Earlier in the week, I gave a short talk at St. Mary’s Church in Salina. I noted that St. Mary’s Social Concerns Commission cites a 1995 Catholic Bishops Pastoral Message that read: “The pursuit of economic justice is not an option or add-on for Catholics; it is part of who we are and what we believe.” In that spirit, later in the day I told the Northwestern Kansas Register newspaper (of the diocese of Salina) that we ask a majority of Americans to consider cutting back on their lifestyles tremendously (less energy use, less clothes, smaller cars, house sharing…) and use the savings to help more in the Third World and the inner cities of America. The editor of the newspaper is Msgr. R. M. Menard. He’s 92. Yet when I walked in the office he was banging away on the keyboard like a new cub reporter. The keyboard of an old, grey manual Royal typewriter. I asked him about that, and he said: “I’ve just always done it this way.”
We were on the front page of the Salina (KS) Journal this week. Reporter Micheal Strand asked me to describe one of the projects we’ve researched. I pointed to a small town northwest of Salina called Atwood. Beyond local taxes, the town had developed a benevolent fund. It started 10 years ago with two citizens donating $20,000 — now the fund has almost one million dollars in it. While doing the research in Atwood, we learned people there donate out of a sense of civic responsibility. A board has been set up to distribute the money to, say, a town road project that needs more capital, or a senior citizen who is short on money for prescription medication, or a local school class that might need some additional art supplies… I told Strand that this is an excellent example of people-helping-people on a local level. And I told him if someone in Salina, or a neighboring town, reads about this in his story about us and does the same thing in their town — “we get a policy enacted long before we ever get to D.C.”
We stopped at the Prairie Museum of Art & History where there was a special display this day titled: “Bleeding Kansas.” Prior to the Civil War, there were tremendous riffs all over the state over slavery. Some factions were “Free,” the others were “Slave.” Kansas evolved into a tinder box which helped spark the Civil War, and ultimately, the abolition of slavery. But slavery still exists, I told a reporter from the Colby Free Press after touring the museum. I said little, inner city Black (White, Hispanic…) children are “slaves” to a cycle that, for the most part, keeps them in a “poverty loop.” And I said our platform asks people living comfortably in the suburbs and small town America to roll up their sleeves, go down to the inner city and bring another type of abolition — through creative mentoring programs and stepped up church and social service help.
We’ve entered Kansas, stopping first in the small town of Wilson (pop. 1,000). It is the “Czech Capital of Kansas.” Lavenge Shiroky, 83, told us some 43 years ago she went to the state capitol, Topeka, with a lawyer to get the town so designated. “You can’t just go out and put a sign up climing any ‘ole thing,” she smiled. After the declaration, Lavenge helped start an annual weekend Czech Festival here, complete with Polka music (“Czech’s bounce” a sign in a downtown dance hall here says.), roast goose and a variety of Kolache pastries. Lavange’s great grandmother came to America from Czecholslovakia in the late 1800s. Her name is on Ellis Island.
We stopped in Burlington, Colorado where we visited the quite impressive “Veterans Monument,” adjacent to VFW Post 6491. It was constructed in 2002. An authentic Cobra helicopter, aquired from the Department of Defense, sits atop a pointed pedestal of stainless steel, displaying plaques ot the Veterans Day Prayer, and a plaque to POW’s. The other three sides contain the names of those from the area who have died serving our country. There are currently some 400 names, and there is room (according to a brochure) for 1,200 names. Let’s hope they all don’t get filled in.
I gave a talk to members of a “Just Faith Group” at St. Joseph Catholic Community in Arvada, Colorado. Among other things, I said we believed in a “consistent pro-life ethic” that has us not only concerned about ending abortion, but about ending conditions that lead to poverty, pollution, war, and other things that can end life “prematurely.” The group has been meeting for almost a year and support each other in pursuing peace and social justice causes.
In Denver we met with Andrew and Theresa Biller and their family. Andrew had offered to be our ad hoc “campaign manager” in Colorado after seeing the website. Andrew said he took political science in college and didn’t want to go with either major party candidate this year. He has young children and is worried about the direction the country is going, particularly around war issues. So he did a search of “Project Vote Smart” for other presidential candidates and, finally, came across our website (it’s in alphabetical order). Andrew’s brother Jim and sister-in-law, Hang (from Vietnam), are worried about the Third World. They, with their three young children, have just committed to become Mary Knoll missionaries to a country in the Third World. (They’re currrently waiting to see if it’s Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Thailand…) Jim, who is a social action coordinator for Holy Ghost Church in downtown Denver, said the gospel compels he and his wife to reach out and “have compassion for others.” During the interview with the couple, Jim said he is also anxious to have his children exposed to another culture because often in the Third World the time for, and sense of, faith, family and community is more — because these countries are not as saturated with things like media and materialism as, say, America is.
We met with Robbie Goldman in downtown Denver, Colorado today. He is part of a rather unique ministry called “Dry Bones,” referring to the Biblical passage about a valley of dead bones that come to life (Book of Ezechial). The ministry is connected to the Lakewood (CO) Church of Christ. It is an outreach to homeless youth in the city and today Robbie took us around to meet the kids and see the sewers, back alleys, and so on, they survive in. It is a tour Goldman gives often to youth groups, other kinds of church groups, in hopes of getting help for the ministry and the kids. He called some of the condition “gutter punk lifestyle” that originally came out of L.A. and it is saturated with drugs, prostitution, violence… We met with some of the kids in the Mall area of downtown Denver. Goldman said they travel a “circuit” to the warmer cities in the winter, and places like Denver in the Summer. Often they have left because the abuse has been so bad at home, there seemed no alternative. Goldman said the ministry hope is to eventually get a building in this area to help, but for now the ministry rents halls for meals, billiard rooms for socializing, and so on, throughout the city. What’s more, Goldman said the ministry hope is to also inspire similar programs in cities across the nation.
On the way into Rawlins, Wyoming earlier this week, one of the campaign vehicle’s water pumps went out. No small repair job, because you have to take out part of the engine to get to it. As we were checking service stations, we heard of a local pastor who was also a “wrench,” Wyoming for: “mechanic.” When I called Pastor Randy Golden of The Church on the Rock, he said just the night before he’d been reading int he Book of Luke about how you were supposed to “help your brother.” Bring the van over, he said. He and his father-in-law fixed it the next day, for free. Later, during a Bible study at his downtown storefront church in Rawlins, Pastor Randy said “people who are comfortable in their faith — are often missing opportunities to witness.”
I met with Lauren Lambertson at the Bureau of Land Management in Rawlins, Wyoming. The Rawlins Field Office manages 4.2 million acres. Ms. Lambertson said a good percentage of the Federal land in this area is leased to local farmers for grazing their cattle. Cows, for instance, are allowed on a plot of land for so many days a month. However, complications have arisen. Some parcels are overgrazed. It’s hard to police the vast amount of land, said Ms. Lambertson. And with the overgrazing comes soil erosion and other eco-system damaging problems.