That Day in July

Blog by Rev. Ron Kurzawa, OPA

It was a Sunday . . .  the 24th of July, 1967.

And almost as usual, life began to unfold in the parish early on that Sunday morning.

Our schedules in hand, we, the clergy began to enter into our last-minute preparations for the Masses over which we would preside on that Sunday morning.

The early Mass folk were already beginning to arrive at that modest-sized, Westside, mostly Polish parish.

It was beginning as just another Sunday.

Or so most of us thought.

But that morning there was one difference.

There was a police car outside, directly front of the front entrance to the church. And a couple of the occupants were asking to speak to the clergy.

Alone . . .  apart from the gathering crowd . . .  somewhere somewhat isolated so that what was about to be said would be spoken in a degree of secrecy.

At least for the moment.

Clergy gathered (and remember, this was 1967 and many parishes back then had more than a single priest!) and the officers spoke to us.

No need for alarm and certainly there is no need to alarm the congregation. However, there is some “trouble” in the streets somewhat nearby. Because of that, keep things as brief as possible and simply, calmly at the end of the Mass encourage everyone to go directly home. Tell them not to linger, socialize or head out anywhere for breakfast.

Straight home . . .  and immediately.

Some “trouble” in the streets somewhat nearby!

July 24 is the anniversary day of the founding, the establishment of Detroit. 1701 was the day. And here it was – another July 24 only this year, 1967, Detroit was taking a different turn in its identity.

Late night or early morning, depending on your sense of time, something had happened that set tempers flaring and unleashed long pent-up frustrations.

And there was violence in the streets.

Some ‘trouble” somewhat nearby!

Masses went on as usual and as scheduled. Folks were encouraged to not linger but rather head straight home. As the morning progressed, folks arriving were hearing something of the news of that “trouble” somewhat nearby.

And a bit later that Sunday, I had the opportunity of hosting a gathering of a handful of faculty and students from the University of Detroit. At that time I was a student in the graduate program there, taking courses in education and counseling. Our gathering consisted of some like minds, folks who could name trends and issues impacting society and analyze and speculate possible results.

One of the items that came up was the current condition of Detroit’s black population. Several of the faculty spoke about how surprised they were that something had not yet erupted, given the prevalence of racism and its effects.

The discussion continued along those lines on into the evening.

The time came for my guests to depart. The sky was darkening. Night was descending.

And as we emerged from our gathering in that rectory, we could see something more.

Flames were tearing through that darkness.

Somewhere not too distant from where we were, neighborhoods were ablaze.

It was then that I remembered that early morning visit from those law officers. It was then that I realized that the time had, indeed, come.

A people had been dehumanized for far too long.

Now much pent-up anger was emerging, erupting, tearing through the streets.

Langston Hughes captured it so very, very well. What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up Like a raisin in the sun?… Or does it explode?”

Every human being has a dream, a God-given dream and that is to be treated as, respected as a human being, made in the image and likeness of God.

And when that dream is deferred . . . it does not dry up like some raisin in the sun.

July 24, 1967 – the results of a dream deferred!

Posted in Associate Blog

Immigration Injustice and Racial Injustice Focus on Difference

Dr. James Tinnin, OPA

Jim Tinnin is a member of the DSOP Immigration Reform Committee.  The program “Being Allies in the Work for Racial Justice” was a panel discussion in Akron OH with a panel that included Sr. Joanne Caniglia, OP and Marybeth Irvine, OPA.

I recently attended a program sponsored by the Catholic Commission of Summit County:

“Being Allies in the Work for Racial Justice”.  What struck me was the huge overlap between our focus on immigration reform and the work of racial solidarity and justice.  The focus of the discussion was a concern for and working against conditions impacting the marginalized and those facing racism and oppression.

 I love the following quotation from “A Faith Formation Guide” by Alison M. Benders:

“Our nation has focused harmfully on difference rather than on the unity of humanity that reflects God’s infinite love in the varieties of our gifts and perspectives.”

Here I am thinking of the immigrants and their gifts who suffer from low wages as well as terrible housing and working conditions.  And even worse, there seems to be very little way to improve the situation.  An important part of these conditions is racial injustice.  It is one of exploitation and marginalization.  Alison Benders has it right:

If racism can be uprooted, our tools must be the Spirit’s gifts of humility, love, and courage.  We must desire justice in our hearts and take steps to create a more just society.”

 

(Source: Alison M. Benders, READING, PRAYING, LIVING The US Bishops’ OPEN WIDE OUR HEARTS, A Faith Formation Guide, 2020 Liturgical Press)

Posted in Associate Blog

Protection, Really??

Associates Marybeth Irvine (left), Rosie Blackburn (center) and Sr. Charlene Moser, OP (right) attend a memorial on the first anniversary of the murder of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, KY.

Reading through the Sunday paper account of the happenings at ‘Injustice Square’ in Louisville marking the first anniversary of the murder of Breonna Taylor, we read:

‘Armed militia members flanked the protestors for security as they walk through downtown’s barricaded streets…’

But wait, what did we miss? We (Sr. Charlene Moser, OP, and Associates Rosie Blackburn and Marybeth Irvine) were there. Why did we need security? Who was posing a threat? We were aware of our surroundings. We saw a couple of silhouettes on the rooftop but no sign of weapons. We saw some LMPD police. We saw barriers blocking thru traffic. All just watching. More predominant was an incredible mix of human beings who were present to remember Breonna’s life, death, and the absence of accountability for the loss of both. We saw a community of people who crossed many barriers to be present with one another.

So where was the perceived danger? For us, the threat was presented by our so called ‘protectors.’ These individuals who roamed through the gathering with their military style weapons and ammunition. This is what frightened us. This group of mostly white males roamed in and out of the gathering looking like they were patrolling a hostile environment. But there was no hostility; there was no danger. What were they doing there? What is it about our society that makes individuals think they need to show this kind of power? Yes, there were also individuals packing their sidearms in our open carry state but they were not a menacing presence. As women, as white women, we were fearful. We wonder how others felt. Did they feel safer, protected? Or were they, too, ill at ease. Is this the kind of situation the framers of our Constitution had in mind when they gave us the right to carry arms? Something seems to have been lost in the translation.

We, Dominicans of Peace, corporately stand for common sense gun reform. Hopefully this reform will include an end to practices that allow guns to be present as a means to intimidate peace seeking individuals rallying for justice.

Posted in Associate Blog

Listen

Blog by Marybeth Irvine, OPA

Listen, can you hear it? No, try again, become stiller – drop further into silence. Surely now you can hear the buoy bell as it chimes outside my window. Why is hearing it important? For me, it has been associated with Colette Parker’s voice in the months since her death. The buoy bell is both peaceful and melodic and is an indicator that a person is safely close to harbor (home).

My bell has been making its presence heard a lot this past month as we reflected again on Colette’s wisdom. It has been calling me to listen to the journey on which she partnered with me. A journey that helped move me from a place of wondering ‘How did I not know?’ to accepting I could not have known because the past history of people of color in the United States had been locked behind doors to which only a few possessed keys. But then what was I to do since I now had eyes to see? I was to listen openly, to listen willingly, to listen believing there was truth to be heard.

I listened through the discussions of my Dominican study group as we processed the information in the Congregation’s study packet on racial justice, so I thought I had done the work. Not so, says Colette, there is more listening to do. I again moved to study and leisure reading but only works written by and about people of color. I heard the pain of injustice, the daily fears, the struggle for existence, the inequities. I moved out of my comfort zone to attend events in support of Breonna Taylor. I watched webinars and documentaries. I had conversations about blackness in Louisville with my hairdresser. Surely, I had done the work that Colette challenged me to do. But not so, the bell kept ringing, asking me to listen beyond the knowledge and limited interactions.

What was the “more” I needed to listen to? Strangely, the more was with me every day. To understand the pain and suffering, I needed to walk in the shoes of the other. Now clearly I could not be black and inhabit skin the was not mine, but I could listen to my body’s responses.

The listening asked me to recall the inner terror I experienced when the bus I was on in Tanzania was stopped by a military-looking guy with his gun clearly in view. To hear inside me the fear as a shouting match took place in a language I did not understand. After all, haven’t we all read of kidnappings of foreigners? I had to listen again to my own body’s response as I heard George Floyd’s cry: ‘I can’t breathe.’ I had that experience in my dentist’s office. I remember the terror that filled my being. And last week, as I listened to a presentation by the director of Roots 101 (a new museum of black history in Louisville), he dropped a set of shackles. My body trembled just hearing the sound.

So what I hear Colette teaching me is my own body gives me insight into the black experience. An experience that a body of color lives every minute of every day and everywhere. My experiences were all time-limited, brief, and mostly in safe places, yet I felt the trauma. How does one’s body heal from that kind of trauma when it is relentless?  Maybe what I am hearing Colette invite me to is more listening to the responses in my own body when I am in places of discomfort and then to listen with compassion to those who know of no other way to live. They are always coping with the generational trauma as well as the daily ones.

So my invitation to each of us is to listen not only to the words outside but to turn inside and listen there as well. That is the gift contemplation nurtures. Contemplate and share with others the fruits of that listening.

Posted in Associate Blog

What Itch Distracts You from God?

Blog by Associate Theresa Kempker, OPA

In Sunday’s first reading, we hear that the king of Nineveh ordered everyone to wear sackcloth and he sat in ashes.  In fact, we often read in the Bible that penitents wore sackcloth and sat in ashes or put ashes on their head.  Why not just say dirt?  Isn’t that the point, that a penitent would sit in ugly sackcloth and be dirty?

Well, no.  Sackcloth, as you can imagine, is not only unfashionable, but it is rough and itchy.  I’ve always imagined that it must not be good at keeping out the cool of the night, either.

But what always strikes my soul is the use of the ashes.  Wood ashes, when combined with water, make lye, a terribly caustic chemical.  Most of the farm families I knew growing up made their own soap with commercial lye, and everyone had a healthy respect for it.  A small can of lye poured into a crock of water could have it nearly boiling in seconds.  Children were to be kept away from soap making so that they wouldn’t get any lye on their skin and be burned.

If a penitent sweated or if dew fell, the water would combine with the ashes and make small amounts of weak lye.  But it would be lye nonetheless.  And it would itch, maybe burn.  It would be terribly uncomfortable to be scratched by the sackcloth and then burned by the lye from the ashes.  And after?  We don’t hear about people being done with this ordeal.  It must have felt so good to leave the sackcloth and ashes behind, take a bath, and put oil on all the places that were rubbed and irritated.

What itch is distracting us from closer union with God?  What fear or pride burns at our souls so that we are not at peace with God?  God does not want us to stay this way.  God wants us to remove our sackcloth, bathe in His mercy, and feel His Love soothing us.

God made you and loves you because you are worth loving.

Posted in Associate Blog