Christmas Every Day Conclusion Letter

Merry Christmas Everyone!!

Hey! Don’t roll your eyes, I am not late. The Christmas season actually lasts through this coming Sunday, the feast of the Epiphany.

Now I have a question for you.

This morning I wrote a Christmas letter for 2013 and I’ll mail it out to some family and friends in the coming days. I really appreciate all of you who are the readers of Messy Jesus Business and many of you are also great friends to me, so I thought I’d share an abridged version of my Christmas letter with you.

As you may know, I have been celebrating Christmas Every Day throughout 2013.  Now I have some confessions and lessons to share from my Christmas Every Day experiment.

I started the year with a lot of Christmassy cheer and idealistic intentions while some of the lighter things of Christmas 2012 lingered.  I packed Christmas cookies in the freezer, acquired a Christmas sweater, and I developed a greater taste for Christmas music. I kept decorations up up in my bedroom even after we took them down throughout the rest of the house on Epiphany. So, all year I prayed with a nativity scene and a Christmas tree in my bedroom. And, last year’s Christmas cards are still hanging up as I write this now, on December 31, 2013!

In my classroom, I was surprised when some students asked if I was intending to celebrate Christmas Every Day so I could get a gift every day.  The receiving of gifts hadn’t even occurred to me as a possible perk when I embarked into my experiment- ha! When I told that to my students, some used my admission as a clever way to ask me to make them some Christmas cookies– which I never actually did, to their disappointment and mine.  I tended to be too determined to instill in the lessons of the theology curriculum, not cookies.

A lot of people said “Merry Christmas” to me at random times throughout 2013 and helped me remember my commitment and when this happened, I had a range of reactions.  Sometimes I felt warm and cozy, like Christmas can be. Other times, I’d feel a bit annoyed or embarrassed, because I didn’t want to admit that the fun of my Christmas Every Day experiment had worn off.

Honestly, my Christmas Every Day experiment started to feel a bit like a chore in March or April, while the snow was melting and I was looking forward to the arrival of Spring.  I realized its REALLY difficult to do something radical very well without the companionship of community.  It was around then that I made a more conscious decision to let go of the petty parts of the holiday and delve into its deeper meanings.  Otherwise, I figured, I wasn’t going to keep Christmas Every Day going.

What I needed to focus on was the True meaning of Christmas.  God became a person and this event– the Incarnation– totally changed everything! It got me thinking: how was I being changed, daily by my relationship with Christ? How was the Word of God making me more into a Gospel-centered woman? As I lived into the answers, I grew to understand that Christ-centered transformation is risky, growth-filled mess mixed right into the commotion of being busy and blessed.

And the Word became flesh

and made his dwelling among us,

and we saw his glory,

the glory as of the Father’s only Son,

full of grace and truth.  – John 1:14

One of the major gifts of 2013 were fruits that came from living a life in union with the Word of God. Specifically, I found that I still gain a lot of energy and joy as I try to be a writer.  (I’ll tell you more about that in an upcoming blog post.)

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son,

and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means “God is with us. – Matthew 1:23

There’s been a lot of goodness throughout my 2013, but it hasn’t all been easy or delightful.  My increased reflections on the Incarnation this year instilled a lesson: the meanings of Christmas are not all jolly.  Santa Claus, gift-giving, and candy canes can be fun, but they’re not the real point. “Merry Christmas” means much more than “hope you’re having fun.”

Celebrating Christmas means entering into the Gospel Truth of Jesus’ dramatic birth story and its lessons about God’s presence in the pain, the mess, the obscene, the awful, the mystery.  That’s the real importance of the Incarnation and the great lesson of this year that I want to pass on to others. No matter how much is difficult, how miserable things may seem, or how discouraging or painful your real life is, remember that you are never alone. God is with you always, you are VERY loved and good and a community of Christians are eager to be with you too- to be the Body of Christ for you.

Perhaps these reflections on community and Christ are what compelled me to want to celebrate the ending of my 2013 Christmas with others.  I concluded the experiment of Christmas Every Day by hosting a party for some friends and then I enjoyed visiting friends and family during my Christmas break.  Life is full and God is so good!

Let us be good to one another. Let us rejoice and celebrate the goodness of God in 2014. It won’t be an experiment or anything special for me anymore, except for my usual counter-cultural Christian living.

Even so, MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERY DAY EVERYONE!!

Nativity Scene from Zambia  photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA
Nativity Scene from Zambia photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

a life to the fullest type of December

“I came so that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.”  – John 10:10b

Merry Christmas! God is with us!  And, this God who is with us- Baby Jesus- has given us the greatest gift of all: life! I believe that life abundant means that life is packed full with all bliss and burdens being human offers.

This December, my Advent and now-Christmas spirit kept switching channels.   Due to the circumstances of my life and the events of our world, my inner-spaces and accompanying emotions flitted around like a spinning top.  Really, I was on a journey through the valleys and peaks of life; there truly was a lot of the Jesus-named “life to the fullest” stuff.

December began with a week long awaiting for the birth of my new nephew.  The first major life peak I dealt with was nervous anticipation unlike any I had ever felt before.  The beautiful baby boy arrived on the 7th.  Ecstatic joy, gratitude and awe came right with him.  Plus, that same day, I also learned that a darling little girl who I love has leukemia. My heart broke with sadness.

More life: my work load snowballed, it was mid-quarter at the school where I work.  Grades were due again.  Enter heightened stress and exhaustion.  After my grades were submitted and I sighed with relief, the layers of life became more meshed. The fun of Christmas was nearing but the harsh reality of suffering and tragedy still hung heavy.

Mid-month, I was like most humans: horrified and depressed about the news of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary.  I didn’t want to get out of bed. I wanted to scream and compel everyone to throw guns away and pour their money and energy toward compassion and mental health.  I wanted to wrap my new nephew in my imagined fairytale safety cloak so that no gun could ever come within a mile of him.  Never before had a felt so protective yet full of grief.

Instead, I had to do what many of us did: pray a lot, cry a little, and then push my fire-y feelings into my daily grind; the regular hard labor for Gospel peace and justice.  Meanwhile, in my classroom and around the high school, everyone seemed to be getting antsy because Christmas was getting closer.  I wondered if we were numb or ignoring suffering, or just eager to be joyful and celebrate the Nativity.  Around the school we ate too much sugar, started singing carols and decorated as if our lives depended on it.

Where I live, the sisters and I sang and danced to carols on the radio, laughed and played games, baked cookies, made homemade candies, whipped up a feast, and exchanged gifts with much joy.   The jolliness of the Christmas spirit had somehow had found its way into our hearts despite our consciousness of the expanse of human suffering.

I was merry too, as I drove off to be with my family for my new nephew’s baptism and Christmas celebrations. Fa-la-la-la-la-ling I went into Midwestern snows with a trunk packed with gifts and freshly made Christmas goodies.   The radio didn’t stay stuck on the cheery Christmas carols, however.

With horror, I listened to how the national debate on gun violence had evolved one week from the Sandy Hook massacre. No longer were we talking about mental health, our violent culture and the need to change our gun laws.  No instead, to my disgust, I was hearing the proposal for more guns, security and a suggestion that teachers should be armed.  I was so angry I thought I would be sick.  So then, onward to Christmas and baptismal feasts and joy did I go, slightly stained with the awfulness of cynicism and sarcasm because of the direction that the national gun debate turned.

The baptism and Christmas celebrations were beautiful and blessed, of course.  I was honored to become a godmother again. I sang Christmas hymns to the new baby.  I cherished every second I had with the living masterpiece that somehow, miraculously was made up many of the same genes that I am.  My family stuffed our bodies with wonderful farm food and then burned off the calories by laughing so hard our sides hurt. And, of course, the prayerful liturgy was deep and peaceful.  As we meditated on Christ’s coming to change and empower us, I felt God embrace the wideness of the fullness life.  The Christmas happenings and the Holy Spirit provided a deep consolation.

So, now I am back to La Crosse with my community, still feasting in the calm and beauty of Christmas. And, this Christmas is going to last a while.  You see, this year I am going to engage in a Christmas Every Day experiment.  This was announced in the La Crosse paper yesterday.

Yesterday was also the Feast of the Holy Innocents. The fun and excitement of my Christmas Every Day experiment announcement, was squished between my prayer for all the thousands of children who die everyday from unjust causes throughout the world.  I started to understand what I was getting myself into.

Living Christmas Every Day will mean that I will awkwardly flop around as I try to do what all of us are called to do.  I shall celebrate that our God is with us through all things, especially in the suffering and pain.

Christmas Every Day means that as I will be more intentional about living the Christmas spirit than I am normally.  And, that Christmas spirit that I’ll be living with isn’t all sweet and good.  In fact, the story of Christ’s coming itself includes great violence and horror.

Christmas Every Day means that I shall carry all of what is true, good and hard about being human.  My constant fun celebrating shall be colored with the wholeness of what life is and how God is with us, especially in the raw hurt.

Yes, Merry Christmas, may it be a real Christmas too, a celebration conscious that life to the fullest is packed with joy and pain together.

"holy infant" photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA
“holy infant” photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

encouragement

"glowing dreams" by Sister Julia Walsh, FSPA

it’s morning, I wake

in dreams and prayers, I roll around

overwhelmed, I wonder

gazing out the window, I sigh

“encouragement- thanks God,” I acknowledge

bowing to the beauty and mystery, I move into the day.

 

 

Tell us:  How has God encouraged you lately?

you are the light of the world

with innocence spark
leaps fearlessly from
the fire deep inside
where bread breaks and
desire is hot.

spark, simple and pure,
whispers her destiny
“I’m going to Love!”

parent flames are
reminded of their
source and purpose and
so beam out peace.

spark returns as
quickly as she left,
greatly changed.
Now she’s a gust of
energizing wind.

"Bonfire" by Angela Cruz

so spark soars, moves and
dances into the creative community
gusting breathing life
into oppressive systems and uncomfortable truth.

grabbing the hands,
holding the pain,
breaking bread and
uniting in the struggle
all become one.

groaning, hoping, praying,
together they are the heat of the Fire
“Jesus we hear you.
Your Kingdom come.
Your will be done.”

 

loving over the divide

Sorry, friends, Stephen Colbert’s video’s can’t be embedded in the same way as YouTube videos, but I really hope you’ll watch this video and share your thoughts.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Glenn Beck Attacks Social Justice – James Martin
www.colbertnation.com
http://media.mtvnservices.com/mgid:cms:item:comedycentral.com:267673
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> Video Archive

Here are my thoughts:  It’s hilarious because it is so right on.  I actually used that video when I introduced Catholic Social Teaching principles to my Peace and Justice students this year. We had to watch it a few times because we were all laughing so hard that we couldn’t hear everything.

Christianity is so messy for so many reasons. One of the reasons it’s messy is because we’re all very divided about the best methods of practice and the meaning of the message.  What if Glenn Beck is right and social justice is a code for communist Christianity? (That’s just confusing!)  What if Fr. James Martin is wrong and Jesus wasn’t really poor “because his father was loaded.”

One of my advent posts created some controversy because we didn’t all believe that Jesus was a poor man.  Why not?  Why is it uncomfortable to think about Jesus as poor? What if he really was just a middle class man of his era?  What if the emphasis of Christianity is supposed to be spirituality and not justice?  (I believe it’s always a combination.)

What is the definition of poverty? What is the definition of justice?

Brothers and Sisters, we must return to our Christian roots.  The point of all of this is love not squabble!  My students – and many young people – are watching the way Christian adults behave and becoming very confused.  “Sister, if Christianity is supposed to be all about Love, then why are Christians so mean to each other?”  What am I supposed to say?  I sigh and see the Beatitudes and the Great Commandment hanging on my classroom wall. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

The current climate of our country begs us to love each other in healing sorts of ways.  Slander was screamed all over the internet while President Obama gave his bold State of the Union speech.  Yet his words remind us that democracy is about peace and basic respect.

“It’s no secret that those of us here tonight have had our differences over the last two years.  The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our beliefs.  And that’s a good thing.  That’s what a robust democracy demands.  That’s what helps set us apart as a nation. But there’s a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid all the noise and passion and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater -– something more consequential than party or political preference. We are part of the American family.  We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different from those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.” – President Obama

Indeed the tragedy in Tucson shook our nation.  What if it also alerted Christians about the danger of divisions in the Christian church?  Crowds continue to pray for Representative Giffords’ healing and wipe away tears of disbelief.  Meanwhile, the Blessed Holy Spirit blows through tension between us and builds bridges of Christ-like compassion.  Converted to Love, I hope we can walk toward one another on that bridge where hot dialogue happens.

Young people need a church that they want to be part of, one that gives them passion and faith.  My students need to be eager to share the Love that they find in their churches on the violent streets because they know it is True.

I need to be willing to model what Christian Love and unity could look like for the people who pay attention to me, even when I am really mad.  I pray that I can have an open heart and mind to all people of faith.  I pray for ability to love someone who says my passion- social justice- is wrong.  I pray that I have the strength to lovingly walk across the divide, right into the arms of my enemies.

God help us; God bless us; God unite us. Amen.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/cobalt/4580219355/

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cobalt/4580219355/

“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

when Jesus calls…

This post is dedicated to my friends who are female pastors in protestant faith communities. More broadly, it is dedicated to all disciples who feel misunderstood.

A lot of us have heard Jesus call out, “Hey! Leave those fishy nets behind and come and follow me! It’s gonna be good!” We awkwardly jump up and walk towards Love with endless confusing questions.

When we are called by God the first thing we can meet on the road of discipleship is judgment and discouragement. People from our pasts sometimes holler down the path at us as we walk away.

That contemporary parable is rooted in the Gospel truth from today’s readings.

As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers,
Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew,
casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen.
He said to them,
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
At once they left their nets and followed him.
He walked along from there and saw two other brothers,
James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets.
He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father
and followed him.
He went around all of Galilee,
teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom,
and curing every disease and illness among the people.  – Mt 4:18-23

What did James and John’s dad say when they just got up and left?  How did they respond to him?

What do people say to- or about- us?  What gets in our way and makes faithfulness hard?  Why do we all keep going?

hallow hope

Bored with the rosary beads

and anxiety of agendas

I gaze up from the corner chapel in my

9th floor imaginary tree house home.

My blurred vision moves from the cross to the obnoxious glow of the golden arches and

hallows the hope

that once was fire

warming my heart over the violent city.

Yet, I still seek to

drop

prayers of hope, faith, love, healing

like ironic bombs and blast the gang violence and super BOGO sales into garden compost piles.

 

I was in jail yesterday scammed with truth that sent seizures of confusion down my spine.

 

Prayer transforms into an awkward move:

tripping over my own feet- because celibacy is sometimes solo- I bruise as I dance

through the constant clashing hymn

“trust in the Lord with all your heart” and “give glory to God.”

I listen and I remember

the song offered harmony and grace before.

Today it hurts my ears.

 

The pacifist dreams are a war within.

 

I sob over (non-organic) coffee-stained non-profit grants

and realize the stench of hope is stale

because I am learning

the truth transpires and collides with the desire

to believe, bless, and be

loving presence around a cluttered holy supper table carved with “never simple, never clear.”

I yelp; my flesh bubbles, burned by the flame which jumped out of

the Sacred Heart pillar prayer candle.

As I cringe with “ew,” my spirit mysteriously stills and hears a hopeful Spirit whisper:

my body hurts.

 

I was in Kindergarten yesterday and I climbed over fences and sung happy made-up songs.

 

Laughing, I turn up the volume on the alleluia chorus

of “be not afraid” and “I am with you”

and let the hallow, hurting hope guide me back home to “Here I AM.”

 

"city cracking nature" by Sister Julia Walsh, FSPA

A New Year Revolution

Guest blogger: Joshua VanCleef

If we really desire change, then what we need is something far greater than a New Year resolution, we need a New Year Revolution.  We need to turn things back to the starting point and evaluate the very principles, ideals and promises on which we have built our lives. It is then that we can overthrow the illusions that we have all too easily accepted as truths, the empty promises, the very things that stacked the deck against us and make real change nearly impossible.

We need to return to our baptism, stand as beloved children of God and overthrow the illusions that now dictate our lives. We need to stand on the promises of Christ and stand up against the false promises which hold hostage our desire.

Unfortunately, myths have become our foundation.  We need only to look into the mirror to see the illusions operant in our lives: that worth is based out of utility, attractiveness, wealth,or perfection; that happiness can be found in the collecting of things or people; or that the love of God needs to be earned. We only need to look out the window to see that the very illusions operating in our hearts have become the accepted principles that run much of our world.

In an honest moment, I realize the power that these false promises have over my own life.  It takes but an instant for them to surface when faced with a decision, and I know how much they really do influence me, how much they do hold me captive. But I also realize that the call to freedom casts off the yoke of slavery.

I call for a revolution of my own heart today. I call for a revolution because these false promises have become dictators in my life; they work me to the bone and feed me only enough to work another day. I call for a revolution because as I stand in the promises of my baptism, I cannot help but see the daily slavery to which I commit. I call for a revolution because this year I want change! I want my next step to be in truth rather than illusion, to choose freedom rather than oppression, and partake in a banquet rather than scraps. I know the only way for change in my life is to overthrow the dictators of illusion and the tyrants of false promises. So, I call for a revolution.

A revolution of the heart would lead me to a revolution in the streets. I know that revolution wouldn’t be satisfied with immigration reform, its goal is much larger and more fundamental: to overthrow the illusion that my dignity is more important or my life is worth more than someone else’s. Revolution would debunk the lie that it is more important for me to have much than for all to have enough. There is no surprise that Guantanamo is still open!

Only a revolution has the power to overthrow the illusion that a good end can be achieved through evil means, or the justification of torture. Outside of a revolution of the heart, reform will only allow torture to take new forms. Reform and resolution can mandate equal public treatment of people, but only a revolution can unmask the lie that all are not equal before God. Only a revolution can overthrow the illusion that worth is based out of utility, or the all too popular lie of entitlement.

Brothers and sisters, if a revolution is what we desire and we realize the powers that have become the current of our lives, the illusions that serve as dictators and the false promises as tyrants, then we are the sick in need of healing. We are the broken needing to be made whole. And if we wish to stand in our baptismal promises, in the freedom of the beloved children of God, then it is our sickness and brokenness that we have to offer Jesus. And this is all He asks of us. For if we wish to cast off the lies of the oppressor and the promises of the tyrant, there is only one Healer, only one Revolutionary powerful enough: the Crucified One.

Now, my brothers and sisters, together with Jesus let us go back to the beginning and claim our freedom as children of God. And when the illusions of oppression try to scatter us with fire hoses, we will renew our baptism in their water. We are people who know water and it will neither stop us nor put out our fires. When the dictators of false promises try to antagonize us with venomous words, we will handle their words and not be harmed.

My brothers and sisters, when we the weak, the sick, the believers, confront the powers that surround us with walls and barbed wire, then united with Jesus we will look to the cross and speak to our oppressors. We say together, “where we are going YOU cannot go.” Let’s take courage in the promise of Christ, that in the end when the mist of mustard gas dissipates, as a cloud of witnesses we will emerge.

Photobucket

This week’s guest blogger, Joshua VanCleef, is a Franciscan Friar of St. John the Baptist province. Originally from Detroit, he now lives in Chicago and is finishing his studies at the Catholic Theological Union. He is a neighbor and friend of Sister Julia.

Thanks be to God for Reverend King!

On January 15, 1929, a child of God was born.  On April 4, 1968, he was assassinated.

Forty three years later this holy man, Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., still speaks to the issues that concern us.

Here you can meet him and his gentle, yet radical approach to loving:

As I rest and dream on his holy feast day, I am going to pray with his Letter from Birmingham Jail. I pray in thanksgiving for this brother of ours who still lives in the truth of Love!