Author Archives: disarmnow

Sayonara to Joe Byrne

By Joe Byrne

As some of you know by now, I’ve left Jonah House. At the beginning of April, I moved down to Pinehurst, North Carolina, to live with, and take care of, my 90-year-old mother. My mom is at the point where she needs to either move into assisted living, or live with one of her kids. She’s chosen the latter course. And my siblings and I, as well as my mom and I, decided that I was the one most available to make the move, having no family of my own. That said, I did have a community I was leaving behind in Baltimore, and many friends, so my leaving was a challenge in that regard.

I moved to Jonah House in October 2015. I joined the community anchored by the Parr-Brown family–Tucker and Emily and little Auggie, then a year-and-a-half old. Within a year, we welcomed a new member into the community, little Evie, Tucker and Emily’s second child. Also part of Jonah House at that time were the “emeritus” members living separately in the cottage: Liz McAlister, Sr. Ardeth Platte, and Sr. Carol Gilbert.

The Parr-Brown family decided to move back west after two years; Liz, Ardeth, and Carol had left Jonah House the year before. I remained behind to form a new community. Joining me in 2017 were Paul Magno, Ausar Amen, Bow Williams, and Jemilla Sequiera.

The past six-and-a-half years at Jonah House have been a very rich time for me. I was able to be part of a tradition that I had admired for almost thirty years before I finally moved to Jonah House. It was also a challenging time in that the community was going through some changes, with long-time community members (including a founder) leaving Jonah House, and remaining members trying to envision a new direction and carrying on.

In my time at Jonah House, I was able to develop strong bonds with other community members, with the folks in the neighborhood who came on Tuesdays for food assistance, with those who attended Jonah House liturgy, and with the land itself. Over the six years I got to know the twenty-two acres of St. Peter’s Cemetery, where Jonah House resides, pretty well. I got to know the trees and flowers (and many, but not all, of their names), and the animals–the flora and fauna. I personally met raccoons, foxes, and deer; as well as barn owls, red-shouldered hawks, and guinea fowl (now no more due to the foxes!). The deer population in the cemetery grew from zero to eight in the time I was at Jonah House. Too many, actually. When I saw the deer (pretty much every day) I would say “Hello deer–and I don’t mean that affectionately.” That’s because they ate or otherwise damaged so many of the things I planted!

I also need to announce that my canine companion, Pema, has also left Jonah House. She is with me in North Carolina. It’s going to take some time for Pema to get used to her new living arrangement. In St. Peter’s Cemetery, I let her roam. And since the main gate was open most of the time, this means I also let her roam the neighborhood surrounding the cemetery. I hope the neighbors were fond of Pema; then again, maybe those who halted behind her and honked their horns when Pema paraded down the middle of Bentalou Street are happy she’s moved on. But at least no one ran her over or called Animal Control.

I will miss Jonah House, where I worked, prayed, and played for six plus years. But Jonah House continues, both as intentional community, and as extended community. There will still be a Jonah House when the community celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2023. I hope to return then, and will probably return before then, at least once.

For what it’s worth, all those I leave behind have my blessing, as do those who will come after me. I conclude with the phrase used by the early Franciscan friars as a greeting (and likely as a farewell): “Pax et bonum!” That is, “peace and good to you!”

Love One Another

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Seedlings Transplanted Along North Fence

By Joe Byrne

Today, with the help of a volunteer (Adam) I was able to get to a little project I’d been meaning to do for a while now. We transplanted some trees along the north fence of the cemetery, in the north-west quadrant.

On the other side of the north fence is an industrial site, including a lot of rusting equipment and shipping containers, as well as a mountain of shredded rubber tires. I thought it would be great to put up some trees to screen the cemetery from the industrial site. My idea was to use two different kind of trees: a top-canopy tree and a mid-level canopy tree. The two trees together, in two parallel rows, would provide a better screen than just the tall trees. The trees would have to be native and it would be great if they were already present in the cemetery. It would also be good if they could withstand the polluted run-off from the industrial site. Even better would be trees that would be unattractive to deer, so the deer wouldn’t crop the trees, or damage the tender trunks by rubbing off the bark with their horns (it’s the bucks that do that, not the does). A few years ago we planted some white pines along the north fence. A few still remain but quite a few of them died due to run-off pollution and damage from deer.

In the cemetery, we found some seedlings that I think fit the criteria listed above. For the top canopy tree, in a row of four closest to the fence, we transplanted some sycamore seedlings. There is already a very large sycamore tree along the north fence and it seems to be doing well. However we figured the very young sycamore trees would initially be susceptible to deer damage, so we put fences around them.

I’ve been experimenting with tree fencing for a while now. Putting up wooden posts and putting metal fencing around them does a pretty good job at protecting the trees, but that’s a lot of work, and it’s unsightly. The alternative I’ve come up with is to use leftover green plastic fencing (a kind of chicken mesh), and s’more sticks (doll rods) that we found at the Maryland Food Bank once upon a time. You cut of a length of fencing, use cheap wire ties to make it a closed circle. Then weave a s’more stick into the fencing and push it into the ground. Do three more in a circle (really, a diamond). After that, secure the bottom of the fencing with metal tent stakes. I found that, with just the s’more sticks, the fencing will topple over in a strong wind. With stakes, they stay upright and secure. The fencing looks kind of flimsy, but it looks solid enough to fool the deer. They could knock it down if they wanted to, but they don’t seem to want to. Even better, from a distance you can hardly see the green fencing.

After we had all the sycamore seedlings in, and fenced off, we planted four red bud trees in a row in front of the sycamores. Red buds are typically about half as high as mature sycamores. We already have some mature red buds in the cemetery, and they produce a lot of seedlings. I’ve transplanted some red bud seedlings before and noticed that the deer don’t mess with them. It might be that when they get bigger, the deer (the bucks) will go after them; so fencing might be necessary later. But for this planting, we left them without fencing.

One project done, but there are still plenty of places to plant more trees in the cemetery. Next time we plant trees, we’ll put the word out so that some those reading this might help out.

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Passing of Thay Thich Nhat Hanh

By Joe Byrne

Thich Nhat Hanh, the famed Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Monk and peacemaker, passed to the ultimate dimension on January 22, 2022. He was 95 years old.

Thay – his honorary title – became well known in the 1960s for his opposition to the Vietnamese War. During that time, he urged his fellow monks and Buddhist practitioners in Vietnam to do war relief. This was the basis of what he would later call “engaged buddhism.” In 1966 he came to the United States to lobby the U.S. government for peace. Because of his refusal to take sides in the conflict, both the South Vietnamese government, and later the communist regime, refused to let Thich Nhat Hanh return to Vietnam. However, at the end of his life, after a debilitating stroke, the Vietnamese government allowed him to return to the monastery in Hue where he took his vows. And that is where he died, on January 22.

In the 1970s, Thay began to teach mindfulness to Vietnamese and Western practitioners. Initially, this movement attracted mostly anti-war activists, and indeed Thay emphasized that mindfulness was a practice for people to find inner peace to sustain them in the work for social justice. The mindfulness movement has long since gone mainstream.

Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan in the 1960s

In the 1960s, Thay was a friend to many peacemakers, most particularly Martin Luther King, Jr.; Daniel Berrigan, S.J.; and Thomas Merton. Martin Luther King nominated Thay for the Nobel Peace Prize. Merton wrote a famous essay entitled “Nhat Hanh is My Brother.” Berrigan co-wrote a book with Thay called The Raft is Not the Shore.

Echoing his teacher Gautama Buddha, Thay always said that he would live on his teachings, and in his students. He also lives on on the internet, in the form of dharma talks in written, audio and video formats; and in the teachings of his students, monastic and lay. There are all manner of such materials on the website of Plum Village, a monastic center he founded in France, and where he lived for many years.

I conclude with a poem written by Thich Nhat Hanh which is often recited at memorial services.

Contemplation of No-Coming, No-Going

This body is not me,
I am not limited by this body.

I am life without boundaries.
I have never been born, and I have never died.

Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars,
Manifestations from my wondrous true mind.

Since before time, I have been free.
Birth and death are only doors through which we pass,
sacred thresholds on our journey.
Birth and death are a game of hide-and-seek.

So laugh with me,
hold my hand,
let us say good-bye,
say good-bye, to meet again soon.

We meet today,
We will meet again tomorrow.
We will meet at the source every moment.
We meet each other in all forms of life.

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Free Jess Reznicek!

In 2016, Jessica Reznicek of the Des Moines Catholic Worker, after years of participating in various water protection actions led by Native American activists, and after exhausting all legal remedies, took direct action to stop the construction of Dakota Access Pipeline. She dismantled construction equipment and pipeline valves, taking particular care not to injure anyone. She pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to damage the pipeline. In 2021 she was sentenced to 8 years in prison.

Jessica should have been sentenced to only 37 months but, at the behest of federal prosecutors, Judge Rebecca Goodgame applied a domestic terrorism enhancement to Jessica’s case, to supposedly deter others from following Jessica’s lead. The terrorism enhancement nearly tripled Jessica’s sentence to 96 months.

This is nothing less than the criminalization of environmental protection and presents frightening consequences for anyone seeking to protect the environment from corporate destruction. The Dakota Access Pipeline is just one of many such oil and gas pipeline projects that have been fiercely resisted, particularly by those whose lands are being traversed by oil pipelines. These pipelines have a horrendous record of accidents and present a clear and present danger to all, in the form of carbon dioxide pollution, leading to global warming.

As NASA Climate Scientist Peter Kalmus put it, “Jessica was sentenced to 8 years for protecting all of us from climate and ecological breakdown. She acted from necessity and from love. She is a hero, not a terrorist.” She bravely acted to protect all of us, in this and future generations, and countless other beings.

The real terrorists are those who threaten the very life of the planet by digging up, and transporting, petrochemicals that need to remain in the ground if are to have any hope of surviving climate change.

Follow the links below to read more about Jessica’s case, to contact her in prison, and most importantly to sign the petition to have Jessica’s domestic terrorism enhancement removed.

Free Jessica Reznicek Face Book page: https://www.facebook.com/freejessrez

Free Jessica Reznicek Web Page https://supportjessicareznicek.com/

Jess Reznicek postings (Frank Cordaro’s website) https://frankcordaro.wordpress.com/2021/07/02/2021-jess-reznicek-postings/

Write:
Jessica Reznicek # 19293-030
FCI Waseca
PO Box 1731
Waseca, MN 56093

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Jonah House – Statement Against Police Brutality and Impunity

Jonah House Supports Demonstrations Against Police Brutality and Impunity

We at Jonah House support those protesting the racist police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other African-Americans in just the past few years. We also note and deplore the increasingly brutal and militarized tactics employed by police to suppress the right of the people to express their grievances with their governors. Police have followed up the street execution of George Floyd with even more repression towards African-Americans and those that support them. We amplify the call to defund abusive police departments—at least enough to prevent the purchase of military hardware such as tanks, riot gear, tear gas, and “flash-bang” weapons, and to cut off funding for training police officers to use these weapons.

Fifty-two years ago the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. decried the evil triplets of racism, capitalism, and militarism (which now must include militarized police). These three forms of systemic and institutionalized violence are very much connected, as we here at Jonah House, in West Baltimore, see every day. These evil triplets need to be disarmed and transformed, and one of the best ways to do this is for the people to take to the streets and demand justice. Only then will those in power listen and make the necessary changes.

If it takes a militant, non-violent revolution to end rampant police brutality towards African-Americans, so be it.

In Solidarity,

Jonah House

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Scavenging Hope

Two things Sunday morning, after a still-born effort at Zoom liturgy.

Thing one – When I read through the scriptures for May 17th, what stuck to the cobwebs that pass for brains in my head was from Peter’s epistle “ . . . the reason for your hope.”

Why do I like it? Because it goes to something different than doctrine or rules, it tends to see ‘hope’ as something that is intrinsic to a spiritually animated life, a perennial blossom that asserts itself regularly in human discourse, regardless of how often adversity, accidental or deliberate, undermines life (as in the current reign of the dark Lord Corona) or how often the powers and principalities dose us with their “realism” which often as not turns out to be mostly snake-oil, false and self-serving and ultimately detrimental to the prospects of a really human pr1oject, political or otherwise.

What does “the reason for your hope” look like? Maybe an outburst of mutual care, greater in incidence in pandemic times than it is in “better” times. Peter Kropotkin’s anarchistic “mutual aid” hasn’t fared as well as an idea as his contemporary intellectual peer Darwin’s “survival of the fittest,” dear to the hearts of those who succeed at aggregating wealth and power, and therefore a sanctioned virtually official slogan. Not, though, an idea that well serves the global majority, so much as it does the global masters.

Hope comes out of how people band together in community, then nourish and fortify each other along the way. That is a manifestation of organic and natural spirit-driven, even joy-driven impulse. Ideology or structure comes later maybe to institutionalize the powerfully contagious goodness it appreciates and wants to maintain. However such forces don’t always do well in such constraints and those devices get quickly preoccupied with their own self-perpetuation and yield to the temptation to demand conformity. 

Thing two – in supporting evidence of my musing in Thing one, the life of John X Linnehan, often simply known as X.

Word came that X passed on this past week at the age of 92 in Gainesville FL attended by his spouse of 47 years Martina. John & Martina together have been a force in their part of the world for justice, peace, and reverence for creation in too many ways to count for close to half a century.

 John had come to Florida many years before as a missionary priest of the St. James society commissioned by Cardinal Cushing of his home diocese of Boston. One of the reasons I warmed to him so readily is that he understood the sanctity of the Red Sox and Celtics, among other things. They were key people in supporting the Pershing Plowshares disarmament action eight of us undertook at Martin Marietta in Orlando in 1984. Easter, Passover, and Earth Day all rolled into one calendar date, Sunday April 22. A good soul that he was, when my grandmother died just days after my sentencing that July and my wife of just over a year were in the position of attending the funeral in my stead of part of my family she had barely gotten to know yet, John figured out how to be in Boston at the funeral home to support her, a surreal flashback for him to church personnel at least that he was 25 years removed from, by virtue of geography and his own pilgrimage.

One of the “fruits” of the Pershing Plowshares action was the decision of John & Martina a short time later to establish the Metanoia Community in St. Mary’s GA to attend to the evil of Trident through nonviolent presence, prayer, listening and action, leading an effort that spanned decades. The circle came round and closed when, despite some reservations, they offered a very articulate affirmation of the current Kings Bay Plowshares witness shortly after its manifestation on April 4, 2018. I like to think John passed into the Holy Cloud just in time to attend the forthcoming sentencing of the seven, scheduled at the end of this month.

Hearts out to Martina and to the justice, peace, and earth-loving movements of Florida & Georgia who will miss the real X-man.    

— 

Paul Magno 

Jonah House Community Member.

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Graveplot Restoration

By Joe Byrne

In addition to restoring graveSTONES I’ve also been attempting to restore gravePLOTS (or family plots), many of which have been taken over by weeds and tall grasses.

First thing I do is weed the plot, Then I lay down two layers of cardboard. Then I put a layer of mulch on top of that. The idea is to kill off the weeds and also begin amending the soil so that things like wildflowers can be planted later.

Full disclosure, this is the second time around for both these plots. After the first time, and after the mulch degraded, they were re-invaded by weeds. But there were certainly a lot less weeds the second time.

This is the first family plot I did:

The second family plot was not that far away from the first (in the “pasture” or J section of the cemetery).

In this family plot, I’ve already begun planting. There is a St. John’s Wort plant in each corner. I would not mind if it took over the whole plot. It has pretty flowers and great medicinal value!

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Gravestone Restoration: McKeownes

By Joe Byrne

The gravestones for Ellen and Dominick McKeowne were a lot more tricky to restore than the ones described in the blog entry immediately following this one.

As you can see by the “before” photo, the gravestone on the left was tipped over with the TOP half buried in the earth. The gravestone on the right was face down and almost completely buried. It took a lot of digging and lifting to get those stones out of the ground. And they were heavy!

Here is the “after” shot:

The one on the left is the one that was nearly buried face down. Which confirms something I discovered last year: having the inscription side of a gravestone face down in the earth actually helps preserve the inscription! I assumed the opposite, but whatever creatures or moisture are active under the soil, they don’t do much damage, compared to the open air, sun, and rain. (The kind of stone also makes a difference – some, like limestone, are more prone to damage than others, such as granite).

As much as I tried to make this particular restoration a one-person job, in the end it was beyond me and I called on the help of one of our super volunteers, Seymour. Thanks, Seymour!

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Gravestone Restoration: Unknown

By Joe Byrne

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been spending a lot of time outdoors. Don’t worry: I have a buffer of 22 wooded acres around me at all times! I realize I’m lucky to have an outdoors to retreat to, but I promise I’m spending most of my time outside WORKING.

Besides the general upkeep of those 22 wooded acres, I am doing some more gravestone restoration.

Such as this pair of gravestones. Unfortunately, I can’t read the inscription and can’t tell the names on them.

As the before and after pics show, there wasn’t much work to be done. I pried up the stone from the ground and lifted it onto the base (with the hole on the bottom of the stone fitting around the rebar).

BEFORE:

AFTER:

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She Will Breathe on Us Again and We Will Take Heart: Praying Through a Corona-Infested Lent

By Paul Magno

I am at Jonah House in Baltimore on Holy Thursday evening, which in itself is a broken play, in terms of coronavirus vetoing the usual observances of Holy Week that I/we are accustomed to. It is our usual custom to be gathered in Washington in one of our Faith & Resistance Retreats. We’d be thirty or forty people, including some college students from the mid-west, reflecting on the classic themes of Holy Week:  Holy Thursday – Jesus and his disciples observing Passover with a Seder meal, known historically to Christians as the Last Supper, and then his betrayal, passion and execution on Good Friday at the hands of church and state. We don’t leave this in the religious abstract; we consider the contemporary betrayals of Jesus and his crucifixion at the hands of the war-making empire we live under and endeavor to confront and resist.  We’d typically be at the Pentagon, author of never-ending war against peoples almost too numerous to name.

In my immediate recollection, I know that we have ridiculously long military engagements against Afghanistan and Iraq, dating back at least to the early part of the century, not to mention their twentieth-century antecedents.  Then Yemen and the US role in arming the Saudi kingdom with the wherewithal to inflict frightful torment, starvation and social catastrophe on that hapless country over the past five years.  

If we were at the Pentagon or the White House tomorrow, we’d speak to those instances among others liturgically as modern-day crucifixions, some of us would risk arrest to underscoring those realities.

Instead, we are corona-housebound and I’m settling for trying to sum up Lent and Triduum and anticipate Easter, death overcome; not a small thing considering the breadth and destructiveness of the medical pandemic COVID-19, or the more pervasive and longstanding lethality of the social and political pandemic known as a contemporary empire, a demonic litany of continuous lies and empty promises ad nauseum. 

I noticed, as I’ve prayed my way through Lent, how very aware Jesus is of his own danger from the collaborating forces of Roman occupation and Temple leadership. In one vignette after another, he is calibrating when to stay in hiding and when to come out of it.  He turns up suddenly and draws crowds, as when he gives sight to the blind man and sends him off to testify before the scribes and Pharisees. He waits days before responding to Lazarus’ falling ill and dying via a furtive rendezvous with Martha, leading to summoning Lazarus from the dead. The powers that be, hearing of that episode, decree that Lazarus should die yet again. Jesus meanwhile lays low on the outskirts of Jerusalem, waiting for an opportune moment to manifest himself. He gives his disciples cryptic instructions about finding beasts of burden to ride into town and equally peculiar instruction later on setting up their gathering for Passover.  All the same, they are infiltrated; he is betrayed, captured, tortured and marched off to death on Golgotha in a macabre spectacle of Roman humiliation and terror.

I’m mindful, (and those of us who are Christian could pay more attention to this) of what the Passover observance commemorates. It is not unrelated to our current corona experience. The Israelites in captivity in Pharaoh’s Egypt follow divine instructions in the original Passover. It seems that Egypt to that point had been successively subjected to not one, but ten plagues, each more frightening than the one before. Moses, in Yahweh’s name, tips them to the final one, the death of the first-born males of each household, instructing them to slaughter a lamb and mark their homes with its blood, to spare them from destruction, then roast the lamb and eat while dressed for flight to the desert, as Egypt is overcome by this plague.

We have to imagine that as the first nine plagues have proceeded, the enslaved Hebrews might have been much like we have been asked to be, of late. Bewildered and huddling in their homes, they must be wondering when this nakba will end.

For the beleaguered Egyptians, no relenting. Firstborn sons were slain by the angel of death, a shattering of families and of the political and social order Pharaoh’s rule relies on. All have collapsed in chaos and helplessness, much more severe than what confounds us today owing to the corona pestilence. Thus stricken, even the Sun King tells the Hebrews to get out. No telling what it will take to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Out of such harrowing cataclysm is the nascent Israelite people thrust into freedom in the desert, ready or not. This is what Jesus and the disciples remember in the upper room before his sudden demise.

Can we imagine that come Sunday, death will be overcome and the empire itself subjected to a frightful humiliation of its own, set back on its heels by mere Galileans’ refusal to stay cowed, stay dead, stay obedient to church and state’s prescribed order. If it hadn’t happened, who would believe that it could? 

God’s breath is Spirit and Life, ours maybe not so much. 

We are fearful these days

Of dying in consequence of breath. 

We stagger thru a penitential season

Bewildered by the great pestilence and frightfully under its power

Obedient to demands of social distancing and the solitude it imposes

Scripture speaks safely from the printed page

Of Heaven’s care for us  

Of blind man seeing and dead man upright,

Of putative messiah confronting, confounding world order

Animating the downtrodden, alarming our masters

What prayer is even adequate herein:

God is happy to hear from monks and Muslims

no less than five times daily, regardless of virus

And happy to answer, we presume.

Her breath shall renew the face of the earth

Threaten the mighty with resurrection, insurrection

Thee and we shall breathe together,

Kindle a fire of divine love on earth as it is in heaven,

torching greed and violence, a conspiracy of peace and life.

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