For the good of the guild

In a few of the less-productive minutes of my day, I play an online Star Wars game on my phone. I have some beloved characters which I attempt to constantly level up: by completing certain challenges, I can make my characters faster and stronger. In the game world I am part of a guild—a group of other players that band together to tackle in-game challenges far too difficult for one player to take on alone. Currently, we are all trying to level up our best characters to advance to the hardest level of guild challenges. While I hesitate to call anything related to a video game “work,” it is going to require some effort for us all to get there. We’re going to have to play smarter, get better, and put in some game time to get our characters to where they need to be. But because we know the next set of challenges holds greater rewards, we are all anxious and eager to do so. The harder the challenge, the more experience and spoils you receive when you complete it.

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In this “in-game” screen shot, one of Steven’s characters faces challenge head on (image courtesy of Steven Cottam).

And lately, I’ve noticed how very different this mindset is from the way I approach my real-world journey. In the game I’m ready to take on the next difficulty; eager for the newest challenge. I want to tackle the hardest quest because I know my character will grow and the rewards will be greater. But in life, I’m constantly trying to get away from difficulties and run from challenges. I pray that burdens will be lightened or lifted, and that obstacles will be magically removed from my path. I avoid difficult people and situations. I try to offload problems onto others. I pretend an injustice I’m staring at isn’t really as bad as it looks, or that at the least there is nothing I can do about it.

That is no way to grow the kingdom, or to build a better world. The tasks the Church faces are huge—and they will not be solved by running from them. Instead, we must run toward them. I must adopt the attitude of “game me.” Where is the next challenge? I want it. Where is the next difficulty? I’m ready to face it. What if, instead of praying for lighter crosses, we started praying for heavier ones? For more obstacles, for greater burdens? What if we did this knowing that God provides the strength for any tasks He gives us? How much more grace we would receive, and how much more we might accomplish for God’s glory!

Believing that by granting her suffering God spares someone else that burden, St. Bernadette gave thanks for every affliction she received. With willingness to suffer she became stronger, more steadfast, more patient, and more trusting in God. And she knew that more of God’s work is done with each slight forgiven; all wrong patiently borne. I wish I could more fully adopt this mindset, seeing my God-given challenges not as slights but as gifts—gifts given to a servant who can be trusted to accomplish the task.

What injustice might you be tempted to turn from and avoid today? Go out to face it! What discomfort could you feel that might advance God’s cause of peace and love? Endure it! The greater the challenge, the greater the glory when it is overcome. My in-game guild knows this. I hope that my real-world guild and I (also known as the Church) can learn to better live this lesson as well.

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, adorable daughter and 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.

On Being Everywhere I Go

Credit: http://offthepage.com/2016/11/07/on-being-everywhere-i-go/
Credit: http://offthepage.com/2016/11/07/on-being-everywhere-i-go/

“No matter where you go…there you are,” stated the character Buckaroo Banzai in the 1984 cult film The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. This troubling truism has become a bit of a mantra for me as I stumble through life.

I frequently have too much going on. In the flurry of activity, a nagging voice hums in the background, I can do this better, I could be more efficient, I should do this, I ought to do that.

One of my greatest sins is to put more faith in my ideas than I do in God. Recently, I did this when I believed if I changed a few parts of my life—the setting, my workload, my stress level—then….

[This is the beginning of an essay I wrote for Off the PageContinue reading here.]

consciousness, change and Joseph Kony

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.

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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.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lmiersbond/4709653204/

nourished by disturbance

O stupid Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?  I want to learn only this from you: did you receive the Spirit from works of the law, or from faith in what you heard? Are you so stupid? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Galatians 3:1-3 

There is no doubt that Paul’s words were meant to disturb the community at Galatia. I am sure that I would be disturbed if I was called stupid and bewitched by someone I look up to. “Are you so stupid? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now ending in the flesh,” or in New Jerusalem translation, “After beginning with the Spirit, you now end in observances.” A message like that cannot help but shake people in their ego! It cannot help but wake people from their sleep. That was true then but is it true now?

I am willing to bet that most people today skim over this text paying very little attention to it. I know that I have heard it many times and I have become accustomed to it. If we are honest with ourselves, are there any Bible passages that have the power to disturb us, to shake us out of our own selves, lives, problems, and egos? We claim to be Christians; does the gospel message disturb us? Or have we grown accustomed to almost sleep walk through reading the scriptures, mass, or prayers? Has the Christian life become a passive comfortable existence? Have we been sleeping through our spiritual lives? I know I can get into a pattern, a routine; I can be comfortable with framing the world with what I already know. We can feel worlds apart from the moments where Jesus rocked our world. I am talking about that moment when we stood at the edge of the vast ocean and yelled “YES” to the radical call of discipleship. I am talking about the moment when the thought of leaving everything to follow Jesus disturbed us but we wanted it anyway, the moment when the radical love of God challenged us but we desired it anyway. I am talking about the moment when we stood before the deep blue sea and we were scared but we knew we must dive in anyway. At times we can feel so far from that moment, that person we were, the openness and trust we had. Instead we have been lulled into the routine.We build expectations around what little we already have and know. We have forgotten how to dream. We follow rules and do practices yet they seem to mean nothing to us. We are no longer disturbed by the eating and drinking of the flesh and blood of Jesus. Even Jesus no longer disturbs and following him follows.

“Are you so stupid? After beginning with the Spirit, you now end in observances.”

The reality is that we will not alone be disturbed by Jesus in the Gospels, we will not be disturbed by Jesus on the cross or on the altar, Jesus becoming the bread and the wine, or by anything else in church. We will not be disturbed here at church until we are disturbed there in the world. Until we are disturbed by the grave injustice done to people in this world, the pain of peoples’ lives, and the kingdom that is not yet here, we will not be disturbed here in church. There is nothing strong enough other than the suffering of others to pull us out of ourselves, to tear us from our own self-centered world, and to free us from our smallness. But, if we are honest in this moment then we can honestly answer the question: have we not been sleep walking through this also? Have we not become accustomed to the brutality of war, the sin done against our earth, and the injustice that surrounds us? Is it true that we are no longer surprised by homelessness and disturbed by our own neighborhood evils? We sleep walk through the pain of the world and it is no surprise that we do the same with our spiritual lives.

Do we connect the pain of this world to the pain within our own hearts, the suffering of our past, the longing, and the desires for the kingdom? Do we allow the needs of this world to mirror the needs of our own souls? Are we disturbed by what we find within ourselves? Does the need for the kingdom penetrate our own souls so that we long to be freed, to be healed, and to hear the good news? If the world out there doesn’t disturb us and the world within our hearts doesn’t disturb us then the gospel will fall upon deaf ears. If there is no need to transform the world and our lives, then the altar will not disturb us.

But, if we allow the world to disturb us, the pain of others to rip our hearts out, if we allow the broken world to show us our own brokenness, then the message of Jesus will disturb is. It is in that hunger that eating His body and blood we will be transformed. And as we become what we eat, the transformed will transform and we who have been disturbed will be sent out to disturb the world.

 

Art, photography and writing are property of the author and have been previously published. All have been used with permission. To learn more about this week’s guest blogger visit his January post.