Luke Hill

Luke Hill is a writer and community organizer in Boston. He blogs at dotCommonweal and MassCommons. 

By this author

How to Tell Someone They Sound Racist - Paul Ryan Edition

Donald Trump has been making racist statements for decades, but only in recent weeks has he become the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican party. Now when Trump makes racist statements, every Republican politican in the country gets asked for their own thoughts about it.

Unashamedly Black, Unapologetically Muslim, Unmistakably American

Better and better prepared writers than I have written beautifully and powerfully about Muhammad Ali in the days since his death.  Among them are:

Jeet Heer in The New Republic, "Muhammad Ali's Greatest Victory Came When He Didn't Fight":

During his rich and complicated life, Muhammad Ali did many things good and bad. But the finest thing he ever did was standing, in the face of fierce public condemnation, against a foolish and criminal war. RIP.

Daniel Berrigan, RIP

Fr. Dan Berrigan, SJ, died yesterday in New York City at the age of 94. I imagine many dotCommonweal readers will have their own recollections of Fr. Berrigan and his impact on their lives, so consider this an open thread for those reminiscences.

Georgetown University: A Case for Reparations?

What does Georgetown owe to descendants of the 272 slaves sold by the Society of Jesus in the fall of 1838 to ensure the university's survival? An apology? A memorial? Scholarships? Or something else?

Our Nation Stands On Ashes

I had planned a simple, short post to call your attention to the Ignatian Solidarity Network and its new group blog, Lift Every Voice: A Lenten Journey toward Racial Justice.  Prof. M. Shawn Copeland is the one contributor I know and in my experience, anything she writes is worth reading.

"What I've Learned Here Is What I've Always Known": A Letter Home from the Andes

(With the author's permission, here's a letter received at our parish this Gaudete Sunday.  I like to think it's not solely because of parental pride that I'm passing it along...but I can't be sure. 

A couple of notes by way of orientation:  1) "God is good...all them time....And all the time...God is good" is almost as familiar a call-and-response prayer of greeting in the Black church across the US as "The Lord be with you...and with your spirit" is for Catholics. 2) "Sr. Mary" ran the afterschool program and summer camp at our parish for 33 years and mentored a generation of young people in and around Roxbury. 3) Newly arrived in Boston and walking home from Mass one Sunday in the fall of 1988 my wife said, "This feels like a parish that could be a good place to settle in and raise a family."  As is so often true, she was right.)

Dear Parish Family,

God is good all the time, and all the time God is good. When we see each other, we rejoice.

God is good here in the mountain town of Andahuaylillas, Peru.

God is good at Fe y Alegría 44, the Jesuit-run school I teach religion at. I see His goodness reflected in the faces of my 400 elementary school students as they sing songs like “Padre Abraham” (shout out to Summer Camp for giving me a fun song to translate and teach), as they draw their image of heaven, as they pray for their classmates' ill family members. I feel God being good when the teachers help me with the difficult students, and when the student who I had pegged as the worst behaved student at the school proved Sr. Mary right that there are no bad children, and by the end of the year was the most helpful student in his classroom.

Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord

It's four years now since our parish (and the rest of the English-speaking Church) started using the new translations at Sunday Mass. For the most part—whether people greeted the new language with enthusiasm or dismay—we've settled in. Even the parishioners who show up only on Christmas and Easter are used to it by now.

Happily, we're still exploring the vast treasure house of riches that is the new Lead Me Guide Me hymnal (which came out at the same time). Nearly twice the size of the 1987 edition, Lead Me Guide Me is, as a former pastor liked to say, "unashamedly Black, unapologetically Christian, and specifically Catholic."

We're especially benefiting from the work of contemporary African-American composers like Kenneth Louis. Take, for example, his Advent hymn, "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord." It adds a depth and richness to the congregation's meditation on the meaning of Advent and the Lord's coming that's not found in some other settings of Isaiah 40.

Fr. Cyprian Davis, RIP

This is, by now, old news, but I don't think we've had a chance to discuss it yet here at dotCommonweal. Fr. Cyprian Davis, OSB, a monk of St. Meinrad archabbey in Indiana, died on May 18 at the age of 84. His 1990 book, The History of Black Catholics in the United States is one of a handful (no matter how small your handful may be) of essential historical works about the American Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church was African before it was European.  What became the US Catholic Church was Black and Spanish-speaking for nearly a century before the first English-speaking Catholics arrived.  Black Catholics were (and are), of necessity, a largely lay-lead community, often appealing (successfully) to Rome for support when they were confronted by racist behavior from local bishops, priests and seminary rectors.  Recovering and retelling all that history---and more---was at the heart of Fr. Davis' work.

In his preface to The History of Black Catholics in the United States, Fr. Davis wrote, "(T)oo often the presence of black Catholics through the centuries has been a muted one, a silent witness, an unspoken testimony.  It is the historian's task to make the past speak, to highlight what has been hidden, and to retrieve a mislaid memory."

Ed Chambers, RIP

Since word emerged from the west of Ireland about Ed Chambers' death on April 26, the small, generally taciturn, online world of professional community organizers has been buzzing with reminiscences, tributes, and most of all, stories about the bluff, hard-edged and (though he often kept it well-hidden) big-hearted man who was one of the unsung heroes of public life in the United States over the past 50 years.

As Samuel Freedman, who came to know Chambers and the work of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) intimately when working on his terrific 1994 book, Upon This Rock: The Miracles of a Black Church, wrote earlier this week, "If Alinsky was the Jesus of community organizing, the galvanizing standard-bearer, Chambers was its St. Paul, transforming radical theology into organized religion. He did not invent community organizing as we know it in America—that was Alinsky’s achievement—but he made it professional and permanent, a purposeful career rather than a sacrificial calling."

Saul Alinsky's role in community organizing can get overstated and it's easy to see why.  Alinsky was a colorful character with a keen intellect and a great way with words.  Perhaps most importantly he wrote books---Reveille for Radicals (1946) and Rules for Radicals (1971)---in which he defined his work as "community organizing".  But as scholars like Theda Skopcol have documented, "community organizing" has been part of the American cultural and political DNA since before the birth of the republic.  Alinsky's genius was to take what he'd learned from CIO organizers around Chicago in the 1930s, apply it to the daily lives and experience of working-class city dwellers in mid-20th century urban America, and create a common vocabulary for the work.

But Alinsky had no interest in or talent for building long-lasting community organizations.  He also had little interest in nurturing and developing the next generation of professional organizers. 

Boston Strong

Do yourself a favor and read the brief, humble, forthright, heartfelt and eloquent statement  from Bill and Denise Richard on the front page of today's Boston Globe  asking the Justice Department not to seek the death penalty for convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev: