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The Poor Folks' Audit

Rev. Savina Martin has a spark. I'm reminded of a certain friend when the Poor People's Campaign asked attendees in its orientation to describe themselves as either an impacter / an activist / or a change agent. Then Rev. Savina adds to the prompts, asking whether a new comer had gone to jail for justice. Many responded they admired and conceived of such an ambition. For these I offer the fruit of my own prayer. Prayerful discernment raises questions such as, "What do you aspire to accomplish in the name of God? What consequences do you foresee hazarded by our society? How would you mitigate against repercussions?"  

This past election week 5.2 million incarcerated people were denied the vote due to Federal Disenfranchisement laws. While elections say something about power, many disregard the importance of the vote, or worse, discount their own voice, saying to themselves, "I have nothing to contribute, no opinion to give. How can my vote make a difference?" I worry about the fact of voter turnout in the context of those denied the vote. Electing a woman for Mayor, in Somerville, MA where I live, 30 percent voted of the 59,000 registered to vote. What I fear is that the 70 percent who did not vote, did not care, and don't care if the prisoner can't vote either.

To take this one step further, I sense a feeble analogy of prayer to voting.  Perhaps we start out or return to a place in the spiritual life looking to God for the grace to be an impacter, an influencer. We might pray to God for an outcome we desire, meek, yet still hoping to influence God. How does God teach us otherwise?

This morning I'll attend worship at the Outdoor Church in Porters Square. An old friend of mine, Eileen Daily, Director of the Doctorate in Ministry program at Boston University, had hoped we could meet there last week. She described Steven Bingaman's four years working to raise consciousness of the needs of the unhoused, when they can't make bail for instance, and must serve an automatic ninety days in jail. "I came to faith in prison," he said. He admits to wrong-doing in his past, but while inside Sing Sing he enrolled in New York Graduate School and eventually completed his Masters, an M'Div, an STM and finally the D'Min. The Outdoor Church invites volunteers to join outreach walking groups sharing food. The walking routes are the same and members of their congregation know where to connect. "We want to meet homeless women and men exactly where they're at." I suspect what I'll find, listening to the reflections shared after the readings, enjoying the fellowship...The marginalized, meet us where we are.

Consider this Sunday's first reading from the Book of Kings, the message of a prophet's dependence on a widow without whom he would starve. We observe hospitality from those we might least expect, as Elijah is ordered by God to go to the house of a widow where he can be fed (1 Kings 17:8-16). How would we interact with those around us if we grasped the lesson? the radical reality of God's will.

Yesterday I met Yolanda and Sonia, two key organizers of Padres Latin@s in Somerville, when I attended a Free Clothing Store. These movers and shakers act for the needy. My newly elected Councilor Beatriz Gómez-Moukad made the introduction and described their work as liaisons last year when the lack of information created the impression that Hispanics were wary of school. "We have translation in Spanish for anything the parents need to know and Portuguese too." Their investment of time, talent and active role in shaping the ethos of Somerville are noble, direct acts of service. Families "shopped" for winter clothes sorted and displayed by volunteers. I brought home gloves and hats for my girls, and pride in my community.

Atossa Araxia Abrahamian writes in "You Shouldn't Have to be a Citizen to Vote" this morning in the New York Times :

In the absence of federal-or state \-level action, local lawmakers are already free to let noncitizens decide on things like garbage pickup, parking rules and potholes. Some do. Since 1992, Takoma Park, Md., has allowed all residents to vote, regardless of their citizenship. Nine additional Maryland towns, as well as districts in Vermont and Massachusetts, have voted to re-enfranchise noncitizens. The cities of Chicago, Washington and Portland, Maine, are also considering the idea, and a bill that would give New York City's authorized immigrants voting rights has supermajority support in the City Council.

Coming to the end of the liturgical year the lectionary, readings over the next weeks call us to make account. Friday Jesus tells of a shrewd steward, caught in wrongdoing and ordered for an audit, who revisits accounts and makes out promissory notes they will find easier to repay (Lk 16:1-8). Luke's Gospel is said to be the gospel of women. One out of fifteen women--6,600 women are serving life without parole (see sentencing project). Yes, we know prison to be the house of widow. But a place of opportunity, nourishment, growth?

Among these women, how might a Catholic Worker prisoner of conscience find herself? As Joe Biden talks of being a climate leader at #COP26 in Glasgow, supporters received a letter from Jessica Reznicek, a climate / water protector political prisoner who was labeled a terrorist by the US government for her nonviolent action against #DAPL.

A few updates in my world: Through the help of many supporters I am excited to say I have sent out my admissions form to the University of Colorado and in January plan to be enrolled in B.S. Sociology program.

I've been approved to volunteer at snow shoveling this coming winter. I'm so happy to very soon be getting outdoors more!

In 2 weeks I'll be completing a tutoring program and will soon be tutoring my fellow inmates in GED classes, creative writing, empowering women courses and more. Great opportunity for me given so many obstacles.

As for hobbie I'm drawing a lot and learning to play the piano. Super peace-giving pastimes.

Anyway, I love you all. I truly do. I am human, so it would be dishonest to not share the other side of things. I'm battling depression and at times still in shock about where I am and for how long I'll be here. One day at a time! Thank you again for your prayers and love, 

Peace, Jessica Reznicek

Among the poor, learning to tutor, Jessica makes her account of prison. "Where am I?" she asks. She's an activist moving into opportunity, appreciating the watchful support of the movement, battling her own demon of depression and recognizing the potential for her own growth, and her neighbors. She is like the widow, separated from those she loves. Yet reading her words, witnessing her satisfy the needs for nourishment, belonging, significance. We could assume less, but Jessica seems to expect us to hold her accountable, her honesty and integrity is on the line. If it is heartening, it is the gift of confidence she gives us that we are all in a position to do the same. Jesus asks us to make our account like Jessica, to survey the opportunities around us and put one step in front of the other, helping others along the way.

Presently, the Poor People's Campaign has launched a vigorous effort. Senator's offices may be the site of direct action. Will the Build Back Better Budget convert the war economy to provide for poverty eradication along the way? We demand opportunity and equity for poor people!

Preaching to the choir, maybe. One can respond like the widow, "I have nothing" but Rev. Savina Martin was directing the choir to pray about generosity, when she asked, "Who has gone to jail for justice?" As I read the campaign principles and the "Souls of Poor Folks Audit," the Church invites us to follow as God leads Elijah to live among the poorest. "I have nothing," the widow says upon his arrival at her stoop, only "a handful of meal...and a little oil" (1 Kings 17: 12). What if my pursuit of justice led me to live among the poorest, apart from my family--But if I were in jail, how would I provide for my family? If I could in some way store up messages of love, could that mitigate the harm of separation? Elijah's world was not of powerholders; his message of hope, an experience of encounter, the widow taught him. The brink of despair from the cracks of society shows him, in disorder, in a foreign land, his neediness and dependency upon others is in fact a gift. To us, that we pray to recognize the lesson of the poor widow--all of us are held in a social web of provisions and dependency.


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