Christian resistance in the style of St. Francis

It’s indisputable that today’s signs of the times point to heartache, injustice, division and confusion. The truth seems to be debatable. The persecutions of the little ones — from immigrant children, refugees, victims of natural disasters and targets of sexual assault; those who are on the margins — often are the ones who bear the brunt of the pain.

Today, on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi in 2018, I am not going to write volumes comparing and contrasting the 1200s with the present time. But I would like to suggest that the legacy of St. Francis — and particular Franciscan values — offer a formula for Christian resistance.

Francis reacted to much of the injustices occurring around him by behaving countercultural, by responding in ways that were opposite to the status quo. I believe that we could do the same by fostering the values of joy and humility within ourselves. To do so is radical resistance,  a response to the wrongs in our time.

Joy 

photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

The headlines can be discouraging, can cause us to feel weighed down with despair.  Adults mock those who are hurting in ways worse than children on playgrounds. The poor and elderly are dying in floods, earthquakes, fires. More women are speaking the truth of how they have been abused, violated. With such facts spinning around us, it may be only natural to be down.

Yet, the Franciscan way to resist the gloom and despair is to expand the goodness, to rejoice in the sweetness of God becoming part of the mess through the Incarnation. This is not a blissful, Pollyanna happiness but a refusal to let the negativity discourage us or overcome us. It is a deep joy because God’s goodness is greater than any sorrow. This was the spirit of my community’s assembly this past June: we started A Revolution of Goodness, so that goodness could overtake the awfulness corrupting hope and joy around the world.

For us Franciscans, the perfect joy persists no matter how awful the circumstances. God’s goodness provides a zest deep within.

Here are some words from St. Francis of Assisi, regarding the meaning of true joy:

Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to his friends, is the grace of overcoming oneself, and accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering, injury, discomfort and contempt; for in all other gifts of God we cannot glory, seeing they proceed not from ourselves but from God, according to the words of the Apostle, “What hast thou that thou hast not received from God? And if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?” But in the cross of tribulation and affliction we may glory, because, as the Apostle says again, “I will not glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.

Humility and Poverty 

Like Francis, we live in a society that puts the rich, famous, and accomplished on pedestals. We love to celebrate the wealth and might of the rich. The image of success that we are fed is often a scene of materialism: a nice house, car and tons of stuff. Such greed for power and wealth is dangerous to our relationships, our civility and our planet, though. What is the way to resist?

St. Francis’ response to the pressure to become wealthy was a radical renouncement of money and power. Francis literally stripped down the wealth from his cloth merchant father, becoming naked in the public square. He took on the clothes of a poor man. He taught his followers to go the margins to live with and serve the lepers. He embraced poverty and humility, wholeheartedly, insisting that brothers forming community with him to call themselves the Order of Friars Minor. This Franciscan value of is often called minoritas by those of us that are Franciscans.

In today’s world, we can resist the greed for wealth and power and instead embrace the Franciscan values of poverty and humility by becoming downwardly mobile. Instead of working to associate with the elite, we turn our attention to the little ones, the poor and marginalized. We serve and spend time with the weak ones who are often ignored, aligning our selves with them on the streets; in shelters, soup kitchens, prisons and detention centers. We become smaller and lesser in the process as we pursue the chance to serve others instead of being served.

Here are some strong words from St. Francis of Assisi challenging us to grow in humility:

Consider, O human being, in what great excellence the Lord God has placed you, for He created and formed you to the image of His beloved Son according to the body and to His likeness according to the Spirit.

And all creatures under heaven serve, know, and obey their Creator, each according to its own nature, better than you. And even the demons did not crucify Him, but you, together with them, have crucified Him and are still crucifying Him by delighting in vices and sins.

In what, then, can you boast? Even if you were so skillful and wise that you possessed all knowledge, knew how to interpret every kind of language, and to scrutinize heavenly matters with skill: you could not boast in these things. For, even though someone may have received from the Lord a special knowledge of the highest wisdom, one demon knew about heavenly matters and now knows more about those of Earth than all human beings.

In the same way, even if you were more handsome and richer than everyone else, and even if you worked miracles so that you put demons to flight: all these things are contrary to you; nothing belongs to you; you can boast in none of these things.

But we can boast in our weaknesses and in carrying each day the holy cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Admonition V)

Photo credit: www.datinggod.org

Franciscan joy and humility are not the only ways to resist the injustices corrupting our current society; peacemaking, contemplation, and continual conversion are also good Franciscan values to influence us. It actually seems that joy and humility will naturally grow in us while we pursue peace, contemplate God’s goodness, and develop into who he is calling us to become.

Franciscanism is Gospel living, after all. And Gospel living itself is a constant turning to Christ. We follow Jesus as we promote the peace and justice that comes from him. We love our enemies. We decrease so God can increase. We spread the Truth of love.

These are radical ways to behave. We are Christian resisters in the style of St. Francis of Assisi, boldly living with joy and humility. May it be! Amen.

Thanks for giving, not shopping

Happy Thanksgiving!

During this time when we pause to give thanks in the USA, I take this Scripture seriously:

In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

But, the truth is, gratitude is only some of what is stirring in my heart.

I am also restless and longing for greater peace and justice for God’s people. Sometimes this causes there to be layers of sorrow, judgement, disturbance, discouragement, disappointment and anger too — layers that I fear might be thicker than the gratitude that I feel.

As many people begin their holiday shopping, it’s especially tough for me to not become angry about the consumerism that our culture force feeds us. People are excited about sales, about shopping and buying more stuff. What is the craze about? Is it about generosity? Or, is it about greed and getting new stuff, just so we can throw out the old?

Whatever the case may be, let’s not throw out our consciousness that Earth is hurting and our consumption is causing serious destruction. Let us heed this warning:

The real culprit of the climate crisis is not any particular form of consumption, production or regulation but rather the very way in which we globally produce, which is for profit rather than for sustainability. So long as this order is in place, the crisis will continue and, given its progressive nature, worsen. This is a hard fact to confront. But averting our eyes from a seemingly intractable problem does not make it any less a problem. It should be stated plainly: It’s capitalism that is at fault.

Christians, we are not here to cause more pain and suffering. We must attempt not to contribute to the systemic problems. Even when it’s easier to avoid the heartache of truth, we must step out of our comfort zones and be converted.

Doing so will help move society toward solutions. It is time for us to work for a more sustainable, equitable and just society, a world that builds up the reign of God. This is how we store up treasures in heaven!

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

Matthew 6:19-21

Although this can become a time when a lot of people are crazily shopping and consuming, this is also a wonderful season of generosity, community, sharing and celebrating the goodness of God! This is what builds up God’s reign! This is what we are made to promote!

So, what’s a Christian to do? How can we resist the craze of consumerism and be countercultural peacemakers?

Here are some ideas:

  • Collect donations for your local homeless shelter, transitional living program or food shelf. Want to give things that they really need? Then call them up and ask what that is! Most likely money is one of the greatest needs.
  • Honor children and elders: Mentor young ones and teach them about generosity. Help meet the needs of those who are vulnerable. Visit elders who are homebound and lonely. If anyone asks me what I want for Christmas I’m ready to tell them that I want donations to Tubman House for Christmas.
  • Pray for peace: This includes asking God how you are needed to be peacemaker.
  • Connect to the tough parts in the Christmas story: Advocate for immigration reform and stand up for anyone who is oppressed by violence and injustice.
  • Spread the Love: Tell young people that they matter and you care about them. Write letters and cards. Be intentional about how you spend time with others.
  • Getting creative about how you give presents: Re-gift. Buy things at thrift stores. Making DIY crafts out of stuff you have around home. Utilize some of the resources from “Buy Nothing Christmas” and bake goodies to share.
photo credit: http://www.accessoriesmagazine.com/

On this day of true thanksgiving, let us give God all that is on our hearts! And, let us make a plan for how we will express our gratitude through our countercultural, generous living. Amen!

This blog post is adapted from the November 25, 2011 blog post entitled “thanks for giving, not buying” and the November 27, 2013 blog post entitled “Craving a countercultural Christmas.”

In the world, not of it: Thoughts on countercultural Christian living

Be in the world, not of the world.”

Live countercultural Christian lives.”

“Be radical for the Gospel.”

Such mottos of countercultural Christian living have been ingrained in me for much of my life. Lately they have been going around in my mind like a record, while I have been pondering instances of divisiveness and polarization, both in American politics and…

[This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report. Continue reading here.]

Photo credit: http://lovealonecreates.com/counter-cultural/

Where has all the fervor gone?

Happy Easter!!

It’s time for joyous, bright, colorful feasts and celebrations. (Whoa, did you hear the news that we have two new Pope Saints?! Hooray!)

Blooms
photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

I especially love the Easter season for the Biblical readings that we pray with. We get to hear many of the inspiring stories from the earliest days of Christianity, when it was a brand-new baby religion, dealing with all sorts of identity issues. Wait, are we Jewish or something different!? What do we believe? How do we do this? 

Essentially, after the phenomenal resurrection and then the ascension of Jesus, his earliest followers were left staring at each other with their mouths all agape and a certain question written all over their confused faces: Now what?!  

To help clear up the questions, the Holy Spirit led the way and God provided some strong leadership (Hooray for Peter, the first Pope!). Those with agape faces quickly became very bold and then formed strong, prayerful, compassionate communities. United, they risked their lives for the Gospel. At first, they called themselves the followers of The Way (one of Jesus’ names). They professed in public that Jesus was the Messiah and got more and more people to join them in their faith, even though it was dangerous and deadly for them to do so.

Love was bold and faith was fearless. By the power of the Risen Christ, all sorts of miracles were able to occur through the believers. Some of the stories help us know that the Church was refreshingly human (like the one about the guy who fell asleep during some preaching) and some miracles were just amusing. (Here’s the entertaining article I use to teach my students about the miracles in the Acts of the Apostles.) In addition to the miracles, many Christians were tortured and martyred during this time. Amazingly, this inspired more people to get in on the action.

For sure, when things were just getting started in the early Church, there was no shortage of excitement and mind-blowing news. The believers imitated Christ and were eager to love others boldly, radically and non-violently. This meant they’d be loving and peaceful even if it killed them, literally.  A certain purity and fervor bonded the faith communities and helped the Gospel to spread like wildfire.

A lot has changed in 2,000 years and now the Church doesn’t look much like it did when it began. If the shrugs my students show when I ask them if they would be a Christian even if it were illegal and deadly is any indication, a lot of the original fervor of this faith has burnt out.

So, what happened? Where has all the fervor gone?

Well, Christianity became popular, acceptable and credible. Ask any historian and they’ll likely agree: once a movement enters into the mainstream, it is no longer radical and countercultural. When the unconventional becomes ordinary, it quickly conforms to the culture and gets watered down.

Theologian Greg Boyd does a decent job of summing up how this problem infected Christianity:

Indeed, we certainly need to stop trying to bend Christ into our image.Instead, we need to conform our lives to who Christ truly is: humble, non-violent, powerless, forgiving and generous.

Let us pray that our faith can become as countercultural and courageous as it was for our Christian ancestors. Let us remember that Christ has conquered death and we are free.

Let us be real, resurrection, Easter people who will rise up to Truth: the cross is no longer a symbol of oppression and torture, but a sign of how we are called to love and how we have been loved. We embrace the cross and boldly proclaim the song of our freedom: Jesus lives! Amen! Alleluia!

Christ and His Cross
photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

Craving a countercultural Christmas

My Christmas Every Day experiment is starting to get awkward.

Advent hasn’t even started yet, but Christmas’ crazed and over-weight relative Consumerism is already in town, on the news, and wasting your gasoline and money as he drives all around town shopping.

Meanwhile, I’m crowding with others in the cozy chapel, savoring peace and quiet and adoring God’s goodness while we pray for wisdom about how to revive radical Gospel living.

My Christmas ever day experiment is not about Santas, shopping, or catchy commercials. Yet, while these things become more prevalent, I am becoming afraid that any uttering of “Merry Christmas” that I make might be mistaken for an approval of the petty parts of the holiday happening prematurely. The truth is that I really do not approve of any Christmas consumerism or other commotion that distracts from Jesus Christ.

Last week one one of my students innocently asked me a very normal question.  He poked his head through my classroom door while he waited for his bus after school.  “Sister,” he said “are you going shopping on Black Friday?”  He was probably trying to spark a conversation.

I was impolite. “Ha, that might be one of the funniest questions I have been asked all year! Why would you ever think I would do that!?”  I honestly thought he was joking.

Of course, it only occurred to me much later that the student was asking a very ordinary, culturally appropriate question.  And, I realized, my response may have seemed a bit uncultured, bizarre or down-right rude. (God have mercy!)

I shuddered with shame as I realized my insensitivity.  The thing is, the kid pushed my button. I assumed the student knew me and that I am trying to live a counter-cultural life, understood all my values, and in spite of his youth, he was already dissecting the cultural norms that conflict with Christianity.  He’s a smart kid— so, fair mistake, right?!

All of the emphasis on materialism this time of year really does make me squirm.  I am pretty sure I saw my first Christmas commercial that reminded people about layaway back in September.  I probably could have given out Christmas candy for Halloween, if only I had I asked a shopkeeper for some, since candy canes appeared on the shelves right on November 1st.  And now, even though we’re still in November, jolly Christmas carols seem to be chiming through speakers all around town trying to get us in the mood to shop, shop, shop.  I even heard a radio show host joking about how Christmas already came and went, since it happens around Veteran’s Day now.

If holiday seasons are supposed to stick to a schedule, we have reasons to be disturbed.

Or, more importantly, when we remember what Christmas is really all about, we have reasons to resist.

Christmas everyday, and Christmas in general, is all about celebrating the Incarnation.  Love was made manifest in human flesh. Jesus Christ is God and God came to earth in the most humble and simple of ways. There’s generosity, joy, community, peace, trust, lots of love and pure, human fun wrapped up in the real meaning of  the ancient story of Christ’s coming:

This is the type of Christmas I am craving and I am committed to carrying out through the end of 2013: a counter-cultural and communal Christ-centered celebration! I hope you would join me, even though I’ll admit it’s much easier to talk about these ideas than to do them, when consumerism’s temptations are around every corner.

Here’s how:

  • Collecting donations for anyone who needs anything: some of my students hosted a food drive last week and will host another one in December.
  • Honoring children: I am eager to spend time with my godchildren and if anyone asks me what I want for Christmas I’m ready to tell them that I want donations to Tubman House for Christmas.
  • Praying for peace: several times a day, especially during my assigned adoration hours.
  • Connecting to the tough parts in the Christmas story: advocating for immigration reform and standing up for anyone who is oppressed by violence.
  • Spreading the Love: telling teens that they matter and I care about them, writing letters and cards, and being intentional about how I spend time with others.
  • Hosting some celebrations : a Christmas party in my classroom on behalf of the orphans at Casa Hogar and hopefully hosting a gathering with other friends.
  • Getting creative about how I give presents: re-gifting, buying things at thrift stores, making DIY crafts  out of stuff I have around home, utilizing some of the resources from “Buy Nothing Christmas” and baking goodies to share.
  • Resisting Black Friday: I shall instead celebrate Buy Nothing Day and I’m thinking about joining in on a protest, fast, or at least I’ll send a message of support to those who protest for just wages.

What will you do to resist Christmas’ consumerism and focus on the real reasons for the season?

Zenta 2013, Buy Nothing Day, Adbusters

Merry Christmas everyone!!