Tuesday, April 30, 2013

DOWN WITH VITRIOLIC CRITICISM. UP WITH JOY.



The other day, a delightful New Orleans soon-to-be ex-seminarian named Austin Ashcraft sent on a piece called "Pope Francis and the Reform of the Laity," by Fr. Roger Landry.

An excerpt:

"One of the wild grapes that flows from the vine of clericalism, the future Pope said in El Jesuita, is a hypercritical spirit that leads some Catholic priests and faithful to expend most of their energy censuring others inside and outside the Church rather than seeking to live and share the joy of the Christian faith.

“This is a problem not only for priests,” he said, “but also for laypeople. One isn’t a good Catholic when he is looking only for the negative, for what separates us. This isn’t what Jesus wants.”

Such unredeemed behavior — found regularly in personal conversations, blogs, comment boxes and Internet video analyses — “mutilates the message” of the Christian faith and scares people away from it, he said.

Firing vitriolic criticism at those with whom one disagrees is not the path of the reform of the laity and the Church.

The true path, rather, was delineated by Cardinal Bergoglio in the final report of the Latin American bishops’ encounter in 2007 with Pope Benedict in Aparecida, Brazil.

Cardinal Bergoglio was the principal author and presenter of the "Aparecida Document," which not only echoes many of his fundamental themes, but is a reliable indicator of his thought.

The reform of the laity, the document says, must involve reforming them to become “missionary disciples in communion.”


Those four words define the lay vocation: converted followers of Jesus, who, together with others, share Jesus’ life and faithfully seek to spread their joy, life and love to those who have not yet come into that twofold communion..."

I myself am anything but 'trending.'  

So I liked the piece a lot. 







PHOTOS FROM THE ARBORETUM
UNIVERSITY OF GUELPH

GUELPH, ONTARIO, CANADA

Monday, April 29, 2013

TO LIVE IS CHRIST




"To me, to live is Christ."
--St. Paul, Phil. 1:21

I loved running the series on Catholic Worker Dennis Apel [here and et seq].

To lay your whole life on the line for all the world to see, as Dennis did, takes tremendous courage: just consider for a moment if you'd be willing to do that yourself. In so many words, he said, "This is my faith. This is the account I can give of myself as to how I am doing for the least of these."  

To offer up your full name, your face, your place of work, your family, your personal history, your mistakes, and your holy, if forever imperfect, longing to the world--on your time and your dime--is not for the timid.  To open your heart only, as is sometimes the case, to have it be put under a microscope, and judged, and flayed, and scorned requires a tremendous capacity to absorb pain without lashing back.

Writing is how I lay my life and heart bare.

"Look, look!" I say. "This is what I've discovered! This is what I see!" 

How can I even describe my work, what I do, what I am?

I can't. I can only say: To me, to live is Christ.





ARLINGTON GARDEN, PASADENA
"Poppies...poppies will put them to sleep....poppies..."

THE GOLD ONES ARE CALIFORNIA POPPIES, OUR STATE FLOWER


Saturday, April 27, 2013

EMERGENCY HAYING


Reader Tom D. recently sent me a book of poems called From Snow and Rock, From Chaos, by Hayden Carruth.

Since hay fever season is upon us...

EMERGENCY HAYING

Coming home with the last load I ride standing
on the wagon tongue, behind the tractor
in hot exhaust, lank with sweat,

my arms strung
awkwardly along the hayrack, cruciform.
Almost 500 bales we’ve put up

this afternoon, Marshall and I.
And of course I think of another who hung
like this on another cross. My hands are torn

by baling twine, not nails, and my side is pierced
by my ulcer, not a lance. The acid in my throat
is only hayseed. Yet exhaustion and the way

my body hangs from twisted shoulders, suspended
on two points of pain in the rising
monoxide, recall that greater suffering.

Well, I change grip and the image
fades. It’s been an unlucky summer. Heavy rains
brought on the grass tremendously, a monster crop,

but wet, always wet. Haying was long delayed.
Now is our last chance to bring in
the winter’s feed, and Marshall needs help.

We mow, rake, bale, and draw the bales
to the barn, these late, half-green,
improperly cured bales; some weigh 150 pounds

or more, yet must be lugged by the twine
across the field, tossed on the load, and then
at the barn unloaded on the conveyor

and distributed in the loft. I help—
I, the desk-servant, word-worker—
and hold up my end pretty well too; but God,

the close of day, how I fall down then. My hands
are sore, they flinch when I light my pipe.
I think of those who have done slave labor,

less able and less well prepared than I.
Rose Marie in the rye fields of Saxony,
her father in the camps of Moldavia

and the Crimea, all clerks and housekeepers
herded to the gaunt fields of torture. Hands
too bloodied cannot bear

even the touch of air, even
the touch of love. I have a friend
whose grandmother cut cane with a machete

and cut and cut, until one day
she snicked her hand off and took it
and threw it grandly at the sky. Now

in September our New England mountains
under a clear sky for which we’re thankful at last
begin to glow, maples, beeches, birches

in their first color. I look
beyond our famous hayfields to our famous hills,
to the notch where the sunset is beginning,

then in the other direction, eastward,
where a full new-risen moon like a pale
medallion hangs in a lavender cloud

beyond the barn. My eyes
sting with sweat and loveliness. And who
is the Christ now, who

if not I? It must be so. My strength
is legion. And I stand up high
on the wagon tongue in my whole bones to say

woe to you, watch out
you sons of bitches who would drive men and women
to the fields where they can only die.

“Emergency Haying” from Toward the Distant Islands: New & Selected Poems by Hayden Carruth, published by Copper Canyon Press in 2006. www.coppercanyonpress.org



Thanks, Tom. I hadn't known of Carruth.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

CATHOLIC WORKER DENNIS APEL, PART V, THE GRAND FINALE


DENNIS AT VANDENBERG

What with Pope Francis's call for visible, voluntary poverty, and the push for canonization of Dorothy Day well underway, the story of Dennis Apel and his life at the Guadalupe Catholic Worker seems especially timely. 

For those who are just tuning in now, here's:

PART I
PART II
PART III
PART IV

Here's the final installment. 

And here we are [intentionally] dropping radiation on this island that's supposedly leased. That belongs to the Marshallese people. The fish in their lagoon you can’t eat anymore. They couldn’t go back to their island way of life even if they wanted to. So it’s no surprise when you go over and start talking to them about this, they sort of don’t want to hear it.

Meaning they don’t want to hear, I’m on your side?

Well, they don’t want to hear that something ought to be done about what’s happening to their islands, because even if they got their island back…

It’s ruined.

It’s wrecked. And they’re totally and completely dependent on the United States military. For their income. They have no income outside that. We took their livelihood away and then gave them the only possible work they could have, which is tending to the U.S. military. In order to escape that they’d have to go somewhere else—and they don’t have the money. So it’s hard to…it’s really hard to realize that and see that. And understand that that’s just how we do things. That’s the way we do it.

And I think the…you also feel, as Christ did, the magnitude of “the system.” Where do you even…where do you start…why bother?...but this is our faith. You put yourself wherever you can. You write about it, you carry a picket sign, you have gotten arrested many times, have obviously been to the Marshall Islands to try to better understand…

And you also raise kids. You have to also go toward joy…


You can’t be…you know how resistance is often, “Okay, I’m gonna try and win?”

Yeah, you can’t be adversarial or then you’ve been co-opted by the system…

Not only that, you’re bound to fail. Against the system of the United States. But to keep your juices going, you have to get your satisfaction and your peace from just speaking the truth.

Yes, and believing that matters whether or not it’s deemed to matter.

Take Franz Jagerstatter. He didn’t do anything. Hans and Sophie Scholl didn’t do anything to the Nazis except speak the truth.

And that will get you killed.

And we’re happy to go that way. Because they knew they were speaking the truth. Now I’m not saying they were happy about being executed. But they were at peace with it.

Nor were they “perfect”…Okay I just want to ask you one more question. You don’t pay taxes.

No.

How do you respond to the people who say, Well, you take advantage of the roads and the libraries and the hospitals…

I suppose that…the United States…has some…has a lot of very attractive aspects, even if they’ve deteriorated. Our health care system paid for my heart attack. The government took care of that, the whole thing. And we still have that.

So you’re grateful for that.

I am grateful for that. But then, part of me wants to say…I’m gonna go around this a little. Years ago, I went to talk to a guy who was with the Shippers and Growers Association. He was a lawyer, and then he would take on as clients all the growers in the (Santa Maria) Valley. And he had the role of advising them what they couldn’t do legally. And he also, if they got into trouble, the growers, he would represent them. In return, they gave him a monthly fee. So I went and just knocked on his door.

And he was very personable, Yeah, come on in. Let’s talk. Cause I wanted to know. And he handed me a sheet of paper and he said Look at this. And he was right, it had two columns of regulations for people in agriculture. Very strict, he said, and all of them had fines associated with them. He says, You show me any industry in the United States that has this many regulations. Agriculture is the most regulated industry in the United States and it’s oppressive. For the grower.

So I said, I don’t know, well let me look at it. And these were the regulations: You must have porta-potties for your employees. You have to have toilet paper in the porta-potties. If you don’t have toilet paper and they come and inspect you, you can be fined a hundred and fifty dollars. You have to have potable drinking water. You can’t have hoe handles that are shorter than this length, and down and down and down. I said, Well, I have to admit, you’ve got a point.

These are harsh regulations!…

Exactly. I said, Don’t you see it as an indictment that any human being would have to be regulated to provide that stuff?

And it’s kind of the way I feel about the government. There are things that by law are free. My kids go to school free. My medical care is free. There’s welfare, there’s Social Security, those things are put in place to even out…some people can afford them and some people can’t. Well, that’s a good thing. And I think the government should do that. Why not? And I feel like everyone should be able to have that. What I got when I had my heart attack, I feel everybody should be able to have.

In a country with this much money.

Yeah. The government spends at least half its income on military. And so when they say Oh gosh, we’re going to have to cut back on Social Security or we’re going to have to cut back on Medicare…we don’t have to. We have more than enough. We could fund all that. We choose instead to spend that money on a thousand military bases outside the U.S. And that’s just the beginning. The money that we spend on research and development, all the major defense companies like Lockheed Martin and Northrup, Raytheon, the billion and billions and billions of dollars we spend on research and development—of what? Of what? Nuclear weapons? That are designed to kill millions of people indiscriminately? Or drones? So that we can assassinate people without worrying about one of our men getting shot down?

Or they have all this research on microwave technology, crowd control that they’re developing, so a tank with a dish on it, you have a protest, you need to quell the crowd, they just hit em with microwaves. It causes such intense pain, you writhe on the crowd. And when you turn it off, if you get up and walk away, they turn it on again. There are tons of this sort of thing. Tons of these things that we’re researching and developing. [see, e.g., U.S. Military Unveils Heat Ray Microwave Crowd Control Cannon]:


To the tune of…

Billions and billions of dollars. The annual Department of Defense budget is somewhere between 685 and 800 billion dollars in one year. I read this article, just to give you an idea, if I handed you a dollar every second, if I gave you a million dollars, it would take nineteen days. How long would it take to give you our Defense Budget? If I gave you a dollar every second, it would take 36,000 years [that figures out to just less than 19 billion].

And that’s just every year.

Every year we do that again and again. And again. And that’s just the defense budget. We’re not even talking about the Department of Energy, which the whole nuclear program comes under. That doesn’t fall into the Pentagon’s budget. Then you have the CIA, FBI, NSA, which is the scariest organization on the face of the earth.

Cause it’s secretive.

It’s secretive. So they all have black budgets so we not only don’t know how much they’re spending, we don’t get to know how much we’re giving them. No idea.

Talk a little about the NSA.

It’s the National Security Administration and it’s completely separate, this is my understanding, from the CIA. It’s much like the CIA except it’s for the United States. Internal spying. The CIA gathers intelligence from every country: Iran or doesn’t have a nuclear program. Or Al Qaeda is planning this. The CIA does that around the world,

The NSA does that in the United States. So the NSA has a facility where they gather information. And this facility is set up so that every piece of information that is transmitted electronically is gathered by the NSA. Anything that goes over a computer, a cell phone, a telephone line, a fax, every electronic transfer of any information within the entire United States goes to this building that has just massive banks of computers.

Meaning we don’t have any real privacy.

We don’t have any privacy electronically. Our conversation right now is private [though I was taping it, obviously] but if were talking on the phone…

Oh my…

And then the program is set up to pick out any of that information. If the word “President” and “bomb” are mentioned in the same conversation, it picks it out. Then there are all these potentially interesting pieces of information, whether it’s by an email, it’s all taken out and then gone through and monitored and once you become an actual person of interest, people are actually listening in to phone conversations, reading those emails, monitoring, supposedly so that we can find the terrorists before they do their thing. We can find the groups, certain groups are flags, so any information coming out of certain groups, even if it’s Hey Mom, I’ll be there for Catherine’s birthday, that still gets pulled out.

We already know from Freedom of Information that a number of Catholic Workers have had community members who weren’t really community members. They were working for the government.

So they were internal spies?

Yeah, they did the whole thing, they joined, and then they kept the government informed. They’re gonna do a protest at the Federal Building or whatever. We had this guy Kevin who claims to live in Arroyo Grande who the first time I met him I just knew, This guy is a spy. He showed up more than once and the last time he showed up, I said Lookit Kevin, I know you want to be with us, I appreciate that you want to be with us. But the truth is that we’re gonna have to get to know each other a whole lot better than we do now…I don’t believe you. He said That’s fine…

One time he showed up, we were having a rally before an action at Vandenberg, we’re standing in the parking lot, and I see this guy, I’ve never seen him before, and I walked over and introduced myself and he gave me the whole story, he says, Oh my nineteen-year-old daughter, and I haven’t been active enough, I decided to come out and go to some of these protests, and I notice I’m talking, he’s texting, I’m talking, he’s texting…this isn’t right. And then we have the protest and Kevin goes to leave in a car that’s parked in a place where none of us are allowed to park. He’s parked in a place that only military are allowed to park. And I just happened to see him walking away and getting in his car. So I don’t trust the guy.

Anyway, all that just to say these are all things…the NSA’s purpose is to gather intelligence within the United States from American citizens. Google it, you’ll find out where their facility is. [Here ya go] This place is monstrous. I mean you can only imagine the size of the computer banks that would have to be in place…to gather, to pick out the information…

And we have no idea how much money…

“Security” is the ace-in-the-hole for the U.S. government. You just mention the word and anything goes. Anything can be done and not litigated because it’s a matter of national security.

And isn’t it interesting that we feel less safe, less secure than ever. The more violence we use, the less secure we feel. And thus the more people say, We need MORE violence. It’s just insanity.

People don’t understand…if I poked you in the eye, how many times do you think I’d poke you in the eye before you slapped me back? Yet our government doesn’t think twice about that dynamic with our military. When something like 9/11 happens, we say, What, what? Why did they do this to us? They must be envious of our lifestyle! Muslims think we’re sinful people and we need to be eradicated.

Right. It’s never, They think we’re jerks.

No, nothing about we took all their oil and left them in poverty. Nothing about we supported a dictator who tortured their people. We can’t imagine that people hate us for what we’ve done to them.

No, we’re shocked at this unprovoked attack…while we’re just innocently safeguarding the world’s “freedom”….

There’s a reason why people lash out at us. And we do ourselves a big disservice by not asking ourselves…if you’re against violence in all its form, you have as much of a disdain for the violence of 9/11 as you do for the violence of “shock and awe.” But on some level you have to say, yes, but this level of greed and trying to get everything for ourselves… there is a difference between this kind of reactive violence that comes from stepping on your back, stepping on your back…Gandhi proved violence wasn’t the answer, you could address those things non-violently.

So of course did Christ.

Look at the amount of violence justified…some of it generated by 9/11. All the stuff we’ve done since then to justify…

And as we were talking about before, as goes an individual so goes the nation. That a nation is in a sense an individual writ large and I feel like when someone hurts us in our lives, we have to ask…sometimes it is seemingly is unprovoked, but I think we have to ask ourselves, Did I put myself in a position to be hurt? And I think we often find in our own lives, we did. We passively-aggressively fired the first shot. Someone was a jerk so we were a bigger jerk. That doesn’t excuse the abuse, but it’s a constant examination of conscience we have to undergo in our own lives and then we begin to see how violence really works. The more I indulge my own tendency toward violence, the more violent I become. Even the smallest act of violence opens the floodgates. When we treat people badly, that tends to make us despise them. We have to despise them so as to excuse our own despicable acts. This is the best of Catholicism, that we should be undergoing a constant examination of conscience. We should be doing that as a nation. And my God, if we even scraped the surface, from the beginning of our history on through…

We can’t change the attitude of the masses. We can only work on ourselves. You know this guy Robert, shot and killed my brother-in-law and my niece.

Yes.

So I’ve struggled not to hate him. And you know, we can’t ask my sister-in-law not to hate him. He killed her husband and her daughter. But for myself I saw my struggle to not hate him. To pray for his redemption. At the same time when we gathered with my family, every one of them said, I don’t want him to get the death penalty, I want to be in a room with him myself where I can take care of him. That’s what I want. I want to take him out myself.

Like a blood…

A hatred, revenge, vengeance surrounding all that.

Which we all have in us. And if it was our kid, who’s to say…

If it was my daughter who was shot. If it was Rozella…

Absolutely. And you absolutely sympathize with that and understand it and know you have that within yourself. But…and to forgive is not to condone. That’s the cross. To forgive even as you’re being tortured…it’s beyond everything. Only with God could you even think that would be possible…

When we went to Robert’s trial, it was two weeks of brutality. We sat through the pictures of the crime scene with the bodies of my brother-in-law and niece who had been shot 15 times and 7 times respectively and the coroner’s report and diagrams of entrance wounds and exit wounds. It was very difficult and the images were projected on a large screen so the jurors could see them.

Robert never looked up once to see the destruction he had caused. He just sat staring at the desk. But, at one point, when the prosecutor put the murder weapon, as 9mm Berretta, on the overhead projector so that the jury could see it better, Robert suddenly looked up at the screen and it was like he was transfixed.

He couldn’t take his eyes off it.

AT LAST,
A RUDDY DUCK
LET'S LOOK AT BIRDS, NOT GUNS

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

CATHOLIC WORKER DENNIS APEL, PART IV



CANADA GOOSE AND HER STANDOFFISH BOYFRIEND
OFFICE PARK NEAR MY HOTEL THIS MORNING
 Hello there, people, while you've all been eating toast, drinking your morning tea, and reading the ongoing saga of Catholic Worker Dennis Apel, I have been to Guelph, Ontario and back.

What with Pope Francis's call for visible, voluntary poverty, and the push for canonization of Dorothy Day well underway, Dennis's story seems especially timely.

For those who missed the first installments, here's:

PART I
PART II
PART III

And here's [the penultimate of the series] Part IV:

Okay, just so we don’t leave it out completely [originally the main reason I was interviewing Dennis at all], part of your thing has been witnessing, if that’s the way you put it, at a whole bunch of places, but especially Vandenberg…so just tell about that.

I just want to say, too, our decision not to do Catholic Worker, when that flip-flopped over the course of that first weekend, we made a conscious…the expectations, sort of, of the Catholic Worker model were going to mean nothing to us.

The expectations, meaning?...

Well there’s kind of like an unspoken…This is how Catholic Workers do things. And there’s a kind of unspoken, Well if you’re gonna go against that…Everybody loves another and they’re not gonna say it but they’re thinking Well that’s not really Catholic Worker…

Okay well give us an example.

Well you talk about the resistance, the resistance is part of the model.

It’s obligatory.

Well it’s not…it’s that unspoken…

Are ya REALLY a follower of Christ?…

Well are you really a follower of Dorothy [Day] anyway. And most Catholic Workers have some level of resistance work. But we decided we were just going to do what made sense to us. Now granted our values and our thoughts are very close to…I mean the Catholic Worker has a great model for that. Dorothy would say, You have to stop the bleeding. You have to serve the poor. You have to stop the bleeding but at some point you have to address the reason for the bleeding. You can’t just mop up after it all the time. So her idea was you made an intersection with the institutions and structures that were causing the marginalization or the poverty or whatever it was.

Beautifully put.

It makes sense. It does make sense. But we weren’t gonna do it just for the sake of conforming to some…but it made sense to us. And we started with the obvious, which was the field workers and what they were dealing with. When we first came to Guadalupe, the Border Patrol was regularly coming in and scooping people up. Immigration would come in and take people. So what we would do, we had signs in our car that said in Spanish Immigration Ahead. We just kept em in our car and any time we’d see them, like a roadblock, we’d see it up ahead and we’d just stand there with our sign and people would go the other way.

Which is not illegal.

No, it’s not illegal, but it’s not going to endear us to a lot of people who are not going to support undocumented immigrants. So we started with that and then we did a lot of work around strawberries. Because we were asked to by some strawberry workers. Which is a whole long story, but…

In other words, to get better wages and working conditions?

What they wanted was more money for what they were doing.

And you were saying last night, strawberry picking is just the worst of the worst when it comes to farm working…

So we said well we have to raise public awareness first. So we suggested that we go with them to the…there’s an annual strawberry grower’s dinner that precedes the annual Strawberry Festival. Where they have a Strawberry Queen. And it’s to celebrate the economic boost from strawberries in this valley. It’s now their number one crop. But they do grower of the year…and that’s all growers, not the workers. The Queen is chosen from one of these growing families, not from the workers. So we said Well let’s go to the dinner. So we showed up and we made this huge sign and in one direction it had an arrow saying, “Strawberrry Growers’ Dinner Twenty Dollars a Plate. And it had an arrow going in the opposite direction saying Strawberry Pickers’ Dinner Twenty Cents a Plate.” And we had all these strawberry workers show up and we stood at the entrance to the parking lot where the dinner was and of course the press always came to that so they saw us out there. Well it made the front page and there was a big uproar…

Did you actually have?...

Yes, we had beans and rice.

So the pickers could come and actually have a plate of food.

Yes, and we had a flat of strawberries and we had it propped up there with a sign saying “No Strawberries, You Can’t Afford It.” They couldn’t afford to buy the strawberries they picked.

So there was an uproar, letters to the editor….

Now would you get hate mail?

We did get on our answering machine a couple of hateful messages, just a couple, it wasn’t that much. But we lost some supporters. Some people who were sending us money.

Cause meanwhile you’re writing a newspaper and you’re living on donations, that’s part of the Catholic Worker model.

We’ve always lived on donations. That’s what we’ve done.
Tensie and I never had aspirations to grow and become that big. And we don’t need that much. We do just fine. I think we have nine people who currently send us something every month and then we get sporadic other donations. But we just don’t need that much money to do what we do. It’s amazing what you can do…

So those were some of your early forays…

And then we go out to Vandenberg [Air Force Base] cause it’s very close to us.

And tell us what goes on there.

Well it’s a huge base. But it’s the military space program operates out of there basically so a lot of satellites get sent into orbit, rockets from the south end of the base. But the north end of the base which is just over the hill from Guadalupe they test intercontinental ballistic missiles. And they do that, now they’re doing that four or five times a year; they were doing that nine times a year. When they shoot the missile off, it comes out of an underground silo, the windows rattle in the house. You feel it in your chest. They’re very powerful. They shoot em off and the warhead is targeted to land in Kwajalein Atoll which is in the Marshall Islands. It’s four thousand two hundred miles away and it takes twenty minutes. From the time they shoot if off to the time it lands, it’s twenty minutes. Can you imagine something going that fast? It’s something like 13,000 miles an hour.

And the atoll has been more or less decimated?

Well this is something that’s close to my heart because I’m hurting for the people there [Dennis has been to the Marshall Islands twice, most recently a couple of months prior to our conversation] The atoll is like a circular string of islands so what happened was a volcano came up at one point and made that big hole that’s in the middle of a volcano. But then it sunk back down below the surface of the ocean and a coral reef grew up around the rim of the volcano and then at places along that circular coral reef there were still parts sticking up that became islands. So it’s like a string of islands…they’re just gorgeous. They’re like those pictures you see in National Geographic. Well they picked Kwajalein to be their target for these missile tests. So they shoot the missile off , it goes into outer space and the warhead detaches and then re-enters the atmosphere and lands at the target it’s been programmed to land at which is the atoll. And in order to do that…so this atoll is 66 miles across, it’s the largest atoll in the world. The U.S. military took 11 islands in that atoll. People were living there. And they built their major military base on Kwajalein Island which is the biggest island in the Kwajalein Atoll. So they have USAKA (the U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll), which is the military base.

And so they needed a labor force. So they moved these people off their other islands and onto this one island that’s twenty minutes away by barge from their army base. And then they barge the people over from the island of Ebeye each day and barge them back home. But the island of Ebeye is 80 acres and now has 15,000 people living on it. And the U.S. military constructed these homes for the people to live in, they put em together out of plywood.

So they’ve created a population of working poor in an overcrowded…

Oh yeah. They pay them five dollars an hour to come over and…they clean and manicure the gold course, they…the Army base has a golf course, they have soccer field, baseball field, they have an outdoor theater, they have their own private beach, they have stores and…so they bring the people over to work on that, they do all the groundskeeping and landscaping, they clean the rooms, they work in the restaurants and the laundry.

So they appropriated their land and then made them dependent…

So before that, they lived an island life. They had canoes, they fished in the lagoon. Coconut palms grow there, but they also grew breadfruit and papaya. They lived island lives. That was it. But when we put the base there and brought people over to work there and then put them on an island close to the base, that population grew because the employees had their families with them. So it went from I think it was 150 people living in Ebeye before the base and now it’s 15,000, but some of those people are just extended family…cousins…they can’t live on their islands anymore. I’m not talking about just the lagoon, there’s another island there, Ilegini Island, sometimes they target that island…

And there’s people living on it?

No, they moved the people off. And technically the islands are leased. Because there’s a tribal system, they’re native people, so there’s a chief on every island. So they paid off the chiefs. So they could lease the island and move all the people off. So there’s 11 of those islands they leased.

And this is just one of…a tiny portion of the U.S. military…

We have over a thousand U.S. military bases outside of the United States. And it’s growing.

And no-one’s even…what is the threat? There’s nothing of “defense” about it…It’s empire.

“China is this growing power,” we say. “China, China, China.” China doen’t have a single military base outside of China. Nor does North Korea or Iraq. None of these people has a single military base outside their own countries. We have a thousand.

Can you imagine the hue and cry if any other country in the world…just that little operation you just described. Took it over and starting shooting test missiles. We would drop a bomb on them for having such arrogance!

That’s right.
North Korea fires a missile…oh, provocative!

Right. They’re crazy, those North Koreans!

And we’re doing it all the time. Oh look, that’s a real treat to see them.

These are spectacular. Shoot, I hate that my battery’s low.
And so do the people who say…ooh we have to defend ourselves against the terrorist threat!...what is your response to that?


Well I guess my response is why doesn’t Canada have to defend itself against the terrorist threat? Why doesn’t Mexico? Or the Netherlands? Well, because there’s a reason we have a terrorist threat. There’s a reason why people want to do harm to the United States. And it’s not because they’re jealous because we have more money or a better life than they have. A lot of people would like to live here and with good reason. We’ve got a pretty cushy life-style. But it’s because of how we’ve gotten all that. And what we’ve done in their countries. We’ve put a military base in Mecca for God’s sake. We put it in Saudi Arabia. We just take what we want. We just take it. If we want a base in Guam, we just take it. If we want a base in the Marshall Islands, we just take it. And you know, when I went on this trip, I went to a lot of islands, I went to Hawaii, I went to the Marshall Islands, I went to Jeju Island, where we’ve just taken their land, and everywhere where there’s a military base, there is hatred for the United States. Not even just because of the military base, but because…

We’re bullies!

And because the military personnel there have immunity. They can rape, steal, destroy, they can do anything with impunity. And they do. And so we’re not seen as these benign…

Protectors of freedom.

No, we’re as imperial as any imperial power ever was. More so. And that’s why we have terrorists. You can’t defend yourself against that.

No, and that lust to dominate is a form in and of itself of violence. To me. And therefore violence always begets the desire to retaliate. And I think we’re seeing it in the violence within our country, us doing to each other. How could Sandy Hook, for example, possibly be a surprise? That is the inevitable result of an entire culture, politics, and often unfortunately, religion, my religion, that takes the dynamic of perpetual violence, which is so utterly un-Christ-like, as a matter of course.


Here’s a question. We were talking to a pastor friend of ours, who had this mega-church in Dallas, 8000 members, it was huge, it looked like a mall. And we stopped to visit him, we went to this church, and they were doing a memorial for 9/11, and as part of the service they had the American flags going and the patriotic music and so afterwards we were asking the pastor, it’s a Christian church, they reads the same Gospels the rest of us read, I don’t know if you can see it in there, there’s a lot of tortoises that live in there, can you see a tortoise?

Oh! That right there, that looks like a dusty rock, but that could be a tortoise.

[Looks through binoculars]. Yup, that’s a tortoise, you can see the green and red on its head.

Stop it. Oh I’ll be darned. What an incredible camouflage. And the green is the exact color of the green of the leaves of the tree under which he’s sitting, too.

There’s a bird called an American bittern. It’s about this big. And it has a real striped breast and it will go in the reeds and just stand there [mimes with face to sun, next stretched and held rigid] forever because those stripes will camouflage…

And you wonder what he’s thinking. "I’m just going to stand here and meditate"…
Okay so anyway, you say to this pastor…I just don’t get it. Love thine enemies! How do you reconcile…


Right. How does that work out in a Christian church? Let’s go get those Iraquis. They’re all on board with that. And our pastor friend says Well, the only way I can really explain it is it’s an idea that when you read the Gospel and it talks about your neighbor it’s talking about the person who lives next door to you. Literally on your block. You have to treat the people in your life the way you want to be treated, but it doesn’t apply to nations! But then I want to say, Well wait a second. The same people who would say those things aren’t meant to apply to nations, only to people, would say Honor the people who are in the service and who go out and kill, even tough our Gospel says Don’t kill.

Right.

They’ll support those people, because those are individual decisions. But we’re one nation under God. That’s important. Our nation. No-one else’s nation.

We’re an exception.

We’re 'under God!' So they’re applying certain things to the nation…they’re saying we can be a Christian nation, but the Christian principles don’t apply to us as a nation. They only apply to us as individuals.

Well plus it’s such a bizarrely…what about someone from another nation who also…I know I’m preaching to the choir, but it just doesn’t make any sense at all.

I went to Mass when I was in Iraq. I went to Mass. The Catholics were bombed the same as the Muslims were bombed, the same as anyone was bombed. It’s indiscriminate. You go out and see these people outside the abortion clinics with their rosaries and you just want to say, God, how many kids do you think were aborted in shock and awe...

It doesn’t even register. They’re not Americans.

When I went to Iraq, there were five thousand kids a month dying because of the sanctions we had. Five thousand children a month. They wouldn’t let em have the replacement parts for the incubators for God’s sake. They wouldn’t let em have anything. They wouldn’t let em have vitamins, they wouldn’t let em have medicines…they said we’re gonna squeeze these people and if five thousands kids have to die a month, so what.

I mean let’s just go back to the Gospels! The Gospels, the Gospels, the Gospels. It’s not that complicated. Christ was the Son of Man who died for everyone. He didn’t die just for his people. He didn’t die for the people of Bethlehem. I mean it’s so basic that it’s hard to believe…but that’s what we do. Take some tiny portion and appropriate it to our own…

Let me just say this real quick. After WWII, the Marshall Islands were made a protectorate of the United States. Immediately after WWII, we began above-ground nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands, Bikini Atoll, we detonated nuclear weapons above-ground there, and we irradiated the people of the Marshall Islands the same way we did the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We did it on purpose, and that’s not an opinion, there are documents released in the ‘90s that talked about why they did it on purpose, for the study of the radiation poisoning in people.

In other words that was their purpose, to intentionally irradiate people in order to observe the effects.

That was their purpose! It was part of the purpose. Just the same as we did in Nevada, even with our own military, we had some of our own military go out there and then did a study of them.

Unbeknownst to the military people.

They didn’t know they were being studied for radiation poison. [Here are a few links: "Unethical Human Experimentation in the United States," "Operation Plumbbob," and "Nuclear Testing and the Downwinders"]. So I’m just saying we did that, and then we finally stopped after I think it was 67 nuclear detonations over there in the Marshall Islands and now these warheads that we’re dropping in this atoll are depleted uranium and all you have to do is go to the history of Iraq to see what happened when we used depleted uranium there. [from wikipedia: “The use of DU in munitions is controversial because of questions about potential long-term health effects. Normal functioning of the kidney, brain, liver, heart, and numerous other systems can be affected by uranium exposure, because uranium is a toxic metal.”] All of a sudden all the kids are having birth defects, all the kids are having childhood leukemias, it’s toxic, toxic, toxic and it has a half-life of whatever the age of the sun is, I always forget, how old is the sun?

Ya got me [it’s 4.5 billion years].

Well however old the sun is, that’s the half-life of uranium. It’s going to lose half its radioactivity in [2.25 billion years]. It’s forever.

THE SUN SETS OVER SILVER LAKE

Sunday, April 21, 2013

CATHOLIC WORKER DENNIS APEL, PART III

DENNIS IS SECOND FROM LEFT
I know you're all on the edge of your seats for Part III of the story of the formation of a peace activist, aka my friend Dennis Apel of the Guadalupe Catholic Worker.

Here's Part I.
Here's Part II.

And here's Part III, in which the Guadalupe CW is founded.

Dennis: [Witnessing at the Federal Building in L.A. and elsewhere] was my first introduction to the application of the Gospel to something besides myself. The first understanding that as a collective group, we’re complicit in people’s sufferings because of the decisions that our government’s making with our approval, our blessing almost, even if we don’t know it. We really sort of have to be more responsible to know what the government’s doing in our name. We need to know; it’s our tax dollars. So it made sense. It made sense to me. It didn’t make sense to my wife. It didn’t make sense to my mother.

And this initial…what was going on at the time?

There was this kind of civil war in El Salvador.

The United States’ role being?…

We were funding the government against the people who were being oppressed by the government.

And what was our motive?

Well our motive was what we always say our motive is which is to stop Communism. Anybody who was against the government must be Communist. And we didn’t want Communists so close.

But our overarching interest in El Salvador was…

Probably money. Part of the way we maintain our American lifestyle is to make sure other countries don’t rise to that level. Once people get self-suffcient, they can…

Get nuclear arms, too!

Get nuclear arms or even control their own fate.

And they might not be on board with “the American way.”

Right.

Okay, so then what happened.

So I saw Tensie there and then I didn’t see her for a couple of years. And then I came to work one day and Don, the priest I worked with, said, I never make unilateral decisions but I’ve made one and I think you’ll be okay with it. I’ve hired Tensie Hernandez.

[again, semi-swoons]. I said, No I don’t mind. I think that’s great.

Your heart leaped.

I said When does she start? Don said, This morning…

You’re thinking, Oh I would have worn a better shirt…

You know what, not so much. I was a little dense in that area. All I knew was, This is someone I’d love to be around.

Right. Cause of her spirit. You kind of have to know her to appreciate…

Her spirit. She was just so…everybody is so delighted to be around her. So I didn’t see myself as any different from anybody else. Everybody just loved to be around her. So she came and we had seven or eight chaplains on the Catholic staff and Don Kribs was…the stuff we dealt with was really intense. So he insisted that we talk about it. So we had what we called Debriefing Partners. So when Tensie came, we had to pass the hat with everyone’s name in it to switch up partners. And I pulled out Tensie’s name! I thought, Well thank you God for that. So now I have time every week to talk to Tensie, Well, we did. We started out Debriefing Partners. And we started debriefing every day. We’d come to work early. We’d go to Lincoln Park and we’d walk around Lincoln Park and even after six months was up and we changed Debriefing Partnesrs we’d still come every day and walk around Lincoln Park. So we got very very close. And still for a long time, I just thought…We’re very close, what a gift. Tensie’s 17 ½ years younger than me. You know, a thought of anything other than being really good friends was not even on my radar. So when it kind of became clear that, wait a minute, there’s something more here, it was very scary for me. It was very scary for both of us. I was still married, I wasn’t divorced yet.

Yeah.

And there was an age gap. But I just so wanted to be there, we both did. So Tensie said, “We need to be apart for awhile and sort this out.” So she went to the Catholic Worker in Philadelphia. And I filed for divorce. So I moved out and I was living by myself and she was living in Philadelphia, so we finally decided Well let’s give it a try and see what happens. So I think she was gone nine months. Actually I wanted to see her so bad that I asked Terry [a mutual priest friend with whom Dennis worked for a time at County]. Cause I had nothing, when I moved out I sent my paycheck home. And I loved it. Finally!...

Simplicity.

Right. So I said Terry, you wouldn’t have any frequent flyer miles, would you?

He said, Well! Not only do I have frequent flyer miles but they’re going to expire soon and you’d be doing me a favor by using them.

He knew Tensie, too.

Oh yeah. He knew Tensie. And I think I’d already confided…we were running partners, we ran together. So he gave me the frequent flyer miles and I went to Philadelphia. And oh…what a lovely, lovely…the Worker, or their supporters, there had a house on the Jersey shore and said we could use it for the weekend, so we went there. We had nothing, we packed all our food from the Worker…but I remember we did stop at a place that was selling shrimp so we bought some shrimp and we made shrimp scampi. Neither of us had ever made shrimp scampi but we made it and it was so delicious. So it was lovely. And when Tensie decided to come back, then I started working on Okay, where’re we gonna go, what’re we gonna do. Because I was done at County. I was the administrator myself for six months and it was terrible. Things weren’t good there. So she came back and I’d researched the Catholic Worker and I’d found this one up in Oakland who gave hospitality to people dying of AIDS. That’s what they did. Tensie and I had had lots of experience with the dying, so we went up. It was just her and I and one other guy and…he was a study, let me tell ya. He could work, but he was tough to live with. It takes a special person to deal with the dynamic of a couple and a single person. [Community member] Jorge does it very very well but this guy couldn’t.

We’d committed for a year and even though it wasn’t working out I like to stick to my word and even though Tensie would have just as soon have left, we stayed out the year. So we went up and down the coast exploring, we had our list, we’d decided on Guadalupe…

Which is a small, almost a time-warp, California…

Town…

Inhabited mostly by farm workers, right?

Yeah, and it sits out in the middle of fields, There aren’t that many cities in California that don’t butt up against another city.

It’s a little island almost.

Yeah, it was geographically isolated…

And it’s on the ocean…

It’s close to the ocean, where there’s a lot of beauty….

Where we are right now!

Gorgeous. So we came to Nipomo [a nearby town] offered to let us stay at her place till we got on our feet. Which was lovely. We’d ride our bikes down every day to Guadalupe, look for an apartment, look for a job, neither of which we found. But we did come across this house and it was empty. It was all overgrown, nothing was happening. So we went to City Hall, found out who the owner was, called the owner. She said, “Nah, I rented it for a long time and I had nothing but problems. I’m snot sure I want to rent it. But I’ll come out to talk to you. Why don’t you meet me out at the house at five on Friday.

This is the house in Guadalupe? [where the food distribution, clinic and many other activities take place: the family lives in a modest house in Santa Maria].


Yes, and we liked it, but it was too big for us plus how would we pay rent? We had no jobs!
So the day we were supposed to meet them we parked the van a block away, cause it was so ratty we didn’t want them to see it. And we stood a block away and watched them drive up. And we kept saying, “They won’t like us, let’s just not show up, let’s just not show up.” But on the back of their car was a bumper sticker saying “Uvas, no.”

No Grapes.

Which is a United Farm Workers sticker. So we said Look at that. And we went down and we met with them. They took us all through the house, they got all done and they said Well we have an appointment and we have to go but we thought we’d get a bite to eat here in Guadalupe and can we buy you dinner?” So we said, Well, sure, okay. And the place didn’t serve alcohol, but he wanted beer with his Mexican food so he said If I go get a six-pack, will you have a beer with me? So I said Sure. And we sat there and it turned out…the last six months I was at the County Hospital, they’d brought in a new director, a priest. The previous six months I’d been the director, but the last six months had been this priest, and I’d told the priest who’d come in I’m only gonna be here for six months. I’ll show you the ropes, I’ll break you in, but I’m only going to be here six months. Well that guy was Chris Ponnet. And we’re sitting there talking with these people in Guadalupe and it turns out Chris Ponnet performed the marriage of their daughter. So it was this instant connection with these people. And we told em, we don’t have any money, we don’t have any jobs.

It was a Friday and they said Well let’s all think about it over the weekend. So we called the LA Worker and we said You’re not gonna believe it but we found this place up here and it’d make kind of a great place…we hadn’t wanted to go the Worker route but somehow it was all falling into place. So they said We’re gonna have a meeting this afternoon, let us get back to you. So they got back to us and they said As a community we decided we can send you 500 bucks a month. Well, that’s something. So the owners called us back on Monday and they said, Well we’ve thought about it and we’d really like to rent it to you and we’d like to cut the rent way down because of what you want to do with it—could you afford 450 a month?

Fifty bucks for food!

At the time, fifty bucks a month for food sounded great.

Rice and beans, man.

We’d come two weeks earlier with 200 bucks. We were really pinching it. So that felt great.

So June 1st we moved in.

What year?

This would have been 1996. So we had this blow-up air mattress that didn’t hold air, we had a little hibachi we cooked on. We had a little cooler to keep food cold in. That’s all we had when we moved in.

And you didn’t know anyone in town?

Well before we made the decision to move to Guadalupe, we’d already met a couple of people. We’d met these two women who worked for Pacific Pride Foundation in Santa Maria, which was a gay and Lesbian support center. We’d met them and we’d met a nun who worked at the Catholic hospital, Janice. But they were the ones who begged us to come to Guadalupe. So we did. We moved in June 1st and by July 1st, one month later, we had a stove, a refrigerator, a dinette set, the entire living room was furnished, all the bedrooms upstairs had beds.

How many bedrooms?

Four. We had a washer and dryer.

Donations?

We got seven beds at one time. A priest called as soon as we got there, he said, You know what, the seminary out at San Lorenzo’s getting all new beds. I bet they’d give you some of their beds. So we called out there and they said you can have as many as you want. We said Can we have seven and they said Absolutely.

Wow.

So we drove out there with our VW van and we put some inside and some on top and we’d bring em back and drive back out and get some more…

And what about the stove and refrigerator?

These people just kind of put the word out and people who had an extra or were getting rid of one…The nun at the hospital, she said What do you need? We said Well we don’t even have dishes or silverware or…She said, Come on, and she took us from her office down to the basement where the cafeteria was and she found a big ole box and she just went through the hospital cafeteria asking How many plates can you use? How many glasses? And she just gave us eight place settings of everything, from the hospital cafeteria.

This is the miracle of the loaves and the fishes! And what strikes me too is that at every juncture there was a “coincidence”…it just so happened when they passed the hat with the names on it at County, you got Tensie…If it’s God’s will, nothing you do can avert it, and if it’s not God’s will, nothing you do can make it happen…


Ched [Myers} calls that Sabbath economics. And it sounds real nice in a book, but when it’s your life, it’s almost startling. That’s happened more than once for us…

But you have to be willing…

You have to trust that it’s gonna happen because if you try to force things, that messes it all up. And you have to be willing for it not to happen. You have to be wiling to say, Okay, well I guess that wasn’t God’s will.

So that came together and how it’s come down is…tell what you do today. You have a food distribution Tuesdays…

So we started that right off the bat. A month later we had our first hospitality guest. We had a guy from El Salvador living in the house. We were doing a food program…

Meaning?

Supplemental food for families who are having a hard time. Farm workers don’t make a lot of money. They struggle. So to help them with food is a huge thing. So we get food and put it in grocery bags and give them grocery bags of food. We started teaching English classes because that’s what people told us that they wanted. And then clothes, this is real Catholic Worker, people drop off their used clothes and we make them available to whoever needs them. Again, it’s that Sabbath economics.

And eventually we started the free health clinic. Which blew me away, I mean who could have thought we could do that, but Tensie had worked at a medical clinic at the L.A. Worker and…we have a real clinic. We have the real stuff.

You have a doctor there…

We have four doctors right now who volunteer their time.

And then Tensie has kind of a natural way with sick people…some kind of touch…how would you describe it?

Well she’s in her element. When she’s with people in need and I don’t mean just needy people, I mean people who are in a genuine crisis in their lives, somebody with cancer who’s dying, she’s really in her element. She has a gift. And it’s a gift because she’s really good at it and because she feels nourished by it as well.

Right. But she has a way of just talking to people, of being with people…

Yeah, Tensie’s the deepest person I’ve ever met. And I don’t even know how to articulate the deepness. She has a deep spiritual connection that just lives in her…we’re not gonna cross that bar…just the same thing that attracted me and everybody else. The women in Guadalupe,…she’s their angel. She’s just their angel. Because the people in Guadalupe are poor and come from a culture that doesn’t have all the same restrictions that our culture has…like domestic violence isn’t considered domestic violence in that culture. That’s just the way you do life. So…

And she’s Cuban. So in some sense she’s Hispanic herself…

She’s…her family was Cuban and she grew up with Spanish as the only language in the home. But they left the Cuban environment. They never settled in Miami like most Cubans. They came out here where there weren’t other Cubans around and they settled in a ommunity that had a lot of Mexicans…

So she was kind of in exile…

Yeah, she had the Cuban culture at home, the Mexican culture at school. She’s almost trilingual in a sense because Cubans…she speaks Mexican Spanish and she speaks Cuban Spanish with her family. But she has such a gift, it’s really quite a beautiful thing to behold. It really is a kind of…

Charism.

But I was going to say it’s like God. People truly truly experience God’s love through Tensie. They just do. And that’s a huge thing if you can experience that, especially if you’re having a crisis. She had a nurse who’d been working hospice for years, so had lots of experience under her belt come across some situations that were so deplorable, she’d say to Tensie, I don’t know how you do this. I don’t know how you can do this…But Tensie has a strength. She can tolerate powerlessness…

And really the leper…and that sounds like it’s part of your ability as well.

I’ve seen her come across sad, sad, really impossible situations and she just asserts herself and goes to work on it…

Goes to work on it by?...

Well she’ll do just the physical things, like Mom’s got terminal cancer but she’s only 24 years old and her baby’s born just after she was diagnosed so now the baby’s going to be motherless and the husband’s unavailable and there are no programs because she’s undocumented and Tensie will start scrambling for resources, scrambling for resources. Get the kid into something, to give her mother time to go through chemo…

Some kind of day care, you mean?

Yeah, and then transportation, translate with this woman with the doctor, but to translate in this sensitive, kind way…to help the woman ask the questions that she needs the know the answers to but she doesn’t even know the questions to ask. All that kind of stuff. Logistics, that’s just the physical stuff but aside from that, she can connect on a heart level like no-one I’ve ever known. Almost immediately there’s a deep deep love and connection. Like even more than a sister, it’s hard to describe. She’s just so so good at that. She was like that when we worked at the hospital, she helped me move a little more towards that because if you’re around Tensie, you find yourself wanting to be a little bit more like Tensie. But again, you don’t just decide to be that way.

No, you have to change your whole orientation of heart…

And your priorities. I still have a hard time changing my priorities. On the other hand, it’s probably good there are some things I don’t change. Because that’s just not Tensie’s suit, you know what I mean?

So you complement each other...
Okay, just so we don’t leave it out completely [originally the main reason I was interviewing Dennis at all!], part of your thing has been witnessing, if that’s the way you put it, at a whole bunch of places, but especially Vandenberg…so just tell about that...


PARTS IV AND V COMING UP. NOW IT GETS REALLY JUICY...


Thursday, April 18, 2013

CATHOLIC WORKER DENNIS APEL, PART II

MORE WHITE PELICANS
I'm running a series of posts telling the fascinating story of my activist friend Dennis Apel of the Guadalupe Catholic Worker.

Part I is here.

And here's Part II.

So then I went to visit this priest who was at the rehab hospital, and that was only patients who had just received a spinal cord injury, so they’d just been told they were either paraplegics or quadriplegics for the rest of their lives.

Oh God.

So I would go visit them. And…

Okay, so check these three [white pelicans] out. One of them doesn’t seem to have the [what has now been confirmed as a breeding] bump. And one has a bill that’s a slightly different color. Okay so now you’re sitting with people who’ve just been told they’re paraplegic.

Yeah, I don’t want to get too much into it, but it’s part of the journey is the point. I ended up quitting my sales job and going to work full-time for this priest at the County Hospital.

At USC County Hospital, huge…where the uninsured of L.A. go…

When I say that time from when I was 20 till I was 36…

The ground was being tilled.

I was being a salesman cause I didn’t know what else to do with my life. And then I found something to do with my life.

But inside, where you just kind of champing at the bit, saying…This isn’t quite it…

Well, I knew this wasn’t it. But I didn’t know there was any salvation. And so when I started this process of going around and visiting people, I also went back to church. So I went to 6:30 Mass every morning, for four years, I went to 6:30 Mass and I’d pray, you know that kind of prayer that’s like the real…

Like PLEASE help me…

Yeah, like show me how to get out of sales…you’re gonna see a ruddy duck in a minute…

Okay, you’re going to Mass and you’re praying…

And in conjunction with that was I decided that if God was ever gonna get me out of this sales thing, I had some work to do myself. So I started paying down my debts, because I was…

Living large?

Yeah, I was living large. I went to theaters and restaurants and ball games and I went hunting and golfing and I was given a new car every three years and you can charge things up on credit cards. I had a house…it’s really odd…

It doesn’t seem tumorous. Plus why would they all have it in the same spot?

So what I did was I started paying all those things off. I wanted to get debt-free. And about the time I did get debt-free, I got a call from that same priest, Fr. Don, who had moved to the County Hospital in L.A. and he said, Would you like to quit sales and come work for me. I said, “Sure.”

Wow.

So he said, Tell me what you need. So I went home and figured out our finances and I went back and I told him and he agreed. So I went back and gave two weeks’ notice at a place I’d been at 11 ½ years.

So you took a pay cut I assume?

Yeah. I went from I think it was 80,000 a year and an unlimited expense account and a free car every three years to …

Health insurance…

Right. And I think it was 29,000, we decided on.

And how was your wife with that at the time?

Well it wasn’t like we fought over it, but she didn’t like that. She liked the expense account. So she was terribly unhappy.

And you were 36-ish?

I was 37, 38 by this time.

So then I went to work at the County Hospital and at the same time Fr. Don was going to a weekly Bible study at the home of Ched Myers, who was living in L.A. at the time. You know Ched?

Yeah. I mean I know of him.

He’s brilliant. He’s a theologian but he’s very much a kind of a liberal, liberal’s probably not the best word, but…

Christ as political activist?

Yeah, political. All of the Bible, especially the Gospels, are very political and how does that apply to today’s world. So now I’m in my re-formation, sort of, because I have changed my livelihood and I’m exposed to all this stuff I’ve never been exposed to. Working at the County Hospital was…a real eye-opener.

Because you see the poor, the poor, the poor.

You see the poor, the poor, the poor, and you see the what Tensie and I call the Beatitudes people. They’re like…people whose lives have been really really tough. They’re in predicaments…

From generations, right? I always, I see these folks in jail and you just sense generations of addiction, of violence, of poverty…

It’s like when somebody asked Jesus, Is this man blind because of his parents? Is it his sin or his parents’ sin. And I never really bought into that thing but there are aspects of people’s lives that are generational.

Right. It’s not their sin, it’s that they receive the burden of the unhealed wound.

So, I really began to feel like I had my feet in two worlds. Because at home my wife was really wanting to maintain that kind of life we’d already had. And I was not only able to do that, I didn’t want to anymore. So the marriage was going, going, going. And it was very painful…

And you had kids, too.

Yeah. Two kids. My son had just turned 18 when I divorced, so they were…raised by that time. But…it became so important to me to regain this idea I had when I was in first grade. That you could live a life differently. And we’re [meaning him, his wife Tensie and their two kids, 12 and 13] a long ways from voluntary poverty but we do live with some precarity in a sense.

You’ve been married to Tensie now how many years?

Eighteen or so.

And just to give a little background of how you live now. You live as the Guadalupe [California] Catholic Worker.

Yeah, we started that, the year before we got married actually. And we started very hesitantly. We didn’t want to be Catholic Worker anymore, we had a very bad experience up in Oakland. And…

Tensie had already been at the Worker in L.A…

She’d been at the L.A. Worker five or six years, she’d been at the [Redwoods] Monastery for a year…but things were falling into place in that direction without us even trying….

So your idea was move to the Central Coast, live…you live off…just to let people know your money situation…

Our intention was that we were leaving the Catholic Worker up in Oakland, we had nothing, we had 200 dollars and an old Volkswagen bus, and our clothes, and some bicycles. And we thought we’d move to Guadalupe…we had explored up and down the coast cause we thought we wanted to be around people who were struggling. And probably Spanish-speaking people who were struggling, since we both spoke Spanish. And so we looked up and down and for a number of reasons we picked Guadalupe. Most of it was that…we walked for hours, hours and hours up and down the Berkeley pier, back and forth, what are we gonna do, what are we gonna do. And we got a notebook and this page said What We Know We Want and the other page said What We Know We Don’t Want. That’s the best we could do.

So every time we thought oh we’d really like that, we’d put it on that page and when we thought, we don’t want anything to do with that, we’d put it on the other page. We didn’t want to be big city any more. We didn’t want supporters anymore. We didn’t want to be Catholic Worker anymore.

Supporters meaning people who donate.

Yeah. We wanted to support ourselves. We wanted to be where there was beauty all around. So we’d decided we could to that in Guadalupe. So we came here and we started looking around for a cheap apartment or a studio and part-time jobs. That’s what we were gonna do.

Okay, I just want to interject…cause we kind of skipped over the meeting with Tensie. You met Tensie at…the County Hospital.

What happened was sometimes people at the hospital would have surgeries and they’d be about to be discharged as if they had a place to go and they didn’t. They were street people. So what we’d do was we’d call the Catholic Worker. And Tensie was living there at the time. So we’d call the Catholic Worker and ask if the patient could stay a couple of weeks, just till he got back on his feet, and they’d say sure, Bring him over.

So this guy had gotten a kidney transplant and he couldn’t go back out on the street, his name was Teofilo, and I brought him over to the Catholic Worker house [which is in Boyle Heights, close to County Hospital], and I went up the front steps, and Tensie was on the house that day, and she received him, and that was the first time I met Tensie, I was taking someone from County to the Catholic Worker.

And did you two chat?

Well, no, we didn’t chat very much.

But did you think, Oh, she’s so beautiful?

[Dennis goes into a near-swoon]. Oh. Oh! But we didn’t chat very much, because that’s how I am. My job was to bring this guy over and get back to work. You know Tensie, she loves to talk but…Gotta go. Nice to meet you.

But yeah, she was so beautiful, in both, physically and her spirit.

And she’s younger than you, so she would have been how old at the time?

She was born in ’68 so this would have been ’88 or so…

So she was…

She was 20. You can ask her, but I think she was 20.

Oh wow. Interesting.

No there was no romance. She was just this beautiful person that I’d met. And at the same time, all this stuff was going on in El Salvador. We had what we called the Wednesday morning coalition. We’d all go down to the Federal Building in downtown L.A. and surround the building so nobody could get in or out and get arrested.

“We” meaning?...

Me and all the other activists from L.A. Priests from La Placita, Mike Kennedy, just a group of 100 or so people who would march from La Placita to the Federal Building and surround it, sometimes chain themselves to the door, and get arrested. So I’d see Tensie there, because the LA Catholic Worker was involved….

And the impetus behind it being this deep, deep…heart belief and knowledge of this government that’s so much based on…

It was my first introduction to the application of the Gospel to something besides myself. The first understanding that as a collective group, we’re complicit in people’s sufferings because of the decisions that our government’s making with our approval, our blessing almost, even if we don’t know it. We really sort of have to be more responsible to know what the government’s doing in our name. We need to know; it’s our tax dollars. So it made sense. It made sense to me. It didn’t make sense to my wife. It didn’t make sense to my mother.

STAY TUNED FOR PART III, IN WHICH DENNIS SAYS GOODBYE TO HIS OLD LIFE AND EMBARKS ON A GRAND ADVENTURE....


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

CATHOLIC WORKER DENNIS APEL, PART I



 I spent last week on the central coast of California, with my friends Tensie and Dennis from the Guadalupe Catholic Worker.

Tuesday morning Dennis [Apel] was kind enough to take a long walk with me, out near the Oso Flaco Dunes. I turned on the tape recorder and asked him to tell his story.

The transcript runs to 31 single-spaced pages. And I'm just gonna run the whole thing, in as many segments as it takes.

Because it's my damn blog and I can do what I want!

No, really, because I think it's an important story. Whoever you are, whatever your station in life, my hope is that you'll find something that inspires and challenges you as well.


THE PACIFIC IS BEYOND...
Why don't you talk a little bit of how you came to be a Catholic Worker.

All right.

You know, your former life.

Well I could go on forever, so just stop me, but…you know I lived a lot of my life unhappy.

Oh well I actually didn’t know that. How old are you now?

I’m 62.

What happened was when I was in first grade I decided I was going to be a Franciscan priest and I made that clear all the way through grammar school, and I went off to high school, seminary.

You went to Catholic school, cradle Catholic.

Yup, and I went to a seminary in high school, Franciscans, and then one year of seminary, and then I decided I didn’t want to be a priest. But that’s all I had wanted to be for so long, I didn’t know what to do with myself after that.

Okay let me ask you what drew you to Christ and to the priesthood?

What happened was number one, I was Catholic, so my parents went to Mass every Sunday and we said the rosary multiple times a week in my house. All of our friends were Catholic, my parents with in the Couples Club which was all Catholics, so I was very immersed in that.

You grew up in Downey, California.

Yes. And one of my parents’ friends had a son who had become a Franciscan priest. We met him and I knew him and I was very taken by his decision. Because of all the things I’d been exposed to, of course, one of them was St. Francis. It was the mythical St. Francis, but still, it was St. Francis. This idea of service and voluntary poverty and being with the outcast, that attracted me. So that’s what I’d wanted to do. So when I left the seminary, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

And how old were you at that point?

It was after my first year of college, so 19.

Okay, so then what?

Well, then I wandered through my life until I was 36.

[Laughs]. It’s been a long desert.

I will say, you know what, Heather, I left the seminary and I left the Church, only out of boredom, it wasn’t like I hated the Church or had some philosophical difference with religion.

Didn’t the seminary, without going into it too much, kind of…some substandard?…

No, the seminary was great. Though I was sexually abused there [laughs].

Yeah. Okay, that’s what I was getting at.

But the truth is the implication of that never hit me till much later.

Right.

And I wasn’t…it wasn’t horrible sexual abuse. The seminary was a good experience and I have lots of fond memories of it. But when I left I didn’t know what to do and I can’t remember how I met some people who were going to the Religious Education Congress, that huge gathering that takes place in Anaheim every year.

They said Why don’t you come, and I just went because they were friends and--I'm going to give you the precipitating event here. And I looked down the list of workshops and I saw one on Death and Dying. And I don’t know why I was attracted to it, but I was. It was a couple from Seattle. So I went and they were very moving, and they talked about how people had terminal illnesses were very lonely and it’s such a difficult time because people don’t know what to say so they don’t say anything.

Right.

They just don’t go. They don’t show up because they don’t know what to say. And they’re afraid of it. So I was moved by that. Something archetypal, something moved in me. So I went back to my church, which I hadn’t been going to, and I knocked at the rectory door. And the priest that showed up there, I’d never met him, I just knocked and said I’ve just been to the conference, and if you ever have someone who’s dying and has no-one, I would like to do that. I would like to just go and be with them.

And he said Thank you very much, and he took my name and phone number and it was about three days later he called and he said, Okay, I got someone for you. And it was a guy in a nursing home who was dying of cancer and had no-one. And the priest said, But you gotta take him Communion. I said, Well I don’t know how to do that, and he said Come on by. So he takes me to the sacristy and he says, Here’s the key to the tabernacle. He says, Here’s some pyxes right here, just put a Host in the pyx and go and take it. That was the sum total of my…

Training.

My training!

What city were you in now at this point?

In Downey. So I asked the priest, Well what do I say to the guy, and the priest says, I dunno, say an Our Father or something. That was it.

Wow.

So I went to see the guy, his name was Gerald I remember, and the first day I went to see him, from here to that stand of trees [sixty feet or more], that’s how far away I could smell him. He had a cancer that had opened up, he was literally decomposing, and he looked horrible, and he couldn’t speak any more, and I’m thinking, I’m supposed to sit with someone and I don’t even know what to say and they can’t talk to you…anyway, I did, I began to visit with him regularly. He died, but he had someone to come to see him, and I felt good about that.

And did you talk to him?

Yeah. I talked to him. And he could nod his head, he could squeeze my hand…These are white pelicans, that you don’t see very often.


Really. Oh wow.

Yeah, they’re migratory, the white ones. We have brown pelicans on our coast.

I didn’t know pelicans would fly that high.

Oh, you know what, I saw some in the Eastern Sierras, I would say they were so high they were almost little specks.

Really! Cause on land they seem sort of…ungainly, almost. They just seem kind of heavy. And would you just say, cause I’ve thought of going to nursing homes and just saying Do you need someone to…just sit with people for an hour.

Nursing homes are depressing. I remember going to see Gerald, it was Mother’s Day, walking to his room and here’s this little gray-haired woman in a wheelchair, her head all bent over, and right when I walked by, she looked up and sort of snarled, Arentcha gonna say Happy Mother’s Day?

So much for the docile Lamb of God. Well my mother died in a nursing home so I saw…well, anyway…what kind of stuff would you say to him?

Oh my family, my work. I was a salesman at the time so I’d talk about my clients and where we’d been. I’d take em to the theater, we’d see Phantom of the Opera for the fiftieth time, stuff like that.

You were a salesman.

I worked for a trucking company. People had to ship things….this is a cinnamon teal over here.

Gol-ly! There’s just tons of em, hunh.

Let’s see if we can see a good ruddy duck. See this duck with the white face over here?

I see…little heads all out there.

You look real close, he’s got a blue bill.

Oh wow. Get OUT!

It’s powder blue, it’s so cute.

Oh it’s interesting, you look at the reeds and at first you don’t see anything, and then when you look closely, you see Oh, there’s just a whole bunch…there are a whole bunch of fowl everywhere…

Okay, take these [handing me the binoculars]. See these two ducks here, look at the one that’s closest to the reeds and when he turns his head this way you’ll see he’s got a beautiful blue bill.

Oh gosh! I see it! Isn’t God something…Can you imagine?

Yeah. It’s like that cause it’s breeding season.

Oh, so it won’t be like that all the time.

No, it’ll be more like…look at those white pelicans. Those are pretty rare here.

Man, this is just a paradise of birds. Crazy. Oh look…those are white pelicans? Oh, man.

Yeah, they’re almost never here. Usually, they’re more skittish.

How often do you come out here?

Not very often. Isn’t that terrible? After my heart attack [Dennis suffered a major heart attack a few years ago], I said, I’m gonna take every Friday afternoon off and come out here. And I did, for about a year. And then on the one-year anniversary of my heart attack I was out here, looking at the birds, and…what is that? I thought. And by the time I got back to the car, I was throwing up, I was doubled over, the pain was horrible. I’d dislodged a kidney stone…look, they’re flying. They have this incredible blue on their wings, I don’t know how to describe it…


So there’s cinnamon teal and ruddy teal?

It’s cinnamon teal and a ruddy duck. Look, the while pelicans are dipping in simultaneously.

So wait, you dislodged a kidney stone.

Yeah, and it was…I ended up in the hospital.

Oh Dennis. Look at them! Now wait, one of them has a big bulge on its bill, right?

I don’t know what that is. It seems like more than one of them has the bulge. [consulting his Sibley’s bird guide]. This doesn’t show a bulge.

Just spectacular. Look at that wing span.
Okay, so anyway, you’re a salesman, you’re bringing him Communion…and you’re married.


Yeah, I’m married. And I’m working as a salesman. And I had this good experience with Gerald so I continued on. They’d call me for various people, mostly people who needed Communion, not necessarily dying.

You were a lay Eucharistic minister, kind of.

Yeah, then one day I went to see Fr. Don. Fr. Don was the chaplain at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital, which was a rehab hospital…

Yeah, see this one has a bump on its bill.

Right, and that one has a bump, and that one over there has a huge bump. I wonder if…

Is that where they carry their eggs? [laughing] That’s how much I know about biology…
Oh shoot, the battery on my camera’s low.

That’s a mystery to me.

Maybe when we get home we can google pelican beak bump…where’s the pouch?

Underneath. It’s like a big expandable bag. Look, so now there’s six of them.

That’s wild. Um…okay, so you went to visit this priest who was at the rehab hospital...

TO BE CONTINUED!..
STAY TUNED TO HEAR HOW DENNIS LEFT HIS JOB, STARTED A NEW LIFE, AND BECAME A MAJOR PEACE ACTIVIST JUST HOME FROM THE MARSHALL ISLANDS...