I have been praying to St. Joe, the earthly father of Jesus, a lot lately.
I call him St. Joeinstead of St. Josephbecause shortening his name makes him more real to me, like a friend. When I pray to saints it is helpful for me to behave like we are in relationship; change occurs on a relational level.
I am a single, 27-year-old female who is not trying to sell a home or become a carpenter. Although I have little in common with St. Joe, we have been having a lot of chats.
I am a nanny by trade and the majority of my week is spent loving and taking care of other people’s children. I educate, wash the clothes and change the diapers of little ones.
St. Joe is my friend through all of this labor because, when it comes to loving the children of others, I am pretty sure there is no one better to model my heart after. I am often tired and drained in this work. The words I say seem to bounce right off the back of the energetic four-year old. Frustrated again and again, I turn to St. Joe:
“Please help me to love this child like you love Jesus.
Help me to not get caught up in the frustrations of the day-to-day.”
This simple prayer calms and encourages me to think more deeply about the dynamics of the Holy Family. I find myself wondering, just as I do about myself, if St. Joseph knew how difficult raising a child would be, if he ever doubted that what he was doing mattered and if the love he provided was enough.
While teaching children as a nanny, I am learning too. It shows me that loving people is messy and imperfect, that God gives us the saints to encourage us and to help us strive for holiness. They are given as gifts because God loves us so infinitely and provides examples of people just like us who have become saints. Similarly, as I explore and deepen my faith Jesus’ lessons on loving children, especially as a non-biological parent like St. Joe, inspire me.
And the more I talk to St. Joe about caring for children not our own, I realize we have even more in common. I am loved very deeply by a stepparent. As I look at the role St. Joseph plays in the life of Jesus and the role my own stepmom plays in mine, I realize that by taking on the responsibilities of loving another’s child we open our hearts to being conductors of the spiritual works of mercy. We embrace all seven of them: counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant, admonishing the sinner, comforting the sorrowful, forgiving injuries, bearing wrongs patiently and praying for the living and the dead.
I know that, throughout her marriage to my dad, my stepmom has and continues to do all of this for me and my brothers. I suspect that St. Joe would have also practiced these works of mercy with Jesus. I imagine that there were times when St. Joe prayed to be better at these things, just like I do.
So what do I, a single 27-year-old non-homeowner and non-carpenter have in common? Love. Lots and lots of love by the will of God, mercy. I know I need it, and I know I can grow by practicing it.
Thanks for the example, St. Joe.
ABOUT THE RABBLE ROUSER
Alicia Grumley has been a friend of Sister Julia’s since they met at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They remain connected as members of an online writing group. Alicia’s writing can be found online at OwnYourOxygen.wordpress.com (which is her self-care advocacy site) and AliciasAlleluia.wordpress.com (where she delves into aspects of the Catholic faith that interest her) You can also find her work at Sick Pilgrim.
A few weeks ago, President Trump announced the winners of the Fake News Awards. His pattern of discrediting journalism and attacking the freedom of the press is a fascinating sign of the times we are in; an opportunity for us to imitate Christ and share mercy and Truth.
But, what if we aren’t really sure what’s True? How do we know what’s Fake News? What if we’re completely dizzy with confusion about who to believe, about who’s right?
My observations of American society in the past of couple years has convinced me that it doesn’t make a difference where one sits on the political spectrum or how educated one is — all of us can fall victim to the lures of propaganda and become unsure what is actually True.
Yet, Scripture tells us, over and over, that we are called to know, love and promote the Truth.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every wayinto him who is the head, into Christ. – Ephesians 4:15
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. –1 Corinthians 13:4-6
Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. – John 14:6
Plus, for those of us who are Catholic, we understand that perusing and promoting the Truth is a core component to how we live the Gospel and live as disciples.
The eighth commandment forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others. This moral prescription flows from the vocation of the holy people to bear witness to their God who is the truth and wills the truth. Offenses against the truth express by word or deed a refusal to commit oneself to moral uprightness: they are fundamental infidelities to God and, in this sense, they undermine the foundations of the covenant.– Catechism of the Catholic Church #2464
It is by loving that the God-who-is-Love is proclaimed to the world: not by the power of convincing, never by imposing the truth, no less by growing fixated on some religious or moral obligation. – Pope Francis
So, how are we to navigate through this murky era, when the truth is so often watered down or warped to fit particular views?
What I offer here are some tips developed from my study of history, propaganda, media and politics. (Being a history major in college really has served me well!) Last summer, I shared many of these tips and resources to a group at my place of ministry and heard that they were very helpful; I have been meaning to share them with you, Messy Jesus Business readers, ever since. The day has finally come!
First, one of the confusing parts of this time is that many phrases and words are being tossed around, and a lot of people don’t really know what the terms mean. Let’s start with a glossary.
Absolute Truth = Facts which exist without being dependent upon anything else, such as one’s perspective or opinions.
Alternative Facts = Un-factual information, false information.
Bias = Prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.
Confirmation Bias = The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.
Fake News = Propaganda or false information published under the guise of being authentic news.
Objective Truth = Not influenced by or based on personal feelings or opinions.
Post Truth = Debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion, which are disconnected from facts.
News = Factual journalism regarding events
News Analysis = Opinion and commentary on the news.
Satire = The use of humor, irony, exaggeration or ridicule to expose or criticize.
Subjective Truth = Based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK, DEVELOP YOUR SKILLS
I am growing increasingly convinced that anyone who consumes information in this modern world has a civil duty to develop their skills and critical reading eye. For example, I like how On The Media suggests we spot Fake News.
Similarly, it is crucial that readers can recognize bias and are aware what type of slant sources are likely to make. I find this chart quite accurate and helpful.
CONVERSE WITH COMPASSIONATE CURIOSITY IN PURSUIT OF THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH
Look back at the definitions of Absolute Truth, Objective Truth and Subjective Truth. In our post-modern world, there is a common temptation to let the opinions and beliefs held by another be “their truth” while one maintains “my own truth.” When I hear that folks say things like “believe what you want, I know what I believe” I get frustrated and wonder why we dismiss one another, why we don’t believe that others can help expand our thinking, perspective. Only through community and in relationship can we gain a more complete picture of the objective truth, what we all are here seeking to understand.
Have mercy on me for my terrible clip art, but here’s an image that shows the different types of truth.
In order to know what is absolutely true, we need to have compassionate curiosity about how others see things; none of us, from our finite human experience, can ever see the whole picture, the entire truth. (The truth that God knows, the Truth that is God. ) Grounded in prayer, we can ask questions without being defensive, without aiming to convince others why our perspective is better.
There are several guides and resources available that can help us develop our dialogue and communication skills. I am especially a big fan of what the folks at On Being are offering with their Civil Conversations Project. The Circle Way is another approach that I have found quite helpful.
LISTEN AND LOVE
Certainly, in order to be an effective communicator, it is important to honor the dignity of every person, to lovingly listen to them in a way that honors that they are made in God’s image. Conversation and listening — when it comes to pursuing the Truth — ought to be an act of prayer. We open up our heads and hearts and remain detached. We allow ourselves to be converted, realizing that the Spirit is always calling us into greater growth and intimacy.
One way to think about it is to consider what is important for good listening. The Chinese character that means “to listen” is made up of smaller characters that reveal what is needed to be a good, active listener. Aren’t these the same elements needed to be attentive in prayer, to be in a loving relationship?
Overall, Christians, we are called to be discerners, to have the humility to remain open to being wrong and learning from God and others. Only with the guidance of the Spirit and the grace of God can we come to know what is True and worthy of our promotion and experience how the Truth can truly set us free!
You will know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free. – John 8:32
Over eight years ago, I had a conversation about table manners that continues to challenge me.
At the time I was a canonical novice and fairly new to religious life. During that stage of formation, I was trying to make sense of what it meant to be a Catholic sister and sort through my ideals. I was in a period of serious discernment about whether this religious lifestyle would satisfy my deepest desires, to take a vow of poverty and to serve the poor.
Then, in a somewhat ordinary conversation about table manners, I learned one of my most important lessons about what it means to be sister. The sister was outlining her expectations for mealtimes. As she did, she casually mentioned her conviction that…
If you’re anything like most humans, even if you’re talented at something and called to do it for the good of the world, you were unlikely immediately amazing at it.
This is true for our faith life too. Following Jesus is, in a way, like a craft. And this video reflection reminded me of that:
As far as discipleship goes, I am so far from being an expert. I am even further from mastery and perfection.
That’s why many of us who are religious speak about our prayer “practice” or ministry “practice” and so on. We realize we won’t start off with an expert status, and even a lifetime of this work will not perfect us. We have to persevere and remember that we really are a work in progress.
I am just finishing an online class about the theology and practice of ministry. The class has helped me feel assured that I am OK at the ministry of teaching after all. What makes me OK at it, apparently, is that I am open to learning and growing, can communicate well, and am somewhat knowledgeable. According to this book that we read in the class, those are the main charisms (gifts from the Holy Spirit) needed for teaching. This gives me hope!
I used to feel really insecure about how I lived my faith and how I ministered. I often felt like I would fall short, and I still frequently do. I know that I could always do better.
Recently my students were working on their contributions to the city-wide Compassion Project. During our discussion about the components of compassion, I was reminded of something I need to keep in mind: I must be patient with myself as well as with others. We really do learn as we go, don’t we? This is one of the reason forgiveness is such an important part of our Christian life. Certainly our main motive guides us: we want to love as God loves.
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6
Yes, I am learning. I think I get it now. I must be patient with myself and keep persevering. For I am in God hands. Evidently, in order to becoming the loving woman who God made me to be, it will take a while and this is quite OK. I just hope I can remember this most of the time. Even if I forget, the good news is that with God I’ll have some more chances to try again!
Writing this essay and going through the process of getting it published has been an adventure many years in the making.
As one who had childhood dreams of becoming a writer — but had at one point given up on my dreams — I am totally thrilled. I am in awe. And, I am very, very thankful.
This accomplishment is not my own, it is not success because of my own doing. Rather, this an achievement of an entire community.
In last week’s blog post I said I was going to share a bit about the adventures in writing I’ve had within the past year.
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 was the fruit 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. First of all, my sporadic habit of blogging on continues here at Messy Jesus Business.
In the past year, Invitations to write for other publications starting coming too, including one by the Franciscan Spirituality Center Blog for which I once wrote about “Christmas Every Day.” I was really excited to learn that I had earned a scholarship to a writers workshop that I was blessed to attend the last week of July and first few days of August.
Plus, my community invited me to try something really creative: be a Poetry Catcher at our assembly in June. I had the task of mirroring back my observations to the 300 or so sisters and affiliates there through poetry. At one point I was asked to write a poem WHILE I listened and then immediately perform the poem for the crowd. I was in awe right with everyone else by what came out of me.
That’s often how I feel about the creative work of writing: amazed by the gift God gives. The gifts related to the work of writing have been abundant this year. At the writers workshop I was incredibly enriched by new relationships and encouragement from other Christian artists, insights about how to grow as a poet and writer, and lessons on poetry and the creative life in general. In addition to the essay in America magazine this week, I also had a poem published in an online literary journal within the past month.
Like I said, my accomplishments and success are not my own. Certainly none of this exciting success would have come without the encouragement, help and support of great editors, my Franciscan sisters, and many other friends— all of who are deserving of a big shout-out and THANKS!
But, most importantly, I am very certain I would have never become a writer and a poet without my relationships with my Franciscan sisters.
Even though I dreamed of being a writer and a teacher when I was a child, I quickly gave up on my dream of becoming a writer because I did not have much confidence. In school, I was pretty much an average student — especially in English class, where I came to realize I had a lower vocabulary than most and grammar rules confused me. Although I had excellent English teachers, none of them ever gave me any extra encouragement so I gave up on my dream of being a writer before I even started college.
God is a God of surprises and abundant blessings. And, many of those blessings come through community.
Within a couple of years of entering my community, several of the sisters I was growing close to were getting to know that I enjoyed writing poetry and prose. So then, when an opportunity to write for a blog came my way, sisters encouraged me to take it.
Then, over 3 years ago a Sister encouraged me to start a whole other blog. I prayed a lot about it, and that’s how Messy Jesus Business was born. This is a risk I would have never taken without the help and support of community. Likewise, the blog wouldn’t continue to have a vibrant life without the readership and follower-ship from all of you. Thank you!!
Similarly, sisters encouraged me in my poetry too. I was stunned when I started to hear from some of them that I had talent. As invitations to share my poetry started coming from sisters, I grew more overwhelmed by the praise I would receive, especially when I felt so clueless about the craft.
Only within the past year have I gained an acceptance of the gift, due to the blessings coming from my community. Because of my sisters, I am willing to say I am a poet and a writer now. And, I feel like many of my other dreams related to writing are possible. Maybe I’ll actually get to write books one day!
I shed tears when I think of it: I am who I am today because of how I have been made by many. My community has empowered me and enlivened me and helped me be a steward to the gifts God has given. I am officially a published writer now, by the blessing of my community. God is so good, and I am thankful!
On September 29th, my wife and I will celebrate our first wedding anniversary. In honor of that occasion, I’ve prepared some reflections: what I’ve learned within the sacrament of matrimony. To be fair, it’s quite possible I’ve learned nothing. A year ago I was pretty sure I had the whole thing figured out but now … I’m not so sure. However, it’s possible—just possible—that my horizons have broadened a bit and these reflections represent the most important ponderings of that broadening. I hope you find them edifying.
1) Reconciliation and forgiveness are paramount
When I was single and preparing for marriage, I thought too many people emphasized the importance of forgiveness. I thought, “In a lot of marriages I’ve seen, this emphasis on forgiveness is just an excuse to be hurtful or careless–I’m not going to be mean to my wife. I’m going to work to serve her well so I won’t have to apologize very often. What a perfect plan!
I still do believe that all too often, we use the principle of forgiveness as an excuse to take our closest loved ones for granted. We know they have to forgive us because we’re family after all! However, I didn’t account for how often I’d end up unintentionally wounding my wife. Sometimes, I’m just a little careless or thoughtless: not mean, just not careful enough. Sometimes, we just miscommunicate. Sometimes, I think I’m doing something really great and it comes off all wrong. Simply by sharing a life with someone, we are bound to hurt them. We bump into each other in all sorts of ways. For that reason, we need to be quick to forgive and intentionally verbalize that forgiveness. Even if we’re careful to never commit mortal sins against the relationship, venial sins are inevitable. They add up if you ignore them; they need to be dragged into the light and healed.
2) What “love is a gift” really means
When I was preparing for marriage, everyone kept telling me that it’s a sacrament: our love for one another is a sign and manifestation of God’s love for us. Well yeah … of course! Every Catholic third grader knows that! Looking back, my understanding of what that meant was pretty juvenile. I thought “God loves me and because of that he gives me good gifts.” My wife is a good gift and thus a sign of his love for me. In this particular theology, my wife is like a really nice birthday gift from God; like a cool new video game. Thanks Big Guy, you always know just what to get me!
That’s pretty shallow though. Looking back, I didn’t realize even partially how my wife’s love would be a conduit for and expression of God’s love. Most importantly, she loves me even when I’m not particularly lovable. Since my wife hangs around me so much, she sees a lot of what I do that others don’t. Like in the car when someone cuts me off and I curse. Or when I receive an email asking for help with a service or ministry I don’t feel like doing and I groan and whine and complain. She’s seen me after I’ve had too much beer and (what’s worse) too much coffee. Or too much stress. And the thing is, she doesn’t stop loving me. She loves me in spite of the fact that I do bad things (like, all the time). She knows I’m a sinner and she loves me anyway. Just like God. And I’m not being trite here: if you reflect on this, it’s amazing. Having someone love you when your hair is slicked back and you’re in a tuxedo at the foot of the altar (and I look really good in a tux, after all) isn’t worth a second thought . Having someone love you when you’re cursing or nursing a hangover is something else entirely. It’s grace and it’s a gift; not because it’s something you want (although it’s that too) but because it’s unearned and it’s freely given.
3) I finally understand St. James (a little)!
Catholics are notorious among our Protestant brethren for being bad at grappling with the whole faith and good works thing. I’m especially bad at it. I believe in faith, of course, but when I read St. James’ “Faith without good works is dead,” I know what part of that verse I’m underlining in my head. You need good works!
However, I’ve noticed that when I’m with my wife, I often do good things for no other reason than I love her. For example, in any place I’ve lived, I’ve always done my fair share of the dishes. If you asked me why, I’d say “Fair is fair.” I do my share because it’s right to do your duty. However, with my wife, I often find myself doing them just because I don’t want to make her do them. I do the dishes when it’s not even my turn! I find myself wanting to avoid looking at other women, not out of abstract devotion to chastity (good in its way) but because it would hurt me to hurt her. This is how we are called to live out our relationship to God. We follow his good laws not because they are “the laws” but because our love of our neighbor and God compels us to do so. We don’t want to hurt those valuable relationships. It’s not good works or faith; it’s good works because of faith, because of hope, because of love. Being married has taught me more about the connection between faith and good works, between love and the law, in one year than a whole lifetime of study.
You can perhaps see these things don’t apply only to the married; while I have learned them from marriage, I imagine that any faithful life of discipleship might impart the same lessons. And in that vein, what I’ve learned the most is that I’m blessed beyond measure.
To my wife, when she reads this, I love you! I can’t wait to see what I learn from you next year!
A vivid memory has been speaking to me all summer: a sunny spring day, as the fourth period of the school day began, a few excited ninth-grade boys came to class eager to ask a question. Their energy was animated and slightly nervous (“You ask her.” “No you ask her!”) for I believe they knew, at a great depth, they were considering something powerful. Then the question came forth–maybe the greatest question I have ever been asked:
“What if when we imagine things it gives God the ability to create things?”
I was stunned. I said “WOW!” What else could I say?
I loved the idea of God needing us so much that he is practically dependent on us to help create the universe of his dreams; it is empowering to consider that God’s love can only be fully manifested if we say “yes.”
Participation and relationship is natural activity and genuine Gospel living, of course. Certainly, building the kingdom of God is work of service, prayer, community, activism, and solidarity. Good Christian activism, in particular, is a loving labor of creative problem solving so yes, I knew that God needed us and has hope for our lifelong to-do lists. Even so, this is what happened in my journal a few days later:
“What if when we imagine things it gives God the ability to create things?”
Yes, “What if!” What if God needs us so much to dream up new realities in order for them to exist?
It’s expansive stuff, really: the new realities we must imagine might be in an evolutionary metaphysical dimension, or they could be about coming up with new ways of being Church, sharing our abundance, and showing forth the Gospel goodness–ultimately revealing the solid strength of peace and justice. Christ totally has a way “of making all things new,” maybe even those things that we think are going just great.
It takes more than dreaming though. Gospel living is really about letting go and allowing God to work through us. When we let go we could end up in a place of awe, of just being free to step back and see how God wants to show up and be seen.
Amazing artists certainly seem to experience this.
Throughout the summer, I have been on a bit of a creative journey and have been learning a lot. Presently, I am very blessed to be here on a scholarship and have my first-ever experience of a writer’s workshop. I’m amazed as I listen in to other faith-filled artists disclose their process and experience. I am overwhelmed with gratitude and awe that I get to learn and be encouraged by some of the most brilliant creators I have ever met.
As I listen, I notice that each artist seems repeat a truth: it is necessary to submit to an energy outside of ourselves (God!). It may be called “letting the poem say what it wants” or “seeing what’s behind what you’re saying,” whatever it is, it’s an act of trust and trial. Basically, as we create, we must let go of judgement, be vulnerable, take wild risks and let God take us where we’d rather not go. It’s discipleship– following Jesus’ way of humility and self-emptying. Otherwise, we become journalists and not artists and end up recording what we see and not what God is trying to say.
God has a lot of truth to tell, has a lot of love to show off. Is this why God calls us and creativity compels us? What if God needs us, desperately, just as we need God for our basic existence?
“What if when we imagine things it gives God the ability to create things?”
Back in my classroom, after I said “WOW!” to the great question my students, in their 9th grade boy sort of way, then said, “I know, right Sister?! Like, what if since we can imagine a planet ruled by aliens and robots, then now God will make it?”
Ha! OK, well, that’s not really where I went with the question. Still, I just said “Wow!” with a wide smile. I felt relief that my response of wonder seemed to satisfy their young seeking souls.
How wonderful it is that youth are so great at speaking the truth without knowing it!
How wonderful God is for loving, trusting, and needing each of us, even if we don’t know it!
Living by the Spirit that is Truth is not comfortable. We can feel crammed into corners, we have to give up control, we have to trust others. Sometimes we are exhausted but still have to keep pushing ourselves. Our bodies can hurt, but we still have to carry heavy loads and keep moving onward. When we’re dedicated to God’s Truth-seeking missions, however, it’s all worth it.
The service trip that my students took to Iowa during Holy Week ended on Good Friday. The meaning of the day hummed in the background of our spirited movement.
Day Five: Crossing Over
We have to say goodbye and head down the road. First, some of the people who helped us have an incredible experience come to say goodbye and see us off.
Just like it was for Jesus on his way to the cross, our journey back to Chicago is full of surprise stops. Before we get too far away from Gunder, we get to see one more farm.
Farmer Amanda raises chickens, ducks and turkeys and sells the eggs and meat. We are surprised to learn that some of the eggs we ate earlier in the week were actually duck eggs. And, we enjoy learning how it works to farm poultry and playing with the animals. Plus, she had a sheep on her farm, so it was fun to get to meet him too! To me, it seemed like the perfect farm to visit to kick-off Easter weekend.
We say more goodbyes and thank you’s and we continue on down the road. After a while, we arrive at the Field of Dreams near Dyersville for a visit and a little baseball.
Some of the students are part of our school’s top-rated baseball team, so it was a special thrill for them to see the site.
In the car we pray the stations of the cross together. We had intended to stop and pray them but we would have arrived in Chicago too late. That’s one of things about seeking the Truth and following Jesus as we cross over boundaries: we must remain flexible and willing to make-do with the time and resources provided. The good news is that we can still experience God’s mystery everywhere we go!
We stop again in Dubuque and near Rockford to eat and take a break before we finally arrive back at the school around 6 p.m. It’s Good Friday. Like Jesus was when he went to the cross, we’re weary, tired and overwhelmed. We have experienced and learned a lot in a brief amount of time. We have tried to learn the Truth and relate over boundaries. Our reunions with our families are joyous, but our new service-trip family says goodbye to each other with new appreciation and awareness.
After Easter weekend and spring break are over and school is back in session, the students gather in my classroom for a final meeting. I show them this movie:
And, I ask them what they learned about the Truth during the trip. I hear:
People are good and people are people no matter where they are and what they do.
I love Iowa and I want to go back.
Even though people are different than us, they really care about us.
I also ask the students how the experience changed them and helped them grow. I hear:
I learned service is fun and it’s really nice to help people.
I learned how to communicate better with my family and other people, and the importance of good communication.
I learned to be more grateful for what I have.
I learned to keep an open mind about people and places that are different than what I know.
Indeed, when we enter into adventures with the Spirit we learn the importance of opening our minds. With open minds the Spirit shows us Truth, we get to cross boundaries and relate to people who are different then us, and we become changed.
Along the way, we cooperate with God without even realizing it and experience the reign of God come. Just by us being who we are, the Spirit of Truth does great work. We are blessed and renewed and the world and Church radiate with fire of God’s glory and goodness. You don’t have to take my word for it:
“The renewal of the Church is … achieved through the witness offered by the lives of believers: by their very existence in the world, Christians are called to radiate the word of truth that the Lord Jesus has left us.” –Pope Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei
Indeed we are called and indeed we have responded. By the grace of God, through great adventures in the Spirit, awesome things happen. Amen, Amen, Alleluia and Thanks be God!
A teenage boy, Trayvon Martin, was killed a month ago in Florida. Since then his death has heated up the national news and sparked highly emotional questions, comments, protests, prayer, rallies and vigils. We’re angry, lamenting and mourning. In our hearts we know something is wrong and we are acting for peace.
Last week a teenage boy (my student’s good friend) was shot in the park near our school. He was playing basketball on a beautiful sunny day. Just like Trayvon’s story, there have been no arrests, no explanations, and he isn’t known to have been doing anything wrong. The innocent victim, 15 years old, died later that night in the hospital. Unlike the story of Trayvon, no national outrage erupted. This mindless death happened quietly and has caught little attention. I can’t find any news stories about what happened and my student casually shared the news with the class. His casual manner alarmed me but it made total sense to him. “We’re used to it, Sister,” he said.
It is dangerous to be a teenage boy. It is hard to cope with violence and injustice. It’s not surprising that young people turn numb.
Our school serves all African-American teenage boys, one of the most vulnerable populations in our country. It is one of three schools in the nation founded particularly for that purpose. My students are teens, just like Trayvon. They eat skittles and drink ice tea, wear hoodies and talk on their cell phones to girls. They love playing basketball in the park on beautiful days and avoiding homework. They’re typical teenage boys.
My students know that they are vulnerable to being misjudged simply because they are black teenage boys. They have to be careful about where they go and what they do. They know that their appearance causes people to be suspicious of them for no right reason. Their parents warn them about this and it is something that they have to learn how to deal with as they become more independent.
My students should not be in danger for being who they are. No one’s safety should be at risk because of where they are and what they look like. Even though humanity keeps messing things up, our hearts know that this is not OK.
…For they broke my covenant, and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD. I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the LORD. All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more. -Jeremiah 31:32b-34
I love my students dearly. They impress me daily by their brilliance, hard work and strong faith. They have taught me much about the realities of inner-city life, African-American urban culture, hip-hop, sports, slang and social justice. I have learned about life on the margins from my students and this has brought me closer to Jesus. My students have taught me new dance moves and beautiful new songs.
It is somewhat ironic that I teach all African-American boys in a big city like Chicago. I am a white woman from the farming hills of Northeast Iowa. I don’t think I spoke to a black man until I went to college, only because I didn’t have the opportunity. I dreamed of being a missionary in Africa when I was a little girl but people kept telling me that I didn’t need to go so far away to do God’s work. To my surprise I ended up teaching on the south side of Chicago and still feel like I am half a world a way from home. (But I am only a five hours drive away from where I grew up!)
It’s not easy serving in a culture not my own. I don’t always understand the things my students say and do, and they don’t always understand me. Although the diversity is a challenge, it is more of a blessing. When we unite across difference in action, learning, and peacemaking we build the kingdom of God.
Next week I will embark on one of the greatest experiments in my career as an educator. I am leading a service-learning trip to my home. I will bring eight of my students to Northeast Iowa and they’ll spend a week learning about rural life and social problems by visiting and helping at places like farms, parks, schools and food pantries. We’ll pray through Holy Week as we journey together. They’ll get to meet teens who are very different than them and understand more about humanity.
The service trip will be interesting and amazing. We’re really excited about the inevitable adventures and fun. I am thrilled and honored to be able to do the work of bridging cultures and opening others to Truth. I have faith that God will be doing great things in our hearts and we’ll all grow in our knowledge about the law of Love and peace. God will do the teaching and I’ll get to witness.
It’s true that teenage boys don’t enjoy the same freedoms that I do and they aren’t always safe. Yet, I have hope. They’re willing to be brave and go new places to grow in the truth. Together, all humanity is learning the truth.
The truth is, God’s Law is about love, peace and justice. God’s law is written on all of our hearts.
This is one of my favorite songs that I learned from my students.