With an armful of children’s books and DVD’s, I make my way through the glass library door. I feel awkward as I carry these items, as foreign to me as the rocks on Mars. I feel like I should explain that these books aren’t for my children, that I don’t have any.
I’ve been visiting this library for nearly a year, yet I only stepped into the kid’s section for the first time during this visit. I felt like an intruder, like I needed to explain myself, justify my presence there. I guess I felt a bit lost away from…
[This is the beginning of an essay I wrote for Off the Page. Continue reading here.]
Recently, I asked my students what comes to mind when they hear the phrase “Kingdom of God.” This (low-quality) photo summarizes the lively classroom discussion that occurred that day.
As I told my students, I intentionally recorded all their comments on the board in a very messy fashion because I want them to see that the Kingdom of God is not orderly and predictable. In fact, living in the Kingdom of God that Jesus established means that we are living in the midst of beautiful chaos.
Through the incarnation Christ empowered us build the Kingdom of God. And, if we’re doing the work of building the Kingdom of God, we’re people who are moving into the chaos, out of our comfort zones, and toward the margins of society.
The chaos, the messiness of building the Kingdom of God is the stuff of beautiful chaos. It is also the stuff of personal and social conversion. During this Lenten season, our actions of prayer, fasting and almsgiving challenge us to confront the uncomfortable corners in ourselves that are in need of God’s loving attention. As we let go of attachments and rearrange a bit of our living, an ugly seeming image of ourselves can emerge. We look at ourselves and see an inner chaos; we feel disturbed by truth. We need to grow, to be different, to convert more fully into who God made us to be.
I recently heard another Sister speak about how the chaos of a crisis gives us a chance to make a choice, frequently providing just the impetus we need to change. She connected these vital moments that invite our personal growth to the designs in God’s creation. When we study nature, she mentioned, we can recognize that the next evolutionary stage erupts when there is crisis and a need for change to occur.
I feel as if I am on this edge. The chaos of my weakness swirls about me, challenging me to make choices. I started Lent two weeks ago with a bit of my typical overambitious and idealistic intentions. And then I quickly started failing. Days would get busy and I would forget that about the extra tasks I wanted to do, like writing a card to someone I love each day. Now I am challenged to ask myself difficult questions, like why am unrealistic with myself? And, am I making enough time for others? I am challenged to move to more self-awareness and allowed to make another choice.
Each of us dance with questions and disturbances in the chaos of God’s Kingdom. We are allowed to make choices that allow for greater personal growth. We are invited to encounter the chaos that is the lives of others.
Then together–as a community–we change the structures, systems and inner oppression that don’t allow God’s Kingdom to fully come into the here and now. We forgive. We heal. We teach. We love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We love God with all that we are. Then, the peace, justice and love that is the Kingdom of God can be known in this time now.
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.
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
Obama always snags me. I try my best to avoid being sucked into his beautiful rhetoric, but he got me on Tuesday during the State of the Union. What captured me was his strong language about fairness. Over and over again he talked about fair practices in trade, fair taxes, and creating a world where “everyone gets a fair shot, and does their fair share.”
What is this gut reaction that “fairness” stirs in me? Philosopher John Rawls calls it rationally and self-interest in his system titled, “justice as fairness.” He believes if we all existed in a pretend state before we were born and didn’t know where we would end up, we would all create a world that was fair because we would fear being on the bottom. We would identify with the other and know that she could be us.
Another philosopher, Martha Nussbaum, names this feeling of fairness as our understanding that we are all humans who deserve better. She thinks we innately see the dignity in other humans and want them to have the basic necessities and the capacities to create a life that the person deems worth of living.
Are these philosophers’ ideas of mutuality, fear, and dignity what moves me when I hear Obama speak? Yes, I think that is part of it, but I think it also points to something much deeper. Obama touches upon my desire for salvation.
Talking of salvation, I turn to Jesus. He talked about fairness just as both of these philosophers do. He used the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to strike fear in us and point to how we are our “brother’s keeper.” Jesus also respected the dignity of everyone as children of God and worked to meet those bodily needs through feeding and healing.
But Jesus also called the poor, the downtrodden, those who mourn “blessed.” It wasn’t just about a “fair shake” or doing your “fair share.” They are not simply deserving, but blessed in a spiritual sense. God chooses an economic location for grace. Our longing for truth, love, and wholeness –that is, salvation–is mysteriously and indistinguishably tied to being with and working for those on the bottom.
Being with the outcast and creating a world of fairness and justice is not simply to fulfill a divine command then. It is an effort to labor with Jesus for the salvation of ourselves and the world. It is through being converted, embracing solidarity with the least, laboring for healing and justice, and painfully dying to self to find new life that we become Christ and begin to discover our true selves and meet our deepest desires.
Obama was preaching an American gospel of hard work and fairness for all Tuesday night. While as Christians, we must distinguish this gospel from the Good News of Jesus, we can be stirred when it echoes the Spirit. We do need to create a fairer world and structure government in that fashion, but not because we or others earn it. We work for this because all is a gift from God and in creating such a world, we find grace and the gift of salvation.
Jesus gave power to the people a long time ago. The power is still with the people today.
People are uniting and speaking out and rising up working for the type of justice Jesus taught us about- the justice of love. They’ve done this since the time of Jesus. Then and now the people use their power for the goodness of God. The poor, the disadvantaged and the overworked have declared their right for fair pay, for human rights, equality, and justice. This is good because the Kingdom of God is with the meek, the poor and the peaceful. Jesus said so himself.
Today there are people who live in excess. They stutter justifications for their diamond cuff-links while the makers of their jewels scrape by for survival. The poor must grow cash crops such as tobacco, cotton and corn then sell these things to the rich. Or worse, they are forced to sell their landor sacrifice their clean water and air at unfair prices. The poor can’t grow their own food to simply live so then they starve to death. Meanwhile, in some countries people are getting bigger and bigger and more and more food is wasted–simply tossed away.
Has capitalism become another type of feudalism?
We’ve seen power and control mess things up for a long while now. Jesus knew all about it, so he turned things all around. Jesus tried to warn the privileged that he wasn’t going to trust them with building the Kingdom anymore as they were doing a pretty horrible job. Today, we still seem to be clueless about what this means.
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people:
“Hear another parable.
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard,
put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.
Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.
When vintage time drew near,
he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.
But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat,
another they killed, and a third they stoned.
Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones,
but they treated them in the same way.
Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking,
‘They will respect my son.’
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another,
‘This is the heir.
Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’
They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”
They answered him,
“He will put those wretched men to a wretched death
and lease his vineyard to other tenants
who will give him the produce at the proper times.”
Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes?
Therefore, I say to you,
the kingdom of God will be taken away from you
and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”
It seems like an awful parable that could leave any person feeling confused and discouraged- like it did me. Why would our great teacher of non-violence use so many images of violence to teach a point? What is the point?
We must pay attention to whom Jesus is speaking to really get the warning. He’s talking to the people of privilege- the people who think that they have some sort of divine right to control the poor, the dogma, the systems and the economics. It seems to me that we are being told that violence , wealth and privilege aren’t the answers.
The answers live with the rejected. The power is burning in the hearts of the powerless, in their peaceful revolutions and their voices that are united for change. The answers are in the quiet fields where the poor labor for freedom.
The Kingdom of God is here now and not yet. Power has been redefined. The people of poverty experience redemption as they reject the systems that have rejected them. The poor are creating the peace that Jesus teaches about when they do acts of mercy and refuse the acts of war. The rejected are powerful with they show God’s “kingdom come” and “will be done” as they love and serve one another.
I am not really sure where I fit in it all. I commit the sin of over-consumption and mindless cooperation with corrupt systems. I feel powerless, yet overwhelmed and sick from my privilege. I justify purchases of unnecessary and over-packaged treats because I hear the news radio preach about “consumer confidence” as the way out of economic dysfunction. I pray for the kingdom of God, yet I keep looking in the wrong places for the answers to the questions that drive me.
I have a suspicion that if I truly heeded the words of Jesus and looked for the kingdom of God with the peaceful people of poverty, I would find myself poor and powerful. I would probably find myself in the arms of our good, loving God.
But we can wonder, and we do. Wondering about what God is doing makes me feel like I am the size of an ant in an expansive universe. Actually, I am, in a way.
Somehow, though, I am part of it all.
Paradigms of planet, church, religion and humanity are shifting all around us. Sometimes, these shifts are gradual and gentle, like water flowing silently downstream Other times, though, the societal changes are so bold we almost feel damaged. We collapse on crosswalks and sprint down the streets of tomorrow while the statues of our ancestors laugh at our blindness. Can we see the beauty that surrounds us today?
But, it’s hard to know beauty when there is a lot of clutter. As we listen to the news and hold it up to what we’re working for, we quickly become discouraged. The mess is confusing and we’re worried. What’s happening to our democracy? What’s going on in Christianity? Passions and power quake the church and government and we wonder what to have faith in.
Could it be ourselves? Or shall we, can we, have faith in God?
A week ago I was a participant in a wonderfully strange conference. Giving Voice, a national organization for young women religious, sponsored an inter-generational conference in Chicago to discuss what is happening in this life of ours, religious life. We came with a sense that God is up to something new and different. Together we wondered what that was. The wondering was strange because we were talking about something that we didn’t know.
In Madeleine L’Engle‘s book A Wrinkle in Time, Mrs. Whatsit sighs and tries to answer the questions of children. “Explanations are not easy when they are about things for which your civilization still has no words.” I desire to explain what I’ve experienced and sensed, but what is emerging seems to be beyond anything we have ever known.
I know it though, God is up to something. Paradigms are shifting; the world is changing right under our feet. When the earth moves, it can feel dangerous. We don’t know what will break around us. We grip to reactions based in fear and power and doubt survival. We crash and forget what we most need to move on: eachother. As tumultuous as all the crashing and changing may feel, we can trust God and have hope. God is in control and shifts can be good.
At the “young nun” conference we sought to contemplate the goodness that vibrates through the groans. The process was deep and profound. We listened, prayed, shared, played, questioned, connected and organized. We learned too. We were blessed to be with Sandra Schneiders, who is a great historian and theologian. She’s pretty much the expert on religious life and what is has been, is, and could be. In other words, Schneiders is a woman who can speak quite well about how God has worked with people throughout time.
We pondered what it means to be religious women in this time of unknowing. We leaned in, all 150 women religious seemingly stuck in 2011. We felt connected to the deep roots of our ancient tradition and movements toward the future. In these moments, I pondered how our human minds limit understanding what time really is. Science agrees with what my spirit senses, too. Time, as we know it, is an illusion.
So, we’re a part of this illusive time and God needs us to work. Schneiders’ analysis of this Kairos was based in her insights that the signs of these times are globalization, secularization, pluralization, and de-traditionalization. We are called to respond to what’s going on and how it impacts spirituality, politics, service and poverty. As I listened, I felt relieved, actually. We can commune in the struggles together.
Through it all I kept wondering. What are we supposed to do? If the needs of this time are so great- and they are- then how are we supposed to be present? What actions do we need to take to birth a new paradigm and way of being?
As we ponder the power of Now, we get to listen to the whispers of the Spirit who always compels us to grow and change. At the end of the conference, consciousness brought forth the art of poetry. We peacefully walked through the shift and blessed the words of wonder. There was silence as we gazed at what the time had emerged.
In art there are answers. We need not worry about how to bring forth a new paradigm, after all. We can just focus on living the reign of God. After we do this for some time, then we’ll be able to look around and be awed that God has used us to help create something new. Thanks be to God!
I watched The Social Network last night, mainly because I was curious. Similarly, I joined Facebook five years ago, shortly after it started and around the same time that I entered my community, because I was curious. Curiosity is usually what causes me to conform, even if I have mixed feelings or I am not really sure how an action may fit with my Christian living.
The story of the creation of Facebook is very real: it’s friendships, energy, ideas and passions spiraling around young, talented people in a legalistic, money-driven era. The true story felt like a visual time-capsule to me, like something that historians and psychologists will be able to study in 50 years when they are trying to make sense of why humans relate as we will then.
The film reminded me that it’s true that organic, creative projects change the world and humanity forever. This fact echoes my understanding of the Gospel- the call to build the Kingdom that gives me great joy. In collaborative communities we create change and help people connect more deeply, and it’s really powerful and good. Plus, the story got me thinking about how relationships can be twisted collisions of trust and distrust, hope, love, faith, confusion and betrayal. Is that a tragedy? I am not sure. This reality seems to fit with the story of Jesus, too.
Nonetheless, I am disturbed. I have found it fascinating- and frustrating- to participate in the evolution of human relating and communication during the past five years, since Facebook (and now Twitter, etc.) have become as common as eating. (At least for the 8 percent of us on earth who actually have internet connection, I suppose.)
Lately I have tried to be more conscientious about how much I use Facebook, mention Facebook in conversations and hear others talk about Facebook each day. Naturally then, I was amused at mass this morning when the priest told a story about how he reconnected with an old friend through the internet and Facebook.
I suspect many of us have had similar experiences. I imagine that a lot of us have found Facebook a helpful tool in fostering relationships and reconnecting with friends. I have, and it is very exciting. I appreciate being able to read headlines and see pictures of babies, weddings and ordinary life stuff of people I know with as much ease as reading a newspaper. This is good, I think, because I believe that relationships are the meaning of life. We grow in union through communication and communion, through all of our relating to each other. In addition, the technology permits a different type of Gospel witness, and this is good.
Nonetheless, I have questions and concerns. I heard a story about a friend-of-a-friend who learned about the sudden death of her aunt through a Facebook post recently. I know of other tragic- and joyous- momentous news that has been shared through family and friends exclusively through technology. I doubt that this is good for our souls and spirits. When things are deep and meaningful, it doesn’t seem healthy to relate with each other without the raw mess of human emotion, inflection and reflection.
Does it hurt us when we learn about big things in our close friends’ lives at the same time as their other 650 Facebook friends/acquaintances? Why does it suddenly seem so hard to relate to each other in real, old-fashioned types of ways, like through visits, phone-calls and hand-written letters as we live and love? Have we lost our human touch?
Certainly, our society has been drastically changed by Facebook technology. Likewise, the way we relate and communicate has radically shifted.
Is this God’s will for us? Is this what Jesus intended when we were commissioned to build the kingdom? How does our modern technological communication impact our souls, our freedom, our prayer and our ability to relate to each other as God designed us?
On this Feast of the Holy Trinity, we are blessed with renewed focus on God who is perfect relationship and who is Love and Truth. In the Trinity we know a love so self-giving and constant that the union changes all creation. We learn how to Love if we listen in prayer to how God the Parent, God Incarnate and the Holy Spirit relate together as three-in-one.
How did God design us to relate to each other? Since we’re made in God’s image, I believe it’s just like the Trinity. Let’s love, give, share, care, hold, touch, heal, help, communicate, commune and just be together in the real, raw mess of relational love.
Let’s love each other, in the boundless, eternal non-technological, human ways. The Bible tells us so:
Brothers and sisters, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the holy ones greet you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. – 2 Cor 13:11-13
Jesus is King, the scriptures say. We celebrated this at church last Sunday because it was the Feast of Christ the King. As I prayed and contemplated, I wondered if the feast day matters more to the Christians who live in modern monarchies than me, an American who only knows about human kings from what I have learned on TV and studying history.
To be clear, I do think of Jesus as King, but that’s only because I am focused on the “Thy Kingdom Come” stuff. Mostly, though, Jesus is my friend, teacher, guide, and main love. I sure do try to let him rule over my life and heart too, though, and I totally hope and believe that Jesus is ruling over the world in a very involved and intimate way.
I am also aware of how calling Jesus King, or anything of the like, is not comfortable for some Christians.
While I was in college and discerning religious life I visited many religious communities and had a lot of interesting conversations. I remember how when I slept in a convent for the first time it felt like such a big deal, like high school prom had. At another convent, I remember the sisters challenging me- somewhat sternly- about how I talked about God. I didn’t call God “God” very much at that point, but instead I said “Lord.” I remember one of the elder sisters saying with sharpness, “Please don’t call God ‘Lord.’ If God is a Lord, then I’d have to be serf, and that’s not a God I want to worship!”
Similarly, since entering this religious lifestyle I have learned that many Christians are offended by any language that calls God “king.” Also, I understand that many Christians would prefer to say “reign of God” instead of “kingdom of God.” I get it. It can turn some of us off from loving God if we associate him with oppressive experiences. Also, I know we need to broaden our images of God, and to only think of God as male or King can be limiting. We need to know the infinite amount of names and not get stuck on one. As I once heard the great late, Sister Barbara Bowe, RSCJ state, “we need to multiply our metaphors!”
But, if the Bible talks about Jesus as King, and Jesus talks about his Kingdom it seems like it’s okay to use that language. Admittedly, I am not a Bible scholar, or even a theologian, so I am not an authority on this. I do know, however, that language helps to frame the way I serve and live.
My students and I have been discussing what the Kingdom of God means. For many of them, it’s heaven. For me, it’s what we’re working for now. Both are true, but I know I am more oriented toward the latter.
When it comes to the vision, I am guided by the preachings of Jesus. Also, I recently realized that my vision of God’s kingdom- and my understanding of monarchies in general- is greatly influenced by my favorite film, Ever After.
I realized that the film- and the Cinderella story in general- have always been my favorite because its a story of social justice. It’s a story of an oppressed woman using her brilliance, beauty and brains to rise up and unite with a powerful man. She challenges and humbles the prince. She sharply quotes Utopiaand enlightens royalty about the plight of the poor. Although there is conflict and tension eventually the prince is converted and decides to use his wealth and power to set people free.
It’s even better with Jesus. We don’t have to tell him what the poor are going through. We don’t have to enlighten or challenge. In fact, with Christ the King, it’s the other way around. Jesus uses the Kingdom language as as political challenge for the oppressive Kingdoms and social systems of his time, and our time too. Jesus enlightens us and challenges us, because he is with the poor. Jesus is the poor King of Kings and he gets social justice better than anyone.