We Are Called To Be Prophets, Now More Than Ever - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Dawn Morais Webster

Dawn Morais Webster has had a corporate career and now works with nonprofits on issues vital to community well-being. She is also an adjunct instructor in the Honors Program at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. She blogs at www.dawnmorais.com.

They call out the wrongs and point the way to building a better world for Hawaii.

It is hard not to feel overwhelmed by the daily rush of calamities, violence and human failures. How not to despair at the willingness of too many, some in high places, to put power and profit over people?

But in the middle of dire times, there are always the voices of prophets calling out the wrongs and pointing the way to building a better world. Today we are each called to make our prophetic voices heard. So says Sr. Joan Chittister in her book, “The Time is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage.”

She challenges us, especially if we profess to be people of faith, to do as the prophets once did. It is easy to dismiss that call as “not for me” until you read the argument she makes that “great prophets both comfort the wounded and work at changing the structures that embed the wounding to the point that we all come to take it for granted.”

We have taken the wildfire of houselessness for granted. We have taken the wildfire of poverty for granted. Year after year, low-income workers hanging on for dear life are told they must wait for years to get a living wage. Meanwhile Honolulu City Council officials brazenly give themselves raises of 60% or more.

With the option to earn more through side gigs. We need more prophets like Gary Hooser and Dave Shapiro who have called out the hypocrisies and failures of leadership over and over again.

Cathy Malia Lowenberg helps out at the breakfasts held by St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church on North King Street. (Courtesy David J. Gierlach)

Meanwhile, the antidote to despair seems to be in fellowship and the work of good people in small communities everywhere. The grassroots organizing and immediate efforts by neighbors on the island and beyond to render aid to those devastated in multiple ways by the Maui inferno continue even as the wheels of institutional bureaucracy turn slowly.

It is the most potent example of the simple goodness of people and of the culture of aloha expressed in ways that address the suffering of many. It goes well beyond how aloha is commonly understood — and misunderstood — by visitors.

Quiet Workers

There are numerous examples of people quietly doing what they can to help. People like Tomoko Ella Hotema, a Chaminade graduate and tireless community organizer for various causes.

This year her effort to gather supplies for the Ma‘i Movement resulted in more than 250 kits that she and fellow volunteers assembled over the past several weeks. This time those kits will all be sent to Maui.

The Ma‘i Movement was started by three native Hawaiian sisters: Brandy-Lee Yee, Nicki-Ann Yee and Jamie-Lee Kapana in October 2020 to ensure that individuals who are of menstruation age have access to essential period products, a safe, hygienic place to use them, and the ability to manage their bodies without shame.

This is the kind of need that is not articulated easily or without embarrassment — and therefore too often goes unmet.

The antidote to despair seems to be in fellowship.

Our community is hurting in so many other ways. And hungry. At St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church in Palama Valley, Rector, Fr. David Gierlach challenges the congregation in sermon after sermon — and through various ministries — to live out the Gospel by tending to those who find their way to the church, looking for help. Wallyhouse, the Catholic Worker House at St.Elizabeth’s, hands out bags of food items daily to those who come knocking.

The hungry in the neighborhood and beyond know that there is a hot meal to be had every Tuesday and Thursday at 11 a.m. at Kay’s Café, named for Kay Inglis, who recently welcomed the additional assistance of the River of Life mission. Every Saturday volunteers, led by Fr. David, cook and serve a hot breakfast to a couple of hundred hungry folks. (See the photo top right.)

The volunteer group assembling kits for the Ma’i Movement. (Courtesy Tomoko Ella Hotema)

Sandwiches are a welcome feature of the daily handouts, thanks to a roster of regular providers. At the height of the pandemic, these meals, in one form or another, continued, and were a lifeline to many.

Often the impulse as we pass those living on the street is to look away. But Cathy Malia Lowenberg, currently serving on the vestry as senior warden at St. Elizabeth’s, has helped us see our houseless neighbors for who they are in all their layered complexity. She has taken numerous photographs of the folks she has come to know through the ministries at St. Elizabeth or whom she has befriended in her walks through Chinatown.

The portraits tell the story of the homeless as individuals who have fallen on hard times but who are so much more than what immediately meets the eye. She invites us to see them in their full humanity, not simply as opala for politicians and the police to “sweep” out of sight. Sharing those photographs is one way to translate what the Gospel teaches into kindness to our neighbors.

But if we really want change, Sr. Joan Chittister suggests that we each must accept our role as prophets willing to point to the rot and brave enough to say “the time is now” to huli the system. It starts with every last one of us casting the ballot that will drop into our mailbox come election time so that we, the people — not lobbyists and big campaign contributors — choose as our leaders those most likely to serve the public good.

We cannot point to failures of leadership if we don’t first ask ourselves: Have I exercised my civic responsibility by paying attention to what is going on around me? Have I carried out that most basic of responsibilities in a democracy: the duty to vote?

The suffering we are witnessing now must lead us in far greater numbers to the ballot box. If we are serious about making real change happen.

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About the Author

Dawn Morais Webster

Dawn Morais Webster has had a corporate career and now works with nonprofits on issues vital to community well-being. She is also an adjunct instructor in the Honors Program at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. She blogs at www.dawnmorais.com.

Latest Comments (0)

Thank you.

under_dog · 2 weeks ago

My dad always told me that prophets were not fortune tellers, rather they were truth tellers. I appreciate seeing this view in a public forum.Unhoused people are our neighbors. Thinking this way changes how I think about myself in relation to other people.

RLS · 2 weeks ago

Do you also have government housing/Medicaid representatives available to provide services that will help these individuals off the street while you are feeding them? While some are homeless by choice, others lack the skills necessary to advocate for the services that are available for them. This is clearly the step we need to take. My husband (who is just a nice guy trying to help) has been advocating for such an individual. It took my husband months to get this soon to be homeless individual, social security, Medicaid and other government services such as a SNAP card. It really shouldn't be that hard.

lilamarantz · 2 weeks ago

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