Monthly Archives: April 2008

ROUNDTABLE: Finding your voice

Daniel Watkins, a UF grad student in the history department and dedicated volunteer at the GCW, started off this week’s Roundtable by reading us the passage in scripture about the persistent widow and the judge. For those who don’t remember, the story goes like this: There is a widow who must continually harrass the local judge to give her justice. The judge finally relents, not because he finds her case compelling or because justice demands it, but so the widow will stop harrassing him. Daniel stated that from the judge’s perspective, the story might better be called the parable of the annoying widow.

Daniel went on to remind us that a widow, at that time in history and in that area of the world, would have been considered to be among the lowest of the low in terms of security, status, power, etc. To be a widow meant to be completely vulnerable, without value, without the protection of a husband and exposed to the injustice and disregard of others. The judge in the parable had no reason to do anything on behalf of the widow; ignoring her was without consequence for a man of his standing. But the woman uses the only thing left to here: she finds her voice and she uses it — over and over and over again — to push the judge into recognizing her rights and granting what she asks for, which we should emphasize, is justice. She finds her voice and is eventually granted justice.

Daniel’s area of study is French history, and he shared with us how what typically passes for history is actually “royal history,” i.e. history related to the kings and queens and elites of society. What historians typically are interested in and what they end up writing about is the great powers and personalities of their age, giving little to no notice of the contributions of the common people, and even less history remembers the voice of the impoverished and oppressed. This “royal history” typically ends up also being what we come to know as “official history.”

In Daniel’s own studies though, he did find one example in French history of a historian who believed that the voices of the impoverished and oppressed should also be heard, not thru the interpretations of historians and the royal subjects they typically focused on, but rather in their own words. He shared with us how this historian (whose name now escapes me, Le Tois maybe?) appended to his writings pamphlets and cartoons that were the popular literature of the time, depicting the attitudes and the opinions of common people, of peasants and workers. Examples he shared included a dialogue which satirized the king, who, in a conversation with a peasant, inquires why his people are not more supportive and adoring of him. The dialogue is witty and cutting, portraying the social chasm that exists between king and commoner and how the common people understood that their hardships were due in large part to the corruption and extravagance of the king and his minions.

One point Daniel seemed to want to share with us is the importance, especially for those who have been oppressed and neglected, of finding our voice, using that voice and becoming agents of change ourselves. Although the powers-that-be might lead us to believe that we have no voice nor place in “official history,” the truth is that there have always been those who are outside of power who have found their voices and shaped the societies and communities of which they are a part for the better. Like that widow in the biblical story, even when we are told we are powerless and unimportant, we still have our voice. And with that voice, we can be heard, change can happen, and justice accomplished.

PERSONAL NOTE: We are incredibly thankful for all that Daniel has shared with our community during his time at UF. Daniel has been a regular part of the Tuesday Breakfast Brigade crew, brought the youth group from his church to help out at Dorothy’s Cafe on a number of occasions, and now holds the record for most appearances facilitating the Roundtable (3). His love for his work, his belief in trying to make the world a better, more just place, and his gift for storytelling and conversation have enriched our community and blessed all of us. Thanks Daniel for your witness and commitment and good luck with your future studies at Ohio State next fall.

-John

SCRIPTURE: When we pray as Jesus taught us, do we know what we are asking for?

Matthew 6:9-15

For most Christians, it is the most familiar passage of scripture, the one part that nearly all of us have memorized – Matthew 6:9-15, commonly called “The Lord’s Prayer,” the “Our Father,” or “The Prayer that Jesus Taught Us.” Despite our familiarity, despite the fact that this prayer is said in Churches every Sunday, despite the fact that it is prayer in small groups, prayer meetings, in the morning when we rise and at night as we lay down to go to sleep – despite all this, I would hazard to guess that the vast majority don’t realize what we are really saying. Taking this prayer apart line by line, paying close attention to Jesus’ words here, reveals just how deep this revolution is that Jesus is stirring up.

We start at the very beginning, “Our Father.” The first emphasis is on the “our,” the plural possessive. The first word in the prayer reveals first of all the communal nature of the prayer, that we come to God as a people, in a group, with others. This is no individual, between “me” and God prayer. Jesus’ “our” places us alongside everyone else in our relationship to God, making our faith about “us,” not about “me.”

And the title Jesus chooses here for God is literally “Abba,” closer in many ways to “Dad” or “Daddy” then “Father.” What it denotes is a level of intimacy and closeness to God, but it is an intimacy that is still rooted in authority—the relationship is child to parent, not sister to sister or brother or brother. Such a relationship implies God’s claim on us, and our accountability to God, albeit a God who is intimately involved in and aware of his/her responsibility to us as well.

Moreover, perhaps the most important thing about the emphasis on “Our Father” is not the relationship it defines between us and God, but rather the relationship it defines between us and other people, between me and all of these other human beings I come into contact with everyday. Approaching God as “Our Father” implies that all of us, every human being, that we are brothers and sister to one another, family; and therefore, each human being also has a claim on us and we a claim on them. Despite the forces of society and culture and creed that endeavor to separate and divide us, we are, under this Parent God, brothers and sisters to one another, responsible for each other, a reconstituted family. This is especially true for those of us who claim discipleship to Jesus, membership in the Church, but also to all people everywhere, by virtue of God’s “parenting” of them too. The implications that such an insight—that we are truly brothers and sisters, one family—in terms of our lifestyles, our political participation, our economic decision-making, and more are astounding. If we are truly brothers and sisters, then imagine how much we must change in how we see those whom our country is killing in wars or those who are in economic distress because of our nation’s policies? The implications of being “one family under God” are far-reaching and incredibly critical of the status quo.

In verse 10, we read: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In many ways, the notion of “kingdom” is anachronistic in our world. The time of nations ruled by monarchies is pretty much over. So we need to get behind the reality of what the word kingdom is all about. Kingdom refers to a political reality in the world; a kingdom is a people or place over which another has authority or reign. In praying this prayer, after acknowledging God’s intimacy to us as “Father” and our relationship to one another as family, we then acknowledge our hope and longing for God’s authority over this world, this reality here and now, as God rules in that other reality we call “heaven.” But if we are calling for God’s rule here on earth now, then we are also tacitly acknowledging the illegitimacy of any other “kingdom” or rule on earth. At the very least, we are implying that the kingdoms of this world (the authorities, the political system, the governments) are NOT equivalent to God’s kingdom and that we long for them to be replaced by God’s kingdom. Again, the implications for us and for our way of being in the world—not just as individuals or as the church but as states and nations—are revolutionary. Our prayer pledges us to God’s kingdom, not whatever nation we live in or have citizenship in. We are saying, in fact, that we are citizens of the kingdom of God FIRST, not of the United States, or England, or Brazil, or China—that our first loyalty is to God’s kingdom, indeed to God, not to our political leaders or systems or nation. And most poignantly, we are praying that God’s will be done—not the will of our country or elected officials, not our national interest or self-interest be done. Praying that God’s will be done implies that we already are aware how little of God’s will is done, and so we must pray for it, invite it, yearn for it and be about the business of making it happen here, now, for the benefit of our entire, reconstituted family, the human family.

Then we pray that God gives us “our daily bread.” This verse conjures up for us the story of the Exodus, of the Israelites recently freed from Egypt finding the manna in the wilderness. We remember the prescriptions about the manna: Take only what you and your family need for TODAY. And those who took more than they needed for one day found it turned wormy and rotten. This is again a radical understanding of what type of security we ask God for. We do not pray for perceived needs or needs that we may have a week from now or a year from now or for that time after we retire in 20, 30, 40 years. Our security is in our God who takes care of us for today. And if we take only what we need for today, we find, like the early Israelites wandering in the desert, that there is ENOUGH for everybody; No one is hungry, no one dies of starvation, everyone gets what they need when each of us only take what we need for today. This is a radically contrary ethic, one that believes there is enough as long as some of us don’t take too much; and that the reason we find that there isn’t enough is because some in our world are taking more than they could ever need. In essence, when we take more than we need for today, we are stealing from others and contributing to a system where some have way too much and others die because they cannot even get what they need for today. Praying for daily bread is an indictment of an entire system predicated on manufacturing “needs” and encouraging us to get as much as we can as quick as we can before someone else takes it from us. An ethic based on God’s provision of daily bread where there is enough for everyone would be a drastic change in the way our society works now.

This section, which is at the center and the heart of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (both thematically and structurally), ends with two reminders about forgiveness—first in verse 12 and then again in 14 and 15. Jesus seems to be telling us just how central forgiveness should be to humanity. This emphasis on forgiveness should give us pause, especially because Jesus intimates that our own forgiveness is dependent on our willingness to practice forgiveness toward others. This is no simple “please forgive me God” and we find ourselves forgiven. It is, in fact, a quid pro quo: God will forgive us ONLY if we forgive others. And again the reality of what we are praying should strike us to the heart. Whether as individuals or churches or communities or nations, we can only be assured that our own mistakes are forgiven if we forgive the mistakes of another. It is an ethic of reconciliation based on reciprocity, rooted in the basic reality that our relationships to other human beings are reflective of our relationship to God.

So when we pray this prayer, do we really have any understanding of what it is that we are praying? And if we do, do our lives give testimony to what it is that we are really praying here? If the millions of Christians who prayed the “Our Father” every day really did understand and believe this prayer, our world and our relationship would look radically different I think.

-John

HOUSE NEWS: Spring 2008 Newsletter is here!

Dear friends,

We are happy to announce that we have published our first newsletter since September 2006! To read a PDF of the newsletter, please click here. Many of you may have already received the hard copy newsletter by mail, but if you have not and you would like to receive the newsletter and future newsletters by regular mail, please email us at gvillecw@yahoo.com and let us know your address.

Also, please check out what is happening the rest of this week at the GCW by clicking here. Don Eitzman of the Christian Peacemaker Team has recently returned from Palestine and will share his experiences there at the Roundtable this week. Join us if you can!

Thanks to all of you who have responded to our appeal in the newsletter too! We are really grateful!

In peace,
John

HOUSE NEWS: Tonight’s City Commision Meeting and Rally for Homeless Rights – a Message from Jim Wright

Dear All: 
I encourage everyone to attend the special City Commission Commission meeting this Thursday night at 6:00 pm in the City Hall Auditorium.  Attached is the agenda for the meeting.  As you can see from the agenda, the rezoning petition for the proposed Homeless One Stop Center is the only item of business, so there will be no useless waiting while other items are discussed.  If you want a seat in the main auditorium you will need to get there early, as attendance is expected to exceed capacity.  I have heard that the overflow audience will be seated in another room with closed circuit TV.  Even if you are seated in the overflow room I believe you will have the opportunity to be heard if you want to speak to the proposal.
ACCHH strongly supports the recommendations being made to the Commission by the Plan Board and City Staff.  A key component of that recommendation is that the restrictions on potential future use of the site as a shelter and food preparation site be removed.  Thus, if the recommendation of the Plan Board is adopted then there is the potential to use that site in the future to develop additional emergency and transitional shelter capacity, which as we all know is badly needed in Gainesville.
If you cannot attend the meeting I encourage you to communicate with the City Commission by phone or e-mail and encourage them to support the Plan Board’s recommendation, specifically including the removal of the restriction on shelter beds.
I also remind you that there will be a rally in support of homeless rights and services at 5:00 pm in front of City Hall.
The rally and City Commission meeting will be high profile events with strong opinions and emotions involved.  I ask you to represent the Coalition well by expressing yourself both honestly and truthfully, but also with respect toward those who hold opinions that differ from yours.
Thanks, Jim.
Jim Wright, Director
Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry, Inc.
P.O. Box 5494
Gainesville, FL  32627-5494
phone (352) 378-0460 
fax (352) 373-4097
 

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