Showing posts with label Feed My Sheep. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Feed My Sheep. Show all posts

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Where would Jesus live?

Let's play Who's the Shepherd? the new game show from Revolution 21's Blog for the People!

This is the new, exciting program where two contestants go head-to-head to see who can best make sense of Jesus' command to "feed my sheep."

The winner of our contest gets a free, all-expenses-paid trip to Paradise upon reaching his expiration date. And our loser on Who's the Shepherd? gets the opportunity to rely heavily upon the mercy of God.

Let's meet our two contestants.

This Catholic prelate of Omaha gained notoriety in early 2002 for protecting a priest with a child-porn Jones and berating the kindergarten teacher who ratted Father out to the cops. Expecting an "Imitation of Christ" award for his clericalist diligence, Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss instead
nearly got himself charged with witness tampering by a Nebraska district attorney.

Meanwhile, in a civil suit against the archdiocese that spring,
Curtiss admitted to inadequate supervision of a priest convicted on child-pornography and sexual-abuse counts.

The next year, the archbishop followed that admittedly hard-to-follow act by picking a fight with the Boys Town board over hiring a new director, then quitting the board in a snit and making various threats against the institution of Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney film lore.

For such outstanding service to the Catholic faithful of northeast Nebraska, his excellency -- once the pope accepts his resignation (which is required upon turning 75) and gets around to picking a replacement -- will spend his retirement in a 3,100-square-foot house, replete with four bedrooms, three baths, a whirlpool, a fireplace and granite countertops.

A lot of sumptuous room for an old gent to ramble about in during his waning years.
Purchase price: $389,000.

Now let's meet our second contestant on Who's the Shepherd?, right here on Revolution 21.

to the east of our Omaha prelate, Steven A. Brigham in 2003 was starting
a ministry to the homeless of Ocean County, N.J. A couple of years after that, the laborer quit his $65,000-a-year job with an electrical-contracting firm so he could run his ministry full time.

For no pay.

Last winter, The New York Times
highlighted Minister Steve's effort to keep homeless encampments stocked with propane heat, nutritious food and brotherly love:

In the back of the bus, the minister carried bulging gray metal cans filled with gallons of relief. For the homeless who have settled here, by mucky streams or in thickets of scrub pine, in sight of cellphone towers and gas stations but on the edges of survival, his gift of propane is all that prevents them from falling off.

The propane is little salve for most of their problems, like the loneliness and the boredom, the mental disorders and the substance abuse. Yet when the minister, Steven A. Brigham, called out, “Are you home?” a tent flap quickly unzipped to reveal a man with a teardrop tattoo next to one eye.

“I need propane,” said the man, Brett Bartholomew, after they caught up for a minute. “I’m down to my last two tanks. I’m using them now.”

It is a ritual Mr. Brigham performs several times a week — more when the temperature drops — in a kind of propane ministry he has built since 2003 that now serves 44 homeless men and women scattered in nine encampments in the Ocean County communities of Lakewood and two neighboring towns on the Jersey Shore.

Advocates for the homeless say there is only one men’s shelter with a few beds in Ocean County, which has a population of about 550,000, plus other places for children and victims of domestic violence. The county government also rents rooms in motels for hundreds of homeless people. A census in 2005 found 556 local homeless, 41 of them who have been unable to find any emergency housing; advocates say that number has grown, though a count conducted in January has not yet been released.

They live outside without plumbing or electricity, save a generator or two. So they count on Minister Steve, as Mr. Brigham calls himself, for propane to power their heaters and stoves — which he also supplied — to fill the tents he gave them with enough warmth to sleep. To survive.

The propane, in 20-pound metal jugs Mr. Brigham fills at gas stations, costs about $2,000 a month; some of the propane is provided by a pantry, and the rest is subsidized by donations. He runs through about 40 tanks a week in winter.

In the bracing cold that draped the Northeast last week, Minister Steve went about his work urgently, his already long days crammed with crucial tasks.

Old mattresses waited to be picked up at a local church, and there were boxes of food to collect from various pantries. Someone staying in a motel needed a razor. In one tent city, a dozen Mexican day laborers, unable to find work in the cold weather, needed more sugar.

In another, Nachelle Walker and Nathaniel Joyner asked for more propane and praised the packaged chili Mr. Brigham had delivered. “You can turn the heat down and eat chili,” Ms. Walker said. “It sticks to your insides.”

Everybody needed propane. Everybody always needs propane.

“I can empathize with these people living out there in the woods the whole night long,” said Mr. Brigham, 46, who has done a lot of camping and describes himself as a “free spirit” untethered from traditional society.

WHERE DOES Minister Steve live? He lives in his bus, the old blue one with "God Is Love" painted above the windshield.

If you'd like to see Steve Brigham's spacious and luxurious quarters,
there's this video report on the NBC Nightly News web page.

So, before we pick our winner, let's put a few simple questions to our celebrity panel. Here we go:

* Who is the better imitation of Christ . . . Elden Francis Curtiss and the Archdiocese of Omaha or "Minister Steve" Brigham in Lakewood, N.J.?

* What would Jesus do? Protect perverted priests and bully teachers who don't? Or would he deliver blankets, food and propane to "the least of these" on the margins of society?

* Where would Jesus live? All by Himself in a big, fancy house in a nice neighborhood? Or would Christ live in the back of the bus He used in tending to His flock?

* What would Jesus do with $389,000? Buy a house or buy propane for the poor?

Finally, just one more question for our panel of judges:
Do you reckon Omaha and northeast Nebraska might be a little better off if it had a Catholic archdiocese run by a "Minister Steve" instead of an Archbishop Curtiss?

Now let's play our game! Good luck to both of our contestants.

Stay tuned, folks. We'll be back with the winner of Who's the Shepherd? after these important messages.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Fleece my sheep to pimp my house

Every year, we Catholics get the "stewardship homily" at Mass, coinciding with the archdiocesan annual campaign.

And just last Sunday, our parish got the soft sell from a freshly scrubbed seminarian seeking the faithful's help in defraying the high cost of priestly education.

ONE FACT in modern Church life is inescapable: Shepherds gotta have cash to tend to those sheep. In fact, that's just the analogy the Omaha archdiocese used last year for its annual campaign -- "Feed My Sheep."

On the spring day Mrs. Favog and I were received into the Catholic Church back in 1990, the priest, a World War II combat vet, was much more direct -- in that inimitable way old military men have.

"There is no free lunch at Christ the King," he told the congregation. We cringed as we looked at all our very Protestant friends and relatives in the pews, for we had the bad luck of getting confirmed not at Easter Vigil, but instead on the May day devoted to getting congregants to cough up the cash.

I couldn't help but think of what my old man -- a bitter and cynical soul who had not much use for Catholics or the churched in general -- had to say when I told him we were becoming Catholic.

"All they want is your money," is what I heard over the telephone line from 1,100 miles and a couple of planets away. I think my response, in my convert's naivete, went something like "Well, they're welcome to it, then."

THING IS, my father had this knack for saying the most flat-out lunatic things you could imagine -- things that caused his son and daughter-in-law to do regular spit takes -- only to have them validated via some bizarre occurrence. Or when Father, at your confirmation, says "There is no free lunch at Christ the King."

Since, the tact level has increased tremendously. We generally get the soft sell, and lots and lots of talk about "stewardship."

Which I think is fine, actually. We do need to support the work of the Church. We need to tend to the broken and the broken-hearted. We need to feed the hungry and heal the sick and educate the clergy and provide for priests and nuns in their old age.

And I wish the Catholic Church -- or at least the Church in northeastern Nebraska -- would actually exercise a little good stewardship of its own and direct every possible penny toward doing exactly that.

INSTEAD, last Sunday, as we were getting that seminarian sob story designed to get every last mite out of every last widow, all those proverbial widows had to do was shuffle out of church, get into their sensible-but-aging Dodge automobiles and slowly drive the couple of miles or so through the frozen Omaha cityscape to 1024 Sunset Trail to see what "stewardship" means to the chancery bureaucrats in charge of spending what they faithfully drop into the collection plate.

There, about eight blocks from the offices where Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss oversees his flock, sits a vacant house. A newly-expanded, remodeled and tricked-out $389,000 house fit for a king . . . or a soon-to-be-retired prince of the Church who
approaches his shepherding job rather like Britney Spears approaches motherhood.

Such a bore . . . rather beneath someone as excellent as he.

The Omaha World-Herald has done some further digging about Curtiss' swell future old-bachelor pad and found
it's likely worth every widow's mite the chancery paid:

A house that the Omaha Catholic Archdiocese recently bought as Archbishop Elden Curtiss' future retirement home had undergone a total renovation and a significant expansion, said the prior owner and an archdiocesan official who was involved in the purchase.

Realtor Jeff Rensch and the Rev. Gregory Baxter said in separate interviews that the house, at 1024 Sunset Trail in the Dillon's Fairacres neighborhood, was well worth the $389,000 that the archdiocese paid for it in December.

Among other reasons, they said, an addition and renovation project before the sale expanded the one-story house to 3,100 finished square feet, including the basement.

Rensch's wife, Mari, purchased the house for $155,500 in September 2006. The sale to the archdiocese has sparked controversy since a World-Herald article last week. Many people have asked whether the house was worth the price.

Jeff Rensch, who couldn't be reached for comment before last week's article was published, said this week that the renovation and the neighborhood justified the cost.

"If you have never gone through this type of total renovation, it may sound like (we) made money on this sale," he said, "but with all costs considered, it was break even at best."

The home, Rensch said, was sorely in need of updating when the Rensches purchased it. They intended it to be a home for his elderly mother, Rensch said, but that didn't work out.

They spent more than $200,000 on renovating the house, he said, including building a 230-square- foot addition.

When they started, the house had two bedrooms, one bath and about 1,500 square feet of space on the main level. The basement was partly finished.

By the time the Rensches and their contractor were done, the house had 3,100 square feet of finished space. Of that, about 1,650 square feet is on the main level, and the rest is in the basement.

The house now has four bedrooms and three bathrooms. Rensch said the project included building a 10-by-23-foot main-floor addition, removing many walls and reconfiguring space to make the house more open. They added two basement bedrooms and, to conform to city codes, added windows that could be used to escape a fire.

They replaced the roof, adding two peaks for a better roofline. They replaced all windows and siding. They built a new kitchen with granite countertops. They replaced all wiring and plumbing, added a fireplace and installed a whirlpool bath.

The construction took more than a year.

"We didn't go from terrible to Taj Mahal, but it's basically a new home," said Quintin Bogard, owner of Q's Home Services and co-general contractor on the renovation with Mari Rensch. "It's not extravagant, but it's a beautiful home. You're not going to get a newer home in the middle of town than that one."


He added by e-mail that he and his wife, who are Catholics with five children in Catholic schools, were "surprised and honored that the archbishop and his advisers noticed the home, appreciated Mari's work and decided to have him enjoy his retirement in this particular home."

Baxter said the house was worth the price. The Rev. Joseph Taphorn, chancellor of the Omaha archdiocese, said it will be a good investment for the archdiocese.

The Rensches, widely known in the Omaha real estate business, live within a few blocks of the house, which is near 61st Street and Western Avenue. They belong to St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church, where Baxter is the pastor. Baxter also is an archdiocesan official and was assigned to help find a retirement residence for Curtiss.

AT LEAST WE NOW KNOW archdiocesan officials aren't stupid. They just think we are.

We live in an archdiocese where inner-city Catholic parishes are struggling to keep the doors open and their schools from being shuttered. Likewise, we live in a city that has seen violence and hopelessness spike in poor neighborhoods desperately in need of the hope and mercy of Jesus Christ.

We also live in an archdiocese where even large suburban parishes are down to one priest, have plenty of space in the rectory and sure could use the help of a spry retired archbishop.

But I guess the Archdiocese of Omaha, in its infinite wisdom, finds that the spectacle of an archbishop serving anyone other than himself would be entirely too compatible with the example of an itinerant Savior who never had 3,100 square feet of material comfort to crash in after a hard day casting out demons, curing lepers and getting crucified.

Because Jesus, after all, is for those who can't help themselves.

"All they want is your money."

I so freakin' hate it when my old man, now long in the grave, still gets proven right after saying the most damn-fool things.