Subversive Little Crumbs

Vaclav Mach / Shutterstock.com

Vaclav Mach / Shutterstock.com

I stood at the bread shelf in the neighborhood grocery store, trying to decide which loaf I should buy. Tough decision. I looked at all the types of bread and went back and forth many times.

Which one would be best for communion? I didn’t know. I’d never had to make this choice.

Our pastor was at a conference for the weekend. As the associate minister, I would be presiding over the Sunday service for the first time. Before he left, we went over the details of all that had to be prepared.

He reminded me that I needed to buy the bread for communion.

Uh, I hadn’t thought about that. Where do you get it?

“The grocery store will do just fine.”

So there I was, looking over the loaves, wondering which one looked the most, well, communion-y. Maybe that pretty, round Tuscan loaf. Wait, maybe the nice Jewish rye over there. My wry sense of humor kicked in. Jesus would smile over that, right? Being Jewish and all.

No, better not …

I finally picked an Italian loaf — mainly because it was big and it looked pretty and it was on sale. I put it in my basket and headed for the self-checkout line.

When I scanned the loaf, the automated voice asked: “Do you have any coupons?” No, no communion coupons. Not today.

I swiped my credit card and was reminded that my purchase would earn me a few cents off my next gasoline purchase. How’s that for transubstantiation — bread transformed into bonus points?

‘Selma Sowed, But It Did Not Reap' — Anniversary Puts Spotlight on Deep Poverty

Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Tami Chappell / RNS

A woman carries an American flag in Selma, Ala, on March 7, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Tami Chappell / RNS

With the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday this weekend, America was reminded how this small city helped bring sweeping change to the nation.

But while Selma might have transformed America, in many ways time has stood still in this community of 20,000 that was at the center of the push that culminated with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Dallas County, of which Selma is the county seat, was the poorest county in Alabama last year. Selma has an unemployment rate of 10.2 percent; the national rate is 5.5 percent.

More than 40 percent of families and 67 percent of children in the county live below the poverty line. The violent crime rate is five times the state average.

The Birmingham News called the region, known as the Black Belt because of its rich soil, “Alabama’s Third World.”

Why We Must Change How We Change the World

Photo courtesy World Relief

Photo courtesy World Relief

It’s hard to be optimistic about changing the world when our news cycle is dominated by terrorism, violence, and disease. When world events shock us, sometimes our best hopes cave in to our worst fears. Even the most radical activist may be tempted to give up.

But there is a different narrative that summons those of us who dare to care. It begins when we confront the things that have kept millions from breaking free from poverty and injustice. It ends when we find the courage to change how we change the world.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, which consistently ranks among the poorest countries in the world and the most dangerous for women, a group of peacemakers are changing the narrative. Last year I met a Congolese woman who told me how her husband was killed in crossfire between warring militias, how she was violently assaulted by the soldiers who were supposed to protect her, and how she fled her village with her eight children under the cover of night. In the wake of her suffering, she joined a group of women to save small amounts of their own money each week. From her savings, she launched a soap-making business. Over time, she employed others and taught her sisters how to do the same. She helps others to forgive their perpetrators and, together, they are determined to stop the violence against women in a land known as the rape capital of the world.

Today thousands of peacemakers like her are changing Congo, and their numbers continue to swell. They are “waging peace” to save Congo one village at a time.

Environmental Racism and Health Disparities in the South Bronx

Photo courtesy Leah Kozak

“An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last year on a crisp afternoon in March, I was one of nine people arrested by the NYPD and taken away to the local precinct for processing. My crime? Attempting to plant detoxifying sunflowers on public brownfield land on the South Bronx waterfront in New York City.

Earlier in the day, more than 100 residents, faith leaders, organizations, friends, and allies came together to protest the proposed relocation of the online grocer FreshDirect to a residential neighborhood in the South Bronx. After a jubilant and joyous interfaith reflection and prayer vigil outside the entrance to the waterfront location, security guards refused to let us cross the gate, so we sat in front of it in protest — a peaceful and non violent act of civil disobedience.

Our coalition, South Bronx Unite, works to improve and protect the social, environmental, and economic future of the South Bronx in New York City, located in the poorest congressional district in the country. For three years we have been fighting to stop FreshDirect from receiving more than $100 million in subsidies and incentives to build a diesel trucking distribution center on public land along the Bronx Kill Waterfront.

It's About Time

gameanna / Shutterstock.com

gameanna / Shutterstock.com

On Feb. 8, civil rights attorneys sued the city of Ferguson, Mo ., over the practice of jailing people for failure to pay fines for traffic tickets and other minor, non-criminal offenses.

And to this I say: It’s about time.

Growing up with an attorney father — a “yellow dog Democrat” one at that — who often took on poor clients in return for yard work and other non-cash payments, I heard early and often about the unfair — and illegal — practice of debtors’ prison. A poor person could not be jailed for failure to pay a fine, my father told me. I trusted his words were true.

So imagine my surprise when at the age of 18, I was arrested for unpaid traffic fines.

At that time I was a stay-at-home mom, trapped in a too-early marriage I would one day leave. My son was probably 6 months old. When the knock came at my door and I saw a police officer standing outside, I didn’t hesitate to answer.

The officer confirmed my identity and told me I was under arrest for failure to pay traffic tickets I had received for driving an unregistered vehicle.

I know that I should have paid the registration. Once ticketed, I know I should have worked out a payment plan. I know I should have taken responsibility for my illegal actions.

But I was young, inexperienced with the system, and very, very poor. Too poor to keep up with even the most modest of payment plans.


Illustration of a boy, Xomi / Shutterstock.com

Illustration of a boy, Xomi / Shutterstock.com

In my classroom, there is a little boy from Honduras. He speaks Spanish — that is the language of his heart — but he is learning English and tries with all his heart to learn new words and strange phrases that will allow him to live in his new world here. He is 9 years old, with dark hair cut straight across his forehead in a wonderfully crooked line. He has deep brown eyes the color of a plowed field, eyes that sparkle like starlight at night off a pool of calm water. He has big dimples that catch teardrops when he laughs until he cries, or when he cries until the sadness in his heart resides. He has a broad smile that is sometimes mischievous but most times full of joy.

Sometimes I wonder ... what is he thinking as he closes his eyes at the end of the day, or opens them at dawn?

"I hope my new world will embrace me," he thinks tenderly, "and not call me an illegal alien ... and not try to tear me apart from my Aunt ... and not try to tear me apart ... and not place me in the shadows ... and not make me a shadow.

Mami, can you hear me in the dawn? Will my words reach you over the land, over the land, to the valley, between the mountains, to La Esperanza, to Honduras? Help me, Mami. Please. I don't want to be a shadow here. ...

What Can We Expect from Pope Francis' Address to Congress?

Pope Francis in October in St. Peter's Square. giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.

Pope Francis in October in St. Peter's Square. giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

The Francis Revolution is crossing the Atlantic and coming to the heart of the nation’s Capitol. News broke yesterday that Pope Francis has accepted Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address a rare joint session of Congress during his upcoming trip to the United States on Sept. 24.

This is the first time that a pope has addressed Congress and provides a world-class opportunity for the Holy Father to lift up the Gospel’s social justice message to the most powerful legislative body in the world.

So what will the Jesuit from Argentina talk about? Studying his nearly two-year tenure as the Bishop of Rome suggests that Pope Francis will focus particularly on the scandal of inequality and exclusion.

Last April, Pope Francis tweeted that “inequality is the root of all social evil.” The seven-word tweet caused an uproar in American media, but the truth is that Francis had been saying the same thing for years. In his 2013 letter Joy of the Gospel, Francis wrote “just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”

With reports last fall suggesting that economic inequality in the United States is at its highest levels since the Great Depression, Pope Francis will likely call on our elected leaders to transform our economy into one where no one is left behind.

The Old Man and the C-note

IN THE LARGEST currency change that the world has ever seen, the euro was launched on New Year’s Day 2002 with great excitement and ceremony in 12 eurozone member countries. At the time, the shared currency was considered to be a vehicle for tying together separate states and cultures with numerous economic benefits, particularly to trade, employment, and tourism.

Now imagine a humble, 90-year-old Catholic priest, vibrant yet shrunken and bent with age. In Italian, he addresses a group about the euro in the celebratory year of its launch. In one hand he holds up an unconsecrated host; in the other, a one-euro coin. They are the same shape, and nearly the same size. But the coin is shiny silver and gold. The priest speaks simply and directly about how, despite their similar appearance and promise of life enrichment, the euro is deceptive. The dominance of finance and capitalism that it supports is a false idol, he says, which leads to addiction.

This story was recounted by a number of Italian press outlets at the time. It contributes to the mythos of this man who writes extensively about the Eucharist, which he believes, in contrast to the euro, creates a relationship not just with God but with our fellow human beings.

That priest is Arturo Paoli, now 102 years old and still quite active.

After spending most of his life overseas, Father Paoli returned to his native Italy in 2005 and lives in Lucca. Despite being a prominent activist, writer, and thinker in Catholic circles for nearly 70 years, he is largely unknown in the English-speaking world. (I am aware of only three of his 50 books having been translated into English: Freedom to be Free [1973], Meditations on Saint Luke [1977], and Gather Together in My Name [1987]. Of Paoli’s countless articles and public addresses, only rough web translations are available.)

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Who's in Control?

Terrorism and blatant inexcusable barbarism arise out of grievances and injustices that nobody wants to confront or seem to know how to address. In theological language, sin begets sin, and we don't seem to know how to deal with that.