time I realized the excessive waiting, especially at the county level, was due to job cuts in the system. The present county executive in Milwaukee who is now running for Governor of Wisconsin has made deep cuts in the public transit system, the social welfare system, the Behavior Health system, the public park system and many other services, especially those that serve persons in need.

However, it is not only him cutting services so taxes for the rich can be cut. It is true on all levels except for military spending. Wasteful Military Spending of trillions of dollars dominates our tax revenues while jobs are lost and services to humans are being cut.

If the politicians were really looking to create jobs they would hire more customer service representatives and cut back on the waiting. There are jobs for the waiting.


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Mystery of Death - Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Unoriginal by Peter Graf

Even working in the garden today, my best healing experience, could not fill the hole in my heart from the loss of my son Peter. I moved slowly during the day, our first day back, for my wife and me, to what some would call our daily routine. My enthusiasm for life and the joy living brings has diminished. I do what I know I need to do and prioritize my activity intellectually rather than by heart.

Pat, my wife, joined me this morning for what I thought was our 11am Tuesday group at our friend Dismas’ house. The Tuesday at 11am gathering that was meeting at Jim’s house moved to Dismas’ house after Jim died. Dismas is dying, a slow and painful death, but, like Jim, with dignity and humility.

When we got there, instead of our small group, I found a large group of Dismas’ friends participating in a home liturgy. It was like a funeral mass, except the person was still alive and sitting in the room. It was a very moving experience and afterward our friend said that the painful waiting for death he was experiencing was lifted some at the liturgy. Both Jim and Dismas were married priests, which adds another layer of meaning to their dying.

Another friend, this time a woman priest, wrote me tonight of how she lost her youngest son at age 18, 20 years ago. This would mean he was the same age as my son, who was now 38. She spoke of anger at God for the loss of her son but also of the healing she felt. I do not feel anger or healing. But like my friend Dismas, I feel a slow dying, but not of my physical life, but a dying never the less. Like my friend I long for the dying to happen but it does not. From both my married priests and woman priest friends I am learning of the mystery of dying.


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Labor for Nothing - Monday, September 06, 2010

Labor Day makes me realize how labor is associated with working for money in this country. In one sense this is good and fitting. Working at a job to provide money for living is a decent thing. In this day and age of so much war spending on violence and killing, I wish a share of that money were put to providing jobs for the many in our country who cannot find a full time job to provide a living for themselves and their family. With wars leading to more wars and costing us billions and billions of dollars, providing decent jobs for those who want them would seem to be a more productive way for us to spend our money and lead to less tax and debt rather than more war spending leading to more taxes and debt.

However, labor can be too much associated with who a person is. A person who cannot work a job for a living wage is considered less a person for that fact. I remember a time in my past life where I was unemployed and did not feel adequate as father and man. Persons used to ask me what I did and I knew they did not mean what I did in life but what I did for a job. Sometimes I would say ‘nothing’ and they would not understand.

When I ‘retired’ from a job I found myself working harder than ever. However, since it was not for pay many persons do not consider that I had a ‘job.’ My work was considered ‘hobbies’ or ‘volunteer’ work.

For my part, since I have income from past work and my wife works a ‘real job’ I do not worry too much if my work is considered ‘labor’ or not. But many suffer not only the consequences of not having a job to make a living, but the stigma that comes from associating who we are with our ‘job’, work for pay.

Labor is noble whether it is for a great income, a small income, or for nothing.


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Rural or Urban, Play or Distress - Sunday, September 05, 2010

4-H Dance

Tonight we attended the 4-H dance at the Shawano County Fair. It is a good chance for all the 4-H families to have a good time dancing or watching the youth dance. Right in the same coliseum in which they marched their cows the youth, young and old, danced.

There is something basically good and healthy about rural communities, even when all are not farm families, like my son and his family. They live in a rural community across the road from a family dairy farm but share an interest with the children on the farm for video games, showing cars and dancing.

The dance tonight reminded me of the two years when we lived in Philadelphia when my two sons were small. Children of all ages, small children and teens, played on the narrow streets of the row houses in the working class neighborhood where we lived. Like the 4-H dance, all the youth, young and old, mixed and played together.

Tonight two families that suffered devastating illnesses last year came forth to thank family and friends for the money raised at last year’s dance as well as for all the prayers and aid the community gave. Tonight another family was named as the recipient of the money raised by tonight’s raffles.

When we lived in Philadelphia in the 70’s one of the neighboring families in a row house on our block had a fire and lost a son. The neighboring families all came together to the aid of the family that was suffering a loss of home and family.

Rural or urban, the basic instincts of people who live in community are to come together in times of play and distress.


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Champion Cows Or Silence - Saturday, September 04, 2010

Champion Cows and Youth

Today we attended the Shawano County Fair but spent most of the time in the coliseum watching 4-H youth, including our grandsons, show cows. There were many categories, judging the cows by type, judging the youth’s ability to show the cow by age, and the grand champions of each group. If it was not for knowing a number of youth with cows in the competition it would have been boring for me to watch. By the end of the day I was all cowed out.

The tragic death of my son, Peter, has changed me more than I thought. I will need a time of silence and reflection to know just how life has changed. Today I found small talk hard to take, and found images of Peter’s birth and death in my mind whenever I wandered from the present.

When Peter was obsessed with certain thoughts and notions I used to tell him to let it go, to practice detachment from his thoughts, just to be. When I was really present to the showing of cows today my mind, body and spirit were aligned. But when I was not my mind would wander to images of Peter.

The lesson I learned today was that in between watching champion cow competition or doing other things, I need to keep my mind in silence, the healing power of nothingness.


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Stigma or Sun? - Friday, September 03, 2010

Evergreen for Peter

My son Peter suffered terribly from the social stigma that many impose on persons with brain diseases. Struggling with this observation and other stigmas people place, I wrote this in March 2009: Stigma Stains the Soul. To understand that there is some bit of truth behind each stigma but the stigma does not define who you are was valuable for me. Sadly my son never understood this.

While stigma is a curse the sun is a blessing. Without sun there is not much life. The evergreen given us by friends to remember our son said in the planting instructions that it required full sun. This was a dilemma for my wife and me, for where we really wanted to plant the tree was by the front door which does not enjoy full sun. We decided to risk it and plant the tree there anyway. We put plenty of worm castings, compost and watered in with casting tea hoping that the energy from the castings, compost and tea would compensate for the lack of sun. We will wait and see.


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Let It Be! - Thursday, September 02, 2010

Mother Mary garden in 2007

One of my favorite Beatles’ songs is “Let it be”. The lines: “Mother Mary said to me ‘let it be’, ‘let it be’” rings in my ears frequently.

Today we planted an evergreen tree given to us by friends to honor Peter in the front lawn. We noticed how nice our front lawn gardens have come to be, the rain garden full of flowers on one side and the vegetable garden full of tomatoes and basil on the other side.

Tonight a random picture from 2007 appeared on my computer screen of the center of our backyard garden featuring the statue of Mother Mary, bird bath and flowers. The statue and bird bath are still there but is now surround by overgrown plants and weeds. All the attention paid to the front garden has resulted in a lack of attention to the backyard garden.

My son Peter used to say “I am doing my best”. All we can do is our best and the rest we need to say with Mother Mary, ‘let it be’, ‘let it be’.


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Free To Feel - Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Pain by Peter Graf

Today I allowed the numbness I have felt since the sudden death of my son, Peter to thaw a little. As my wife and I were making our home visits to people in need for our St. Vincent De Paul Conference I used the healing power I feel on these visits to offset the pain I started to feel of my own loss.

This afternoon I did some picking of tomatoes and other garden bounty by myself, without the help of my grandchildren or my brothers who had come to comfort and console us. Working in the garden has always been healing but today I realized how past work on the garden has allowed me to take some time off the last month from caring for it, yet it continues to produce fruit. The worms keep working; the soil provides energy to the plants that produce the bounty. Past garden work over the years has given the garden the ability to produce with minimum of care — basically picking it.

This reminds me of a profound thought my wife’s brother, a Catholic priest, provided in his homily at my son’s funeral liturgy Monday. He quoted a mystic and holy Indian priest who he works with in his parish as saying that because of all the prayers for Peter over the years, God had given Peter authority over his own life. I am not sure I understand this reflection completely but I do see the comparison to nature and the garden.

In my Eulogy for Peter yesterday I talked about my favorite story of Jesus healing of someone possessed, or as we would say, someone with a brain disease. While Jesus was on the mountain being transfigured in front of a few disciples, some other disciples were trying to answer the petition of a father asking that the demons in his son be expelled. They could not do it and when Jesus came down the mountain he answered the prayers of the father and expelled the demons from the boy. When his disciples asked him why they could not do it he answered that some demons can only be expelled by prayer.

My son was freed of his demons or disease as an answer to all the prayers for him by so many friends and family over the years. Like the work in the garden gave it power to produce, all the prayers for my son were answered by God in his death. He is free at last. Now I am free to feel.


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