Jeff Adair: Working to make a better world

Jeff Adair

Today, I could write about Michael Steele, Rush Limbaugh, Barack Obama or Tim Geithner, some of our nation's most powerful politicians, and, yes, entertainers, in the world.

No doubt if I did that, I'd get some people upset, like the Rush toadies that took umbrage with a column I wrote two weeks ago. I know, I know toadies is a loaded word.

I'm not afraid to get blasted with e-mails. It's just that long ago I came to the realization that the real power to change this world doesn't rest with the rich and famous, but the little guy who works day-to-day, often in anonymity, doing his or her own thing.

Most of these people would never call to get their name or face in a newspaper. They don't do what they do for recognition. However, their lives are an inspiration for the rest of us.

For example, the other day I was reading a blog of a local minister I know, whose small church is saddled with a large heating oil bill. Last summer, when prices were sky high, church officials decided to lock-in prices.

That was a big mistake.

And so now, the church keeps the heat low except Sunday mornings and has cut back other expenses.

On a recent Sunday morning before service, a person showed up to the church and took the pastor aside. The person handed him an envelope saying, "I wanted you to be sure to get this!" The outside of the envelope was marked, "For church oil heat." He opened the envelope, and there was $100.

"Now, to appreciate this: the person who gave that $100 is quite poor," said the pastor, careful not to reveal the person's identity, in his blog. "It reminded me of when the Apostle Paul wrote that he felt bad taking a generous offering from the Macedonian Christians who gave out of their poverty ... but (of course) he didn't want to insult them by NOT taking the offering. I felt like that.

"That $100 was a sacrifice. Honestly, that person may have missed a few meals in order to give that gift. That person may have NOT paid one of their own bills in order to pay that gift. That really poor person made a GREAT sacrifice."

Another story. This one is about a man who lives two miles from my home. He lives close to downtown, a section of the city with all kinds of unsavory characters.

This man and his family are members of the Catholic Workers Movement, a 75-year-old organization with houses across the United States and a handful of other places that believes in the God-given dignity of every human being, demonstrated through hospitality to the poorest of the poor.

Basically, Scott Schaeffer-Duffy and his wife, Claire, open their home to homeless referred by a variety of agencies. On average, about 90 to 120 people stay in their five open beds each year. The guests are complete strangers.

Is he crazy? In the same house as his wife and children? I'd be afraid. Most people would. Maybe I'd do it staying up all night with a loaded gun by my side.

"We don't lock our doors," said Schaeffer-Duffy, who admits he's experienced some "wild" and "wonderful" things in the 25 years he's been part of the movement.

Some of the homeless come to the house straight from jail, some from hospitals, some are fire victims, and some come from an overcrowded, and more dangerous, shelter in the neighborhood.

"In the 22 years doing this in Worcester (Mass.), we've been robbed three times, and never has anyone struck one of us," said Schaeffer-Duffy, who runs the Sts. Francis & Therese Catholic Worker home on donations that are not tax exempt.

"We had a guy once and we got a call from another shelter he had been in, and they said 'You don't want to take him in because he's dangerous.' Apparently, they wanted to let us know, but he had been here two weeks ...

"Sometimes the PIP shelter is crowded. There's no privacy and dignity. This is a place where people have respect. When they sit at our table and have dinner - I have two children here now - they feel like they have been given some dignity and trust, they tend to behave better."

Jeff Adair is a Daily News writer and editor. He can be reached at jadair@cnc.com