Beautiful chaos and Lenten conversion

Recently, I asked my students what comes to mind when they hear the phrase “Kingdom of God.” This (low-quality) photo summarizes the lively classroom discussion that occurred that day.

"Kingdom of God Period 6 Classroom Discussion" photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA
“Kingdom of God Period 6 Classroom Discussion” photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

As I told my students, I intentionally recorded all their comments on the board in a very messy fashion because I want them to see that the Kingdom of God is not orderly and predictable. In fact, living in the Kingdom of God that Jesus established means that we are living in the midst of beautiful chaos.

Through the incarnation Christ empowered us build the Kingdom of God. And, if we’re doing the work of building the Kingdom of God, we’re people who are moving into the chaos, out of our comfort zones, and toward the margins of society.

As we serve others we are invited into more chaos, into encounters and relationships that may disturb us. We love and serve those who Christ loves, we go against our natural inclinations and logic. We love our enemies and those who may not deserve it. We give and love without judgement or attachment. We remember that “we are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

The chaos, the messiness of building the Kingdom of God is the stuff of beautiful chaos. It is also the stuff of personal and social conversion. During this Lenten season, our actions of prayer, fasting and almsgiving challenge us to confront the uncomfortable corners in ourselves that are in need of God’s loving attention. As we let go of attachments and rearrange a bit of our living, an ugly seeming image of ourselves can emerge. We look at ourselves and see an inner chaos; we feel disturbed by truth. We need to grow, to be different, to convert more fully into who God made us to be.

I recently heard another Sister speak about how the chaos of a crisis gives us a chance to make a choice, frequently providing just the impetus we need to change. She connected these vital moments that invite our personal growth to the designs in God’s creation. When we study nature, she mentioned, we can recognize that the next evolutionary stage erupts when there is crisis and a need for change to occur.

I feel as if I am on this edge. The chaos of my weakness swirls about me, challenging me to make choices. I started Lent two weeks ago with a bit of my typical overambitious and idealistic intentions. And then I quickly started failing. Days would get busy and I would forget that about the extra tasks I wanted to do, like writing a card to someone I love each day. Now I am challenged to ask myself difficult questions, like why am unrealistic with myself? And, am I making enough time for others? I am challenged to move to more self-awareness and allowed to make another choice.

Each of us dance with questions and disturbances in the chaos of God’s Kingdom. We are allowed to make choices that allow for greater personal growth. We are invited to encounter the chaos that is the lives of others.

Then together–as a community–we change the structures, systems and inner oppression that don’t allow God’s Kingdom to fully come into the here and now. We forgive. We heal. We teach. We love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We love God with all that we are. Then, the peace, justice and love that is the Kingdom of God can be known in this time now.

Amen!

 

 

closets of conversion and compassion

Last summer I was invited to join a group of Christian bloggers who occasionally review Christian media.  After I agreed, opportunities came!  The first book that intrigued me is a story of radical solidarity, compassion and good ol’ fashioned Christian conversion, The Cross in the Closet by Timothy Kurek.

The following video nicely introduces you to the writer and the book’s premise. Prior to the start of his year-long experiment, Kurek was a self-named Christian bigot. He was upraised in a very conservative community- so conservative that he wasn’t even allowed to watch movies such as Free Willy, because it was considered “environmentalist propaganda.” He becomes troubled by his background and then pretends to be someone he isn’t for an entire year (in order to free himself from who he calls his Inner Pharisee). The outcomes are many, and profound. Ultimately, he learns universal Truths about love and dignity that we can all heed.

A modern rendition of St. Francis and the leper, The Cross in the Closet is a Christian story of encountering Christ in unexpected places, and then being changed by the experience. I was inspired by Kurek’s raw honesty and public vulnerability. The book is a touching story of how a genuine Christian faith is a journey through questions and doubts, spiritual poverty, conversion and gradual enlightenment toward Truth and freedom. Yes, all people, no matter their diversity, are children of God with equal value and worth. This Truth of Christ must be the foundation of all of our Christian behavior. For some of us, though, we must truly risk boldly in order to understand it, in order to believe it. That’s what makes this true story so compelling.

I believe that all readers will relate to The Cross in the Closet. Its meaning and message are both broader than communion with a marginalized population; its value is greater than education about diversity. Rather, The Cross in the Closet speaks volumes about the freedom that is gifted us when we seek God on the margins, when we strip ourselves of pride, anger, hate, fear and all that can block us from union with God as we step into the unknown.

Really, I think that the strength of the book is its universal messages. Following God can flip everything in our lives upside down. Kurek explained: “…the [new label] has forced me to think more deeply about things I probably never would have otherwise. . . But at least I am finally open to the idea that I may have been wrong all along…” (82). Actually, even if it’s not an outcome of intentional discipleship, enculturation causes one to consider what they never had to before.

Although I enjoyed reading this book and found its messages profound, The Cross in the Closet wasn’t an example of great writing for me to aspire. Apparently, the book was written while Kurek went through the experiment. His personal growth is paralleled with his development as a writer. In the beginning, some details were too random and insignificant to be included (so what if so-and-so just came out of the bathroom!?), many of the metaphors were confusing, and much of the writing lacked creativity or beauty. Even toward the end of the book, occasional grammar mistakes and bizarre typing errors provoked a feeling similar to reading essays written by my high school students. For example, I had an urge to mark the text with my colored pens when I read “she walks passed our table” instead of “past our table” (p. 267). I was left wondering whether the fact that books can be published with such mistakes should be reassuring or appalling to me, another imperfect writer.

Even so, The Cross in the Closet is an engaging and important book, thick with relatable threads for both Christians and secular seekers. Kurek’s story inspires us all to remember that we are all on a journey together, and we all must be willing to risk boldly in order to truly know who we are and how we are to be in this world of beautiful diversity. His story and its colorful strands of authenticity, friendship, love, faith, conversion, solidarity, and compassion is a blessing to us all.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

 

when eating bites

Bad news: people are starving to death; 16,000 children die every day from hunger-related causes.

Good news: God has mercy and God is helping us!  We are being preserved in spite of famine, scripture says.

Upright is the word of the LORD,
and all his works are trustworthy.
He loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the LORD the earth is full.
See, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him,
upon those who hope for his kindness,
To deliver them from death
and preserve them in spite of famine.
Our soul waits for the LORD,
who is our help and our shield.
May your kindness, O LORD, be upon us
who have put our hope in you.
(Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22)

I am a great lover of food.  Much of my life has been centered around it.  I grew up in a farming community and family.   I knew how to pull weeds before I knew how to read.  I knew how to bake and cook before I knew how to drive.  I understood how to milk animals before I knew how to type.

Today my younger sister and her husband are organic farmers.   My parents and my brother now own and run a world famous restaurant, in the middle of nowhere. But I live in the city, away from the family food business.  I tend to go grocery shopping, read cookbooks and then invent and share new culinary creations for fun.  Plus, I love gardening; when work is really difficult at the high school I fantasize about giving it all up and becoming a gardener or a baker.

Food is such a big deal to me that I entered a Eucharistic-centered community, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, before I was 25.  We’ve been adoring Jesus as Eucharist for over 133 years and it is very rad.

Obviously I am not unique because my life is centered around food. It is for all of us.  God designed it that way on purpose. It’s sacramental. It’s unifying. It’s life-giving. It’s essential.  I’m grateful.

Food is also oppressive.  The systems that control our consumption cause people to starve while others throw food away.  In the United States, we keep getting fatter while the rest of the world riots and dies because of food costs.  I wrote a bit about this for a Mexican food blog last week. The reasons why our food problems are so severe are complicated, economical and political.

As we gain awareness of the truth, we tend to be converted.  The freedom paradoxically requires us to be mindful and responsible.  It’s an act of solidarity and community.  Since food unites us, when any person in the body of Christ- in humanity- is suffering, we all are suffering.  For Lent this year I am working hard to simplify my diet, trying to fast, praying for those that are hungry and advocating for systemic justice.

This week at the high school I am leading two big events. Please pray for me and my students!  On Wednesday my seniors are hosting a Peace and Justice Fair. They’ve analyzed complex social problems and will now try to inform the community and inspire others to meaningful social action.   On Friday, we are hosting a Food Fast. The students will not eat for 24 hours, but still be very busy, as an act of solidarity and prayer for people who frequently go 24 hours without eating but keep working hard. I have games and activities planned to teach about global hunger and the students will engage in acts of service.

It’s really not that hard to make a difference.  Like my students, you can play games at FreeRice.com and donate rice to the UN WFP. You can click (and shop for Fair Trade goods) at The Hunger Site and donate 1.1 cups of food.  You can learn about the challenges of farming and survival in the developing countries by playing a game here. And, you can learn about living in poverty in the United States by playing a game here.

There are several other meaningful social actions that really make a difference.  You can literally buy an animal for a community in poverty through the Heifer Project. And, of course, you can pray, fast, give, advocate, and try out simple recipes through the Catholic Relief Services rice bowl campaign.

Together, we fast with hope and trust that our merciful God is leading us through the messy famines and injustices.  As I eat, I believe that the nourishment shall wake us all up to the heavy truth that we already have enough, we just need to learn how to share.  This sharing is the simple way that Jesus taught us, it is the way of freedom.

 

Photo courtesy of Catholic Relief Services.