Category Archives: OPINION

OPINION: A movement of Lilliputians

I believe that it was at the Pax Christi USA National Assembly in Cleveland in 1996 when scripture scholar and teacher Ched Myers invoked the story of Gulliver and the Lilliputians (from Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift) to describe the task that is before the peace movement. For those unfamiliar with the story, Gulliver, the titular hero, is washed ashore after a shipwreck and awakes to find himself a prisoner of the Lilliputians.

The Lilliputians are a miniature people, with an average height of around 6 inches tall. To them Gulliver is a giant, and a threatening one at that. Their attempts to subdue Gulliver include hundreds of Lilliputians racing around Gulliver’s prone body, throwing tiny ropes over various parts, seeking to keep him immobilized, tied to the ground. Some Lilliputians are trying to fasten down his knee, others his wrist, some around his midsection, and so on.

To read the rest of this post, click here.

OPINION: Depression and Depression

One facet of our “new economic reality” (what will it be called someday – the Great Collapse?) that warrants some thinking about is the emotional/spiritual side of this kind of loss. It’s been less than six months since the market took its historic plunge and the bailouts began, and most of us have been in a “wait and see” mode. But lately, I am hearing more and more about the repercussions of having the rug pulled out from under one – whether from young people who are about to graduate from college or from older ones who have seen their retirement money suddenly reduced by half.

Click here to read the rest of this post on Kelli’s blog at

OPINION: Our favorite Catholic Worker newspaper

Many folks don’t know that the first “Catholic Worker” was a newspaper–NOT a house of hospitality. From the very beginning, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin were consistent (maybe insistent) in the belief that a newspaper was an important, even essential part of the Catholic Worker movement.

We make no secret of our great admiration of the folks at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker and our own attempt to live as Catholic Workers is modeled on much of what we have witnessed and know about their communal life and their mission. We are incredibly grateful for their support over the years that we have been doing this and we continue to take inspiration from them.

Much of that inspiration comes from the newspaper they publish, “The Catholic Agitator.” We get 25 copies at the house which disappear pretty quickly but we want to share with many of you that the newspaper is also available online at the LACW website. So if you’re looking for some great social and political commentary, incredible scriptural reflection, and poignant critique of our culture, check out the LACW online at And for the latest issue of the LACW, click here.

For some insightful reading on the problems of our current economic system, I highly recommend 3 pieces from the December 2008 issue: Jeff Dietrich on “Free Market Capitalism: Robbing the Poor;” Ched Myers on “Sabbath Economics;” and the interview with author Mark Engler. Mark and Ched are both friends to the GCW and we’re always impressed and thankful for their work. Click here to check out these articles in their December 2008 issue.

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

OPINION: Hope, yes; but real change is still up to us

After watching the movie The Great Debaters with some folks waiting to take showers at the house this afternoon, one of the guests remarked:

“My mother is white and my father is African-American.  I’m kind of like Obama!”

This, if anything, gives me hope. Change doesn’t come from the top, and no politician or administration is going to begin to solve all the the problems we are facing as a people.  But there’s hope he might inspire us to change – might help unite us, might awaken in folks who have been alienated from the system the possibility that they are now included and empowered to help make the changes we need.  

Musician David Rovics had some interesting things to say about his hopes, as well as his concerns, about the Obama presidency and what it might mean to the most vulnerable among us. Here’s an excerpt (pardon the profanity at the end; it’s quite descriptive):

Obama has promised to raise taxes on the rich back to what they were under Clinton. . . He is talking about taking soldiers out of Iraq and sending them to Afghanistan — not bringing them all home and cutting military spending by 90%, in line with international norms, and doing away with this rapacious empire. He is talking about the middle class, and sure, he had to do that to get elected, but when does he ever talk about the poor, the imprisoned millions, the thousands of homeless walking cadavers haunting the streets of every major American city? Every politician talks about building schools, but what about free education through graduate school like they have in most European countries?

No, the scope of debate is far more limited than that. It is a scope defined by that increasingly narrow grey area in between “conservative” and “liberal.” There are distinctions, some of them important. That 3% tax increase will do good things for many people, I hope. Perhaps we won’t start any new wars, I don’t know. Perhaps we’ll withdraw from Iraq, but I’ll bet no reparations for what we’ve done there will be forthcoming. Perhaps there will be no new wars on our civil liberties in the next few years, but I’ll bet the prison population will not get much smaller.

I hope I’m wrong. But if I am to be proven wrong and there are to be serious changes in the welfare of people in the US and around the world, it will only be as a result of a popular uprising of people calling for a real New Deal for the 21st century, an end to the empire, housing, health care and education for all, and so on. Because even if Obama secretly wants all of these things, as so many of us would desperately like to believe, he’s going to need plenty of popular pressure to point to if any of these things are going to become reality. If he really is the socialist wealth redistributor his opponents said he is, he’s going to need massive popular support just to avoid being impeached for treason by those corporate stooges who dominate both parties in the Congress.

And if, on the other hand, he really believes his own campaign promises of meager tax increases for the rich, raising the salaries of teachers a bit, fighting terrorism, passing more free trade agreements, being Israel’s best friend, and so on, then what we have in store is another Democratic administration. Different kind of like Starbucks is different from McDonald’s — they both pay poverty wages and feed you shit, but Starbucks includes health insurance.

It’s always been, and still is, up to us.  All of us.


OPINION:Twenty Questions – Social Justice Quiz 2008

by Bill Quigley – Human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University, New Orleans

In its 2007 Annual Homeless Report to Congress, HUD reported that nearly one in four people in homeless shelters are children 17 or younger. Bill Quigley’s “Social Justice Quiz 2008” challenges us to look through the eyes of those less fortunate and educate ourselves about how liberty, opportunity, income and wealth are distributed in the US and around the world. (Photo: Ryan Orr / Flickr)

We in the US who say we believe in social justice must challenge ourselves to look at the world through the eyes of those who have much less than us.

Why? Social justice, as defined by John Rawls, respects basic individual liberty and economic improvement. But social justice also insists that liberty, opportunity, income, wealth and the other social bases of self-respect are to be distributed equally unless an unequal distribution is to everyone’s advantage and any inequalities are arranged so they are open to all.

Therefore, we must educate ourselves and others about how liberty, opportunity, income and wealth are actually distributed in our country and in our world. Examining the following can help us realize how much we have to learn about social justice.

1. How many deaths are there worldwide each year due to acts of terrorism?

Answer: The US State Department reported there were more than 22,000 deaths from terrorism last year. Over half of those killed or injured were Muslims. Source: Voice of America, May 2, 2008. “Terrorism Deaths Rose in 2007.”

2. How many deaths are there worldwide each day due to poverty and malnutrition?

A: About 25,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes, according to the United Nations. – Hunger and World Poverty. Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes – one child every five seconds. Bread for the World. Hunger Facts: International.

3. 1n 1965, CEOs in major companies made 24 times more than the average worker. In 1980, CEOs made 40 times more than the average worker. In 2007, CEOs earned how many times more than the average worker?

A: Today’s average CEO from a Fortune 500 company makes 364 times an average worker’s pay and over 70 times the pay of a four-star Army general. Executive Excess 2007, page 7, jointly published by Institute for Policy Studies and United for Fair Economy, August 29, 2007. The 1965 numbers from State of Working America 2004-2005, Economic Policy Institute.

4. In how many of the more than 3,000 cities and counties in the US can a full-time worker who earns the minimum wage afford to pay rent and utilities on a one-bedroom apartment?

A: In no city or county in the entire USA can a full-time worker who earns minimum wage afford even a one-bedroom rental. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) urges renters not to pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent. HUD also reports the fair market rent for each of the counties and cities in the US. Nationally, in order to rent a two-bedroom apartment, one full-time worker in 2008 must earn $17.32 per hour. In fact, 81 percent of renters live in cities where the Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom rental is not even affordable with two minimum-wage jobs. Source: Out of Reach 2007-2008, April 7, 2008, National Low-Income Housing Coalition.

5. In 1968, the minimum wage was $1.65 per hour. How much would the minimum wage be today if it had kept pace with inflation since 1968?

A: Calculated in real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, the 1968 minimum wage would have been $9.83 in 2007 dollars. Andrew Tobias, January 16, 2008. The federal minimum wage is $6.55 per hour effective July 24, 2008, and will be $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009.

6. True or false? People in the United States spend nearly twice as much on pet food as the US government spends on aid to help foreign countries.

A: True. The USA spends $43.4 billion on pet food annually. Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association Inc. The USA spent $23.5 billion in official foreign aid in 2006. The US government gave the most of any country in the world in actual dollars. As a percentage of gross national income, the US came in second to last among OECD donor countries and ranked number 20 at 0.18 percent behind Sweden at 1.02 percent and other countries such as Norway, Netherlands, Ireland, United Kingdom, Austria, France, Germany, Spain, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and others. This does not count private donations, which, if included, may move the US up as high as sixth. The Index of Global Philanthropy 2008, pages 15-19.

7. How many people in the world live on $2 a day or less?

A: The World Bank reported in August 2008 that 2.6 billion people consume less than $2 a day.

8. How many people in the world do not have electricity?

A: Worldwide, 1.6 billion people do not have electricity and 2.5 billion people use wood, charcoal or animal dung for cooking. United Nations Human Development Report 2007/2008, pages 44-45.

9. People in the US consume 42 kilograms of meat per person per year. How much meat and grain do people in India and China eat?

A: People in the US lead the world in meat consumption at 42 kg per person per year, compared to 1.6 kg in India and 5.9 kg in China. People in the US consume five times the grain (wheat, rice, rye, barley, etc.) as people in India, three times as much as people in China, and twice as much as people in Europe. “THE BLAME GAME: Who is behind the world food price crisis,” Oakland Institute, July 2008.

10. How many cars does China have for every 1,000 drivers? India? The US?

A: China has nine cars for every 1,000 drivers. India has 11 cars for every 1,000 drivers. The US has 1,114 cars for every 1,000 drivers. Iain Carson and Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran, “Zoom: The Global Race to Fuel the Car of the Future” (2007).

11. How much grain is needed to fill an SUV tank with ethanol?

A: The grain needed to fill an SUV tank with ethanol could feed a hungry person for a year. Lester Brown,, August 16, 2006.

12. According to The Wall Street Journal, the richest one percent of Americans earns what percent of the nation’s adjusted gross income? Five percent? Ten percent? Fifteen percent? Twenty percent?

A: “According to the figures, the richest one percent reported 22 percent of the nation’s total adjusted gross income in 2006. That is up from 21.2 percent a year earlier, and it is the highest in the 19 years that the IRS has kept strictly comparable figures. The 1988 level was 15.2 percent. Earlier IRS data show the last year the share of income belonging to the top one percent was at such a high level as it was in 2006 was in 1929, but changes in measuring income make a precise comparison difficult.” Jesse Drucker, “Richest Americans See Their Income Share Grow,” Wall Street Journal, July 23, 2008, page A3.

13. How many people does our government say are homeless in the US on any given day?

A: A total of 754,000 are homeless. About 338,000 homeless people are not in shelters (live on the streets, in cars or in abandoned buildings) and 415,000 are in shelters on any given night. The 2007 US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Annual Homeless Report to Congress, page iii and 23. The population of San Francisco is about 739,000.

14. What percentage of people in homeless shelters are children?

A: HUD reports nearly one in four people in homeless shelters are children 17 or younger. Page iv, the 2007 HUD Annual Homeless Report to Congress.

15. How many veterans are homeless on any given night?

A: Over 100,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. About 18 percent of the adult homeless population are veterans. Page 32, the 2007 HUD Homeless Report. This is about the same population as Green Bay, Wisconsin.

16. The military budget of the United States in 2008 is the largest in the world at $623 billion per year. How much larger is the US military budget than that of China, the second-largest in the world?

A: Ten times. China’s military budget is $65 billion. The US military budget is nearly 10 times larger than the second leading military spender.

17. The US military budget is larger than how many of the countries of the rest of the world combined?

A: The US military budget of $623 billion is larger than the budgets of all the countries in the rest of the world put together. The total global military budget of the rest of the world is $500 billion. Russia’s military budget is $50 billion, South Koreas is $21 billion, and Irons is $4.3 billion.

18. Over the 28-year history of the Berlin Wall, 287 people perished trying to cross it. How many people have died in the last four years trying to cross the border between Arizona and Mexico?

A: At least 1,268 people have died along the border of Arizona and Mexico since 2004. The Arizona Daily Star keeps track of the reported deaths along the state border, and it reports 214 died in 2004; 241 in 2005, 216 in 2006, 237 in 2007, and 116 as of July 31, 2008. These numbers do not include deaths along the California or Texas borders. The Border Patrol reported that 400 people died in fiscal 2206-2007, while 453 died in 2004-2005 and 494 died in 2004-2005. Source The Associated Press, November 8, 2007.

19. India is ranked second in the world in gun ownership with four guns per 100 people. China is third with third firearms per 100 people. Which country is first and how widespread is gun ownership?

A: The US is first in gun ownership worldwide with 90 guns for every 100 citizens. Laura MacInnis, “US most armed country with 90 guns per 100 people.” Reuters, August 28, 2007.

20. What country leads the world in the incarceration of its citizens?

A: The US jails 751 inmates per 100,000 people, the highest rate in the world. Russia is second with 627 per 100,000. England’s rate is 151, Germany’s is 88 and Japan’s is 63. The US has 2.3 million people behind bars, more than any country in the world. Adam Liptak, “Inmate Count in US Dwarfs Other Nations'” New York Times, April 23, 2008.

OPINION: “Dorothy Day’s Day”

Here’s a great article that win this week’s copy of The Nation. It’s by Coleman McCarthy:

At Dorothy Day’s death in November 1980, at 83, talk was heard that
the Catholic Worker, the movement she co-founded in 1933, would vanish
without her. She was its Earth Mother–or better, its Reverend Mother,
a convert to Catholicism who took literally the call of the Gospels to
practice personally the works of mercy and rescue. She would do it
with full-risk commitments to pacifism and nonviolent anarchism.

The talk was unfounded. With scant eyeing from the media, and far from
the rites of soft-core religion that sanction coziness with Caesar and
his court clerics, nearly 185 Catholic Worker houses of hospitality
are currently operating in thirty-seven states and ten countries. From
July 9 to 12, several hundred practitioners of Day’s methods are
expected to gather in Worcester, Massachusetts, hosted by two local
Worker houses: Sts. Francis and Therese and The Mustard Seed. The
occasion is a celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the
Catholic Worker, going back to May Day 1933, when Day, then a
35-year-old journalist who had written about class conflict, strikes
and war resistance for The Masses and The Liberator, handed out the
first copies of her monthly newspaper at a Communist rally in
Manhattan’s Union Square.

Through thick and thick–there is no thin in poverty’s
underworld–Worker houses have been models of stamina, going extra
miles beyond counting. The Ammon Hennacy House in Los Angeles offers
shelter and meals for homeless people and publishes The Catholic
Agitator. Viva House in Baltimore runs a food pantry and family soup
kitchen. St. Peter Claver House in Philadelphia gleans for food and
clothing and has it on hand for all comers. Washington’s Dorothy Day
House shelters five families, distributes food and stages weekly
antiwar demonstrations at the White House and the Pentagon. Scott
Schaeffer-Duffy, who with his wife, Claire, started Sts. Francis and
Therese House in 1986, echoes Day’s line–“we confess to being fools
and wish that we were more so”–by saying that Catholic Worker houses
seek “an irrational and personalist way of doing things that trusts in
the miraculous power of God…. Without government aid, salaries,
grants or institutional help from the Church, and often without many
volunteers, we feed and house people, deliver aid in war zones,
confront local and national injustices, and still manage to have happy
personal and family lives. That’s pretty miraculous to me.”

In the years before Day embraced Catholicism, in 1927 at 30, she lived
on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. She bibbed with Eugene O’Neill and
Malcolm Cowley, interviewed Trotsky, went to jail with Alice Paul, was
on the barricades with the Socialists, read Peter Kropotkin, Tolstoy
and Jack Reed, reveled with Greenwich Village bohemians, had an
abortion, gave birth to a daughter and left a common-law marriage. In
The Long Loneliness, Day’s 1952 autobiography, she tells of
transferring all that fury and fire to living out Christ’s message of
siding with the scorned.

Like today’s followers, Day worked her own side of the street with no
official ties to the Church. A pacifist, she had contempt for
churchmen who duped the faithful into accepting the “just war” theory.
She struck matches to burn down the hierarchy’s chumminess with power.
In the late 1960s, when a war-supporting Catholic cardinal was in
Vietnam blessing US warplanes and another cardinal went to the White
House for a prayer service with Richard Nixon, Day unloaded: “What a
confusion we have gotten into when Christian prelates sprinkle holy
water on scrap metal to be used for obliteration bombing and name
bombers for the Holy Innocents, for Our Lady of Mercy; who bless a man
about to press a button which releases death to 50,000 human beings,
including little babies, children, the sick, the aged….”

Day’s fifty-year ministry included war tax resistance, commingling
with society’s broke and broken, imprisonment–she was arrested so
often for civil disobedience that a New York City jail had a “Dorothy
Day suite”–and getting out a newspaper that still sells at the same
penny-a-copy price and holds the same pacifist line as when it
started. Day’s biographers in books and magazines include Robert
Coles, Garry Wills, Daniel Berrigan, Abigail McCarthy, Dwight
Macdonald, Dan Wakefield, Michael Harrington and David O’Brien–the
last writing in Commonweal that Day was “the most significant,
interesting and influential person in the history of American

Few writers have been closer to Day than Robert Ellsberg. He took a
five-year student sabbatical from Harvard in the mid-1970s to join Day
at the New York Worker, washing dishes, unclogging the toilets and
editing the newspaper. This summer Ellsberg, now the editor and
publisher of Orbis Books, comes forward with The Duty of Delight: The
Diaries of Dorothy Day. It is 669 pages of sere and flexuous prose,
virtuosic in its candor. A diary entry from June 16, 1951, begins: “I
have a hard enough job to curb the anger in my own heart which I
sometimes even wake up with, go to sleep with–a giant to strive with,
an ugliness, a sorrow to me–a mighty struggle to love. As long as
there is any resentment, bitterness, lack of love in my own heart I am
powerless. God must help me.”

From the evidence in Day’s life and what endures daily in the Worker
houses, help kept–and keeps–

OPINION: What’s Wrong with Jeremiah Wright?

Now that a little of the furor over the sound bites from Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermons and his recent interviews has died down, I can’t help wondering what’s wrong with Wright.  Some of his more inflammatory assertions – that the U.S. government could have introduced the HIV/AIDS virus and drugs into the black community, that we are the most violent nation in the world, that our country was built on the genocide of its indigenous people, and that our foreign policy was linked to the 9/11 attacks – are hard to swallow for many of us.  Where is this man coming from?

Listening to his two-part interview with Bill Moyers (part one, part two) in its entirety and watching his interview with the National Press Club are helpful in understanding the context in which these statements were made.   Moyers gives some background on Wright’s most controversial statements and respectfully gives him the opportunity to respond.  Wright’s speech before the National Press Club was equally thoughtful and enlightening, although, in contrast to Moyers, the facilitator at the NPC was not only less respectful, but sometimes downright antagonistic.  This did not bring out the best in Wright, who came off as being combative and arrogant during the question and answer period.  The two of them together sometimes behaved like they were participating in a high school debate, smirking when they thought they made a point smartly.  This part was a little painful to watch.   

But the content of Wright’s remarks shouldn’t be ignored because some of us are put off by his oratorical style.  He uses the cadence and fist-shaking accusations of the prophetic, “woe unto you”-style of preaching reminiscent of the Hebrew prophets. It’s not unlike some of Martin Luther King Jr.’s truth-telling sermons and speeches and brings to mind the style and delivery of a number of African-American preachers on any given Sunday.  

It’s troubling that charges of divisiveness by the mainstream press – and by Obama supporters afraid of the political fallout – are muffling the crux of what he’s saying.  He’s an articulate, intelligent, well-educated person who has lived out many years shepherding a church in an extremely impoverished neighborhood in Chicago. He’s walked the walk – hearing and seeing how racial injustice has affected the people he loves, seeking to inspire them to rise above and claim their own share in the American Dream, expressing his and their disillusionment and – yes – anger over how very much more difficult it is for some than for others.  Yes, he’s offensive to some ears, as surely Jesus was to those whom he called a brood of vipers or whose tables he kicked over in the marketplace.   But if we can get past the discomfort and drop the knee-jerk offense at the impoliteness of it all, it becomes clearer that he’s calling it as he sees it, as a good pastor, activist, and reformer should – and that he may be seeing some things most of us miss.

For instance, as an educated man, aware of the Tuskegee Experiment conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service on 399 black men without their knowledge (1932-1972), his mind has been opened to the possibility of purposeful, wrongful death perpetrated by the government on black folks. He’s also aware that the U.S., for all its “war on drugs” hoopla that has sent many an offender to jail (a disproportionate number of them black), has used the drug trade to further our foreign policy goals.  The billions of dollars we spend on war-making and the billions made on selling arms to countries around the world (often to both sides of a conflict) hasn’t profited inner-city Chicago – not to mention what it’s done to the poor globally. And the terrible events of 9/11 are, in fact, seen differently through the eyes of a person who has witnessed the ongoing assault of his country’s own policies on the poor in his neighborhood – and the desperation it breeds. He is too educated and experienced to let patriotism blind him to the truth of America’s contribution to a good deal of “evil-doing.” 

To say he should be criticized for his lack of patriotism, shunned for being “divisive,” or quieted down for being animated and angry about the underbelly of U.S. policy and its effect on folks with dark skin, is to attempt to shut up an articulate voice in the multiple narratives that tell the complicated story of who we are as a people and that might help us move forward in a new way. 

The story of our country looks different to a Native American and will include a history of genocide and immoral land acquisition and its long-ranging repercussions.  The story of an African-American embodies enslavement and long-term racism and its continued effects on the hopes and dreams of young black children.  The mother of an addict will read differently the historically documented information regarding U.S. foreign policy in Central America and its effects on the drug trade. And the families of the black men who died thinking they were being treated for syphillus while they were actually being treated like lab rats, will feel differently when they read news stories about illnesses affecting a disproportionate number of black folks.  Wright speaks of these narratives and embodies the anger at injustice of a people he loves and for whom he feels a responsibility as pastor and brother. 

The only ones who benefit from everyone playing nice – not mentioning the elephant in the room or the naked emperor on parade – are those in league with the oppressors, standing to gain from the status quo, or not wanting to be ruffled by the messiness of historical reality.  Those of us who hope for change need to sit still and listen to folks like Reverend Wright – even if it makes us uncomfortable. There’s not much wrong with what Reverend Wright has to say. 

– Kelli





OPINION: Addiction Heartache

 It’s no secret that a lot of homeless folks are addicted to either drugs or alcohol.  The ways they got there are as various as anyone else’s.  But the toll has been higher; it’s left them high and dry, wasted, alone, and needing another hit.  Badly.

It’s easy to judge, especially for those of us whose addictions are culturally sanctioned – junk food, television, shopping…  and/or alcohol or pills behind closed doors (because we have doors). And it’s a fact: addiction is wrong. It puts some people in jail and  it kills others.  And it is always de-humanizing. It strips us of our ability to act responsibly, even morally.  Like Edward in the Chronicles of Narnia or Gollum in the Lord of the Rings (handy references for folks who don’t know an addict – or think they don’t), we would sell out our sister or our brother or our souls to get that thing that literally means the world to us.

Personally, we are experiencing this in all aspects of our lives right now.  The Gainesville Catholic Worker is struggling with finding ways to treat folks who are addicted to drugs or alcohol with both mercy and responsibility. Those substances aren’t allowed in the house, and no one living in the house is supposed to be using illegal drugs or entering the house under the influence of anything. There are too many people struggling with this to allow what some people even consider fairly normal use – wine at dinner or parties, etc.  And we try hard to treat guests and visitors with respect and dignity, whatever their addiction.

We are also experiencing this in our family life as Ben deals with the painkiller addiction that his cancer treatment left him with.  If you are inclined to let Ben off the hook and differentiate him from other addicts, he would be the first to tell you not to.   A lot of the folks you see weaving in the streets started out their drug use for the “legitimate” pain and trauma caused by accidents and illness.  Even more sought emotional relief, like Ben,from a substance that was available to them.  Ben will also be the first to admit that, if he didn’t have family, insurance, or other resources at his disposal, he could be out on the street too.  That is a fact, but it doesn’t really help.  We are as helpless as any addict in the face of addiction when it comes to dealing with addicts – whoever they are.  They have to hit “rock bottom;” they have to decide they want help and find within them the humility and heart to ask for help. 

And we have to wait and hope and hold them accountable, while offering alternatives and “tough love.” And we try to recognize ourselves, or a loved one – or Jesus – in the brokenness of it all. I don’t know what else.  I wish I did.


OPINION: City May Try to Restrict Churches from Serving the Poor

As many of you know, issues around providing care to homeless people in our community are being brought constantly to the city commission. St. Francis House, our local homeless shelter, received flack for years about the “undesirables” that were attracted downtown because they were offered help there. Restrictions were enforced, and SFH began limiting the number of people who were served.  Next, a “one-stop center” was proposed and approved as a way to care for those restricted from SFH, but no one wanted the center near them, and it took a while to find a place (and now to get funding). Churches stepped up to fill the gap (and respond to their calling to be “good news to the poor”) by opening their doors to people in need – offering friendship, food, and sometimes shelter.  And now that is being threatened.  

Currently on the agenda for the city commission is discussion on how to limit, and sometimes restrict, churches from offering food and shelter to the poor and/or homeless. Donna Lawson, director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network – an organization that assists churches in offering food and temporary housing to homeless families – has attended recent commission meetings and gives a synopsis in a letter she wrote (below). She also offers a very compelling analysis of the attitude that allows this to happen (in bold).   

Hello everyone –

The Community Development Committee meeting went quite badly last night. It is obvious that City Staff and Commissioners are intent upon placing additional restrictions on congregations, both as regards to lot size as well as feeding hungry persons and sheltering homeless persons. The meeting ended without Commissioners Henry, Lowe and Donovan voting on all issues raised. Indeed, after four hours of meeting, we didn’t even finish the discussion about shelter provision, nor did we discuss the issue of feeding hungry persons. Here are notes on the discussions, action taken, and direction City Staff are moving Commissioners toward.

1. Lot Size – Commissioners tentatively settled on the following required lot sizes for congregations building in RSF districts:

Building capacity of 100 – 1.0 acre
Building capacity of 150 – 1.5 acres
Building capacity of 200 – 2.0 acres
Building capacity of 250 – 2.5 acres
Increasing by .5 acres for every 50 persons

This is a requirement for larger lot size than is currently in Code. It should be noted that, according to City Staff data, there are currently 21 congregations in the City on lot sizes smaller than 1 acre. All but three of these are in Single Family Districts. All but six of these are on the East side of town. Restrictions as envisioned by Commissioners at this meeting will hurt the ability of small congregations wishing to develop, e.g., those with memberships of less than 100. Though City staff repeatedly assured the audience that the new restrictions would not hurt existing congregations in their ability to renovate their current buildings, there was disagreement among City staff about the process and whether or not congregations would be forced to obtain special permissions/permits for certain renovations.

2. Sheltering Homeless Persons – (Except where noted, sheltering restrictions apply across the City, not just in RSF Districts.) Discussion got bogged down, as Commissioners tried to anticipate all possible problems and issues that could arise and that could be legislated. It appears that Commissioners may place congregations sheltering on a temporary basis – such as IHN-participating congregations – in a separate category than congregations wishing to shelter on a more permanent basis. However discussion ended for the night with no vote on the issues. Commissioners did begin discussing creating additional restrictions for congregations wishing to house people on a “permanent” basis. For example, they discussed the possibility of allowing congregations sheltering on a permanent basis to shelter only 3 families or 3 unrelated persons, rather than the maximum of twenty people currently allowed in the code. City staff recommended that restrictions on hours of operation be removed for congregation-based shelter activities. They also removed from their recommendations the restriction for “compatability with the neighborhood in RSF districts,” because they are recommending to Commissioners that all sheltering taking place inside (i.e., congregations could not allow persons to sleep in tents on congregation property).There was no discussion of the requirement that congregations obtain a permit for sheltering homeless persons. Commissioner Donovan has requested that this issue be addressed before the Ordinance is returned to the Commission.

3. Food Distribution to the Needy – (Except where noted, restrictions on food distribution apply across the City, not just in RSF Districts.) Commissioners did not yet discuss this issue. Back-up documentation provided indicates that City staff have revised their recommendations and are now recommending that hours of operation be restricted to 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Similar to shelter activities, if food distribution takes place indoors there would be no “compatability requirements” in RSF districts. If food distribution takes place outdoors, there would be compatability requirements in RSF districts.Staff have not re-addressed the following issues: limit of 20 meals served/day, quarter-mile separation between congregations providing food, no-feed zone around the University. Back-up documentation indicates that they want time to survey other communities.What was most discouraging about the meeting was its tenor. The meeting began with the discussion of lot size for congregations, which only affects Residential Single Family Districts. Numerous members of several neighborhood groups were present at the CDC meeting to argue in support of restrictions. There seemed to be general consensus – including among Commissioners – that the presence of a congregation in a neighborhood portends problems due to increased traffic, traffic throughout the day as a congregation grows, lighting, and so on. There was also the insinuation from the audience that congregations will withhold information or give false information about congregation size or plans for growth in order to worm their way into a neighborhood or to obtain permits, etc. There was no disavowal of this statement by Commissioners.

Additionally, as the discussion moved toward sheltering and feeding, the discussion shifted to the effect of housing “those people” in a church, with statements that homeless persons come with so many problems that there must laws in place to protect congregations from themselves or the community from congregation efforts to help too many homeless persons at one time.I was ashamed of my community last night, at least the members who think they can and should legislate against all “possible potential problems” that might occur when people of faith show compassion to the poor and needy among us. I brought up the fact that we allow laws already on the books to regulate behavior such as that which occurs downtown each weekend.

Though police officers report that there are shootings and stabbings every weekend in downtown Gainesville, related to the bar activity, we do not shut down bars on weekends to prevent people from shooting or stabbing each other. Additionally, bars and restaurants downtown are allowed to serve hundreds of people, and to serve until late into the evening. Yet in an attempt to prevent whatever behavior they believe will be exhibited at churches by hungry and homeless persons, Commissioners and City staff want to allow only a very few of each to be served by congregations. Though a bar can serve 100 people up until 2:0 0 a.m., the church next door can provide food to only 20 hungry people and must stop doing so by 8:00 p.m. Though several bars in the same block can serve 100 people each, two churches next door to each other cannot both feed hungry people. There’s something really, really wrong with this. Personally I think the issue is money – people who patronize bars and restaurants spend money; people who own bars and restaurants make money. Hungry and homeless people do not have money and therefore do not have influence.

I urge all of you to attend the next meeting of the Community Development Committee. It will be held next Thursday, March 6th, at 6:00 p.m., in room 17 City Hall. Commissioners plan to wrap up their discussion of this issue so they may send the Ordinance back to the City Commission as soon as possible. At the meeting last night, neighborhood defenders outnumbered the few members of congregations who were present to argue for the right – and responsibility – of congregations to engage in ministries without City-imposed constraints. I believe that it is important for congregation members and pastors to speak up, to demonstrate that this is our community as well, and we wish to help our needy brothers and sisters without restriction by unnecessary City rules.
I will be sending out additional information regarding the congregational feeding and sheltering that currently exists – without problems reported – within the next few days. If you wish to express your thoughts to Commissioners via e-mail as well as in attendance at the next meeting, I have included Commissioner e-mail addresses below.
(Craig Lowwe),
(Rick Bryant),
(Pegeen Hanrahan),
(Scherwin Henry),
(Comm Jack Donovan),
(Jeanna Mastrodicasa),
(Ed Braddy),

Donna Watson Lawson
Executive Director
Interfaith Hospitality Network
of Greater Gainesville
P.O. Box 880
Gainesville, FL 32602
352-378-2720 fax