Beheaded bodies lying in the streets. Stray dogs and pigs picking at human corpses on the roadside. Vibrant communities silenced and still, everyone indoors, too afraid to go to school or to the market. Roadblocks stopping travel, isolating entire villages. A pregnant woman delivers a baby who doesn’t survive because they can’t get to the hospital. Food rots because no one can travel and farmers can’t transport their harvests, and survivors of violence become increasingly malnourished, moving toward starvation.
These scenes may sound like snippets from a nightmare, but for Anglophones in Cameroon, these are the current facts of life. I gleaned those descriptions listed from an email forwarded to my inbox a couple weeks ago, written by a Cameroonian to a friend of my community, a philanthropist in Wisconsin. The writer was lucky to be able to send the message to his friend in Wisconsin; the Cameroonian government has blocked the internet in the Anglophone region frequently in recent months. The writer is lucky to be alive.
Cameroon, a nation in West Africa, is about 80 percent French speaking and 20 percent English speaking. Late in 2016, students and professionals such as educators and lawyers in the Anglophone region began to protest the Francophone majority, declaring that they were being treated like second-class citizens. In response to their protests, the Cameroonian government… [This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report. Continue reading here.]
I once stood near the United States-Mexico border. In the journey to this edge, I witnessed the evidence of militarization: guns, checkpoints, armored vehicles, cameras. The steel fence rose from the sandy earth like a misplaced mountain. I felt my body tense from the feeling of surveillance. I felt the unease and sorrow that seemed to hover in the dry desert air.
Since that time much has happened in my life, including earning a MA in pastoral studies from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. At my graduation last May, I loved hearing this speech from one of the recipients of an honorary degree: Msgr. Arturo Bañuelas from El Paso, Texas, a pastor, educator, theologian, advocate for migrants and refugees and founder of the Tepeyac Institute.
In his speech, Msgr. Bañuelas centered his comments around the meaning of the Spanish phrase he learned from his grandmother: “tú eras mi otra yo” or “you are my other me.” According to Bañuelas, when we see our humanity wrapped up in the being of others, we see how “walls between us threaten our sacred bounds” because “oneness with each other is oneness with God.”
As I understand it, a community of any type cannot know oneness if those who are poor and marginalized are not included, honored, respected. We come to know God and ourselves through the poor. In Bañuelas,’ words, “there is no conversion to God if there is no conversion to the poor. Through their eyes we see what Jesus sees, a life rich in beauty, value, and meaning.”
Since my graduation in May, Bañuelas,’ words have remained a steady challenge to me. I often ponder if my life is being converted more to the poor; if they are my center and path to knowing God more deeply. I think about during my visits to the county jail. I think about it during my drives around rural America. As a retreat minister, I often wonder how I’m going to help others know the sacredness of the other. I also consider the Christian call when I observe the divides in society, the collapse of connections over political aisles and the evidence that even the ecosystems are feeling the torment of conflict. How can we build more inclusive societies? How can we tend to the most vulnerable among us?
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I stood in front of a group of teens preparing for confirmation in the Catholic Church. I read this aloud:
“In salvation history, the Lord saved one people. We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual. Rather, God draws us to himself, taking into account the complex fabric of interpersonal relationships present in a human community. God wanted to enter into the life and history of a people.” – Pope Francis (Gaudete et Exultante, paragraph #6)
In other words, not only is our humanity bound up in one other but our salvation is too. If we are divided and not caring for one another across borders and divides, none of us will be able to experience the fullness of God’s reign. We are a Church, a people, a community only as strong as the most marginal and weak among us. This is what it means to be part of the Body of Christ. This is the stuff of South African spirituality called Ubuntu, which means “I am who I am because of who we all are” and “I am a person because I belong.” It’s “tú eras mi otra yo” put another way.
Visiting each side of the border two years ago with my peers, I encountered the sacredness of a community and the goodness of God’s creation. The heat of the sun and the desert life growing in abundance testified to the truth that God did not create borders. God created the beauty of humanity, the glories of nature. And humanity and nature is all communal, like God, the Trinity.
God’s has designed us for unity, communion, community; we cannot be made whole if knowing one another demands crossing through splits and divides, if we must conquer walls and fences in order to bond as neighbors.
Building unity demands tearing down the walls and advocating for justice. As Bañuelas says, “tú eras mi otra yo” means “Our hearts and our lives shrivel when remain silent about the silence of others.” And, “tú eras mi otra yo” … “is the lived courageous hope not afraid to take a stand for justice, knowing that each stand removes a brick from injustice until it all comes tumbling down … because love always wins.”
Now is the time to cross the canyons split into our civility. Breaking down the walls will strengthen our society. We need each other because we are human, because we are the people of God.
With the walls down, let us look into the face of the poor and come to see God — doing so means better knowing ourselves, because “tú eras mi otra yo.” And it means, wonderfully, that we will not be the same.
“There is an innate part of God in each of us that needs to be honored and respected always. When we listen with our hearts and share in solidarity with the sufferings, the struggles the hopes and dreams of the poor, our lives are shaped anew. Our theology and ministry formation finds its deepest meaning. Our passion for living explodes into shouts of joy and a new person, a new humanity is born. The poor show us that when we are together as one we are invincible in justice, peace, hope and reconciliation.” – Msgr. Arturo Bañuelas (Catholic Theological Union graduation, 2018.)
Changed hearts and lives, strengthened communities and Church, with the walls broken down there will be no more borders to visit or neighbors to fear. We are closer to God and encounter all people seeing clearly that “tú eras mi otra yo.”
The third mobilization at the border in Nogales, Arizona/Sonora Mexico is Nov. 16-18, 2018!
“Our move to the border responds to the present-day call to solidarity in Latin America. The mobilization at the border in Nogales is one more way to fight for the closure of the School of the Americas/WHINSEC and an end to U.S. intervention in Latin America. The third bi-national Encuentro at the militarized U.S./Mexico border aims to build the grassroots power necessary to challenge the racist statutes quo and push back against U.S. intervention in Latin America.”
We don’t have to go deep into the headlines to know that death and despair surround us. Our human family is suffering intensely. We all are.
When I really let myself feel it, I squirm. Awareness of injustice gnaws at my edges, compelling me to feel uncomfortable with the peace and security that I enjoy daily. The thickness of sorrow stews in my praying heart. Intercessory prayers begging the madness to end pour out of me; these prayers seem to be stuck on repeat.
Then, a message from an ancient prophet quiets me:
On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever. The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from every face; the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken. On that day it will be said: “Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the LORD for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!” –Isaiah 25: 7-9
There is hope for all nations! I know this is real. God’s power is stronger than death. The Truth of Easter teaches me this.
The beauty of God’s designs in nature also remind me that we can be people of hope. The colors of the falling leaves insist that even when death and decay has its way, there’s reason to rejoice. There are many beautiful signs of God’s loving presence in the decay, in the changes and pain.
Indeed, signs of hope surround us. God’s love is known, even in the most awful, painful situations impacting our global family:
Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration Affiliate Emily Dawson works at St. Rose Convent in vocation ministry. She was asked to write about the correlation between St. Rose of Viterbo, the patron saint of the FSPA (whose feast day is today), and life in the convent.
When I asked a FSPA in the know about St. Rose of Viterbo and how the saint relates to life in St. Rose Convent, she gave me one of those deep, quizzical looks that made me question every ounce of my education. Then, after sharing a brief historical synopsis; the knowledge that the patron saint was bestowed (not necessarily chosen); and the promise of literature in an email, she sarcastically wished me luck with making this connection and bid me on my way.
Oh, now it’s on. Now it’s more than just historical reflection. This is a battle of the minds, people, and I am no theologian (so please be kind).
It turns out that St. Rose wasn’t a theologian either. Well, how could she be? She was 17 during her mid-12th century heyday and a woman to boot. There was very little text meant for her. Yet, she was dangerous.
And, might I add, seemingly crazy. I actually mean no disrespect. Crazy is a subjective term we give to things we don’t understand. And St. Rose was so mystical, so obstinate and so progressive that people didn’t quite know what to do with her. So, they stuck around to watch.
Her danger came in her ability to organize people—but not the right people. She organized women publicly (!!!). She taught others the road to salvation: something heavily debated at that time (with little theological background) which made those scholars nervous. She taught from the heart and had this intense passion for God that had to be shared with others.
Despite threats to her family, their eventual exile, the cold they embraced living in the snow and her unexpected death, St. Rose’s short life and ministry—while not entirely documented (due to a fire that destroyed several documents)—made enough of an impact to live on for centuries. Her body did too, apparently (blech!).
But no, I don’t know how there would be any similarities between Rose–an obstinate, progressive, mystical young woman; and the FSPA of St. Rose Convent–a group of (lovingly) obstinate, progressive, mystically minded, lovable wave makers. These women are theologically grounded yet continue to reach out to teach the way of salvation to God’s people—all because of this deep-seated passion for God. Nope. No idea.
I guess all that’s left is to embrace my little rebel St. Rose inside and defy defeat. Happy Saint Rose Feast Day everyone!
Note: In my first paragraph, I’m being facetious about my “FSPA in the know,” Sister Jean. She’s a fabulously sassy Sister whom I very much admire. Thank you, Sister Jean, for your insight into St. Rose!
“Eternal God…You know that these men have testified falsely against me. Would you let me die, though I am not guilty of all their malicious charges?”
This week the daily mass readings begin with the cry of Susannah, unjustly accused by corrupt officials, sentenced to death in the presence of the people. We read that God hears her. But Susannah is not saved by a bolt of lightning striking down her foes, or by being mysteriously transported to safety. God arouses the Holy Spirit stirring a “young lad,” Daniel, a witness in a crowd of impassive witnesses, and this small person shouts, “I will have no part in the death of this woman!”
People in the crowd are startled. Many had been grieved by the proceedings, but this was out of their hands, the elders, the leaders had decided. Yet here is this stirring, “What did you say?” they ask.
And Daniel says to the people, “Have you become fools, you Israelites, to condemn a daughter of Israel without due process and in the absence of clear evidence?”
In this story, the people respond, turning the tables by turning the accusers over for questioning. It is now they who must prove their case, which they fail to do. So Susannah is delivered, back to her family, and the accusers take her place in receiving the full penalty of the law.
I am struck by how clearly this story illustrates that God moves by moving people. Would this providential delivery have been possible had Daniel not responded to the spirit stirring him to speak? What if the people had not listened? What does all of this mean for us in our time?
Hearing this story for the first time, my thoughts immediately went to an outcry that is currently falling on deaf ears. There are 166 men being held at Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba. They are held there without due process, accused in the absence of clear evidence. Their detention is indefinite, a torturous reality. Adding insult to injury, the sacred texts of these men of faith are being tampered with and desecrated, letters from their wives and children are censored or withheld. At Guantanamo, more men have died (9) than have been convicted of a crime (6). The men are experiencing a living death, confined to their tomb until the day that their corpse can be released to their family without fear that it will speak of what it has suffered.
Yet the men there are finding ways to cry out, to God, to their captors, to this crowd of people in the United States, to us. They are using the only tool they have left, their own body, hunger striking. They are not demanding release, only humane treatment, just procedures.
As a woman of faith, I sense the Holy Spirit seeking to arouse a voice in the crowd. We are given the example of Daniel for a reason. God desires compassion and justice and these divine gifts come through people who respond. But what can we do, when the prisoners are not standing directly before us, when the crowd is not crushing about us?
We can still adopt and adapt Daniel’s words, “I will have no part in the death of these men,” “Have we become fools, to condemn men without due process and in the absence of clear evidence?” And we can find the crowds to speak it to, and draw a crowd to speak it with us.
Witness Against Torture (WAT), a group of men and women from across the United States, has been seeking an end to indefinite detention, due process and resettlement for those detained, and the closure of Guantanamo Bay detention center since 2005. Together we are responding to the hunger strikes with tangible actions. Beginning March 24th (Holy Week, for those in the Catholic tradition) we will hold a seven day solidarity fast. Throughout that week we encourage people to call the White House; send letters to the prisoners acknowledging that they have been heard by the public, even if officials have yet to respond; join us for vigils (see witnesstorture.org to find out if there are any happening in your city, or start your own); participate in the fast for a day or more; spread the news in any way you can.
Adnan Latif, a Muslim man who, after eleven years of detention, died at Guantanamo wrote a poignant poem in which he asks, “Who will save the hunger striker?” He died, without ever having been proved guilty of “all their malicious charges.” How many deaths before the cry is heard?
A lot of interesting things are happening in the movements for change in our society. Videos are going viral, the Occupy movement continues, we’ve experienced an Arab Spring, and our nation is divided so much about issues (like wealth, poverty, war, abortion, contraception and sexuality) that I’m beginning to wonder if the two-party political system is failing.
General global consciousness is awakening. More people seem to be concerned and talking about social problems and issues of morality than I can remember happening in the past. Naturally when we start discussing the things of right and wrong, we begin talking about God and religion. Our true human nature drives us to desire justice. For Christians like me we learn what real justice is by looking to Jesus.
Many of the debates are very heated because there’s a lot of passion surrounding the topics people are concerned about. The topics of contraception, abortion, the treatment of the poor, the rights of women and human rights in general are pretty big deals. Tension and chaos are getting us uptight. The debate can be overwhelming, confusing and complicated. Are there easy answers? Can there be?
About the viral video this week- all about children soldiers in Uganda- (Kony 2012) the CEO of Invisible Children made an important statement about the video’s popularity: “The core message is just to show that there are few times where problems are black and white. There’s lots of complicated stuff in the world, but Joseph Kony and what he’s doing is black and white,” –Ben Keesey
I think it’s true that the global, human family is hungry for some simple black and white morality. We want some things to be cut and dry. Ah, it’s a beautiful day! Wow, the sun is shining! How wonderful, I can see clearly now! When things seem clear, we feel refreshed.
The thing is, helping things be better means that we can’t stay cozy. Our thinking doesn’t always stay clear when we let ourselves really get into it all. Actually, to really effect change we need to turn toward the darkness. We need to face the ugly, awful truth that people are suffering and sin is destructive. We need to learn the facts. We need to do social analysis and learn different perspectives. We must be willing to get into the cracks of civilization where it’s complicated and uncomfortable. We often play a part in the systems of violence without knowing it. It’s haunting and humbling to know that we are part of a human family who is- in part- quite awful. Facing the despair is Messy Jesus Business and it’s the stuff of the season of Lent.
Alas, we learn about the ugly and the awful but we don’t stall in it so long that we become infected with depression. We become motivated to work hard because we want a better world.
We desire to see the Kingdom of God and really know peace on earth. We want change. We want things to be fair for everyone and we want to preserve rights and freedom. We believe that all people matter. The power of the Kony 2012 video- and its cries for action- is that it is organized and direct. We are made to believe that we can create change and are shown how.
We can join our diverse human family and build a kindom of equality, peace and justice – a real Easter message. Thank God, we’re on our way. We know that Jesus shall rise and Love and Life shall conquer death and evil. This great arrival of God’s glory is something we want to get really ready for. We’re trying to get ready for this joy we’ll know when justice reigns. We’re fasting, praying, giving alms, serving and living in solidarity with those who suffer. Or, we’re trying our best to do the Lenten actions and accepting the fact that we keep falling a bit short.
So our Lenten work continues and we keep gaining awareness. Our personal conversions create cultural conversions, and together we’re truly working for change. As we reside in the challenging space of the Lenten desert where things are ugly and true, we all are getting ready to experience the fullness of God’s goodness. For that we shall be grateful and for that we shall keep trying. As we do this work, we remain aware that God is with us, no matter how ugly the world may be.
The last day of teaching was well over a week ago and since then I have been on the move. My itinerant summer has begun.
Many people have asked me what I am up to this summer. The truth is that my life is just as packed and full as it normally is. I love it that way.
Here’s the plan: I am taking a theology class here this week, working as a mentor for this program next week, helping out at my sister’s organic farm the following week, working as a camp counselor here for a couple weeks in July, preparing for the next school year and then going to World Youth Day in Spain right before the school year begins mid-August. I am really excited about all these great things, I am very grateful to have these blessings.
As my adventures unfold, I quickly become overwhelmed with the privilege, freedom and blessings I live out of.
I am especially conscious right now of how I am afforded the freedom to have these adventures because I am an American citizen with a valid passport and a strong support system. The circumstances of my life permit me to travel and serve freely without fear of persecution, arrest or deportation. I am mindful of how many could never freely have the experiences I am allowed because they fear for their safety and freedom in a broken, global immigration system.
My summer kicked off on June 4. That day, I joined my community in celebrating the first vows of Sister Amy at our Motherhouse in La Crosse, Wisconsin. It was a beautiful liturgy and party and Amy was really glowing with the goodness of God. What impressed most deeply upon my heart, however, was my pondering of one of the readings that Amy selected for her service:
But Ruth said, “Do not ask me to abandon or forsake you! for wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God.
Wherever you die I will die, and there be buried. May the LORD do so and so to me, and more besides, if aught but death separates me from you!” –Ruth 1:16-17
What a beautiful devotion to the mystery of Love! Plus, what a commitment to the journey of discipleship! Highlighted in my prayer in my contemplation of the Ruth story this time was how applicable the wisdom is to our struggle for just, compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform.
We have a lot to learn from the wisdom of history. Thank God the border between the Moabite Plateau and Bethlehem wasn’t guarded! Praise God that the ancestor of Jesus could cross freely, remain devoted to love and family, and then marry across ethnicity! Wow, what if our society worked that way!? If we heeded scripture, I suspect we’d welcome strangers then realize they are saints.
Sadly, it doesn’t work that way, right now. My heart aches because of the real injustices related to immigration. Many days the sorrow meets me in my email inbox and I am compelled to advocate and learn more.
Last week, my community held our Chapter of Chats. These meetings are rooted in the tradition that St. Francis and his friars had in the 1200’s to come together and hold a Chapter of Mats to discuss the happenings of their lives. I helped with the sessions led by our Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation Committee, of which I am a member. Our committee has been focusing our work on immigration reform for a while. At the chapter, we viewed the powerful film The Visitor and discussed the great complexity of our broken immigration system. At another session, panelists spoke of how they personally have been impacted by the harm caused by the immigration laws. As we gained awareness, we cried and prayed together that God would give us courage to act for change.
My concern with the topic of immigration extends beyond my work with JPIC. As I state in this video, I am a daughter of immigrants. I want all people to have same freedoms I have been blessed with. Why should we be limited now? Certainly, it seems necessary to have some order in our legalistic era, but I don’t think there is ever a justification for not treating people with dignity.
Although I have been concerned with immigration issues for a long time, it’s been more intense lately. Last fall I visited an immigration deportation center in Chicago and it had a major impact on me. I wrote about it here. In 2008, the largest immigration raid in US history happened in Postville, Iowa just 10 miles from where I grew up. Here is the story on NPR from last May, three years afterwards. In July of that year, I attended a march and rally in Postville. It was amazing.
We were on the move that day. We were moving with the Holy Spirit, like another Pentecost. People of all races and tongues came from all over the nation to witness for the type of freedom we long and believe in: Christ’s freedom beyond borders, nations, languages, races, or places of origin.
As I move around this summer, I shall receive hospitality with joy and gratitude. As we all move around, I pray that we can all welcome strangers and receive one another with the hospitality that Ruth- and Jesus- eventually found in Bethlehem.
Good news: God has mercy and God is helping us! We are being preserved in spite of famine, scripture says.
Upright is the word of the LORD, and all his works are trustworthy. He loves justice and right; of the kindness of the LORD the earth is full. See, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him, upon those who hope for his kindness, To deliver them from death and preserve them in spite of famine. Our soul waits for the LORD, who is our help and our shield. May your kindness, O LORD, be upon us who have put our hope in you. (Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22)
I am a great lover of food. Much of my life has been centered around it. I grew up in a farming community and family. I knew how to pull weeds before I knew how to read. I knew how to bake and cook before I knew how to drive. I understood how to milk animals before I knew how to type.
Obviously I am not unique because my life is centered around food. It is for all of us. God designed it that way on purpose. It’s sacramental. It’s unifying. It’s life-giving. It’s essential. I’m grateful.
Food is also oppressive. The systems that control our consumption cause people to starve while others throw food away. In the United States, we keep getting fatter while the rest of the world riots and dies because of food costs. I wrote a bit about this for a Mexican food blog last week. The reasons why our food problems are so severe are complicated, economical and political.
As we gain awareness of the truth, we tend to be converted. The freedom paradoxically requires us to be mindful and responsible. It’s an act of solidarity and community. Since food unites us, when any person in the body of Christ- in humanity- is suffering, we all are suffering. For Lent this year I am working hard to simplify my diet, trying to fast, praying for those that are hungry and advocating for systemic justice.
This week at the high school I am leading two big events. Please pray for me and my students! On Wednesday my seniors are hosting a Peace and Justice Fair. They’ve analyzed complex social problems and will now try to inform the community and inspire others to meaningful social action. On Friday, we are hosting a Food Fast. The students will not eat for 24 hours, but still be very busy, as an act of solidarity and prayer for people who frequently go 24 hours without eating but keep working hard. I have games and activities planned to teach about global hunger and the students will engage in acts of service.
It’s really not that hard to make a difference. Like my students, you can play games at FreeRice.com and donate rice to the UN WFP. You can click (and shop for Fair Trade goods) at The Hunger Site and donate 1.1 cups of food. You can learn about the challenges of farming and survival in the developing countries by playing a game here. And, you can learn about living in poverty in the United States by playing a game here.
There are several other meaningful social actions that really make a difference. You can literally buy an animal for a community in poverty through the Heifer Project. And, of course, you can pray, fast, give, advocate, and try out simple recipes through the Catholic Relief Services rice bowl campaign.
Together, we fast with hope and trust that our merciful God is leading us through the messy famines and injustices. As I eat, I believe that the nourishment shall wake us all up to the heavy truth that we already have enough, we just need to learn how to share. This sharing is the simple way that Jesus taught us, it is the way of freedom.