loving over the divide

Sorry, friends, Stephen Colbert’s video’s can’t be embedded in the same way as YouTube videos, but I really hope you’ll watch this video and share your thoughts.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Glenn Beck Attacks Social Justice – James Martin
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> Video Archive

Here are my thoughts:  It’s hilarious because it is so right on.  I actually used that video when I introduced Catholic Social Teaching principles to my Peace and Justice students this year. We had to watch it a few times because we were all laughing so hard that we couldn’t hear everything.

Christianity is so messy for so many reasons. One of the reasons it’s messy is because we’re all very divided about the best methods of practice and the meaning of the message.  What if Glenn Beck is right and social justice is a code for communist Christianity? (That’s just confusing!)  What if Fr. James Martin is wrong and Jesus wasn’t really poor “because his father was loaded.”

One of my advent posts created some controversy because we didn’t all believe that Jesus was a poor man.  Why not?  Why is it uncomfortable to think about Jesus as poor? What if he really was just a middle class man of his era?  What if the emphasis of Christianity is supposed to be spirituality and not justice?  (I believe it’s always a combination.)

What is the definition of poverty? What is the definition of justice?

Brothers and Sisters, we must return to our Christian roots.  The point of all of this is love not squabble!  My students – and many young people – are watching the way Christian adults behave and becoming very confused.  “Sister, if Christianity is supposed to be all about Love, then why are Christians so mean to each other?”  What am I supposed to say?  I sigh and see the Beatitudes and the Great Commandment hanging on my classroom wall. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

The current climate of our country begs us to love each other in healing sorts of ways.  Slander was screamed all over the internet while President Obama gave his bold State of the Union speech.  Yet his words remind us that democracy is about peace and basic respect.

“It’s no secret that those of us here tonight have had our differences over the last two years.  The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our beliefs.  And that’s a good thing.  That’s what a robust democracy demands.  That’s what helps set us apart as a nation. But there’s a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid all the noise and passion and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater -– something more consequential than party or political preference. We are part of the American family.  We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different from those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.” – President Obama

Indeed the tragedy in Tucson shook our nation.  What if it also alerted Christians about the danger of divisions in the Christian church?  Crowds continue to pray for Representative Giffords’ healing and wipe away tears of disbelief.  Meanwhile, the Blessed Holy Spirit blows through tension between us and builds bridges of Christ-like compassion.  Converted to Love, I hope we can walk toward one another on that bridge where hot dialogue happens.

Young people need a church that they want to be part of, one that gives them passion and faith.  My students need to be eager to share the Love that they find in their churches on the violent streets because they know it is True.

I need to be willing to model what Christian Love and unity could look like for the people who pay attention to me, even when I am really mad.  I pray that I can have an open heart and mind to all people of faith.  I pray for ability to love someone who says my passion- social justice- is wrong.  I pray that I have the strength to lovingly walk across the divide, right into the arms of my enemies.

God help us; God bless us; God unite us. Amen.


Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cobalt/4580219355/

“in your own soul”

Guest blogger: Elizabeth Diedrich

I work at a homeless outreach center that serves about 400 people each day. Every day I have the opportunity to hear the stories of the people we serve. These people are my friends: Dan, Hector, Allen … I enjoy seeing them every day (checking in on each other and supporting each other through challenging times). I hear about their kids, their apartment searches, their job hunt, and often stories from their past. Some, although fewer than you might think, are addicts, dealers or have committed violent crimes.

Hearing a person’s story is a privilege but it can also be a burden. There are times I find it easier not to know too much about a person’s past. When you hear the worst stories about drugs, prostitution, murder and violent crimes,  it’s easy to judge the act (especially extreme acts) and the person.

This past week was difficult on the street. There were two stabbings and one reported death. I know one of the men who was stabbed. I have known him for two years. I know he gang raped a 14-year-old girl. I have seen him fight guys half his size. He is violent, manipulative, angry and two-faced. Honestly, I don’t really like this guy, and sometimes I feel some acts are unforgivable. This man survived the stabbing but I could not honestly pray in thanksgiving for his life or pray for his healing and recovery.

Yet, I was reading a prayer by Thomas Merton last night:

So instead of loving what you think is peace,

love others and love God above all.

And instead of hating the people you think are warmakers,

hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war.

If you love peace,

then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed –

but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

Merton’s prayer reminds me that I must first judge myself; I must reflect on my interior life and exterior actions before judging others. As I see this man – and so many others – addicted, dealing and violent, I know that I hold the same sins in my heart.

There are definitely things in my life that I am addicted to and I would not easily give up – daily internet access and coffee come to mind. There are things in my life that I “deal.” I have more than once been called an enabler when it comes to food and drink. Although I am not normally violent, there are times in my life where my anger toward others has been greater than my love towards others.

It is easy to judge people who have already been judged by society and seem so different from myself. It is as I reflect on my own shortcomings that I see that I am not so different from those I quickly judge. At the most basic level we are all sinners, we all have areas that need work. Christ came to forgive all of us, no matter the sin, no matter how big or small, we are all welcomed into the forgiving arms of Christ.

From my daily experiences, I know that I cannot change the addicts and dealers I see every day, but I have the power to continually change myself. I have the power to look at my interior life, see where I fall short, see the qualities that I quickly judge in others, and attempt to better myself. If I so desperately wish for a more peaceful world, I must first call for a revolution in my own heart.

Christ of the Breadlines, by Fritz Eichenberg

Originally from Madison, WI, this week’s guest blogger, Elizabeth Diedrich, is currently a Catholic Worker at Andre House of Hospitality in Phoenix, AZ. She spends her free time hiking, playing Euchre, and making pottery. Elizabeth and Sister Julia enjoy sharing tea, chocolate, cheese and long conversations on peace and justice.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/2251716549/in/pool-913552@N22

when Jesus calls…

This post is dedicated to my friends who are female pastors in protestant faith communities. More broadly, it is dedicated to all disciples who feel misunderstood.

A lot of us have heard Jesus call out, “Hey! Leave those fishy nets behind and come and follow me! It’s gonna be good!” We awkwardly jump up and walk towards Love with endless confusing questions.

When we are called by God the first thing we can meet on the road of discipleship is judgment and discouragement. People from our pasts sometimes holler down the path at us as we walk away.

That contemporary parable is rooted in the Gospel truth from today’s readings.

As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers,
Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew,
casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen.
He said to them,
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
At once they left their nets and followed him.
He walked along from there and saw two other brothers,
James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets.
He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father
and followed him.
He went around all of Galilee,
teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom,
and curing every disease and illness among the people.  – Mt 4:18-23

What did James and John’s dad say when they just got up and left?  How did they respond to him?

What do people say to- or about- us?  What gets in our way and makes faithfulness hard?  Why do we all keep going?

hallow hope

Bored with the rosary beads

and anxiety of agendas

I gaze up from the corner chapel in my

9th floor imaginary tree house home.

My blurred vision moves from the cross to the obnoxious glow of the golden arches and

hallows the hope

that once was fire

warming my heart over the violent city.

Yet, I still seek to


prayers of hope, faith, love, healing

like ironic bombs and blast the gang violence and super BOGO sales into garden compost piles.


I was in jail yesterday scammed with truth that sent seizures of confusion down my spine.


Prayer transforms into an awkward move:

tripping over my own feet- because celibacy is sometimes solo- I bruise as I dance

through the constant clashing hymn

“trust in the Lord with all your heart” and “give glory to God.”

I listen and I remember

the song offered harmony and grace before.

Today it hurts my ears.


The pacifist dreams are a war within.


I sob over (non-organic) coffee-stained non-profit grants

and realize the stench of hope is stale

because I am learning

the truth transpires and collides with the desire

to believe, bless, and be

loving presence around a cluttered holy supper table carved with “never simple, never clear.”

I yelp; my flesh bubbles, burned by the flame which jumped out of

the Sacred Heart pillar prayer candle.

As I cringe with “ew,” my spirit mysteriously stills and hears a hopeful Spirit whisper:

my body hurts.


I was in Kindergarten yesterday and I climbed over fences and sung happy made-up songs.


Laughing, I turn up the volume on the alleluia chorus

of “be not afraid” and “I am with you”

and let the hallow, hurting hope guide me back home to “Here I AM.”


"city cracking nature" by Sister Julia Walsh, FSPA

A New Year Revolution

Guest blogger: Joshua VanCleef

If we really desire change, then what we need is something far greater than a New Year resolution, we need a New Year Revolution.  We need to turn things back to the starting point and evaluate the very principles, ideals and promises on which we have built our lives. It is then that we can overthrow the illusions that we have all too easily accepted as truths, the empty promises, the very things that stacked the deck against us and make real change nearly impossible.

We need to return to our baptism, stand as beloved children of God and overthrow the illusions that now dictate our lives. We need to stand on the promises of Christ and stand up against the false promises which hold hostage our desire.

Unfortunately, myths have become our foundation.  We need only to look into the mirror to see the illusions operant in our lives: that worth is based out of utility, attractiveness, wealth,or perfection; that happiness can be found in the collecting of things or people; or that the love of God needs to be earned. We only need to look out the window to see that the very illusions operating in our hearts have become the accepted principles that run much of our world.

In an honest moment, I realize the power that these false promises have over my own life.  It takes but an instant for them to surface when faced with a decision, and I know how much they really do influence me, how much they do hold me captive. But I also realize that the call to freedom casts off the yoke of slavery.

I call for a revolution of my own heart today. I call for a revolution because these false promises have become dictators in my life; they work me to the bone and feed me only enough to work another day. I call for a revolution because as I stand in the promises of my baptism, I cannot help but see the daily slavery to which I commit. I call for a revolution because this year I want change! I want my next step to be in truth rather than illusion, to choose freedom rather than oppression, and partake in a banquet rather than scraps. I know the only way for change in my life is to overthrow the dictators of illusion and the tyrants of false promises. So, I call for a revolution.

A revolution of the heart would lead me to a revolution in the streets. I know that revolution wouldn’t be satisfied with immigration reform, its goal is much larger and more fundamental: to overthrow the illusion that my dignity is more important or my life is worth more than someone else’s. Revolution would debunk the lie that it is more important for me to have much than for all to have enough. There is no surprise that Guantanamo is still open!

Only a revolution has the power to overthrow the illusion that a good end can be achieved through evil means, or the justification of torture. Outside of a revolution of the heart, reform will only allow torture to take new forms. Reform and resolution can mandate equal public treatment of people, but only a revolution can unmask the lie that all are not equal before God. Only a revolution can overthrow the illusion that worth is based out of utility, or the all too popular lie of entitlement.

Brothers and sisters, if a revolution is what we desire and we realize the powers that have become the current of our lives, the illusions that serve as dictators and the false promises as tyrants, then we are the sick in need of healing. We are the broken needing to be made whole. And if we wish to stand in our baptismal promises, in the freedom of the beloved children of God, then it is our sickness and brokenness that we have to offer Jesus. And this is all He asks of us. For if we wish to cast off the lies of the oppressor and the promises of the tyrant, there is only one Healer, only one Revolutionary powerful enough: the Crucified One.

Now, my brothers and sisters, together with Jesus let us go back to the beginning and claim our freedom as children of God. And when the illusions of oppression try to scatter us with fire hoses, we will renew our baptism in their water. We are people who know water and it will neither stop us nor put out our fires. When the dictators of false promises try to antagonize us with venomous words, we will handle their words and not be harmed.

My brothers and sisters, when we the weak, the sick, the believers, confront the powers that surround us with walls and barbed wire, then united with Jesus we will look to the cross and speak to our oppressors. We say together, “where we are going YOU cannot go.” Let’s take courage in the promise of Christ, that in the end when the mist of mustard gas dissipates, as a cloud of witnesses we will emerge.


This week’s guest blogger, Joshua VanCleef, is a Franciscan Friar of St. John the Baptist province. Originally from Detroit, he now lives in Chicago and is finishing his studies at the Catholic Theological Union. He is a neighbor and friend of Sister Julia.

Thanks be to God for Reverend King!

On January 15, 1929, a child of God was born.  On April 4, 1968, he was assassinated.

Forty three years later this holy man, Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., still speaks to the issues that concern us.

Here you can meet him and his gentle, yet radical approach to loving:

As I rest and dream on his holy feast day, I am going to pray with his Letter from Birmingham Jail. I pray in thanksgiving for this brother of ours who still lives in the truth of Love!

being hot water, not lukewarm or otherwise

On the bus this morning I had a conversation with a neighbor.  I heard her vent about having children. I listened and then acknowledged the challenge of working with anyone who is still seeking his or her identity.

“I know what you mean,” she said. “I didn’t know what my identity was when I was a teenager, but then I found it in God.”

Forty minutes later, one of my students approached my desk and asked a question.  “Sister, do you ever get sick of talking about God?”  I smiled and said it was amusing that he asked because just last night I was thinking about how I completely define myself by my faith.  The answer to my student’s question is no; I never tire of talking about the love of my life.

Related, I was asked why this blog suggests that Christianity has become too fluffy and watered down.  I wondered if it was an unfair statement.  I know that we’re all doing this the best we can, and the best we know how. Our seeking and our efforts are genuine.  We all desire to be closer to God and change the world and we’re trying.

Nonetheless, my concerns with Christianity are certainly summed up by the words fluffy and watered down. When I think of fluffy religion I think of a faith that soothes. When we say that the Bible isn’t a formula for social action we can read it as a comfy book about love.  Sure, we need to understand that God loves us, but that’s only the beginning. Yes, we are loved, but so are “they.” Do we live like we believe it?

I think that a watered down religion is sort of like a lukewarm religion.  I think it’s a type of oversimplification of the faith. We bend truth so it fits the ways of the world.  It’s mediocrity.

The book of Revelation warns us about the danger of not being hot about God:

“Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches… I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot.  So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.  I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich, and white garments to put on so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed, and buy ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see.  Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.  Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, (then) I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.  I will give the victor the right to sit with me on my throne, as I myself first won the victory and sit with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. -Revelation 3:13-22
Ouch.  I pray God doesn’t ever spit me out.  Yikes, faith can’t be cozy nor simple.  When it comes to being a Christian, we are supposed to be all or nothing, hot or cold.  Apathy and indifference are disastrous.  We have to care.  It’s probably better if we hate or love, because then we have strong feelings one way or another.

I can’t let my faith life be a “when I feel like it” sort of thing. Honestly, this is the hardest part of being religious for me.  I have to pay attention to my excuses. I must make sure I am answering my prayers for social justice and union with God with my actions.

I worry about earth and oil but then I drive instead of walking, biking or taking the bus.  I pray for a cultural conversion away from materialism, but then I am excited to shop when I discover a really wonderful sale.  I am such a sinner, and I am sorry.

We all know that there is a such thing as “Christmas and Easter Christians.”  Sadly, history is stained with the inconsistent faith of religious.  Christians pray to love on Sunday and torture on Monday.  Slavery, world wars, the Holocaust, the crusades, racism and classism are our shared shames.  In a way, we’re all sort of “Christmas and Easter Christians” who need to be converted to the truth of Love in ordinary times.

As I have struggled through this, I am learning an important lesson. To do this better- to be really hot about the Way of Jesus- we need each other.  We best contemplate the challenges in community. We need to be called out when we settle and slack. We need to stir the hearts of one another with more awareness of God’s love and the ways it compels us to respond to injustice.  Together we learn the Christian how-to’s.

When we’re hot together then together we will survive.

Sin aside, how do you think you are doing?

trusting the sequoia seeds

Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan
to be baptized by him.
John tried to prevent him, saying,
“I need to be baptized by you,
and yet you are coming to me?”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us
to fulfill all righteousness.”
Then he allowed him.
After Jesus was baptized,
he came up from the water and behold,
the heavens were opened for him,
and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove
and coming upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens, saying,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” – Mt 3:13-17

In order for redemption to happen, John had to trust Jesus and let go of his own ideas. It seems to me that we all do.

When we’re Jesus people we have to trust in God. God keeps putting this in my face when I’d rather just keep doing my own thing.  In today’s Gospel story, John’s protest to Jesus’ Way reminded me of the challenge to let go all over again.

God keeps giving me lessons about this principle as I move through this messy world and wonder if any of the things I try to do are making a difference.  I once heard a peacemaker remind an activist group about the importance of taking sabbath frequently. If we don’t, it was said, our actions say that we don’t trust in God and think that the peace of the world is dependent on us.  I felt like someone had punched me in the gut and my pride was knocked out of me; I always try to do too much.

I am challenged over and over to turn away from my seemingly urgent to-do list and let God take care of things. Sometimes I am forced into it.  Sickness sneaks in and my body insists that I let myself rest and just be.  I squirm through fevers and aches because I am uncomfortable – not with being sick but with lack of productivity.  I feel better about myself if I feel like I am accomplishing stuff.  Why can’t I just allow God to take care of me and trust that everything is right on track?

Other times, God’s hints that I need to trust are a little more subtle. I need to clue in and really contemplate little things that I am introduced to.  My mantra at mass today was “plant sequoias, I hope I am.”  Random, I know.  It’s because I recently learned a poem by Wendel Berry, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, that includes this lesson:
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

It’s so hard, when the pain and division of humanity is also in our face and we want to respond. The sorrow in the news can be so discouraging. The news about the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona that left others dead is awful.  This story is another horrific example about the need for peaceful resistance to hate and violence.

At times the needs for reform can feel so urgent that we want to rush into action.  We know people are starving, cold, homeless and sick today.  We worry about global warming. We aren’t blind to the fact that children are dying on the streets right now.  It seems that our world is desperate to know the different Way of Jesus, and we need get going.

Yet, we have to “trust in the slow work of God” (Teilhard de Chardin, S.J)  as we each play our small part  in the Master’s plan.  Thank God we’re in this together and united as a Body of Christ.  As hard as it is, I think I am grateful that God’s design allow us to be small. Prophets and creation call us to let go and trust. When we try, then we taste freedom.

Did John the Baptist know what he was allowing when he followed Jesus’ plan?  Was it hard for John to accept that there wouldn’t be immediate results?

Was John okay with the fact that his choice to trust in Jesus would slowly unfold through all eternity?

And, what about us? As we work, hope, serve and pray, are we okay with the fact that we’re only participants in a greater plan?

Do we believe that our actions- and our stillness- could be sequoia seeds, blessing God’s Kingdom centuries from now? Do we trust in God?

corn syrup, oil and pizza: commercials for the socially conscious

Jesus asks us to pray a lot and build the kingdom of God by connecting with poverty in ourselves and others.  It’s a messy challenge, especially in our technology-centric culture. To really follow Jesus freely, then we need to shift away from the internet clouds and webs and connect in reality.  But what are we to do when our participation in technology promotes the Kingdom?

Many of my regular heroes are “contemplatives” and activists who have intentionally chosen to not have a television. I find it refreshing to be in homes not oriented around a machine. If I am paying attention when I visit such communities I am initially jarred by the unfamiliar difference in the way the space- and the people- feel but then I realize it is healthier, more natural and very freeing.

Certainly, people may intentionally opt out of television nowadays not because they are opposed to the way it can consume space and community, but instead because it’s cheaper or easier to just use a computer- or cell phone- as the main source of entertainment.

But then there are radicals about computer use, too.  Some of the most radical peacemakers, I believe, include my friends who are so intentional about simplicity that they are very careful how much time they spend on the computer, emailing, playing, and checking on their Facebook friends. Believe it or not these radicals are under age 30 and recognize how technology clutters lives and consumes time that can be spent praying and developing relationships in person.  They choose to write letters to friends and create things by hand as acts of non-violent resistance. What a statement!

I deeply admire radicals who unplug and turn off technology in order to pray and pay attention to God. I want to be like them, but am not.  Instead, I clumsily turn on my television and spend time on the computer.  I wonder why these habits are so real in my life, but I think it’s really because I care about justice very much.

Technology helps me be socially conscious.  I learn most of what I know from the computer and TV, plus the radio, which I frequently listen to through the computer. I am torn. I need to connect with God and people, yet the computer is a tool for witness and connection. And the television is an interesting way to relax and connect with people.

As I gain awareness through technology  I am fascinated by what I observe.  Recently, a few commercials made me laugh aloud with amazement.  Each commercial was directed toward the socially conscious, in one way or another.

The first one was in response to the agriculture policies that cause corn to be the cheapest resource for the food industry (and beyond) in our society.  Perhaps you’ve noticed how many products now say “No High Fructose Corn Syrup” on the labels. That’s not just because people are learning the sweetener is bad for their health, but also bad for the environment and numerous other justice situations.  Here’s the reactionary commercial:

I sighed, knowing that the propaganda would confuse many of the truth-seekers who are overwhelmed with information and aren’t sure who to believe.

I couldn’t find the next commercial that I saw to share with you, but you can probably imagine it.  It was another PR play to make it seem like an oil company, I think it was BP, really cares about the environment more than profit.  You could click here to see a few similar videos.  I was also reminded of how McDonald’s made a video about their values that is so good that it might make you want to snuggle up to them with gratitude for their goodness.  Again, propaganda can spin the truth to help people feel okay about the way they spend their money and time.

The last commercial in the break gave me some hope, and it’s not just because I love pizza.  It was by Domino’s Pizza and about the sources of their pizza ingredients.  This company is trying out a very interesting PR and Ad campaign which admits their food has been awful and needed a re-do.   Part of the campaign includes an on-line game with videos so we can learn about the farms where they get their pizza parts.  This seems good; not enough people know the process of how their food comes to the table.  Plus, I love honesty. But, I am not behind it completely.  Even though it gives me hope that a food company wants to educate its customers about the food industry, I don’t think the success of a fast-food company is a solution to any social problem.

Brothers and Sisters, I seek your input and your advice.   How do you simplify your lives yet remain socially conscious?  Can we be gospel people without commercials, computers and TV in this era?  How do you connect with others in community in prayer, around tables and creatively resist oppression?  How do you do all this gospel work, this messy Jesus business, and remain rooted in the Truth of why we act?