deadstone restoration 1

By Joe Byrne

I decided, as a Lenten project, that I would restore some of the headstones at St. Peter’s Cemetery. The hardest part was deciding where to start. So many of the headstones here are in need of help.

Rather randomly I chose to start with headstones that are (I think) in the so-called “Potter’s Field” section of the cemetery, on the western perimeter.

This was the first stone I worked with. It’s the headstone of Rachel Moulder, who died and was buried in 1935. The work here consisted of moving and straightening the stone.

Then I attended to a stone nearby.

At first I thought it was just a pediment (the base of the headstone), without a headstone. But then I started digging…

Yes, I had to dig up Joseph Digg’s stone! The amazing thing here is that, even though the stone was buried for who-knows-how-long, the engraved inscription, and the carved designs, have not been worn away.

Here is the gravestone restored.

Here are the two stones together:

Though, in my mind, a grave-site is not restored until there are some flowering plants planted nearby. So I’ll have to come back, with flowers.

Next was the headstone of Charles Lee, also nearby. It was leaning forward at a 45 degree angle, and I suspected there was some important text, helpful in identifying the grave, buried in the ground.

Here is the restored headstone:

In some ways, the stone looked better before I “fixed” it. It’s dirtier now, with dirt continuing to obscure the text that was buried in the ground. But I figured a few rain storms and it would look a lot better. I should go back and take a picture of the headstone in a couple months and post it here.

Final note, the first two headstones had as the year of death 1936, and Charles Lee’s was 1937. So, at least in the “Potter’s Field,” it appears that people were grouped by the year of death.


Memorial Day at Jonah House

Phil Berrigan’s grave in St. Peter’s Cemetery.

Remembering Phil Berrigan on Memorial Day. Phil experienced the horror and futility of war, and spent the rest of his life working for peace, and attempting to end war.


Free the Kings Bay Plowshares 7

Today is the one year anniversary of the Kings Bay Plowshares action. Liz McAlister, a member of Jonah House, along with Fr. Steve Kelly, SJ and Mark Colville, remain incarcerated. The other four members of the group are at large but wearing ankle monitors. After one year, the trial date has yet to be set.

Please sign the petition for the Kingsbay Plowshares 7. It asks that charges be dropped against our seven friends, so that they can return to doing good works in the world.


Mark Colville’s Prison Reflections

Mark Colville is one of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, along with Jonah House member Liz McAlister and five others. He’s been in jail exactly one year today. The following is a prison epistle that powerfully shows the injustice of the so-called justice system.

March 2019

Dear Friends,

Greetings and hugs all around! With a grateful heart I commend all who continue to make the sacrifices necessary to keep our doors at the Amistad Catholic Worker open, the kitchen warm, and the table set, especially during these harsh months and under the added strain of my extended absence. For some time now, I’ve hesitated to check in from here in Georgia before being able to offer a bit of clarity with regard to the legal situation of the Kings Bay Plowshares in Brunswick Federal Court. But with delays encroaching now into Spring, and still no action being taken by the magistrate judge on our pretrial motions, a brief update has become increasingly overdue.

Actually, what has been most on my heart these past three months is a deep sense of responsibility to speak about this jail where I’ve been warehoused now for the better part of a year. It is labeled a “detention center,” so-called because the people being kept here have been arrested but have not yet had their cases adjudicated. Considered a temporary holding facility, its conditions and amenities are suited to accommodate the accused for a a few weeks or a month at most, irrespective of the reality that – for reasons I’ll explain in a moment – half a year or more is closer to the average length of stay. This means that all the detained, most of whom are suspected of low-level or nonviolent offenses, are held in maximum security conditions for months, and in some cases years, on end. We are locked down on crowded cellblocks, essentially for 24 hours a day. The diet is heavy on starch, sugar and sodium, which rapidly foster obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease when combined with a sedentary lifestyle.(I’ve witnessed three people having strokes, and one man I knew died of heart failure in his cell late last summer). There is no access to the outdoors nor to physical recreation of any kind; no exercise permitted outside of one’s cell; no visits with loved ones except by video monitor; no use of a library, computer or internet. It also seems to be common knowledge that we are sitting on top of a toxic waste dump, but I have neither the means nor the fortitude to investigate that particular report.

As for the 400 to 500 detainees here, most are in the same predicament as Liz, Steve and I, being held indefinitely with their cases pending. Several systemic factors conspire to make this so.Bail is generally set extremely high, unaffordably so for many, although this can sometimes be remedied at a bail reduction hearing after at least six weeks have passed. The bigger issue, though, is what’s referred to as the “probation hold.” In Glynn County, persons arrested for any reason while on probation can be jailed for renewable terms of up to 60 days, and simply forced to wait until a probation violation hearing is scheduled. As anyone who’s had the experience knows, virtually any encounter with a police officer on probation can result in an arrest, regardless of probable cause or the likelihood of an infraction being provable in court . Merely being on probation is reason enough.

Practically speaking, lengthy probation terms usually have little to do with supervision, rehabilitation or public safety. They have plenty to do with funneling people back through the criminal justice industrial complex, which seems to be a significant source of revenue and employment in municipalities like this one. Convictions in the Brunswick court, 90 percent of which are obtained by plea bargain, commonly bring sentences which include probation terms of between 3 and 20 years! The prisoners here call it being “on paper.” Once they are on a probation hold, an investigation of the newly-alleged crime can proceed, or not, at the leisure of the D.A.’s office. Of course, whether or not they find evidence, the living conditions at the detention center will usually provide ample coercive power to secure another conviction. Obviously, after 60 or 120 or 180 days of 24-hour lockdown, almost anyone is well-disposed to accept whatever plea will result in an immediate release, even if it means being on paper for another decade. Thus, there is ensured an endless supply of indefinite detainees at the Glynn County Detention Center, and their demographic won’t surprise anyone; at present, I am one of three white people in a cell block of thirty-four.

From the inside, I find the real horror of all this in its utter normalcy. Sometimes it takes a rigorous act of the will to maintain a personal relationship with reality. I’m living in a place where hundreds of people accused of low-level and/or nonviolent crimes are being held indefinitely, under maximum security conditions, having neither been granted due process, nor convicted nor sentenced. The presumption of innocence is, quite literally, a punchline. The totalitarian culture of coercion that dictates every aspect of life in a maximum security jail has essentially chewed up and swallowed the “justice system” here, such that it is not honestly possible to even use that term without the disclaimer of quotation marks. Broken families bear a terrible burden, some driven from poverty into destitution. The racial bias could hardly be more obvious. Yet it all seems to function beyond significant public notice, and has nothing to do with questions of morality, necessity, or service to the public good.

Of late, I’ve grown convinced that it couldn’t be more fitting for the Kings Bay Plowshares to have been swept up and tossed into a human dumpster such as this. The racket they run here gives real substance, on the neighborhood level, to what U.S. nuclear policy – our national religion – has been preaching to every child born on the planet for the last seventy-five years: No Lives Matter. However long it might draw out, I hope that my incarceration here will in some way speak this truth. The idols we named at Kings Bay are not sleeping. They demand sacrifice. The god of the national security state feasts on the blood of the poor.

“The ultimate logic of racism is genocide.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., March, 1968. Yes, indeed.

– Mark Colville

[As of this writing, the Kings Bay Plowshares have been waiting many months for a ruling from magistrate judge Benjamin Cheesbro on a pre-trial argument they have placed before the court. The essence of their position is that a jury should be allowed to hear and consider the principles of faith and conscience that informed their action at Kings Bay, and that the government has acted improperly by filing criminal charges against them. The seven were arrested on April 5, 2018.]


Imprisoned Liz McAlister on the Radio

This Martin Luther King Day (January 21, 2019), Tom Hall, a radio personality at WYPR in Baltimore, aired a story on Liz McAlister and the King’s Bay Plowshares action, which occurred on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, on April 4, 2018.

Since that date, Liz has been in jail in Georgia, where the King’s Bay Trident Sub base is located. The trial date has yet to be set, but it will likely be sometime this winter.

The segment includes a short interview with Liz from prison.

Here is the link:


snowy day at st. peter’s cemetery

Last week we had a bit of snow in the cemetery. It always makes for a picturesque scene. Here are some pics.

The first three pics were of headstones. This is a snow covered pile of branches. Eventually the branches will be put through a chipper for mulch. But right now it’s a lodge for small animals!


Xavier University Visits Jonah House

Once again, a group from Xavier University graced us with a visit! They came for dinner on Wednesday, which was followed by a reflection session. Paul talked about the history of Jonah House and resistance to war and nuclear weapons, and the fact that community member and co-founder Liz McAlister remains in jail for her participation in the King’s Bay Plowshares action last April. Ausar and Naomi talked about the Jonah House Food Pantry and our partnership with Tubman House, in West Baltimore. And Joe talked about our work on the land in St. Peter’s Cemetery, including gardens, orchards, and forest, describing it as a work of mercy for the Earth.

The group returned on Thursday morning. Joe took them on a tour of the cemetery, after which Ausar took them to Tubman House, to visit some folks who live nearby and to lay mulch on the fruit trees at the urban garden that is attached to Tubman House.

They’ll be headed back to Cincinnati tomorrow. We look forward to their visit next year!


Holy Innocents 2018

Jonah House once again participated in the Feast of the Holy Innocents witness at the Pentagon. Neither rain nor sleet could keep us away. Four friends committed civil disobedience and divine obedience.

More here:


Fourth Sunday of Advent

Reflection: Peace

By Gary Ashbeck

The stories out of Washington have been frequent, bad, and numerous lately. Big stories seem to be dropping hourly. Indictments, bad policy, chaos, and numerous things contrary to our faith. When I first started to contemplate Advent, this was the influence, but within the last week the pace has picked up. It seems that Christians are the most complicit in sustaining this dark moral travesty. I also feel that we have grown weary and complacent. I personally feel the weariness and darkness inside.

There is but one antidote, I realized: a stronger faith community. Pulling together the flock.

I think there are some people who would be happy to see an upheaval in our government. Many would cheer for an impeachment. I’m not so sure. We are a divided people and I think it would only get darker and more contentious… but the daily onslaught against God’s people must stop.

I don’t know how to say it any stronger, so I’ll just say it again. We need to be celebrating Advent with every ounce of energy in our bodies. We need to celebrate Christmas with every ounce of energy in our bodies. I don’t want to sound hopeless, because I am not. I am feeling light and warmth from the last three Sundays. Hope, love, joy, and now peace. I feel energized that I have been blessed to sit here and share my musings on the Scriptures and delight in our fellowship.

Today we start the week of peace in Advent. It’s a short one, as Christmas is only two days away.

Today Mary will give her testimony. Actually no, I added that. The prescribed readings the church has given us are only the first part, that of Elizabeth shouting out for joy of the coming of Mary to her humble house. She will declare how the baby she was carrying was moved by the presence of the baby Mary was carrying. She will shout out that the messianic promise will come in short order on the shoulders of the baby Mary was carrying. The joy in this scene between Elizabeth with John and Mary with Jesus springs off the pages.

But I refused to stop there because it does not do justice to the total story presented in that scene. Mary then utters what we now call the Magnificat. It is frequently sung as a hymn. This is the longest statement spoken by a woman in the New Testament, a rarity that signals its great importance. The message in the Magnificat is so revolutionary that the British banned it from being sung in churches when they ruled India. Guatemala in the 80s banned public readings or singing of it, and in Argentina the military banned any public display of it during the dirty war. It was banned because it gave people hope that God does not want them to be second class. God demands justice. Before Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed, he included this in an Advent sermon:

“The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings.…This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind.”

I felt this scene needed proper context and representation, so I went to the Women’s Bible Commentary in a chapter written by Jane Schaberg, and also found some additional material from Reverend Carolyn Sharp of the Yale Divinity School. There was much discussion about how Mary had essentially given herself over to God to carry this child Jesus. She will give herself over to raise this child to adulthood and then she will watch as his message, his messianic promise, gets him executed on the cross as a political dissident, an execution encouraged by people who shared his faith but not his desire to level out power dynamics.

In this moment, Mary is given over to prophecy. Sharp says, “Don’t envision Mary as the radiant woman peacefully composing the Magnificat.” Instead see her as “a girl who sings defiantly to her God through her tears, fists clenched against an unknown future.” She outlines the messianic promise but she comes to it as someone who is the most marginalized, most maligned, and, in being pregnant, risks being stoned.

The Magnificat is not a peaceful message. God has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. God has thrown down rulers from their thrones. God has lifted up the lowly. The hungry have been filled and the rich sent away empty. Again, from Schaberg: “Mary’s song is precious to women for its vision of their concrete freedom from systemic injustice—from oppression by political leaders on their thrones and by the arrogant and rich. In the transformed social order that is celebrated, food is provided for the hungry. The spiritual realm is understood as embedded in socioeconomic and political reality. Focus is on the might, holiness, and mercy of God, who has promised solidarity with those who suffer, and who is true to those promises. God is magnified for effecting changes—now in history.”  

But the Magnificat is a message that should bring about a true peace. The messianic promise that she proclaims and that Jesus will repeat in his first public testimony is a promise of upheaval in the status quo. The testimony is so unpopular that Jesus narrowly escapes the crowds who are so angry that they want to kill him. He disturbed the pseudo-peace in attempting to bring about real peace. Later we will see a similar theme in the Beatitudes. People were angry and tried in many ways to stop Jesus. The message does resonate with the marginalized who want his promise to come and suffering to end. It will continue to cause turmoil until change brings about real peace, not unlike how the actions of Martin Luther King Jr. exposed the violence of the status quo in an effort to bring justice and, with it, peace. The pseudo-peace was destroyed with the violence that he lifted the veil on, but his message resonated with those who were treated as second-class citizens in the United States and began to truly threaten the powers that be when he started to call attention to class struggle before he was assassinated.

So, we remain in the thousands of years’ struggle for the fruition of the messianic promise. As we enter the last week of Advent, we must remember that Advent does not and should not end at Christmas. The status quo is immoral and easy. It doesn’t want to raise a real ruckus when injustice occurs. It enjoys a pseudo-peace. Injustice abounds. The mantle of the messianic promise falls on us to continue on with Jesus’ teaching. It is not easy. We are a curmudgeonly sort, easily influenced to build golden calves. We, like the Maccabees, need to struggle to keep the faith. We must disturb the pseudo-peace. We need to gather in community and stand strong. The lessons we learn in Advent help us to continue the struggle after Christmas is gone.

Just before the Magnificat, Elizabeth finishes her greeting with, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the lord would be fulfilled.” Let’s try to keep hope and believe.

What do the words of the Magnificat mean to you?

How should we continue to celebrate Advent after Christmas?


Third Sunday of Advent

Reflection: Joy

By Gary Ashbeck

“A people which seriously calls God alone its ruler must become a true people, a community where all members are ruled by honesty without compulsion, kindness without hypocrisy, and the kinship of those who are passionately devoted to their divine leader. When social inequity, distinction between the free and unfree, splits the community and creates chasms between its members, there can be no true people, there can be no ‘God’s people.’”

Gates of Prayer Meditation and Reading #40, gender-neutral language added

We are now in the third week of advent. The theme for the week is joy. The readings for this week are going to be more upbeat. In the first reading from Zephaniah, we are not disappointed. “Shout for joy; sing joyfully.” We get one week of singing and dancing in the course of our Advent work, to reflect and then set out to practice the work we are called to do.

I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries on Ernest Shackleton lately. He was a British explorer who led three expeditions in Antarctica. His expeditions were known as heroic failures. He managed to successfully get his expedition team out of many tough situations, like being adrift on an ice floe for a year, but ultimately wouldn’t be able to achieve his goal of reaching the Pole. One thing he did to keep morale up was for his crew to celebrate everything they possibly could. Every birthday, every anniversary, any reason to have a party would be celebrated. It’s one of the things I remember about my time living at Jonah House. We always had reasons to celebrate. Just gathering together was sometimes all the reason we needed to be joyous. This week is our excuse to celebrate, be joyful, because the messianic promise will soon arrive.

Today in the Gospel reading we have John the Baptist giving a sermon. Again, the subject matter is what we have been talking about, the lessons of Advent: forgiveness, justice. John preached of a societal change. He also gets us in the mood to be joyful. His good news gives the people an idea that maybe he is the one, but he says he is nothing compared to what is coming. He gives the people hope that soon their wait will be over.

Henri Nouwen taught that while happiness is dependent on external conditions, “joy is the experience of knowing you are unconditionally loved and nothing—sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death—can take that away.”

This joy, as I keep reading in different sources, is one of knowing we are created and loved. In this idea of joy coming from unconditional love there are a couple of different elements. Unconditional love requires forgiveness because we all are going to miss the mark at some point. If God gives us unconditional love, then to follow God’s example, we must give unconditional love. Forgiveness is what we are called to as Christians.

Anthony DeMello writes that what pleases God is not that we worship God, but that we allow ourselves to be transformed by God. God would be more pleased by your loving than by your adoration.

Forgiveness is letting go. You must let go of your feelings of hurt and anger so that you are not consumed by it. Grudges interfere with joy. Letting go is difficult in forgiveness. This doesn’t necessarily mean let violators go unpunished, but that is where truth and reconciliation come in. That is another big topic that I won’t cover. A murderer should be forgiven but also face consequences that hopefully can help create right relationship again.

There is also just letting go from this world. The world does not revolve around death and taxes. The real world is our web of relationships. There are so many arrows in our world that will distract us from God. We must let go. It seems like much of the world is an intentional distraction. We are perpetually bombarded by advertisements to try to persuade you to want things your really don’t need. We are focused on social media that research has shown actually causes people to feel more depressed and detached rather than give them the community they tell us it will bring. I believe that here you will find letting go is freedom.

In letting go you can also pause to be able to hear your own body and maybe hear God. Remember the story of Elijah waiting for God, and after thunder and earthquakes God comes as a little whisper of a breeze. That is where quiet prayer and meditation come in.

And there is still another letting go. Read the newspaper or watch the news. It’s hard to experience joy when faced with what is happening to God’s people around the world. They are also just as blessed by God. This is where another joy can come. If you go back to what Henri Nouwen said, joy is also freedom. Nothing to lose. There are a few times in my life that I can describe as joyful. Some of these experiences have been in deep community experiences where the people I have been with have shown absolute unconditional love and understanding. The other experiences are when I allowed myself to completely let go and take a risk out of love. These would be direct actions. Some of the most profoundly joyful experiences I have had were when I had fully thrown myself, full body, into spreading God’s message.

Now, this can be a dangerous statement. There are people who take it too far, fanatics (and some would label me one), but I think it’s obvious that despite what they say, they are following more of their own ego in ministry rather than presenting God’s message, and are therefore damaging to God’s people and to creation. I think there is a litmus test and I’ll give an example to explain how I feel where those litmus tests may lie.

My trial for my SOA action was two months after the action. It was very difficult for me because I was one of three who had refused bail, but I was separated from the others in jail and for trial. I was physically in bad shape from the jailing. The marshals were messing with me pretty badly and I had spent one of the days in a 40-degree carport in a t-shirt with them telling the jail they were on their way to pick me up and never did. When I finally presented my case in front of a judge, I knew he was going to convict me and give me a maximum sentence, so I felt the freedom to present my case as to why I trespassed, and really exposed my most vulnerable self to the court. I was convicted and hauled back to the jail. I returned to my bunk in what I can only describe as ecstatic joy. What made me the most joyful was that I regretted nothing I said, and felt it was delivered in the most loving, respectful, compassionate way that I possibly could. I felt it was devoid of ego and done really as a prayer. I felt that my witness was strong and possibly transforming to those watching. It may have affected the judge in some fashion because he had not fined me, but only sentenced me to prison. I also felt the freest I ever had. It was almost like I was flying. I have had other experiences where I felt I had gotten pulled into an ego battle with a judge or regretted a statement I may have made, but on this occasion, I really felt I was only a medium channeling a message of love. It is also a very dark place to be experiencing such elation.

This is where I believe the litmus test is. Acting out of a love and compassion that is respectful and without injuring another party, and without focusing on your own personal suffering as the end-all be-all of the witness. This is where the “I love the sinner but I think they should be jailed, killed or marginalized in some way” type of Christianity fails the test. This is where the abortion clinic bombers will fail. I think deep down we know it too. I once was on trial for attending a silent vigil and the police decided to arrest us because they didn’t want us there. In trial the police concocted a story about us screaming and yelling at people because a silent vigil is never going to give the impression of a threat to anyone’s public safety. It was necessary to prove that our conduct was disorderly, which was the charge. After it came out that it was a silent vigil and there had been no reason to arrest us, the judge acquitted us.

It seems that the idea of joy in this third week is a natural progression of transforming ourselves for the messianic promise. Joy is letting go of ourselves and the world, transforming ourselves, and participating in the promise. This is where I want to leave it for us to discuss.

What is joy?
Is joy freedom?
How do we or could we let go?
How do we experience joy in our lives?
How do we let go and be transformed by God?
How do we build stronger, more joyful communities?