May 1, 2019

The Worker

Today is May 1st. 

May first is well known as May Day, or International Workers' Day. This day is typically marked by workers' rights demonstrations organized by Socialist and Communists. It is arguably a high holy day for leftists. The history of this event goes back quite some time but rather than turn this into a tedious history lesson, suffice it to say that 1890 was probably the first major international demonstration and in 1891 May Day was formally recognized as a an annual event by The Second International, an organization of Socialist and Labor parties. 

Just a few weeks later Pope Leo XIII issued Rerum Novarum, an encyclical on the rights and duties of capital and labor. This document resonates deeply with us. Not that it is necessarily agreeable in the line by line reading (it was written in 1891 for God's sake) but it clearly illustrates the dilemma of the thinking Christian. That dilemma is simply this, to recognize something good and true in pieces of the rhetoric from both the Left as well as the Right, and to find a home in neither, as another allegiance makes that impossible. This letter boldly proclaims the rights and the value of the worker, the demands of justice, the duties of employers to the workers, and it also defends the rights of private property and clearly opposes the aims of the socialists. It is in one sense, on nobody's side, and I would also argue that it is committed to loving both sides. It is fundamentally a call to unity and justice and a solid example of Catholic social teaching. 


On May 1st, 1933, in the midst of the depression, Dorthy Day and Peter Maurin, heroes and examples to our community, as well as the founders of The Catholic Worker, published and distributed the very first issue of the paper. The Catholic Worker paper was intended to counter the Communist/Atheist paper known as the Daily Worker and provide a forum for Catholic social teachings and the encyclicals of the popes, such as the letter referenced above. 

"Dorothy Day did not believe in the works of Lenin or Marx, but in the works of mercy. The Catholic Worker was not started as a socialist movement, but as a movement to bring Christianity to the marketplace. Peter Maurin insisted that the works of mercy are the most direct form of action there is. The works of mercy are feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, ransoming the prisoner, burying the dead. (Matthew 25)" [Zwick] The artwork of Ade Bethune, a Catholic Worker artist can be seen at the top of our blog's banner. The Well has worked hard to embody this call to taking personal responsibility for the needs of our neighbors. We have learned much from the lives and examples of such concrete faith and action. 
Dorothy Day lived out the works of mercy with every fiber of her being and she also beautifully articulated her faith and philosophy through the paper and her many books. She wrote, “The Catholic Worker, as the name implied, was directed to the worker, but we used the word in its broadest sense, meaning those who worked with their hands (to create), or brain, those who did physical, mental, or spiritual work. But we thought primarily of the poor, the disposed, the exploited.” (The Long Loneliness)

As the Communists continued to celebrate May Day the Catholic Church eventually (1955) instituted the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker.  Little is known of St. Joseph other than the fact that he was a carpenter (read construction worker) and did everything he could to provide for his wife Mary and Jesus. This father that works and provides for his family became a symbol of the meaning, the value, and the dignity of work. 

Work is a gift. Work is something we were created for. Work produces something. Work involves sacrifice. Work is, as the Benedictines said, prayer. It is sacred. 

Work is good and beautiful. 
May St. Joseph remind us of this simple beauty today, May 1st, The Feast day of The Worker. 
May the Leftist cries for justice remind us also, that work, and more to the point, workers, sacred and precious workers, are often exploited, mistreated, and abused. 

If we are to allow Joseph to stand as the symbol of The Worker, perhaps we can allow the Nazi work camps, where Jews were forced to carry wet sacks of salt back and forth across the compound in a fruitless, empty, mockery of work, to stand as the symbol of evil and oppression at the other archetypal pole. Those poor souls labor endlessly under a banner that read "Arbeit macht frei" which means "Work shall set you free." I'm not sure I've ever known something more deserving of the name blasphemy. 
Perhaps we should just close this reflection with a few Quotes. The First is an excerpt from the encyclical written by Pope Leo XIII. The second is a prayer of Caesar Chavez, co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association and civil rights activist.  
"it is one thing to have a right to the possession of money and another to have a right to use money as one wills. Private ownership, as we have seen, is the natural right of man, and to exercise that right, especially as members of society, is not only lawful, but absolutely necessary. "It is lawful," says St. Thomas Aquinas, "for a man to hold private property; and it is also necessary for the carrying on of human existence."" But if the question be asked: How must one's possessions be used? - the Church replies without hesitation in the words of the same holy Doctor: "Man should not consider his material possessions as his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when others are in need. Whence the Apostle with, ‘Command the rich of this world... to offer with no stint, to apportion largely.’" True, no one is commanded to distribute to others that which is required for his own needs and those of his household; nor even to give away what is reasonably required to keep up becomingly his condition in life, "for no one ought to live other than becomingly." But, when what necessity demands has been supplied, and one's standing fairly taken thought for, it becomes a duty to give to the indigent out of what remains over. "Of that which remaineth, give alms." It is a duty, not of justice (save in extreme cases), but of Christian charity - a duty not enforced by human law. But the laws and judgments of men must yield place to the laws and judgments of Christ the true God, who in many ways urges on His followers the practice of almsgiving - ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive"; and who will count a kindness done or refused to the poor as done or refused to Himself - "As long as you did it to one of My least brethren you did it to Me." To sum up, then, what has been said: Whoever has received from the divine bounty a large share of temporal blessings, whether they be external and material, or gifts of the mind, has received them for the purpose of using them for the perfecting of his own nature, and, at the same time, that he may employ them, as the steward of God's providence, for the benefit of others. "He that hath a talent," said St. Gregory the Great, "let him see that he hide it not; he that hath abundance, let him quicken himself to mercy and generosity; he that hath art and skill, let him do his best to share the use and the utility hereof with his neighbor."

"Show me the sufferings of the most miserable, so I may know my people's plight.
Free me to pray for others, for you are present in every person.
Help me to take responsibility for my own life, so that I can be free at last.
Grant me courage to serve others, for in service there is true life.
Give me honesty and patience, so that I can work with other workers.
Bring forth song and celebration, so that the Spirit will be alive among us.
Let us remember those who have died for justice, for they have given us life.
Help us love even those who hate us, so we can change the world.
Amen."

 If my statements about work stirred something in you then you should keep an eye out for a 4 week class I hope to facilitate with a brilliant friend of mine in the near future on both the philosophy and practice of work. If you want to get a taste some of the material click here and sign up to view a seminar on Developing a Philosophy of Work with The Underground that we chopped up into 7 short videos as a course on Teachable.com.

Now honor the workers that have gone before you and get to work. We still have so much to accomplish.

Cherish work and love the poor.
Offer your service and superfluous belongings to those in need.
Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.
Peace be with you

September 5, 2017

Pretending...On Purpose


Being free to make decisions, we are in each instance and in each situation, moment by moment, confronted with a choice.

We cannot predetermine all the right actions as rules and we don't get to compile a list of categorical imperatives, even if we hope to act in ways that might serve as as such if the situation we are in were to play as an Infinite loop.

We can however pretend.
We exercise imagination and envision being good, a mental rehearsal of laying down our lives.

Pre’tending’ to decisions. As best we can, we must tend to our decisions ahead of time. You can’t trust your morning self to decide when to get out of bed and you can't trust your hungry self to go grocery shopping. We need to have vision and make plans and then act in the moment, as best we can, to embody those values toward which we aim. We rehearse that reality that we long for, that future that we hope in. This is how we live out that prayer "may Your kingdom come, may Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

Just pretend.


June 29, 2017

Property Services



Our first stab at social enterprise, our Property Services crew is still going strong. Watson, the crew leader who is putting his all into building this business up, recently compared himself to Rocky at the end of Rocky IV. This actually seems pretty accurate as we have watched him take a blow and get back up again and again as he muscles his way through so many challenges. While this business seemed like an obvious and easy one to get into, as we just needed a few guys and some equipment, it has proven again and again to be no easy task. For one, there are the common struggles that all local lawn crews will face like steep competition, broken equipment, brutal florida heat, and problematic amounts of rain that cause work to stack up. These we have taken in stride as well as had the added struggles of working with men on the streets that often disappear due to a trespassing or panhandling arrest, or show up without sleep because of weather or other struggles associated with life on the streets. These added complications make what is already a brutally hard business even tougher, and yet they keep making it work. We have kept our regular residential customers happy, added new residential contracts, picked up several one-off landscaping jobs, and also secured a few larger commercial contracts! These guys keep stepping up and rising to the occasion and we couldn’t be more proud of them. We are hoping to make their experience and work a bit better by investing in some new equipment, uniforms, and at some point a bigger truck as well. If you would like to help invest in this effort, please do.




WellBuilt



Sometimes we are a lot like a little kid who has recently planted a seedling. We get really excited about it and do our best to nurture it, all the while wondering where the fruits and flowers are. This eager expectation, while a natural longing, can sometimes cause us to discount or under-appreciate the necessary growth and changes that must take place in the developing seedling if it is going to grow into a strong, fruit bearing plant. So while our dreams for WellBuilt Bikes, and the Well’s social enterprises in general, are large and ambitious, pausing to reflect on the last three months for this update has been a good opportunity to celebrate everything that has taken place as our seedlings sprout and take root.

On Earth Day, April 22nd, we held our first pop-up shop bike sale at the Sustainable Living Project’s Earth Day event. We sold 8 bikes and got a taste of things to come. It was a beautiful day as we met a bunch of new friends, got to share our story and vision, worked alongside some of our Earn-A-Bike participants, and had the opportunity to help people find their perfect bicycle. For our second sale the following weekend, we were invited to participate in the Seminole Heights 3rd annual pop-up market at Watermark Church! We have been so encouraged by everyone we’ve had the opportunity to share with and are eager to establish a permanent location to really build community around this work. After the first two weekends, the Sustainable Living Project extended an invitation to us to host our pop-up shops each weekend throughout April and May. Not all weekends have seen sales, but with each one we are growing as a team and developing our own systems and capacity. We can not thank SLP enough for sharing their space with us as we grow and learn.

In addition to our Saturday sales we have been able to work with six Earn-A-Bike participants who each volunteered at least ten hours toward their very own bikes. This program is at the very heart of all that we are building as we long to see everyone in Tampa have their own reliable transportation. We have also been able to share about 25 kids’ bikes with refugee children through our friends and partner workers at Love Has No Borders.

Jessica, the “founder and matriarch” of the “Well’s Angels” community and WellBuilt Bikes was invited to be a panelist at a recent Bike/Walk Tampa Bay Event. The event was a great opportunity for us to rub shoulders and share our vision with some of the city’s most avid and influential cyclists. Jessica was given the floor to share her own journey into this world where she found tremendous beauty and diversity among Tampa’s cycling community. It is there that she has been leading and working to see needs met, bridges built, and, by shifting one gear at a time, our city made whole. At this same event, during an awards ceremony for local cyclists, our very own Sean Martin was nominated as Commuter of the Year and Jessica for Bike Advocate of the Year.

Our team has been growing and Chris, one of our crew, just transitioned his work schedule to a part-time job so that he can dedicate more of his time and attention to building up the shop. This kind of ownership, sacrifice, and dedication is typical throughout the Well family but should be highlighted and celebrated as we remember how atypical it is in general. Jon took Chris up to Birmingham a few weeks ago to introduce him to our friends at Redemptive Cycles who have been coaching us all along the way. Plus, it’s so much easier to say “Here, this is what it looks like!” than to try and cast that kind of vision. Chris, we are so grateful for all that you do for, with, and among us!

As we recognize growth of the family, new life, and Jessica as a matriarch, we wanted to share some more amazing news: she is having a baby and due any day now!

As we turn the gears and push the vision forward we do have a few significant needs that we hope you might be able to contribute towards (grease, if you will). We are in the market for a good retail space with plenty of storage where we can establish a permanent location for WellBuilt. We also need to raise a good amount of start-up capital for building out the shop and a community work station. Finally, to help Chris transition to us full-time we are trying to secure at least $1000/mo toward a small salary to make that possible. He is already worth far more than that and his undivided attention will be invaluable to our development. Please consider giving regularly toward this staff support or as a one-time gift toward our start-up costs.




Also stay tuned by following us on social media:



The Kinship

The Kinship, our mobile outreach, is about connecting groups of people from different backgrounds to remember we are all kin. We call ourselves the Kinship to remind ourselves and others that though we are serving, there is reciprocity in the giving and receiving that happens at our events. Because this is our goal, we are very excited that after months of planning and practicing, we now have two volunteer teams at different locations sharing food each month! In April we reconnected with our friends from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, and began a monthly Kinship at The Good Samaritan Inn. Tina is the lead of their team, and we are so thankful for all the work she has put into coordinating and spreading word about the Kinship. They have been faithful and gone above and beyond by making care packages for a few folks that cannot make it to the market with whatever groceries are leftover. It has been such a gift to work with these team members again; they have not only been helpful with offering hands to help, but also with taking initiative and building relationships with the residents at The Good Sam.

Another fruit of the Kinship is Vanessa, who came to volunteer once at the Good Sam and decided to take initiative by committing to regularly clean the bathrooms of the Good Sam (there’s about 11). Since April, she’s gone approximately every other week to love the residents by scrubbing sinks and toilets.

This coming Saturday, July 1st, we will be partnering with University Community Ministries to operate the Kinship in the Sulphur Springs area. Our brothers from the Timothy Initiative will be volunteering with us monthly to make that happen, and we are elated to work with them!

We are very excited about these partnerships and the opportunity to love our neighbors. This quarter we have given away 1,459 pounds of food to 125 individuals. We share this number as something to be proud of, but please remember each of those numbers represents a person we are honored to know, serve, and enter into kinship with. While our volunteers are happy to sort through cereal, condiments, and assist people while shopping, it’s the relationships that begin at these outreaches that are the true fruit. In Kinship, we are made whole and we know we belong. It’s this care for and belonging that we are overjoyed to see spread. We look forward to expanding The Kinship to more places with more people. If you are interested in hosting the Kinship for your neighbors, volunteering with us, or having us bring food to your neck of the woods, please feel free to contact us!