Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Resistance is Creating the Alternative - an article for the NewPeople

           On a tour several years ago, In the punk band I used to play bass in, we played and stayed regularly at some of our dear friends’ community house in the run down, east end of Nashville. It had the usual aesthetic of these types of communal ramshackle dwellings. There was one object that always had me thinking even days after leaving that house; hanging above the kitchen sink was a fairly simple rag, probably had been used for some utilitarian purpose previously, but it had a simple inscription sewn into it now. It read, “Everyone wants a revolution, but no one wants to do the dishes- Dorothy Day”. Who was this person? I had heard her name echoed before, yet had no idea who she was. Her simple challenge struck my soul so tenderly and had me desiring more of this wisdom she was seemingly willing to share. 

Back home it began a journey to find something about her and her life. I walked wonderingly into Eljay’s Used Books back when it was still on the South Side. I searched the shelves…nothing. I wandered to the front desk and asked if they had anything referring to someone named ‘Dorothy Day.’ The clerk looked at me with a stare as if I was speaking a foreign language, and then asked “Wait, was she a journalist of some time ago?” I, not knowing the answer, responded with a “maybe” and waited for any hint of hope. “You know what? I think we got something about her in a few weeks ago!” as she began to dig through this towering pile of books behind the desk and I strayed away with little hope that it was leading to anything promising, and then she shouted back at me with excitement, “Here it is!” It was Dorothy Day’s autobiography, “The Long Loneliness.” I quickly handed her the $2 she had requested. The simple, frail figure portrayed on the front cover beckoned me to dive in immediately - which doesn’t happen often to this hesitating reader, who grew up equating reading with school – a negative connotation for this recovering, young punk. 

With each page I was more and more drawn into her story, walking right along with her. Her portrayals of the New York slums, May Day in Union Square, and her journalism with the Socialist papers spoke to my story: my struggle to find myself, my kick-against-the-pricks attitude that was fueled by my love for punk and anything that was against the status quo. I wished I had been alive in those stories, raging in the streets alongside of comrades, screaming at the corruption of a system which was imprisoning the radicals demanding the rise of a new system – for the people! My heart was there, and I thought I knew where the story was going. Then, the character of Peter Maurin surprised me as it did Dorothy.

She struggled with his foreign philosophy of “Personalism” where the revolution wasn’t about picketing Washington for change. Revolution didn’t wait to be handed to you with permission from the governing authorities, but you had to ignite a revolution, one person at a time, heart to heart. “The best way to meet the man on the street is by meeting the man on the street!” This was against the top-down mentality of most of the radicals at that time. It had a sort of offensive but refreshing sting to it, and it got me thinking. The Catholic Worker Movement was born out of this tension and the love for the poor and the desire to stand in solidarity for liberation with the oppressed. This drew fresh breath into the hearts of many people, who, like me, were desiring the true gospel – one that stepped down from the tiers of power and was among the poor --of spirit, and of pocket.

The Jesus that Dorothy emulated spoke of a new kingdom in his “Sermon on the Mount,” one different than the Empire, where liberation was serving one another, the poor, the outcast, where the last become first and the first become last – in an almost paradoxical circle of jubilee-distribution of value for all people.   I had found the first of many “saints” in my life. Despite my Charismatic Protestant upbringing, I have found that out of my many spiritual heroes, a large number are Roman Catholics. Of all the recent saints I’ve come across in my ecumenical journey of reconciliation, it has been Thomas Merton who has been my guide into a renewed understanding. He has stretched and challenged me to the core. I am a busy body, a go-getter, always trying to maximize my productivity on whatever project is on my to-do list. Dorothy’s work spoke my language of action, but it was the partnership of Merton that brought balance to that very action – a balance I find I need to maintain the journey. His words often echo when I find myself trying to take on too much in some sort of messianic complex: “To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to the violence of our times.”

It is now just a little over a year since the purchase of our humble little house in the historic neighborhood of Hazelwood. Things are slower than an earlier version of me would hope to see, but I can celebrate the slow subversive work of trying to create a new community. We call ourselves the Greenway Community House of Hospitality ( and we strive to live into the tradition and example of the Catholic Worker Movement. After some volunteering with some dear friends in Kansas City who run the Cherith Brook Catholic Worker, I knew that this was what I had to get my hands calloused and dirty doing. After all, if I wanted revolution, the dishes need to be done. So, there’s four to five of us living together in a simple rhythm of prayer, meals, shared resources, and hospitality. Space is made available for as many as two resident guests currently, with the hopes that after our slow renovations we can double that capacity. Already we have learned so much about our own limits and healthy ways to build consensus and make decisions together. We‘ve failed, hurt feelings, and have said farewell to more than one housemate as we try to learn from our mistakes. Yet, we can certainly celebrate one year of this crazy little thing we do. Life together is never easy, but I believe I can honestly say it’s been worth every moment.

The alternative to this “filthy rotten system,” as Dorothy called it, only finds its solution in love for one another. This kind of love is not often found in the systems and structures we’ve been handed. We can’t wait for our hierarchies to fix the problems for us, we are the leaders we’ve been waiting for! I believe we need to create and cultivate these spaces where more than a Band-Aid is applied, where the whole person in all our brokenness can be embraced. Though we shouldn’t delude ourselves with thinking we can solve all the problems we see, let us begin making steps together in what we can do for the causes of justice, peace, and love. There are plenty of opportunities that lie directly in front of us; they greet us in small ordinary ways. The balance of Dorothy and Merton invites us to live into a humble yet active journey that demands giving and receiving, marching and sitting in stillness, community and solitude. We can’t do this alone, we need each other – a network of co-conspirators willing to work with calloused hands, but tender hearts.  Resistance is creating the alternatives, and like Momma Teresa said, “Let us do small things with great love.” Let’s get washing these dishes! 

-Dylan Rooke

To learn more about the growing Pittsburgh Catholic Worker Network, contact; for info about the monthly Merton Study Group, contact Carol Gonzalez, or facebook:

(This article was written for the NewPeople - the editorial of the Thomas Merton Center of Pittsburgh, March 2013 issue)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Provisions, Piano & Prayer: A Celebration of Thomas Merton

     Thomas Merton is a Saint to many, Inspiration to much more, and one of my most challenging spiritual guides. Solitude and meditation don't come easy to this socially inclined, busy bodied worker. But, through all my over-commitments and rhythm struggles I here the words of Merton echo deep within, beckoning me to be still and quiet, and to listen to the small voice of the Spirit- to just be present in the moment of Divine presence.

     So often I feel I need to be achieving all the goals i set, accomplishing more and more as a way to prove something to someone, but this is vanity, and as I heard it recently described as- it is my inherent "White Supremacy" that I am guilty of (1). Always feeling I'm entitled to success if i do this and that, and if i don't I'm a failure. there's no space to take time and rest in the Spirit. Merton has taught the wisdom of a different supremacy- one that is divine and subversive. It calls on us to serve and to put others above ourselves- to seek liberation for ourselves and others, as we are bound together.

      So we come together in memory and celebration of this contemporary saint and prophet. Our House will be preparing a meal & we'll share in food and fellowship at The Table, a regular ministry at Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community. Then we will head up to the Presbyterian Church of Mount Washington for centering prayer and a piano concert inspired by Merton's "A Book of Hours".

much thanks to the Thomas Merton Center, Linda Kernohan, Hot Metal, and Mt. Washington Pres. for helping host and coordinate this event. We hope to be doing a lot more this year as we grow into what we're calling the Pittsburgh Catholic Worker Network- a loose gathering of radical practitioners collaborating in the works of mercy in the tradition of the Catholic Worker.

Peace and Blessings. Hope to see some of you there! -Dylan

(1) "white supremacy" Iconocast episode 43 w/ Jin S. Kim

Monday, November 12, 2012

THIS WEDNESDAY! Pittsburgh Catholic Worker: Potluck and Conversation

from the Thomas Merton Center 

Contact: Diane McMahon

Potluck Supper to be held at the Thomas Merton Center with Guest Dylan Rooke, Founder of the 
New Catholic Worker House in Hazelwood

When: Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Where: Thomas Merton Center, 5129 Penn Avenue, Garfield
Time: 6:30 - 8:30 pm            

The Thomas Merton Center of Pittsburgh continues to celebrate its 40th anniversary by hosting its November Potluck supper on Wed., Nov. 14 from 6:30 - 8:30 PM at the Thomas Merton Center in Garfield with Hazelwood Catholic Worker House founder, Dylan Rooke.  

Mr. Rooke, a Presbyterian Church Elder, has named the effort, "The Greenway Community, House of Hospitality." Based on the model of Dorothy Day's Catholic Worker Houses throughout the country, Mr. Rooke invites supporters "to get their hands dirty in holy ways" by putting love into action, bringing love to the House's neighborhood in Hazelwood. 

Interested people are invited to attend, share experiences and thoughts about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement.  The event is free and open to the public.  Participants are asked to bring a dish to share!
For more information, call 412-361-3022.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Al Ferguson Recovery Fund

Please donate to AL's Recovery Fund 

or mail a check to: Dylan Rooke, 
344 Ashton Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15207.
 note: Al's Recovery

Here is Al, If you don't know him, you should. He lives in our house, volunteers at our faith community, namely in our homeless ministry, cares for everyone he meets, and has the biggest golden heart!

This past year has been crazy for him. He had been living just outside the city in Carnegie, PA, at a small apartment after getting out of the hard street life of Pittsburgh's homeless community. He had been commuting regularly to participate with us at Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community and working all over the city area doing construction work with a building management company. One day he nearly nearly fell through a ceiling at work, only being stopped by a well placed floor joist. Had it not been there, he would be in an even worse situation. But, what it did do was still huge. His accident re-injured a rotator cuff in his right shoulder, an injury started 17 some years earlier, but now it was beyond ignoring. With no health benefits or coverage due to having to work under the table, in order to get off the streets, he was left to the medicare's long waiting list and under funded, skeleton staff. It took 8 or so months before finally getting some therapy and surgery. His doctor told him he couldn't ever return to the line of work he knew most of his life, hard Labor. And, he would have to wait up to a year to even find an easy-on-the-body job. this was about 3 months ago, And shortly before his surgery he moved in with us here at our house. Al moving in fit his needs and ours in so many ways: he was already living the work were growing into here, and we were happy to have a place for him to take it easy, which is hard for that stubbornly hard working man to do.

If this wasn't hard enough already another thing landed on Al's already tough-to-digest plate. About one month ago, Al wakes up as we get ready to head down to the community garden we help at. He mentions how terrible a nights sleep he had. He said he woke up in tons of pain, not being able to do anything, because his chest was on fire and in so much pain. he eventually fell back to sleep, only to awaken now with some constant pain still. we go down to the Flowers Ave. garden and work for about two hours. I'm heading out to my family's farm to visit and Al was sticking around the neighborhood to help a neighbor friend of ours. to sum it up, i get word from Al that shorty after my departure our friend takes him to the ER. They ran test and found he had not just one, but three heart attacks, and was miraculously and stubbornly alive. What we thought was just heart burn, in need of Tums a few hours earlier, was now a 97% blockage in need of open heart, triple bypass surgery.

Al is out of the hospital and, as of a week and a half ago, is out of the rehabilitation center and back home with us, smiling and joking in his normal way. He's baring with us as we all scold him for trying to work and lift things he's not meant to: we are so thankful that Al's back.

 So, here's the reason i write. We are starting the Al Ferguson Recovery Fund. It's purpose is to cover Al's basic needs as he is under doctors orders and is not physically able to work for a year. though most would beg for this excuse, all of us who know Al know that this is the most frustrating thing for him. we don't want to add to his frustration by leaving him in a place to ask for help, which is why we want to ask for him. Would you consider giving to a special account for Al's support, either in a one time payment or as a monthly donor. Al's needs are small in comparison to most's and I believe we can meet them without too much trouble or pleading, because i know so many of you have already helped his and our collective work in generous ways already.

Al's monthly Budget = $400 (total goal of $4800 over 12 months)
this covers the following:
  • house living expenses = $200
  • monthly bus pass = $100
  • cell phone = $50
  • medication and extra food money= $50
please join us as we support and walk alongside our brother and his continued healing. Thank you so much for reading, praying, and your consideration. Peace and blessings to you!

or mail a check to: Dylan Rooke, 344 Ashton Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15207. note: Al's Recovery

  "The Bridge": Watch this local documentary on homelessness in Pittsburgh featuring Al's redemptive journey from near death, to the streets, and then into a community of faith. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Formation: It's Been Quite a Year!

      Greetings! I don't know where to begin, the last year has been a major shift in my life. I want to catch up to those of you who have followed this page since it's creation in early 2011, and to those of you who might see this for the first time as it begins to come to light this fall.

      The previous post, written Jan. 2011, explains some of the roots of the vision of this place. To sum it up, over the last 4 or so years, I've been through some radical transformation of who I am and how I should interact with the world. A big shift in my life was starting to read for myself; I always shunned reading as I related it to school, which I wasn't too fond of growing up, with the exception of art classes. While wrestling with a new sense of call and trying to discern such, one of the more influential books i read was "The Long Loneliness" by Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. This book challenged me so much and hurled me down a path of radical gospel practice and hospitality to all. So there I was, asking how I could play a part in this new understanding of the radical Kingdom of God, which calls us to action.

      Through some good friends volunteering at Cherith Brook Catholic Worker, I met and grew in new friendships with some other Catholic Workers through the national gathering in Kansas City the spring of 2011. While visiting and working with them for a short time on a couple trips, the Spirit of Love really grounded in me the call to form a similar house in my own context of Pittsburgh. Through friends in the CW network I met a now good friend, Vincent Eirene. He ran a CW house in the neighborhood of Manchester in the north side of Pittsburgh for 30 some years before it saw it's end. he was excited to meet another person with the willingness to live and form a house that would be open to anyone in need of its shelter and community. After living communally with some friends in the east end, and then forced into a time of transient, homeless, couch surfing, because of a house fire, it was time to seek what was the next step in the journey (for the story and more info on the house fire at the Fairmount House visit ) It wasn't a couple of months before Vincent and I we're living together in a small apartment in Hazelwood looking for a place to form a house.

      I had some friends who had bought a house in that neighborhood a year prior and had sent out an email advocating their friends to buy and fix up the over 4 year vacant home that was right next to theirs. Months earlier when they had originally sent out the email, I hadn't given it much thought, buying into the public opinion that Hazelwood was not a neighborhood to invest, live, or even visit. But, upon one of my first times really through Hazelwood, on a bike ride with these friends of mine, something stuck a harmonious note in my heart. I started asking questions about the neighborhood and what they saw in it. I started discovering that their were a handful of really active people and groups doing some grassroots-type neighborhood redevelopment and a vibrant urban gardening collective. A new light was within my heart; I no longer saw the half run down, low economic place everyone called it, but a place full of rich history, beautiful people, and hands-on opportunity.

     Doors with the new house flung wide open as I started the scary and stressful process of trying to buy it. It had been a foreclosure and was selling for dirt cheap, just my budget! but not without its share of work. It was missing all the plumping, the heating system in the basement, and about half of it's old cast iron radiators; plus a lot of cosmetic work needed done as well. Long story short, after a bad experience trying to get the smallest loan possible through a bank, my amazingly supportive family decided to lend the money. We bought the house and almost immediately began work. My older brother, Matthew, works for a small energy efficient architectural firm out of State College, PA and used his talents and connections to really help get things working. With a few real hard working weekends and polishing up, we got the necessities figured out and had the water and boiler system back up and running. spring was coming forth, and it was finally time to move in!

     Vincent and I were joined by my good friend Katherine, and it wasn't too long before another good friend Al moved in as well. With projects here and the the occasional guest knocking at the door, we have slowly started to discern what our life together looks like in it's practical sense. In some ways I find it easier to form the vision, produce a mission statement, and then just see what happens. But this summer we've taken as a time of discernment as we look for ways to intentionally grow together as a house. This fall we'll be stepping into a growing rhythm of daily prayer, weekly meals, monthly projects and retreats, and a more regular hands on practice of the works of mercy. Please pray for us as we seek creative, intentional community in a imaginative and flexibly, structural life together. we've already seen some ups and downs as we've wrestled what it means to be members together and participate in the best and most healthy ways we can. it's been painful at times as roles and understandings have had to shift as we've learned from mistakes, though we've also celebrated progress and new ideas. We are excited for the times of trial and growth that are our certain future. Much Love and Peace to you in the name of the one who is the Prince of Peace, Jesus. May his kingdom be on earth, now, as it is in heaven.

If you are interested in joining the collaboration and work of our community, please don't hesitate to call or emails us. info on Contact page.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A seed planted

I want to start at the beginning. here & right now. I've been wrestling over vision and mission of this loose idea of "community house" for several years now, and with much conversation, prayer,  and discernment with many different friends and family I think it's time to actually make it happen.

It's the first of a new year and I know God has some amazing plans right now for this year, I hope I can discern what they  should look like. after years of wrestling with the idea, reading a handful of books, mainly Dorothy Day's Long Loneliness, a trip to Cherith Brook Catholic Worker in Kansas City and many conversation with a few other friends interested in the catholic worker movement I've decided to go for it. a "community house" can look like so many different things; i don't want a cool kids club house to benefit one's self, a place to feel good about cool new hip projects (not that being creative with friends is a bad, at all) that can all happen, but i would hope more as a byproduct than a goal.

I want to help others. there is always a need for a safe place to feel welcomed, a place for service; a place to love the stranger, the oppressed, the marginalized, the rejected, the hurting, the dirty, the lonely, the transient dweller, and the list goes on. this wont be easy, or always fun (though i find struggle fun sometimes, call me masochistic), my point being, it's not something easy to jump into, but it's what I desire, cause i feel it's what the Lord has instilled in me.

    so, it's time to get things accomplished. I started this specific blog as a documentation/ news feed to this ongoing project. I don't want this to be a Dylan Rooke project, i desire a cooperative effort, though I've learned a lot about healthy, accountable, transparent leadership over the last few years, and I don't think that necessarily is excluded from the equation. I'm assembling a team of those interested to be a part in one way or another; house members, volunteers, accountability mentors and such. I've got a lot of research to do on zoning, legalities, mission, vision, bylaws and such (though 501c3 is not my intention for this house). I have also recently received support from my family to invest in the purchase a building to do such a ministry, of which i am so thankful, for it was my biggest hurdle to jump. a big part of this, and maybe even its main focus, is to provide a boarding house/ hostel of sorts for the Pittsburgh community, which is in much need for such facilities, seeing its only hostel was shut down years ago.

things are likely to gain more form and shape as this year progresses and a stable group forms around this vision. I'm so blessed and inspired already by the immense encouragement i have already received from friends and family. may the Lord continue to grow in us what has already been planted.