Thanksgiving for Messy Jesus Business’ 5th Birthday!

Photo credit:

It is amazing to me that it is nearly Messy Jesus Business‘ 5th Birthday! Thanks be to God that I listened to the encouragement of my community and friends to start a blog about living the Gospel and we’re still going strong.

I am in awe, really, upon reflection on all the waves that MJB has had in the world, as there are many indications that this blog is having a positive impact. Since November 29, 2010, over 70,000 visitors have visited MJB. We have been mentioned in several publications, including on The Good Word at America, on Patheos, on Top Catholic Blogs,  and in Our Sunday Visitor and in other blogs, such as There Will be Bread by Fran Rossi Szpylczyn.

I have been humbled by praise I’ve heard over these five years for the goodness found on this site. I’ll never forget the strangeness of first meeting someone who was a devoted reader of MJB (but a stranger to me) and how encouraged I felt about the importance of maintaining this presence (Thanks Melissa!). Plus, MJB has helped me gain the practice I’ve needed to come into other opportunities such as serving as a Horizons columnist for Global Sisters Report and being a regular contributor to Living Faith(By the way, October 7, 2014—the day my first Living Faith reflection appeared—MJB had its biggest day with 1,031 views!)

Thanks be to God for the blessed community of Rabble Rousers who have indeed helped keep this blog going. I was very reluctant to begin blogging since I know I live a very busy life and usually have a bit too much on my plate, so to speak. But, with the collaboration of my awesome messy, Gospel-centered friends, we have been able to explore together some deeply important aspects of being the Church we hope for.

Some of the Rabble Rousers have contributed gratitude reflections to help us celebrate MJB‘s 5th birthday:

Being a part of the Messy Jesus Business community has helped me to not miss the trees for the forest, so to speak. In the midst of what sometimes feels like a large, confusing, abstract struggle for peace and justice, Sister Julia and the other bloggers remind me to slow down and focus on small moments and little victories—to celebrate where we are and where we’ve been even though a long journey still lies before us.

~ Steven Cottam

I love that this is a safe place for us to get messy. I think my thoughts are freakishly weird, and my spirituality is even more so. Sometimes I hesitate to share, but maybe someone else gets it, too. And that’s the beauty of this experience for which I am grateful.

~ Emily Crook

Because having Jesus at the center of my love and commitment has always been messy, I treasure the freedom in MJB to connect my faith to real life.  Where else can I talk about fears about celibacy, accepting my brokenness, exhaustion, Pope Francis, TV crime dramas, child slavery, final vows, violence against women, The Bachelorette and yard maintenance? Because it is always in these details of life that I find my Jesus.

Sister Sarah Hennessy FSPA

As a parent to small children, my daily discipleship is truly messy –both literally and spiritually!  I am deeply grateful to this blog for giving me a community with whom I can share, ponder, and grow in our collective messiness as followers of Christ.

~ Nicole Steele Wooldridge

I am very thankful for how this ministry of writing and witness has transformed my life. I am extremely appreciative for all the voices that have contributed to our communal contemplation about how messy discipleship truly is. Thank you writers, thanks to Jen and Jane for their help with editing and format, thank you to everyone who has commented and shared the posts, and thanks to all of you for subscribing.

I rejoice over how this messy little corner on the internet has helped contribute to the building of God’s reign of peace and justice; I am so grateful that the Spirit is at work here!

Thank your for your participation! Thank you for reading! Happy Thanksgiving! And, Happy 5th Birthday to Messy Jesus Business!!!

Sister Julia Walsh, FSPA

photo credit:×300.jpg

They have guns, but we have flowers—a modern beatitude

The beatitudes have been called Jesus’ version of the Ten Commandments. They sum up the heart of his message, point us in the right direction, show us the truth of God and grant eternal hope.

Except they are a lot harder to understand. And to follow.

What does it really mean, that

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:3-10 

This week I heard the closest thing ever to a modern restatement of the beatitudes. It was an interview with a young French child and his father at the Bataclan, the site of one of the terror attacks in Paris last Friday.

“They might have guns, but we have flowers.”

Or in other words….

In the face of a gun, we light a candle and place a flower.

In the face of loss our empty hands link with other empty hands and we are not alone anymore.

In the face of horror we touch that place/time where God’s love is absolutely unstoppable.

Thank you to all the children who are suffering fear and loss this week and have taught us the meaning of Jesus’ words again.

P.S. Sometimes I like to hear the beatitudes with fresh ears. Check out this version from The Message by Eugene Peterson, which is not a Bible translation but a re-telling in modern language.

“And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”

So—keep getting into trouble!

Moving for God: The dilemma of diversity

There’s the classic clip-art picture of children representative of every race, nation and language joined together and singing songs of world peace. And then, many of us are familiar with rainbow buttons proclaiming cheery slogans like “Celebrate Diversity” and “Better Together.”


More importantly, there’s the vision that God’s reign of peace and justice will be known in every corner of humanity, an image that we really believe in, that we pray about and dedicate our lives to. We believe it is to come and is also right now:

God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.

– Revelations 21:3-4

We each have a role, a part to play, in the building up this reign of God. Like Paul says, we all are…

[This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report. Continue reading here.]


Bring on the darkness

I don’t know why it is, this time of year, that I gear up for action. Once Daylight Saving Time ends, I’m ready to go. Most people tend to simmer down when the cold weather seeps in, the nights get longer, the house gets cozier, and the soups just sound more delicious.

I’m ready to get OUT. Let’s lose some weight! Yes! Right before and during the holidays! Yes: that makes perfect sense! In fact, let’s get all the outside projects done while the night approaches and we work in the darkness. Because who doesn’t love not seeing what they’re doing?

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

Honestly, where was all this energy during the summer when it could be more useful? This flummoxes me every year. But what helps me feel a little more normal is that it nicely lines up with Advent. Maybe it’s a little earlier than the season, but you get the idea.

I get EXCITED when the nights get longer. It forces me to contemplate. It makes me go inside myself and do some really difficult work. Darkness lets me dream more, and my dreams are little messages from God helping me through that work. It helps me free up emotional and spiritual space for more adventures—lovely adventures that open your life up to the spirit of Jesus and never-ending possibility.

I think sometimes we just stuff ourselves silly with the status quo of our lives. We keep our stuff because it gives us security and confidence, and we don’t want to ever waste anything. Some of this is completely appropriate, but I’m pretty sure there are areas in our lives that need to be thinned out. Are we scared to have vacancy somewhere? Does that make us vulnerable to … what … despairing need? Or does it open us up to more rewarding opportunities?

Sure I could wait until Advent to get started, but personally I think this process takes longer than 25 days. Clear out those cobwebs. Let’s REALLY get ready for Jesus this year, starting now.

Everyone’s children and nobody’s property

Right now, at this Internet-saturated time in history, screams for help are coming out from the shadows.

As Christians, we can choose to ignore the serious pleas for help and deny the existence of problems. Or, we can we do as Jesus instructs and heed the call coming from the wilderness. Let us study the brightly glaring sign of this time and respond with courageous compassion and advocacy for systemic changes.

There are 27 million people in slavery today, which is more than any other time in human history. Ninety percent of people are trafficked because of the sex industry.

Porn revenue is larger than all combined revenues of all professional football, baseball, and basketball franchises worldwide. U.S. porn revenue exceeds the combined revenues of television broadcasting companies ABC, CBS, & NBC ($6.2 billion). Child pornography generates $3 billion annually.

One million children are forced to work in the sex industry every year. Between 100,000 and 300,000 children in America are at risk for sex trafficking annually.

In the past week, I was blessed to hear Matt Fradd speak at the high school where I minister. He was entertaining and enlightening for the youth about the tough topics of sex and pornography (and made my job of teaching the theology of the body much, much easier. ) I was haunted to learn more facts about this issue that has been disturbing me for several years. For example, I learned that recent scientific study shows that people who are addicted to pornography have significantly smaller brains than those who aren’t. (The scientists aren’t sure if the smaller brains are a result of the addiction or more that those with smaller brains are likely to use porn.) Thanks be to God, Matt has an excellent ministry of sharing God’s healing love and mercy. Plus, his website is full of the support and facts that people need to heal and recover.

His presentation was mainly focused on promoting St. Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body, or helping Catholics connect their theology and faith with their sexual attitudes and behaviors. He was effective at critiquing this sexualized culture and promoting chastity. Plus, my students and colleagues alike were marveling at how gifted he was at talking about uncomfortable topics in an accessible way.

Although Matt’s presentation was a thorough and informative introduction, I left thinking about how the picture he painted was incomplete; our wired society’s increasing addiction to pornography connects to many other systemic problems that he didn’t even mention. Here are some indicators that I’m aware of: I have felt increasingly disturbed to notice more sex shops creeping up at rural exits along major highways and worried about how their presence harms rural communities and families, not to mention the children that see the billboards and shops. I recently watched this documentary online and felt heartbroken for the young teens who were manipulated and then tattooed with the names of the pimps that they are forced to work for.

I became convicted that all children who run away from abusive homes and then end up in the sex industry are everyone’s child; we all have a responsibility to help them. I grieve the many ways that people are objectified and abused when others fail to recognize their sacredness and dignity. I mourn the violations to human dignity that occur on every level.

For certain, the statistics are terrifying. The Church—the Body of Christ, the people of God—is broken and in severe pain. It is time for us to unite and open clinics and heal the wounded, hurting body of humanity. Let us pray and discern and act so that we can be instruments of mercy and redemption.

Thanks be to God, changes are happening and good work is being done. I am proud of my Franciscan Sisters and affiliates and the work they are doing to eradicate human trafficking. I am grateful for the nationwide sting to the sex industry that occurred a couple of weeks ago and led to 150 arrests. I am grateful to be connected with many Catholic Sisters throughout the country who are working hard to help people escape and recover. And I am encouraged by the work of ecumenical Christian ministries that give victims an opportunity to recover.

I am concerned, though, that we aren’t doing enough. And, I beg you to pray with me that we will discern how the Spirit is calling us to respond, pray that we have the graces and courage to act and that we then act with great love and compassion.

As I pray, I think of Mary. I think of her poverty and how she was able to offer her body to God as an instrument for freedom and salvation. I see in her a beautiful sign of hope that we can all partner with God in ways that honor our dignity and worth and build up God’s reign.  Let us have hope, from Mary, that these sins and crimes will come to end, that’s God’s victory of peace and justice will be triumphant. Let us live boldly our belief that one day soon all children of God will deeply understand that they are no one’s property.

Photo credit:
Photo credit:

For every woman, man, or child who has ever been abused and has experienced the darkness of fear and pain, there is a human sign of hope.

Jesus, please care for all victims and perpetrators of violence. May they know healing and strength and may the violence come to an end!

For every person who has ever been bought, branded, and sold as a slave there is hope. In Mary there is proof that you don’t have to suffer in this way for your body is precious and has value and worth. You deserve to be honored as holy, because you are—you are a child of God made in God’s image and likeness.

Mary, pray for us sinners who permit the sex industry and human trafficking to continue today. Guide us, Holy Mother, as we aim to advocate and change the systems that trap people in slavery. Help us protect all children! 


For more information/ How to get help

Trafficking Resource Center

National Center on Sexual Exploitation

Domestic Violence Hotline

The Porn Effect

UNODC report on human trafficking exposes modern form of slavery


photo credit:

Daily grind and reason to praise

Many of us are in the daily grind of ministry and we don’t really know for sure if we are having a positive effect.

We show up at our service sites day-in and day-out. We chime in at meetings. We help others with willing hearts and joyful faces, enlivened by our belief that we’ll encounter Christ among the poor and marginalized. Between ordinary tasks like responding to emails and doing paperwork, we study Scripture and speak up on behalf of justices. We frequently pause to pray privately and as community. Yes: we are devoted to our routines because we are faithful to Jesus’ vision of peace and justice for all.

Our shoulders ache from the stress and our faces are sunk with exhaustion. Yet, as our awareness expands, so does our desire to make a good difference. For each task we cross off our to-do list, two more good intentions or invitations seem to come in. We know we can’t really keep up with all we could do, and all we need to do. But amazingly, by God’s grace, we keep going.

We put a lot of grit and love into our labors. We know what we do matters. Sometimes, though, we get discouraged and wonder if things are really changing for the better. We know it’s healthiest to remain a vessel, an instrument, and be detached from the outcomes. Still, it’s hard to stay dedicated when we’re just a tiny pixel in a huge picture—in God’s glorified reign.

This is the experience that has been defining my time and work lately.

But then, there are times when signs of hope and the good news of God’s ways triumph. The Gospel good news can be local or from our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world to whom we are united in mission. Beautifully, we are interconnected, we are working together, and God’s victory anywhere is a reason for us all to pause and praise.

In fact, in the past week I heard much good news and learned a lot about the great things that God is—through us—up to.  Right now I’ll tell you just two stories from a conference I attended last weekend in Chicago called The Global Call of Religious Life (and later I hope to share more).

Story 1. At the conference, I heard Sister Pat Murray tell about how a priest preached about human trafficking in his homily at his parish in rural India. One of his parishioners, who worked as a driver, remembered his homily when someone hired him to drive two teenage girls to the city to work in a restaurant. On the way, he realized that something was off about the circumstances and instead drove the girls to a center for victims of human trafficking run by a group of Catholic sisters. Now the teenage girls are on their way to healing and recovery.

Story 2. Also at the conference, I was inspired to hear Fr. Benigno Beltran, SVD speak about his ministry to the 25,000 people who live in Smokey Mountain garbage dump in the Philippines. Father Benigno has done many remarkable things with the people there by helping them to dream and foster integrity, solidarity and creativity among them. One accomplishment that was especially exciting to hear about was that he has developed a dance troop of youth who were born and raised in the garbage dump. The troop travels globally and are ambassadors for peace and the earth. Through the performing arts, the youth live from the place of their inherent dignity. They know they are not garbage but they have value and worth.

Photo credit:


Indeed, God is good and up to amazing things. In our particular part of the world, we don’t always know the effect we are having. Yet, when we connect with others and live in solidarity we can see that great things are happening through all our united efforts for God’s reign.

Rejoice! Alleluia! Amen!



In the world, not of it: Thoughts on countercultural Christian living

Be in the world, not of the world.”

Live countercultural Christian lives.”

“Be radical for the Gospel.”

Such mottos of countercultural Christian living have been ingrained in me for much of my life. Lately they have been going around in my mind like a record, while I have been pondering instances of divisiveness and polarization, both in American politics and…

[This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report. Continue reading here.]

Photo credit:

3 tunes for a good God-filled day

Good morning!

Let’s turn our eyes to God as we start this day!

Here’s a good song to get you pumped up for the blessing of another day:

Here’s a song to ponder the fact that you are miracle, that you are one of many imperfect people:

And, finally, we know that living the Gospel is messy. It requires authentic brokenness and dependence on God, for we are all works in progress:

May God bless you as your heart sings to God through the ups and downs of this day! Amen!




The frailty of my faith (or, How losing my daughter in the park gave me a glimpse of my own hypocrisy)

I only took my eyes off of her for a few seconds …

It’s so cliché, but so damn true.

This summer was an unusually sweltering one in the Pacific Northwest, and our local splash park offered a welcome reprieve from the relentless heat. Facing yet another 90+ degree day in mid-August, I brought my girls there to fill the post-nap/pre-dinner block of time. They were happily rotating among the splash park, playground and sandpit.

My younger daughter, still beaming from her weeklong reign as the Birthday Girl (“I two! I two!”), was thirsty, so I told my older daughter that I was going to fill up our water bottle. The water fountain is perhaps twenty feet from the splash park. It took me less than a minute to walk to the fountain, position my two-year-old’s fingers so that she could “help” fill the bottle, and look back up to where I had left my almost four-year-old.

… and she was gone.


Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

I scanned the whole of the splash area, noting the rambunctious “big kids” manning the frog squirter, the joyful birthday party at a nearby picnic table, the toddler crying in his mother’s arms. This was by no means the first time I’d ever lost sight of my daughter, so I was confident she would emerge from behind another child or a big water toy. But she didn’t. I stopped filling the bottle and scooped up my youngest. It occurred to me that perhaps her sister had decided to run back to the sandbox, and as I made my way there, I considered potential punishments for running off without my permission.

But she wasn’t in the sandbox … or at the swings … or in the bathroom.

I had now looked everywhere I could imagine her going by herself. Several minutes had passed, and panic was creeping in.

I ran up to the birthday party and asked if any of them had seen a little girl matching my daughter’s description. Though they hadn’t seen her, they recognized the fear in my eyes and sprang into action, each heading to a different part of the park.

I stayed close to one of the moms, clutching my two-year-old and sputtering useless details about my oldest daughter’s swimsuit, as if the tiny cupcake design on the front of it would be the deciding factor in locating her. I was starting to go in circles, looking in the same places over and over again; afraid to stray too far from where I’d last seen her in case she was looking for me too.

I glanced at my watch; I had been searching for too long. At what point do I call the police, if the first hour is so key? Do I dial 911, or is there some kind of hotline?

My thoughts were scrambled. My capacity for rational thought was unable to overcome the horrific “what-ifs” emerging from the periphery of my mind where I, like all parents, try to banish them. This community park is large and uncontained, encompassing not only the splash park and playground, but sports fields, a walking trail, and several open fields adjacent to parking lots. It would be impossible to lock it down.

This is also the park where many of the people experiencing homelessness in our community spend their days. To my utter shame these “least among us,” for whom I claim to have such great compassion, were featured prominently in the horror reel of “what-ifs” flashing through my mind. I could feel myself starting to lose it.

And then we found her.

A woman from our makeshift search party directed my attention to an anonymous dad waving in a distant field. Beyond him … my sweet girl; running happily with her arms wide open and her ponytail flying behind her. We were separated by 200 yards and—much further—by the ability to be turned completely upside down by an incapacitating fear of the worst-case scenario.

She had been missing for a total of 10 minutes.

I have no idea who (or even how many) helped me search for my daughter that day. By the time I reached her, I could barely choke out “thank you” to the people in front of me, never mind the others who had spread across the park. They are nameless, faceless heroes of mine.

I had been right, as it turns out, to relegate those insidious and terrifying “what-ifs” to the fringes of my consciousness. My daughter went missing, but there was no “stranger danger.”  The only strangers with whom I interacted were doggedly working to help me find her. This story has no villains: no stalkers, no kidnappers, no opportunistic perverts.

By all accounts, my faith in humanity should be renewed. I should be a more optimistic mother.

Except I’m not.

Ever since that day, I have found myself keeping a tighter grip on my daughters as we walk through crowded areas. I have been looking more suspiciously at almost-certainly decent, help-you-find-your-daughter sorts of people in the park. I have been questioning the presence and motives of anyone who doesn’t fit my image of someone who belongs at kids’ events: young, involved, “vanilla” sorts of people … people like me.

In those ten minutes, the horrific “what-ifs” of parenthood became real to me in a way they had never been before. I began seeing enemies where they didn’t exist. It makes me wonder: What kind of person would I be if they really did?

The expression “there but for the grace of God go I” has really been resonating with me in the wake of those excruciating 10 minutes. If even I—with my privileged life and my happy ending—if even I have become more mistrustful and judgmental of others as a result of 10 minutes of unrealized “what-ifs,” then where but for the grace of God would I be?

If I had spent my life as an undocumented immigrant, or an unwelcome refugee, or an impoverished person of color, would I see the people around me as my brothers and sisters in Christ … or would I see them only as potential threats to myself and my children?

I majored in peace studies, so I can wax philosophical about “unmasking the other” and ubuntu and restorative justice until my lips turn blue. But I have never had to do so in the face of pervasive violence, instability, or oppression. Thanks be to God, I do not have to do so in the face of every parent’s worst nightmare.

But if that weren’t the case? If my worst-case scenarios dwelled not in the fringes of my mind but in my lived experience, would I be capable of the sort of compassion, hospitality, and goodwill that Jesus demands of his followers?

I seriously doubt it.

And so I do the only thing I can: I turn once more to Jesus, and say a prayer of gratitude for His grace, which has truly saved a wretch like me.

Nicole Steele Wooldridge lives in the Seattle area with her husband and two daughters. She hopes that her daughters do as she says, and not as she does … and that her emotional aversion to the local splash park has waned by the time next summer comes around.

St. Francis Day Photos

Worldwide Franciscans like me are celebrating the founder of our order today. On the eve of this day, in 1226 St. Francis of Assisi died and went to heaven. Last night we celebrated the Transits to memorialize this sacred story.

Today we remember and honor St. Francis’ story and contributions to the Church. Through his witness 800 years ago, we have all be transformed and inspired.

In his honor and in celebration of this happy day, I wanted to share some St. Francis of Assisi photos from my pilgrimage to Italy in 2014.

Assisi from the valley. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Assisi from the valley. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Assisi City of Peace. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Assisi City of Peace. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
St. Francis goes to meet the Pope at St. John Latern Archbasilica, Rome. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
St. Francis at St. John Latern Archbasilica, Rome. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Canticle of the Creatures. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Canticle of the Creatures. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Rebuilding the Church
Rebuilding the Church. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
St. Francis meets the leper. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
St. Francis meets the leper. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
St. Francis and the Children of God. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
St. Francis and the Children of God. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
St. Francis and the birds. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
St. Francis and the Peace doves (1). Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
St. Francis and the Peace doves (1). Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
St. Francis and the Peace doves (2). Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
St. Francis caring for the little ones. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
St. Francis caring for the little ones. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Happy St. Francis Day everyone!!!