Monday, September 27, 2010

All of Uptown is a Stage...

One of the things I enjoy about Uptown is its rich history. I especially enjoy the fact that the entertainment industry played such a prominent part of the cultural landscape of the neighborhood. Emily and I got a tour of the Essaney Studios. The studios were the holiday of the 1900s. This was where the first American Sherlock Holmes movies were filmed. The first American version of The Christmas Carol was also filmed here. The studio made cowboy films, received to Oscars and was home to stars including Charlie Chaplin and Gloria Swanson.


Essenay Studio and the Early Film Industry in Chicago

The studio is now home to St. Augustine College. The school is a bilingual school. It is supported by the Episcopal diocese of Chicago. Our tour guide was the Dean of students. We actually stood in the studio where over 1000 movies were made. We also visited the chapel which was created out of a movie storage shed. I made sure I touched the walls of what was America’s “First Hollywood.”

Most of the remnant of the entertainment industry is at Lawrence and Broadway. This is the area of the city that was home to Rag Time, Swing, Jazz, Big Band, Rock and Roll and now Hip Hop. Look wouth and you see the Rivera Theater. This was a gain movie theater that was at its height during the 1920s and 30s. It had nursing rooms (for injuries) and a toy filled play room for children. This is because the owners actively attempted to get women to go to the movies at a time that was considered provocative for women. The theater was ornately decorated. Today the Riviera is still used as a concert hall.


Uptown: the Riviera

East on Lawrence Avenue is the Aragon Ball Room. The ballroom was decorated to look like a Spanish Villa. It was very popular in the 1940s often having crowds of 18,000 people. The ballroom hosted concerts by; Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey, Xavier Cugat, Glenn Miller, Lawrence Welk, Guy Lombardo, Harry James, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Duke Ellington and Jimmy Dorsey. In more recent years artists performing at the Aragon included: Bob Dylan, Green Day, Nine Inch Nails, Slayer, Marilyn Manson, Smashing Pumpkins, Morrissey, and Kings of Leon. Both the Riviera theater and the Argon Ballroom at active today.


More Uptown

Across the street from the Aragon Ballroom is the Kinetic Playground. It is a through back from my youth and has an underground feel to it.
Just north of Lawrence is the gigantic Uptown Theater. This theater was THE movie palace of Chicago. It had4,500 seats. Visitors were overwhelmed with the opulence. Today it is a gigantic empty building waiting for someone to throw a fortune into it to renovate it to it days of glory.

Next to the Uptown is the Green Mill. This was a speak easy and Jazz bar. It is still a popular destination today for history buffs and jazz fans. A few doors down from the Green Mill is the Annoyance thereafter. This is a more modern establishment that specializes in cutting edge humor and satire.

Across the street is the Bridgeview Bank (formerly the Broadway Bank). This unique curved triangular building was recently used in the filming of public Enemy Number One.

All of this history and current performing art is surrounded by coffee houses, Ethiopian and West African restaurants and Thai restaurants and a sushi bar. Yep, it is a great place to take a stroll through.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Meeting a Dakota Artist at the American Indian Center

After leaving the Muslim Community Center of Chicago I decided to walk home. I took a different route. I walked to the American Indian Center. This is the oldest and largest urban center for Native Americans. The center has programs for children and senior citizens. The center houses a small museum. The walls are painted with wonderful pictures utilizing Indian motifs. I decided to go inside and film the murals.

Imagine my surprise to find out that Robert Wobacki, the artist was on site. Not only that but he agreed to show me his paintings and he agreed to an interview. He pointed out that most of the paintings have a trail in them because life is a trail. I told him about our belief that we are all pilgrim people on earth. He liked that.


Interview with Dakota Artist at American Indian Center Robert showed my large murals and tiny paintings. Anything seemed to be a possible site for a painting. He was creative and he continually integrated Native American themes and religion into the subjects of his paintings.

Art was everywhere. The classrooms were full of artifacts from many different First Nation cultures. Robert had made a name for himself. He was now called upon to do paintings in peoples homes. He reports being constantly busy.


Dakota Artist Talking About "The Three Sisters"
Our tour ended in the gymnasium. This room now werves as a theater. Tehre is a stage and room for tales and chairs. As we walked around the room was being prepared for a movie night for that evening.

Robert showed me his mural of The Three Sisters. It was huge and vibrant. He told of the story of creation and gifts of food. It seemed appropriate that the Three Sisters were hanging in a room that was a focus of communal eating. The tour ended. Robert was gracious and a joy to be around. He was a knowledgeable guide. He was well respected by the staff and students of the center. I felt honored to have met him.

It had been a great day and now it was time to go back to the Kaio Community.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Catholics and Muslims Struggling and Loving in God

On September 12th 2010 a burnt Koran was dropped in front of the Muslim Community Center of Chicago. The MCC is one of the oldest Muslim centers in the city. The members report having a good relationship with their neighbors. The desecration came as a shock to the members.

The hate note attached to the Holy Book was signed “Mr. Catholic.” When I heard of this incident I was disturbed. I was bothered by the singing of the note and about the desecration. I was also bothered because it is so critical that we Americans find commonality whenever we can. I do not mean a false commonality that minimizes significant differences. Rather, we need to find commonality while accepting our very real differences.

I was also bothered because as a Catholic Secular Franciscan I found the note personally offensive. My faith tradition is shaped by the life of Francis of Assisi. 800 years ago, during the Crusades, this obedient Catholic defied orders and crossed the battle field lines in Egypt. His goal was to meet with the Sultan and convert him to Christianity. Francis was captured, beaten and then brought before the Sultan, The two men talked and talked and talked. At the end neither was converted but both held the other in high regard. It was the beginning of an 800 year tradition of mutual respect and dialogue.

I had the day off so I walked to the MCC. There I prayed with the men. It was very impressive. Hundreds of men of different colors, languages and dress all praying in unison to Allah. I had been anxious about entry the center. I did not know how to ritually wash. I did not know who to address. There was no need to be anxious. This was a welcoming center.

The center appeared to have been a converted ballroom. The men’s area had an area for members that was marked off by a railing. The rest of the room was lower and covered with 35 large carpets. All of the floor space would be covered by men prostrating themselves and praying.


Night 18 - Taraweeh 2010/1431 @ Muslim Community Center (MCC) - Imam Asim Abdul Aleem

The women were in a different section of the center. They were not dressed uniformly. Some were very modest in dress and others appeared more casual while still maintaining a sense of propriety.

When the sermon and prayers were over I went out into the lobby. There a man introduced himself to me. He offered to assist me. I told him who I was and that I was here to show support for those who work for peace and worship God. He then introduced to Imam Fisal Hammouda.

The Imam was moved by the presence of a Christian at the center offering support. He knew of the relationship between Franciscans and Muslims and he valued that relationship.

He spoke of tolerance and mutual respect. It was hard for him to comprehend how people who share so much in common could be so antagonistic to one another. He told me how Muslims believe in Jesus, his miraculous birth, his death and his resurrection. He spoke of their devotion to Mary and to all of the earlier saints. He said he could not understand how Christians could hate Muslims.


Imam Fisal Hammouda Talks About Interfaith Tolerance and Respect

We spoke of the need for members of different faith communities to accept and respect other faith communities. He spoke of what it means to be an American and also what it means to “love your neighbor.” At the end of our dialogue he gave the school a blessing.


Imam Fisal Hammouda's Blessing to the University of Saint Francis

I left the MCC feeling connected to some of its members. I felt compelled to make clear distinctions between faith members who advocate violence and those who believe God wants us to act in peace and with love. The two camps do not describe religions, they describe individual responses of faith communities. As I left the center I knew I would be back and that I would continue to attempt to dialogue while respecting our very real differences. It was a good day.


I AM A MUSLIM! My Faith My Voice by PSA

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

International Day of Peace: Called to Act

My friend Barb O’Conner is a persistent and passionate advocate for peace. She is one of the sponsors of JustPeace at our campus. Her efforts remind me that it is not just up to governments and movements to work for peace, it is up to all of us.


History of International Day of Peace

Since I have been on sabbatical I have become acutely aware of the need for peace. I am not talking about international peace. We have always been a world in conflict and issues of war and national conflict is where I would normally go to when thinking about peace. However, in recent weeks I have become aware of the need for peace at the local, community and even neighborhood level.

I attended a Native American-Catholic service. There they talked about the conflict of peoples and nations; however, they also talked about the need for peace in our homes. I attended an Ethiopian church and the congregants spoke of the history of conflict in their homeland. The church was housed in a former synagogue and I was reminded of the plight of Jews in Ethiopia.

I attended an Assyrian Holy Apostolic Catholic Church of the East. The church had suffered an arson attack after September 11,2001. They were attacked because someone assumed they were Muslim. The congregation expressed its struggle to follow the tenets of their faith and to love their enemies. The members know they are called to do this however they are also struggling because their ancient church is facing extinction.

I attended services at the Muslim Community Center of Chicago. The center had a burnt Quran dropped at it door step on September 12th of this year. I prayed with the men. It was a powerful and moving experience. I then met with the Imam. He expressed his gratitude for the show of support and he told me he was aware of the history of dialogue between Franciscans and Muslims. The Imam also spoke of his people being the target of hate and prejudice and the need for greater contact and dialogue.

Last weekend I was working outreach with my partner. There was a concert at Wrigley Field. We were on Broadway and Addison and looked toward Wrigley Field. The area was blocked by fire trucks, EMS vehicles and police cars. Their flashing lights were on and a helicopter was overhead. I thought there had been an accident or fight. What in fact occurred was the city and FBI response to an attempted bombing. A man had planned on bombing a bar near the concert with the goal of maximum carnage. There were 40,000 people in the area. I am grateful for the vigilant work of the FBI and CPD. I am also grateful to the members of the Chicago Arab population who alerted officials to the potential threat.

Some of our guys arrive at the Ministry Center with black eyes and bandaged hands. They talk about the danger on the streets. The police are aware that they are in one of the most dangerous policing environments in the nation.In the last seven days over 120 drug dealers have been arrested, just on the north side of the city. The tension on the street is palatable.

Last night our intentional faith community, the Kaio community was praying. Because of the reminders from Sister Anita I remembered it was the International Day of Peace. I remembered that working for peace was not just Barb O’Conner’s responsibility. So I prayed for peace in our world and in our neighborhood. This was not just going through the motions, the need was real. Two weeks ago two people were shot behind our local fast food restaurant. This was the second time two people were shot there since July. Last weekend a man was shot in the head. This occurred only a few blocks away. Last Saturday a man attempted to rape a woman at the Foster Avenue beach house, at noon. So I prayed for peace in our neighborhood.

As soon as I prayed the sirens went wild. Cops were all over our street. Two people had been shot, nine bullets fired. One of the shootings occurred after the police arrived. This happened at 6:00 PM. It was still light out, it was a brazen attack.

I do not want to exaggerate the current situation. I do not feel in any personal danger. I am not an at-risk person. I also do not want to minimize the danger to folks who are homeless, on the streets, in violent relationships or poor.

So, I want my government to do what it can to stop the violence. However, I know they alone cannot solve this problem. I am reminded of the stubborn dedication of Barb O’Conner. I am reminded of the example of Brother Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio. We, I, have to work for peace. At this point for me that means to simply support those who are working toward peace. It means to support those who have been injured. It means I am required to speak out and to pray for peace. Please join me in this work and please tell me what you are doing in your part of the world to work for peace.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Faithing: The Assyrian Holy Apostolic Catholic Church of the East

I have been visiting a variety of churches during my sabbatical. During my last two visits to Chicago I kept walking past St. John Holy Apostolic Catholic Church of the East. This church is etched on my mind because it is a powerful example of what happens when actions are based on fear and hatred. The Sunday following Sept. 11th 2001 the church became the target of an arson attack. The attackers appear to have assumed the congregation was Muslim. This required the attacker/s to ignore the three story cross outside the church.

Finally I knocked on the door and someone answered. This had never happened before. I had begun to think the congregation had moved. This white haired gentleman greeted me and welcomed me into his church. The gentleman was Qashisha (Father) C. Klutz. He was one of three parish priest (Emeritus) for the congregation. Father Klutz is an 80 year old priest with an incredible fund of knowledge and willingness to share the knowledge.

The Holy Apostolic Catholic Church of the East is an ancient church. We probably know it best for being associated with one of the first schemes during the fifth century. This is the church known as the Nestorian Church and the Chaldean Church of the East the latter is their name in India. It was situated along the Tigris River. The faith extended east. Missionaries taking land routes went to China and Japan. The church was founded by Saint Thomas the Apostle.


Inside St. John

Today the church headquarters is in Chicago. However, the church has historically been the church of Iran, Iraq and Syria. The liturgical language is Aramaic, the language of Jesus. The last century has been one of extreme martyrdom. Since the war in Iraq the Christians of the Middle East have endured attacks on churches, clergy and congregations. The result is the church is a quarter to one half the size that it was before the war. The church is quickly becoming a Diaspora church.


Father Klutz Explains the Assyrian Catholic Church of the East

Father Klutz graciously gave me a tour of the church and explained the meaning of the d├ęcor. He also spent time describing the liturgy or “Holy Mysteries” to me.


Father Klutz Showing the Gospel

For many centuries the church was not in communion with any of the other early churches. Today that has changed. Many of the differences are now viewed as problems with translation of concepts. In fact many of the Chicago priests were trained in the Vatican. Each local Bishop decides on shared liturgies. In Chicago the Catholic Church allows its members to receive communion at Assyrian Churches.

Father Klutz also spoke of the attack on the church following the Sept. 11th attacks. It was sobering to hear of the attacks and also how misunderstood this ancient church is to other Christians.


Father Klutz Describes the Attack on St. John Church after Sept.11

After the tour Father Klutz took me down stairs where I shared bread and Assyrian cheese with members of the congregation.

I attended mass the following Sunday. It was a beautiful service with three deacons as well as the priest. The liturgy was chanted and half of it was in Aramaic. This was truly a Middle Eastern and Iranian church. The church service appeared to bridge the orthodox or Eastern churches and the Latin churches. When I mentioned this to the Father he agreed. It was also a church of welcoming people.

Afterward I again ate with the congregation. I sat with Father Klutz’s wife. I met congregants. I heard how Father Klutz was translating the liturgy and the codex (the equivalent of our CCC) into English. It turns out this modest priest was important.
Father Klutz presented me with a book on the Church of the East. I have been welcomed back and I have every intention of visiting this warm and welcoming church again before my sabbatical ends.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Faithing on Sabbatical

I have made a conscious effort to make my sabbatical experience a personal pilgrimage. The pilgrimage is not to any one place. The focus is on the Body of Christ as glimpsed from the rich tapestry of churches and faith traditions in Chicago. So I am attending as many different ethnic and faith tradition churches as possible.
I also want to have not only an ecumenical experience but an interfaith experience. To that end I hope to also attend Buddhist and Hindu Temples, a mosque and synagogues.

I follow the model of Brother Francis. He did a dance of being in the world, of being a brother and servant to all creatures. He also removed himself from the world so he could speak with and more importantly listen to God. To that end I have established my “home church” St. Mary of the Lake Parish. This is where I attend daily mass. It is a five minute walk from Emmaus Ministries. It has long ties to Uptown and to me. When I worked at the Hazel-Wilson Home in the mid-70s Sister Gloriana Bednarski also worked there. She lived at the convent of St. Mary of the Lake Parish.

The church is not the biggest church in the area. It is however beautiful. The tower can be seen from the L station or simply walking down Sheridan Road. It is a multi-ethnic church. Congregants come from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. There are also African-Americans and Euro-American members. It is a congregation of rich and poor, of many languages and many forms of dress.


Outside of St. Mary of the Lake Parish

The inside is beautiful. I find myself following the columns up to the ceiling. The frescoes, statuary, and molding are breath-taking. Still, it is the silence, the tranquility and the presence that keeps me coming back

Inside SMOL


SMOL Alter

The church has a number of shrines that are visited throughout the day. The visitors touch the shrines as they pray. Others go into the chapel to pray. The statuary extends to the outside of the church. The contrast between light and darkness, between quiet and activity reflects a place that is home to both public/corporate prayer and individual time with God.


St. Mary of the Lake Parish Chapel

It is a good place to call home.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Brothers and Sisters From the Street

I am making new friends and being accepted into new groups almost daily. I do not believe it is because I am so inherently likable. Rather, I believe the guys I work with need so much to be liked without being used.

During outreach we rarely stay on one street. We may sit on some stoop or bench for 45 minutes, if it is productive. However, then we get up and move on.
I say “we” because outreach is always done in teams. We are never left alone. This increases our span of control and our visual horizon, it also increases the chance that one of us will be able to engage the guys.

We have lots of guys approach us. Either the guys know Doug, our outreach coordinator or they have heard of Emmaus Ministries. They tell us about their lives. They talk about their wives, kids, health or legal problems. They let us know if a peer is having a hard time.

Different blocks and different days present different groups. Some of the guys are distracted by voices they only hear. Some are seriously jonesing for a fix. Others are sick. However, many are just happy to see us. In either case, a prolonged conversation that is happy or painful is still a productive use of our time together.

One area has an intense group of folks, the trannies. These ladies anticipate harassment and respond accordingly. The guys who hang with them are equally tough. We often hear this group before we even see them. However, they are accepting us and our time together is a dance between street talk and self-care, between provocative/shocking statements and respect for the “church guys.” By the end of the evening it is this group that appears the most tired and the least happy. It is this group of homeless folks that know that as difficult as the night can be when your homeless, for them life during the day is even harder.

The folks that bother me the most are the roving groups of homeless teenagers and young adults. I know that their future is not bright and that their high risk behaviors will quickly compromise their health. I also know they are trying to eat, find a place to wash up and to sleep. They are also looking for their next fix. All of this and their lack to job skills make them prime candidates for hustling.

There are cops, EMS and firefighters around us every night we do outreach. They all have difficult jobs to do and I am grateful for their service to the neighborhoods.
I am not grateful for the drug pushers. At times the clouds of pot have been so thick I was afraid I would test positive or have a dirty drop simply because of where I was walking. Folks have tried to sell me pot and cocaine. They have no idea how cheap I am!

Sometimes we bump into our guys when they have been drinking or using. Sometimes we cross paths when they are “working.” I am so glad to work with folks who do not waste time judging or berating the guys. The result is that the guys begin to come to the Ministry Center. We have been very busy lately feeding the guys. The guys are using the laundry service, the showers and getting mail. They are attending group, faithing together and working on goals. None of this would occur if we had spent time berating the guys on the streets for bad choices.

Today I was reminded yet again how important it is for the guys to have a home, a safe haven to come to. One of the Kaio folks, Emily, baked a birthday cake for the guys celebrating September birthdays. There were birthday cards, candles on the cake and of course singing. I am use to the guys appreciating good food and good company. I was not prepared for one of the guys becoming tearful as he expressed his gratitude for being remembered, for the cake and for being alive. He did not expect to make it to his birthday. The young man was in his early thirties.

So I am happy to be making new friends every day. I feel honored to be allowed into their lives. I am starting to get Brother Francis in a way I never got him before. I am beginning to see the beauty of humility.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Just One of the Reasons I Love Emmaus Ministries

Last week we had a memorial service for one of our guys. Unfortunately our staff has had too much experience in planning such services. Having said that, it is clear that each service is unique and reflects the life of the individual. This most current one was no exception.

The staff attended the funeral and was well received by the family. Our guy had been a true success story but we would have been there even if that was not true. The staff them spent considerable time planning a service that would honestly reflect his life. That included his struggles as well as his gifts and successes.

The guys on the street who were not coming to the ministry center were informed about the service. This allowed them the opportunity to talk about their grief even if they could not be at the service. The service was attended by our guys, staff and Kio members, past volunteers, board members and friend. The service was simple yet powerful. It was a celebration of his life.


Memorial Service at Emmaus Ministries

I mention the prison ministry in the video. That seems out of place because it was a not a part of his life. However, what I was attempting to illustrate is that Emmaus Ministries is not only invested in the guys that come down to the ministry or who are clearly changing their lives. We are committed to walking with the guys for as long as they want us to. That includes during their prison stays, hospital stays or their entry into the work force or school.

This memorial service served to remind me how Emmaus Ministry is not a traditional social service agency. It is a compassionate and committed urban ministry. Both types of organizations are necessary for our guys to make real change. I am glad that Emmaus Ministries continues to do what it does with commitment, compassion and prayer.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Emmaus Ministries, Sooo Much Training!

Emmaus Ministries has been generous in their training of the new Kaio Community interns. There are six of us. We have vastly different gifts, interests and personalities. Emmaus provided two weeks of training. The goal is not simply to make us effective in our ministries. The goal is to integrate us with the rest of the staff and to make us a team.

The first two and a half days consisted of a full staff retreat at Lake Geneva Wisconsin. We stayed at two homes. Our hosts were Jim and Pam, loyal and active E.M. volunteers. Pam also made e meals and they were wonderful. My favorite part was sleeping in the enclosed porch with 14 windows.

We spent our time in a dance between the larger E.M. family and our small groups. We did ice-breakers, trust exercises, and sharing. We also had time to learn about the history of Emmaus.

In between we played and we worshiped. We had a break in which some folks swam in the lake and others went antiquing. More importantly, we got to know one another in a variety of settings.

The first night we attended a Contemplative Prayer service at St. Benedict Catholic Church in Fontana. We were given a very good description of the history and process of Contemplative prayer. Afterwards we met with the priest, Father Dan and he talked about the gifts, vices that are part of the Christian life and how Benedictine values are integrated into the spiritual life to help Christians access or claim the gifts. He was a wonderful and compassionate man.

The second day we met at a local protestant church. We continued with our exercises. We were increasingly enthusiastic, we were enjoying one another’s company. The minister joined us and learn about Emmaus. He, like the priest the night before was visibly moved by the ministries of Emmaus.

In between all of the good fellowship, the dissemination of information, and the exercises we prayed together. By the time we left for Chicago we were beginning to have a sense of what we could become together as an intentional faith community (Kaio) and as a ministry (Emmaus.)

The next two days of training wee at Emmaus. We learned about procedures for working in the office, the ministry center and for outreach. Food preparation, laundry, group, discipleship, intakes, donations-in- kind and working with other agencies were just a part of what we were introduced to. It was a long but productive week.
This week has been equally demanding. We all started working in the ministry center, doing clerical work, as needed, in the offices and a few of us were began our outreach work. Outreach is from 10 PM until 3 AM. This Friday we will learn more about male prostitution and then have an Immersion Night. The training will be until midnight. Saturday we will have training from 1 PM until 9 PM. We will be learning about boundaries, self-care and how to approach the guys and the different.

In between all of this training the Kaio Community has been learning how to be a community. We have moved furniture, cooked, prayed and played toghet. We are all very different but this is the honeymoon stage so those differences are great.
Well, gotta go. There is a thunderstorm now and I have to go on outreach. This is a great learning environment.