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Mary Vancura :
14 article(s)

Mary Vancura writes from Nashville, Tennessee.
May 6th, 2004
Between Living Simply and Living Poor

I live on a red stripe dividing poverty and fame in Nashville, Tennessee.
My bedroom window frames an intricately twisted metal mass resembling a power station in front of rows and rows of brick buildings that most everyone calls ‘the projects.’ From this government-subsidised housing complex, I hear gun shots, angry voices, emergency sirens, and big-bass-booming low riders.
In contrast, my back deck peers over the roofs of the world-famous Music Row, where music stars record their platinum albums and Nashville Star produces its USA network television series.
Weird.
Goodbye to simplicity auto-pilotMy decision to live here on 15th Avenue reflects
a personal attempt to live simply . I spent most…

April 5th, 2004
Walmart Has Everything, Including Our Ambivalence

America has an obsession with Walmart. At Walmart, your dollar has 10-15% more value than at the local neighborhood discount chains and corporate supermarkets. Walmart has this luxury because it is huge—their stores are huge, their selection is huge, their profit is huge, their business strategy is huge, and they are the largest employer in 20 states (and the largest private employer in Mexico, by the way).
In 2003, Fortune magazine named Walmart as the most admired company in the United States, but Walmart is also a company of contradictions.
The bright sideWe hail Walmart as the company that cuts us a good deal, gives purchasing power to low-income earners and small businesses, hires the disabled and elderly,…

March 28th, 2004
No Regrets About Joining the Mobile Phone Culture

I’m still surprised by the cell phone invasion into United States culture—the same way I am surprised by pickled pork rinds or couples making out in public —I’m not used to them yet.
The evidence of evilI shouldn’t be astonished when I stumble into a woman blocking aisle 8 in the grocery store deliberating with her husband over mustard, or when a man calls his wife with 100 yards of a marathon left to run; but I am astonished.
And there I am walking home from the coffee shop on a beautiful, spring afternoon; answering my phone calls, oblivious to the warmth of the sun, the colors of the flowers, and the cracks in the sidewalk.
A love-hate relationshipBut the truth is that this same technology that…

November 17th, 2003
Matrix Revolutions: All Action No Personality Makes Neo… a Video Game

What I call the “Matrix phenomenon” is something I wanted to believe in and tried to understand.
For a split second, this phenomenon allowed me to believe in a force greater than myself that was not necessarily tied to my Christian notion of God. It gave me a savior, made me believe that I had purpose, and it asked me to find my path and follow it—although I may not have fully understood.
Pity the theatrical release of Matrix: Revolutions on November 5 ruined it all for me.
Yes, Revolutions completes the story of The Matrix, but it also digresses to a predictable
video-game action movie, garnished with a little cheesy, clichéd dialogue, topped off with a vague ending that mocks the integrity of Matrices…

September 3rd, 2003
I'm Staying in the Non-Profit World Because I Want To

It took me by surprise when my two very successful cousins, who both recently graduated from law school, said to me, “You’re going to have to stop doing this volunteer stuff because you’re making us look like money-loving consumer freaks.”
In a way, this statement affirmed my decision to stay another year (instead of going to grad school) at Campus for Human Development, the homeless adult day center in Nashville, TN, where I’ve worked the past year as a Jesuit Volunteer. And it put down their decision to be lawyers.
Catholic guilt?
But I think they missed the point. What I’ve come to realize this year is that it is important that we just do what we need to do to make it, try to do…

May 14th, 2003
Leaving, Learning, Coming Back for More

I know that my mother suffered terribly from postpartum depression after giving birth to my brother Franz and me, yet she and my father weren’t finished. One day, Franz and I were being good and looking incredibly adorable, and it coerced my parents into having Jimmy.
‘You’re adorable’ momentsRight now, I’m on a silent retreat and honestly, I’m exhausted from the experience of living in a community.
However, I’m also having one of those “you’re adorable” moments. We yell at each other, we lean on each other, we’re sick, we’re up, we hate work, we’re down, our family situations aren’t what we want them to be, we’re…

May 9th, 2003
War and the Homeless in Nashville

My Iraqi friend, Ali, says that before the first Gulf War, Iraq didn’t have any homeless people. The rich took care of the poor and the sick. It was a disgrace not to.[1]
I feel funny telling him about my work with Nashville’s homeless knowing that we have been bombing his homeland.
John is one of the many homeless Vietnam veterans that I see everyday. Last week he applied for disability for the third time as he was denied the first two. To justify his request, he asked me to help him type the horrifying experiences of his life as a 17-year old soldier in Vietnam. He still wakes up crying in the middle of the night. As I typed, I thought, “Saddam may be a maniac killer, but war is never just.”
War is a…

April 14th, 2003
Wisdom from Jesus and the Corn Guy

No one’s in the kitchen with Martha
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things,” said Jesus (Luke 10:38-42) after a productive Martha rebuked her lazy sister Mary for sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him speak instead of helping her. An indignant Martha stormed back to the kitchen and continued making a snack for her company. Jesus was on a house visit and the very least she could do was to feed him.
This scolding may sound more like something out of the Brady Bunch than the Bible, but lately I’ve found a lot of wisdom in it.
Like a lot of people, I identify with Martha’s compulsion to be productive. Within our culture, we value the “Martha time”…

March 6th, 2003

Luke has appointed himself as my evening ride lookout. In the mornings, I ride the bus to work at the Campus for Human Development, but Curt, one of my six roommates, works three blocks away and picks me up those evenings he doesn’t teach life skills in the prisons.
As participants crowd around our exit doors waiting to draw tickets for a spot in our Room in the Inn shelter program, sometimes it is difficult to see the parking lot from inside. Of course, I could just wait outside. However, by the end of the day, it’s hard for me to listen to the never-ending litany of questions and statements from the homeless participants. Have you heard the phrase, “A face only a mother could love?” By this time…

March 3rd, 2003
The Spirituality of Homelessness Means Giving Up Control

There is a God on the streets. And a faith more genuine than the one we perceive the crazy street evangelists to be talking about.
The spirituality of the homelessThe spirituality of the homeless isn’t necessarily different from anyone else’s. It can’t be put into a neat summary.
It is different from mine—that’s what I notice. It’s different mostly because…

it’s developed and supported despite experiences and circumstances that have landed people on the streets,
its a spirituality stripped down and genuine because the streets take material possessions away,
and, often times, it’s a spirituality of recovery as many are recovering addicts, and they’ve…

January 8th, 2003
An Hour a Day in Wondrous Company

Rachel said the women who participate in Room In the Inn (RITI), Campus’ winter shelter program, are like artichokes. Their hearts are hidden by overlapping layers of abuse, addiction, mental illness, and inconsistency. I’ve been told that when physical abuse or addiction begin in a person’s life, they stop maturing. The end product is women in the bodies of 25 to 60 year-olds, sometimes interacting among themselves and with others as if they were in junior high school.
Attendance at women’s group is mandatory for those women who want to participate in RITI.
It is stressful being a woman and being homeless. The word on the Nashville streets is that a women, by herself on the street, will…

January 2nd, 2003
New Year's Day Was Just Another Day

I call them desert experiences because they leave me feeling so barren.
New Year’s Day at Campus , where I work, was the saddest day I’ve spent there. That day a frigid rain fell and none of the participants had much joy or happiness to offer, which they usually do, at least more than a person might expect.
I saw too many new faces, including an exhausted prostitute who, after napping for a couple of hours, head nestled in arms and bent over an old desk, was escorted outside by a man. She wore only a small skirt that barely covered her thighs and a thin leather coat—not enough to keep her warm.
Since the Monday before Christmas, the tables and chairs and structure of the day room had been replaced with rows of…

December 5th, 2002

I was sentenced to an alarm clock and cold cereal on my first day of kindergarten. I dressed myself, rode my bike to summer activities, and took the yellow bus to school until I got my driver’s license. I was raised to be independent and thrive on it.
Entering the adult world of college and full time employment, I was already accustomed to doing things on my own, usually out of necessity—others are too busy, convenience, schedule. But when seven people attempt to exist in an intentional community (like that of my Jesuit Volunteer Corps house), independent action is like trying to pick up a bowling ball with a standard table spoon.
Here’s what I mean. In mid-October, I was purposely elusive about a speaking…

September 26th, 2002
Simple Reasons I Chose the Jesuit Volunteers

At the end of the first semester of my senior year at college, during the month of December, 2001, I was visiting with Tom, my Jesuit Scholastic friend who, on occasion, dropped by Gonzaga University where I was attending college. We were at the corner diner on Sharp and Hamilton having milkshakes and catching up on the past year.
Tom introduced the subject of JVC into the conversation. I knew about the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) from former members speaking at Masses, had spent time with the Spokane Jesuit Volunteers, and had been urged by Tom to join JVC on previous visits. My answer was prepared. I had briefly thought about participating in JVC, but dismissed the idea after coming to the conclusion that I had already…

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