Monthly Archives: October 2007

ROUNDTABLE: Cosmopolitan Disinterestedness and the Care for the Poor

Last Thursday, Daniel Watkins – a grad student in the history department, and a friend of the house – led a roundtable discussion on “Cosmopolitan Disinterestedness and the Care for the Poor.”  It was really interesting, and our participants had a lot to say in response. 

The term “cosmopolitan disinterestedness” is descriptive of where we are at this point in history, for the most part, in our attitude toward the poor.  He quoted from a recent bestselling book, The Total Money Makeover, to illustrate the attitude that our economic system works so well that if it isn’t working for you, there must be something wrong with you. 

“My promise to you is this: If you will follow the guidelines of this proven system of sacrifice and discipline, you can be debt-free, begin saving, and give as you’ve never given before.  You will build wealth. I will also promise that it is totally up to you.” 

Daniel pointed out that this has not always been the prevailing attitude, and he led us through a short history of caring for and about the poor beginning with the birth of capitalist ideology during the 18th century.  Adam Smith (1723-1790, Wealth of Nations), an early promoter of freedom in the economic realm, believed that everyone would stand to benefit from free-market capitalism – including the very poor.  If this sounds a bit like Reagan’s “trickle-down economics,” listen to this difference:  

“Servants, labourers and workmen of different kinds, make up the far greater part of every great political society. But what improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconvenience to the whole.  No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, cloath and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed and lodged.” 

Smith believed a “sufficient wage” was necessary to provide for the needs of workers from whose work all of society benefited.  Enlightenment philosopher Condorcet (1743-1794) talked about the universal human right to bien-etre – or well-being – and advocated for a system of “social insurance” to aid potentially poor families in times of crisis. Turgot (1727-1781), a French economist, suggested that work and consistent salaries should be provided by the government when necessary instead of forcing the impoverished to rely on (or hope for) charity. In short, many thinkers at this time understood that not everyone would be able to “build wealth” under the new capitalistic societies – and that some would actually lose it.  As Daniel puts it, these thinkers sought a middle ground between the “promotion of an ‘invisible free hand’ and a visible hand of philanthropy toward those on the socio-economic margins.”

Daniel described another line of thinking embraced by Montesquieu (1689-1755) whereby, as Montesquieu put it, “everyone contributes to the general welfare while thinking that he works for his own interest.” Montesquieu imagined a system of parties working for their own benefit but bound together in a web of dependence – a system he said that would lead to douceur, happiness (or “sweetness) for all, although others (like Jean-Baptiste Colbert, 1619-1683) saw this system leading to “perpetual combat.”

Montesquieu’s vision of economic freedom and the pursuit of self-interest gradually gained more followers, and over time the Elizabethan poor laws were slowly revoked.  Later thinkers saw the poverty as the result of waste or laziness and society as a whole better served by the poor being “severed from the social organism” (historian Jean-Christophe Agnew) – a foreshadowing of Social Darwinism. 

Daniel also described how the romanticism of this period produced literature that constructed a “factual fiction” that informed its readers not only of a particular story but also how to view the world.  Robinson Crusoe was the example he gave – a man washed up alone on an island, but due to his hard work and innovation was able to prosper magnificently.  Horatio Alger stories of the nineteenth century later told this same story of what would become known as the American Dream.  

He pointed out that it does not behoove the “haves,” those who benefit from free-market capitalism to even notice the “have-nots.”  The story doesn’t work as well when there is an “under-class” who can’t make it.  And noticing the problem – that some people suffer from the same system that enriches others – shines a harsh light on those who benefit. It’s much more comfortable to turn our heads or blame them for not trying hard enough. 

Daniel’s question to us was, “What do we do about it?”  Many of the participants shared their own experiences of being on one side or the other of this story – those of us who were born on third base but act like we hit a homerun, as well as those of us impoverished by our economic system.   Some pointed out that “laws” are not the only answer, that there must be a change of heart as well.  Several suggested that solutions might be found if more of those who have flourished under our system could get to know folks who have been impoverished by it.  Our culture of communities polarized by divisions between neighborhoods (or the side of town one lives on), racism, educational inequities, and fear doesn’t facilitate this.  But as people with a mandate to “love one another,” we need to experience the discomfort of facing our own roles in economic injustice.   

-Kelli

SCRIPTURE STUDY: Is Resistance Futile?

When God invites Moses to undertake the mission to confront Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt in chapters 3 and 4 in Exodus, four times Moses raises objections to the plan. First, he argues “Who am I that I should go …?” (3:11). Next, he objects that “they will not believe me” (4:1). And in the passage we looked at this week, 4:10-17, he first offers that he is not a good speaker (4:10), then, dropping any pretense or attempt at obfuscation, Moses states: “Lord, send someone else!” (4:13). And so we have arrived at the heart of the matter: Moses does not want to go. All of the arguing with God and offering up of excuses, which God has answered one by one, are really just justifications for the simple truth that Moses does not want to go. 

But why is it that Moses does not want to go? During our study last night, folks suggested a variety of reasons, all with the same motivation: fear. Moses is afraid of returning to a country where there is a price on his head because of his past criminal acts (killing the Egyptian). He is afraid of being rejected by the Israelites, his family of origin, because of his upbringing as a favored grandson of the king who has brutally oppressed them. Maybe he is afraid of his own inadequacy to the task at hand—reinforced by his earlier confusion over the events that transpired between him and his fellow Israelites after his killing of the Egyptian overseer. Remember too that Moses has settled down to a comfortable life in Midian—married with children, part of the family business. Leaving this life of relative stability, comfort and security could have also inspired fear in Moses.  

It would be easy at this point to make a bit of a caricature of Moses, to laugh at his fear or to disparage his reluctance at accepting God’s invitation. This is after all, God, all-powerful, almighty, all-knowing. But to do so would only reveal our own limited understanding of just what Moses is being asked to face and just how little he really knows about this God who is doing the asking. 

The crux of it is this: God is asking Moses to confront an Empire, an Empire which seems unassailable, invincible, eternal. An Empire which simply rolls over anyone who dares to question its power, anyone who dares to question its right to pursue its national interest in whatever way it sees fit. God is asking Moses to face down a powerful king—a king considered more a god than a human being—equipped with armies, state of the art weaponry, unmatched military power. And, at this point in the story, God asks Moses to do this armed only with some words, a few magic tricks, and God’s promise that it will all work out.

And this God does not ask Moses to raise an army from among Egypt’s enemies. Moses’ only initial co-conspirator is to be his brother Aaron, a Levite, one of the beaten-down slaves from among the Israelites, whose only real asset is that he is more eloquent than Moses. These two brothers—one a criminal in exile, and the other an apparent runaway slave—are tasked with leading a revolution against the most powerful and enduring empire of the time. 

In this light, Moses’ fear might now strike us as both justified and sensible. And even the promise of a God speaking from a burning bush—a God, remember, who has apparently been absent during the Israelites’ oppression these many long years—would not hold nearly the same motivating force as would the real, demonstrable and experienced power of Pharaoh and his empire.  

To walk into Egypt and confront Pharaoh to his face can only seem like folly to Moses. What God is inviting him to must surely seem like suicide. What is the power of one man, or two—even with the support of a whole nation of slaves—against Pharaoh and the Egyptian empire in all its glory and might and ruthlessness? This is what Moses must have been contemplating.  

And so maybe recognizing some of that same fear and reluctance in ourselves in our own day, we have to agree that Moses’ fear is real, that he would be risking everything to take up this mission, and that it is likely to all end in suffering, disaster, and death. The great powers of every era throughout history nearly always control good men and women through creating and fostering just such a perspective—that it is futile to think things could be any other way, that it is futile to challenge them.

UPDATE: 10/22

Dear friends, 

Special THANKS for all the extra help this weekend from so many of you! We provided meals this weekend for a gathering of about 100 Catholic peace activists from Pax Christi Florida, in addition to the regular Dorothy’s Cafe, and it was quite a lot of work. But it was also really rewarding and enjoyable–folks from the house, guests, students from UF, our football-watching regulars, farmers at the farmers’ market, all joined in to make it a great experience. Thanks too to all the members of Pax Christi Florida who heaped praise on us for how good the food was but also how much they appreciated our efforts to gather, prepare and serve food with attention to our values of sustainability, simplicity, justice for workers, support for the local economy, etc. 

Thanks too to the youth group from United Church of Gainesville for providing the food and help for Dorothy’s Cafe last night. We had several folks stay with us last night because of the rain and I overheard several of them talking about how much they enjoyed the “young people” who helped out at the house. We look forward to having the UCG youth with us several more times over the course of the rest of the year. 

Leah Sarat, a doctoral student in Religion in the Americas, did a great job talking about immigration at last week’s Roundtable. Click here to read a short summary on “Crossing the Border” from Holly on Leah’s talk. And join us this week for another graduate student, Daniel Watkins, who will be leading this Thursday‘s Roundtable on “Cosmopolitan Disinterestedness and the Care for the Poor.” Daniel is a grad student in European history and a regular at Tuesday’s Breakfast Brigade.Here’s what is going on this week at the house: 

THIS WEEK: 

Join us for a simple vegetarian dinner Tuesday thru Friday, 6pm. 

MONDAY – For anyone with Jacksonville ties, Johnny will be speaking at the Cody Enrichment Center in Jax at 7pm. Members of the GCW will join him in in doing a presentation on scripture, the GCW and his work with Pax Christi USA.  

TUESDAY - Breakfast Brigade, 4:15-7am. Join us in preparing a homemade breakfast of fresh-baked cinnamon-raisin bread, hard-boiled eggs, and fresh fruit, which we share with our friends at three area labor pools.  Scripture Study, 6-7:30pm. We’re studying the book of Exodus–oppression, revolution, liberation–all that good stuff. Click here to read a little summary of last week’s study. Consider this your invitation to join us. We share a simple meal just before we study so feel free to come hungry or even bring something to share.  

WEDNESDAY - Morning prayer at the GCW, 7:15-45am. Join us for a simple, reflective morning prayer each Wednesday at the house. Holly leads this week’s reflection. 

THURSDAY – Roundtable discussion and dinner. This week, join us for: “Cosmopolitan
Disinterestedness and the Care for the Poor” with Daniel Watkins presenting. Daniel is a graduate student in European history at the
University of Florida. He is a regular core volunteer at Tuesday’s Breakfast Brigade and Dorothy’s Cafe with Servants of Christ Church each first Sunday of the month. We discuss and converse while sharing a delicious meal at 6pm. Bring a dish–salad, bread, some fruit, anything–to share if you can. If you can’t, no worries; just show up! 

FRIDAY – Breakfast Brigade, 4:15-7am. Join us in preparing a homemade breakfast of fresh-baked cinnamon-raisin bread, hard-boiled eggs, and fresh fruit, which we share with our friends at three area labor pools. 

SATURDAY - Outside workday with students from St. Augustine Catholic Church’s youth group, 10am to 1pm. Feel free to join us if you are interested.  

SUNDAY – NO Dorothy’s Cafe this week. 

In peace,the GCW community Gainesville

Catholic Worker
218 NW 2nd Avenue
Gainesville, Florida 32601

352.271.6941

ROUNDTABLE: Crossing the Border

This past Thursday, we discussed immigration, specifically Mexican immigration, with Leah Sarat, a doctoral student in Religion and the Americas at the University of Florida. Leah shared stories from her recent research trip to an indigenous Mexican community in which many of the members had crossed the Mexico-US border once or several times. After making the vigorous and excruciating crossing at the border and seeing the more luxurious and anonymous America in which they’d arrived, these native Mexicans made the conscious decision to return and stay in Mexico. Leah lived with and interviewed many of them, expressing her desire to give voice to the unheard.   

A striking oddity to many, and certainly to Leah herself, was the ritualistic simulation of a border-crossing, which had become a tourist affair in this part of Mexico. It was a simulation of the arduous journey, one in which participants did get tired, thirsty, muddy and blistered, even stopped by dressed-up border patrol!  Leah said she “crossed the border” four times, and found it a tough experience.   

The simulation was created by this community of former border-crossers in order to sustain themselves. This group had no resources to live off of, no trinkets to sell to tourists, but they did have some money and an idea, so they decided to pool the money together, buy the land, and create this experience. 

What can we make of this, not only striking oddity, but seemingly pointed mockery of the journey many Mexicans have to undertake? In fact, Leah learned, it is more than that. Through her interviews with those who run the simulation, she learned that they hope those who come find more than just a mindless adventure. They want it to show, as upper class Mexicans make their way to the simulated border, that if they can make it through this arduous journey, as many do in the “real world” day after day, they can also pull together as a people and come up with solutions to the apparently complicated problems of poverty in Mexico and immigration to the US.      

Leah was also surprised and intrigued by the notion that, in many cases, these men and women were not forced to come to the US, but had options and had chosen that path. The community she stayed with was largely made of those who, disillusioned by the US, chose to come back home. She read part of an interview in which the man was unsatisfied with the pay of his job in the US, the quality of housing and food, and the attitude which US Americans held toward the Mexican workers. In contrast, in Mexico the food was natural, his pay was better, and, surrounded by his family and community he had support and did not have to deal with the prejudices of the US.   

After Leah’s presentation, we engaged in an interesting conversation about these topics surrounding immigration, touching on the failures of US immigration policy, the privileged status of some immigrants over others, other’s experience with immigration battles in the US, why some immigrants are welcomed by the US and others are not and the role racism plays in that, the impact of the US on other nation’s economies, etc.          

-Holly 

SCRIPTURE STUDY: Moses Goes from the Sideline to the Frontline

Last week, we started to look at a long section (2:23-4:17) of the story commonly referred to as “the call of Moses.” In 2:23-3:10, there are several things we want to note which give context to the overall passage. The first is that a long time has passed following Moses’ murder of the Egyptian, subsequent flight from Egypt and his “settling down” in the land of Midian. He has gotten married, had a child, and become part of the family business (“tending the flock” in verse 3:1). In short, what the story tells us is that Moses is long past the distress of seeing his “kinsfolk” oppressed by the Egyptians which led to his killing the Egyptian and the confusion over witnessing the behavior of his fellow Hebrews, both to each other and toward him. He has forgotten, or suppressed, or chosen to leave behind that situation and that part of his history.  

We are also told that, back in Egypt, the Pharaoh, under whom Moses’ presumably lived and who sought Moses’ death, has died and been replaced by another Pharaoh. But despite the change in administrations, the basic reality in Egypt has not changed for the Hebrews. Their slavery and oppression continues. 

Finally, we have this remarkable encounter around a bush, which, “though on fire, was not consumed.” From the burning bush, Moses is addressed by God, who says that “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers” and proposes to send Moses to Pharaoh to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.” 

In 3:11, we hear Moses’ reply to this mission from God, and the reply is evidence of both Moses’ reluctance to accept God’s invitation and also his concern about his acceptance by the Israelites. The question for us is: Why is Moses reluctant? What has changed that has made him less than enthused to be part of the liberation of “his kinsfolk,” as he named them back in 2:11? The roots of Moses’ reluctance lie in his earlier killing of the Egyptian then witnessing his own people’s brutality toward one another and their distrust, or at least suspicion, of him. The consequence of those events was an identity crisis for Moses. Born a Hebrew but raised in the palace of Pharaoh as part of his family, Moses found that despite his self-identification as “Hebrew,” he shared little in common with those of his people who had lived under the jackboot of Egyptian authority. Indeed, it could even be said that Moses’ own lifestyle up to this point had been built on the oppression of the Hebrews for the benefit of the Egyptian royal family. And despite his attempt to provide some remedy or relief from Egyptian brutality (i.e. killing the Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew), he is aghast when he comes the next day and witnesses the brutality of one oppressed Hebrew against another oppressed Hebrew, and is confused by his “fellow” Hebrew’s questions of him and accusation that Moses might be thinking of killing him “as you killed the Egyptian.” The overall result of this encounter is that even though Moses has destroyed the protection he enjoyed as part of the Egyptian royal family, he has also recognized the distance between himself and the other Hebrews, a distance which he chooses not to try and overcome. Overwhelmed by his actions, by what he has learned about the society in which he lives, by the threat to his life, and by a crisis of identity, Moses chose to flee the situation, to leave it in the dust. So, God’s invitation to enter back into that situation must not strike Moses as particularly appealing, especially since he has now set up and built for himself a fairly good life here in Midian.  

But what becomes clear in the conversation between Moses and God throughout this section is that there is one major difference between then and now. The major shift is that Moses will go to the Israelites not on his own behalf, but rather on the behalf of God. What hasn’t changed is the oppression of the Israelites; that continues in all its brutality and inhumanity. And while Moses’ first attempt to do something about that failed, this next attempt will not be rooted in Moses’ partial understanding of the situation, the fleeting passion of witnessing the brutality first-hand, nor the ideals of Moses’ youth; rather this attempt is rooted in God’s enduring love for and mercy toward those who suffer oppression. 

Furthermore, Moses’ crisis of identity will be resolved as well. In this section, we see Moses no longer referring to the Israelites as “my kinsmen,” “my kinsfolk,” etc. Rather, we hear the distance he has cultivated between himself and them. Now he speaks of them as “the Israelites.” But God asserts Moses’ identity as an Israelite. God commissions Moses to go to them, to tell them what God has stated. But to assure that Moses is heard, God gives him what amounts to good advice that many an adept organizer would recognize. Yes, God send Moses to the Israelites, but in verse 3:16 God specifies that Moses is to “assemble the elders of the Israelites” and share with them God’s concern. By convincing the leaders of this oppressed people—those who others respect and look to for advice and guidance—Moses will have greater legitimacy in the eyes of the people. And again, God states that it will be Moses AND the elders of Israel who will go before the Pharaoh to negotiate, not Moses alone. The people who were reluctant to claim or recognize him as one of them before, he will now lead. A struggle he had fled from because of his own limited understanding and abilities, he will now embrace—indeed, lead. God is calling Moses out of his comfortable, but inauthentic, life on the sideline to an uncomfortable, but deeply authentic and necessary life, on the frontline.

UPDATE: OCTOBER 16, 2008

Dear friends, 

Folks at the house all feel that yesterday’s cafe went really well–beautiful weather, good food, happy guests, and a great crew from St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Middleburg joining us to help serve and share in our meal. I had the opportunity to speak with the group of volunteers from St. Luke’s earlier in the week, telling them about the Catholic Worker House and the organization I work for, Pax Christi USA. These folks are members of the JustFaith program at their church–a really exciting, intense and transformative program that many Catholic churches have turned to in order to help their members connect their faith with being God’s agents of justice and peace within the world. To introduce St. Luke’s to our work at the GCW, we studied the story of Moses’ birth in the book of Exodus together, concentrating on one of the insights which came out of our regular scripture study at the GCW–the action of Pharaoh’s daughter as a model of solidarity. (Click here to see more on that.) JustFaith is a terrific program and we’re really excited about hosting several other JustFaith groups over the next few months as they undertake “border crossings,” opportunities to connect with and practice solidarity with people in our society who are marginalized or oppressed for a variety of reasons.  

We also had a great discussion at the Roundtable on Thursday with Rev. Jim Wright, Episcopal priest and director of the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless. We talked about Gandhi’s initial experiments with nonviolence, his influences, and the impact of his thought and practice on the world today. Click here to read more about it on the GCW website.  

Thanks also to Natalie Saltmarsh and Kendera Omanga for leading last Tuesday’s scripture study!  

Here’s what is going on this week at the house: 

THIS WEEK: 

Join us for a simple vegetarian dinner Tuesday thru Friday, 6pm. 

TUESDAY - Breakfast Brigade, 4:15-7am. Join us in preparing a homemade breakfast of fresh-baked cinnamon-raisin bread, hard-boiled eggs, and fresh fruit, which we share with our friends at three area labor pools.  Scripture Study, 6-7:30pm. We’re studying the book of Exodus–oppression, revolution, liberation–all that good stuff. Consider this your invitation to join us. We share a simple meal just before we study so feel free to come hungry or even bring something to share.  

WEDNESDAY - Morning prayer at the GCW, 7:15-45am. Join us for a simple, reflective morning prayer each Wednesday at the house. Al Cason leads this week’s reflection. Wednesday Night Live, 6-9pm. Join a terrific group of students and young adults who regularly host this evening of fun and food. Show up at 6-ish to help prepare; 7pm to help serve.  

THURSDAY – Roundtable discussion and dinner. This week, join us for: “They Never Looked Favorably Upon Us: A Mexican Community’s Response to Border Militarization,” with Leah Sarat presenting. Leah is a doctoral student in Religion in the Americas at the University of Florida .  As a volunteer with Annunciation House from 2001-2003, she coordinated a women’s migrant shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and helped lead U.S. college students in Border Awareness immersion tours.  Leah ‘s research interests include ritual studies, indigenous religions of the Americas , and the religious dimensions of U.S.-Mexico border crossing.  She is currently examining how the residents of El Alberto, an indigenous community in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico, recreate the experience of undocumented U.S.-Mexico border crossing for tourists in a guided nighttime hike known as the “Caminata Nocturna.” We discuss and converse while sharing a delicious meal at 6pm. We’ve been getting great turnouts for roundtables this semester, and we’ve had to stretch the food to feed everyone (a good dilemma to have). SO, please bring a dish–salad, bread, some fruit, anything–to share if you can. If you can’t, no worries; just show up!  

FRIDAY – Breakfast Brigade, 4:15-7am. Join us in preparing a homemade breakfast of fresh-baked cinnamon-raisin bread, hard-boiled eggs, and fresh fruit, which we share with our friends at three area labor pools.  

SATURDAY - Pax Christi Florida hosts their annual assembly with Bishop Thomas Gumbleton at the Hurley House at St. Augustine‘s Church. At 10am, they will host a gathering of young adults interested in learning more about Pax Christi in the Hurley House.  

The GCW is providing meals (Sat lunch and dinner; Sun lunch) for the Pax Christi assembly and could use some help with prep, cooking, and clean-up. If you are available anytime on Saturday or between 9am and 2pm on Sunday, email us at gvillecw@yahoo.com to help out. 

SUNDAY – Dorothy’s Cafe. Preparation begins at 2pm, serving at 4pm, and clean-up is from 5:30-7pm. This week we’ll be joined by volunteers from the youth group at United Church of Gainesville. The UCG folks will be providing the soup (mmmm, lentil, I believe), fruit and we’ll make bread at the house. We can always use a few extra volunteers and probably some extra fruit too.  

In peace,

the GCW community 

ROUNDTABLE: Gandhi

Fr. Jim Wright, Episcopalian priest and executive director of the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry, led the roundtable discussion tonight on Gandhi.  His presentation focused on Gandhi’s time in South Africa and how his experience of discrimination there influenced his embrace of satyagraha, or “soul/truth force,” as a means of nonviolent resistance.

After his presentation, we discussed the influence of Gandhi on Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement here in the U.S.  Al and Rick spoke from their own experience during that time, one noting the difficulty of “turning the other cheek” when actually facing continuing oppression.  Fr. Wright pointed out that Gandhi was profoundly influenced by spirituality – both Eastern and Western (he was educated in England).  Tolstoy’s radical Christianity, Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” and Ruskin’s ideas on the value of work were major contributors to his thought, as was his native Hinduism.   

Gandhi is is a major figure of the 20th century, a period ironically considered to be one of the most violent.  His ideals can seem … pretty idealistic in light of our own country’s insistence and reliance on violence both at home and in its dealings with other nations.  Kendera brought up a book she is reading by Walter Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence – A Third Way, which challenged the despair some of us might feel at the limited nature of Gandhi’s influence.  Wink reminds us of a number of cases of successful non-violent change that have happened around the world since Gandhi’s experiment in India and King’s influential part in the civil rights movement, and why we tend to forget them.  

In Poland, Solidarity irreversibly mobilized popular sentiment against the puppet Communist regime. An entire clandestine culture, literature, and spirituality came to birth there outside the authority of official society. This under-cuts the oft-repeated claim that what Mohandas Gandhi did in India or Martin Luther King Jr. did in the American South would never work under a brutal, Soviet sponsored government . . . Nonviolent general strikes have overthrown at least seven Latin American dictators: Carlos Ibanez del Campo of Chile (1931), Gerardo Machado y Morales of Cuba (1933), Jorge Ubico of Guatemala (1944), Elie Lescot of Haiti (1948), Arnulfo Arias of Panama (1951), Paul Magliore of Haiti (1955), and Gustavo Rojas Pinilla of Colombia (1957). In 1989-90 alone, fourteen nations underwent nonviolent revolutions, all of them successful except China, and all of them nonviolent except Romania. These revolutions involved 1.7 billion people. If we total all the nonviolent movements of the twentieth century, the figure comes to 3.4 billion people, and again, most were successful. And yet there are people who still insist that nonviolence doesn’t work! Gene Sharp has itemized 98 different types of nonviolent actions that are a part of the historical record, yet our history books seldom mention any of them, so preoccupied are they with power politics and war…  

It was an interesting conversation, too short as usual, but a good opportunity for our community and guests to think more clearly together about the world we live in and our part in it. We have at the House several books on Gandhi, some introductory booklets from Pax Christi, as well as handouts from Fr. Wright’s talk.  Stop by if you’re interested.   

-Kelli

UPDATE: October 8, 2008

Dear friends, 

Thanks to everyone who came out for the anniversary party yesterday! About 150 or so friends, volunteers, supporters, former guests, and others showed up to celebrate with us. Click here to see photos of the party. We are grateful to all of you who brought food, especially the Servants of Christ Anglican Church; to David Hackett from UF for giving a great talk on the CW; Ben Hofer and his friend Andy for the live music; all the folks who helped with set-up and clean-up, especially the kids; and everyone!  

We were also really privileged to have the Coalition of Immokalee Workers stay with us last Tuesday night and to participate in a rally on campus as part of their ongoing campaign against Burger King. GCW community member Jake Dacks was instrumental in setting up the activities on campus and several folks from the GCW community showed up for the march and protest. Click here to see photos of the rally 

Here’s what is going on this week at the house (and beyond): 

THIS WEEK: 

Join us for a simple vegetarian dinner Tuesday thru Friday, 6pm. 

MONDAY – Interfaith Fast to End the War in Iraq event at United Church of Gainesville, 6:30pm. Join folks in breaking the day-long fast with a potluck dinner and ritual, NW 5th Avenue and 17th Street. 

TUESDAY - Breakfast Brigade, 4:15-7am. Join us in preparing a homemade breakfast of fresh-baked cinnamon-raisin bread, hard-boiled eggs, and fresh fruit, which we share with our friends at three area labor pools. We’re still looking to up the number of folks helping out on Tuesday by one or two, so join us if you can.  Scripture Study, 6-7:30pm. We’re studying the book of Exodus. Click here to read more about last week’s study. Natalie Saltmarsh and Kendera Omanga will be leading this week’s study in the 3rd chapter of Exodus. We share a simple meal just before we study so feel free to come hungry or even bring something to share.  

WEDNESDAY - Morning prayer at the GCW, 7:15-45am. Join us for a simple, reflective morning prayer each Wednesday at the house. Jake leads this week’s reflection. 

THURSDAY – Roundtable discussion and dinner. This week, we’ll be taking a look at the great Indian activist and mystic, Mohandas Gandhi, specifically his life in South Africa during which he developed his basic ideas and experiments – truth (sat), nonviolence (ahimsa), truth-force (satyagraha), ashram living, dietetic experiments, etc. Rev. Jim Wright, an Episcopal priest and director of the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry, who is a long-time student of Gandhi, will be our presenter. We discuss and converse while sharing a delicious meal at 6pm. We’ve been getting great turnouts for roundtables this semester, and we’ve had to stretch the food to feed everyone (a good dilemma to have). SO, please bring a dish–salad, bread, some fruit, anything–to share if you can. If you can’t, no worries; just show up! 

FRIDAY – Breakfast Brigade, 4:15-7am. Join us in preparing a homemade breakfast of fresh-baked cinnamon-raisin bread, hard-boiled eggs, and fresh fruit, which we share with our friends at three area labor pools. 

SUNDAY – Dorothy’s Cafe. Preparation begins at 2pm, serving at 4pm, and clean-up is from 5:30-7pm. This week we’ll be joined by volunteers from the JustFaith group from St. Luke Catholic Church in Middleburg. We’ll still need some extra volunteers but especially we’ll need some donations of food. We’ll need:

  • 200 servings of “Simple Soup” (email us for the recipe)
  • 200 servings of fresh fruit
  • Bread – provided by the GCW

Please write back and let us know how many servings you can contribute. Food can be dropped off anytime before 3:30pm at the GCW House. 

In peace,

the GCW community 

Gainesville Catholic Worker
218 NW 2nd Avenue
Gainesville, Florida 32601
352.271.6941,
gvillecw@yahoo.com 

SCRIPTURE STUDY: Moses Whacks Egyptian, Solves Nothing

The Exodus story so far has unfolded against the backdrop of the oppression of the Israelites by Egyptian state power (under the direction of the Egyptian “god-king,” Pharaoh), as well as the resistance of both Hebrew and Egyptian women (the midwives, Moses’ mother and sister; Pharaoh’s daughter and her handmaids) to the official policies of the repressive regime. In this week’s passage, Exodus 2:11-15a, the story moves forward with the introduction of the person who will become the major character in the story, Moses. (While Moses appeared in a passive role as a baby in our earlier passage, it is here that he first asserts himself by becoming an agent of action and speech.)

The opening verse, verse 11, serves several purposes. The first is that it reveals for us who it is that Moses understands himself to be. The repetition of the phrase “his kinsmen/kin/kinsfolk” both at the beginning and at the end of the verse helps us to see that Moses considers himself to be a Hebrew. This might seem obvious to us because of our familiarity with the rest of the story, but we need to remember that the previous verses have Moses being “adopted” into the royal family of Pharaoh where Moses must have been at least somewhat shielded, if not completely oblivious, to the plight of his kinsfolk, the Hebrews, who have been treated as slaves. We can imagine that Moses has probably enjoyed a comfortable, even luxurious, lifestyle under the protection of Pharaoh or Pharaoh’s daughter despite his Hebrew identity. Second, the statement that Moses sees the Hebrews’ “forced labor” and “an Egyptian striking a Hebrew” reasserts for us the power dynamic of the time: the brutal oppression of the Hebrews by the Egyptians for the benefit of the Egyptian social and economic system.

Moses’ reaction to what he witnesses—the unjust treatment of and the use of violence against those he considers his people—is both passionate and calculated. The text reads, “Looking about and seeing no one, he slew the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” Moses doesn’t simply fly into a rage, but rather discerns what he could do to rectify the injustice he has just witnessed without having to face retribution for his actions. He kills the Egyptian, the person he identifies as the perpetrator of the violence and injustice, and he gets rid of the evidence.

The next verse has Moses repeating the action of verse 11, i.e. “he went out again,” but this time the scene is somewhat different—or at least the players are. This time the violence is between two Hebrews. Moses asks the first great question of the passage, “Why?!” “Why?” he asks the one “in the wrong” or “the culprit.” “Why are you striking your fellow Hebrew?” There is something here he doesn’t understand. Based on yesterday’s experience, maybe he thought he understood the situation. Maybe he thought he had “rectified” the situation, solved the problem—the problem being the individual actions of a particularly corrupt or abusive Egyptian overseer toward his Hebrew workers. But why, Moses wonders, would two people who share the same ethnic identity, his kinsmen who share the same general situation in life, act with such violence toward one another? Moses thought he understood the situation, but his simplistic analysis and attempt at solving the problem have not changed the overall situation of the Hebrew people. Perhaps the situation is more complex than Moses has understood. Perhaps there is a “systemic” problem here, one in which even some of the Hebrew people have internalized, and his simple recourse to violence has not changed anything except to give him some momentary satisfaction for his deep abhorrence of the injustice and violence he witnessed first-hand yesterday?

The response that Moses gets is equally unsettling. Perhaps he had thought his action in killing the Egyptian the day before had won him some good will among his kinsfolk, or proven his identity as one of them. But in verse 14, the Hebrew worker puts forward the second great question of the passage: “Who?” “Who has appointed you ruler and judge over us?” He goes on to query whether Moses plans on killing him, intimating that he understands Moses to possess the opportunity, wherewithal and power to kill him and get away with it, just as he killed the Egyptian. The question, “Who?” reverberates over this passage just as the question “Why?” did from the verse prior. For, as one of our folks in the study last night quickly pointed out, Moses’ identity is a central motif of this passage. Or in other words, Moses is having an identity crisis. Who does he see himself to be? Who do his fellow Hebrews, aware of his upbringing in Pharaoh’s household, understand him to be? Is the question about being appointed ruler and judge rhetorical on the lips of the Hebrew who knows where and among whom Moses was raised? Moses considers himself to be Hebrew, but what is it to truly be a Hebrew in Egypt at this moment in history? Does Moses really have any understanding of this? Has he lived as a Hebrew—oppressed, forced into slave labor, worrying over the safety of his newborn baby boy, etc? Who is he?

With these two great questions—“Who am I?” and “Why is it like this?”—Moses, realizing that he has lost the protection of Pharaoh by killing an Egyptian, and that no amount of pleading or justifying to any Egyptian institution will ever make it okay that a Hebrew killed an Egyptian, decides to flee. But he does not flee or seek refuge among his kinsfolk, his Hebrew family, with whom he so strongly identified at the beginning of the passage. Maybe the precariousness and systemic brutality of their life under Egyptian oppression is suddenly dawning on him. Where does he flee? To Midian, away from Pharaoh, and away from “his kinsfolk”—no longer with answers, now only questions.

- John

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