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.

 

Two worker houses: where ‘stranger becomes neighbor’

Guest blogger, Amy Nee

One evening in May I sat on windowsill in the room I’d recently moved into at New York’s Maryhouse Catholic Worker. With legs folded into the frame, I watched a little window of sky that subtly made the dramatic shift from pale yellow to blazing pink without comment.  I was sitting with the thought that while I had spent my day absorbed in preparing for, hosting and cleaning up after a memorial service at Maryhouse, my Chicago-area White Rose Catholic Worker friends were participating in a nonviolent uprising that swelled in response to the NATO summit. 

Four demonstrators hold signs protesting at the NATO Summit in Chicago.
Demonstrators gather during the NATO Summit in Chicago, May 2012. Photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA.

These two communities, offshoots from the trunk of one movement, are sustained and shaped by the life and writings of the same woman (the venerable Ms. Day), and have at different times been home and church and classroom to the same woman (the ephemeral Ms. Nee). Yet, to the untrained eye, these sister houses can look almost opposite. 

White Rose: a half-dozen, highly educated, fair-skinned youths with the occasional overnight guest, all dedicated and devoted to sustainable living, social justice education and nonviolence not only in every action but in every word and expression as well. 

Maryhouse: twenty-five folks, a majority over fifty years old, of varying color, creed and acumen together in a household that day after day admits dozens of women and offers showers, clothes, a balanced meal and company (not guaranteed to be cheerful, but ever-present, nonetheless).

The exterior of Maryhouse Catholic Worker
Maryhouse Catholic Worker captured by Julia Walsh, FSPA, during her April 2012 visit.

 At the former I would spend three hours in a meeting (the results of which would be revisited, rehashed and revised the following week).  At the latter I spend three hours folding clothes that the following day will be stashed in bags, tossed on the floor and probably, eventually abandoned on park benches.  I often find both tasks more maddening than enlightening.  All the same, I consider the time well spent. 

At the former, each day, we concerned ourselves with the issues of the world – war, torture, environment, oppression of all kinds. And, we sought to educate (ourselves and others), create alternatives and partake in nonviolent demonstrations, open the door to others that we might eat and talk and play and pray together.  At the latter we concern ourselves with individuals in our community and neighborhood: the hungry, sick, lonely, weary in innumerable ways. We cook lunches, wash dishes, offer clean clothes and showers, visit hospitals, celebrate and mourn. 

I am often astounded at how two communities of the same movement could be so different.  One might be tempted to compare: which is better? which more successful? which meets the greatest need?  These questions, I think, are alluring as forbidden fruit that promises the knowledge of good and evil upon ingestion.  The end result, as our first parents demonstrated, is not an answer that reveals truth, but a blade that cuts apart holy wholeness, introduces shame and accusation and ultimately separates the seeker from the Word of Truth, that is to say, Love.

“ ‘In the end, the only thing that matters is love,’ those are the last words I ever heard from her mouth,” a woman shares at the memorial for Rita Corbin held at Maryhouse on Sunday.  Hers was one of many stories remembering the life of this prolific artist whose woodcuts, since the 1950s, have oft adorned the pages of the Catholic Worker newspaper and whose life infiltrated and enriched far more than just our readers. 

Image of Rita Corbin's Works of Mercy artwork.
Rita Corbin’s “Works of Mercy”

The gathering elicited reflections that evoked both laughter and tears.  Rita’s now adult children played folk music.  We served coffee and punch and huge platters of fried rice and salad with Wasabi-citrus dressing that had been specially prepared at St. Joe’s for the occasion.  I alternately filled and washed plates, introduced the food and myself, listened to reminiscences from Rita’s brother and showed visitors to the bathroom.  All the while members of the White Rose, along with thousands of others, marched and sang and maintained a peaceful presence outside (some eventually inside) Obama’s campaign headquarters, amidst an anxious crowd of activists and likely more anxious officers in full riot gear ready to make use of their training and tazers.   

 A critic of one persuasion might consider Maryhouse mundane and trifling, while one of another might consider the White Rose naive and dramatic.  Neither assessment is accurate, nor is the assessment that their actions are so very different.  Both are engaged in attending to matters of life and of death (which one might argue are themselves part of one whole), both are engaged in practicing, to the best of their ability, the Works of Mercy.  These seemingly separate houses seek the same revolution, a revolution of the heart where “stranger” becomes “neighbor” and we learn to love our neighbor as our self; that self that is a divine vessel, bearing the very image of the God who is Love.

loving Love

I have always loved Valentine’s Day.  We don’t tell people we love them often enough and it’s our Christian message and way.  I love celebrating love and sharing it.   Love is pretty much my favorite thing. Because, well, God is totally my favorite thing.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us. 1 John 4:8-12

Love is God.  The union of Love is the force of the holy.  Popes write and teach all about it, saints marvel in it, lovers dwell in it. It is the duty of all the Christians to share it.  When we love others, we help them to get to know God.

I hope that my ministry is all about love.  I hope that I provide a loving presence to all who I meet.  I pray that all people will really know the power of the greatness of God love- Agape Love– and be made more whole.  I hope I help others understand what that means.

One of my students randomly approached me recently and asked me to tell him three of my main religious beliefs. It was an really profound and interesting question.  I believe so many things so I didn’t really know what to say.  The first thing I said, though, is that I believe God is love and when we experience love, we experience God.  Love really is the foundation of my faith.

The challenge is that love is really hard work.  Living the Gospel means we love everyone, no matter what. It means we are willing to care for those who seem most broken, dirty, smelly and diseased.  We end up putting our lives on the line, all for the love of God and neighbor.

As Dorothy Day showed us, a life of love means we join others in soup lines and joyfully break bread with the hurting, trusting in the healing power of union.  As we share, care, create and renew the face of the earth, we build the Kingdom of God.

Little by little, Love changes the world.  The good news is that the changing is God’s work- we just cooperate with God’s ways, by sharing the love we have known.  It’s pretty awesome to give what we have been blessed with, a lot of Divine Love.  Have fun celebrating Love today! God loves you and so do I! Happy St. Valentine’s Day! Love, Julia

"love light" by Julia Walsh, FSPA