Australian crime drama removes plank in my eye

By Guest Blogger Sarah Hennessey, FSPA

How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? — Matthew 7:4

I have started watching an Australian cop show, a drama called Rush, in which the main focus is on de-escalation. The officers are gifted at negotiation and always use the least force possible. They use Tasers and beanbag guns instead of real pistols. If the team of officers is chasing a car with teenagers in it, they tell everyone to back off and follow slowly to reduce the potential for an accident. Hands are clasped with simple plastic tags, and tear gas is used to diffuse a violent situation quietly without hurting anyone.

Rush-season-2-ad-rush-australian-tv-series-8722553-500-313I just watched the season finale. Usually, in American crime dramas, the season finale includes a massive explosion or hostage situation with multiple deaths, leaving you and your favorite characters hanging in suspense. On Rush, the big drama was a ballistics report. One of the officers had mistakenly killed a bystander in a dangerous situation, and they didn’t know who had done it. It was only the second time in 35 episodes that anyone had actually been killed. The whole squad was saddened, withdrawn, and visibly shaken by the death. When Dawson finally tells Stella that her gun had fired the shot, she breaks down crying and responds “I killed someone. How do you get over that? Well, you don’t, do you.”

I feel like I have a plank in my own eye. Why are these story lines so surprising to me? They treat officers as human beings, with reasonable reactions and emotions. They portray violence and death as real tragedies to be avoided at all cost; not as fodder for another night’s titillating entertainment. What amazes me most is simply seeing a portrayal of police officers who take every measure to limit the use of force, and are saddened profoundly by any act of violence. This is not what I see in American media or even on the nightly news.  Violence is gory, graphic, and glorified. The body count and the emotional aftermath are passed over quickly in the rush towards a climactic finish of utter destruction. The shows we watch, the games we play, and the streets of our home towns are increasingly violent. Recent events emphasize our militarized police force, the very real threat of terrorists, and armed conflict on a global scale.

This violent reality is what we see every day—our center, the very ground we stand on. The person in Jesus’ parable does not see the plank in her own eye. I wonder if it gets harder to see with a log in your eye, or if you just get so accustomed to the view that the whole world just has a plank-sized hole in it. Watching this Australian show is like seeing the world from a less militarized, more emotional perspective.

Image courtesy of

Jesus instructs us, First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye – Matthew 7:5. Does he set before us an impossible task? Can we really remove the plank, or is the whole point of the story just a reminder to be more compassionate and merciful about the speck in our neighbor’s eye? A theology professor pointed out to me that when we are looking at the world we can never clearly see or name the land we are standing on. Is it possible to ever see where we really stand, to recognize how our own personal blindness and cultural biases shape our perspective on everything?

5 good ones

Sometimes really good things can get buried underneath other good things. At times, we are called to uncover and re-expose the hidden goodness in the Kingdom of God, so that the blessings can help us be renewed.

This blog has been going for about three and half years now and includes over 230 posts. Wow! Thanks be to God for the 12 guest-bloggers who have contributed to all the goodness and help keep this blog alive. Just like the Church, it takes a community rooted in Christ for good things to happen, for the Truth to be told.

Over the past few years, several especially really good blogs have been posted. Yet, there are certain blog posts that stick out in my memory as especially meaningful and powerful. Today I want to share with you some particular “oldies but goodies;” a few blog posts that I still find myself pondering, even though they are a couple of years old. It’s not an inclusive list or a “best of” by any means, but here are five blog posts that I personally find worthy of a re-read.

1.) stories that shoot the truth (February 23, 2011): a reflection on trying to teach non-violence while teaching in a part of Chicago where shootings were a normal part of life. Peace sign

2.) an Easter economy (May 1, 2012): a proclamation about the need for alternative economies that are based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

3.) nourished by disturbance (February 9, 2011) by Joshua VanCleef: a bold reminder that living the Gospel is meant to disturb us, as we are called to confront the pain of the world.

4.) God has got this (November 2, 2011) by Benjamin Anderson, SJ: this post ponders the question “how do we keep going and make sense of a world where people endure so much?” In other words, it offers insight into how to persevere when our service causes us to encounter great pain and suffering.

5.) the weirdness of witnessing (February 28, 2012): a reflection on the struggle of living a public life while being a sinner–an imperfect Christian.

Thanks for reading and participating in the discussion! Thanks be to God for all of these Spirit-led creations. Amen!

Even if no one gets it

"vigil lights" by Julia Walsh FSPA
“vigil lights” by Julia Walsh FSPA

Brothers and sisters:
We speak a wisdom to those who are mature,
not a wisdom of this age,
nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.
Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden,
which God predetermined before the ages for our glory,
and which none of the rulers of this age knew;
for, if they had known it,
they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
But as it is written:
What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
and what has not entered the human heart,
what God has prepared for those who love him, 

this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.
For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.            -1 Corinthians 2: 6-10 

When we speak about our love for God and the messiness of building God’s reign, we won’t make sense to everyone. This Gospel life is a life of faith, trust, and at times, foolish love. Our faith communities can develop their own sense of culture and community. When newcomers show up, they may not really get us or what we’re talking about.

Sometimes this can become hilarious:

And, other times our language and methods can be disturbingly ineffective.

Let’s remain conscious of our culture, our language and our sense of community while we live our Gospel lives. Are we extending hospitality and explaining our rituals and traditions? Do we meet people where they are, or do we only accept them if they conform to our norms?

Let us be faithful, let us be loving, let us be authentic and speak the Truth, even if no one totally gets it. After all, we’re instruments in Christ’s body and no one’s salvation is really up to us. I do believe, though, that if we’re mindful and loving, then we shall indeed expand the Kingdom of God! Amen!

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!!

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.


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:

counter-culturally powerful

Yesterday I asked a section of my students to raise their hands if they thought power is something God gives us.  Only half of the students raised their hands.  When I asked the other half what they thought they spoke about how power is something people earn because of their success.  “If we are all children of God, aren’t we equal?” I asked.  Not really, I was told, status sets us apart.

I believe that the electric energy of equality has the power to unite all.

"Light's great uniting power" By Sister Julia Walsh, FSPA

Within the core Christianity is a belief that all people are children of God. We are all made in God’s image and likeness, we are all people of dignity.  Everyone is holy and is worthy of honor.  God is alive within all of us.  Although our diversity helps us all to be more whole, no one is better than anyone else.  God sees as us equals and loves us all equally.

But then there’s the way society sees it.  Common culture tells us a totally different story.  Before we can read, we learn about winning and losing.  Competition is fun.  From a very young age we are taught that success and achievement are about accomplishing more, having more and earning more.  In the dynamics of capitalism, we base power upon wealth.  The rich and powerful seem to perpetually oppress the poor and powerless.  Perhaps it is because of this that we blame the poor for their problems and we are convinced that the rich are powerful because they deserve it.  Competition and consumerism connect with our experiences of power.   The fanfare of the Super Bowl is a manifestation of these attitudes.

The principles of non-violence imply that all people have the same power. No one is actually more powerful than anyone else,  just as in the eyes of God no one is better than anyone else.  The problem is that power is abused, misused, misunderstood and unknown.  Those who are more wealthy begin to believe they have the power to control, lead and guide. Those who are poor haven’t experienced the wealth and goodness of their own power.  We don’t really need to empower others, we need to encourage them as they desire to unleash the power they already have.

As we try to be faithful Christians, the tension between God’s ways and the world’s ways seems to keep us moving in circles.  When we want to experience what power really means we look to Jesus for grounding and growth.  The early Christians had some pretty good ideas about all this:

“Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him. You know the word [that] he sent to the Israelites as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all..”   -Acts 10: 34-36

We know Jesus loves all.  Jesus has been with us through our highs and lows.  Jesus’ humility is power’s true way.  Into the broken, hurting, bleeding cracks of creation Christ is crying.  He’s with us and showing us what is real.

Powerlessness and being powerful blend together in a place of true humility.  We know we are nothing without God and this knowledge sets us free.  As we bend to God’s power, we are enlivened for God’s good mission.  We’ll build unity so that status no longer sets us apart.  Energized to be together, we love like Christ loves: with great humility.  May it be so, amen, indeed.

passing things around in the USA

Brace yourself. This video may make you laugh or cringe.

This sampling got me thinking about the general values of our country.  I remembered that a couple years ago there was some fascinating debate about whether the USA is really a Christian nation.  In the current climate of political unrest, I believe it is a conversation worth repeating.  What are the main principles and values that guide this country?

My historical analysis notices webs of influence created by our Puritan roots.  Our founding fathers- and mothers- were guided by Christian ideals.  Certainly us Christians are very vocal and influential in the political arena.  And, it seems hard to be “successful” in our country if you’re not Christian.

Yet, writer Jon Meacham suggests that “As crucial as religion has been and is to the life of the nation, America’s unifying force has never been a specific faith, but a commitment to freedom—not least freedom of conscience.”

Are we okay with people freely following their conscience to dangerous addictions, just as long as they don’t harm others and are having fun?

Thanks! And, God bless the United States of America- and the whole world! Amen!

churches get out of the way, go to The Way

Christians, I think we have a lot of growing to do!

It’s embarrassing to admit that I can totally relate to the awkwardness featured in that video.  For a period of my life, before I settled into Catholicism, I was a seeker.  I visited a lot of brands of Christianity and tried to find a community that seemed like they were on fire for Jesus, service and social justice in the ways I wanted to be.

It was a lot of fun to bounce into worship services and jump up and down for Jesus.   X-games athletes might have used the events as warm-ups.  There were quiet times, too.  It was fascinating to attend Bible studies after Christian yoga.  I confronted pastors and asked hard questions then went home with a cool new bracelet and a headache.

My church-hopping days were adventurous. Certainly, they were also confusing and painful.  I was pretty young and I didn’t yet understand what I was experiencing or feeling.  I couldn’t even describe what I was looking for, but now I know it was something deep, lasting and radical.

Sometimes my searching brought me to Christian churches where I tried to find an easy escape because there was more of a cult-like mood than a Christ-like one.  It scared me a lot.  In general, whenever I am around groups that are very focused on themselves- and getting more people to be like them- I become concerned.

True, Christ told us to baptize others and bring more into the flock.  It seems to me, though, that if we were to truly live the gospel by working for justice and peace and loving and including all, then expansion would be natural.

But all Christians- myself included- can grow and improve as we seek to live the gospel.  As we try, we must keep looking in the mirror and paying attention to the realities we create.

I wonder: When we’ve been stuck in tunnel for a long time, how could we ever know when our vision has become too narrow?  Can we be trapped in a cave of comfortableness without even knowing it?  How many times do new people get creeped out when they come to our churches?  Do our lingo and ways make people feel awkward instead of at home?

I pray often that we can have open hearts and minds. I pray that we don’t get stuck in what’s comfortable for us and become stubborn about our convictions.

Like the disciples, we don’t really have a clue about where we’re going and what we’re up to.

Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”  Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”  -John  14:5-7

I pray that we freely understand and follow Jesus, The Way, instead of our own worldly and churchy ways.  I pray that as we continually look around and let the Spirit guide us, we still have bold faith and deep trust in God. I pray that we can let go of what we’re used to when it’s no longer helpful.  I think it’s healthy to do this as individuals and as communities.

I pray that we become authentically loving Christ-like communities of inclusion, peace and justice.  I pray that our responses to seekers are kind and real.  I pray that modern Christianity looks more like this: