Unfriended

“While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” ~ Matthew 9:10-11

This past fall, in the final ramp up to the election, I saw an increasingly common message in my social media feeds. Each individual message varied slightly, but more or less the message would read:

I care very deeply about X, and it seems to me obvious that all ethically minded people believe X. Therefore, if you don’t believe X, you are a villain and I don’t want to associate with you. You have no place at my table. Reveal yourself so I can unfriend you and waste no more time on our relationship.”

The first time I saw it, I thought nothing of it. “Ok, interesting … a little dramatic.” But then I saw it again. And again. Then I saw you could download a tool to automatically remove any Trump supporters from your friends list. Then I saw a tool to do the same for Clinton supporters. And then I started hearing people “unfriending” people in the real, flesh and blood world. People would say to me, “I just couldn’t believe my friend/cousin/brother-in-law supports Trump/Clinton … I’ll never speak to him again. I don’t want toxic people like that in my life.”

I understand the impulse. I am a person of strong, fiercely held beliefs. I believe in an objective moral order. I frequently clash, and strongly, with those who disagree with what I believe are tenets of the moral law. How liberating it would be to end those conflicts by painting my foes as irredeemable villains and dismissing them from my presence: “Be gone, fiend!” And then I could turn to myself in my own satisfaction and pray, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity–greedy, dishonest, adulterous–or even like this foolish person who I have so rightly chastised.”

And yet, it seems such a sentiment is very far from the mind of Christ. Indeed, he told us such prayers will never make us justified. To unfriend someone–to cut someone out of our circle of relationship because they have failed us in thought, word, or deed–suffers from some serious misapprehensions.

First, it misunderstands conversion. Maybe your foe is really wrong about something: truly, grievously wrong. Do you think casting anger and resentment at them will make them see the error of their ways? Do you hope to convert them with disdain and hatred? Maybe the truth is that you just want to punish them, to get revenge on them for their small-mindedness … and it should go without saying that desire for revenge has no place in a heart that sincerely invites Christ to dwell within it.

Second, it misunderstands friendship. Friendship is not an endorsement of all the thoughts, feelings and political stances of your friends. If anyone who is my friend sees our relationship as an endorsement of my inherent sanctity or of the moral purity of my beliefs, you should unfriend me now because I will disappoint you. I am a sinner, and a struggling pilgrim on the way home–I will say and do many more stupid, sinful things before I reach my destination. But friendship is not based on us being judge, parent, or schoolmaster to our friends. Friendship is based on love and, at the end of the day, all love is unearned. It is a free gift, given in spite of the recipient’s weaknesses–otherwise, it is not love at all.

icon-friendship
“Icon of Friendship: Christ and Abbot Mena”

And finally, since so many of these “unfriend requests” come as the result of a political disagreement, it is worth noting that this action also misunderstands the way Christians are to be political. The Church is political. We believe in Incarnation, and that means our beliefs will take shape in this world. The Church has a responsibility to engage actively in the struggle for peace and justice. But the Church’s first and foremost responsibility is to be the Church, which means that it has to look like Jesus. Jesus’ priorities shape not only our political agendas, but how we are to pursue them. To quote John Howard Yoder (and Charles E. Moore’s recent reflection on him in Plough), we cannot “wield power and wealth ‘as instruments of coercion and pressure, obliging an adversary to yield unconvinced,’” but must instead “show what life is like when God is on the throne.” If we are forbidden to wield power and wealth coercively, how much less ought we use love and friendship in such a manner? Jesus would not have done so, and thus, neither should we.

Christ ate with sinners and, in fact, specifically sought them out. He told us to never judge our brothers and sisters while we still have logs in our own eyes, and to never throw stones while we ourselves stand sinful before him. He commanded us to love our enemies: modeled this for us, loving us unto death while we were still his enemies. Love, mercy, and friendship – even to those who don’t seem to deserve it. That is the Gospel. Even on Facebook, even in an election year.

About the Rabble Rouser:

Steven-CottamSteven Cottam serves as youth minister at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. He lives in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia, with his lovely wife, his adorable daughter and his very strange dog. He is an active member of Common Change, a group which seeks to gather and distribute tithe money in a relational and collaborative way. He has been friends with Sister Julia ever since they were students, coworkers, and cooking club members together at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. His interests and passions include Aikido, gardening, coffee, and becoming a Jedi Master.

Ugandan faith lesson #1: always room at the inn

Faith lessons from my Ugandan family

Editor’s note: This is the first blog post in the five-part series “Faith lessons from my Ugandan family” by Messy Jesus Business guest contributor/Rabble Rouser Nicole Steele Wooldridge about her experiences in Mbale, Uganda. Stay tuned throughout this week to experience the next four installments of Nicole’s faith lessons from Africa.

Nearly 10 years ago, my life and faith were transformed by the experience of volunteering in Mbale, Uganda. Though I only lived there for three months, each day burst at the seams with discoveries, challenges and delights, such that those three months occupy an enormous share of my life’s key memories.

A few weeks ago I returned to Uganda with my husband, finally following through on a long-repeated promise to visit my beloved host family. As we danced, laughed, and prayed with our Ugandan family, we were blessed and renewed by the African spirit, a spirit which—I am convinced—suffuses anyone who has the privilege of visiting that beautiful place.

I could probably write a book about the ways in which my Ugandan family has informed and challenged my own discipleship, but I have narrowed them down to five major faith lessons.

Faith lesson #1: always room at the inn

My host family’s house is a veritable revolving door of visitors and guests. Family, friends, friends-of-friends, co-workers, community partners and complete strangers show up unannounced throughout the day, oftentimes requiring a hearty meal and/or a place to sleep.

They are always, always welcomed with enthusiastic hospitality.

Nicole with Delight, host family's youngest sibling
Nicole with Delight, host family’s youngest sibling

Part of this, of course, is cultural: the people of Uganda are renowned across Sub-Saharan Africa for their incredible hospitality. Upon entering any home, you are sure to receive a vigorous greeting: “Oooooh, you are MOST welcome!” is followed by an exchange in which your host clasps your hands for the duration of your conversation. At first, I found this constant physical touch to be somewhat disconcerting, but I came to love the way it signified the full focus of the person with whom I was talking. In Uganda, I never felt like I was competing with a smart phone (and, yes, they do exist there!) for someone’s attention.

My host family, however, takes Ugandan hospitality to another level. Far beyond cultural expectations, they invite people into their home with relentless joy … and into their hearts with unquestioning love. They set a place for their guests at the table, and prepare for them a mattress complete with mosquito net; they invite their visitors into their evening prayer ritual, and thank God for their presence among them. They do this over and over again. Every. Single. Day.

I cannot imagine how exhausted I would be if people dropped in on me with even half the frequency they do to my Ugandan family … But that’s probably because I tend to fixate on frivolous things when I am playing hostess.

host family compound
host family compound

My Ugandan family does not fret over unwashed dishes or un-mopped floors; they do not panic if someone has to eat standing up; they do not offer superficial apologies for their cooking. Their guests are not seen or treated as an interruption to plans, because guests are always planned for. My host family takes seriously Saint Peter’s exhortation to “Be hospitable to one another without complaining.” (1 Peter 4:9) Indeed, they have created in their home a culture of hospitality in which hugging yet another visitor at the end of the day is never a burden, but rather a blessed opportunity to extend their family embrace that much wider.

host family neighborhood
host family neighborhood

For reflection: What could I do to foster an attitude of unbridled hospitality in my home and in my heart, such that every opportunity to invite someone in is welcomed as a blessing?

Author bio: Nicole Steele Wooldridge is a friend of Sister Julia’s who writes from the Seattle, Washington area. She is profoundly grateful to her Ugandan host family and friends for changing her life a decade ago and continuing to make her a better person today.

Wanyala ni inkugana naabi!

 

Loving and sassy

A fascinating thing happened this school year when I tried to teach my students to love their neighbors.

Kids can be so mean. I remember this from when I was in school.  As a teacher now, I see this reality right in front of me.  It’s awful.  At a Catholic Christian school it seems even  more disturbing, and as a religion teacher I feel a bit of responsibility for it.  I try to design curriculum that responds to my observations and helps my students to grow in Christ.

To help my students deal with people who are unkind, I planned a unit that focused on the teachings of Jesus.  I wanted them to learn how to be bold, brave, creative, peaceful, compassionate and kind–just like Jesus taught. My students memorized the Beatitudes and the great commandment. They realized that Jesus’ teachings are not fluffy or cozy, but really messy and difficult.

We also mulled a while on what Jesus REALLY meant when he said “love your enemies,” and “turn the other cheek.” Basically, we studied the Third Way of Jesus which is to creatively stand up for oneself and to honor the dignity of oppressors. To help the students understand I made a handout called Jesus’ non-violence explained.  Even though it’s really a simple concept, it’s extremely challenging to understand.

As I said, a fascinating thing happened when I tried to teach my students to love their neighbors.  I found myself telling my students that practicing Jesus’ methods of peacemaking–in that Third Way style–meant that we have to get downright loving and sassy.

A slogan emerged: Let’s get sassy for Jesus! We laughed about how it sounded like a country song. The former cheerleader in me wanted to make it into a chant: “Sassy for Jesus, yes we are!  I’m thanking the Holy Spirit for giving me a catchy way to teach the truth, because the students still remember it.

God’s got a great sense of humor, and humor is what true, loving, non-violence takes.  We can make light of persecution because, with the freedom that Christ gives, we are just as powerful as everyone else.  We see Jesus alive in all people, even those who are mean. We get to love them and remind them of their inherent dignity. It’s so good!

In the teenage world, this love and sass could come out when people make fun of our shirt or our shoes. For example, a creative, non-violent, Third Way practitioner might respond by saying “It shows how I feel about mean people. Isn’t it beautiful!?”

Recently I asked some of my students how the whole “loving your neighbor, loving your classmates” thing is coming along.  They groaned. “Sister, it’s so hard!”

Yes, loving our neighbors and being non-violent IS really hard. But wow, it’s so worth it. May God help us. Amen!

Photo credit: http://farm2.staticflickr.com/1315/532519876_b00d0c79e5_z.jpg

Oh, and you might enjoy this interesting take on some of this problem about kids being mean to each other:

the lesson of spring soil

"cracked through" Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“cracked through” Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
 
soil slides aside
allowing an emergence
flower seed breaks, becoming
resurrected over the reasons and chances
that it might not make it
or shouldn’t come
alive it rises, a new life
a new colorful character in the neighborhood
sustained by the power of the sun
Earth knows how to welcome the stranger
room is made, food provided
a warm loving home to the foreigner
yes to new life, yes to self-sharing
praise for Earth knowing and role modeling
it’s actually quite natural to boldly give
radical hospitality
A crowd prays at a detention center in Illinois, June 2012, blessing a bus as it brings immigrants to the airport to be deported. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
A crowd prays at a detention center in Illinois, June 2012, blessing a bus as it brings immigrants to the airport to be deported. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
A bus full of immigrants leaves a detention center in Illinois, June 2012, to bring people to the airport to be deported. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

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

around the world, being different

Several years ago I was very blessed to have the opportunity to do some traveling in South Africa.  I traveled in a way that was probably not atypical for other world travelers in their early 20s.  I met people who were interested in exploring the same places and seeing the same sites and then we would join together and share the expenses.

One day, for example, another American student and I rented a car with two other young women from the UK.  We drove from Cape Town to the Cape Point National Park and encountered some of the most strikingly beautiful scenery that I have ever seen in my life.

Cape Point
Cape Point

One of my most vivid memories from the day was a moment I had with one of these strangers from the UK.  We were walking down the path and sharing a bit about who we were.  She told me that she was a Christian, and I surprised myself by saying “I thought so! I could tell!” And she said “I can tell you are one too!” Together we marveled at how we could tell.  We realized we could only guess. Perhaps it was the presence of the Holy Spirit, perhaps it was our attitudes, perhaps we were who we hoped to be and we were greeting others with the warmth and unconditional love of Christ, perhaps we were radically counter-cultural like the Gospel compelled us to be.

What we also realized is that one of the other women who was traveling with us also proclaimed to be a Christian even though she wasn’t really much different from anybody else.  Her obsessions and attitudes didn’t demonstrate that she was in love with the Gospel and Jesus.  She didn’t seem to be living a counter-cultural life in any sort of way; she just seemed like a regular person. And, as far as recognizing another Christian by some sort of feeling, we weren’t really sure if she would get what we were talking about.  Certainly it wasn’t our job to judge her faith, but we were probably making that mistake.

Faith, after all, is a struggle for most people in our incredibly complex and secular world.

Not too long ago, as you probably know, I was blessed to have another international travel experience. At the World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain, I was crammed into crowds of literally a million young Christians from around the world.  These youth were much more attached to the specific Christian classification of Catholicism.  No matter the flavor of faith, though, for Christians we’re all rooted in the Love of Jesus and good news of the Gospel.  And, what happens in our hearts and prayer should compel us to act, look and live differently from what is common.

At the end of the World Youth Day experience, two million people gathered in a old airfield for an evening of prayer.  We hiked there in the boiling heat on Saturday, set up our camps, and tried to stay hydrated and cool (which seemed practically impossible, considering how hot it was).

When I went in search of water that afternoon, I had an interesting observation.  A million teens and young adults, no matter how they kneel in prayer or study the Catechism, are still a million teens and young adults.  The same temptations hover over good intentions as they would in any other huge crowd of young people.  Then, when people are thirsty and there are language barriers and other frustrations, a spirit of compassion, kindness and helpfulness may not be natural.  In fact, when things are really tough, people naturally look out for themselves, it seems.  In one situation, for example, I had to remind some teenagers to allow an elderly man to get a drink of water.

I realized I had to set aside my idealism for a bit and just pray that everyone would fall in love with Jesus and the Gospel and be the people God made them to be.  Is that what it takes for Christians to really be different?  Is that what it takes for kindness and concern for others to be our directive?

Despite heat-induced mistakes, the young people still blew me away.  Upon my return to the  United States I’ve been asked what my favorite part of the trip was.  After we survived heat, crushing crowds, and a fierce storm together we shared a moment of extreme reverence.  Imagine two-million people kneeling on the ground in silent adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and the power, energy, and awe vibrating into the earth. Imagine the peace that moved around the world because of that prayer.  Imagine the blessing! That was my favorite moment of the trip.

During that profound moment I learned a great lesson.  In addition to kindness and our counter-culturally living, praying makes us different, too.