GOD’s Garden Gnome Gone Home

A few years ago when my friend Bob Waldrop ran for local government in Oklahoma City, I had to laugh; lifelong political activist on the Libertarian front, self-described Anarcho-Distributist, founder of the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House, and deep, deep festering thorn-in-the-side of any government body that oppressed the poor, Bob would have been unstoppable in public office. He was an afflicter of the comfortable in the best ways possible, and the best lived example of the absolute power of voluntary poverty in action I have ever known. Of course, he lost the election…but he gained a sizable number of new benefactors and volunteers in the process, so, you know…he won.

Bob used to be my first call when we had snotty teenagers at Gilbert House in need of an emergency education. My phone calls always began with, “Bob, I have a crisis that needs to be handled.” And his reply was, without fail, “No problem! Bring them down, let’s have some fun!” No matter how many times I went to Oscar Romero House with brats in tow and a box of Benadryl half-consumed, the overwhelming smell of sheltered alley cats in the house was enough to make even the strongest stomach flinch (just breathe through your mouth until your nose gets tired, it’ll pass). Upper walls were knocked out of rooms and beams exposed to aid in passive heating and cooling. Piles of fresh vegetables littered the kitchen table and counters waiting to be processed. A piano, an organ, a clothes rack stuffed with men’s clothing, and several computers fought for space amongst castoff furniture in the cozy sitting area of the living room which was decorated in typical whirlwind Catholic Worker fashion: handmade posters from multiple anti-war protests, peace demonstrations, prayer vigils, scattered images of Bishop Romero, Dorothy, Cesar and Dr. King hung haphazardly on every wall with old flowers, strings of peace cranes, religious icons, and notices of things needed to be done and opportunities to serve. It was perfect, and the best place to learn about how blessed poverty can be.

If you went to Oscar Romero House, you were certain to be fed a wonderful hot meal made by the servant himself, given a lengthy dissertation recital on the evils of the capitalist war machine, entrenched as it is in drugs and fossil fuels and lies about scarcity, our birthright responsibilities as stewards of GOD’s Blue Jewel, the necessities and blessings of urban permaculture and food security designs, and the merciful dignity and joy of living in solidarity with the poorest of the poor. If that experience didn’t scare you off, and especially if your parents or your college advisor sent you, you were at last offered the linoleum floor in the spare bedroom to sleep on in the late hours. “Need a pillow,” Bob would ask imploringly with a smiling mischievous twinkle in his eye.

One of the funniest stories Bob ever told me was about the week the director of a Catholic studies department at one of the Eastern Universities paid big money to send a group of students to Oscar Romero CW for an intensive “poverty immersion experience.” Bob fed the boys, gave them tours of his gardens, the food warehouse where he oversaw weekly deliveries of groceries to the poor all over the metro, played the organ for them, and took them to church for Vespers. After his usual round of Clarification of Thought, he tucked them in the spare room for the night, spent a couple of hours working on his book project before going to bed, and when he woke the next morning all those spoilt rotten middle class servants to no one had fled the coop. No note, car gone, not even a thank you card.

“Evidently,” Bob said, “The reality of the bottom majority isn’t for everybody.”

Bob used to say that Dorothy Day saved his life and gave it purpose. In her essays about working to create mercy in an unjust system, and advising those who wanted to serve to start where they are, Bob discerned his life’s vocation as the Catholic Worker minstrel, directing the choirs and playing the organ at the local parish, turning whatever lucre was offered as remuneration into comfort for the afflicted in the neighborhoods around the tiny condemnable craftsman house on the corner that stood as a living, deliberate FU (though he would never say that) to every unjust property ordinance and regulation known to man, tomatoes planted in stacks of old tires hither and yon, mulberry trees and pole beans obscuring road signs and fenced driveway blinds, “grass” unmowed because it wasn’t grass, it was veg. Bob was an entrenched, well known, well loved example of passionate, tireless faith and love in action, an impossible one man revolution in full brotherhood with Ammon Hennessy and Cesar Chavez.

A couple of years ago, Bob was treated surgically for a large esophageal tumour that turned out to be an aggressive form of cancer. When he first told me about it, my heart sank because I figured that he wouldn’t last more than a couple of months. He was a type 2 diabetic with some complications, never a fast healer, and he had chosen to submit to the cut/poison/burn method of treatment because “that’s all the poor are offered, when they’re offered anything.” I’m grateful and glad that he got to continue to live and serve for as long as he did but, inevitably, the treatment was as bad as the disease and a body can only take so much before our share in Christ’s suffering kicks in.

Bob Waldrop’s motto was, “Do what you can where you are with what you have and GOD will multiply it. Look what He’s done with me!”

Just took at what he’s done. Eternal rest, my dear Brother. I’m envious. Our loss is Heaven’s gain. I pray for you.

On the Importance of Fidelity

“The world is very lovely, and it’s very horrible–and it doesn’t care about your life or mine or anything else.” ~Rudyard Kipling, The Light That Failed

The quote above is actually a misquote, but it’s close enough. In chapter 7 of Kipling’s novel, star-crossed lovers are having a meandering conversation about the search for meaning and Dick is pleading with Maisie to run away with him to the four corners of the globe so that she can see what he sees which, truth be told, ain’t honestly that much. In the end, Maisie stays put, and Dick blows his brains out. So much for love, fidelity and promises kept….

This past month. I changed my phone number again, hopefully for the last time. I cut my contacts down from an already fractioned 196 people to just two dozen. The same people who have my phone number, more or less, are also the only people who have my correct email address. I have been sifting, because the world is so painfully lovely, and so very, very horrible.

In case you hadn’t been let in on the secret, the Catholic prelature in the United Kingdom closed the investigation for the Cause of G.K. Chesterton last year, a fact that was finally publicized a couple of weeks ago at the annual conference I used to attend religiously. I’ve been dying to say this for months, and now I finally can: I am relieved, grateful and overjoyed that Bishop Doyle and his brethren made the decision that they did, and I truly believe that G.K. and Frances both had a hand in that decision as well.

Here’s my take on the matter: I first met Dale Ahlquist in 1994 when I was in the process of leaving the LDS Church and returning – possibly – to the Catholic Church. At the time I was drifting in and out of Protestant communities, reading the Early Fathers, and devouring Dorothy Day. I began reading Chesterton before I met Dale at the Cathedral parish because of Dorothy, the same as I had begun reading St. John of the Cross, Peter Kropotkin, Fathers Vincent McNabb and John Hugo, and the neglected Harold Robbins (not that one) for the same reason. By the time I met Dale he was already putting together what would become the first incarnation of the American Chesterton Society and giving small talks in the parish basement chapel and social hall. Later, when I moved to St. Paul, I deliberately found an apartment literally 146 steps from the Sacred Heart chapel entrance of the Cathedral because I felt this inexplicable tug to be there, though I didn’t know why. Very quickly, Dale assumed me into his scheme for this literary society, and when we had the very first “national” conference at the Brady Education Center at the University of St. Thomas, I was enthralled.

A whopping fifty people showed up. It was grand, and I’m not even exaggerating that; some of my favourite people on earth, I met at that conference. People who, like me, loved poetry and good books and bad wine and to sit talking and laughing until the sun set and rose again. It was very truly the best conference ever, before or since.

Over the years, Dale put me to work and I never said no because I grew to love him, I definitely loved G.K., and I most assuredly loved the people at the conference who I grew to regard as family. The conference was better than Christmas and Easter and the opera and cake all rolled into one, and I tucked pennies away and looked forward to it all year long, year after year.

Eventually Ann Stull began inviting me down to Chicago, and I was surprised to learn that I was not the only rebel in the mix; she took me on a trip to see her archives at a university where her years of work as a civil rights activist were housed, and we made several trips together to Madonna House where messy Catholic Worker ideals collide with the Baroness’ more orderly demands for how voluntary poverty should be lived. We’d go berry picking and sit in delis and talk about books, GOD, the meaning of life, the way Distributism should look in the modern world and at home. On the occasions when Frank Petta came with us, conversations turned to art, little brown babies unwanted by secular society, the way to make pasta the right way, and how to convince a mother not to abort her child. No matter what the subject, our time together always turned back to Chesterton, or Chesterton and Distributism, or Chesterton and the Church. As time went on, I realised that I had indeed found my family. Years later, when a Frank died, and then Ann, I felt (and still do) like I had lost my parents.

Everything changes, nothing lasts, nothing stays the same. Whatever is lovely in the world of men eventually dies or spoils and becomes very, very horrible, indeed. So, I suppose I should not have been surprised when shortly after Ann died, my relationship with Dale began to change. The old guard of the ACS was dying out; people who knew and loved Chesterton were being replaced with fans of the EWTN persona that Dale broadcast on the idiot box…people who were less invested in Chesterton and living Distributism than they were in hobnobbing with pseudo-intellectual snobs and looking down their noses at common folk. It definitely caused a strain, and it felt like a grand, demoralizing betrayal of everything Chestertonian and I definitely wasn’t handling it well.

My initial break with Dale happened on the eve of the Chicago conference in 2014. I was accused of being everything under the sun but Satan’s sister. A year later, I found myself calling Dale for consolation in the most painful moment of my life only to be met by an enraged, demeaning barrage of name-calling and more false accusations. I was accused of saying things I had not said, writing things I had not written and doing things I had not done, and it broke my heart when Dale told me that I had never been anything but a charity case to him.

In the years since that night, I have made my world very small. Like Dick in Kipling’s story, I truly want to blow my brains out, but I am currently contractually obligated not to do so. I have gone to great lengths to protect my heart in the meantime, and I want to set the record straight once and for all, and then I am never speaking about this again.

Tonight, I had a visitor from out-of-State who says that they got my address from the Chesterton Society member roster. For two hours they sat at my kitchen table telling me once again about the vicious gossip that swirls around the conferences, and how I have to “make it right.” As I told this person, that’s all I’ve been doing for years.

Since that horrific, surreal night when Dale repeatedly told me that I was poison and I decided to leave this world, I have been contacted by too many people to count who want to dish the latest gossip, tell me what a horrible person I am believed to be, or tell me what horrible things were said and by whom about me. For a long while, I said nothing; I kept it all to myself just hoping it would stop, but when it didn’t I had an epiphany.

For the past three years, I have been responding to the emails, letters and phone messages I have received, but there’s one thing you should know: I never responded to the people who actually contacted me. Nope. Not at all. I wrote the letters. Yes, I did. But as I stated very clearly in them, I despise gossip, and I despise people who gossip. In actual point of fact, the only “undisclosed recipients” in any of the emails I sent out during this period (with the exception of the last one to my friend Becky and her lying pals “the ChesterChicks”) were Dale and myself. Did you catch that??? Dale was the only person who truly knew what I was thinking and saying because in addition to leaving social media and deleting and blocking almost all of my personal contacts, my real response to the people who contacted me? I wrote my reply, then copied and pasted it into an email to only Dale and myself before sending the original stories and messages to spam, blocking the return addresses and writing these people off forever. I never talked to anyone. I never gave advice to anyone. I never said shit about Dale to anyone but Dale. I do not have contact with anyone still hanging out at the conferences but Dale. Capisce??? This means that if you heard that I said X,Y or Z??? It was actually coming from Dale. No one else. And I can prove it.

The reason that I am overjoyed at the Cause for G.K. being closed is because I know that he is a saint, and I do not think that an organization that has been so completely corrupted by snobs, bad actors (literally and figuratively), misguided social climbers and thoroughly dishonest, wretched hypocrites should be rewarded for their shitty habitually backbiting behavior towards others by the elevation of such a great soul as Chesterton to the public ranks of sanctity. Saints are forged in the furnace of heroic battle for the perfection of souls, not made by puny republics of church politick that twist what was once a lovely fraternal literary society into a hideous clique for snobs and liars; saints are saints whether the Church recognises them or not. And those who follow in the footsteps of the self serving tailcoat riders??? Those people never become saints. Why? Because their only fidelity is to their own egotistical pleasures.

The next one of you who shows up to my house??? It will not be a pleasant experience. Do us all a favour, and leave me the hell alone. I have had more than enough of your brand of Catholic “faithfulness.” Even more so your “friendship.” Remember: according to scripture, gossip and calumny are murder.

~Dale’s Keith

Princess Pea and Peter Pan Are Gettin’ Hitched! (and you’re my plus-one.)

“Children, especially attractive, well bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf. I say ‘wolf,’ but there are various kinds of wolves. There are also those who are charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet, who pursue young women at home and in the streets. And unfortunately, it is these gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all.” ~Charles Perrault, French Faerietale writer

Yesterday was my sixth wedding anniversary, and the fifth that I’ve spent entirely alone. Why, you ask? Because I married a fiction, a person who didn’t exist. Not really, anyway. In reality, I yoked myself to a conman who, in the end, finally admitted that everything he had ever told me had been an elaborate lie designed to avoid his own responsibilities as a grown man. Everything was an act, and the person I married was a character in a story.

So, the way I’ve celebrated all of my widowed anniversaries, like yesterday, is to spend the day making beautiful things, doing art and watching movies. Yesterday was no exception, and it was a beautiful, warm, peaceful day filled with fun and relaxation.

Last year, three weeks after my fifth anniversary, I received a declaration of nullity in the mail. I chose not to participate in the tribunal because when I got married, I meant my vows; I conveyed a sacrament, for better or worse, and worse was all that I ever received from that lying scoundrel.

Now, on Saturday, September 7th, precisely one year and a week from the moment that my own marriage was declared nonexistent, the same con artist I married is now marrying the woman who stood beside me at my own wedding as my maid of honour, my former best friend with whom I shared a home and a life for well over a decade. Yep. You read right. The two people who swore and scrapped tooth and nail that they had never had an affair during my own marital saga, despite quite a few eye witnesses who knew otherwise, and who both swear just as vehemently that they have no contact with one another, are going to stand in front of yet another priest and allegedly bestow another sacrament on each other.

I wish them well. I wish them every happiness. To that end, I have a favour I’d like to ask of you.

Last month and the month before, friends sent me copies of wedding invitations and registry lists. The registry lists still remain little touched. Will you do me the honour of selecting an item from these lists, purchase it and have it sent to the Bride, my former best friend and housemate for years, hereafter forever remembered as Princess Pea? I’d very much like to see them fulfilled. It would mean a great deal for me, returning kindness for evil, and putting love where none was given. You can find the links below.

To the Bride and Groom! May they be more faithful to one another than they have ever been to anyone else. Best wishes and good luck, Mary Alice Sunshine. You’re going to need it. ❤️