Monthly Archives: January 2009

SCRIPTURE STUDY: Approaching the Story seriously as a story

This semester at the GCW, we’re going to look at a series of readings based on the Church’s liturgical calendar–namely the readings which will be used in many churches on the Sundays following our Tuesday scripture study. This is a departure for us, and for me. We typically study a book or a lengthy section of a book from scripture. I still think this is the best way to come to both an appreciation for and a deeper understanding of scripture. But I’m thinking that maybe a change of pace would be nice.

For folks who will be joining us over the course of the next semester, there are a couple of things essential to the way we study scripture at the GCW. My approach to scripture has always been to take the Story seriously as “story”; i.e. that a close reading of the text and attention to the elements of the story will yield a richness of meaning that is otherwise lost in other approaches. Some folks call this “narrative criticism.” The simple and most pertinent reason for this approach is that first and foremost the author wrote what they had to say as a story and therefore meant it to be understood within that framework. Secondly, stories are understandable to all of us. We have an innate ability to understand stories if we but pay attention. This doesn’t mean jettisoning understandings that come out of historical, social, political, cultural and linguistic analysis and whatnot. Rather it takes all of that into consideration within the context of the story itself; certainly knowing something about the history of Israel or having knowledge of Jewish rituals enriches our reading of the story. Together, as a group, we help to ferret out the little tidbits of knowledge that we all have accumulated over the years, enhancing our individual readings of the story with what others bring to light from both their knowledge and their experience.

Here’s a brief rundown of what we keep in mind as we study scripture together.

The first question to ask when approaching Scripture is NEVER “what does it mean?” The first question should ALWAYS be “what does it say?” or “what is written?” The text, albeit in translation, is the fence that hems in the various possible meanings of any particular story or passage. The meaning of a verse like “Love your enemies” can never mean “bomb and destroy your enemies.” The text itself negates that as a possible meaning. This is why we start by taking the text seriously.

The author of a book or passage is in control of the story. Every detail is there for a reason. So again, we need to read closely. At the GCW, we read and unpack a verse at a time.

We have an innate ability to understand stories. Many of us have been taught an overly reverential attitude toward scripture and we come to it doubting our abilities to understand. The truth is that, like when we watch a television show or read a novel, as long as we pay close attention, we usually can figure out what is going on. Same is true for scripture.

So here are some “helps” in learning to read or study scripture seriously as story:

  1. Read the text closely.
  2. Read the text with others, mining each other’s knowledge about what is going on.
  3. Read whole passages or whole books and puzzle out your own ideas and questions before consulting outside sources (like commentaries, which are also interpretations). Use outside sources only after you’ve achieved some of your own familiarity with the story.
  4. Use 2 or more good translations of scripture (NRSV, New Jerusalem, New American, and more). We’re reading of course in English, translated from the Greek and Hebrew. Translation is also partly interpretation and having translations that sometimes differ on particular words or phrases helps to clue us in to parts of the story which are “in play,” so to speak.
  5. Write out the text yourself. Write in your bible, jotting down notes, circling words, etc. Fill up the margins. Keep a journal of your study.
  6. Put yourself in the place of one of the characters in the story. What do they see, feel, think?
  7. When reading, note the following elements of most stories. These elements help to carry and articulate meaning.
  • Where do passages begin and end? (Look for changes in setting, voice, etc.)
  • In what order do things happen?
  • What words, themes, actions, settings, situations, etc. are repeated?
  • What is the setting?
  • Who are the characters? And what do we know about them? (status, gender, jobs, ethnicity, etc.)
  • What is the relationship between characters?
  • What action happens? Who does or says what?
  • Is there conflict? Between whom? Why?
  • What drives the story? What is the plot?
  • Is there a “twist” or “surprise” in the story?

Stories have power. They help tell us who we are, what we value, what is worth living and dying for. These stories in scripture should be foundational for us. And finally, these are the stories our ancestors have passed down to us. There is something here they want us to discover, something good and important and transformative. They want to tell us something. It is to our great joy to listen and to understand what that something is. We hope you’ll join us this semester as we listen and discuss together.

HOUSE NEWS: The revolution begins with the Word

Dear friends,

To see the schedule for this week, click here.

SCRIPTURE STUDY STARTS TUESDAY – NEW TIME! We’re experimenting a little with scripture study this semester, deciding to do it during the day instead of our usual evening study. We’ve found that our evenings have traditionally been a little overloaded, and we’re trying to balance our schedule out some. We hope that those of you with some flexibility in your schedule might be able to join us on Tuesdays, from 2:30-4pm, this semester. If you haven’t been to our scripture study before, we think it’ll be like no other study you’ve attended. We look at the scripture story as the revelation that proclaims revolution. Come see why…

ROUNDTABLE – LEAH SARAT ON THE IMMIGRATION DETENTION INDUSTRY: We’re thrilled to have Leah Sarat, a UF doctoral student in religion, join us again to continue what have proven to be some of our most vigorous discussions, around the issue of immigration. Leah’s research and work has focused on border issues, and her knowledge of and passion for her subject is evident to all. This week, she’ll be talking about the immigrant detention industry, described by the New York Times as the “fastest-growing, least-examined type of incarceration in America.”  She’ll lead us in discussion about how the rise in immigrant detention is tied to demand on the part of private, for-profit prisons to fill jail space. Please bring a dish to share if you can! We hope you’ll join us!

NO SUNDAY CAFE: Each year we forego Dorothy’s Cafe on the first Sunday of February due to the Super Bowl–not because we’re huge football fans, but because First United Methodist Church just a few blocks from us puts on a big Super Bowl party and most of our usual guests head there to watch the game, eat barbeque, and win door prizes. It’s quite the celebration. Kudos to First United Methodist!

In peace,

John

HOUSE NEWS: Cancer survivor Ben Brew on addiction and recovery

Dear friends,

To see the schedule for this week, click here.

ROUNDTABLE – BEN BREW ON ADDICTION AND RECOVERY: We’re really excited about this week’s Roundtable. Many of you have met or heard about Kelli’s son Ben’s fight with leukemia over the past several years. Ben was diagnosed in September 2005, underwent two-plus years of chemotherapy, etc, and was declared cancer-free in October 2007. During Ben’s fight with cancer, he became addicted to the painkillers prescribed to help with the side effects. At this week’s RT, Ben will talk about addiction/alcoholism as a whole–basic knowledge of the disease, who it effects, that’s its more than just a moral issue– then share some of his personal story–what it was like when he was using, how he recovered, and how he stays recovered. Please bring a dish to share if you can! We hope you’ll join us! 

WHEN YOUR CAR BECOMES YOUR HOME: Sometimes things happen at the Jubilee House which we would like to share with you, but which are a little beyond the quick blurbs we include in emails regarding the schedule and house news, etc. When we have a chance, we use the GCW website to blog on some of the thoughts, struggles, happenings, and whatnot that are foremost in our minds. As some of you know, occasionally we have had people who are homeless but who have vehicles park in the public parking spaces out in front of our home. This past week, we had an experience that draws into sharp focus the struggles and indignities that homeless people suffer under. We hope you’ll take a moment to read more by clicking here, and think about how the current state of our economy is moving people out of their actual homes, leaving their car or truck or van as the only thing standing between them and living outside on the street.

MAKE A REGULAR COMMITMENT TO VOLUNTEER AT THE GCW THIS SEMESTER! Thanks to the several folks last week who wrote back to say that they could commit to a regulare, consistent volunteer slot with the GCW for the semester. It is a great help to us and those we care for and work alongside to have volunteers who we can count on to be there week-in and week-out. If you can make a regular weekly commitment to Dorothy’s Cafe, the Breakfast Brigade, the Rosa B Garden (later in the semester), or any of our projects, we would be so grateful! Just let us know what project you can do regularly and what time slot you can commit to (for example, Dorothy’s Cafe, 10am to noon preparation, etc)!

SCRIPTURE STUDY STARTS NEXT WEEK, TUESDAY, AT NEW TIME! We’ll start scripture study next Tuesday, at our new time, 2:30-4pm at the Jubilee House. Our scripture studies are typically a mix of folks–homeless people and students, working folks, intergenerational, different racial and cultural backgrounds, etc. We study scripture in a deliberate way that is meant to uncover what is at the heart of the story, by looking closely at the text, appreciating the story itself in all its richness with characters and conflict, paying attention to setting and scene, and weaving in political, historical and cultural analysis as well. We think it is a provocative and challenging way to do scripture and we hope you’ll consider joining us this semester.

AND THANKS! Special thanks this past week for all of the folks who dropped off blankets, extra sweaters, and whatnot. We’ve had a handful of folks sleeping on our floor as the weather has turned wet and cold lately. Thanks too to the Gonzalez family and their friends who hosted Dorothy’s Cafe on Sunday. The soup was outstanding and we had a nice crowd, including about 20 fellows watching the NFC championship game. We’re also still in need of a set of bunk beds and a chest of drawers if anyone out there knows of any leads. Just let us know!

In peace,

John

PS: I’m getting this email out a little late this week, but we’ve got a group of folks watching the inauguration at the house right now. Come on over if you want to join us!

OPINION: When your car becomes your home

Earlier this week, I walked out the front door of Jubilee House to find a police car’s lights flashing. The police officer was looking at a truck that is often parked in one of the parallel spots on our street. It belongs to a homeless friend, who more or less lives out of the truck, and sometimes sleeps in our home when the weather is particularly cold. Our friend is in a difficult situation: he suffered a severe brain injury a while back and he is limited in what he can do for work. Employers don’t want to take him on because of his brain injury and the risk they assume if they were to hire him. His income is very limited, making it virtually impossible to earn enough money to afford an apartment or even a room somewhere. He struggles just to come up with enough money to put gas in his truck. He’s a nice, fairly unassuming fellow who has always been respectful and courteous to all of us at the house, often helping us out with chores and household projects. Most often, you’ll find him reading a book in some quiet corner of our neighborhood.

The officer asked me if I knew whose truck it was; I told him I did and shared with him a little bit about our friend. He said that he had gotten a complaint about it, and he pointed out that a tire was flat, there was a lot of trash in the car, and it had been in the same spot for too long (72 hours in a public parking space is the limit). I told him I’d talk to our friend and ask him to clean it out, fix the tire and move the truck (which would probably just mean moving it to the other side of the street).

On our street, we have another house or two and a couple of businesses. The businesses have always been pretty kind and cooperative with us, letting us know if they perceive any problems, and we typically work things out amicably to the benefit of everyone. The reason for the complaint against our friend’s truck had to do with how someone living out of his truck (and a messy truck at that) affects business, affects another’s investment.

We’ve had others who have lived out of their vehicles (usually older models, on the beaten-up side) on our street as well. Their stories are also compelling: one is an older man who gets a disability check but sends the bulk of it to his daughter in Ohio whose husband had left her and their children and who was struggling to make ends meet; the other is a couple with the husband suffering from multiple serious medical issues. They are all limited in where they can go, and frankly, they’re near us because they know us to be friends they can turn to if they are in need of help. (I do want to emphasize that for the most part, each of these folks are incredibly independent; they “live” in proximity to us but they take great pride in seeing to their own needs.)

I can understand and appreciate some of the concerns that a property owner might have, and I agree especially that folks like our friends really need to keep their cars clean and neat. (We offered to help our friend with the truck get it cleaned up and in working condition to make it less conspicuous.) Maybe getting our friend to clean up his truck and fix his tire will be enough to answer the complaint. I hope so. Very few people would choose to live out of their car if there was another alternative. But for some–actually more and more as the economy continues to crash–living in their car is the only alternative to living on the street.

I hope that each one of us can resist seeing our brothers and sisters who are living out of their cars and trucks because they have nowhere else to go as nuisances or eyesores. Homelessness itself is already enough of an indignity that no one in that position needs any further indignity added to it. When we see someone close to us–a family member, a friend, a neighbor–suffering, broken, embarrased or brought low, I think that the vast majority of us feel called to treat them with even more gentleness, respect and care than we might typically give. For people who are homeless and living out of necessity in their cars, I hope that this is what they can expect from us. They have nowhere to go, and they are trying to do as best they can in a really difficult, and often dehumanizing situation.

Those parked and living on our street are, in fact, our neighbors. And they are victims, as much as any refugee of an earthquake, hurricane, tsunami, or whatnot. Each of them has suffered their own personal (sometimes literal) Hurricane Katrinas. We can make things a little better for them. As good neighbors, we can help them; and, when necessary, we can help them to be good neighbors too.

- John

HOUSE NEWS: Check out the new schedule and welcome Kim to the GCW

Dear friends,

Our new schedule for the Winter-Spring 2009 semester is shaping up and we want you to note there are a few changes. You can click here now to be directed to the “This Week” page which features our schedule for the upcoming week.

DOROTHY’S CAFE NOW ON WEDNESDAY: Some of our friends who are homeless asked us to consider changing the weekday Dorothy’s Cafe from Tuesday to Wednesday, because Wednesday was a more difficult day for hungry people looking to find a good meal. Our friends at the Home Van and others already serve a meal on Tuesday, so we looked into how easily we could make the change to Wednesday, and voila! Dorothy’s Cafe is now on Wednesday. If you want to help out with preparation, join us between 9:30am and noon; serving is between 12-5pm; with clean-up from 4:30-6pm. It would be REALLY GREAT if some of you might consider making a weekly commitment to helping out at the cafe. Last semester was such a boom-or-bust experience, with some days having more than enough volunteers helping and others none at all. Steady, consistent help is a HUGE benefit for us. So think about making a weekly commitment and let us know!

BREAKFAST BRIGADE ON FRIDAYS: Several years ago we were really blessed to start doing the Breakfast Brigade (BB) twice-a-week because of a generous monthly gift from a supporter who underwrote the cost of doing a second weekly Brigade. We continued to do the second BB even after that supporter was no longer able to help (two years ago), but we made the decision this semester to return to just doing one BB a week. So plan on joining us on Friday mornings this semester for the Breakfast Brigade!

WELCOME KIMBERLY HUNTER TO THE GCW! Each semester we are honored and blessed to have new community members join us through the Metanoia Semester, our semester-long immersion experience into the GCW. This semester, we’re excited to have Kimberly Hunter, recent UF grad, join our community. We’ll be welcoming Kimberly formally into the GCW community at this week’s Roundtable and Potluck on Thursday, at 6pm. Come join us in welcoming Kimberly, give her advice for making it thru the semester with us, share stories about what she can expect, and celebrate with us as we offer a blessing for her time with us. Don’t forget to bring a dish to share if you can!

Note too that we’ll be hosting a morning prayer at the house on Fridays (starting this Friday, January 16) and Mondays, from 7:30-8am. All are welcome to join us. And Scripture Study will begin, still on Tuesdays, at a new time, in two weeks. We’ll keep you updated.

Also, we’re still looking for a chest of drawers and a small desk if anyone out there has any leads! Just email us back and let us know. And join the GCW Facebook group if you haven’t already at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2517729459.

In peace,

John

HOUSE NEWS: Welcome to the New Year!

GCW Christmas Party 2009

GCW Christmas Party 2009

Dear friends,

We are starting things back up at the GCW after a semi-quiet Christmas and New Year’s holiday. As we usually do, we’ll work back up to a full schedule of activities over the course of two or three weeks. You can click here to see what is happening this week. We’ll also be making some slight changes to the schedule after our start-of-the-semester house meeting later this week, so make sure to check the website and be sure of the new schedule (before waking up one morning at 3:30am and coming to Breakfast Brigade only to find out the days have been changed; not fun!)

We’re also welcoming Kimberly Hunter into our community as part of the Metanoia Semester (click here to find out more about Metanoia and whether you might be interested for Fall 2009). Look for a more formal welcome of Kimberly next week or so. In addition to Kimberly, Patrick, Kendera, Moraa, John, Kelli, Johnny and Gracie (and Rudy) will make up the house community this semester.

NEED BEDROOM FURNITURE: We’re in need of several furniture items at the GCW and we’re hoping some of you may have leads on free or inexpensive items for us. We need ideally a sturdy bunk bed set (but we’ll take a good twin bed frame if we can’t find bunk beds) with mattresses and box springs; a chest of drawers; small book case; lamps; and a small desk and chair. Good wooden ones of any of these would be great (particle board furniture falls apart too easily, especially when getting moved around, and we move stuff around according to needs a lot). Email us if you can give us any leads; we would be glad to pick them up late this week or this coming weekend.

The holidays were really great at the GCW, as we celebrated in numerous ways–a trip to see “A Christmas Carol,” for 15 of our volunteers, friends from the street, and others (courtesy of Monsieur Fezziwig, Dan Kahn); our largest holiday party ever; and a Christmas day meal for several of us in the house, our kids and several of our friends who had nowhere else to celebrate.  At the Christmas party, one of our friends told me quietly on the side, after hanging an ornament on the tree, “Thank you for this party. I hadn’t hung an ornament on a tree for 20 years. This night is really special.” To see photos from our Christmas party, click here.

To all of you who walk with us and help us to keep going, thank you. We hope you’ll join us as we continue this semester with this “experiment in the kingdom of God.”

In peace,

John

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