consciousness, change and Joseph Kony

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.

Photo credit:

a mucky way of peace

As I continue to try to be a faithful disciple of Jesus I continually confront the messy, cluttered commotion along the Way.  I feel like I keep switching from being stunned by the beauty and caught in my human confusion.

The words I pray every morning stir my questions:

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
for he has visited and brought redemption to his people.
He has raised up a horn for our salvation
within the house of David his servant,
even as he promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old:
salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us,
to show mercy to our ancestors
and to be mindful of his holy covenant
and of the oath he swore to Abraham our father,
and to grant us that,
rescued from the hand of enemies,
without fear we might worship him
in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord* to prepare his ways,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God
by which the daybreak from on high* will visit us
to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.” Luke 1: 68-79

Good and simple and the Light on the path is mighty. The Light that shines on the path of peace glows into shadows.  There’s dusty despair floating around in the Light creating a strange beauty.  A calm collects and settles, yet the stains of sin feel like stones in shoes.  We talk about the beauty of God’s mysterious ways while a bad taste of discontentment lingers on our lips.  We remember that although we can revel in the goodness of God, we can’t forget the injustices and suffering that still are in need of great redemption.

Paths leading to trees

I’ve been on a blogging break for the past couple weeks as I finished up a semester of teaching, took a Christmas vacation and went on a silent retreat.  (Thanks to Sister Sarah and Steven for writing while I was away!)

The Christmas season is ending and I am renewed.  The blessings of the incarnation have re-rooted me in the core of who I am: a child of God.  As God’s child, I am on the path of peace.  A theme of my retreat was God’s Way of Love and I considered the power of the Prince of Peace being alive and home in the broken darkness of our messed up world.  Jesus’ way of blessing the brokenness of humanity permits us to have hope and trust.  God is enfleshed and alive in the fullness of humanity.  Back in my classroom I’m marveling with my students about how Jesus is a material man. He’s word, light, love, energy, feelings, image, sound, alive and fleshy. God is really awesome!

Still, my rejoicing feels mucky.   Many of my companions on the journey carry a lot of truth.  In the faces of many I see tears, hunger, fear and sorrow and I know that oppression is not over.   There’s more work to do.   My friends who are peacemakers remind me that we can’t sit down and give up.  Jesus loves us (yes he does!) and love is a powerful, world-changing force.

Love is messy, as written on a crumpled sheet of paper

We can’t slow in our work for peace and there’s an urgency in the good news. We keep creating the new ways of God- no matter how mucky they seem in coming. The muck can be depressing.  It’s unpleasant, but if we’re with Jesus it’s where we belong.

Nowadays, the horrors of state sanctioned torture and indefinite detention are especially disturbing me.  Guantanamo prison has been open for almost 10 years despite its human rights and international law violations.  Some of my activist friends are hard at work in Washington D.C. and here in Chicago with incredible fasting, protesting, educating and praying. Like they did last year (and Luke wrote about) they’re fasting and creatively, non-violently asking our government to end the injustices of torture and detention.  I join them as I am able: in solidarity as I fast too (from television), in action to increase awareness, in advocacy for justice and in prayer and contemplation.

I’m remembering how before Christmas we heard the news that all the troops were coming home from Iraq.  I was still in an advent waiting space in my spirit, but my mind told me I ought to rejoice and celebrate a victory for justice.  A shadowy waiting space and an enlightened celebration: I wasn’t able to unite the two.  Instead, I felt my joy fall flat.  I was opposed to the war before it began and my young activism was formative for me.  The ending of the occupation felt so long overdue that it felt more frustrating than favorable.  Peacemaking is mucky.

I am grateful that Jesus was born into the broken, confused places within our spirits and within our world.  As we suffer and struggle we find that we must remain open and empty to experience the fullness of God.  We must allow continual conversion.  After all, we can accept that on the path of peace there’s joy of the incarnation: we are forgiven, free and blessing the brokenness in the world.  The darkness cannot overcome the light, light shines through the darkness! Thanks be to God!

Road toward a light sky

one year!

It’s the one year anniversary of Messy Jesus Business!  We’ve shared a lot this year.  Thanks for reading and participating!

What was your favorite post?

What would you like to see more of as Messy Jesus Business enters its second year?



“Sunrise at Trout Lake” photo by 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?

hearing and seeing, then proclaiming the goodness

When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ,
he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question,
“Are you the one who is to come,
or should we look for another?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”  – Matthew 11:2-5

Jesus tells us to say it like we see it, and like we hear it.

Speaking the truth is not as easy as one would think. One of the greatest challenges of telling the truth is that people aren’t always interested in it. It seems to me that it’s quite trendy to avoid pain and suffering. Many times my stories of ministry and my proclamations of passions have been responded to with cries of “It’s so depressing to hear about all that, Julia. Can’t you talk about something else?” Yet, paradoxically, crowds gather around TV sets watching reality shows, sitcoms and the news only to hear dramatic stories about people hurting one another. With laughter and groans, people of all types allow the painful stories to flow through their lives.

What about the goodness? When it comes to saying the good stuff—to giving each other reasons to hope—I think it can be radical to speak out. Sharing the goodness is an act of resistance to the oppression. I teach urban African-American teenage boys at a high school in Chicago, and it’s amazing. In attempts to respond to Jesus’ command to tell the good news, I could easily just babble on and on and tell you stories about how incredible my students are.

First though, I think it is important to acknowledge the influence of judgments when we hear who the stories are about. When I decided to take my job, some very good people that I knew became reactionary.  I actually heard really nice Christians gasp and say “aren’t you terrified?!”  When I asked them what their question was about—whether it was about race, or boys, or urban students—the conversation would usually boil down to awkwardness from fears of people different than themselves.

Jesus set us all free enough to speak the good news, however. When I hear people say they are impressed with my ministry (because of who my students are), I am tempted to get defensive and angry. Then I remember that we are all afraid of what we don’t know.

My students have admitted that they are afraid of the woods. I used to be afraid of the city (I grew up in the woods on a goat farm in Iowa).  To do this gospel work, we all must allow grace to guide us and set us free from our fears.  The truth is that my students are the same as all other teenagers I have worked with.  They’re diverse, passionate, caring, faithful, prayerful, complex, hungry, hopeful, hard-working and curious. They’re incredible.

So, the good news!  Teens are awesome because once they learn the truth they are driven to act.  They understand, with ease, that social change comes through awareness and meaningful non-violent action.

Last week, my students were so into discussing the Gospel challenge of serving the poor that they begged me to stay in class.  (And I am pretty sure that they weren’t completely trying to skip their next classes, really.)  They spoke of being inspired by the story of Dorothy Day and how they could relate to her because she went through a conversion and changed her life. Another group of my students were so full of ideas for service projects that they had trouble picking one and getting started.  And, this past weekend, I sat in a circle with another group of teens and heard their dreams for a better world and what they were already working on as peace projects.

We all are called to do projects of peace. We all are asked to feed each other with hope and faith.  I get “godbumps” anytime I see the boundaries of difference broken, diverse people gathered in prayer and working for social change. I am so grateful for the light that shines when a young person steps forward and works for change.  One teen I know is working with the pro-life club at her school to begin a suicide awareness and prevention movement.  Another is bridging a gap between the suburbs and inner-city youth and bringing her suburban friends with her to tutor at a junior high within Chicago. I also know a young man who is uniting his passion for sports and caring for people on the margins to organize a basketball tournament for people with disabilities.

I suppose that one might say that it is my job to support these teens.  The reality is that they support me.  They keep me going and keep me hopeful.  I am honored to listen to their good news, to bless and share.  I don’t have to look too far to see and believe that Jesus and the Spirit are working to transform us and our communities.

The power of the Spirit and the miracles of the Christian church certainly extend beyond what happens in the lives of teens.  Recently, I have also been blessed to meet some amazing leaders in the emerging Church movement.  Throughout our world young adults of various denominations are living intentional community, praying and radically serving the poor, and non-violently advocating for systemic change right now.  They soak up the great traditions of Christian history, such as praying the liturgy of the hours and monastic life, and allow the Spirit to guide them to new ways of doing the work.  For example, some young adults just wrote and published a new book that combines the traditional prayers with radical responses to injustice.  It’s called Common Prayer, naturally.

God is so good and God is up to some amazing stuff.  Deaf people are really gaining their hearing, blind folks can now see, the lame are picking up their mats and dancing around, and the dead are rising to new life.   It’s beautiful to witness.  Hope is a light that shines brightly over the new city of God being built here and now.  We’re getting ready because we don’t only know another world is possible, we see another world emerging.

Rejoice and be glad, and help us get ready.  Help us spread the good news, Jesus lives!

preparing, minus materialism

Therefore, stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
Be sure of this: if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. -Matthew 24:42-44

I asked my friend Josh what insight his reflections on today’s liturgical readings brought him to.   He replied by describing how God is like a thief in the night because God loves sneaking in and taking things from us that we no longer need, but we wouldn’t give away if we were given the choice.  After God is the thief, we wake up in the morning, look around, notice something is missing and then shrug our shoulders and say, “Oh, I guess I didn’t really need that anyway and it’s kind of nice to see it go, after all!”

So, we sometimes need to let go of stuff instead of accumulating more.  God can make this easier for us sometimes, by shaking up our comfort zones with blizzards, floods and droughts. Our hearts crack, freeing the weeds and the polluted parts. We sob as we mourn. Then we realize that we have been possessed by what we possessed.  We catch our breath.  It’s time, we acknowledge, to let God transform us by freeing us from what blocks us.

It’s advent. It’s time to let go. It’s time to get ready. It’s time to prepare, because we’re all invited to the best birthday party, ever.

How can we prepare to go to a birthday party in a barn with all sorts of excess? Sure, giving gifts is important, and breaking bread is essential. But we can’t do any of this without freedom. I am talking about the type of freedom that allows you to laugh the deepest belly laughs, full of snort and drool with no shame or embarrassment.  Your hair can be sticking up and your body can smell, but it won’t matter, because the love will be so thick you’ll be dizzy.  Manure and flies will surround us and we’ll praise God with more boldness than ever before.  Yes, you’re all invited to the best birthday part ever, a party for the little baby Jesus.

I need to warn you that the birthday party, although smelly and wonderful, may seem confusing if you’re clouded by excess.  To really be revolutionized by the love of God, you’re going to have to let go, and let God take over.

The late prophet Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., warned us about the dangers of materialism, along with racism and militarism.  In his words: “if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth … A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” (“Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence,” speech delivered at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City, April 4, 1967.)

If you let God take your stuff and take over, you might find yourself asking the hard questions, like “what does the Rev mean?!”  We squabble then realize: together, sisters and brothers, we must wake up to the truth and challenge of love.  We’ve gotta leave behind the flashy toys and the latest fads, and let the pain of division glare at us.

Personally, this pain- and promise- has left me stuttering when I’ve encountered the Salvation Army bell ringers.  I am grateful for their service and generosity.  I am blessed by the joy and holiday cheer.  But I wonder if that method is the best way, as it seems to thicken the gap.  What can we do in addition to scattering spare nickles into a safe little pot? What can we do to stop ignoring the homeless sitting on the other curb?

Jesus, and his prophet, the Rev, beg us to stay awake to how we hurt others by our consumption.  We must allow the pain to sink in as we party. If we really are ready, we’ll be poor too, free from possessions and the lies of capitalism.  Minus the materialism, we’ll be able to wake up and realize that God has stolen our hearts away.

And then we’ll really have something to party about!

royal hype

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 Utopia and 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.