Anxious resistance

I had a knot in my stomach all day. I couldn’t focus at work. I lost my appetite. I felt exhausted as soon as I woke up. My mind was running with a thousand scenarios of things going wrong. I became keenly aware of that familiar feeling: a low-grade but persistent anxiousness; a lump that sits somewhere between my heart and stomach warning me of something to be feared; an impending lack of control.

It was March 1, 2017. Ash Wednesday. For the past three weeks I had been meeting with fellow community members of the Minneapolis Catholic Worker and our friends from the Mennonite Worker to plan a vigil and direct action. Our intent was to lovingly, but boldly, address the American Catholic Church’s reluctance in naming the xenophobia and racism that have characterized Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and presidency. We sought to implore Archbishop Hebda and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to release a public statement directly addressing the rise of xenophobia in our Church and society.

Cathedral of St. Paul, courtesy of Joe Kruse

After work I sped home to prepare for the action. My mind was spiraling as we packed our car with a banner, ladders, candles and ropes. I thought of my heroes and their steely determination. Their seemingly complete lack of fear. I thought of the iconic photo of Dorothy Day picketing with Cesar Chavez, calmly gazing into the eyes of a police officer right before her final arrest at the age of 75. I thought of Daniel Berrigan on trial for burning draft files in Catonsville, Maryland. Seemingly unaffected by a pending threeyear sentence to federal prison, Dan boldly proclaimed to the court, “We have chosen to say with the gift of our liberty and if necessary our lives: the violence stops here.”   

With my mind and heart racing amidst a cascade of doubts and fears, I felt like I had missed the memo. The seeming difference between my anxiousness and their prophetic conviction was laughable. I wondered about Dorothy’s doubts and Dan’s fears. Did they have them? Or had God given them some kind of divine courage for holy conflict that rendered their doubts and anxieties obsolete?  

And, most importantly, when will God give that to me?!

As a white Midwesterner, conflict avoidance is my cultural bread and butter. Growing up, tension or disagreement were to be feared and resented. They were signs of something gone irrevocably wrong; something over which to feel tremendously anxious. Yet here I was, about to help manufacture an almost-assuredly tense situation within a Church I call home. I found myself doubting, searching in vain for Dorothy-like divine courage. Is this worth it? Am I doing the right thing? Is the conflict, the worry, the anxiousness necessary?

Dorothy-Day
Image of Dorothy Day by Bob Fitch

While I wrestled with these doubts, fears and questions, a small inner voice (which I often resent) assured me that Jesus’ answer would be a resounding “Yes!” It’s become painfully clear to me I cannot claim to be Christian and deny Jesus’ call for direct action, which leads to inevitable conflict and anxiousness. While it’s incredibly important for me to take care of myself and not stretch beyond what I can handle, Jesus’s social vision clearly calls the most comfortable of us into discomfort. As in Mark 10: 17-27, Jesus did not lovingly challenge the rich, young man to give safely within the confines of comfortable charity but to relinquish all his wealth for the service of others.

Jesus’ is an orientation toward loving and creative tension; a tension resulting in Christ’s inherent opposition to oppression. Soon before he was crucified Jesus and his disciples staged a direct action at the Jerusalem temple, confronting temple authorities’ collaboration with the Roman Empire and exploitation of the poor. In analyzing Jesus’s incident at the temple, the biblical scholar Marcus J. Borg writes in his book “Conversations with Scripture: The Gospel of Mark” that “Judaism was not the problem [for Jesus]. The problem was the imperial captivity of the temple and its authorities’ collaboration with the Empire.

In her “National Catholic Reporter” article Jamie Manson explains that many American bishops likely refrained from critiquing Trump’s hateful campaign rhetoric because of social and economic gains to be gleaned from his presidency. She writes, “In the course of the presidential campaign, the bishops’ conference put out one press release about promoting Catholic-Muslim dialogue and one release about “partisan divides” on migration issues. But as Trump inspired hate-speech, xenophobia, bias crimes and violence toward women, the bishops remained mum … the evidence suggests that the bishops’ conference threw under the bus the needs of these vulnerable peoples for the sake of advancing their anti-abortion, anti-LGBT, right-wing religious liberty agenda.”  

The bishops’ behavior is tragically similar to the conduct Jesus condemned at the temple within his own religious tradition. Their silence is proving lethal. President Trump has engaged in an unprecedented campaign of intimidation and violence directed at many of the most oppressed and marginalized. Much of his executive action is in direct contradiction to the core of Catholic social teaching. In an attempt to follow Jesus’s call into discomfort and to mirror the loving tension he manufactured within the religious institution he called home, I came to see our Ash Wednesday action as not only necessary on a political level, but completely in line with my Catholic identity.

I have also come to see the inevitable anxiousness as not only necessary but also sacramental. While I must be aware of my limits and the reality of unhealthy anxiety, especially in the form of mental illness, I see some level of anxiousness as a gift; a signpost on my journey toward Christian discipleship. An indication that—with God’s help—I can to learn to embrace fear and then to let it go.

We pulled up to the Cathedral of St. Paul during the evening Ash Wednesday service, gathered our equipment, took a deep breath and were off. We ran up the stairs and leaned extension ladders on the two large marble pillars framing the cathedral’s front door. Two Catholic Workers ascended the ladders and hung a large banner reading “Speaking up for unborn lives more than black and brown lives is white supremacy – #silenceissin” across the door, calling on Church hierarchy to condemn racism and xenophobia with as much tenacity and consistency as it does abortion.

banner-cathedral
Banner hung from Cathedral of St. Paul, courtesy of Joe Kruse

After hanging the banner we spent 20 minutes in silent prayer. Several of us engaged with passers by and church goers leaving Mass. We encountered a range of reactions from disdain to joyful support. Eventually, a priest came out with a small group of men. He read the banner, immediately instructed the men to tear it down and quickly moved back inside, choosing not to engage with us. (Check out this time-lapse video of our experience.)

Before leaving we sang a beautiful but haunting rendition of the Kyrie. As the doleful melody rose into the snowy sky, I felt the anxiousness drain from every limb of my body. What replaced it was a confident calm and deep joy. In that brief moment, I felt the fortitude of Dorothy and Dan within me. I let the cold air slowly fill my lungs, breathing out all the tangled thoughts, unraveling the knot in my stomach. The anxiousness died and resurrected, transformed within me. Another deep breath. I was right where God was calling me to be.

Note from the Editor:

Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis Bishop Bernard Hebda makes reference to these events of Ash Wednesday in the March 9 edition of “The Catholic Spirit.” Read it here.

ABOUT THE RABBLE ROUSER

joe-kruse-jpgJoe Krusea friend of Sister Julia through the La Crosse, Wisconsin, community, is one of the founders of the Minneapolis Catholic Worker community in south Minneapolis, Minnesota. He grew up around Catholic Workers at the Place of Grace Catholic Worker community his parents helped start in La Crosse. Now he spends most of his time working at Rye House, one of the Minneapolis Catholic Worker hospitality houses. He also has invested a lot of time and energy into anti-frac sand organizing, leading discussions and workshops about structural racism and white privilege, and activism around racial and economic justice in Minneapolis.

 

you’re invited to a church family reunion

Church is tough.  We are like a big dysfunctional family regularly squabbling and bickering about bizarre things.  Sometimes we try to divorce each other or run away from home. But, we can’t, really.  The Christian church family is the only family that can heal us and give us true freedom. In the Catholic branch, there’s true Eucharistic Love.

No matter what, like it or not, we’re in this together.  And no one can really separate herself from her roots; we can’t really forget who we are and where we belong. No one can really leave his family.

In this family, our connection is Christ. Christ is the heart that keeps beating and keeps the energy flowing.  Christ keeps us moving and building and creating.

“shadows” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

All the diversity is essential for the body to function.  Let’s love and cherish it. We can’t persist; we can’t exist without being different. God designed us this way on purpose.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.    -1 Corinthians 12: 4-7

I love being Catholic because we’re a wide Church with a very deep spirituality.  (At least that’s the way I understand Ecclesiology.)  There’s a wide range of what makes one Catholic. Despite our diversity, we still unite in Christ through the same sacraments, the same traditions and basically the same liturgies.

In this family, we don’t know all our relatives because we’re all so busy doing different work.  It’s a little understandable.  We are permitted to be different because we need to be.  Part of the diversity of spirit means that we have different opinions about what our priorities should be.  The challenge- and the frustration- is when we seem to lack appreciation for the others’ efforts in building the kingdom of God. We can’t all be working hard at every need.  So why do those who are passionate about one issue get frustrated if others aren’t working at it with them?

Personally, I have discerned that I am called to collaborate with peacemakers who are working for non-violent Gospel systemic change in the issues of poverty, war, torture, immigration, environmentalism and food. I depend on those who are working hard with the issues of health care, education, death penalty, abortion, contraception and equality to keep working hard in my name.

No one can do everything. But we must all do something, right? Perhaps the most important thing we can do in these divided times is support each other.  Truly we can never say thank you enough.

There’s struggle and pain in our divided, yet united, beautiful diverse body.  When we criticize each other, we so easily feel as if no one has noticed all the hard work we have been trying to do.  I’ve noticed and I say thank you!

Thank you dear bishops for working hard to keep us grounded in the traditions and doctrines that you value.

Thank you dear pro-life activists for working hard for our freedoms to say no to things that are wrong and deathly.

Thank you, dear sisters and brothers who are working hard to build equality and justice in our church.

Thank you, dear friends who are putting their bodies on the line to end war, torture and violence.

Thank you, dear sisters, for creatively raising consciousness and advocating tirelessly for legislation to help the poor and vulnerable.

Thank you, dear elders who have dedicated your entire lives to the service of the church and poor.

Thank you, everyone for all you do to build the kingdom of God!

Coming to a Sunday near you, we can celebrate the gratitude.  While we commune, look and listen for the resurrections and alleluias. You’re invited to a wild family reunion.

freely united lenten grumbling

In those days, in their thirst for water,
the people grumbled against Moses,
saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?
Was it just to have us die here of thirst
with our children and our livestock?”
So Moses cried out to the LORD,
“What shall I do with this people?
a little more and they will stone me!”
The LORD answered Moses,
“Go over there in front of the people,
along with some of the elders of Israel,
holding in your hand, as you go,
the staff with which you struck the river.
I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb.
Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it
for the people to drink.”
This Moses did, in the presence of the elders of Israel.
The place was called Massah and Meribah,
because the Israelites quarreled there
and tested the LORD, saying,
“Is the LORD in our midst or not?”    –Ex 17:3-7

They’re full of doubt, confusion and despair.  Many are thirsty for the meeting of basic needs and justice: the Israelites in the desert, Christians in our modern world, and all of humanity who has been impacted by oppression, natural disasters, war, violence, greed and all sin.

I wonder who is thirsty today?  Who may feel abandoned and doubt if God is in their midst?   I remember the union workers in Wisconsin.  Their story and struggle has been swept behind Japan and Libya in the news headlines, but still has great meaning.  If you haven’t heard, the law that prevents the Wisconsin civil workers from maintaining their bargaining rights was due to go into effect last weekend.  Instead, the law is stalled in the courts, creating confusion about whether it has been enacted or not.

Madison Wisconsin Protest
Scene from Wisconsin's Capitol

Like the Israelites, the unions of history were able to escape from slavery.  We’ve all been liberated by God and unions for fair pay and hours, safe working conditions and proper benefits.  I am so thankful for the justice that we have inherited from our union grandparents. The heroes and saints who freed us are not individuals, but entire communities.

Now our generation is wandering in the desert, not really sure what God is up to. The union story is not unlike our faith story.  Although it sometimes takes a long time for things to be as they should, it doesn’t take long for us to take things for granted.  It doesn’t take long for us to grumble against our leaders.

It’s easy to do this in political life and it’s very tempting to do this in faith life.  When we’re faithful citizens, the messes mix together.  The history of the union struggle reminds me I am proud to be Christian, specifically a Catholic.  Sure our Church is a community diseased by our human sinfulness. But we are also a community of saints.  I feel very grateful for the service and leadership of our bishops, especially in the labor struggle.  I am delighted by the statements that have been made against oppression.  And, in regard to the ongoing struggle in Wisconsin, my favorite part of the story is that the Catholic bishops made a public statement in support of the unions.

Madison Protest
Inside Wisconsin's Capitol

The Lenten season challenges us all. We realize our need for redemption, for Jesus and justice. We look in the mirror and read the news and then thirst for clarity, strong faith and strength.  Our social sins are just as ugly as our personal ones.

In community we approach our dark struggles with actions of prayer, fasting and alms-giving.  In our politics and faith, we wake up and notice that we have much to be grateful for, and this feeds us with hope.  We thirst for justice and then we remember we’ve been redeemed before, so we trust.  The ugly shall turn into Alleluias, and we’ll have joy all around.

A version of this post was previously published on the Young Adult Catholics blog.

Photo credit: Inside Wisconsin’s Capitol http://www.flickr.com/photos/52421717@N00/5454861442/