Postcards to Bodhi, No. 3
July 23, 2018
A contribution to the Plowshares discussion at the National Catholic Worker gathering in Rochester, New York, July, 2018
Spoiler Alert: I think plowshares actions are a good idea!
It’s comforting to know that a discussion on direct disarmament is part of the agenda for the National Catholic Worker gathering in Rochester marking 85 years of the Catholic Worker movement, and a delightful affirmation to be invited to offer some encouraging words. Since having my toys taken away and being sent to my room some months ago, I’ve made a habit of praying with the Sunday gospel readings from the lectionary, and sometimes writing brief reflections on them.
As it happens, the passage before me this week, Mark 6:7-13, provides a perfect opportunity to consider plowshares as an outgrowth of the Catholic Worker movement. I understand that this is a matter of debate for some of us. I also recognize and bow to each of the many other spiritual and ethical paths that have led people to take up Isaiah’s hammer; in no way should their voices be diminished. With that said, this offering is articulated within the parameters of a Catholic Worker approach, which seems appropriate for the occasion.
“Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick – no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”
An instructively odd aspect of Mark’s account of the disciples’ first missionary journey is that Jesus sends them forth without a mission. There are some detailed instructions, but these don’t include a message to be brought, what its content might be, or even that they are supposed to preach at all. While they are given “authority over unclean spirits,” it’s not clear what, if anything, they are supposed to do with that authority. What they are told essentially is this: go somewhere, with somebody, stay in that place, and be poor.
If you’re like me, this is pretty much what you told your family you were doing when you quit your job and joined the Catholic Worker. And it didn’t go over well.
But isn’t this exactly what the Catholic Worker gets right? Isn’t this where the power of our witness finds its source? In our own way, we recover what the churches seem to repeatedly lose throughout the centuries; namely, that the starting pint of evangelization is not preaching or teaching or baptizing or casting out demons. It is hospitality. In fact, I believe Jesus was so certain his disciples would forget this that when he sent them out he made sure that they wouldn’t be able to survive, much less take on any kind of mission, without having to depend on the hospitality of others.
Hospitality is an encounter with another in which there is no agenda but the other; it is how people find one another’s heart. In the Catholic Worker we have seen, and come to know, that when hospitality is practiced daily and mindfully among the poor, it can lead to the heart of a people’s struggle – and that is where Jesus is found. That is where the Gospel gets preached. That is where an evangelization rooted in solidarity can take hold in the world and transform it.That is where communities find the power to name and cast out the unclean spirits that torment us all.
In this way, plowshares has become for me an extension of the common table at Amistad. It is both an unmasking of the demon of militarism that every day lays waste to my neighborhood, and a participation in the prophetic insistence that the poor must not die without defense. It also addresses a personal desire, which only deepens as the years go by, to live in a way that turns solidarity from a noun to a verb. On that journey the cell block, too, becomes a place where bread is broken at a familiar table – a place where I find that I am no stranger.
For the purposes of your deliberations this weekend, it should be noted that at the table I’m currently sharing, the question of property damage as inherently violent has yet to be raised by anyone. However, there is an unshakeable consensus among the African American men that if any of them ever tried to do what we did at Kings Bay, they would be shot dead before they cut the fence.
They also seem positively giddy about the idea of white people figuring out how to use their privilege to subvert systems of state-sanctioned murder and racist oppression. Personally, I don’t take this as an invalidation of the discussion that has taken prominence in plowshares circles during recent months, but perhaps it is suggestive of a direction in which that discussion might fruitfully turn. With love and respect and longing for your company, I will leave that to you.
Consider a kiss to have been blown in your general direction…