Be perfect

Hypocrisy. According to Google, it’s “The practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.” It’s a dirty word; the worst of insults in religious circles. Why, then, do those who consider themselves clean of heart, hand and tongue seem to so relish the taste of it in their mouths?

Recently, I came across a conversation in the vortex of Facebook that inspired this reflection. It began with a link to an article for the latest pop aggrandizement of abusive relationships, “Fifty Shades Darker. The person who posted it had commented “I can’t help but wonder how many who claimed to march for women turn around and support this as healthy entertainment. Shaking my head!”  Her expression of disgust led to a comment from one of her friends who replied, “How many of these women who either read the book(s) or saw or will see these movies are also the ones so outraged by comments made by Trump? The hypocrisy is amazing!”

woman-covering-mouth
Image courtesy of everydayfeminism.com

My gut reaction was to devise ways in which I might remind this woman, whom I’ve never met, of her own potential conflicting ideologies. It’s easy to make assumptions and I’m quite adept. I quickly conjured up a litany of instances in which this person, completely unknown to me, may herself be “claiming to have moral standards or beliefs” to which her behavior did not conform. They were harsh and pointed and quite possibly accurate. But then, an intervening thought: What would be my motivation in crafting this comment? Would I not be mirroring the very practice of generalized accusation that had triggered my own anger? Even if what I was saying was true, would I be speaking truth in love? Was my goal mutual clarification and conversion, or self-defense and condemnation? St. Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, “I may have the gift of prophecy, and know every hidden truth; I may have faith strong enough to move mountains; but if I have not love, I am nothing.” Intent matters. However right or pure we may be, what attitude toward that other person and outcome are we desiring–for ourselves–as we slap others with our truth?

It strikes me that implicit in the use of the words “hypocrite” and “hypocrisy” is a reflexive attempt to discredit ideas and actions of those who differ from, challenge, disgust, or in other ways stimulate discomfort. Denigrating the other allows those of us who do so to prop up our own fragile sense of righteousness while simultaneously freeing ourselves from any obligation to do the hard work of trying to listen or understand. In doing so we are rejecting the call to love or, at the very least, to respect the dignity of the other.

Trying to understand would require the mindfulness to overcome impulsive, emotional reaction and look more deeply at the words, actions or images that have triggered such reactive response. Trying to understand would mean developing an awareness of our own tendency toward generalizations and assumptions and to willfully discard such tools as they inhibit our capacity to think creatively, compassionately and clearly–very hard work but necessary if what we genuinely desire is to create love and peace in our hearts and in the world. If that is not what we desire, an examination of conscience is in order.

Recently, during the Gospel reading at Mass, Jesus said, “I tell you unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:21).”  The following week; “Be perfect, as your heavenly father (a.k.a. the God of All Things!) is perfect.” These can be felt as discouraging, improbable, even impossible exhortations. But if we consider the lens through which Jesus was gazing as he spoke, it may change how we receive the words.

I have been slowly reading Henri Nouwen’s “The Life of the Beloved,” a short, sweet book that articulates in simple and profound language how deeply loved we each are by God. As Nouwen emphatically asserts the belovedness of the individual, he indicates how an awareness and embrace of one’s own condition as beloved can transform the way in which that person engages with the world. A perception of ourselves as foundationally beloved would fill us with such a sense of confidence, gratitude, grace and generosity that we would manifest these qualities as we related to others and the world we share.

“How different our life would be,” he writes, “if we could but believe that every little act of faithfulness, every gesture of love, every word of forgiveness, every little bit of joy and peace will multiply and multiply … Imagine your kindness to your friends and your generosity to the poor are little mustard seeds that will become strong trees in which many birds can build their nests … Imagine that you’re trusting that every little movement of love you make will ripple out into ever new and wider circles.”

How different indeed, but what hard work to be ever mindful, ever transforming! Much easier to point out someone else’s hypocrisy! And yet, what purpose does such labeling serve, accusing others of what we would excuse in ourselves? Does it bring assurance or peace or joy? Does it create positive change? I find that the time I’m most ready to cast judgment tends to coincide with when I am most insecure and serves only–ultimately–to exacerbate my own insecurity and anxiety.

No doubt there are times when the hard and loving work we have to do is indeed to name sin when it rears its ugly head, or to get in the way of someone who is causing harm to another either with words or actions or both. But let us be vigilantly mindful of our motivation and carefully conscious of what we hope will grow from the seeds planted by our every word and deed. Let us remember that when Jesus said “Be perfect,” it wasn’t a condemnation, but a vote of confidence.

“I know that you can do better. I love you, no matter what.”

ABOUT THE RABBLE ROUSER

Nee-Walker FamilyAmy Nee-Walker grew up in the middle of a large and lovely family in Central Florida. Living into questions about truth and love has led her to the Catholic Worker, the Catholic Church, her incredible husband, two audacious, adorable children, and (for the time being) a home in the hills of Appalachia.

Mercy-ing as a form of resistance

We pray in the dark during these Advent days while we wait for the coming of the Light, of love enfleshed.

The darkness is everywhere and impacts each of us. We encounter pain and violent words, messages and behavior when we pay attention to the news, when we share in our neighbor’s pain, when we tune into the tension and the fear that is intensely plaguing humanity. Even the earth itself seems to be mourning our destructiveness and greed. Our hearts ache with sadness and anger as shootings, terrorism, and hate-mongering become more frequent.

In the darkness of discouragement, temptation comes quick. Maybe I shouldn’t bother or What difference does it make if I am charitable? or Why should I help them if I can’t even get my own life together? or How can we trust anyone!? Ugly attitudes of apathy and doubt can creep in and corrode at our faith and hope. Just like everyone else, we are capable of turning away from love and succumbing to fear and hate.

It is messy and challenging, but by the grace of God, we will not give into temptation. We will resist all darkness by offering compassionate alternatives in the face of fear and pain. The words of Ephesians 5 shall be our marching song as we rise up and rally as children of light:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light,for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them,for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret;but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore, it says:
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”  
Ephesians 5:8-14

Yes, there are many ways that we can resist this darkness and unite as children of the light.  Especially now that the Jubilee Year of Mercy has begun, we will act as instruments of forgiveness and mercy.

Pope Francis has invited us all to imitate God, as mercy is an action, an attitude that the world desperately needs from us all now. “Mercy-ing calls us to forgive the unforgivable, to look tenderly upon the unappealing and the troublesome, to be compassionate to the ungrateful. It demands that we give a full measure, packed down and flowing over, and to empty our granaries again and again for those who cannot hope to repay us. It asks us to open our hands and hearts, not because we expect mercy in return, but because who we yearn to become could not—did not—do anything less for us.”  Although the word mercy-ing is made up by Pope Francis, this aspect of our faith goes all the way back to the days of Christ.

There are many ways that we can resist the darkness and get active mercy-ing during this Advent time.

Here are just a few examples of what others are doing. No one of us can do it all, so when one of us is mercy-ing then we all are:

Today, on Human Rights Day, and on other days we rally throughout the world. (Human Rights Day marks the anniversary of the international adoption of Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

We recommit ourselves to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We prayerfully say “yes” to the Gospel mission of loving our neighbors and enemies. 

Photo credit: Southern Rosary Works

We resist racism and xenophobia by opening our hearts, our Churches, our homes to refugees and immigrants. 

#JesusWasARefugee at La Salle Street Church, @ShaneClaiborne on Twitter
#JesusWasARefugee at La Salle Street Church, @ShaneClaiborne on Twitter

We pray for an end of all forms of torture and violence and speak out on behalf of the victims. 

We refuse to participate in the consumeristic, materialistic side of holiday celebrations and gear up for the Billion People March on December 19th.  

We boldly ask for spaces to be opened up to people in need of shelter

We acknowledge the fact that we are creatures in need of God’s mercy, and ask God and others for forgiveness. 

We willingly forgive those who have hurt us and we do simple acts of reconciliation, like sending notes of reconciliation and peace to rebuild relationships.

We light candles on our Advent wreaths and sing songs of joyful anticipation.

Yes, indeed, it’s amazing how the light shall come! Thanks be to God, in all of these acts of mercy-ing, our faith burns bright and we proclaim that Christ is our Light! Amen!

 

“What if it’s too hard?!”

My students are brilliant.  They endure so much and remain hopeful and faithful.  Prayers of gratitude pour out of them easier than on-time assignments.  Every day I hear praise that God gave them another day.  It’s amazing to me.  But, it shouldn’t be. They’re teenagers and they know they have a life of greatness ahead of them.

In this part of the world there is abundant chaos, confusion and distraction from what is true and right.  Gang warfare, poverty and drug addictions are thick.  We know people who are in jail and people who have been shot.  I shudder at the violence, racism and sexism I have been exposed to around this city.  It seems to me that the common culture tries to convince the youth of today that consumerism, sex, drugs, violence and selfish living are the meaning of life.  The teens are beginning to believe lies:  success is about fame and money and freedom means you aren’t locked up.  It’s an awful, tough world indeed.

Yet, the young come.  No matter that they’re required because they’re in a Catholic school, they still come and are very good.  My students arrive in religion class and argue about whose turn it is to lead prayer because many of them want to do it.  They love to meditate together and have no problem being silent and peaceful.  They listen and work hard.  They ask me tough questions.  Their silliness and playfulness helps me laugh and lighten up.  Their reverence is deep: a hush falls over us as we gaze into the sacred, living words in the Bible.  They want to believe and understand.

In my classroom I preach a lot. I preach that God is good and God is with us.  My students seem to be convinced that they have dignity and they are children of God.  The struggles begin when I start to talk about action.  I preach a lot about how we are called to treat all people in a way that honors their dignity, so they also know they are children of God.  Because we are Christian, I say, we must be different. We must act differently. We must live and love differently.  We really can’t fit into the popular ways of the world, because the world’s ways don’t fit with God’s ways.  We need to act like we believe that Love is the most powerful force in the world.

This week I’ve been teaching about forgiveness. I explained that because we are children of God, we are supposed to forgive like our loving Parent does.  I said that when we wonder how to forgive we can look at Jesus on the cross and see that it takes great sacrifice. I asked them that if we believe it, then what are we supposed to do?  In a world where pride, grudges and even violent retribution is as normal as nonsense, how can we act like children of God?

"cluttered stations" Art by Julia Walsh, FSPA

We read God Has A Dream by Desmond Tutu last semester and we remember that it’s up to us to help God’s dreams come true. Tutu has a lot to say of smart things to say about forgiveness:

I keep challenging my students (and therefore, myself!) Their exam essay question asked “what attitudes and actions could you take to help create a society that values forgiveness more than retribution?”

One student raised his hand and said “Sister, what am I supposed to say if I really don’t think it’s possible?”  I said that just this one time, I’ll give a hint about what he could write about.  The first step might be to try to have faith.

Faith isn’t easy in this messy world.  I understand that the world is not sending the same message of God’s goodness and might plus there’s a lot of evidence pointing to other ideas.  I understand that Jesus is asking a lot of his followers.  So, when I preach about the real, un-cozy and uncomfortable challenges of living the Gospel the reactions I hear make a lot sense:

“What if I don’t agree with the Ways of Jesus?”

“How am I supposed to believe this?”

“How can I possibly do this?!”

“Sister, what if it’s just too hard?!”

In my witty way, I tell them that they can take it up with Jesus. I gesture at the cross and tell them that I blame God that it’s so tough.  We can complain but we don’t need to give up.  Jesus made it simple, but not easy, so let’s take it up with him.  “Sit down with Jesus,”  I say, “and have a little chat.  Ask him for some help and grace and understanding.  Let him know how you really feel about it all.  If you really want to believe and be a follower I’m pretty sure God will help you.  You might be surprised.”

I sure hope I am right. I hope they’ll be surprised by the graces God gives and how they’ll be able to do great things with God’s help.   I hope that as my students mature they’ll discover that Jesus’ Way is the best there is.  I hope that it can be the only Way we’ll know.

“in your own soul”

Guest blogger: Elizabeth Diedrich

I work at a homeless outreach center that serves about 400 people each day. Every day I have the opportunity to hear the stories of the people we serve. These people are my friends: Dan, Hector, Allen … I enjoy seeing them every day (checking in on each other and supporting each other through challenging times). I hear about their kids, their apartment searches, their job hunt, and often stories from their past. Some, although fewer than you might think, are addicts, dealers or have committed violent crimes.

Hearing a person’s story is a privilege but it can also be a burden. There are times I find it easier not to know too much about a person’s past. When you hear the worst stories about drugs, prostitution, murder and violent crimes,  it’s easy to judge the act (especially extreme acts) and the person.

This past week was difficult on the street. There were two stabbings and one reported death. I know one of the men who was stabbed. I have known him for two years. I know he gang raped a 14-year-old girl. I have seen him fight guys half his size. He is violent, manipulative, angry and two-faced. Honestly, I don’t really like this guy, and sometimes I feel some acts are unforgivable. This man survived the stabbing but I could not honestly pray in thanksgiving for his life or pray for his healing and recovery.

Yet, I was reading a prayer by Thomas Merton last night:

So instead of loving what you think is peace,

love others and love God above all.

And instead of hating the people you think are warmakers,

hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war.

If you love peace,

then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed –

but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

Merton’s prayer reminds me that I must first judge myself; I must reflect on my interior life and exterior actions before judging others. As I see this man – and so many others – addicted, dealing and violent, I know that I hold the same sins in my heart.

There are definitely things in my life that I am addicted to and I would not easily give up – daily internet access and coffee come to mind. There are things in my life that I “deal.” I have more than once been called an enabler when it comes to food and drink. Although I am not normally violent, there are times in my life where my anger toward others has been greater than my love towards others.

It is easy to judge people who have already been judged by society and seem so different from myself. It is as I reflect on my own shortcomings that I see that I am not so different from those I quickly judge. At the most basic level we are all sinners, we all have areas that need work. Christ came to forgive all of us, no matter the sin, no matter how big or small, we are all welcomed into the forgiving arms of Christ.

From my daily experiences, I know that I cannot change the addicts and dealers I see every day, but I have the power to continually change myself. I have the power to look at my interior life, see where I fall short, see the qualities that I quickly judge in others, and attempt to better myself. If I so desperately wish for a more peaceful world, I must first call for a revolution in my own heart.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/2251716549/in/pool-913552@N22
Christ of the Breadlines, by Fritz Eichenberg

Originally from Madison, WI, this week’s guest blogger, Elizabeth Diedrich, is currently a Catholic Worker at Andre House of Hospitality in Phoenix, AZ. She spends her free time hiking, playing Euchre, and making pottery. Elizabeth and Sister Julia enjoy sharing tea, chocolate, cheese and long conversations on peace and justice.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/2251716549/in/pool-913552@N22