Ugandan faith lesson #5: hope

Faith lessons from my Ugandan family

Editor’s note: This is the final blog post of a five-part series “Faith lessons from my Ugandan family”  (see lessons #1, #2#3 and #4) by Messy Jesus Business guest contributor/Rabble Rouser Nicole Steele Wooldridge about her experiences in Mbale, Uganda.

More than almost anyone I know, my Ugandan host parents embody the “American Dream” of hard work and righteous living resulting in opportunity.

Ugandan host family, courtesy of Nicole Steele Wooldridge
Ugandan host family, courtesy of Nicole Steele Wooldridge
Bufamba (Ugandan host family father's home village), courtesy of Nicole Steele Wooldridge
Bufumba (Ugandan host family father’s home village), courtesy of Nicole Steele Wooldridge

My host dad’s story almost seems too inspiring to be true (but it is): he grew up in a traditional clay house nestled within a small subsistence-farming village. A self-described “naive village boy,” he was eight years old before he saw an electrical light bulb (and the story of his first encounter with a toilet would have you in stitches). During secondary school, he walked 14 miles every day to attend class; as the top-performing student in his district, he earned a scholarship to attend university in Uganda’s capital. From there, he was recruited for a prestigious post-graduate program in development studies in Dublin, Ireland, and now works as a professor at the local university in Mbale. He is in the process of completing his dissertation (focused on emergency response to climate change-related landslides in the foothills of Mount Elgon), and will soon be awarded his PhD.

My host mum is no less impressive (indeed, my host dad would be the first to tell you—with great pride—that she is his boss at the university). Together, they are a force of wisdom, intellect, and tireless work. With their credentials and connections, they would have no problem establishing an easier, more convenient life in a Western country.

But they have no interest in doing so.

girl from Northern Uganda, courtesy of Nicole Steele Wooldridge
Courtesy of Nicole Steele Wooldridge

They have made the choice to remain in Uganda and put their skills to use in service of their people. That choice is fraught with daily sacrifices—sacrifices which probably would have overwhelmed me many years ago. But for my host family, whose every breath is rooted in transcendent hope, the trials of life in Uganda can do nothing to diminish their sense of fulfillment in doing their work … or their sense of joy in knowing, truly knowing, they are loved by God as they do it.

Of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, hope was always somewhat nebulous to me. What does it mean to hope, and how is that different from having faith?  But life with my Ugandan family made real to me just what it looks like to dwell in the joy of belonging to the Lord.

The Catechism describes hope this way: “The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man … Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.” (CCC 1818) My host family’s hope cannot be stymied by the setbacks and tragedies they experience in Uganda, because their hope is written in their hearts by Someone greater.

The unmistakable fruit of that hope is their relentless joy.

When I am asked to describe my host family, the first word to come to mind is always “joyful.”  But words really cannot do justice to the sheer jubilation that is infused in my Ugandan family. They are radiant with it. It is palpable, contagious … It is, quite frankly, exactly the sort of thing that can change the world.

It has certainly changed me.

hiking trip to Sipi, courtesy of Nicole Steele Wooldridge
hiking trip to Sipi, courtesy of Nicole Steele Wooldridge

For reflection: How can I nurture a spirit of true hope in my family, so that our joy and generosity are not influenced by our circumstances?

Author bio: Nicole Steele Wooldridge is a friend of Sister Julia’s who writes from the Seattle, Washington area. She spent three months living and volunteering in Mbale, Uganda in 2006, and recently returned there with her husband to visit her host family and friends. She considers her experience in Uganda to be the greatest theology class she’s ever taken.

Enough or not

I live on the cusp of enough and dreamy desires; in the liminal land of paradox.

I am always trying to make do with my limits, to authentically live my vow of poverty and get re-rooted in simple living.

Yet. I am always longing for more.

Desire, dreams, faith and hope fuel my energy. Even when I am overwhelmed or exhausted, a vision of justice-prevailing and the Kingdom of God coming into full fruition remains my impetus for laboring and loving. I believe that the peace Jesus proclaimed is possible.

 

Honestly, my yearning for more-than-is/more-than-I-have-right-now isn’t always about the ideals I hold close to me. Some of my dreams are embarrassingly superficial, completely basic and ordinary. Like Oh, how I wish I had a panini maker to cook this sandwich or This hairdryer is too loud and clunky, I should get a new one. I am regularly creating mental lists of objects that I think will create more convenience and efficiency in my busy life, just because I too fall for the lies of American commercialism and capitalism. I have to catch myself. When I find myself thinking that more stuff will be a solution, I must gain new consciousness. I must recommit myself to my vow of spiritual and material poverty, to my “Yes” to trusting that God has always given me enough. I really know how to make-do with what I have, I just have to remind myself of this frequently.

Every day, every moment, I have enough. I have enough time. Enough materials. I have all that I need. I have passion and potential. I am loved and supported. God’s abundance is infinite and as a child of God, I have access to the graces and strength and power and love that is enough for me. We all are children of God and we all have access.

Some days–in some moments–this means I must truly honor my limitations and needs. I am tired, I need to rest or I will kill myself if I try to meet this deadline, I must ask for an extension. This is an element of honoring my own dignity as sacred, of caring for the vessel of the Holy Spirit that I aim to be.

I am limited. I am weak. And, amazingly, by God’s grace when it comes to what matters most, I totally have enough. I must trust and allow myself to remain in God’s loving hands.

 

But then.

God calls me to continual growth, to be a steward and foster the gifts I have been given. Just like the rest of you, I am invited to expand the reign of God and contribute to a better society, to a more just and peaceful humanity.

I really am heartbroken about the ways that we don’t honor every human life as sacred in our culture. Unborn babies are killed and criminals are executed. Street shootings are common. Prisons practice torture and remain open and funded. Drones are still flying and people are still starving to death.

I have a responsibility to contribute to positive social change. I can develop my own talents and abilities so to better glorify God through all my choices.

 

Do I have enough or not? I don’t know. I do know that I don’t want to be greedy.  I want to be a person who creates, not consumes. I do know that I am on the edge of satisfaction and healthy discontentment. A Gospel tension is alive within me, a Spirited realization that the world is not the way God intended, because we truly are sinful creatures.

I am slowly learning that this tension is holy ground. It turns out that this dilemma of desire is actually our God-given nature. Though limited, we all are on a journey of growth and self-improvement. By God’s design satisfaction and contentment are fleeting; we constantly yearn to know, feel and experience more.

Ultimately though, when we yearn in the in-between space of Hope for a better world and This is enough, we are yearning for God; for the simple, loving Way of Jesus. We desire God–for the source of all the justice and goodness that we believe in–to prevail and reign. May it be so, Amen, Indeed!

 

"Changing" Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Changing edges” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

 

Radical hospitality and responsible parenthood

While driving home from church last Sunday, I watched a man frantically chase a public bus for an entire city block, only to miss it by a few seconds. The bus stop he was trying to reach is just steps away from my house, and I waged an internal debate with myself as I pulled into my driveway: Should I turn around and pick him up?

On the one hand, he was a stranger, a male stranger, and I was in the car with my two young daughters. I didn’t know if he was intoxicated, mentally ill, or violent, and my first instinct as a mother is to protect my children from any potential harm. On the other hand, it was cold and rainy, and I knew the next bus wouldn’t arrive for at least another hour. It would be so easy for me to give him a ride half a mile up the road to intercept his bus, saving him a great deal of time (and sogginess). As campy as they were, those ubiquitous WWJD? bracelets from my youth certainly did drive home a point!

Photo courtesy of freeimages.com
Photo courtesy of freeimages.com

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that, some have entertained angels without knowing it.  Hebrews 13:2

After hemming and hawing for a few more moments, I finally backed out of my driveway and pulled up next to the man. Although he was surprised and initially suspicious of my offer, we ended up having a very nice, brief conversation together. When we arrived at the bus stop, he thanked me for “proving that there are still good people in this world.”

My three-year-old had remained silent during the five-minute ride, but as soon as the man stepped out of our car, she was bursting with questions. The experience opened the door to a fruitful discussion about the privilege of owning a vehicle, the need to look for opportunities to help others, and the practicalities of being a follower of Jesus.

“But, Mama,” she asked, “how could Jesus give someone a ride when there weren’t any cars where He lived?”

This is just a small example of one of the greatest struggles my husband and I share as parents: How do we answer Jesus’ call to radical hospitality, while honoring our primary responsibility to protect our children?

Before we were parents, my husband and I worked extensively with the homeless community in Chicago, even inviting a man experiencing homelessness to sleep at our apartment when he missed the evening deadline for his shelter.

I wonder: Would we issue the same invitation now?  How could we?  How could we not?

I do not want to use motherhood as an excuse for staying complacently in my comfort zone, but I also want to safeguard my daughters from injury and trauma. So how and where do we draw the line between nurturing those who depend on us to keep them secure, and welcoming the stranger into our cars, homes, and lives?

How do we reconcile responsible parenthood and radical hospitality?

I wish there were an easy –or even a single– answer to this question. I know, though, that much like parenthood and simple living, each family’s response requires personal discernment and no small amount of humility.

May we parents all pray for one another, then, that we will not allow our legitimate desire to protect our children from danger to blind us to the many opportunities we have to entertain angels … or to feed the hungry Christ in disguise.

Nicole Steele Wooldridge is a friend of Sister Julia’s and mom to a three-year-old and one-year-old. She writes from the Seattle area where–especially in the winter–the need for radical hospitality is evident and abundant.

Old-fashioned trunk-centered simplicity

I admire my sisters’ tales of trunks.

Long before I entered the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration – and long before Vatican II for that matter – the common, communal practice was that every sister had to fit all of her personal property into one trunk.

Our Franciscan lifestyle is an itinerant one. As sisters we frequently move for ministry. For much of our community history, sisters moved from one ministry site to another after just a year or so. They’d move by train, and all of their possessions would move with them in the one trunk. It was an economical and practical way to do things, and such a practice permitted ease for living a simple life of Franciscan poverty.

The trunks contained three black and white habits, an extra pair of shoes, undergarments, and some prayer books. The trunk also held whatever supplies needed for…

[This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report.  Continue reading here.

The process of lightening up my living

A few weeks ago, my whole life flashed before my eyes.

Well, maybe it didn’t actually flash. But, I really did feel I re-lived my 33 years of living in five days.

In those five days, I looked at all of my stuff and made a choice about whether to keep each item (not the goal), throw it away (the least ideal), or give it away (the most ideal).

I saw my baby pictures, the stories I wrote when I was in elementary school, photos and other mementos from high school, college, and my travels. I considered each item of clothing, each book, and every office supply I have accumulated over the years.

It was emotionally exhausting. And it was terribly necessary.

You see, I moved; from a large space to a smaller place. Before I moved, I didn’t feel like I was living with integrity. So, after this move, I actually blocked out some serious time to really sort through everything I had and make a choice about whether it was necessary for me to continue carrying it around.

I had a feeling it might be hard to let go of things and I was a little afraid. I thought I had psychologically prepared myself when I devised a formula I thought would be effective. My rule was that in order to keep something, two out of three of the following questions had to get a “yes” when I considered each item:

1.) Have I used it recently?

2.) Do I really like it? and

3.) Do I really need it?

Certainly this was a very time-consuming and difficult process, but it was extremely worthwhile.

I’m in my new space now and feel less crowded, thank God. Basically I am sighing out all sorts of relief. I am finally living in much more simplicity than I was–in line with the modesty I’ve desired. I’ve been longing for this simplicity for years.

Nope, ironically, since college and my study abroad experience in South Africa (when much of my desire for simplicity began) all my possessions have multiplied. They once filled a medium-sized moving truck. Or, in the most recent case, all my stuff filled a bedroom, an office, two closets, and a sprawling storage area in a basement.

I am a woman who entered religious life eager to try to imitate the radical poverty and simplicity of Saints Francis and Clare. (And Jesus Christ himself!) Therefore, the magnitude of my stuff was, frankly, just embarrassing.

It feels good that pretty much all my things now fit comfortably in a room that is about 180 square feet. In a way, I feel as if I am actually living in a cell like my elder Sisters sometimes did. And, I love it!

Plus, with the loss of clutter around me physically, I’ve noticed drastically less clutter in my mind and, correspondingly, in my prayer life. I feel more centered, more grounded. This has done a lot for my human relationships too.

My desire for greater simplicity and smaller living isn’t only rooted in my admiration for Saints Francis and Clare and their radical way of living the Gospel. I have also been influenced by my admiration for contemporary movements and trends, such as the tiny house movement, the Catholic Worker movement, and even the simplicity of the small houses in the IKEA stores.

There was good reason for me to have less, to simplify. I realize that for most people in this world, space and material stuff is a total luxury, and I want to live in solidarity with them as much as possible. I also recognize that our landfills and incinerators are quickly filling. I want to be a better steward and tread a little more lightly on this precious Earth.

This was the type of simplicity I long for: the beauty of nature. “Above La Verna, Italy” Photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

Now, a few weeks into living with less stuff, I can admit: It certainly was quite a process to lighten my living, but I am finding that it was totally worth it.

My life is simpler. I feel lighter. I have less stuff but I have more freedom and joy. I feel a sense of integrity. Most importantly, I feel closer to God.

Totally worth it.

Motherhood and Not-So-Simple Simplicity

By guest blogger  Nicole Steele Wooldridge

I always used to find it challenging to live out the value of simplicity in a contemporary Western context.  Now, as a mom, I find it nearly impossible.

I am blessed to be the mother of a twenty-month-old daughter and another little girl due in two months.  I desperately want them to grow up in a home that honors and reflects the values of Jesus — values which I believe are oftentimes in direct conflict with the images of traditional domestic success in this country.  And yet, as a mom who is entirely in love with and predictably devoted to her children, I struggle to disregard the pressures and compulsions of the mommy/baby industry. I want to live simply, but I also want to provide my daughters with “the best…” (insert noun here: nutrition, cognitive development-enhancing toys, opportunities in life, etc.).

From the moment I found out that I was pregnant with my first daughter, I was overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of stuff associated with having a baby.  Merely setting foot in Babies“R”Us made my head spin: playpens, bouncers, bottles, strollers, electric swings, toys, books, CDs, DVDs –how much of this stuff did my baby actually need?  Having lived among babies in Africa and Latin America, my assumption was “not much.”

file1311297121136
Photo courtesy of MorgueFile

For the first few months of my daughter’s life, my husband and I were immensely proud of the fact that we didn’t own a crib.  Initially, we made use of a thrift store bassinet, and when our baby outgrew that, we simply put her on blankets on the floor.  “See,” we thought with satisfaction, “people who fill their homes with baby stuff just aren’t trying hard enough to live simply.”  But then she started rolling.  Virtually overnight, I went from spurning the entire concept of a crib to declining a free crib because it didn’t adhere to current safety regulations (even though I knew four children had happily slept in it throughout infancy).  I wonder: would Jesus consider that to be conscientious parenting or lamentable wastefulness?  I may feel a sense of righteous indignation at the ways in which our consumerist culture preys upon a mother’s desire to provide the best for her children, but I can hardly deny that we are easy prey!

Even without being goaded by marketers, my own weaknesses cause me to fall short of the ideals of “Simple Living.”  Before my daughter’s birth, I was delighted to receive a homemade diaper wipe kit — a kit I only ended up using once.  When she began eating solids, I planned to prepare all of her baby food from fresh ingredients — but laziness, in the form of many store-bought jars of pureed concoctions, prevailed.  And, most scandalously, I confess that I never did figure out cloth diapering.  Our monthly delivery of disposable diapers (“environmentally-friendly” though they may be) always triggers a fair amount of hand-wringing guilt in me.

As my daughter grows older and we anticipate the birth of our second child, the issues surrounding Simple Living and parenthood grow ever more complex.  My husband and I frequently remind ourselves that we want to live our lives and raise our children in a way that would only make sense in light of the Gospel.  But what does that mean?  Given our limited finances, how do we balance our commitment to charitable giving with our commitment to our children?  Right now, those questions arise when we consider whether or not to spend extra money on organic food or a better stroller, but I know that tougher decisions loom ahead.  Do we pay for music lessons?  Do we enroll our kids in private school?  Do we travel abroad with them?  For me, it all boils down to a basic conundrum:  How much is justifiable in the name of providing for our children, especially when one of the things we’re trying to provide is the value of Simple Living?

If you know the answer to that question, please tell me!  I suspect, though, that this is one of those opaque moral areas requiring perpetual personal discernment. I’ve discovered that the terrain of parenting changes abruptly and dramatically with each new stage of my daughter’s development.  I must constantly re-adjust the lens through which I view my vocation as a mom in order to stay focused on what is most essential to me: giving glory to God through this gift of motherhood.

Daily, in matters both trivial and profound, I fail to do so.  But I take comfort in the words of Scripture: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

“Approach God’s throne of grace with boldness.”  I take this message to heart.  A certain sense of boldness is necessary for me to approach the Eucharistic table each week, laden as I am with a disposable-diaper-clad toddler and the weight of so many daily failures!  Yet the God of mercy and grace invites me to come and be nourished… and so I do, confident that the only way I will ever achieve authentic simplicity is with and in the One who simply loves.

This week’s guest blogger, Nicole Steele Wooldridge, has been a friend of Sister Julia’s since they were neighbors (in body and spirit) in Chicago, Ill.  She now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, daughter, and very pregnant belly.  She spends her days chasing a toddler, working at a community college, and struggling to live out this thing called discipleship.

a shoe story

One of my core faith principles is that God will provide for all our needs.  Recently, a little sisterly community experience re-convinced me of this.

Last week I renewed my vows. It was a beautiful, joyous event.  Several sisters gathered in our chapel, Mary of the Angels, for Taize’ prayer and meditation Friday night. After a prolonged period of silence I stood up and professed to “live poverty, obedience and consecrated celibacy in community for one year, according to the Rule of the Third Order of St. Francis and the Constitutions of Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.”

“Sister Julia’s Vow Renewal” Photo by Nancy Chapman

Getting ready for this exciting event required a lot preparation for me. In addition to readying my heart and mind with a lot of prayer and contemplation, I also had to get my outward self ready. I got a new haircut and a nice new dress, but then I began to fuss about what to put on my feet.

As a Franciscan Sister and a disciple of Jesus, I don’t have really have that many possessions. Living simply is really important to me and I don’t like to have more than I need.  In fact, for several years I have been very content with having only one pair of multipurpose sandals.

I wasn’t sure what to do.  Could I wear my dirty, worn out Chacos® for the special occasion? Could I go bare foot?  Should I just wear my wintry dress shoes or look for a new pair of dressy, brown sandals that I could also wear for teaching and other occasions?  No matter what, I knew that I didn’t want to spend much money or contribute anymore to the destruction of God’s creation by being a consumer.

I hemmed and hawed a while and decided that if it was God’s will for me to wear nice shoes for my vow ceremony then God would provide. This seemed like a safe way to think about it, although in order to receive guidance and gifts from God I need to be open, pay attention and do a bit of work.  To have what God wants us to have, it seems we must be willing to seek.

Once I decided that I was okay with having a pair of new sandals, I wondered how to find them. First, I began checking out the feet of all my sisters, hoping to see a pair I might borrow. I went to Goodwill and studied their shoe options with no luck.  I asked the sister in charge of our community clothing exchange if she knew of a pair that had been donated and might serve my purpose. I looked at everything she had in the closet with no luck.

Then I started asking sisters what they thought I should do. Several of them assured me that it was appropriate and acceptable to buy brand new shoes.  I didn’t like the idea, but I was trusting in the wisdom of my elder sisters.  So, I asked Sisters Kathy and Mary Ellen, who I live with, if they wanted to help me shoe shop. With a hope and prayer we went out to the stores and quickly became overwhelmed with options–most were completely impractical and just too trendy. Eventually, we realized that it is hard to buy sandals this time of year because they are all so picked over.

Sisters Kathy and Mary Ellen were being very patient and helpful.  I was starting to feel a little bit of unnecessary, goofy guilt that they had been putting up with my picky indecisiveness for over an hour. Strangely, I started to use that guilt feeling as my guidance.  After spending so much time and energy I didn’t feel like I should leave empty-handed or disappoint the other sisters, so I bought a really dressy pair and home we went.  I still felt unhappy about the new shoes or the price but convinced myself I should make them work.  (Duh! I know and believe that when we “should” too much, we just get stuck in a big pile of “should” and it really stinks!)

Later that night after prayer in our house, the three of us told Sister Laurie about our shoe store adventures. I said I was concerned for the fact that I have hurt my ankles every time I have tried to wear heals, but if I practiced walking in them I’d be fine. I didn’t admit that I chose to buy the shoes for the wrong reasons, but I think I knew it.

For practice, I put them on and tried walking up the stairs. It was awkward–I wasn’t smiling and my stomach even felt weird. I was trying to be a good sport.  Sister Laurie was tuned into me.

She took the shoes off her feet and said “Here, try these.”

I did. I hadn’t noticed her shoes before. They were pretty much exactly what I’d been looking for and fit perfectly. “Wow. What size are they?!”

“Seven and a half.  Keep them.”  she offered.

“What?! Just for Friday? I can give them back to you after the vows.”

“No. Keep them for good. They’re yours. I don’t need them.”

“Thank you! Thank you!” I said, delighted and relieved. I could take the other shoes back to the store and, after all, God provided just the way I was hoping for.

I am so thankful for my new shoes and for the generous, sisterly love I experienced as I prepared for my vow day, on my vow day, and everyday in this wonderful Franciscan community. I am thankful for all the simple lessons I learned through the experience of getting these new shoes. Wow–thanks be to God! Amen.

Brothers and sisters:
As you excel in every respect, in faith, discourse,
knowledge, all earnestness, and in the love we have for you,
may you excel in this gracious act also.
For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor,
so that by his poverty you might become rich.
Not that others should have relief while you are burdened,
but that as a matter of equality
your abundance at the present time should supply their needs,
so that their abundance may also supply your needs,
that there may be equality.
As it is written:
Whoever had much did not have more,
and whoever had little did not have less.     -2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15

living simply to build community

You’ve probably heard the saying: “Live simply so others may simply live.”  Different sources credit the phrase to different wise people, like St. Francis of Assisi and Mother Theresa. Either way, it’s a good mantra and the saying totally carries weight.

Lately a new, yet similar saying has been rattling around in my consciousness:  “Live simply so communities can simply survive.”  It’s not as poetic but I think it’s just as true and powerful. Plus, I made it up (I think) so that adds to its awesomeness. Just kidding!

Anyway, in my recent summer adventures I have been encountering this simplicity truth in a variety of ways. It’s not new stuff to me; I think about it lot.  The circumstances of life, however, just really seem to rub my face in my convictions sometimes.

Last week while I was working with the Peacebuilders Initiative I was blessed to accompany a group of teens on their ministry site visits to the White Rose Catholic Worker here in Chicago.  My friends at the White Rose totally seem like ordinary Christians to me. They dumpster dive, grow and preserve their food, give things away freely, advocate for justice, pray a lot, share everything (including their home with strangers)  and compost and recycle all their waste.  Yet, the teens kept talking about this way of life as foreign to them. It was a reminder to me how my preferred way of life (service combined with sustainability mixed into activism, grounded in good Catholic prayer) is actually quite radical.

Sometimes I forget how my vocation and passions have made me into a counter-cultural creature.  The thing is though, my consciousness doesn’t really make it into an option for me, but a necessity. There’s a fire in my belly that burns me right into action. I live the way I do- and am always seeking to increase my sustainability and simplicity- because it seems to me to be the way we need to live.

When the Peacebuilders and I visited my Catholic Worker friends last week, their community did a really terrific job of organizing programming and hands-on actions in order to help the teens gain an foundational understanding about why people choose to live simply as they do.

One day we watched this video together and discussed how environmentalism is intertwined with Gospel living:

The video left me feeling embarrassed for a variety of reasons.  It feels overwhelmingly inevitable that I cooperate with the systemic injustices related to consumerism. I don’t mean to, I don’t want to. I just seems to happen, I’m sorry.  (I feel like a whiner as I confess this sin, blah!)

But then, I know about alternatives to cooperating with the mainstream.  And I try to choose them as much as possible.  Some of the most basic ways to live simply have to do with food.

My friends at the Catholic Worker House took our Peacebuilder group to their organic farm for some good-old-fashioned labor last week and I was overjoyed (seriously!) to be placing composted manure around plants and weeding veggies.  I was also amazed while I heard the teens say that they had never done anything like it before.   Again, I was reminded that it is sort of a radical thing to grow one’s own food now days.

Then, on Tuesday of this week I was was again doing labor and bonding with Earth.  I helped my sister box up veggies from her farm for her CSA business. As we weeded, harvested, packaged and delivered foods to people in her community I couldn’t help but think the whole thing felt sort of silly- we were working so hard to feed people who also had good land to grow food. My sister echoed my thoughts as we drove around (and wasted fuel) and made deliveries.  She said she’d welcome competition and wishes that CSAs were more ordinary, as it is necessary for us to develop community through local economies. In the same way, I prefer that we’d revert to a culture of neighbors creating hand-made crafts and food for each other. The earth seems to be begging for it.

Let’s do it, Christians.  Let’s free ourselves from bills and material abundance, and live simply so that we are closer to the earth and our neighbors. Let’s build community by sharing in the responsibility of sustainability.  Let’s live life to the fullest and love one another.  The bible tells us to, plus our brothers and sisters far and near need us to help build their communities, not harm them.

As my sister, the farmer, said here, eating food (like all simple actions) is something that connects as a community, no matter where live.   So, let’s connect by living simply. God help us, Amen.

this is HARD

Guest blogger Jerica Arents

This Lent has been, for me, a choir of resounding “no’s”.  As part of a Catholic Worker community, we try hard to live in more radical ways, attempting to fashion our internal dialogue in patterns that deliberately put first the poor and the planet.  And, along with my six housemates, I wanted to have a bold Lenten fast this year.  I wanted to challenge my preconceptions about fasting and discipline and prayer.

 

So we made communal commitments to fasting from sugar and high fructose corn syrup (and cane derivatives), to withhold our consent from the incredibly alarming human rights abuses of the sugar cane industry and the unsustainable and toxic nature of high fructose corn syrup.  We gave up plastic, to remind ourselves that every single piece of plastic we consume and discard will be on our Earth for at least the next million years. And we gave up electricity on Sundays, as a reminder of our culture’s dependence on fuel, to stand in solidarity with billions of people in the Global South, and (most importantly) to intentionally choose rest with others in community.

 

sugar spoon

I was excited about the communal fast until I recognized how hard it was going to be.  To be honest, three weeks into Lent feels like decades.  The sugar thing was fun until I grasped the reality that high fructose corn syrup is in essentially everything.  Nothing processed is fair game.  We can’t eat our cranberries, our dumpstered chocolate milk or our cereal.  All sweets are off the table, along with most baked things, frozen breakfast foods, or items that would have historically satisfied one’s sugary cravings.  The plastic thing has been downright hilarious (have you ever taken your own Tupperware into a restaurant, inquiring whether they would serve your meal in it?).  I’ve found that it’s next to impossible to go to a grocery store and find anything not wrapped, covered or sealed in plastic.

Outside of the inconvenient choices, the most integrated part of our Lenten fast commitment is our Sunday energy fasts.  Last week, I read for hours with a flashlight in the dark, leaving me feeling more like my insomniac 12-year-old self than a spiritually-disciplined adult.  Our house seems eerily quiet as we eat cold food all day and shake off our coffee-less mornings, ignoring the phone and unplugging our computers.  But the beauty of the energy fast is that the Sabbath has never before felt more like a Sabbath.  We seem to enjoy each other without the doldrums of daily distractions, getting lost in song-singing and music-playing well into the night.   We actually rest.

Perhaps the greatest gift of Lent is remembering – being reminded, constantly, the ways our individual choices crucify God’s people and Creation everyday.  I’m learning more concretely that standing up and saying “no” – for however long a time is helpful – is really a lesson in saying “yes”.  We vote instead for worker’s rights, an end to the wars, and a break for the replenishment of the planet.  We’re saying “yes” to the creative energy of community.  And in that, we end up choosing the life of the world we’re trying to build, over the death that otherwise seems to be all around us.

Read this week’s guest blogger’s first Messy post.


“Plastic” photo credit: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/690898 “Sugar” photo credit: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/76944