A complicated patriotism

Years ago, during a Fourth of July parade, I had a panic attack. Fresh back to the United States after studying abroad for six months and foggy with jet lag, I felt dizzy and overwhelmed among the swarm of white people speaking English, waving flags, eating candy and donned in red, white and blue.

Then a float went by that showed an Uncle Sam character punching down a man with brown skin. At the sight of it, people near me laughed and cheered. I got physically ill. My stomach squirmed and I felt like I could vomit, while my head and heart raced with discomfort. Breathing became difficult. I choked out some words to my younger sister and Mom, who could see that I was not OK and did their best to calm me down, to help me relax. I didn’t have to go to the hospital, but I was scarred by the intense experience: I was uncertain if I would ever again feel comfortable with patriotism, if I would ever again be totally proud for being American.

In the early days of this blog, I wrote about my resistance to patriotism and the glorification of military culture. I re-read these pieces recently, and felt a bit embarrassed (it’s a bit too preachy and full of rant for my current tastes, and oh my word, why didn’t I capitalize my titles in those days?! Also, apparently, these themes were on my mind a lot in 2011.)

loving Jesus, not the nation (May 30, 2011)
some non-patriotic flag day thoughts (June 14, 2011)
This land is whose land? (July 4, 2011)

I felt reluctant about resurfacing these old posts here and now, because some of my views have changed and I don’t like writing and sharing things that may be divisive anymore (there’s enough of that being published now.) I don’t want to disrespect veterans who have risked their lives for others and continue to need healing, prayerful support. I definitely don’t want to dishonor anyone who has died, especially on behalf of others.

Yet I decided that it might still be worthwhile for me to share those old posts and to write about this topic again, because the general sentiment still remains true: my love of God and the cross will always be greater than my love for the United States and as long as this nation’s policies and practices continue to hurt the poor, perpetuate violence and increase the wealth gap, I am not likely proud to be an American. I don’t believe any of us should blindly love our nation without question, struggle or critique; I am concerned about how easily our country can become idolized if we are not careful.

I really like what Fr. James Martin S.J. wrote in this reflection from last year about the ways that the celebration of any nation should not be elevated above the worship of God and all that God has done for us:

Our country is not our savior. Our country did not rise from the dead. What’s more, our country is not going to be judging us in the afterlife. I always think of the lines from the Book of Isaiah:

Even the nations are like a drop from a bucket,/ and are accounted as dust on the scales … All the nations are as nothing before him;/ they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness (Is 40:15-17).

Photo credit: Freeimages.com

The truth is, patriotism is very complicated for me; it is not a black and white matter. I am certainly benefiting from our nation’s complicated and violent history; I enjoy many comforts of being a citizen of one of the wealthiest and most powerful nations, and I am not ungrateful for the privileges. I want to share the riches. Every day I enjoy and appreciate my freedoms of religion and press, freedoms others have sacrificed greatly to maintain.

I appreciate how Christopher R. Altieri put it in his recent piece for America “We have to remember our national sins on Independence Day–but without despair”:

… many of my fellows in citizenship, from this generation and from those before, and even some who suffered grave and protracted injustice from the United States, nevertheless have refused to drink from the cup of bitterness and despair. Feeling myself blessed in America — not least by their example — I eschew the cup as well.

In any case, my love of America has never been the result of fantastic or blinkered esteem. Our history is rife with examples of our failures to live up to our commitments. We must face those failures in this and every generation squarely and without stint. I learned that from America, too.

Years ago, when I still was very short and had buck teeth, I sang “God Bless the USA-I am Proud to be an American” with gusto in a gymnasium with my young classmates, loud and proud, with props and hand motions; I think we were in fourth grade. I still know the song quite welland frequently catch myself humming it this time of year around Independence Day.

But now, if I find myself making any patriotic musiceven half-heartedlyI assure you that deep down the song is more lament than celebration, more prayer than pride.

I am a citizen in God’s kingdom more than I am citizen of the United States. My loyalty is to Christ and the Gospel mission. While many Americans will be celebrating their freedoms, I don’t believe I am free while many of my brothers and sisters in Christ suffer from the experiences of being detained and shackled by the bonds of poverty and violence. Their experiences of injustice eats at any freedom offered to me.

Let us pray and labor for the day when Jesus’ words can be true for all of us, no matter what nation we are part of; let us follow Jesus and create a society where this is what we see:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring glad tidings to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

-Luke 4:18-19

 

Bread, art and a kindergarten heart

 

“NO! I HATE this part of the bread! I won’t eat it!”

My daughter had just realized that her peanut butter and honey toast was made with an “all-crust” heel piece. To a five-year-old who has never known true crisis, this realization is nothing short of devastating—on par with candy-less valentines and cake batter-scented (but NOT flavored) ChapStick.

I took a deep breath and steeled myself for the parenting struggle that, moments ago, I had decided was indeed worth my time and energy.

As soon as I’d opened our bread bag and discovered only end pieces, I’d known that making toast with it might awaken the melodramatic beast dwelling within my kindergartener. All parents are familiar with the rapid cost-benefit analysis of “choosing our battles” in daily life. The fact that there were four, as opposed to two, end pieces in this bread bag indicated that I had forfeited this particular battle with our last loaf of bread.

But this time I felt prepared to hold my ground: my daughter would eat this food or no food.

Having just read a parenting article about instilling empathy and pro-social behavior in children, I decided to make an effort to turn this little clash of wills into “a teachable moment” (mom-talk for trying to channel one’s maternal frustration into wisdom rather than a large glass of wine).

As my daughter geared up for another outraged protest, I looked her in the eye and said, “Honey, I love you so much. And one of the ways I try to show you I love you is by making your favorite snacks for you, like peanut butter and honey toast. How do you think it makes me feel when you start crying and yelling just because it isn’t exactly what you want?”

She furrowed her brow and pouted, mumbling something unintelligible. Then she got up and walked away from the table.

I sighed, disappointed.

“You can walk away, but you need to know that I’m not going to make you anything else until you’ve eaten what’s on your plate.”

She grabbed something from her art corner and disappeared behind the couch.

“Did you hear me? I said I’m not making you anything else until you’ve eaten your peanut butter and honey toast.”

“Hold ON,” she said impatiently. I rolled my eyes at her (because apparently, trying to create a teachable moment had maxed out my maturity quotient for the day).

paper--plate-hearts
Photo courtesy of Nicole Steele Wooldridge

And then she brought me the “art” she had abandoned the table to create: an addition to the paper plate valentine she’d made in church earlier in the week. Around the edge, she had penciled in the words I love you because you feed me.

And, for the millionth time since becoming a mom, I realized how much I have to learn from my daughter.

How often do I spurn the blessings God has set in front of me, simply because they look a little crustier than I was expecting? How often do I pick apart that which nourishes me, only to find myself feeling empty? How often do I take for granted (or refuse to take at all) the bread of life that God pours out for me?

Perhaps, most convicting: How often do I recognize the error of my ways and humble myself, turning to God with such a simple yet profound prayer?

I love you because you feed me.

communion-chalice-bread
Image courtesy of freeimages.com

About the Rabble Rouser:

Nicole-Steele-Woodridge-with-daughtersNicole Steele Wooldridge is a friend of Sister Julia’s who writes from the Seattle, Washington, area. Her articles for Messy Jesus Business tend to focus on the intersection of faith and parenting. Ironically, the daughter mentioned in this article is not her picky eater.

The joy of receiving

Jesus observed, “Without me you can do nothing.” Yet we act, for the most part, as though without us God can do nothing …“

~ Loretta Ross-Gotta

Last night I walked into our parish’s “Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe.” It was a rare occasion for me — a church event for which I had no particular role or responsibility. As our parish’s youth minister/RCIA coordinator/general purpose fire putter outer, it’s rare for me to attend a liturgy or event where I am not working or serving in some capacity. I walked into the sanctuary thinking, “Finally, a chance to just sit and pray for once, without having to do something!” This was my chance to relax!

guadalupe-steven-cottam
Photo courtesy of Steven Cottam

 

However, as the celebration began I soon found myself not refreshed but restless. I couldn’t focus and was constantly fidgeting. Maybe someone needed help with something? Was anyone seeking liturgical assistance? No; there were plenty lectors and eucharistic ministers. Did someone need help in the kitchen? No, it was already filled with talented chefs. Even the garbage was taken out faster than I could get to it. It was unnerving: no one seemed to need my help. I wandered through the festivities and out into the social hall where the leader of our Hispanic ministry caught sight of me and immediately handed me a plate which she began to pile high with food of all sorts — tamales, rice and sweet breads, as well as a cup of hot chocolate. At first I tried to refuse: “No, no, no … I don’t need this much … I’ll wait for everyone else to eat.” Even though I had missed dinner and found myself terribly hungry, even though it was being offered by a friend, even though there was clearly enough to go around, I nonetheless tried to turn away the fare. Despite my protestations, I was soon holding a heap of food (plus some to take home, “Para mi niña”) and could barely utter an awkward, terribly accented “Eres bastante generosa” before she moved on to bestow another delicious bounty on someone else.

After devouring several tamales I sat down to reflect. And it struck me that I am a terrible gift receiver. I’m always trying to refuse gifts and help. When someone tries to give me something, be it a book or a brownie, I always try to turn it down. (If I accept at all it’s usually after several entreaties.) If someone offers help my first instinct is always to say, “No, I got this.”

I’ve always believed this impulse was a result of my attempt to cultivate a servant’s heart. And to be fair to myself there is a lot of truth in that — I do truly love to give and to serve. But as I sat there, reflecting, I began to notice a dark side. The truth is that a big part of my refusal and reluctance to accept help is pride. I want to be in control. I want to have the power. I want to be the one who has it all together and the excess of time, talent, and treasure to give. Another part is cynicism. I find joy in giving and yet doubt that others do — I fear they give to me reluctantly, and that I will be an undue burden they are anxious to shrug off. This basically amounts to the assumption they are less generous than I am. And the real tragedy in that is it saps my ability to be grateful. I get so anxious about whether or not I should have accepted the gift offered that I am rarely able to graciously accept and simply say “Thank you.”

tamales-daughter-steven-cottam
Steven’s daughter polishing off the tamales (photo courtesy of Steven Cottam)

Recently the Dalai Lama contributed to an op-ed in The New York Times in which he wrote that one real tragedy of modern civilization is that so many people feel unneeded. He said that we all benefit when everyone feels they can meaningfully contribute to building a better world, and that “We should start each day by consciously asking ourselves, ‘What can I do today to appreciate the gifts that others offer me?’” And I figure there is no better time to start doing this than Advent and Christmas: seasons filled with giving and receiving. I’ll still give and serve as much as I can to everyone around me. But I’m also going to try to be more gracious in receiving what others give to me. I’m going to try to be a bit more humble about my own abilities, and a bit more trusting of the hearts’ of my friends. I’m going to try to remember that I am not only a servant of the kingdom, but also a son — and being part of a family means receiving love as well as giving it.

I’m going to start by finishing the leftover tamales. And to my friends from the festival, if you are reading this, gracias por el regalo delicioso. I really was quite hungry.

About the Rabble Rouser:

Steven-CottamSteven Cottam serves as youth minister at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. He lives in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia, with his lovely wife, his adorable daughter and his very strange dog. He is an active member of Common Change, a group which seeks to gather and distribute tithe money in a relational and collaborative way. He has been friends with Sister Julia ever since they were students, coworkers, and cooking club members together at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. His interests and passions include Aikido, gardening, coffee, and becoming a Jedi Master.

the trouble with thank you

In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.  -1 Thessalonians 5:18

“enlightened” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

There are too many thank you’s that I never write.

I am frequently overwhelmed with the abundance of love, blessings, kindness, gifts, prayers and support that are showered upon me.  Inequality drives me nuts, even when it comes to blessings.  I don’t want to experience more love and support than any other person, yet I know I do.  At times, the reality freezes me in a backwards feeling of worthlessness.

I am not very good at receiving gifts and blessings.  I have a flawed response.  When people are good to me and when people give me praise, I tend to squirm and divert attention.  I want to respond to compliments with compliments for others.  I want to explain that all the success and fortune I experience is God’s doing, not mine.

Sometimes the hardest thing to say is “thank you.”

When I finally do try to say thank you, I feel so inadequate.  I want to write litanies and I want to construct complicated cards. I want to call sisters, colleagues, friends and family and tell them personally how their kindness has not been unnoticed.  I want to jot a note for every little thing that everyone does for me:  hold a door, run an errand, give a donation, or send me an encouraging letter.  I never feel like I have the time nor energy to try to express all the gratitude I am feeling.  When I can’t stand that “write thank you to so and so” has been on my to-do list for longer than two months and I finally sit down to make an effort, I often feel like what I come up with is way too overdue and inappropriate.  Then, when my thank you’s turn into apologies, I become stunned by the response I hear.

“I know you appreciate it. You don’t have to say so.  You are a very grateful person.” 

I wonder if my character has stuck me into a cycle. Maybe  I receive a lot of blessings  because it’s rewarding to give to people who are grateful.  Then, I struggle with receiving because I don’t know how to respond.  My list of unwritten thank you’s takes on a life of its own.  In the end, my gratitude becomes a relational thing and tokens of appreciation are replaced with simple statements.  “Hey, thanks for doing that.”  “Thank you so much, that was so nice.”  “Thank you.”  Really, it’s much more personal.  Then, I am understood as “a person who is all about gratitude” because people hear me saying thank you all the time.  Therefore, more blessings are sent my way because everyone needs to hear “thank you.”

This is a human cycle.  Gratitude is a life cycle, and earth cycle.

I am learning: the gratitude cycle need not be complicated, because, really, thank you’s are essential. Thank you’s are like breathing.

“Within this human impulse to gratitude flow the vast cycles of universal reciprocity for everything that is taken, something has to be given in return.  If you merely take in a breath and stop there you will die.  Likewise if you merely breathe out.  Life is not giving or taking, but give and take.  This is the dynamic expression of universal belonging expressed in our thanksgiving... Perhaps the greatest gift we humans can offer to the rest of creation is our heartfelt appreciation… Our praise and thanksgiving is as essential a part of life’s give and take as are the cycles of oxygen and water or any other nourishment flowing through the biosphere.”  (From Earth Prayers, page 211-213)

I am glad to know that thank you need not be a big deal, because our interdependence is very basic and natural.  In fact, I am thankful I am learning this lesson!

Thank you to each of you for how you all help me be the interdependent part of creation I am made to be. Amen!

“interdependence” by Julia Walsh FSPA

the prayer box

Guest blogger Liz Diedrich

Praying is hard. It is hard to find time to pray. It is hard to stay focused. It is hard to quiet one’s mind and listen for the subtle movements of God. It is hard when we feel far from God, and it is hard when God asks things of us that we do not want to hear.

I wish a prayer upon my little sister Molly. She has become an alcoholic. I love her. Amen

At André House one the most important things we do is pray for our guests. In the main dining room of the hospitality center we have a prayer table. Here we have paper, pens, and a prayer box where guests (and volunteers and staff) can write their prayer intentions. At our noontime prayer we pray the intercessions from the prayer table.

"Jesus of the Electrical Boxes" (In the main dining room at Andre House)

I pray Lord, please help me know where to live, where to start the journey, where to end the journey. Thanks. Amen.

It is very intimate to share the prayer intentions. A person’s prayers come from the silent longing of their hearts and are raw expressions of their deepest desires. We see prayers of hope, despair, joy, and thanksgiving.

I’m such a sucker. I get paid and throw it away on others. I am so tired. Death would be a welcome relief. Lord, help me learn to help me. Amen. -Nick

Sometimes, I find the hardest part of prayer is honesty with God. In prayer we are called to let go of the walls we put around ourselves and let go of our worldly self-consciousness. We are called to authentically and completely open ourselves to the grace of God.

Help, God, I am begging, I need to stay clean. Amen.

In prayer we are called to continually deeper our relationship with God and to become self aware of our shortcomings and our needs. We are called to honestly look at ourselves and humbly ask God for the grace to lead us according to God’s dream for our lives.

Dear most gracious father God I ask in your son Jesus name that my children come home to me and papa. Amen.

As we discover the areas of our lives where we fall short, prayer is an occasion to bring these things before God and ask for help.

I ask the Lord for a special anointing – the kind of anointing that whatsoever I touch or whomsoever I walk by, they would be blessed. Please also pray that God humbles me and makes me like Christ through and through. Amen.

Often when I am having a hard time with prayer, when I cannot stay focused or I am frustrated by my day, I turn my prayer into a prayer of thanksgiving. At the end of the day I work to quiet my mind by recalling the moments throughout the day that I am thankful for, the moments where God was present in my day.

Thank you God for everything, even the things I don’t see and help the little girl I saw on the bus today. Amen.

It is a blessing and privilege to share these prayers with our guests and in our community. This last prayer was a prayer left on the prayer table in thanksgiving for André House for all of those who pass help with our ministries.

A prayer for André House – may God find you in his mercy and his grace for all you have done for everyone. Amen.

at 30

A triple feast day proclaims the goodness of God:

a servant to the poor, Basil

a chapel for Franciscans devoted to Mary, the mother of God

and a combination of dreams and awe.

I pause with amazement and praise.

Abundance gathered in a year now proclaimed:

infants in arms

being a mother, Godmother I mean

stars, falling across black expanse

new brown clothes

bread, water, wine

sharing with students

something like success

dark, communion, monks, saints

adoration, candles, flowers, prayer

good novels

expanded consciousness and self-understanding

messy Jesus business

claiming an identity

laughter with community

fires, songs, secrets

music, mystery, tears

quinoa salad

truth told

adventures in bliss, boats

the best wedding ever

union with God

new friends in

old friends out

powerful poetry

a preaching debut

earth between fingers, toes

seeds planted, weeds grow

thunder, blizzards, heat, fog

floods, tornadoes, waterspout

tall trees, simple ferns

scrapes, bruises, blood

stones gathered on shores

city views

fine dining

movie theaters

simplicity sought

yoga, stretching, aching

dancing out loud

for justice and peace

a cluttered colorful room

questions, transitions

adulthood has officially arrived

all that has been

prepared me deeply

for more fine, spirited, sacred

good gospel living

"water into wonder" by Julia Walsh, FSPA