Thanksgiving Traditions for the Sake of the Common Good

I’ve been thinking about redefining Thanksgiving traditions. During this sacred and hard time, when practically everything is in flux and open to new forms, I would like to take on some new practices that challenge the racist systems harming the United States, support a sustainable way of living on Earth and promote the common good.

In other words, while I am about to spend my first Thanksgiving alone, coping with this Coronavirus pandemic, I am eager to reimagine the “same old, same old” and make choices that are more thoughtful. I want to decolonize my thinking about Thanksgiving and learn how to eat in a way that is more friendly to the earth.

So when I heard my friend Beth Piggush, the integral ecology director of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, my religious community, mention that her family is working to decolonize their Thanksgiving traditions and eat local, sustainable foods for their celebration, I got curious.

Beth grew up in Southern Minnesota on a hobby farm where her family lived with her grandparents. She says that it was an intergenerational effort to carefully cultivate the land that sparked her interest and love for nature. Now with a family of her own, Beth shares that she and her husband “are having their own outdoor adventures, running after our three daughters while trying to avoid rain and black flies.” She practices permaculture at her home in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and loves to cook and preserve anything she can grow or forage.

I asked her a few questions.

Recent Piggush Family adventures include a brisk hike. Image by Beth Piggush

Sister Julia: What have you learned about Thanksgiving, sustainability and community that is impacting how your family imagines the Thanksgiving holiday?

Beth: I am a white woman with Polish and Irish ancestry, a mother of three, a Catholic and an ecologist. And up until recently, I took the history and tradition of “Thanksgiving” for granted. In 1621 the Wampanoag people did have a meal with the Mayflower passengers, the “pilgrims,” who had just landed on their shore. The event — “the first Thanksgiving” — was historically recorded by a person who was white. This is not the happy story I learned growing up.

What those Europeans carried with them over the sea was greed and disease and perpetuating destruction of the indiginous communities in order to take the land. I am discovering that it was almost 200 years after the Wampanoag people and the early colonists had that meal together that the idea of celebrating the first Thanksgiving really came to light. Thanksgiving, the American holiday, was not a day of national recognition until Franklin D. Roosevelt signed it into legislation, in part to find a way to bring the country together during World War II.

Now I imagine sharing with my children the meaning of the American Thanksgiving holiday from all perspectives. Thanksgiving for the colonists was traditionally centered around a religious ceremony. It is also my understanding that Native people practice Thanksgiving in many ways and at many times throughout the year. They have an appreciation for what Mother Nature provides and are committed to a relationship of give and take. I would like to think that in order to have a more sustainable future, my family and my community must begin to understand this relationship between plants, animals, Earth and people, and honor it before and beyond the fourth Thursday in November. Instead I feel like we are stuck in a tradition of fatty foods and football — not bad but way off the meaning of Thanksgiving for Native people and the early colonists.

I have also learned that the traditional holiday celebrated in the U.S. with a big, happy parade in New York City falls on the same day that Native people observe National Day of Mourning. When I lived in Connecticut, I always thought how cool it would be to take the train to NYC and watch the parade in person. I have recently woken up to the fact that what I really missed while living on the East Coast was the opportunity to acknowledge and show my respect for the indiginous communities. I would like to share with my family what I have learned, to show respect for the Ho-Chunk Nation and the occupied ancestral lands where I live now.

Sister Julia: How does your faith influence planning and preparation for your family?

Beth: Before every meal we share as a family, we say grace: “Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ Our Lord. Amen.” It is simple and it is meaningful for all of us. In allowing my faith to influence my daily practice of giving thanks, I need to do better. I am finding myself drawn to scripture and reflections based on gratitude. Once I read that Thanksgiving was gratitude in action. I hope that I can continue to develop my faith and spiritual influences.

Sister Julia: What does it mean to decolonize your Thanksgiving celebration? What suggestions do you have for others who are interested in doing the same?

Beth: Decolonizing my family’s Thanksgiving holiday starts with the acknowledgement that we and many of those around us have been wrong in the way we have celebrated in the past, like the harvest dinners held at my children’s schools with kids dressed up as pilgrims and Native people. At home we are learning about the harmful stereotypes of Native people and are starting to deconstruct what we think we know about their culture. We are also looking at what we eat and learn what is foods are traditional for each Native community.

For other families, my first suggestion is to search “true Thanksgiving history” online, and the second is to avoid family craft projects like those found on Pinterest constructed to depict happy “pilgrims and Indians.”

Beth’s daughter, Anna, with a giant puffball/white mushroom. Image by Beth Piggush

Sister Julia: What recipes, resources and practices would you like to share?

Beth: It all begins with transforming the celebration of a traditional Thanksgiving into a celebration of the season. We are reading books and watching documentaries to help us better understand the true history with the intention to stop perpetuating the racist impacts of the modern tradition of Thanksgiving. With little kids at home, we are specifically focusing on eating food from our garden and incorporating wild, foraged foods that we’ve collected (an activity we’ve been able to enjoy while social distancing together), including butternut squash, kale, gooseberries and potatoes. Some of our favorites include garlic mustard for pesto, chicken of the woods mushrooms and elderberries and sumac for tea.

This fall the Piggush Family’s preserves include dehydrated golden oyster mushrooms, nettles, dilly beans and mint. Image by Beth Piggush

My absolute favorite recipe with wild mushrooms and wild rice has been published by Sean Sherman with Beth Dooley in the cookbook, “The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen.” I use wild rice harvested sustainably, golden oysters foraged from local woods and either walnuts, chestnuts or hazelnuts depending on what I can forage or buy from the farmers market.

And because being in nature is easy for my family, we are going to center more of our time outside around prayer, showing gratitude for the good gifts God has given us.

At the end of the day, on Thanksgiving and all other days, the goal is for my family to be fully aware that we are celebrating the gifts from Mother Earth, both on our table and where we live with nature.

Family foraging netted Beth’s daughters Vera and Anna these large dryad mushrooms. Image by Beth Piggush

Here are a few resources that we have found helpful:

Children’s Literature about American Indians from Teaching for Change

Thanksgiving Ideas from the Smithsonian’s National Museum for the American Indian

Plimoth Plantation Bicultural Perspective on the Mayflower

Have a happy, safe, earth-friendly, decolonized and joyful Thanksgiving everyone!

Hope in hard times is an element of our prophetic vocation

Photo by Faris Mohammed on Unsplash

I’ve been catching myself singing and there’s a surprising theme to the songs.

Considering the state of things, there’s a lot of reasons why silence might make more sense, why a somber state might be more appropriate than song. In recent weeks, the COVID-19 crisis has become so deadly that morgues cannot keep up. It remains uncertain whether there will be a smooth transition of political power after the recent election in the United States. Every day, my heart is heavy with grief and concern, as I pray for someone else who is experiencing homelessness or is unemployed, imprisoned, sick, dying or now deceased. Plus, I continue to be challenged by the ongoing need for reconstruction, for the building of a society not based on the evils of systemic racism and environmental degradation; it’s big, overdue work.

I feel helpless and lost, I am not sure how to help. It’s a lot, and I am discouraged and overwhelmed.

Yet, I am singing. When I am out on walks and washing the dishes, I am humming. When I pause in prayer, lyrics come to the front of my mind. It took me a while to notice that the songs had something in common, but now… [This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report. Continue reading here.]

Michael Okinczyc-Cruz: Where Civic Life and Mystical Life Meet

“Robust commitment to civic life should be fed by a robust spiritual life, a mystical life.”

Season 2, Episode 5 of Messy Jesus Business, hosted by Sister Julia Walsh

IN THIS EPISODE:

In Season 2, Episode 5 of Messy Jesus Business podcast, Sister Julia Walsh and Michael Okinczyc-Cruz discuss how his upbringing and experience as a person of Polish and Mexican ancestry helped bring him to his ministry as co-founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Spiritual and Public Leadership, which helps people enrich their spiritual lives and connect that to their public lives, and why that’s essential for radical discipleship. He remembers graduating from college during the Great Recession and seeking support when making ends meet was difficult.

“I remember going to this church, and the line was so long, you know, we got there and there were probably 30-40 people in line, and I remember just this like profound shame hitting me,” he said. “And I’m even sad to say that because I know that for so many millions of people in our country today, that’s the present reality…they need help…they need food on the table today. Not tomorrow, today. And I remember going and I remember this feeling like I busted my tail the last four years to get through college. This is what my parents told me I needed to do in order to make it, and I just graduated and here I am. And, what’s wrong with this picture?”

Work Rooted in Faith

They also talk about the essential role of relationship building in addressing systemic issues, and define solidarity through this lens, examining the importance of developing authentic relationships that can be transformative in public life, particularly in our current political and economic climate.

“Over time, as I’ve reflected on what keeps me in this work, I think it has so much to do with my faith, it has so much to do with my upbringing, it has so much to do with the vital importance of this work. You know, the ability to work with extraordinary people: parents, youth, elders who have so many aspirations and hopes for their community and being able to achieve some of those dreams and aspirations through hard, deliberate, intense work in public life. It’s just remarkable,” he says.

The Transformative Power of Relationships

At its heart is an inherent commitment to the importance of developing relationships. “We’re gonna move much further along if people are willing to…develop deep and authentic and meaningful relationships that can be transformative in public life,” he explains.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development

In addition, this episode of Messy Jesus Business also touches on the 50th Anniversary of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development: what it is, and how you can be a part of the important work of this initiative to create vital systemic change.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Visit the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Campaign for Human Development online.

Go to the website for the Coalition for Spiritual & Public Leadership.

ABOUT THE GUEST:

Michael Okinczyc-Cruz is the Executive Director and a co-founder of the Coalition for Spiritual and Public Leadership. As a faith-rooted community organizer with nearly a decade of experience, he has worked to address issues related to criminal justice, mental health, corporate bank accountability, immigration reform, refugee rights, public transportation, and economic justice at the local, state and national levels. He has trained thousands of leaders across the country on the methodologies of faith-based community organizing.

Okinczyc-Cruz is also an adjunct professor at the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University of Chicago where he periodically teaches courses on Catholic Social Teaching, Christian Ethics and Leadership in Social Justice Organizations. He possesses a BA from the University of California, Berkeley, a Master’s in Theology from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School and a Doctorate of Ministry with a concentration in Latinx studies from Fordham University. Okinczyc-Cruz’s maternal grandparents are from Guanajuato, Mexico and his father is a refugee from Poland. He lives in Chicago with his wife Joanna.

CONTEMPLATIVE MOMENT:

Our Contemplative Moment in this episode of Messy Jesus Business is an excerpt from Pope Francis’ General Audience on September 2, 2020.

MESSY JESUS BUSINESS is produced, hosted and edited by Sister Julia Walsh with production assistance from Charish Badzinski.

Email us at messyjesusbusiness@gmail.com

LET US KNOW YOUR THOUGHTS:

We’re taking a survey of listeners to find out how we can improve Messy Jesus Business, and what topics you would like us to focus on for future podcast episodes. Take our brief survey here.

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November invitation

after all hallows eve & 
all saints, all souls
i admit my longing for 
slowing, resting.
i name my dreams
and groan in prayer.
"i sense an invitation
in this season."

toss and turn
grab the remote
recheck
the vote count
the headlines
recheck
the heartaches
recheck
reality

lost hopes, now hallowed:
the mighty remain mighty
although their optics 
are all off.
tyrants turn 
themselves 
inside out,
shed skins &
expose plots. 

there is a message
in the faces 
of those who do not see
the mess we are in.

who was succumb 
to the fierce
pace of restlessness?
who was slave
to the demands
of the din?
was it me?

is this a time
for lamenting?
is this a season
for repenting?

under the dark sky 
in late afternoon
i look for little
illuminations.
Spirit — she sneaks,
whispers:
"be thoughtful,
be careful,
now is the time
for deepening."

when i am 
underground
i must accept 
the pressure
the weight
the darkness. 
the risk of 
mystery:
no maps
no menus
no certainty.

swimming in deep water
takes strength, energy
constant attention
to breath
to movement
to surroundings.

depth, though, reveals 
glowing wonders
like flaming altars
and secret cathedrals
in holy places
there are holy answers

in the depth:
trust
love
truth
hope 
plus fresh
opportunity.
invitation 
accepted. 



 
Photo by Sergiu Vălenaș on Unsplash

Father James Martin: Prayer and Polarities

Season 2, Episode 4: of Messy Jesus Business, hosted by Sister Julia Walsh

IN THIS EPISODE:

In Season 2, Episode 4 of the Messy Jesus Business podcast, we get into the mess of learning to pray as well as polarities in the Church, which Father James Martin reflected upon. As an author, Priest and editor at large for America Media, Father James is adept at understanding and facing these challenges while remaining true the Gospel.

Father James Martin. Photo Credit: Nutopia.

POLARITIES IN THE CHURCH

“I’ve been a Jesuit 30 years. I’ve never seen it so divided,” he said. “I mean…I cannot believe it. It’s stunning to me that you have even some cardinals and archbishops and bishops opposing the Pope.”

Father James has experienced these polarities first-hand in his ministry. “It’s difficult. but I think part of it is understanding not everyone’s gonna like me,” he explained. “Not everybody liked Jesus and he was a pretty nice guy.”

Sister Julia agreed, “Yeah, but he upset the system, and sometimes when we’re being faithful to Christ, we might have to disturb the status quo a little too.”

Finding the right approach in the face of division is essential. “The personal attacks are just amazing to me. So that’s messy, and the key is to try to be charitable, to never attack people personally, to give them the benefit of the doubt, but also to keep preaching the Gospel,” Father James explains.

In this episode, Father James and Sister Julia also explored vocational discernment, what drew him to the Jesuits, and what it was like for him to have a private audience with Pope Francis. And with his latest book on the horizon, “Learning to Pray,” they also talked about how surprisingly difficult prayer can be.

ABOUT THE GUEST:

Father James Martin, SJ, is a Jesuit priest, editor at large of America, consultor to the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication and author of many books, including the New York Times bestseller, Jesus: A Pilgrimage. His latest book, Learning to Pray will be released in February 2021.

This episode’s contemplative moment includes a prayer by Father James Martin, called “A Prayer for When I feel Rejected,” taken from his book, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and LGBT Community Can enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. You can find the prayer here.

MESSY JESUS BUSINESS is produced, hosted and edited by Sister Julia Walsh with assistance from Charish Badzinski.

Email us at messyjesusbusiness@gmail.com

LET US KNOW YOUR THOUGHTS:
We’re taking a survey of listeners to find out how we can improve Messy Jesus Business, and what topics you would like us to focus on for future podcast episodes. Take our brief survey here.

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Hope, not fear, during power transition and other uncertain times

In less than a week, votes will be counted. In less than a week, we might know the results of the election. We may know who our new — or returning — elected officials will be.

It seems to me that many of us are nervous — or terrified — about what is to come from Nov. 3. And, rightly so. We know that our votes are sacred, that a lot is riding on the results.

Here’s a little litany of what is stirring in our hearts and minds: We are thinking of the dignity of the human person and sacredness of the planet. We are concerned about climate change and political division. We are thinking about the right to life and the need to protect the vulnerable — children, elders, immigrants and refugees. We want violence and racism to end. We want there to be food, health care and justice for us. It is a lot. This is part of the mess of radical Gospel living: We care about many, many issues, and we are involved in shaping the world that we long for.

And, this litany doesn’t even account for the concerns I have about the transition of power in local, state and national governments. I wrote about those worries. This video highlights a possibility.

Despite all this seeming danger and real suffering, Christian scriptures challenge us to not be afraid — to be people who foster the virtues of love, faith and hope. Especially hope.

In the Bible, the message is plain:

For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance. (Romans 8:24-25)

Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope. (1 Peter 3:15)

The call to hope is strong. Personally, it seems to be coming to me from every direction. This week I am attending a conference sponsored by National Religious Vocation Conference that is all about hope and religious life. Last night, I attended the virtual fundraiser “Keep Hope Alive” for Pastoral Migratoria. (It was inspiring! You can enjoy the program too.)

It’s not surprising that the theme of hope is everywhere. The COVID-19 pandemic is hard and we are full of grief and exhaustion. When times are tough, hope holds a sacred power over us.

So, how could a Christian live with hope during uncertain times?

The list of options is long; possible actions compatible with each concern. Pray. Donate. Volunteer. Care for yourself. Study. Companion others. Reach out.

No matter how you embody hope, let’s deeply consider what it is and is not. It isn’t naive optimism. It is not denial. It is a feeling, a passion, but it’s more than a feeling to harbor in our hearts. As written by St. Thomas Aquinas, hope is a movement toward a future and possible good that is dependent on God’s greatness, not our own. (Sister Michaela Martinez writes about this here.)

photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

With all this in mind, three simple principles to holding on to hope have become apparent to me. They all require openness and deep listening.

Honor the complexity of every person and situation.

No person or circumstance is worthy of being flattened out and oversimplified. But we tend to do this a lot, and this why we are in serious, polarized times. Every person has a story. We need to listen to learn the reason for their worldview, heartache and concern.

This NPR story emphasizes the challenge — and importance — of maintaining relationships across the political spectrum. Here’s an expert that remains with me:

A little more listening to understand, a little less trying to convince, and a lot more intellectual humility would do everyone a world of good, said Israel, who’s also the author of “Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide, Skills and Strategies for Conversations That Work.

“We’re flattening people out in terms of our view of them … and we’re not really seeing the full complexity of people on the other side.”

This connects to the next principle that helps me to have hope.

Remain open to what you don’t know.

You can call it intellectual humility, sure, but you can also call it conversion. God designed us to be creatures who are constantly growing, learning. We are meant to stretch ourselves away from our attachments and comfort zones. And we’re meant to be people who are on journeys of discovery — in our faith, relationships and development. Listening and learning must be ongoing for us. This demands an openness to reframing, redefining and new ways of being as well.

Keep the big picture — God’s view — in mind.

As we love, serve and pray — as we radically live the Gospel — we are likely to feel small instead of mighty. Setbacks and heartache can get the best of us. We wonder if we are really having an impact, if our hard work is influencing the common good. It’s easy to become discouraged or to despair. This is a constant temptation for us.

Yet hope is rooted in trust in God. We have faith in God’s omniscience, and we believe that we can never know all of God’s good mystery. So we bow and worship and accept the big picture, that we are only allowed to see a sliver of the Truth.

In the midst of it all, we pray and submit ourselves to the holy mystery. God is in control. God has got this. We aim to cooperate with God’s vision and plan, to partner with the good. Centered in our spiritual practices, in our prayerful contemplation, we can quietly do small things for the love of God. While we do, God takes care of the big picture and there is freedom — and joy — in this mystery.

Yes, a lot is uncertain. From the transition of power after the election to the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many reasons why we could be afraid. We are Christians, though, who live boldly with faith, love and hope.

The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. (Psalm 147:11)

Stina Kielsmeier-Cook: The Search for Community

Season 2, Episode 3 of Messy Jesus Business, hosted by Sister Julia Walsh

IN THIS EPISODE:

In Season 2, Episode 3, Sister Julia Walsh talks with Stina Kielsmeier-Cook, author of a spiritual memoir: Blessed are the Nones: Mixed Faith Marriage and My Search for Spiritual Community. They discuss Kielsmeier-Cook’s search for understanding and community, after her husband deconverted from Christianity and became a “None.”

“In some ways, I was just writing because I wished I’d had something to read that connected with my experience that wasn’t purely couched in this language around how do I bring my husband around to my side, versus finding grace and love and God’s goodness in and through something that I wasn’t expecting and yet, is not unredeemable,” Kielsmeier-Cook explains.

Kielsmeier-Cook recognizes that a desire to find our place amidst uncertainty and old expectations is a journey most people face. “I think in a lot of ways it’s messy because it’s reckoning with…smashed ideals, and recognizing that this path looks different than I thought it would but maybe this is actually the journey that God had for me all along, and that there are companions here too.”

Also in this episode: wrestling with questions from outside and inside a faith tradition or church community, bridging protestant and Catholic divides, and the Nuns and Nones movement.

ABOUT THE GUEST:

Stina Kielsmeier-Cook is author of Blessed are the Nones: Mixed Faith Marriage and My Search for Spiritual Community, which was just released in September.

She works as Director of Communications at the Collegeville Institute, where she is also the managing editor of Bearings Online. She calls the frigid northland her home, where she raises children, keeps the libraries busy with her insatiable reading habit, and admits to often running late for church.

CONTEMPLATIVE MOMENT:

Our Contemplative Moment in this episode of Messy Jesus Business is adapted from the opening prayer located here.

MESSY JESUS BUSINESS is produced, hosted and edited by Sister Julia Walsh with production assistance from Charish Badzinski.

Email us at messyjesusbusiness@gmail.com

LET US KNOW YOUR THOUGHTS:

We’re taking a survey of listeners to find out how we can improve Messy Jesus Business, and what topics you would like us to focus on for future podcast episodes. Take our brief survey here.

BE SOCIAL: 

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Twitter: @messyjesusbiz

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LISTEN HERE:

Making good trouble and the trouble with goodness

It’s Sunday and four-year-old P’s turn to pick the movie. The eight-week ban on “Frozen 2” has expired and so, to her older brother’s chagrin, that is what we are watching, again.

I admit that, aside from the film’s flaws and how tiresome it is to watch it for the hundredth time, it is a beautifully animated story of two courageous women and an epic journey to find a truth that will heal a divided land. Not the worst narrative to be streaming into my daughter’s mesmerized gaze. 

book-cover-illustration-sun-people-grass
Image contributed by AmyNee Walker

In “Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints,” author Daneen Akers writes, “Humans are storytelling creatures: Stories are how we share values, cope with life’s challenges, cherish beauty, and celebrate the resilience of the human spirit … we are made of stories and stardust.” Akers is a self-proclaimed lover of stories and disaffected Christian who longs for “better faith-based stories” to share with our children and within homes, schools and communities.  

Working from the premise that the stories we consume feed and grow the values we live, Akers presents a cornucopia of imperfect “holy troublemakers” who, from the grounding of their particular faith, may sometimes challenge conventions and even break rules in order to “make our society work for everyone.” 

While the sentiment of working for the good of all is a noble one and feels right and reasonable it is, in my perception, quite a sticky one. In fact, for me, it is not only the stickiest point in this book but also in my lived experience in which it seems that however much I believe myself to be wholeheartedly working for good, there are others who perceive my actions as harmful; at best, misguided. Even within a single faith tradition, family or community, reaching consensus about how to define and apply moral values is a messy business indeed. 

Be that as it may, I was delighted to find among her troupe of loving disruptors some of my own heroes — Mr. Rogers, Rumi, Mary Oliver and Wangaari Mathai among others — and happy to examine the beautifully articulated (and illustrated) highlights of their lives through the eyes of a child who might be “meeting them” for the first time.  

Within each narrative, Akers not only introduces people but also concepts, terms and historical events. For example, in the section about Bayard Rustin, she includes comments (and glossary notes) on segregation, Quakers, discrimination against people in the LGBTQ community, pacifism, social justice organizing, chain gangs, the civil rights movement and the March on Washington.   

illustration-man-black-hair-glasses-white-shirt-red-background
Bayard Rustin, illustrated by Sister X

Akers’ intended audience for the book is children ages third through seventh grade. While she writes with cognizance of young readers, she honors their intelligence and does not diminish her subjects through over-simplification. She manages to layer in complexity and careful attention to terminology without bogging down or overloading the reader. She also includes resources like “Some Notes on Language,” which outlines the sources and reasoning that influenced her in navigating the complex realm of words, as well as a glossary designed to invite further exploration of some of the loaded or unfamiliar terms sprinkled throughout the texts.

At times the common thread between the stories may seem loose or frayed or occasionally redundant. Yet where else can I read about sage and beloved Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh and also meet Maryam Khatoon Molkara, the transgender Iranian woman and devout Muslim whose remarkable story of courage, commitment and certainty in her own identity led her to endure beatings and gain an audience with the Ayatollah himself to plead her case! Akers closes each narrative with a question, much like similarly-styled books might include a short prayer that draws from the theme. After telling Molkara’s story, she asks, “Have you ever had to do something scary in order to be true to yourself?”

embroidery-bald-man
Budhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, embroidered by Carla Madrigal
illustration-woman-flowers-orange-dress
Maryam Khatoon Molkara, illustrated by Justine Lecouffe

In my own home, with my children young in age and my personal reservations regarding some of Akers offerings, I will be selective with whom I introduce from this book and how we frame the conversations around it. But naturally, over time, they will make their own selections and find the guides that best inspire and serve them on their own hero’s journey. I can only hope to offer them a scaffolding of my values over which they will build their own. 

We are finally nearing the climax of “Frozen 2.” My little one clings to me and watches with rapt attention as Queen Elsa enters the ancient cave, A’tahalan. No matter how many times I have seen it and how silly I feel, my eyes inevitably fill as Elsa hears her mother’s voice sing out, “Show yourself … you are the one you’ve been waiting for all of your life …” 

I hope the stories that we tell our children will give them the confidence to show their true selves while also providing the framework to question the impulses and influences that may not serve themselves or the “common good.” Hopefully the stories we tell and “saints” we introduce will guide them toward the path preached by the prophet Micah: “do justly, love mercy and act humbly” (6:8). And if “doing justly” sometimes means making — in the words of the late John Lewis — “good trouble,” may they have stories to stand on that give them the courage to do so.

ABOUT THE RABBLE ROUSER

Amy Nee-Walker

Amy Nee-Walker grew up in the middle of a large and lovely family in Central Florida. Living into questions about truth and love has led her to the Catholic Worker, the Catholic Church, her incredible husband, three audacious, adorable children, and (for the time being) a home in the hills of Appalachia.

Steven P. Millies: Our World Needs All Hands on Deck

Season 2, Episode 2 of Messy Jesus Business, hosted by Sister Julia Walsh

IN THIS EPISODE:

In Season 2, Episode 2, Sister Julia Walsh talks with Steven P. Millies about the believer’s role in our highly-politicized ecosystem.

Steven P. Millies

“One of the things that I’ve come to understand…is that our life inside the church is political,” Millies says. “And I want to be very clear about what I mean by that. Politics is not the partisanship, it’s not the division, it’s not the polarization. Politics is the human hope for the common good unearthed through discourse and dialogue. It’s the building of community.”

Millies continues, “I think it’s terribly important…for everyone we speak to, to understand clearly that this is a world that needs all hands on deck…and it certainly needs all believers.”

We also dive down into the interplay of sin and polarities, the importance of trusting in Divine timing and our jobs as Catholics working on the assembly line on the project of building God’s reign. We’ll discuss how liturgy and rituals of Church and politics build bonds. And, believe it or not, we talk about sports too!

FURTHER READING:

Sister Julia’s recent Global Sisters Report column is related to the conversation in this episode and suggests that the solution to polarities and social sin are within the people of God. Click here to read her column, “Democracy is collapsing, but let’s imagine how the church could change that.”

ABOUT THE GUEST:

Steven P. Millies is Director of The Bernardin Center and associate professor of public theology at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. During the fall 2020 semester he is the Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ Visiting Fellow in Catholic Studies at Loyola University Chicago’s Joan & Bill Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage. His most recent book was Good Intentions: A History of Catholic Voters’ Road from Roe to Trump.

Our Contemplative Moment in this episode of Messy Jesus Business is taken from a new encyclical letter from Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti.

“For these reasons, the Church, while respecting the autonomy of political life, does not restrict her mission to the private sphere. On the contrary, “she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines” in the building of a better world, or fail to “reawaken the spiritual energy” that can contribute to the betterment of society. It is true that religious ministers must not engage in the party politics that are the proper domain of the laity, but neither can they renounce the political dimension of life itself, which involves a constant attention to the common good and a concern for integral human development. The Church “has a public role over and above her charitable and educational activities”. She works for “the advancement of humanity and of universal fraternity”. She does not claim to compete with earthly powers, but to offer herself as “a family among families, this is the Church, open to bearing witness in today’s world, open to faith hope and love for the Lord and for those whom he loves with a preferential love. A home with open doors. The Church is a home with open doors, because she is a mother”. And in imitation of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, “we want to be a Church that serves, that leaves home and goes forth from its places of worship, goes forth from its sacristies, in order to accompany life, to sustain hope, to be the sign of unity… to build bridges, to break down walls, to sow seeds of reconciliation.” (FT 276)

MESSY JESUS BUSINESS is produced, hosted and edited by Sister Julia Walsh with production assistance from Charish Badzinski.

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The little way today

My three-year-old daughter, JoyAna, loves the garden. She walks around smelling flowers, searching for worms and almost indiscriminately exclaiming, “Whoa, daddy, this is amazing.” Last week she got a hold of a red and yellow zinnia and, with all the free-spiritedness of an exuberant toddler, ran up and down the sidewalk unpetalling and tossing the flower bit by bit. After navigating my own inward journey of concern for her safety by the road and guilt for taking a neighbor’s zinnia (sorry, neighbor), I smiled and thought of The Little Flower.

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“the little flower” by Janice Joy Little

On October 1, the Church joyfully remembers one who teaches us the little way of Jesus, St. Therese of Lisieux, who gave witness to the expansive height, depth, width and breadth of God’s love through the bold proclamation that the stirring vitality of holiness resides in the depths of ordinary existence. This little way calls us to share the fragrance of Christ’s mercy in the smallest perpetually-present gestures of love and to bear our weaknesses meekly. By some mystery, as we tap into the fountainhead of grace in the small relinquishments and little acts of tenderness and welcome in our everyday lives, the way of spiritual childhood opens for us the pathway to participation in the kingdom of God.

“Sanctity does not consist in performing such and such acts; it means being ready at heart to become small and humble in the arms of God, acknowledging our own weaknesses and trusting in His fatherly goodness to the point of audacity.”

One of the well-known images associated with St. Therese that illustrates this audacious trust and readiness of heart is the strewing of flowers. Her petals are all the little opportunities throughout her day to share God’s love. Just as fragrant beauty spreads when one unpetals and scatters a flower, each of these small gestures — interior and exterior love-offerings for God — put forth the aroma of Christ. Jesus takes great pleasure in this, according to Therese, and it was her small way to “make Love loved” in the world.

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“Saint Therese Doing the Dishes” by Brother Michael O’Neill McGrath, OSFS

What does Therese’s little way have to say to us today? This is a particularly important question for us in this collective moment in our country, as the generational aching caused by racial injustice breaks through the surface and we are brought face-to-face with the glaring connection between oppression and many of the systems upon which our common life is built – including education, judicial law and incarceration, and money-making. I pray that communities and congregations nationwide ask this question and reckon with the wisdom of Therese in honest, curious dialogue.

For me, a helpful entry point for these questions leads me to yet another sister in the faith: Dorothy Day.

Dorothy’s prophetic witness for justice confronted the filthy, rotten systems of her day with relentless force. She has inspired so many to live radically the way of Jesus that is alternative to the logic of the unjust and dehumanizing structures of a profit-driven society. Her way of prayer, voluntary poverty and works of mercy glows with the light of Therese’s little way. And Dorothy didn’t simply apply Therese’s wisdom to her spiritual life of prayer and interior attentiveness but also to her social and economic commitments. The Catholic Worker Movement, under Dorothy’s bold leadership, encouraged a personalist response to the unjust social order of her time, including the little way of credit unions and farming communes, along with small enterprises and cooperatives that valued human labor and shared ownership.

Dorothy describes her first introduction to St. Therese as an underwhelming experience. She almost took offense to the confessor’s recommendation to read “Story of a Soul,” finding Therese’s little way too small and preferring to read about heroic and inimitable saints. Over her years living in Catholic Worker hospitality houses, studying and writing about the Church’s response to the unjust social order, Dorothy discovered Therese’s little way to be the path accessible to all, including and especially the poor and the downtrodden. The teaching of the little way makes room for anyone in any circumstance to participate in the loving, active presence of God.

Here in Durham, we often reflect upon what our call to follow Jesus on the little way looks like here and now. By grace, there is in our community an integration along the barrier lines that often separate us from one another — namely race, age and disability. Our society has been arranged, largely through the logics of profit and fear, in such a way that most people who are different along these (and many other) lines do not share intimate daily life. Praise God for the exceptions to this all over the country that provide an alternative imagination, but the setup of our society makes it much easier to be more proximate to those who are like us. 

Every day, the nine of us in our home are each involved in a small, personalist response to some monstrously big social ills, including racism and the exclusion and belittling of persons with disabilities. Some of us live with developmental disabilities. Some of us are Black and some are white. Our ages range from nine months to 69 years. Naming this suggests no heroism (in fact, the challenge and constant failings are apparent each day) but rather indicates that St. Therese’s little way makes sense of our common life together and provides a framework for adventurous, sacred meaning in our everyday lives.

And so, the raw material of our daily lives, including offenses and forgivenesses, dishes and dusting, laughter and horseplay, annoyances and confrontations — all of these invitations to humble and self-offering love — happen in the womb of a concrete expression of the new humanity Jesus ushers in through his very person. The boundaries of hostility are torn and, in Jesus, God’s love opens new horizons of togetherness.

And so, as I praise God in reflection of our community’s lived encounter with Therese, I see a sort of little way inside a little way. I see the little way of attempting to bear one’s imperfections in humility, exploring the million daily interior and exterior invitations to respond to God’s grace with small acts of love. And this little way swirls inside the little way of proximate and intimate shared life oriented around those most vulnerable, poor and excluded in our world with personalist systemic engagement (i.e., household habits of consuming and eating and welcoming that undercut the big injustices of our time). These little ways lead us always to surrender and trust. God alone is the wellspring of goodness, truth and beauty. In God, all justice and mercy find its source and fulfillment. 

And God became small. In the incarnation, God chooses the littleness of a baby and the dailiness of ordinary existence to bring salvation to the world. Within the surrendering trust of Mary’s simple “let it be” resides humanity’s faithful response to the loving invitation of God. And Mary’s consenting “yes” resulted in a hosting of our Lord Jesus filled with a million little gestures of love. Physically, in her body, she was hospitable to the life and new life of Jesus. She raised Jesus day after day after day, mothering him from an infant to toddler to young boy, through teenage years and into the intimacy of their adult lives up to the cross. Her ‘let it be’ was a surrender that left her hands open to freely scatter tiny petals of love. It was a room-making for God’s life to be and to generate new life.

May we accept God’s invitation to be available to the wonder and mystery of love as we travel the little way with Jesus.

Greg Little

Greg Little is a husband to Janice and father to JoyAna and Elias “Eli,”and he has a home at Corner House in Durham, North Carolina. He has learned from various schools, including several Christian communities seeking justice and peace (a Catholic Worker home inspired by St. Francis, Durham’s Friendship House and Haiti’s Wings of Hope) and is committed to a life ordered by daily communal prayer and littleness. He works at Reality Ministries, a place proclaiming that we all belong to God in Jesus through fostering friendship among people with and without developmental disabilities. Greg and Sister Julia recently met in the wonder of interfaith dialogue about monasticism and the contemplative life at Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner, South Carolina.