Myself and a group of others have for the last few months have been living together in South Brisbane, attempting to live out our values as a community. This is an introduction to what we are trying to do and why.
Brother Juniper House identifies as a part of the Catholic Worker movement, a decentralised, non-hierarchical christian movement started during the Great Depression in 1930’s America by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, two radical Catholic thinkers who started first a newspaper and then a “house of hospitality” serving the poorest and most marginalised people.
Since those days the Catholic Worker movement has greatly expanded. It still exists mostly in the US, but all around the world there are houses and farms, a Peter Maurin vision which saw people living sustainably and communally from the land.
The other great inspiration for the house is the teachings and life of Jesus, who advocated radical love for our neighbours and declared the arrival of a new Kingdom of God.
And of course Brother Juniper, who the house is named after, who was a friend and follower of Francis of Assisi, who loved and served his God and the poor around him with such purity and simplicity that it would occasionally land him in trouble when his actions clashed with the values of this world.
The house, and the Catholic Worker movement, is founded on several principles.
Hospitality. We attempt to make the house an open and welcoming place to everyone who comes – a place that will welcome the stranger and feed the hungry. We do this not only to fight the injustice of poverty and hunger, but also the isolation that is crippling our affluent society. This house is not a charity. We aim to provide not just a meal and a blanket, but a welcoming community where everybody can make a valuable contribution.
Our inspiration for this comes from both the Catholic Worker tradition of “works of mercy”, and Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 25:31-46) that when we offer love and hospitality to “the least of these” we offer it to God him/herself.
Simplicity. While our society preaches its dogma of economic growth, we attempt to lives of material simplicity. This is again a response to injustice – the way that a small percentage of the world’s population can so shamelessly use such a huge amount of the earth’s limited resources. It is also an attempt to live sharing our resources as an interdependent community, rather than individuals.
Catholic Worker founder Peter Maurin wrote “nobody would be poor if everybody tried to be the poorest”, and Jesus consistently taught the dangers of wealth, saying (Luke 12:33-34) “sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourself that will not wear out, a treasure that will not be exhausted… For where your treasure is , there your heart will be also.” The other great biblical example is the first christian community in Acts 2, where “all the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”
Activism. We seek to confront injustice not just in our relationships but at its roots, challenging the powers of this world through non-violent direct action. Dorothy Day said that “our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy rotten system”, and the Catholic Worker movement has a long history of non-violent direct action, from Ammon Hennacy to the Berrigan brothers and the ploughshares actions that physically disarm weapons using household tools.
Again, Jesus is also a great inspiration, a man who not only was a radical social teacher executed without charge by the state, but also taught (Matthew 5:9-10) “blessed are the peacemakers… blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.”
Personalism. We attempt to embody Peter Maurin’s idea of “personalism” – to take personal responsibility for the changes we desire in the world, and also to be personal in the way we live out our values.
We want to love everybody with the radical love of Jesus, the God who took on the suffering of humans and lived with the most marginalised people of his time. We in turn seek to share our lives with the most vulnerable and marginalised people, and provide a space where they feel not just welcome but loved.
We will doubtlessly fail to live out these bold ambitions, but we want to be able to admit our shortcomings with humility and be honest about our intentions and our failures.
We hold a strong critique of the systems of this world, but we also seek to live out the alternatives we believe in: live co-operatively instead of competitively, and to live out Jesus’ call to love both our neighbours and our enemies.