One Thousand Young People, A Corn Field, and Hope...

For the past three days about 1,000 young people mostly in their twenties have been camping in a cornfield a little south of Chicago. P.A.P.A. stands for people against poverty and apathy. Their purpose - to respond to the question: " How then shall we live?" They came from all over the country especially the east coast and middle states. These are the new Christians who share an urgent concern for the environment and living together in a way that sustains all life . Their politics is radical and their theology is traditional. Many of them come from intentional Christian communities and others are interested in joining or forming such demonstrations of living well. Many call themselves " emerging Christians" and seek to enter into dialogue rather than debate doctrine. They are non-violent but not passive. They seek to make a difference through deeds of justice and non-violent resistence based on intelligent critique of the political system. They seem to be primarily lay led rather than depending upon clergy and they move forward through consensus rather than hierarchy. Their resources go into the real needs of the community and not into expensive buildings and paid clergy. Therefore , in many cases they have money for those who are in dire need - the poor. In one case I heard about a man who lives in a community where people do not have health insurance but instead people in the community provide for each other and a network of 10,000 people - a community of communities - contribute to each other's well being in the case of emergencies.
One particular aspect of this gathering is called the New Monasticism. Basically it is the grafting of certain key monastic principles and practices into the life of a community. It is believed that 1500 years of monastic practice might just have something to say to our post-modern world. So, for many of these communities morning and evening prayer, silence, communal work and certain common disciplines shape their daily life .
Can this be the future of the Christian church? As the American Empire seems to be crumbling from within is this a new and hopeful direction for people of faith? Is the growing economic crisis in the United States actually helping to convince people to give intentional community a try?
Three days with these young people was inspiring and challenging, not to mention exhausting!
There is indeed new growth on the forest floor of Christianity and it would do all of us good to be aware of it and encourage this new life in every way.
For those of us well over thirty we need the passion and perspectives of the young and they in turn seek our experience and wisdom. It's a good match! It always has been...

From a Hopeful Field Outside of Chicago.
Stefan Andre


Walking the Streets of Chicago with Br. Jim...

Today I walked the streets of a neighborhood in South Chicago with a man who goes by the name of Br. Jim. Br. Jim doesn't walk for exercise or to see the sights. He walks to speak with people who live in a poor neighborhood where gang violence is a common reality. Today I walked with him . Together we walked through three neighborhoods. Some of them are called " projects". As we walked we encountered people who immediately recognized Br. Jim and we began to have some very good conversations. One man told us that he had recently been released from prison serving twenty years for murder. It was a retaliatory killing. Now he wanted to find a job and asked us repeatedly to help him. " Just give me a chance!" This was his mantra. Another woman we met shared that she was doing alright. Br. Jim later told me that two of her sons had been killed by gang violence. Wherever we went we encountered people who have lived and are living through the other side of American life - the side that American media doesn't really understand and does not cover in depth. The killing fields of Chicago's south side are a testimony to the growing gap between rich and poor in this country, to a persistent racial prejudice, and to the general apathy of the American people and of our government.
In these neighborhoods there is also tremendous fraternity. The struggle of the poor in this country has sometimes created a strong bond of community among those in poverty's grip. People sit out on the front lawn together and hold conversations and joke about just about everything. A group of young boys stopped to tell Br. Jim about their summer plans to work and raise some money. Real pride on their faces and real praise from Br. Jim. One expression of solidarity and the need for a positive identity is the formation of gang life. It does both. Of course gang life also brings with it some negatives including violence and addiction to drugs. There is much to understand and no one has all the answers.
Br. Jim has his own approach. First he dresses in a monastic robe made by himself out of blue jean patches. He sort of resembles a modern day Francis of Assisi. It is an outward sign of solidarity. He follows his retired predecessor Br. Bill who began this work among the poor. Br. Jim also follows Br. Bill in a four-fold rule which is well worth considering. 1. Fear No one and Nothing.
2. Trust God Always and for Everything.
3. Forgive Everyone Everything.
4. Love. You are forbidden to do anything but Love.

As we walked together I could see this four-fold rule of life in action. He becomes a friend to everyone he meets...to children and adults. There have been times when Br. Jim and before him Br. Bill walked in between warring gangs when bullets were flying. Close calls gave ampl;e opportunity to practice all four parts of the rule.

We spent the whole day together and I felt grateful for the opportunity to meet all the people in these neighborhoods. I expect to return and continue the friendships.

Tomorrow I leave for a festival that is focused on poverty in America. It's called the P.A.P.A. Festival. It stands for People Against Poverty and Apathy. Three days of conversation, music, and expanding the growing network of people who want significant change in this country.

On the Streets of Chicago with Love,
Stefan Andre


In Birmingham, Alabama...

What do you think of when you hear Birmingham, Alabama? For the past three days the Birmingham Unitarian Church and the Mendel family - a lovely Jewish/Christian blend - have offered me warm welcome and great hospitality. The church here is rooted in the struggle for civil rights and racial equality. On Sunday the church was full with people of all ages and we sang new songs of peace and justice . People came with guitars, fiddles, whistles, and drums. We shared stories of hope and open hearts. We prayed in words, in silence, and in song. We lifted our prayers on behalf of those who are denied a voice . We held each other in our struggles and in our pain. We shared a new sense of hope that seems to be beginning in this country and we envisioned a better society guided by the Spirit of Peace , not war. We affirmed the dignity of all people and welcomed people in their differences

Tonight we sat together in silent meditation in a Buddhist Sangha in an Episcopal Church named after St. Francis . We went on a silent walking meditation. We gathered to sing a new song based on Celtic melodies - a song of hope and passion called " I Arise Today". We dreamed of new possibilities.

Back at the Mendel House a very articulate young woman shared with me a video that I would suggest everyone sees. Whether you are a Republican or Democrat or Independent go to You Tube and see the latest Obama video selections. There are some amazing moments that speak of a new American hope and belief in our human possibilities. Look especially at the delightfully satiric " Obama in 30 seconds".

Through our gathering...in our conversation, our singing, our shared silence, our listening, our walking, our laughing and our learning, and through our eating together we encourage each other. This is the communion that Christ calls us to enter. This is Eucharist. This is Joy!

In Birmingham, Alabama...
Stefan Andre


Did You Notice...Joy in the United States?

Amidst the fear and anger of American politics, and in the middle of all the cynicism and sophisticated analysis, there was something else that appeared. Did you notice? On a recent news report a writer pointed out in passing that the African American community in the U.S. experienced that rarely reported human experience - joy. When Senator Barack Obama finally emerged as the new Democratic candidate for President something happened that is worth savoring. A ripple of joy ran through this country and especially through the community of people who not too long ago were enslaved in this very land. In addition a similar current has been unleashed in this country especially among women. For although Senator Hillary Clinton failed to capture the nomination she conducted an historic campaign and came closer to the nomination than any other woman in American history, and now is in a position of tremendous political power.
All of this signals a major shift in American politics and a deep change in the American psyche. This shift has not gone unnoticed by our European friends. There is for the first time in many years a more positive and hopeful response...even admiration .
It seems that we are weary of war-making and political policies that do violence to our own people. This is indeed a moment to reflect upon and cherish. Perhaps this is also a moment to revive our own hope and our own joy as we build on this momentum and chart a new course toward a more open and inclusive society. In that there is indeed true joy!

In Hope...
Stefan Andre


Listening to Bill Moyers...

Today I listened to Bill Moyers on Youtube.com as he spoke at the National Conference on Media Reform , June 7 in Minneapolis. In short he calls us to a passionate , and intelligent patriotism. His stirring words challenge us to ask the un-asked questions of our leaders and our media and continue to ask them until a satisfying and credible answer is given. Asking difficult questions is never easy and it may just save lives. Holding our leadership accountable is no easy task but it may be the only task if we are to claim a representative democracy.Suppose we and our media had indeed asked the really difficult questions leading up to the Iraqi invasion perhaps we might had discovered the truth that we needed to know before sending our young men and women to kill and be killed. The Senate has now confirmed what so many of us had for years believed but failed to say , namely that the Bush administration misrepresented the facts and exaggerated the evidence in presenting its case for the war in Iraq. Truth, not lies is what we needed then and what we need now. Moyers goes on to say that in an age of media conglomeration we must be ever vigilant to create and sustain independent sources of news, and alternative viewpoints. Public radio and public television , with its own flaws, must be supported beyond the current levels or we will fall even faster into a Orwellian political nightmare of distorted information and social apathy.
I encourage you to listen and respond to Bill Moyers and his prophetic warnings. Not easy to hear. But truth seldom is.

Disturbed by the truth,
Stefan Andre


Remembering Robert F. Kennedy...

Gore Vidal once said that we Americans live in the " United States of Amnesia". A good grasp of history and the lessons of our collective experience do not seem to be our strongest qualities as a people. Forty years ago in June, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was murdered .Two months earlier Martin Luther King was killed . The nation was reeling in grief and more and more people were speaking out to end the bloodshed in Vietnam . Many believed that Kennedy would be the next president and even more than his brother John ,it would be Robert who would lift up the poor , bring greater justice to our American society, and end the Vietnam war. Kennedy was a good study in personal/political transformation. From 1966 - 1968 he underwent significant changes in perspective. From pro-war to anti-war is no little leap! From authorizing the phone tapping of Martin Luther King to supporting the United Farm Workers and Cesar Chavez is a titanic shift! His growing awareness of the widening gap in this country between rich and poor , and his deepening passion to work for social justice was well known. Many believed he had found his life's calling. In his traveling across the country he had come to see first hand the poverty and hunger that exist in our inner cities, in the Mississippi delta, in Appalachia, on Native American reservations, and more... It seems that personal experience and public protest worked hand in hand to help transform a man of privilege into a more compassionate man.
There are many today who share Kennedy's awareness and passion and like Kennedy many are speaking out and working to create a more peaceful and just society. In the face of a habitual cynicism there are many who are finding ways to plant and water the seeds of a new society. Can we take just a moment to consider what it is we may be called to be and do? What are the ways of transformation for us and for our time?Using our gifts and resources how can we fulfill this deep calling? In our so-called post modern world there are many uncertainties and shifting grounds, but one thing remains clear: the urgent call to be a maker of peace and a creator of justice.In this call we find meaning, and purpose, and joy.

In a Common Cause,
Stefan Andre