Following Jesus outside the box

Since I was a kid, good folks started challenging me to think “outside the box.”

In one case, I remember sitting in the shade on a hot day with a group of girls at Bible camp and our counselor offering a puzzle: I am going on picnic and bringing cookies and my glasses. What are you bringing? Can I bring chips? No, no chips on this picnic … The puzzle would continue all week until all of us in the group figured out that it wasn’t about objects or colors or any other typical category that defined what we could bring: we could only bring words that had double letters.

Now, decades later, I understand that playing such a game at Bible camp was not just a time-filler, not just a way to keep a bunch of girls out trouble. Rather, such puzzles were brilliant opportunities to introduce me and my peers to one of the most challenging aspects of Christian discipleship: following Jesus’ demands that we think differently.

“We Christians know that somehow or other, we are called to “think outside the box” regarding the problems that confront society and the world, but we don’t always know exactly what the box is or how to go about thinking outside it.”  ~ Linda L. Clader, Voicing the Vision.

Here’s a bit about the boxes that get in the way of following Christ.

box-freeimages.com
Image courtesy freeimages.com

In the Kingdom of God there are no enemies because we’ve loved them all into our friends. Death and division don’t have to have the last word. We don’t have to pick a political party, wear the latest fashion or obsess over petty things. We don’t have to choose a side or declare right or wrong.

In the Kingdom of God we get to be compassionate, nonjudgmental folks and rebel against the crowds of judgmental people by loving everyone. We get to listen and love and see the good in everyone, no matter who they are or what they have done. We don’t have to fight back or run away when oppression or violence comes toward us; rather, we get to stand up for justice and peace with creativity and compassion.

To be free of these boxes means that we can let go of anything that blocks our imaginations from dreaming up a world where all human dignity is honored and protected, where peace and justice are abundant for every creature, where heaven is known and experienced in this world. To be free of these boxes means that nothing can contain the ways we work for Christ. There are no limits to how we offer mercy, kindness, forgiveness and love. There are no expectations either, for when we allow God’s power to work through us, we can be surprised again and again by what wonders can occur, how goodness can be triumphant.

May the Spirit of God help us escape the box of either/or and give us the grace we need to be active in the energy of both/and—all in the space where we see that every person (Yes, even that person!) is a sinner and a saint, where all of us are works in progress in need of God’s grace.

Then we shall be freed from the limits of our human understanding and imagination. Then we can follow the ways of Christ’s love and can live in joyful awe of God’s work in the world!

 

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.]

Things I think about because I watch Chopped

If you were to ask the Sisters I live with what my favorite TV show is, they would probably say Chopped.

It’s true. I really am very passionate the show Chopped.

If you’ve never watched, here’s the premise. Each episode is a competition between four chefs. There are three rounds: appetizer (in 20 minutes), main course and dessert (in 30 minutes each). One person is eliminated each round, depending on the evaluations of the panel of three judges in the categories of taste, presentation and creativity. Besides the challenging time limits of each round, the other thing that makes the show really interesting is the major catch: for each round of cooking, the chefs are given a basket of four mystery ingredients that they must somehow incorporate into their dishes. Squid ink, day-old french fries, stale waffles, ghost peppers, pig snout — the basket almost always contains something bizarre or seemingly impossible. I become amazed with what the chefs manage to create so quickly.

It’s great television, the sort of stuff our culture just eats up (at least now). Chopped can be dramatic, creative and even informative. I learn a little every time I watch. Sure, it’s reality TV full of all types of personalities and competition. But at its basic core, it’s a cooking show that teaches me how to be a better cook.

On any ordinary day, my mind can easily wander into a Chopped daydream. I wonder if I’d be calm or frantic if I were in a timed cooking competition. I daydream about new foods and cooking techniques that I learned on the show. I look forward to my weekly cook night because then I can I can try out a Chopped inspired idea that I am excited about, or simply challenge myself to prepare a tasty, creative and beautiful meal for the Sisters in limited time.

Even though I daydream about it, thoroughly enjoy it and am inspired by it, I actually hesitate to say that Chopped is my favorite TV show. This is due, in part, to my social awareness and my desires for Gospel-centered social justice. I have some serious questions about the show. My Chopped daydreams have also found me wondering: How much food gets thrown away in a taping of an episode? How much fuel was used to get the food and the people to the studio in New York? How were the animals treated before they became food? Who were the farmers that grew the vegetables and what are their farming practices? What are the working conditions in the food factories? How has earth been impacted by Chopped? Who can actually afford to buy the fanciest basket ingredients contestants get to use? Who eats all the extra food in the kitchen’s fridge and pantry?

Despite my numerous questions and concerns, I am not going to be boycotting Chopped. I don’t think it would do any good for me to do so. Plus, I actually have found that watching the show has helped me remain mindful of some of my religious convictions.

  • Make do with what you have: Even with all its extravagant ingredients, Chopped inspires me to live simply. My best Chopped inspired meals were made because I took stock of what was in the kitchen and then challenged myself to make something delicious out of what we had (I remain very proud of the kale, bacon and pine nut tacos I once made!). Really, the lesson of trying to make the best with what I have applies to much of my life, not just cooking. I don’t need any more stuff in my closet or collections. I know God provides for all my needs every day and I shouldn’t worry. Even in my time management, I don’t need to be stressed about all my tasks, I just need to say “yes” to one thing at a time.
  • Every moment is holy: Speaking of time, on one particularly memorable episode a Zen Buddhist chef amazed me. While her competitors were frazzled and stressed by the limited time, she remained calm and peaceful. She even seemed to be working slowly, as if savoring each second’s holiness. Amazingly, she was able to get her cooking done with seconds to spare and still create beautiful and tasty food. Watching her felt like a bit of a meditation for me. Every moment God has made is holy and God is in all things — even the Chopped kitchen.
  • Food is sacred: I believe the reason shows like Chopped are popular and that there is such an increase of foodies, food critics, and restaurant dining in our culture is because it all strikes a chord with something very innate about our human nature. Food is how we connect as community, it is how we connect to our mother after our birth. Jesus taught us the Truth of compassion, inclusivity, peacemaking and forgiveness over meals and through stories about eating. The summit of our Christian life is also food: the sacrament of the Eucharist connects us to God and to each other as one holy body.

I challenge you to watch Chopped, face your own faith in food and create to your spirit’s desire. Happy cooking and Christian living!

Imperfect follower

If you’re anything like most humans, even if you’re talented at something and called to do it for the good of the world, you were unlikely immediately amazing at it.

This is true for our faith life too. Following Jesus is, in a way, like a craft.  And this video reflection reminded me of that:

As far as discipleship goes, I am so far from being an expert. I am even further from mastery and perfection.

That’s why many of us who are religious speak about our prayer “practice” or ministry “practice” and so on. We realize we won’t start off with an expert status, and even a lifetime of this work will not perfect us.  We have to persevere and remember that we really are a work in progress.

I am just finishing an online class about the theology and practice of ministry.  The class has helped me feel assured that I am OK at the ministry of teaching after all. What makes me OK at it, apparently, is that I am open to learning and growing, can communicate well, and  am somewhat knowledgeable.  According to this book that we read in the class, those are the main charisms (gifts from the Holy Spirit) needed for teaching. This gives me hope!

I used to feel really insecure about how I lived my faith and how I ministered. I often felt like I would fall short, and I still frequently do. I know that I could always do better.

Recently my students were working on their contributions to the city-wide Compassion Project.  During our discussion about the components of compassion, I was reminded of something I need to keep in mind: I must be patient with myself as well as with others. We really do learn as we go, don’t we? This is one of the reason forgiveness is such an important part of our Christian life. Certainly our main motive guides us: we want to love as God loves. 

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

Yes, I am learning. I think I get it now. I must be patient with myself and keep persevering. For I am in God hands. Evidently,  in order to becoming the loving woman who God made me to be,  it will take a while and this is quite OK. I just hope I can remember this most of the time. Even if I forget, the good news is that with God I’ll have some more chances to try again! 

Whew. What a relief! 

Photo credit: http://weltenmusterung.tumblr.com/)

A great big exciting God question

A vivid memory has been speaking to me all summer: a sunny spring day, as the fourth period of the school day began, a few excited ninth-grade boys came to class eager to ask a question. Their energy was animated and slightly nervous (“You ask her.” “No you ask her!”) for I believe they knew, at a great depth, they were considering something powerful. Then the question came forth–maybe the greatest question I have ever been asked:

“What if when we imagine things it gives God the ability to create things?”

I was stunned. I said “WOW!”  What else could I say?

I loved the idea of God needing us so much that he is practically dependent on us to help create the universe of his dreams; it is empowering to consider that God’s love can only be fully manifested if we say “yes.”

Participation and relationship is natural activity and genuine Gospel living, of course. Certainly, building the kingdom of God is work of service, prayer, community, activism, and solidarity. Good Christian activism, in particular, is a loving labor of creative problem solving so yes, I knew that God needed us and has hope for our lifelong to-do lists. Even so, this is what happened in my journal a few days later:

“What if when we imagine things it gives God the ability to create things?”

Yes, “What if!” What if God needs us so much to dream up new realities in order for them to exist?

It’s expansive stuff, really: the new realities we must imagine might be in an evolutionary metaphysical dimension, or they could be about coming up with new ways of being Church, sharing our abundance, and showing forth the Gospel goodness–ultimately revealing the solid strength of peace and justice. Christ totally has a way “of making all things new,” maybe even those things that we think are going just great.

It takes more than dreaming though. Gospel living is really about letting go and allowing God to work through us. When we let go we could end up in a place of awe, of just being free to step back and see how God wants to show up and be seen.

photo by Jane Comeau
God shows up in the art of free-writing

Amazing artists certainly seem to experience this.

Throughout the summer, I have been on a bit of a creative journey and have been learning a lot. Presently, I am very blessed to be here on a scholarship and have my first-ever experience of a writer’s workshop.  I’m amazed as I listen in to other faith-filled artists disclose their process and experience. I am overwhelmed with gratitude and awe that I get to learn and be encouraged by some of the most brilliant creators I have ever met.

As I listen, I notice that each artist seems repeat a truth: it is necessary to submit to an energy outside of ourselves (God!). It may be called “letting the poem say what it wants” or “seeing what’s behind what you’re saying,” whatever it is, it’s an act of trust and trial. Basically, as we create, we must let go of judgement, be vulnerable, take wild risks and let God take us where we’d rather not go. It’s discipleship– following Jesus’ way of humility and self-emptying. Otherwise, we become journalists and not artists and end up recording what we see and not what God is trying to say.

God has a lot of truth to tell, has a lot of love to show off. Is this why God calls us and creativity compels us? What if God needs us, desperately, just as we need God for our basic existence?

“What if when we imagine things it gives God the ability to create things?”

Back in my classroom, after I said “WOW!” to the great question my students, in their 9th grade boy sort of way, then said, “I know, right Sister?! Like, what if since we can imagine a planet ruled by aliens and robots, then now God will make it?”

Ha! OK, well, that’s not really where I went with the question. Still, I just said “Wow!” with a wide smile. I felt relief that my response of wonder seemed to satisfy their young seeking souls.

How wonderful it is that youth are so great at speaking the truth without knowing it!

How wonderful God is for loving, trusting, and needing each of us, even if we don’t know it!

Wow! Amen!

alive in the studio

Trying to be a faithful Christian sometimes feels like living in God’s limitless art studio.

God is the Great Artist who is always at work creating us anew.  We get to co-create and this communion brings us closer to God.

Since ending my ministry at the high school my creativity has been slightly out of control. I have felt like I can’t keep up with the energy that has been trying to express itself.  My room has become more of an art studio than a bedroom. It is littered with paper scraps and my fingernails continue to be caked with glue, clay and paint.  God is at work and I am working to cooperate.

Apparently, being released from a stressful and demanding ministry has had an interesting impact on me.  Although little of the creativity has manifested on this blog, a lot of the holy integrations of my the past few years have been breaking loose and causing some good contemplation.

As I’ve been constructing, I’ve been thinking: Art can flower and force new consciousness.  And, creativity is a spiritual path: co-creating with God implies union with God. Truly, I can testify that when I create new things with God I experience God’s presence and energy in ways that truly astound me.  How does one describe feeling God’s energy?

For the union to exist with God while I create, I have to be open and trust. When I am writing, sculpting and painting I have to let go and let God, as cliche as it may be.  The final product is not up to me.  If I want the creations to truly glorify God, I must be empty and allow God’s creative power to be in control.  Really, I’ve found that at times a meditative trance can take over and the blessed buzz of blending words, images and textures can manifest meanings that are beyond me.  It’s really awesome.

Plus, good creativity is very messy.  Like in a healthy ecosystem, new life breaks forth out of rotting death.  The holy paschal mystery is alive and well in the chaos.  Seemingly bizarre artifacts can be combined to create something completely unusual, yet totally beautiful.  When I stand up and look at the big picture, the creative space can appear as if a storm has swept through.  Really though, there’s an order and a clarity in the mixtures. I am often surprised.  I learn a lot about God’s ways when I see the chaos of creating.

The main art project that has consumed my time and energy was building mini-grottos to pray for issues of peace and justice.  These diorama-type shrines will be prayed with by my community during our Education Week gathering this week.  The justice and peace committee that I am a part of hopes to increase consciousness, conversation and prayer around the issues of immigration, food, economics, education, church and health care.   Here’s a preview of the art for all the sisters and affiliates who read this blog:

“mighty money: a grotto to pray for economic justice”    by Sister Julia Walsh, FSPA

In the building of the God’s reign, God is the Great Artist.  God is in control and we get to cooperate, often times completely clueless about the finished product.  Let’s trust God in our personal development and in the complicated messes of systemic injustices.  Let’s also do our part to help create new works of art.  When it’s up to God, new life can create new consciousness.  We never really know how other creatures shall absorb a new meaning from something we had a part in.

Alive in each of us, God is constantly clipping and creating art anew.  Wow, I love living in this art studio.