Archive for Simple living

Reflections on our ‘Christ Room’

Note: To protect privacy, we did not use actual names of any person in this story.

By Charles Carney

“And since it all depends on each one of us (not the government), that means we must try to have a Christ Room in our homes where we can shelter others.” — Dorothy Day

“Open your homes to the homeless poor.” — Acts of the Apostles

Don was sleeping (if you want to call it that) on the front porch of the Holy Family Catholic Worker House in Kansas City, Missouri in the middle of winter. Mike, a man who worshipped with us at Sunday liturgy, was living in an abandoned apartment building with no heat or water. John was on the verge of having to live in his car. Vernon, a veteran addicted to crack, was living on the street. Alan lived in a hotel for the first week of each month, then moved to the street until he got his next monthly disability check. Arthur lived in a church shelter.

What do all these men have in common? They all left their makeshift dwellings and lived in an open room in our home — some for just a few months, others for more than a year or two.

Roll the tape back to November of 2004. When my spouse, Donna, and I were looking to buy a home in Kansas City, KS we decided to take the following words of Dorothy Day seriously: “… every home should have a Christ room in it, so that hospitality may be practiced. The coat that hangs in the closet belongs to the poor. If your brother or sister is hungry, it is your responsibility.” In her writings Dorothy routinely referred to the fact that her different hosts in the cities that she visited harbored Christ rooms.

Dorothy believed that putting all the responsibility of caring for the poor into the hands of government allowed Christians to shirk their responsibility to the poor and to Gospel values. The bureaucratization of poverty depersonalized it and pushed it away. Dorothy envisioned a society where a majority of Christians harbored a Christ room in their home and where homelessness was simply non-existent.

We have no set rules in our home, except no drinking or drugs. Every one in our community brings what they can. Some have provided food. Others have brought their considerable fix-it skills to save us from huge plumbing and carpentry bills, while others have used the sweat of their brow to keep our yard looking presentable. Some have cooked tasty meals, while others have taken their skills into the community to serve at drop-in centers and overnight shelters. We only ask each person to do what God has put before them. If that means they must spend a good part of their time going to outpatient rehab classes and attending 12 step meetings, then so be it.

But in the spirit of the Catholic Worker, it is important to note that no one “owes us” anything. The gift that they bring to our home is themselves.

When making this decision to open Christ rooms, I had great trepidation. What happens if it doesn’t work out? Will we be safe? Will we be drained of our energy and emotion? Will we burn out? Will it detract from our quality time as a couple and from our overall relationship?

We have seen the vision of Dorothy Day (whose picture hangs in our dining room) at work in our home. I know, as a social worker, that when persons with severe mental illness find housing, they have a 50 percent greater chance of recovery from their illness. Duh! It isn‘t rocket science that when people have a safe, loving place, they feel better. Dorothy Day knew all too well the healing power of loving community.

While there are no fairy tale endings, Dorothy‘s vision has transpired in our home. We remain friends with most of our former community members. Mike and John found income-based housing in the community and both still come back to our place for Holiday meals. Vernon chose to leave our home when we tried to talk to him about his drug addiction. But just the other day I ran into him at the Veteran‘s Administration. He has been clean and sober now for months and has found meaningful work at the V.A. He will be moving into his own apartment in a week. He was very warm and friendly to me. Mike stayed out of trouble from the law but was eventually arrested on an old warrant and went back to prison. But we stay in touch with him and we intend to help him re-integrate into the community upon his release in July of 2010. He says that we were “the only real family” he ever had. Arthur has gone from volunteer to a paid employee at the drop-in center and plans to rent his own place soon.

After four years, I find myself getting away from the fear based questions and instead marveling at the richness of having lived in community with these men who I can now call “brother.” Have there been blow-ups and stresses and conflicts? The answer of course is yes, but not any more than in any other community I’ve lived in.

I have dropped many of the stereotypes I have held about homeless people. Instead, in the messiness of community, I have been forced to confront my own dysfunction. Most importantly, I’ve been challenged to a more radical acceptance of others and myself. Slowly, I learn about the “gentle personalism” that Dorothy talked about.

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Resurrection: A new life for Brad Grabs

By Brad Grabs

“So, are you OK with death and resurrection?” asked Fr. Ed. I looked down at the table between us. I took a drink of my iced tea. Then, I glanced up at him. “Well, I love the idea of resurrection. It’s the death thing that I have a hard time with.”

Months ago, I shared lunch with my friend, Fr. Ed Hays, as I explained to him my plans to move on from Shalom Catholic Worker House, a homeless shelter for men, after 10 years of living and working there as a volunteer. Though I felt fairly certain that I was being called to leave, I still dreaded the thought of leaving behind my life in the community that had been my home for most of my adult life.

My decision to leave Shalom House was affirmed by Miro, our young volunteer from Germany. Knowing that I was struggling with my decision, Miro made this observation: “Shalom House is a place where people go for help to become a better person. Maybe Shalom House has helped you all that it can.” The more I reflected on his words, the more I recognized the wisdom in this statement.

During the past 10 years, I have grown and changed in ways I would never have imagined. I have been shaped and formed by extraordinary experiences and countless good people. Shalom House has truly helped me to become a better person, and has taught me invaluable lessons.

Struggling to be patient and charitable to Alvin, a homeless man who is bitter and abrasive, has taught me a bit about unconditional love, and how truly difficult it can be.

Sitting through the horrific murder trial of a former guest, whom I consider my friend, has taught me a lot about the complexity of each human being.

Assisting an undocumented guest in court to sue a crooked slumlord has taught me a lot about vulnerability, and about greed.

Watching our teenage neighbor wither and die in our street after being shot by the police has taught me a lot about power and control. Seeing what his family went through afterwards taught me about the lack of it.

Seeing the cruel rejection faced by a guest who told his mother that he had AIDS taught me how incredibly blessed I am to have been born to compassionate and loving parents.

Treating cuts and bruises of undocumented immigrants who just jumped off of the freight train after a harrowing journey across the border has taught me how devastating some laws are, and how real their consequences.

Standing on street corners in protest against injustices of many kinds has taught me that there is value in resistance, even if it has little apparent effect.

Accepting monthly donations of $10 from a poor widow who wants to participate in our ministry has taught me a lot about providence and generosity.

And living in community with people of all ethnicities, backgrounds, abilities and disabilities, ages, strengths and weaknesses, has taught me much about the beauty and wonder of our Creator.

Clearly, living at Shalom House has taught me a great deal and made me a better person. Moving on from Shalom House after 10 years truly felt like a death in many ways. It was not easy and not without pain and regrets. But as Fr. Ed Hays reminded me at lunch that day last spring, if one wants to experience resurrection, one must endure death.

I have been gone from Shalom House for over a month now, and the feeling of death is still present. Even so, I am slowly seeing evidence of resurrection in my new life. I live in a house near Shalom and continue directing a neighborhood learning program for inner city kids and operating a small tree care business. Every day, I see new opportunities to apply the lessons that I have learned over the past 10 years to other areas of my life. And I see resurrection slowly emerging in unexpected ways in my life after Shalom.


Shalom Catholic Worker House continues its 26 year old ministry of providing breakfast, dinner, and a safe place to sleep and call home to 20 homeless men in Kansas City, Kansas. The current live-in community of volunteers, Dawn Willenborg, Pedro Olvera, Miro Heyink, Rusty Bailey, and summer intern Matt Lynch continues the day-to-day operation of the house. More volunteers, especially live-in volunteer staff, are needed. With human resources stretched thin, Catholic Charities of KCK has offered to hire someone to assist with house operations and case management. It is everyone’s wish that Shalom House, which is the only men’s homeless shelter in Wyandotte and Johnson Counties, could continue to be run by volunteers. But it appears that keeping Shalom House operating to its full capacity will necessitate a change in operating structure, perhaps with a hired staff.

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A restored world: A JoCo church begins to grow

NOTE:  This article comes from the latest newsletter Urban Grown by the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture. To learn more about KCCUA go here.

By Kurt Rietema

So why did we begin a community garden on the property of Pathway Community Church in southern Johnson County?  Well, maybe it’s because there’s a longing inside each of us that we can’t quite put a finger on.  Maybe it’s because we sense that while we’re becoming more and more connected with a global world, we’re becoming more and more disconnected with the most elemental relationships that humans have participated in for centuries.  Maybe it’s because we have enough people we communicate with everyday through thousands of digital matrices of zeroes and ones, yet we hardly know our next-door neighbors.  Maybe it’s because I eat enough hard, pinkish-green fruits from California that can only be named a “tomato” by genetic standards.  I long for the deep, sultry flavor and color of a tomato that was born a stone’s throw from my house and shares the same dirt that I clean from under my fingernails.  It’s a longing for something that is really real.   Real people, real relationships, real tomatoes, real dirt.  In the land of a thousand franchised ethnic restaurants that offer highly sanitized, processed approximations of an authentic chile relleno, there are more than a few of us who crave something that hasn’t undergone sixteen focus groups before it ever makes it to our table.

At Pathway Community Church, that’s the journey that we’re on – a journey for life as it was always meant to be.  We believe that Jesus was all about saving us from our destructive, fragmenting, isolating tendencies and restoring the world back to the way God had intended it.  By opening up our property for an organic community garden we saw an opportunity to make our sometimes plastic-wrapped, isolated neighborhood a little bit more how God intended it.  It’s a place where neighbors can come together shoulder to shoulder, plunge their hands into the soil, curse at weeds and share real-life stories like human beings have done for thousands of years while making the world a little bit greener, a little more beautiful, a little more flavorful, and a little more human.  It seems to us that creating a community garden is somehow in-step with what God is doing in this world and that it’s almost as if we get to participate in this restoration project, this dream of a new world, these longings for what is really real.

I met with KCCUA’s Daniel Dermitzel sometime in January and told him about our dreams of a community garden and future plans for a farmer’s market.  He gave us some thoughts and ideas and unleashed us to make them happen.  I got a few soil samples taken, sketched up a plan for the garden, and made a simple sign announcing a new community garden.  A farmer in our church plowed and prepared our soil and then Kurt Lutz, the husband/father of a couple of our gardeners retilled the land again before planting.  It wasn’t long before the thirty-two plots were snatched up by neighbors in the surrounding subdivisions and a waiting list sprouted up before we even had a chance to get any seeds in the ground.  On April 5, a group of excited, wannabe (myself included) organic gardeners showed up to start tending our 10’ x 20’ plots.  We talked about some of our ideas together and a number of people felt like they probably couldn’t manage an entire plot on their own with their busy schedules so we devised a new kind of suburban sharecropping by sharing duties and the harvest.  Most of us use a common “library” of tools that we use and plan to install lockers so everyone can have some of their own on site.  We’ve formed a Yahoo group to swap ideas and concerns through e-mail threads and have plans to create a farm stand by the roadside to sell some of our extra produce to the surrounding neighborhood.

That’s the first chapter in the story of our community garden.  I’m sure that the succeeding chapters won’t be as rosy as this one.  But for now, we’re content living out our once-upon-a-time beginning in suburbia, blissfully unaware of the grotesque monsters of Mexican bean beetles, squash bugs and striped cucumber beetles lurking around the corner.  Nevertheless, we’ll always be longing for the happily-ever-after of a restored world.

Kurt Rietema is the Pastor of Missional Life at Pathway Community Church on 159th Street in Olathe, KS.  The church started about four years ago and has some 100 members.  Rietema’s interest in urban farming began when he was an undergraduate student in Landscape Architecture at Iowa State University.  Rietema and his wife spent five years in Mexico with Youthfront of Kansas City doing community development work before recently transitioning back to the United States.  Pathway Community Church is one of several Kansas City churches currently exploring food production as a way to build healthy communities. To learn more about Pathway’s urban agriculture project, contact Kurt Rietema at

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Buy local

NOTE: This sermon comes courtesy of the Sustainable Sanctuary Coalition.

By Terry Wiggins
All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, Kansas City, MO

“In reality, most people don’t change when you tell them they should, they change when they tell themselves they must.”  So said New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.  I want to share some information that might enable you to change if you determine that you want to.

I’ll start with an issue of Ode magazine from our church Library.  On the cover:  “Close to home / Truly fresh food is back in style as we rediscover the pleasure of markets and nearby farms / Indeed, Local is the new organic (but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your coffee and bananas.)”

The article points out that even as farmers of Nebraska are going broke, the state spends hundreds of millions on food grown out-of-state.  The apparent abundance on the fields of America’s breadbasket and in America’s supermarkets is in contrast to the economic hardship that farmers are feeling.  Big ag and big oil are profiting.

It’s not a new thing that the economics of agriculture in this country are haywire, but — oil companies you ask?  Yes, indeed.  Fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides are all made from petrochemicals.  Farm machines run on oil.  And our food is transported an average of 1500 miles to reach us.

What’s a healthy response to this situation?  We want one that can support our farmers, our communities, and is enjoyable and healthy for our children and ourselves.  One alternative is farmers’ markets.  Kansas City is very lucky to have not just one, but 3, ORGANIC farmer’s markets.  And I really don’t know how many farmers’ markets there are in total in the metro. Even if the food you purchase at a farmers’ market or roadside stand is not organic, it’s still better to purchase locally produced food that doesn’t leave the farmer inadequately compensated.  Nor does local food require the packaging, refrigeration, and transport that generate huge amounts of waste and pollution. Nor does it have the additives and preservatives in order to endure the journey, nor does it encounter as many opportunities for contamination.

Another alternative to supporting “Big Ag” is to buy a CSA.  CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture”.  The basic principle is that you buy a share of your farmer’s production.  CSAs work in a variety of ways.  Some collect the money up front, so they have money to buy seeds.  Some have you pick up at the farm or at a store or at a location in your neighborhood, and some deliver to your house.  But the key is cutting out the middle people.  The farmer is guaranteed a fair price.   You get more nutritious and tasty food right off the farm.

And if investing in local or organic food — yes, it will seem like investing, because it’s often pricier than industrial food – doesn’t seem political enough for you, I present you the issue of CAFOs.  CAFO stands for Confined Animal Feeding Operation.  These are the factory farms where the pigs and chickens are permanently confined in pens or cages, from birth through slaughter.  The cows are fattened up in feeding lots.  The animals are fed lots of hormones and other chemicals.  Besides being cruel for the animals, CAFOs are dangerous in that they create more manure than the local fields can absorb, so they pollute the air and water around them.

I close with words of Wendell Berry that I found in Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture:

“[What I propose] is a revolt of small local producers and local consumers against the global industrialism of the corporation.  Do I think there is a hope that such a revolt can survive and succeed and that it can have a significant influence upon our lives and our world?

“Yes, I do.  It is now possible for farmers to sell their products at a premium to local customers.  This market is being made by the exceptional goodness and freshness of the food, by the wish of urban consumers to support their farming neighbors, and by the excesses and abuses of the corporate food industry.”

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Daily Prayer and Family Life

By Ryann Kuykendall

Sleeping in is a rarity but it is something I try to sneak in now and again, especiallyon dark winter mornings. But then I hear my two children running up and down the stairs. And soon after awakening, the children at my clinic site come to mind and I put my feet on the floor. My days are busy, not unlike most mothers all around the world. My day generally begins at 6:30 a.m. and many nights I get home after 7:30 p.m. because of classes and clinic. Then looking over the kids’ homework, cooking, studying and being a wife and mother begin. Going to the grocery store alone is a luxury. The weekends are my time to recollect and clean. Often times this busy schedule only allows me to steal time for reflection and prayer in car drives and walks to class. Thankfully my husband supports me in my dreams and is every bit the 21st century dad. He picks the kids up from school, listens to their woes and championships, reads to them, and breaks up bickering matches. We work as a team raising these two children. There is a great spirituality in what we share. The gift is something I don’t have the rights words to express. I love every minute of the madness.

I don’t think there is any mistake that God choose to send Jesus to be a part of a family. Being a part of a family mirrors the relationship God shares with us. Our parents will love us despite all our mistakes, even wrecking the family car (which I have done twice). My favorite piece of art in my childhood home is a small ivory sculpture of Mary holding the infant Jesus close to her cheek. The image is so sweet and pure. It is a reminder that like God, our parents can’t guarantee us earthly happiness, but they will support us and hold us close. Being a part of a family also teaches us how to work together. I often wonder what daily life was like for Mary and Joseph. What did they do to keep life flowing smoothly?

I once had a friend tell me that I wasn’t that busy and at first I was extremely annoyed by this comment. I often thought afterwards, “Does she have any idea all that I do?!” Later I realized that I don’t know what her daily life is like. To her maybe I do appear to be at leisure. More than that, maybe she sees that my husband, children and I live a life of peace despite our hectic routine.

One thing I do to keep peace in my heart is each morning and evening I read the same prayer. It is hanging where we all can read it while brushing our teeth. I don’t know the author and it is simply entitled My Daily Prayer:

Heavenly Father, walk with me today, and grant that I may hear your footsteps and gladly follow where they lead. Talk with me today and grant that I may hear your tender voice, and quicken to its counsel. Stay with me today and grant that I may feel your gentle presence in all I do, say and think. Be my strength when I fear. Help me to know that it is your hand holding mine through all the hours of the day. And when night falls, grant that I may know I rest in your Sacred Heart. Amen

This prayer is simple but means a lot to me. I believe asking for help gives me strength to start and end my day as loving part of family. Some days I fail to meet my expectations for myself, but the next morning I wake up to the charging children, read my prayer and I am inspired to begin again.

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The gift of change

By Ryann Kuykendall

The beginning of the year is a common time to want to make a change. I will admit that I am working on becoming into a more patient driver. While watching the 2008 presidential hopefuls debate and give speeches, change is a definite theme.

My first role model of change was Jesus. It goes without saying how Jesus changed the world. My parents taught me to look to Jesus for strength and knowledge of how to love. My most memorable lesson took place sitting in the old farm truck with my mom when I told her that I wished I wasn’t expected to do so much. I didn’t want to do my chores. She was not impressed. My mom told me the parable of the silver pieces from Matthew 25:14-30. My understanding of the story was that I was given many gifts and I am expected to take them and change them into reflections of God. This is my favorite parable and inspires me when I feel like being lazy.

So how can we use our gifts and our chores to change the world here in Kansas City? In my home we are beginning by trying to be more environmentally aware. Recycling is second nature because of the blue bins we can sit at our curb each week. As a mother this is a great way to teach our two children what a positive difference they can make. According to the Kansas City Public Works in 2006, KC Recycles collected approximately 19,000 tons of material. Things that can not be put in the blue bin are driven to the local recycling center. We reuse clean aluminum foil. We bring our own reusable bags to the grocery store. My witty husband likes to tease me that we are saving the world one plastic bag at a time. As our old traditional light bulbs burn out, we replace them with the newer energy compact fluorescent light bulbs. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, if every American home replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR qualified bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emission of more than 800,000 cars. My husband and I force our children out of the shower after a few minutes instead of letting them fill the tub to their delight. We have insulated our home as best we are able. We use cleaning products and beauty products that are environmentally-friendly. We buy locally when possible and mulch what we are able. An added bonus to all of this is that these changes actually save us money too.

Really these changes we have made are not that amazing, but I like to think that they are making this wonderful world a little better. The next thing I would like to do is to set up a rain barrel. I tried to do this as a pre-teen after reading The Clan of the Cave Bear because the heroine washed her hair with river water and rain water was the closest thing to me. I failed the experiment and ended up being the butt of many (additional) jokes from my older brothers. Now older I would like to use the fresh and clean water for my garden and take advantage of water that would otherwise go in my street gutters. Annually Kansas City receives an average of 35.5” rainfall per year. As much as 600 to 1,000 gallons of water can be received from an inch of rainfall. That is pretty cool.

The 11-year-old version of me whining in the truck didn’t want to do my chores. Now raising a family and being a part of a marriage, family and community, I admit I still whine about what must be done. It is hard to see the chance to change the world by doing a pile of dirty laundry, however the chores we do can be done with an awareness of the gifts we have been given so lovingly.

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Winter nature walks

By Phyllis Price

My walks with nature are essential to preserve the tranquility and peace of my soul, and to enable me to regroup after a busy or stressful week.

I lived many years in Chicago and was very fortunate. I lived close enough to the lake front to get to there easily. Winters in Chicago can be brutal but we would sometimes have a few days where those hail and hearty souls would venture out, having been trapped inside for weeks at a time listening to the weatherman say, “Don’t go outside unless you have to and if you do go outside cover all exposed flesh.” I was one of those individuals. I checked the temperature by going outside to determine if I should take the risk. Having Cabin Fever, I put on my fleece lined knee boots, my fur hat, my heavy gloves along with my sheep skin coat. If the walkway that extended out into the lake was not covered with ice I walked to the end and looked into the distance where the blue of the water merged with the blue of the sky, I knew I was staring into infinity and realized it is true, we are all one. I turned, look down the beach, saw nothing but pristine white snow untouched by man and marvel at how such a short time ago this same beach had been so very much alive and active with many laughing, screaming children and adults who had also come to pay homage to mother nature but in a much different way than I was doing today.

As I stood transfixed among the beauty and splendor, the stillness seemed to speak to me of silent strength, of ageless wisdom and beauty. Saying it is our time now to go within, to gain the strength, energy and vitality so much needed when the earth comes alive again in the spring. That we might share this with the humans who come to us tired and weary, so that they might go away refreshed and ready to reenter their world. But you are welcome here my friend. Come, join us, enjoy our solitude and peace that is so freely offered here. Welcome friend.

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