Sunday, June 15, 2014

Activists Complete their 165-Mile Peace Walk 

One hundred peace activists marched the last 1.1 mile from the gathering space to the Michigan Air National Guard.  It had taken those who started at the Boeing Company headquarters in Chicago 12 days and 165 miles to get there.  Through mostly sunny, moderate days as well as one very rainy day, they walked an average of 15 miles per day.  Each day they were greeted by supporters who wanted to see an end to drone warfare, they were fed by donations to the cause, they were given a thumbs up along the rural highways, and they were shunned by a few, a very few.

People joined and quit the march at various places, but the 16 walkers who made up the core group stood firm every day, walking one foot in front of the other, and not stopping except for a 15-minute break by the side of the road, lunch, and the day's completed miles.

Click here to see a blog about the march

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Peace Activists Walk 165 Miles to Protest Drones in Battle Creek

Did you know that a new command center for drone warfare is being planned at the Air National Guard (ANG) base in Battle Creek? Several people are protesting this new development with a 165-mile walk from downtown Chicago (home of Boeing Company that designs and makes the Predator drones) to Battle Creek ANG base.

For more photos and news on the walk, see my new blog, Pilgrimage as Spiritual Food

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Big Weekend Kicks off May 2014

I went to the Peace House Stomp, a square dancing fundraiser for the local Catholic Worker House organization on Friday night.  I dressed up as a cowgirl and even danced a few.  Here is my get-up.  And, to my knowledge, I was the only one who wore a cowboy hat.

Wish I had some action shots of the dance, but maybe I'll get some later.

The Kalamazoo Peace House provides tutoring and extracurricular activities to the children in the Eastside Neighborhood of Kalamazoo.  Jerry, Molly, Mike, and Jen are all graduates of Kalamazoo College and committed to social justice.  Congratulations to Peace House for a successful and fun event!!

On Sunday I walked the 5K "race" at the Kalamazoo Marathon where there were over 8,000 participants.  What a huge success at this well-organized event.  Congratulations Borgess Medical Center for putting on such a wonderful community event. 

Now it's time to relax and continue working on my writing jobs--and watch Tiger baseball. 

My next walk is at the Kalamazoo Memorial Day Parade where I will march with the Kalamazoo Women in Black, which advocates for peace as it mourns victims of war and violence.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

CROP Walk 2014 a Success

St. Thomas More Parish Donates Over $2600

I had an opportunity to participate in the CROP Walk in Kalamazoo on Sunday, April 27. I was among 400 people from area churches who raised funds for the hungry in this annual Church World Service event. As I collected over $2600 from parishioners at St. Thomas More Parish after each of the four Masses, I began to see the walk not only as a fundraiser to help the hungry, but as a spiritual endeavor, specifically, a pilgrimage.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a pilgrimage is a “journey to a shrine or other sacred place undertaken to gain divine aid, as an act of thanksgiving or penance, or to demonstrate devotion.” Rebecca Solnit in her book, Wanderlust: A History of Walking, says that there are three graces the pilgrimage can evoke that lead to transformation: (1) community; (2) health and healing; and (3) suffering. The American form of pilgrimage has also included fundraising for various causes as a practical way of directly doing something for others. Since I decided that I was on a pilgrimage during the the five-mile CROP Walk, I reflected on what it meant to me and how it transformed me.

First, as a representative of the parish, I felt I was helping parishioners remain conscious of the presence of hunger in our country, our world, and in our local community. Since not everyone wants or can go on the walk, my participation allowed more people to participate in the cause through their donations. As a result, I felt trusted to collect parishioners' money, send it to CROP, and to remain true to my pledge to complete the five-mile walk. Trust is an essential part of a strong and stable community.

In a community people rely on one another to fulfill all the necessary tasks that they cannot always do themselves. In this way the mission and purpose of the community endures. Feeding the hungry is one of the things Jesus charges us to do in the Beatitudes. Through my walk and parishioners' donations, we were ministering to God's people.

Since 1947 the CROP Hunger Walk has helped to provide food, water, and other resources (seeds, tools, wells, water systems, technical training, micro-enterprise loans) that empower people all over the world to meet their own needs and to identify their own development priorities. In addition, because each local CROP Hunger Walk can choose to return up to 25 percent of the funds it raises to hunger-fighting programs in its own community, parishioners' donations helped the following Kalamazoo organizations:
Community on my pilgrimage was manifested in other ways. By walking through one of Kalamazoo's poor communities (the Northside Neighborhood), I become more aware of the signs of hunger: empty alcohol bottles, broken glass, unkempt homes and streets, the presence of police cars, worn out houses and streets, vacant lots full of weeds. Hunger was also evident through some of the people we saw on the walk; they were extremely overweight because they must rely on cheap fast food that lacks nutritional quality and packs hundreds of nonessential calories into each of its meals. Thus, poverty in our city became more visible to me because I was in its midst instead of whizzing past it in my car unnoticed.

Walking also provided an opportunity to interact with both the participants on the walk and the people from the neighborhood. My fellow walkers and I caught up on news, helped each other cross the streets safely, and provided congenial fellowship. We were all aware of our cause and we were working on it together. This was very satisfying. Equally satisfying was the opportunity to interact with some of the people in the neighborhood for whom we were undoubtedly walking. We exchanged smiles and waves as we passed by, some of them joined the walk for a time while others talked with us. In other words, we were walking among the poor and perceiving our community more broadly than we usually do. This opened up the possibility for transformation.

Transformation came to me in different ways. There is no doubt that the walk was a healthy, physical thing to do. I felt good being outside in the fresh air, and I felt good doing Jesus' work. While I realize that I'm not eradicating hunger, I'm conscious that I'm at least doing something about hunger rather than nothing—and giving parishioners the opportunity to do something as well through their donations. This thought was empowering because I came to realize that I could not only walk for those less fortunate than I was, but we could together help the poor in our community. We as church people were giving of ourselves, ministering to others, and witnessing to the Church for a very important cause that we don't often encounter. This also stirs up the need to know more about hunger, so here are some facts about hunger in America (
  1. 1 in 6 people in America face hunger.
  2. Households with children reported a significantly higher food insecurity rate than households without children in 2011. 20.6 percent vs. 12.2 percent.
  3. Food insecurity exists in every county in America. In 2011, 17.9 million households were food insecure.
  4. 50.1 million Americans struggle to put food on the table.
  5. In the US, hunger isn’t caused by a lack of food, but rather the continued prevalence of poverty.
  6. More than 1 in 5 children is at risk of hunger
    • Among African-Americans and Latinos, it’s 1 in 3.
  7. Over 20 million children receive free or reduced-price lunch each school day. Less than half of them get breakfast and only 10 percent have access to summer feeding sites.
  8. For every 100 school lunch programs, there are only 87 breakfast sites and just 36 summer food programs.
  9. 1 in 7 people are enrolled in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Nearly half of them are children.
  10. 40 percent of food is thrown out in the US every year, or about $165 billion worth. All of this uneaten food could feed 25 million Americans.
  11. These seven states have statistically higher food insecurity rates than the US national average (14.7%):
    • Mississippi (19.2%)
    • Texas (18.5%)
    • Arkansas (19.2%)
    • Alabama (17.4%)
    • Georgia (17.4%)
    • Florida (16.2%)
    • North Carolina (17.1%)
Finally, the pilgrimage, although short in time and distance, involved a certain amount of suffering just as it is supposed to represent Jesus' walk to Calvary. I am used to walking three miles at a time, however, the last mile of my five-mile goal proved to be more of a challenge than I expected. My muscles from the waist down ached, and that last half mile especially made me doubt my ability to complete my goal. Thankfully, my feet didn't hurt, and the weather was cooperative, nevertheless, I felt the need to press on because I gave parishioners my word that I would walk five miles. During that last half mile I realized I could not totally act on my own power. I was too tired for that. Instead, I asked God to help me finish—and God delivered. This is a new approach to faith that I learned over Lent and was now putting into practice on my pilgrimage. Really, it is very simple: whenever I need something, anything, I can ask God for help. The only catch is that I must have faith that God will deliver. An extension of this belief is that as a community we don't have to do everything all by ourselves, we have God and each other to support and inspire us to get a job done. As one who typically tries to do everything myself, this small act of faith proved to be a great revelation, and it was through the pilgrimage that I came to see and to practice my faith in a new, more spiritual way.

Walking for CROP has made me more aware of the hunger that exists in my own local community as well as throughout my country, and it motivates me to do something about it. My community has also been broadened to include the hungry in my prayers, and to feel more responsible for them. This gets me thinking about what can be done to alleviate hunger—and to have the faith that it can be done, with others.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Book Bug Bookstore Hosts Food Poetry and Essays

photo by Zinta Aistars

t reading on food at the Book Bug Bookstore on March 28, 2014I was one of several people who participated in the Friday night.  Here is my contribution.

Meditations Over the Onions

I will be out of town over the next two weeks so before I leave I need to hill the potatoes, and weed the onions and squash. I have only two days to do all this work, but I would do it! As a result, I learned something about gardening: it's not going to get done unless I do it, and I need to maintain my drive and will to get it done. Nature (i.e., the weeds) doesn’t take a vacation. But I was to learn another lesson about work today.
 Growing up in the great industrial city of Detroit, I have learned to work without stopping, which is not good for gardening in the hot sun. Pacing myself, resting, and drinking water frequently is an imperative! Wendell Berry addresses this frenzied notion about work by drawing the difference between industrial farming with a tractor and traditional farming with animals. Animals may be strong but they need a rest from time to time, so every once in a while, it's important to find a quiet, shady spot on the land where you can give the animals some respite. (It’s a nice break for humans, too!) Berry points out that this approach is so contrary to our machine culture where we keep going, never stop, and try to be more efficient. All this busy-ness also keeps us from thinking—and meditating. Actually, today I learned how to use the garden as a form of meditation.
Part of my need for a new approach to work is about discovering how I can simplify my life. I’m the type of person who likes to make a long list of things to do and then check them off as I do them. It makes me feel productive and vital. But what am I accomplishing if all I do is work? Where and when does the enjoyment of life come? Do I wait until vacation times or put it off until retirement and then collapse on a lawn chair from pure exhaustion? No, I must now learn to pace myself and find that quiet space within to feel satisfaction at whatever I’m doing. That’s the kind of balance that the nuns taught me about seeking the spiritual life. Such a slower pace allows “room” for prayer and meditation. So, since I desire an essential connection to Nature and a greater enjoyment of life, then I need to make “room” for it—and I can do it through the garden. Also, if I want to be a more thoughtful writer, I need to slow down my pace and resist cluttering it with endless activities. Today, as I worked in the garden I did manage to meditate. Here are some of my thoughts.
* When the field is covered with weeds, I have to look very closely for the plant that may grow into a vegetable. It becomes my focus. I try to save the plant no matter its size or scraggily appearance. Such care gives me a different relationship with the plant that emphasizes nurturing and then requires time and patience. It’s easier for me to have this relationship with the goats, who are animated, soulful creatures. So I worry about how I can have a relationship with the plants in the garden. What I discovered over these past couple weeks is that being with the plants has convinced me that I do care about them. After all, that is why I am here with them.
* My bones are weary and my muscles ache. My hands are full of new calluses, some of which burn from the hot soil as I pull out the weeds. I don’t know how the migrant workers do this all day, every day. Maybe my gardening is helping me empathize with them and their difficult lives a little more. This makes me more grateful for them and what they do! 

* To weed the onions I must get on my hands and knees. This is a prayer position, and it predisposes me physically to meditation. Then the bugs start attacking my bare arms and I think I will go mad. I remembered Sister Mary Bader’s experience in Texas where the gnats were buzzing around her face as she did the laundry. When she swatted them, they hung around her all the more. Then she just let them be and discovered that they left her alone. So I tried this today and it worked! Maybe the bugs are just curious. Maybe I entered their territory and they were checking me out.
* Being on my hands and knees as I weed the onions gives me an opportunity to be close to the earth where it's cooler and I can find some relief from the hot sun. Occasionally, a gentle breeze wafts through the garden, and it is so sweet. So I acknowledge it, savor it, and thank it. Such small pleasures really make a difference in my attitude as I do this hard work! Maybe I’m hearing the garden speak.
* To grow a garden, you have to have a certain trust that Mother Earth will make the plants grow. This seems to be a miracle to me. It's as though the plants are in a black box where the magic happens and out comes the fruit. Of course, there are scientific reasons for “the miracle,” but to me there are mysterious forces beyond the science that make it all work. Our industrial age has made us arrogant enough to tinker with these forces for the purpose of creating bigger harvests so we can make more money. The question is: have we fooled ourselves and altered the processes such that we might accomplish the opposite effect that we want—over the long term? I hope not. All the more reason for us to re-learn the process of growing food for ourselves—and to meditate on what we are doing.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Joe Gump Succumbs at 86

Joe Gump, R.I.P.
1928 - 2014

Joe Gump, 86, originally of Chicago, died at his home in Bloomingdale in southwestern Michigan on Saturday, March 8.  He is survived by his wife and partner for peace, Jean Gump, and 10 of their 12 surviving children.

Here is a video of Joe leading a German orchestra.  It takes place at a KNOW picnic at Milham Park in 2011.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Travels to Morocco

I went to Morocco in December and had a marvelous trip.  I traveled with Oversea Adventure Travel (OAT) with 13 other people.  We visited major cities (Fes, Marrakech, Rabat); stayed in a desert camp for 2 nights; talked with nomads in their huts; went to the medinas (e.g., old 9th century towns) and bought quality textiles, leather, ceramics; learned about Islam from an immam, climbed the Atlas Mountains (by bus, of course), examined the ruins of a Roman port city (Volubilis), and relaxed in a public bath called a hammam. 

Check it out on my travel blog:

This blog is especially good if you are planning or contemplating a trip to Morocco.   I highly recommend visiting this country and can give you more information about how to do it in an affordable way.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Internationally-Acclaimed Pianist Shai Wosner to Perform at the BBSO February Concert

Area concert-goers are in for a treat when Israeli-born Shai Wosner takes the stage as guest pianist at the Birmingham Bloomfield Symphony Orchestra concert on Saturday, February 8 at Christ Church Cranbrook at 8 p.m. and on Sunday February 9 at The Berman Center for the Performing Arts at 3 p.m.

The Steinway Artist will perform Mozart Concertos Nos. 14 and 19, and the BBSO will also perform Nielsen’s Little Suite for Strings on the program.  BBSO Music Director John Thomas Dodson will be the conductor.

“I want people to enjoy the music, to feel it, and be moved by it” said Wosner in a recent telephone interview. 

Concert patrons will have that opportunity in spades as they witness the power of his fingers on the keys and the heart in his music.  A sample of Wosner's artistry is available on his website ( 

“Music, including classical music, is not something you have to have studied to enjoy,” said Wosner.  “You just have to be open and let it move you, even if it is your first experience.”

Classical music is timeless and it has the ability to transport listeners to a meaningful experience, he said, if they just allow themselves to follow it.

Wosner has appeared with several important orchestras throughout the United States and Europe and he has collaborated in chamber music with musicians such as Pinchas Zukerman, Christian Tetzlaff, Lynn Harrell, Christiane Stotijn, and Cho-Liang Lin.  However, he also likes to play with orchestras in smaller communities because he sees them as one of the most important ways to promote and preserve this art form today. 

“Classical music is thriving in major cities,” he said, “but outside these main centers there is an incredible void.” 

“Music is disappearing!” said Wosner with alarm noting that music programs in schools are being reduced or eliminated and students aren't studying music or playing it as they once did.  In the nineteenth century even amateurs were performing classical music. 

“Music is an indispensable and a most wonderful part of our life and culture.”

Wosner, 37, grew up in Israel and began playing the piano out of curiosity because it was there in his home.  He essentially taught himself to play before he took formal lessons with Emanuel Krasovsky in Tel-Aviv as well as composition, theory and improvisation with AndrĂ© Hajdu. At age 21 he moved to New York and studied at The Juilliard School with Emanuel Ax.

Wosner performed publicly when he was 18 or 20, which is considered a relatively late age.  However, he continued to feel the urge to share his music with others.

“That was always important,” said Wosner, “and always rewarding.”

Wosner soon became an accomplished musician and his career skyrocketed to the international scene.  However, he doesn't dwell on his success because he feels a lot of it is out of his control.

“Luck plays a big part in music,” he said modestly.  “I concentrate on developing myself as a musician since no one else is going to do that for me.  It's all about finding your voice, and eventually, you are the best person to evaluate that.”

Wosner's performance of Mozart's Concertos Nos. 14 and 19 provides a particular challenge.  The pieces are not played that often or considered among the composer's most notable compositions.  However, Wosner is drawn to them because he can play them with several orchestras.  In fact, he will play the same pieces with the Hamburger Symphoniker in Germany later in February.

Color is the most important feature of Wosner's work where he tries to get as many “colors of sound” out of the piano as he can through the pedals, the volume of the notes, and the relationship between notes with regard to timing and turning a phrase. 

“There are different voices within a piece,” he said.  “The challenge is to get one instrument to do it.  For example, Mozart concerti are dramatic by nature.  You feel something is going on, like in a story.  There's a sense of drama, like a plot unfolding in the piece.  That's the biggest challenge:  to give what the music does and to go in the direction it is going.”

Wosner resides in New York City with his wife and two children.