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August 2010

Tomatoes & Basil
from Front Lawn
Garden 2010

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Garden 08/02/09



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Nonviolent Action - Thursday, June 30, 2011


Ahisma is the attribute of the soul,
and therefore to be practiced by
everybody in all the affairs of life.
M.K. Gandhi

What we call ‘nonviolence’ used to be called ‘passive resistance’. Mahatma Gandhi did not like the Indian version of this phrase. The word ‘passive’ was his problem. The force he understood was an active one. So he changed the phrase to the Indian word ‘Ahimsa’, which we translate ‘nonviolence’. Now in English the word has some problems since some may say it means no violence. But that is the best we can do to describe this force which we just saw topple governments and as Gandhi says “can be practiced by everybody in all affairs of life.”

I point the above out to show the limits of words. In fact when Gandhi was searching for a word to describe the struggle for truth, the use of ‘Ahimsa’ he ran a contest in the local Indian newspaper. The winning entry was a made up word satyagraha, which is loosely translated as ‘Soul Force’ or ‘truth force’. By creating a new word for to name the struggle for Ahimsa or nonviolence Gandhi was saying the power of ahimsa or nonviolence is important not the word.

So what does nonviolence mean? There are a number of similar meanings: It can refer to a “general philosophy of abstention from violence because of moral or religious principle; It can refer to the behavior of people using nonviolent action, civil disobedience, symbolic protest and more. My favorite description comes from Judith Brown in her book on Gandhi when she defines his Satyagraha, the struggle of this power of nonviolence, “striving nonviolently to the point of sacrifice rather than fighting to attain one’s vision of truth.” Martin Luther King in his famous letter from the Birmingham jail, talks about how “disciplined nonviolence totally confused the rulers of the South. They did not know what to do. When they finally reached for clubs, dogs and guns, they found the world was watching, and then the power of nonviolent protest became manifest.”

The power of nonviolence in all its meaning means accepting suffering, rather than responding violently in word or action. St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus says we should pray to God for the “desire to be with you in accepting all wrongs and all rejections and all poverty, both actual and spiritual.”

So words like ‘nonviolence’ are easy to use but putting the meaning of these words in action is difficult. Action speaks louder than words.


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Mother Mary of the Lilies - Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Mother Mary of the Lilies

Two lilies have bloomed, one in front and one in back of the Mary statue in the backyard garden. These two lilies with others were given to me a few years ago by a friend. They were small and I did not know if they would work but planted some in the front of the house and a few in the back. Each year they come up and bloom for quite awhile in the summer.

A lily has a certain majesty and presence in the gardens. I am not sure why I feel this but am glad that I planted some in the Mary circle garden in the backyard. Seeing those two lilies reminded me today how we need to honor and remember Mary. Mary, in our Catholic tradition, was a fully human being but yet was the Mother of Jesus, Mother of God. Over the years many people in the Church have suggested that we pray to God through the intersection of Mary. I guess Mary being a mother knows how to approach her son Jesus who is God.

For me Mary is a symbol of humility and gentleness, both I can use more of. She was a lowly teenage in the occupied territory of Palestine when she was chosen and asked to be the Mother of Jesus.

There are a number of ships trying to leave Greece to bring letters of support and supplies to the occupied territory of Palestine. Gaza, which is under a blockade. The American ship is called the “Audacity of Hope” and is trying to break the siege of Gaza to carry letters of support to the people trapped there. Last year when there was another flotilla trying to break the siege they were attacked by the military of Israel and nine innocent persons on one of the Turkish ships were killed.

On the American ship there are some well known persons, like Pulitzer prize winner Alice Walker and peace activist Kathy Kelly. But there are also many ordinary Americans on board. All of them are courageous and are doing what Alice Walker calls “the right thing to do”.

Mother Mary of the Lilies pray for all those who sail to Gaza.


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Milwaukee, Big ,Small ,Town - Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Summer is here; it was a short spring; and tomorrow Summerfest, the world’s largest music festival, begins. Milwaukee is called the City of Festivals. Each weekend there are four or five major festivals from ethnic festivals to film, church and neighborhood festivals. All the festivals have a few things in common, good food, beer and music.

While Milwaukee is known as a city of festivals, sadly it is also known as the most segregated city in the USA with a population of 500,000 or more, according to the 2010 U.S. Census information. Discrimination is not just racially as the census map demonstrates but also is, like in many cities, along economic lines. The poor live in certain parts, the middle class in certain areas and suburbs and the rich, well they just live in the suburbs. Others in the top five of segregated cities are New York, Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland. There are no southern cities in the top ten of segregated cities. In 2007 I wrote an essay called The Sweet Waters of Discrimination in Milwaukee but it was the kind of essay people do not want to hear.

Living in the ‘city of festivals’ and the ‘most segregated city’ has its perks. There are many social justice issue, Fish Fries on Friday everywhere, many neighborhood bars, cultures to explore, a wide variety of eating experiences and of course old fashioned ‘ frozen custard stands’ in each area. For music lovers and social justice persons living in a city full festivals and segregation is great. People that grow up in Milwaukee, like me, usually come back to Milwaukee. If you dare to travel the various neighborhoods of Milwaukee and various festivals you can get the sense that you live in a big small town where everyone knows everyone.


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Changing Rain Garden - Monday, June 27, 2011


Rain Garden Today

The spring flowers are gone, the peonies are fading,the roses in bloom and the lilies with other summer flowers getting ready to bloom. So goes the rain garden in part of our front lawn, changing from early spring to late falls but always full of color and beauty. The changing flowers make for nice and fresh daily bouquet on the kitchen table.

Although we add or subject plants from the rain garden the best things about all the flowers in it are that they are perennials, coming back year after year. With the sun and water, from the house roof going through the rain barrel picking up some casting tea running throughout the garden in saturation hose, the rain garden needs a little care. Wood chips keep the weeds at bay so only the invasive woodland sun flowers need pruning.

As long as the constant of the rain garden, from spring to fall, is beauty the changing rain garden avoids labeling. It is not a rose, tulip, sunflower or mum garden.

In life human beings working for change, particular for social justice and peace, have a difficult time avoiding labeling. As some of my friends and I know humans like to label people pushing for change to they can avoid the message of these people by putting them in a box. By pointing out the voting record of my liberal congressperson on more war spending I have been labeled as someone insulting her. By pointing out how the local universities teaches war and reflexive killing, killing without conscience I have been labeled anti ROTC. When I was fighting discrimination of a mental health clinic in a neighborhood I was called ‘crazy’. When recently I was fighting against discriminating young adults from playing basketball at a nearby country park I was accused of calling persons ‘racists’.

What I can learn from the rain garden is to continue to speak my conscience and what I feel and not to worry about labels and what people say or how they ignore the message and label the messenger or worst yet, ignore the message and messenger. If we consistently seek the truth and speak our opinion of truth we can say, as Dr. Seuss said: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” Or simply said: Be like the changing rain garden.


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Reflections on Picking Grape Leaves - Sunday, June 26, 2011


Grape leaves in Guatemala

Warning, grape leaf picking season is almost over. The last few days my wife, daughter-law-, grandchildren, one of their cousins and I picked about 700 grape leaves from the backyard, local park and a bike trail. I hope to get a few hundred more while they are still fresh and right size.

Now grape leaves, for those who do not know, are used to make the Middle Eastern dish of stuffed Grape Leaves. It is a favorite of the Graf clan in Iowa, Colorado, Washington State and Texas. My mother prepared them for our family and taught my full blooded Italian wife how to make them who taught me and other relatives how and who wrote the recipe for this web page.

I have found Grape leaves, leaves from vines without grapes, in every country I have visited, including India and Guatemala. One of my earliest childhood memories is picking grape leaves in a park just like I did today.

Around here the best time of the year to pick grape leaves is June. The vines you pick in June will generate new grape leaves that might be good later in the summer.

In the middle of July 1999 I was make a silent religious retreat at a place that had a lot of grape leaves along a road around the lake. It was not long after the death of my young sister. She used to argue with my mother about picking grape leaves off of vines or with grapes or no grapes as my mother insisted. Here are some reflections I wrote at the time.

Grapes or no grapes on the vine? Does it matter?
Pick the leaves early in the season or do more time.
The more you pick the more you get.
Holey leaves are not good.
Do not forget about the lowly.

Picking grape leaves makes for good food, good exercise, good cooking and good reflections on life


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It is a Dog’s Life - Saturday, June 25, 2011


My Godson with Anya
and her family members

Dogs dominate this day. My son and his wife were here for the day. Actually they were gone for about 4 hours today to visit my daughter-in-law cousin’s family. My son’s family brings their dog here whenever they visit and my wife had to work in the library today. So I became the dog’s, Anya’s, sitter. We sat around the air conditioned house, took a walk to a post office box to mail a letter, and the dog watched as I worked on the garden. Anya is a country dog, used to not being on a leash but freely running around but not today in the city.

Tonight on TV news a woman who started a food pantry service for dogs was honored. So many people in the USA go hungry each day and this woman thought of their dogs which are cherished by many persons in need.

My seven granddaughter informed her mother and me when we working in the kitchen that “more dogs than people die” each year. When her mother questioned her on this information she said her teacher told it to her, so we know it must be true.

In our culture we have lots of saying about dogs like “dog eat dog” referring to greedy capitalism, it’s a “dog’s life” which is not so good or “sick as a dog” which is really sick.

It is said that a dog is ‘man’s best friend.’ I always wanted a dog as a child but never had one. As a parent we had a dog but he eventually died. Do I need a dog now? I think not and I “better let sleeping dogs lie.”


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Reality Matters? - Friday, June 24, 2011


What passes for fact is only the
impression or estimates of,
and estimates vary. M. K. Gandhi

(I could not post this last night and today forgot till tonight to do so.)

There were two votes today about U.S. participation in war in Libya. One was just resolution about future war in Libya, basically a meaningless gesture. This vote passed. However, the other one had substance to it, to limit US funding of the war in Libya, about 10 million a day. The US war in Vietnam ended when Congress stopped funding it. I cannot find the vote yet but can guess how the ‘progressive democrats’ who talk jobs not war voted.

Next week a few of this ‘liberal democrats’ are meeting here in Milwaukee to talk jobs not war. This is at the invitation of our ‘liberal democratic’ from this area who talks peace but votes for more war spending. Last week I did a ‘fact check’ on four issues of military spending and how they voted. Not one had a perfect record like the Democrat Rep. Kucinich or the local conservative Republican congress persons. I send out the voting records to local peace community. There was no response. Facts and votes do not count.

I am reminded of the bumper sticker on my car: God is not a Republican or Democrat. I have stated we do not live in a democracy where our votes count but in our country where corporations control government. Tomorrow perhaps I can find out the ‘progressive Democrats’ meeting in Milwaukee to rally voted. But will it matter. I doubt it. People will still go to meet with these ‘progressive Democrats’ even though they may have voted for more war spending in Libya.

I will publish the results on the page of the War Spending Records of Congresspersons Gwen Moore and James Sensenbrenner Jr.. Then I will go back to work in the garden and maybe write more about the GP Home Gardens. At least in the garden reality matters unlike politics


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Drones Kill Children - Thursday, June 23, 2011


Mourning death of children
by USA drones

Some of us were planning to do some nonviolent actions around the resistance to drones, unmanned aircraft. Drones have been around for a while as spy plans but in the last few years have gained popularity as a way to kill persons in Afghanistan, Pakistan and now Libya.

I have known about killer drones for awhile but only recently dong some research for our actions I have become aware of how they are being used with increasing frequency and deadly force.

Drones often kill children and other innocent people since the operator in the USA just does as he or she is told and deploys missiles from the drones on unsuspecting houses and gathering places in countries far away.

A ‘killer done’ is the technology counterpart to soldiers being taught ‘reflexive killing’, killing without conscience that many have resisted being taught in universities like the Jesuit Catholic university in Milwaukee, Marquette University.

It is no wonder that with this type of mentality, drones and ‘reflexive killing’ that when Marquette University was recently caught breaking State and Federal laws regarding reporting alleged sexual assaults on campus they were not charged with breaking the law. The DA gave the reason for not prosecuting Marquette because they cooperated with authorities after they were caught. If I run a stop sign and get caught do you think I will get away with no ticket because I cooperate with authorities and promise not to do it again?

There seems to be two classes of human beings and businesses. One is like Marquette, the people on Wall Street or the major strip mining companies in West Virginia who can break the law and get away with it. There are citizens with the same immunity, especially rich white persons in the USA. The other class is like the poor and weak countries of the world and many of their citizens. The deaths of Pakistani youth by drones seem not to matter as much as the murder of a child from a wealthy family in the USA.
Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton and Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence have taught us, as Jesus did, that all human beings are equal and have the same dignity and lives should be respected. But the example of Marquette University and the sexual assault charges, the major strip mining companies, the barons of Wall street and the military use of ‘killer drones’ teach us we are not all brothers and sisters equal in our humanity.

I contend we all, especially youth, learn more from example, than we are said. The rise of ‘killer drones’ and our silence in the face of this warfare is another sign that we really believe that all persons are not equal in terms of human dignity. If they were how could we kill children with drones?


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Passion for Truth and Poor - Wednesday, June 22, 2011


“Truth is superior to Man’s wisdom” Gandhi

I am starting to realize that all of us have a built in passion for truth and the poor. Seeking the truth is in all of us, although we can never find the Truth we search for it. Gandhi called this struggle our ‘opinion of truth.’ If we are open to new evidence, values and beliefs our ‘opinion of truth’ may change but we still must struggle for what we believe to be the truth.

I believe God has given graces and blessings to the poor, marginalized, rejected and outcast. We need to seek them out and be in solidarity with the poor to receive God’s graces and blessings.

Although all of us have this passion for truth and the poor, I believe, some of us are blessed or cursed to act on it. I say blessed or cursed because often they are the same thing. I have often found in my curses blessings.

However, acting on these passions is not something always enjoyable. We are imperfect messages of our ‘opinion of truth’ and our struggle to be in solidarity with the poor and be a ‘voice for the voiceless’.

All this might sound theoretical and it is, put this way. But in everyday life the drama of a passion for the truth and poor is real and concrete, bringing joy and suffering with peace.


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Courage To Be Simple - Tuesday, June 21, 2011


“The greatest test of courage
on earth is to bear defeat without
loosing heart.” R.G. Ingersoll

“It takes more courage than we imagine to be perfectly simple with other men. Our frankness is often spoiled by a hidden barbarity, born of fear.

False sincerity has much to say, because it is afraid. True candor can afford to be silent. It does not need to face an anticipated attack. Anything it may have to defend can be defended with perfect simplicity.”
— Thomas Merton. No Man is an Island

This quote from Thomas Merton that came today reminds me how hard it is be truly simple and silent in today’s complex and noisy culture. Simplicity is probably why I am so attracted to the quotes form Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Gandhi, and various others that I get. Also the picture quotes, combining a good quote with a picture are becoming important to my daily reflection.

Working in the garden is like hearing a good quote. The work is reflective and focused. The many distractions of life disappeared while working in the garden. Today the time I went out to the garden, around noon, it started to rain and has been raining on and off since.

I got a late start on the garden due, in part, to three prayer services for homicide victims this morning. Our simple prayer vigils in some sad way are meaningful. One of the three prayer services today was for a one year child. Her mother and two young cousins came. The young children did not say anything but in their simple way were aware of why we were there.

At another homicide prayer service there was a young man who had witnessed the killing. He himself had been shot in the heart in a senseless act of violence but had somehow miraculously survived. His near death experience gave him compassion for the victim of the murder in front of his house.

I called one of my friends who regularly comes to these prayer services but due to sickness was not there. She has a long history of many illnesses and like one other of my other friends is in constant pain. How these two women, younger than me, have the courage to live each day is beyond understanding.

Yes, it takes courage to be simple.


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Resist Endless Wars - Monday, June 20, 2011


“History is a record of perpetual
wars, but we are now trying
to make history.” M.K. Gandhi

Working on the gardens is easy work and enjoyable. Work in the garden has rewards, flowers and food. On the hand work to stop wars is hard and frustrating. Work on stopping war seems to be hopeless. The present wars seem endless. However, with our country at war in Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and the global war on terror it feels like it is time to say No to war, especially preemptive wars, wars without a known end and ones that do not affect our security or well being.

So the question rises in a country where corporations control government (See Tavis Smiley interview with Robert Kennedy Jr.) how we resist war. In a democracy we could appeal to our representatives in government but we have little, if anything to say, with our present tactics in the corporate world that controls our government.

When we work on a garden and what we do does not work in growing plants we stop doing it and try something else. So why do we do the same old things, voting, petitions, emails, phone calls, read articles, protest, listen to people talking and talk ourselves when these tactics do not work to stop wars.

Perhaps it is time to think outside the box and try something new. One of things I learned in gardening that you can grow a garden on any surface, even concrete if you make your own soil out of waste.

What would happen if on a day of an election many people instead of voting would show up at the places of government, city hall, State Capitol, and White House to demand an end to one of the wars and were determined to stay there, perhaps praying and fasting, till this particular war was winding down and drawing to an end?

Perhaps we need to start on a smaller scale taking on a local issue related to war, like teaching war at a university, and in numbers taking nonviolent action, perhaps civil disobedience, until action was taken.

Since mass actions seem so hard to organize today as corporate power and its politicians have ways to avoid them and divide us maybe there are individual actions, like Gandhi did with people spinning their own clothes instead of purchasing ones from the occupying power of England that we need to do.

I do not have the answers but do know that doing the same old thing over and over again when he does not work leaders to frustration and apathy. What are new ways to resist these endless wars?


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Bright and Dark Sides of Father’s Day - Sunday, June 19, 2011


Future Home by Peter Graf

The dark and bright side of Father’s Day was present in my life today. On the dark side we attended the last liturgy at our Catholic church on the north side. A Catholic Church had been on this site for 114 years but fell victim today, as so many other Catholic Churches have in this area, to a neglect of the Catholic Church to serve the poor, particularly African Americans that have moved in the neighborhood. 15 or more Catholic Churches on the north side have been reduced to now two Churches created as African American Churches. The city of Milwaukee and the Catholic Church of Milwaukee have a long history of segregation of African Americans and it goes on and on. Where are the leaders of the Catholic Church in Milwaukee when it comes to equality? One of the Churches my wife and I are considering joining is a Church that originally was created downtown to be an African American Church where the nearby Catholic Church segregated blacks. The Church is now mostly white.

Also on the dark side today, Father’s day, were the memories of my son who had killed himself less than a year ago. I was his father and, as he stated before he died, his best friend. Today I thought and felt like I would finally cry over his death but did not.

On the bright side of this Father’s Day was hearing from three of my African friends, who call me, out of respect, Uncle Bob. I am proud of all three of them and what they have accomplished since they came from war torn Sierra Leone over 10 years ago.

Also on the bright side was working in my gardens and actually harvesting some mint and grape leaves, two important ingredients for Middle Eastern cooking. Both of these ingredients are sustainable foods. They come up year after year and the more you pick them, the more they grow. Now I just need to clean both, dry the mint and freeze the grape leaves.

My wife took me out to a Middle Easter buffet after we dropped some friends off that we had driven to Church for the last liturgy. I ate too much good food and did not feel good the rest of the day. When will I learn that even Father’s Day needs to be taken in moderation, the dark and bright sides?


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Making the Most of Life: Lessons from the Peony Bush - Saturday, June 18, 2011


It is peony time again. The peony bush has beautiful flowers but the flowers come and go in a short period time. Both my peony bushes are in bloom now, one in the rain garden in front and one in the Mary circle in the back. I have found that if I bring in the house an almost fully opened peony flower and put in empty beer bottle with water, I can extend its beauty for a little while longer. In general, however, just like the day lilies, the peony bushes bloom and soon die.

Today I attended the Memorial Service for my friend John Gilman that I wrote about last night in this posting. John lived a full and good life of 90 years. We were blessed that he was able to tell his story before he died in the book Footsoldier for Peace and Justice, The story of John Gillman.

Sitting at the War Memorial on the Lake Front hearing family and friends reflect on how a great person John was made me think of how brief life really is, even for person who lived it fully for 90 years. These days I find political infighting and distractions upsetting. How can we hassle about minor disputes and who says what and does what when, people on dying from war and poverty, the world is in such crisis and democracy is being destroyed in the USA.

The last point, the death of democracy in the USA is something I suspected but had it confirmed last night on the Tavis Smiley show when Robert Kennedy Jr. was the guest. In his recent documentary ‘The Last Mountain’, he takes on one of West Virginia’s most controversial issues: mountaintop-removal mining. But the story, he explains, is really a “template for what happens when corporations take over a democracy.” He states: “The domination of government by business is called fascism, and that’s what you’re seeing, that form of government.”

John Gilman fought fascism as an American soldier in World War II. Back home he fought for peace and justice as he struggled the best he could against the industrial/military/educational complex that dominates our country. He fought for and helped those who were marginalized and rejected. He barely had time for his family but not much else outside of the struggle for human rights. His life was like the peony bush, wonderfully full of beauty and wonder, but like the peony flower short. Like, with the peony flower and John, we must take advantage of life and make the most of it while it is present.


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Do The Right Thing - Friday, June 17, 2011


John Gilman

There is a memorial service for my friend John Gilman who died last April. His son asked me to say a few words at his service. Here are some thoughts.

John Gilman was one of my elders. Elders are person older than oneself that teach by their words and actions a lesson of life to the rest of us. The lesson John taught me was “to do the right thing” despite what it may cost you in rejection, insults and harassment.

My memories of John start after 14 of us were locked in jail for the Milwaukee 14 action, destruction of 1A selective service files in 1968. We did the right thing at that time, but for me it was just natural and had to be done. We were given an extraordinary high bail by Judge Christ T. Seraphim, Jerry Gardner and I, an higher amount due to the fact we appeared before Judge Seraphim twice before in that year. Although we knew eventually we would go to prison we wanted to get out of jail on bond to enjoy our 15 minutes of fame. Enter John and others who worked relentlessly at personal sacrifice to the right thing and get us out on bond.

During that time out on bond I remember having many political discussions with John. One at Casa Maria we argued but in a friendly way which you do not see much of these days. John could really talk, argue and act for what he thought was the right thing. Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement said that we must follow our conscience, even an erroneous conscience. She also said “When it is said that we disturb people too much by the words pacifism and anarchism, I can only think that people need to be disturbed, that their consciences need to be aroused, that they do indeed need to look into their work, and study new techniques of love and poverty and suffering for each other.” John was a mentor in following your conscience and disturbing the conscience of others.

When I got out of prison with a wife and young son I remember going to the Allied Linoleum Store that John ran for many years on 27th street. He was there to help with flooring or advice.

I remember at the Milwaukee 14 25th reunion when John showed up at a panel discussion Milwaukee 14 present and, of course, had to speak. His words, as usual were strong and to the point, although he could talk long.

I probably knew all those years that John had been in the military but it did not hit home to me until one day I saw John in full uniform at a peace rally on the lakefront. I had my camera and snapped this picture which is similar to, if not the one, on the back cover of his book. Soldiers of war who become soldiers for peace have special and personal understanding of the hell of war and the need to resist it.

There are so many issues and causes today that we can just talk about them and do nothing. This summer some of us feel the right thing to do is to resist the killer drones as the Federal and State Government plan to spend our money to build a drone training center in Wisconsin. It is the right thing to do.

Oscar Romero the great leader in El Salvador said if I die I will live on in the people. John Gilman’s spirit lives on in us. “Do the Right Thing.”


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Sell the Church and Give the Money to the Poor - Thursday, June 16, 2011


Our church is closing. A Catholic church has been on this site since 1897 but now is being closed for lack of priest and money. The church owns a lot of property, school, church, a couple of houses and is in the process of selling the property. The paradox is that when the property is sold the Church will have lots of money. I suggested that the money from the sale being given to the Society of St. Vincent De Paul conferences that serve the people in need on the north sides with home visits and vouchers for basics, like bed, appliances and furniture. I send my suggestion to so called ‘owners of Church’ Parish Corporation and a few parishioners that have something to say. I explained to them it was not my idea to “Go sell what you have and give it to the poor” but that of Jesus’ in the Gospel. But I doubt if they will respond to my request. Being a voice for the voiceless has it downside, being ignored and rejected.

There used to be many Catholic churches in this area on the north side when Germans and other ethnic groups lived there. But as the neighborhood became predominately African American the Catholic Church did not reach out to Americans who had a longer history in this country than the various ethnic groups. Thus from many Churches there are not just about four left. But on the south side of town where there are other ethnic groups live and the newer immigrants were Hispanics lots of Catholic Churches remain open.

I have been watching some TV shows about the Civil War, on this 150th anniversary of this dreadful war that killed so many thousands and thousands of men. A certain percentage of the population was killed and put in modern terms with today’s population it would be millions and millions of men.

The Civil war was fought over slavery, no matter how hard people try to rewrite history. The Catholic Church condoned slavery as morally right till modern times. Often I feel we are still fighting a war over discrimination and moral values, though today it is the poor, the ill and militarization of country that are the focus of our struggle.

My wife and I are considering joining a Catholic Church downtown, St. Benedict the Moor when our church closes after Sunday. This church was started over 100 years ago by the Catholic Capuchin Franciscans for the growing number of African Americans living in Milwaukee. The nearby Catholic Jesuit church, Gesu, was not welcoming to African Americans and made them sit in the balcony at back of Church. St. Benedict the Moor, now has many ministries to the poor and disenfranchised, meal program, jail ministry and a health clinic. The paradox now is that most of the Church members are white coming from all over the area. The African Americans have moved north and northwest and not being welcomed by the Catholic Churches on the north side which are now few and far between. But we still have a few St. Vincent De Paul conferences in the predominately African American neighborhood and if the money from the sale of our closed Church goes to these conferences we can still serve people in need. Sell the Church and give the money to the poor, please.


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Slow, Stop, See - Wednesday, June 15, 2011


To Know Music is to
Transfer It to Life

As I was going out to get my car from the garage today I saw an elderly woman slowing walking past my house. When she got in front of the house she stopped to admire the flowers in front of the vegetable garden. She very slowly moved and when she got to the rain garden she stopped again to look at the flowers. I felt she was looking deeply at the flowers like one would look at a piece of art at a museum. I am not sure what she was thinking if thinking at all. All I know she was seeing the flowers.

Often in life we must slow down and stop to really see life as it is. Nature, music and art help us to slow down and know life deeply. A picture quote sent to me today from India has a Gandhi quote about music: “To know music is to transfer it to life.”

Most of the day was busy, doing the grocery shop, driving a friend to visit his elderly mother in a home and just some busy stuff was good. But it was the moment I stopped to watch an elderly lady stop to see the flowers, like knowing music, I was able to transfer this observation to life: slow, stop and see.


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Beggars at the Door - Tuesday, June 14, 2011


“Beggars at the Door”
by Rembrandt

We now own an original Rembrandt engraving. To be more accurate it is an original heliogravure by Rembrandt. A heliogravure is an engraving made from a new plate which is made from the original print. So it is not a copy of the original but is an engraving made from a plate as the original was made.

However what is great about this gift from my friend Jim Forest from Holland, when he was staying with us, is not that it is an original heliogravure but the subject matter.

The etching is of an old man leaning on the bottom half of a split door and offering a family of vagabonds a coin. The mother figure is accepting the coin and the father figure in the hat seems to be blind. This artistic creation from the imagination of Rembrandt speaks to me how individuals and society should treat the poor. Nowadays if family went door to door begging the police would probably be called. Our society has created a whole system of treating the poor and needy which does not include giving them money. Beggars are looked down upon in our society and many are instructed to ignore them and do.

The picture reminds me of a story about C.S. Lewis the same friend, Jim, shared with me: “One day, Lewis and a friend were walking down the road and came upon a street person who reached out to them for help. While his friend kept walking, Lewis stopped and proceeded to empty his wallet. When they resumed their journey, his friend asked, “What are you doing giving him your money like that? Don’t you know he’s just going to squander all that on ale?” Lewis replied, “That’s all I was going to do with it.””

Jesus was found of beggars. I read from a biblical scholar that a more accurate translation of “Blessed are the poor” would be “Blessed is the blind beggar”. In Jesus’ time, as in our time, a beggar was someone society had rejected and was to be ignored. Jesus said of beggars “for theirs is the kingdom of God.”

Jesus and others have said that a nation is judged by how it treats it least, the poor blind beggar or vagabond family. By those standards we better start being like the man in the etching giving to beggars at the door.


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Environmental Education Dies - Monday, June 13, 2011


My fifth grade friend and fellow admirer of Sponge Bob Square Pants completed fifth grade today at Hawley Environmental School near my house. This school, serving children from K-4 to 5th, has a special focus on the environment. When I was driving my friend to school today she told me about the completion ceremony and the awards that would be handed out. I asked her about environmental awards and she said there was some but this may be the final year of these awards because of (Governor) Walker’s budget cuts they were losing the environmental teacher.

After the ceremony I talked with my friend’s mom and she confirmed that the environmental teacher at the school for fifteen years was losing her job due to education budget cuts for Milwaukee in the new budget of Governor Walker. She also added that her brother, a long time arts teach in Milwaukee Public Schools MPS) was in danger of losing his job due to the radical budget cuts of the Governor. At a time when education is a priority the State is drastically cutting education funds to the largest school district in the State while at the same time extending tax cuts for the wealthy and increased funding for private schools for those with means.

Most of the rest of the day I spent working in my home gardens enjoying the experience and regretting that fewer children were now being exposed to the joy of caring for the environment and growing.

Each day we hear about a new attack on the Common Good by the State or Federal Government. There is a new round of protest in the State Capitol resisting the new budget and the growing central government State attack on our values and lives. But I am afraid we are beyond protest. Unless we resist and go on the offensive soon the value of government existing for the common good will die away. Maybe after we suffer a loss of freedom and dignity, we will wake up and rise up. In the meanwhile we lose another good teacher and the environmental education dies at this school.


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Concept or Reality - Sunday, June 12, 2011


Creation by Michelangelo

What does a planting pole bean seeds along a homemade trellis have in common with trying to communicate a simple idea by email? Except for being simple they do not have much in common. Planting bean seeds is straight, open and forthright. Communicating a message by email is a challenge and is open to misrepresentation and interpretation the way the receiver wants it to be. This is my observation today.

I heard a famous scientist on TV today say he thinks in conceptual ideas. I saw some NBA basketball players on TV today that express their message in hard physical play.

We are all guilty of thinking too much and not paying attention to the reality of what is happening around us. Today we had fancy dinner in nice hotel after mass to celebrate the closing next week of our Church. Our church was founded in 1897 in this area. In 114 years the neighborhood has radically changed. The neighborhood around the Church has changed from a rural white area to an urban, mostly African American neighborhood. Sadly the change of the church has not kept pace of the change of the neighborhood. I was reading during the dinner a brief history of the church on this spot. The early church adapted to the neighborhood changing, welcoming persons of all faiths to its activities and during the big depression of the thirties mortgaging the church to save neighborhood families.

Nowadays we are told we cannot even hold a St. Vincent De Paul conference meeting in a non-Catholic Church and instead of using the money from the sale of the Church to give to the poor and needy we talk about setting up an ‘outreach center.’ The very simple message of the Church and Gospel, love God and your neighborhood has become full of rules and regulations. We have moved the Church into conceptual thinking and away from incarnating the Church in the reality of our everyday lives.

While we talk and talk about ideas of serving the poor a number of people were shot nearby our Church the last few days. Where was the church, talking and confusing about concepts on email?

Jesus said when two or more are gathered in his name he would be there. We the people are church. We do not a building but could use the money from the sale of the building. Some in the Church are looking for a new identity and a new concept while people in the neighborhood struggle to survive physically.


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Give It tothe Poor - Saturday, June 11, 2011


St. Vincent De Paul Home Visit

With a stop at the garden store and the help of my weed pulling wife we were able to get some work done on the front lawn gardens today, especially the rain garden. We are still back to cold and wet weather but it is garden workable. With all the rain, the rain garden is doing well. A little sun might bring more color to the plants but the varieties of perennials are doing well.

The last few times at the garden store I started to think of all the money we spend on our home gardens, a plant there and a plant here can add up. But we can afford it and normally I do not think about the money involved in a garden, even one that you make your own soil.

The reason I probably am thinking about money for gardens is that our church is about to close, supposedly for lack of money. The paradox of the situation is that when we sell all the church property we will have lots of money, no church but lots of money. Where will the money go is not clear. There was talk about using the money to serve the poor and needy in the area around our Church but now that the closing is coming close that talk is fading away. Our official church spokesperson for those who are making the decisions about the church now says “there is no guarantee” the money will be used to serve those in need. I made a proposal to her and the ‘others’ she works with that the money, or at least some of it, be given to our St. Vincent De Paul conference to support our work making home visits and giving persons essential household items, like beds, appliances and furniture. I feel that this suggestion, as others, will be ignored by the “powers that be”.

When it comes to talk about “preferential option for the poor” and works of mercy all is well in the Church. But when it comes to money there is a veil of secrecy and the poor are soon forgotten. I always felt Jesus was serious when he says to a good man in the Gospel “Go sell what you have and give it to the poor.” I guess that is a hard message for all of us but always thought the Church would be a leader in doing this.


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Can We Hear History? - Friday, June 10, 2011


How change happens
in History

Today while I was cooking dinner the doorbell rang. I quickly went to the front door and found a smiling man wanting to take just a ‘few seconds’ of my time. He introduced himself as with a Citizen Action group collecting petitions against actions of Governor Walker. I knew he was seeking money for the organization and in the past would have listened to him and maybe even given some money. However, with food on the stove I told him I did not have time to listen to him. He then asked me to simply sign the petition. Normally I might have done that but tonight I said No, Thank you.

Recently I have been reflecting on the petitions to sign, the letters and emails to write, the phone calls to make and even voting. Most causes are worthwhile and I agree with the desired outcome. However, I am seeing all these type of activities as distractions, to make us think we are doing something and making a difference why the “powers that be” keep on doing more of the same.

Take for example the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For over 10 years some in the peace community have been calling for in speeches, petitions and protest for an end to these wars. But the wars continue and now instead of two we are fighting five wars, with the addition of military efforts in Libya, Pakistan and Yemen. Our military budget and our aide to countries for war efforts grows while we sign more petitions hear more talks and vote.

I feel that I and our nation are suffering from TMI (Too Much Information) and TMT (Too Much Talking). History tells us that we need to take action, nonviolent actions like strikes and civil disobedience to make real social and political change. Talk and emails will not do it. Can we hear history?


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KISS National Debt Reduction Plan - Thursday, June 09, 2011


Money Hole

Today I heard more about the tremendous amount of money the USA is spending to pursue war in Libya. Also I heard that we are now bombing Yemen. With military spending in Yemen and Libya as well as Iraq, Afghanistan and military support to many countries like Israel and Columbia it is no wonder we have a major debt problem in the USA. The other days I sent a national debt reduction plan to various peace groups and list servers. I call it the KIS (Keep it Simple) debt reduction plan. I asked for feedback but only one person who wants to keep non military earmarks responded. So here it is again and since the ‘comment’ section is still cut off send your comments and suggestions to

1) Withdraw from Iraq. This would be a huge savings. Spend a little sum to investigate who is responsible for the misinformation of Iraq possessing ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that started this ‘preemptive war’ that took nearly a million lives. This investigation would restore our integrity in the Middle East.

2) Start a gradual but direct withdrawal from Afghanistan. Afghanistan now cost us $10 billion dollars a month.

3) Reduce the 8 million dollars a day that goes to Israel, mostly for military. Support the defense of Israel rather than its aggression.

3) Start paying for wars as we did in this country before the second Iraq war. We can do this by putting back into place the tax system of Bush 1 and Clinton eras. Rich get rich on wars and should pay their fair share.

4) Convert the new nuclear bomb plant that is being building in Kansas City to a green environmental plant.

5) Eliminate all ‘earmarks’ in the budget, starting with military earmarks.

6) If the above is not enough we can take a look at our Defense Budget of 690 billion dollars. This budget is larger than all other military budgets of countries in the world combined. Make it truly a ‘defense budget.’

Any suggestions


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Nature Gives and Takes Away - Wednesday, June 08, 2011


Japan’s nuclear plant destroyed
by earthquake and tsunami

It was another hot and humid today when I went to the city dump. Knowing the entrance routine I showed the man my Wisconsin License ID and told him I was there for some wood chips. The worker misunderstood me and thought I was there to dump wood chips. It looked up at his boss who was standing nearby and this person said “Do not dump your wood chips with mine but in one of the dumpsters.” I explained I was not there to dump wood chips but to take wood chips. They waved me ahead. When I got to the wood chip pile I noticed that the fresh wood chips were gone and only the back of the large pile, with somewhat composted wood chips, was left. That was okay with me since I use the wood chips to make compost and for ground covering in the gardens. But I did think that his wood chips were not much better than ones someone might have brought to the dump.

Dumps outside the city of Milwaukee collects wood chips and leaves, compost them and gives out the resulting soil free to residents. Milwaukee no longer does that but, in fact, has some private company collect the leaves on some site outside of the city and when they are composed they are sold to fertilizer companies. I am glad that Milwaukee still allows us home gardeners access to wood chips.

Nature destroys, like the recent tornados and the strong storm outside tonight. However, Nature gives, rain, sun, worms, good soil and wood chips.

Man can effect nature in a negative way or go along with the goodness of nature, like the free wood chips to make more soil and enhance it. Nature gives and takes away.


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Cure for TMI and TMT - Tuesday, June 07, 2011


The heat and driving almost got to me today. The temperature was in the record breaking high nineties and it was humid. I could only get a little bit of work on the home gardens in this morning and tonight.

I had scheduled two persons to drive someone but ended up doing driving favors for three people for five different situations. I always tell the people that ask me for rides that I am blessed to be of service to them and none of the five or so persons I regularly drive take advantage of me. They are full of gratitude and provide blessings in my life. But today with the heat and the unexpected car trips I almost forgot how blessed I am to do this driving for friends in need.

Heat distorts our vision of what we are doing and why. If it was not for air conditioned houses, cars, stores I am not sure of what I would have done. I probably would have lost my cool and got overheated all for the wrong reasons.

With all this talk about our financial debt, lack of jobs, increased poverty, more war and killing, cutting taxes even more for the rich and seeing discrimination being practiced especially toward the poor, weak and sick, I can get even over heated. But what good does that do. Any message I am trying to communicate will get more ignored and I would miss the blessings in life and go on the defensive.

One of the friends I drove today is someone else who has a brain disease or, some call a mental illness. We talked about how hard it is to be ignored, marginalized and suffer insults even when we are trying our best to do the right thing and being who we are. I told him about the quote of Dr. Seus that I have quoted in these postings a few times. He enjoyed it and quickly understood its meaning.

Tonight instead of being angry and writing angry emails to people, I wrote a simple essay on six easy steps to erase the National Debt. I call it my KISS (Keep it Simple) debt reduction plan. I sent it out for comments to those in the local peace community, most which will ignore it. But a few might comment and then I can rewrite it and put them in an essay form on this web site. It was not much but at least it was positive not negative, going on the offensive instead of being defensive. I am starting to realize how much I suffer from Too Much Information (TMI) and Too Much Talk (TMT). Maybe quietly working in the garden or quietly driving people around is a cure for TMI and TMT.


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Mind Is Matter - Monday, June 06, 2011


It was hot and humid today and will be the next two days. Just last week it was cold and rainy. Where did spring go? I missed spring this year but the weatherman says it is coming later this week. I cannot wait.

I worked outside again today trying to catch up with the garden work I usually do in the spring. But I could not take it for a long amount of time as the heat and humidity got to me. We do not have much direct control of the weather so must bear with it.

I have been thinking a lot recently of an area of life that we do have some control but frequently fail to take it, which is mental illnesses or brain diseases. a disease that affects one of our four persons, As a result of our lack of concern for these illnesses, not treating it with research and care as other illnesses, many people suffer and some die of this disease. We tend to look at these types of diseases as character flaws rather than illnesses. Some like Alzheimer we recognize as an illness but most like schizophrenia we do not.

When Aids started to kill people and we found out it just not in the gay community much money, research and care was put into this disease. There were gay activist who help make this happen. Now very few people die of Aids.

There have been great advances in other medical research and it securing the civil rights of minorities, people with disabilities and others. However, mental illness or certain brain diseases still cause a stigma on people, especially poor people with these illnesses. Even many persons with this illness look on it as a character flaw rather than a physical brain illness.

Sometimes I believe what we need is a civil rights movement with and for persons with these illnesses. It will be difficult since part of these illnesses is a lack of acceptance from the ill person.

A friend is doing research and writing on why people still die of mental illnesses or brain diseases? I do not have the answer but know the question all so well and am struggling to fight for human rights of people who suffer these illnesses.

I mentioned before the 2011 class motto of Columbine High School in Littleton, Co. The 2011 class had a person who overcame cancer with proper treatment and had person who died, suicide, from a mental illness or brain disease. The motto the 2011 class adopted is a quote from Dr. Seus that says a lot about how we are. It is: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” The mind or brain can become sick but it should not matter in being who we are. The mind is matter.


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Lessons of a Godson - Sunday, June 05, 2011


Tristan blowing a bubble

Today I was at another high school graduation, this one in Madison, for my daughter-in-law’s sister’s oldest child, one of six. She is an excellent young woman but it was her two year brother, my godson, Tristan, which drew most of my attention. This is the first time that we really got to know each other and play together. He is almost three, the best age in my mind. He is still fascinated with little things in the present, like blowing a bubble but not old enough to label and categorize life’s experience. He can communicate a lot without using words.

Two and three year old are great example of what St. Francis of Assisi was talking about when encouraged his early followers to “Go preach the Gospel and only if necessary use words.” Many of us, including myself, suffer from TMI (Too Much Information) and TMW (Too Many Words).

Now that my grandchildren, nieces and nephews are seven years old or more I need to look to children like my godson for lessons in living life without many words and fully in the present.


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Beat of the Drum - Saturday, June 04, 2011


The kelie and the tabilie drums
of Sierra Leone

Although it was warm and humid I got four good hours of work in the gardens around our house today. Tonight we went to the graduation party of our African niece from Sierra Leone. She is the one I talked about in the posting called the Pinning. People from Sierra Leone know how to celebrate, with music, dance and plenty of good food and drink. While eating a variety of African foods I put something orange in my mouth. It was the hottest thing I have ever eaten and it took the rest of my Guinness beer and two bottles of water before I found some relief. Food from Sierra Leone, a hot climate, is spicy hot but this orange thing was beyond that.

Traditionally when we go to a celebration with people from Sierra Leone we come too early. The parties start a few hours after the assigned time and last into the late hours. This was going to start at 8pm so we arrived at 9:30 only to find the event had already started with prayer. After that was the time to eat. Everyone brings some wonderful food and everyone takes a plate of food home afterwards. After eating it is time to dance. The real culture comes out in the dance with the heavy drum beats and the colorful clothes of the dancers.

When people started to leave before we did and since we were not the first ones present my wife, Pat, commented that the people of Sierra Leone are becoming Americanized in their sense of time.

My Sierra Leone nephew (it is customary to call older adults uncle or auntie) came in from a short visit. I had worked with him on a foundation he had created, Seisay Foundation to empower the young people of the country after the devastating civil war they experienced. When I asked him how the foundation was going he said not too well as donations had dropped during the recession we are experiencing in the USA. I reminded him that he has not contacted me for help at all recently and you do not get donations unless you ask.

I guess it is natural for groups coming from different cultures to fit in with the American culture and to adopt some ways. It is probably easier to hang on to your culture in Milwaukee than other cities since we are noted for our ethnic festivals and cultural events. In Milwaukee we have parades, parties and festivals for all groups of people. One thing they all have in common with the graduation party tonight is good food, music and dance. Being with first and second generation Africans in America reminds me how much we stole from the Africans who were brought here as slaves. It has been a long and hard struggle for freedom and rights for their descendants. It still goes on. The people from Sierra Leone are a reminder of how much, besides the hot orange thing, African cultures have brought to the USA.

I say thank God for immigrants no matter where they came from, legal or not. They keep us young and vibrant as the beat of the drum goes on.


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Garden and Poor Bring Joy - Friday, June 03, 2011


Work in the DMZ Garden

Now that the weather has changed for good I am playing ‘catch up’ on my gardens. Life is busy as usual but I try to spend some time each day working on the gardens. Planting late will mean a late harvest of most vegetables but better late than never.

My driving person in need of a ride was no problem in the winter but now it occupies time I could spend in the garden. But I choose the blessings these rides bring over the garden and perhaps they will also translate to a more fruitful garden.

Our church is closing and I am fighting a losing battle, it seems, to keep our services to those in need located in the North side of town where many poor live and the church is now. This is not the first time the Catholic Church has abandoned the North Side by its presence. However, I feel compelled to do something about it.

I remember a Catholic, Indian, Jesuit priest telling me about his work with the poor in the slums of India. He found a joy there that he did not find in the rest of his life where he worked in a University and with the Jesuit community. He prayed to God for the grace and blessings he found with the poor. God answered him back that all the blessings and grace were given to the poor and he would have to go there to find them.

The Catholic Church talks about the ‘preferential option for the poor’ but talk is cheap. For me to drive someone in need to a doctor or other appointment is more important than working in the garden, protesting or marching. The poor, people in need, are rich in blessings and grace. Like working in the garden being present to those in need brings joy


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Always With You - Thursday, June 02, 2011


Icon of Ascension

Today my friend in Holland, a Russian Orthodox, sends me this beautiful icon of the Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven, an event celebrated by Catholics and Orthodox today. In Holland the Ascension is a national holiday although, as he says, “you wouldn’t get rich were you to get a euro per correct answer if you asked passers-by that the holiday commemorates.”

In the Roman Catholic Church Ascension used to be a “Holy Day of Obligation” meaning you needed to go to Mass that day. But I think it is no longer such since I heard nothing about it at the Catholic Church I attended in Littleton, Co. last Sunday and my wife also did not hear about it at Church up north where she attended with our grandchildren.

So the Ascension seems to be have diminished in both countries, USA and Holland, but at least in Holland it is a national holiday.

Jesus left the earth, body and soul and ascended into heave we Christians believe. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus’ last words before leaving the earth was “And, behold I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Now that is a great promise if we commemorate it or not.


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Where Have All The Prophets Gone? - Wednesday, June 01, 2011


Today, June 1, 2011, the headline of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was how the GOP-run State joint finance committee “to trim tax credits for corporations and investors while further cutting tax credit programs for the working poor.” The same committee also voted to close down two youth offender facilities near Milwaukee and keep open only one four hours away from Milwaukee. Each day we get hit by these types of transfer of wealth from poor to rich and cutback of services to people in need. When will it end?

When the newly elected governor earlier this year cut taxes for the rich and tried to take collective bargaining rights away for teachers and state workers. There were major protests in the State Capitol ending in one with over 100,000 people. There was talk of a general strike or sometime of major nonviolent action but when the Democrat senators who started the action came up to speak, one after another told the crowd not to strike or protest, to go to polls and vote and recall persons. They were some of the same Democratic senators, who when they had a chance, last year to pass a couple of bill favored by the people failed to do so.

Now we are under attack daily. Last year’s proposed secondary sale of guns with background check has not become an effort to stop a concealed carry gun law with no training, permits. The referendum over 70% of Milwaukee County voted to tax ourselves for a better mass transit system failed with Democratic control of legislator and governor and now we cannot even vote on a bill like this. Government in Wisconsin has been centralized with all control going to GOP run state government.

When you are under attack daily for what you believe is right the tendency is to go on the defensive. Going on offensive is hard and prophetic voices are marginalized and ignored.

Where have all the prophets gone? When will this end and the people will finally say ‘Enough’!


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