Driven by convictions to a life of service

The difference between a “hunger strike” and a “fast” is far more than semantics. For Carl Florea, the media’s insistent use of the first term rather than the second reflected a profound misunderstanding of his intent when he foreswore food for a time in response to the first Gulf War in 1991.

  • Wednesday, January 31, 2007 1:00pm
  • Opinion

The difference between a “hunger strike” and a “fast” is far more than semantics.

For Carl Florea, the media’s insistent use of the first term rather than the second reflected a profound misunderstanding of his intent when he foreswore food for a time in response to the first Gulf War in 1991.

“It wasn’t like I was expecting at that point to change the course of America,” said Florea, an ordained Lutheran minister who became an anti-war celebrity when he was jailed for 40 days after a protest at Seattle’s Federal Building. “It was more a personal act of repentance and mourning for my culpability as a member of this society. I certainly don’t believe (conflict) is an us-versus-them problem and a military problem. I feel like it’s a cultural problem, and I’m a part of that.”

As he told the Pacific Lutheran alumni magazine some years later, “I have a real sadness over society’s need to hate a person versus a situation. We’re all children of God with a human dignity that needs to be respected. The tendency has been for society to objectify a tragedy, when I think we should be personalizing it. That’s all I was trying to.”

Florea will bring his convictions to Bainbridge Island in a few weeks as the new director of the Housing Resources Board, which develops and manages subsidized housing here. The cause is an extension of his 30 years of community service, as a clergyman in Montana and Eastern Washington, and working through inner-city programs in the Deep South and, more recently, social service agencies in Leavenworth.

As to the faith, that’s always been there. A self-described “good boy, who elderly people would always say, ‘he’ll make a good minister,’” Florea grew up in the church and was called to the cloth after a stint in pre-law at PLU. Driven to put his faith into practice and speak up for “the left-behind and the voiceless,” Florea says he eventually got into housing advocacy “because no one else was doing it.”

“It’s really about keeping our communities alive and wholesome,” he says. “To me, that means diversity and all the things that brings. That’s what’s being lost if you’re unable to house the whole spectrum of people. It’s just plain wrong to ask people to work in the community and build the community, and then not care if they can live there. To me that’s a real moral issue.”

Florea refuses to be dismissed as a “hate America firster,” finding great blessing in his citizenship even as he remains discouraged by recent national tendencies toward triumphalism. In response to the current Mideast conflict, Florea says he has indeed done some fasting, but it’s been as low-key as it has been personal – for now.

“It’s an ongoing journey,” he told us this week. “I told HRB, I can’t guarantee that I won’t go to jail again. I’m definitely disturbed by the kind of aloofness of American culture to the rest of the world. It’s ultimately damning to our own sense of who we are as a community, and to our spiritual selves. I never rule out that I wouldn’t do something much more public in the future.”

He also confesses that he’s looking forward to being among some like hearts and minds on Bainbridge Island: “I’m looking forward to finding a few others who might understand what I’m doing.”

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