Thanks for giving, not shopping

Happy Thanksgiving!

During this time when we pause to give thanks in the USA, I take this Scripture seriously:

In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

But, the truth is, gratitude is only some of what is stirring in my heart.

I am also restless and longing for greater peace and justice for God’s people. Sometimes this causes there to be layers of sorrow, judgement, disturbance, discouragement, disappointment and anger too — layers that I fear might be thicker than the gratitude that I feel.

As many people begin their holiday shopping, it’s especially tough for me to not become angry about the consumerism that our culture force feeds us. People are excited about sales, about shopping and buying more stuff. What is the craze about? Is it about generosity? Or, is it about greed and getting new stuff, just so we can throw out the old?

Whatever the case may be, let’s not throw out our consciousness that Earth is hurting and our consumption is causing serious destruction. Let us heed this warning:

The real culprit of the climate crisis is not any particular form of consumption, production or regulation but rather the very way in which we globally produce, which is for profit rather than for sustainability. So long as this order is in place, the crisis will continue and, given its progressive nature, worsen. This is a hard fact to confront. But averting our eyes from a seemingly intractable problem does not make it any less a problem. It should be stated plainly: It’s capitalism that is at fault.

Christians, we are not here to cause more pain and suffering. We must attempt not to contribute to the systemic problems. Even when it’s easier to avoid the heartache of truth, we must step out of our comfort zones and be converted.

Doing so will help move society toward solutions. It is time for us to work for a more sustainable, equitable and just society, a world that builds up the reign of God. This is how we store up treasures in heaven!

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

Matthew 6:19-21

Although this can become a time when a lot of people are crazily shopping and consuming, this is also a wonderful season of generosity, community, sharing and celebrating the goodness of God! This is what builds up God’s reign! This is what we are made to promote!

So, what’s a Christian to do? How can we resist the craze of consumerism and be countercultural peacemakers?

Here are some ideas:

  • Collect donations for your local homeless shelter, transitional living program or food shelf. Want to give things that they really need? Then call them up and ask what that is! Most likely money is one of the greatest needs.
  • Honor children and elders: Mentor young ones and teach them about generosity. Help meet the needs of those who are vulnerable. Visit elders who are homebound and lonely. If anyone asks me what I want for Christmas I’m ready to tell them that I want donations to Tubman House for Christmas.
  • Pray for peace: This includes asking God how you are needed to be peacemaker.
  • Connect to the tough parts in the Christmas story: Advocate for immigration reform and stand up for anyone who is oppressed by violence and injustice.
  • Spread the Love: Tell young people that they matter and you care about them. Write letters and cards. Be intentional about how you spend time with others.
  • Getting creative about how you give presents: Re-gift. Buy things at thrift stores. Making DIY crafts out of stuff you have around home. Utilize some of the resources from “Buy Nothing Christmas” and bake goodies to share.
photo credit: http://www.accessoriesmagazine.com/

On this day of true thanksgiving, let us give God all that is on our hearts! And, let us make a plan for how we will express our gratitude through our countercultural, generous living. Amen!

This blog post is adapted from the November 25, 2011 blog post entitled “thanks for giving, not buying” and the November 27, 2013 blog post entitled “Craving a countercultural Christmas.”

Thanksgiving in the midst of this mess

“It’s getting ugly!” “Society is starting to collapse!” One might be tempted to scream and cry when the headlines are scanned; when turmoil bubbles up and splashes upon any sense of security and comfort that has been shielding our privileged lives.

The mess of injustice can burn us or it can mobilize us to be who we are made to be. This is the time for us to give of ourselves; to share compassion, kindness, solidarity and prayers—we have been practicing for this since the time of Jesus Christ. Yes, we Christians must indeed stand with the vulnerable and weak right now; we must protect and care for those who are oppressed and suffering with all our might. We must pay attention and help all people unite as peacemakers, as people who nonviolently resist the hate crimes and violence that are ripping communities and our nation apart. Yes, we must resist nonviolently, even willing to do so to our death–Jesus already showed us the way.

The heartache is real, the challenge is intense; the truth is disturbing and can mess up our comfort zones and our temptation to avoid. And it should. We have a lot of work to do.

But, tomorrow is THANKSGIVING. A day to feast, to pause. A day for loved ones to sit around tables and eat, eat, eat; play games and laugh, and tell stories. Can we afford to take a break?

Yes. We must. We absolutely must.

Thanksgiving is a day to practice the essentials; to lean into those we love and gain strength, to connect with our roots and remember who we are and how we’re meant to be.

Many of our families are likely to be split over the issues, to be a collection of folks who sit at different spots on the political spectrum. This day of thanksgiving—no matter who we spend it with—is a day for us to practice what we believe it will take to heal our hurts and mend the broken, messy society. We can avoid controversial topics and keep all things light and cheery (and that’s OK; that is healing and important too) or we can look into the eyes of those who are near us and try out those dialogue skills, even awkwardly. We can ask, “How are you doing, really?” and “What are you worried about right now?” and “What do you believe will help us be better?” We can listen (with compassionate curiosity), love unconditionally, tell true stories, and imitate Christ. We can practice self-sacrifice.

Thanksgiving is a day for gratitude. We can closely examine the beauty that surrounds us in faces, in food, in the dance of color and light. We can think about all the things we have learned, that have been exposed and broken open. We can consider how we’ve grown since last Thanksgiving and how God is guiding us through.

We can make “thank you” our mantra of love. A lot is good and we really are blessed, abundantly. To pause and celebrate the goodness is not only healthy, it is necessary; only in our gratitude and relationships shall we have the strength for the mission we are made for, a mission of love and joy.

There’s a lot of beauty in the endless opportunities of this sacred feast. This is an important time and by God’s grace we are ready. For this we can also say “thank you.”

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

"evening light" Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Evening Light” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

 

 

 

Thanksgiving for Messy Jesus Business’ 5th Birthday!

Photo credit: http://www.firstefc.com/event-items/worship-and-praise-service/

It is amazing to me that it is nearly Messy Jesus Business‘ 5th Birthday! Thanks be to God that I listened to the encouragement of my community and friends to start a blog about living the Gospel and we’re still going strong.

I am in awe, really, upon reflection on all the waves that MJB has had in the world, as there are many indications that this blog is having a positive impact. Since November 29, 2010, over 70,000 visitors have visited MJB. We have been mentioned in several publications, including on The Good Word at America, on Patheos, on Top Catholic Blogs,  and in Our Sunday Visitor and in other blogs, such as There Will be Bread by Fran Rossi Szpylczyn.

I have been humbled by praise I’ve heard over these five years for the goodness found on this site. I’ll never forget the strangeness of first meeting someone who was a devoted reader of MJB (but a stranger to me) and how encouraged I felt about the importance of maintaining this presence (Thanks Melissa!). Plus, MJB has helped me gain the practice I’ve needed to come into other opportunities such as serving as a Horizons columnist for Global Sisters Report and being a regular contributor to Living Faith(By the way, October 7, 2014—the day my first Living Faith reflection appeared—MJB had its biggest day with 1,031 views!)

Thanks be to God for the blessed community of Rabble Rousers who have indeed helped keep this blog going. I was very reluctant to begin blogging since I know I live a very busy life and usually have a bit too much on my plate, so to speak. But, with the collaboration of my awesome messy, Gospel-centered friends, we have been able to explore together some deeply important aspects of being the Church we hope for.

Some of the Rabble Rousers have contributed gratitude reflections to help us celebrate MJB‘s 5th birthday:

Being a part of the Messy Jesus Business community has helped me to not miss the trees for the forest, so to speak. In the midst of what sometimes feels like a large, confusing, abstract struggle for peace and justice, Sister Julia and the other bloggers remind me to slow down and focus on small moments and little victories—to celebrate where we are and where we’ve been even though a long journey still lies before us.

~ Steven Cottam

I love that this is a safe place for us to get messy. I think my thoughts are freakishly weird, and my spirituality is even more so. Sometimes I hesitate to share, but maybe someone else gets it, too. And that’s the beauty of this experience for which I am grateful.

~ Emily Crook

Because having Jesus at the center of my love and commitment has always been messy, I treasure the freedom in MJB to connect my faith to real life.  Where else can I talk about fears about celibacy, accepting my brokenness, exhaustion, Pope Francis, TV crime dramas, child slavery, final vows, violence against women, The Bachelorette and yard maintenance? Because it is always in these details of life that I find my Jesus.

Sister Sarah Hennessy FSPA

As a parent to small children, my daily discipleship is truly messy –both literally and spiritually!  I am deeply grateful to this blog for giving me a community with whom I can share, ponder, and grow in our collective messiness as followers of Christ.

~ Nicole Steele Wooldridge

I am very thankful for how this ministry of writing and witness has transformed my life. I am extremely appreciative for all the voices that have contributed to our communal contemplation about how messy discipleship truly is. Thank you writers, thanks to Jen and Jane for their help with editing and format, thank you to everyone who has commented and shared the posts, and thanks to all of you for subscribing.

I rejoice over how this messy little corner on the internet has helped contribute to the building of God’s reign of peace and justice; I am so grateful that the Spirit is at work here!

Thank your for your participation! Thank you for reading! Happy Thanksgiving! And, Happy 5th Birthday to Messy Jesus Business!!!

Sister Julia Walsh, FSPA

photo credit: http://cabinfevercraft.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/il_fullxfull.552264116_erau-300×300.jpg

Franciscan Bookshelf: “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are”

By Messy Jesus Business guest blogger K.P.

Eucharisteo always precedes the miracle.”– Ann Voskamp

51lWAOBT9rL._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_The concept of eucharisteo, as Ann Voskamp explains in One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, is a practiced and disciplined form of perpetual adoration: a choice to thank God in every season, every action, every moment. As she describes in this interview with The High Calling, it is “the word that can change everything”: thanksgiving, which “envelopes the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning ‘joy.’ Charis. Grace. Eucharisteo. Thanksgiving. Chara. Joy.”

Last week, I made my covenant affiliation to the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and participated in the program’s live-in for five days prior to that ceremony. On Wednesday morning we were visited by two sisters who spoke passionately about perpetual adoration. I confess that, prior to the live-in, I found perpetual adoration to be the most mystifying and distant aspect of my community’s charism. I have sat in the perpetual adoration chapel many, many times, and I’ve experienced peace; I’ve prayed and felt the effects of my prayers; I’ve left prayer requests for others. And I felt that I understood—intellectually—the significance of perpetual adoration and the way it has marked the history and experience of the FSPAs in La Crosse, Wisconsin. But I did not fully understand this ministry and its immediate application to my life. I was grateful that others dedicated their time to adoring the monstrance—not just FSPAs, but countless affiliates, prayer partners and occasional visitors. But I did not understand how or why I should make this a regular, meaningful part of my own spiritual journey.

One of the sisters that morning spoke fervently of perpetual adoration as a form of being prayerfully active in the world, and I recalled immediately Voskamp’s own word for such a practice, eucharisteo. Voskamp’s text is meaningful to me because I credit her book—and my dog-eared, much-loved copy—for introducing me to the power of the everyday spiritual practice. It was after I read One Thousand Gifts that I began to explore lay orders and other spiritual communities and disciplines; it was after I watched interview after interview with Voskamp that I began to recognize and appreciate mundane holiness and the need for loving presence in every moment. One Thousand Gifts helped me understand that I would be remembered for how I loved, how I brought peace—not for what I owned or accomplished. In this way, I would place Voskamp in powerful company: her book was as quietly revolutionary, for me, as was Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical and the work of Richard Rohr. Her revolution is a whisper. A silent, persistent prayer of gratitude. A microaction, prompted by a profound call to her own version of perpetual adoration.

And so, even though Voskamp is not Catholic nor is she Franciscan (though I believe that, as we say, she has a “Franciscan heart”), her word eucharisteo remains with me as I begin my new journey as an affiliate of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.

The Real Meaning of Justice

As part of a larger discussion in my classroom yesterday, I asked my students how they define justice. Then, I asked them how they could better demonstrate justice.

The results were fascinating to me. Some students very quickly said justice means “fairness.” More students, however, said things like “being nice,” “treating people equally,” and “enforcing the laws.”

The context of the conversation was an examination of the following passage of scripture, a passage that shows the real meaning of justice. We are to change our hearts and ways to imitate God who is compassionate and fair: God who doesn’t necessarily treat everyone equally–but fairly–by giving special attention to those who are most vulnerable in society.

Now, therefore, Israel, what does the LORD, your God, ask of you but to fear the LORD, your God, to follow in all his ways, to love and serve the LORD, your God, with your whole heart and with your whole being,

 To keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD that I am commanding you todayfor your own well-being?

Look, the heavens, even the highest heavens, belong to the LORD, your God, as well as the earth and everything on it.

Yet only on your ancestors did the LORD set his heart to love them. He chose you, their descendants, from all the peoples, as it is today.

Circumcise therefore the foreskins of your hearts, and be stiff-necked no longer.

For the LORD, your God, is the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes,

who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the resident alien, giving them food and clothing.

So you too should love the resident alien, for that is what you were in the land of Egypt.

The LORD, your God, shall you fear, and him shall you serve; to him hold fast and by his name shall you swear.

Deuteronomy 10: 12-20

The way we are called to love and serve God is by loving and serving the most vulnerable in our society. For my students and me, that is people who are different than us.

My students are studying the Old Testament and they are 9th graders. Most of them are white and privileged, and enjoy lives of safety and comfort.

Justice may have been difficult for many of my students to define because they don’t have to think about it very often. Most of them are able to go through their days without having to worry about whether they will be stopped by the police when they walk down the sidewalk. They do not worry about being wrongly harassed by police. They don’t have to fear coming home to find that their parents have been deported.

Like my students, I also enjoy being able to trust that the police will protect me and keep me and my dearest loved ones safe. I don’t fear racial discrimination, brutality, or false accusations for crimes.

It’s Thanksgiving week, and we have much to be grateful for. We also have a lot to do.

It is a time of tension in this nation.  The protests and violence concerning the case of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, and the debate about immigration reform show that a lot of intense emotion is stirring all over the land. (By the way, I am a supporter of President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration reform, along with the Catholic Bishops).

During this time of chaos and conflict, what type of justice do we need to demonstrate?

The Scripture and our tradition make it clear. As people of faith, we are called to protect the most vulnerable. We must enter into intense social analysis in order to see what’s really going on in the systemic problems that cry out for the need for changes: we need immigration reform and less militarization in our police forces. We need more compassion.

We must rally non-violently. We must hold prayer vigils. We must offer loving presence to the hurting, the suffering, the vulnerable and oppressed. We must listen to their voices and not be quick to judge.

We must engage in simple acts of generosity and kindness, like God, and lovingly give the vulnerable food and clothing.

This is the real spirit of Thanksgiving: attitudes of gratitude that become actions for justice and kindness, recognizing we are blessed and making social changes so more people can experience the blessings. The type of Thanksgiving that our nation needs now is a celebration of generosity and compassion that honors the real meaning of justice.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Me (on the far left), protesting the immigration raid in Postville, Iowa with other Sisters in my FSPA community, summer of 2008.
Me (on the far right), protesting the immigration raid in Postville, Iowa with other Sisters in my FSPA community in the summer of 2008.

the trouble with thank you

In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.  -1 Thessalonians 5:18

“enlightened” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

There are too many thank you’s that I never write.

I am frequently overwhelmed with the abundance of love, blessings, kindness, gifts, prayers and support that are showered upon me.  Inequality drives me nuts, even when it comes to blessings.  I don’t want to experience more love and support than any other person, yet I know I do.  At times, the reality freezes me in a backwards feeling of worthlessness.

I am not very good at receiving gifts and blessings.  I have a flawed response.  When people are good to me and when people give me praise, I tend to squirm and divert attention.  I want to respond to compliments with compliments for others.  I want to explain that all the success and fortune I experience is God’s doing, not mine.

Sometimes the hardest thing to say is “thank you.”

When I finally do try to say thank you, I feel so inadequate.  I want to write litanies and I want to construct complicated cards. I want to call sisters, colleagues, friends and family and tell them personally how their kindness has not been unnoticed.  I want to jot a note for every little thing that everyone does for me:  hold a door, run an errand, give a donation, or send me an encouraging letter.  I never feel like I have the time nor energy to try to express all the gratitude I am feeling.  When I can’t stand that “write thank you to so and so” has been on my to-do list for longer than two months and I finally sit down to make an effort, I often feel like what I come up with is way too overdue and inappropriate.  Then, when my thank you’s turn into apologies, I become stunned by the response I hear.

“I know you appreciate it. You don’t have to say so.  You are a very grateful person.” 

I wonder if my character has stuck me into a cycle. Maybe  I receive a lot of blessings  because it’s rewarding to give to people who are grateful.  Then, I struggle with receiving because I don’t know how to respond.  My list of unwritten thank you’s takes on a life of its own.  In the end, my gratitude becomes a relational thing and tokens of appreciation are replaced with simple statements.  “Hey, thanks for doing that.”  “Thank you so much, that was so nice.”  “Thank you.”  Really, it’s much more personal.  Then, I am understood as “a person who is all about gratitude” because people hear me saying thank you all the time.  Therefore, more blessings are sent my way because everyone needs to hear “thank you.”

This is a human cycle.  Gratitude is a life cycle, and earth cycle.

I am learning: the gratitude cycle need not be complicated, because, really, thank you’s are essential. Thank you’s are like breathing.

“Within this human impulse to gratitude flow the vast cycles of universal reciprocity for everything that is taken, something has to be given in return.  If you merely take in a breath and stop there you will die.  Likewise if you merely breathe out.  Life is not giving or taking, but give and take.  This is the dynamic expression of universal belonging expressed in our thanksgiving... Perhaps the greatest gift we humans can offer to the rest of creation is our heartfelt appreciation… Our praise and thanksgiving is as essential a part of life’s give and take as are the cycles of oxygen and water or any other nourishment flowing through the biosphere.”  (From Earth Prayers, page 211-213)

I am glad to know that thank you need not be a big deal, because our interdependence is very basic and natural.  In fact, I am thankful I am learning this lesson!

Thank you to each of you for how you all help me be the interdependent part of creation I am made to be. Amen!

“interdependence” by Julia Walsh FSPA

thanks for giving, not buying

I am grateful.  It’s thanksgiving weekend, and I am blessed.  These days, gratitude and thanksgiving are in season.  After a harvest and a celebratory feast it’s easy to cozy up to a sacred sensation of appreciation.  It’s good and important, and I could become very long-winded about how grateful I am.

The truth is, though, I am not purely grateful. A few other feelings are mixed into this heart of mine that makes this season a little more complicated.

Yesterday at my family’s Thanksgiving meal there were several conversations about the dangers of consumerism and the goodness of simplicity.  My heart was filled with thanks for the fact that these are the values that have been instilled in me.  Simplicity and thriftiness shall help us survive, I’ve learned.  Consumerism creates more problems than solutions.  Happiness has nothing to do with the stuff you have.  Instead, joy comes from a relationship grounded in God.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal.  But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” –Matthew 6:19-21

Jesus seemed to say so himself: It’s not the stuff of shopping that matters, but the stuff of heaven.

The danger and the challenge, however, is that it’s a heaven thing to have a pure heart.  Pure hearts are nonjudgmental and free of pride and self-righteousness.

It’s easy to become self-satisfied when I hear murmurings with negative tones about shopping crusades and I agree.  The truth is, I know many people whose joy on this day are the deals that they discovered on their shopping frenzies.  For many, it seems that the hype, lines, crowds and stampedes of this day are fun and exciting like sports events.  It’s hard to appreciate all this, instead I become grateful for Buy Nothing Day campaigns.  I can become angry about how people choose insanity.  When anger enters in, though, love seems to leave.

In my classroom there is a sign: “If you must have an attitude, have an attitude of gratitude.”  In reality, gratitude is tough.  The problems of the world glare at me, and it becomes hard to have a grateful heart.  When I notice people doing things wrong, I can quickly become judgmental, crabby, and angry.  When consumerism and materialism seem to be creating spiritual and social disasters, I have trouble appreciating any type of craze that supports it.  When oppression corrodes at the dignity of those whom I love, my heart rarely has room left for gratitude.

A wise sister in my community has told me that when there is a temptation to be judgmental, gratitude is the quickest remedy.  Once gratitude enters in, she says, all else has to go out.

Once gratitude enters in, I’ll have no choice but to know love.  That love can’t be bought or sold.  I’ll have to give it away, and with that it’s the gift that just keeps giving.

the prayer box

Guest blogger Liz Diedrich

Praying is hard. It is hard to find time to pray. It is hard to stay focused. It is hard to quiet one’s mind and listen for the subtle movements of God. It is hard when we feel far from God, and it is hard when God asks things of us that we do not want to hear.

I wish a prayer upon my little sister Molly. She has become an alcoholic. I love her. Amen

At André House one the most important things we do is pray for our guests. In the main dining room of the hospitality center we have a prayer table. Here we have paper, pens, and a prayer box where guests (and volunteers and staff) can write their prayer intentions. At our noontime prayer we pray the intercessions from the prayer table.

"Jesus of the Electrical Boxes" (In the main dining room at Andre House)

I pray Lord, please help me know where to live, where to start the journey, where to end the journey. Thanks. Amen.

It is very intimate to share the prayer intentions. A person’s prayers come from the silent longing of their hearts and are raw expressions of their deepest desires. We see prayers of hope, despair, joy, and thanksgiving.

I’m such a sucker. I get paid and throw it away on others. I am so tired. Death would be a welcome relief. Lord, help me learn to help me. Amen. -Nick

Sometimes, I find the hardest part of prayer is honesty with God. In prayer we are called to let go of the walls we put around ourselves and let go of our worldly self-consciousness. We are called to authentically and completely open ourselves to the grace of God.

Help, God, I am begging, I need to stay clean. Amen.

In prayer we are called to continually deeper our relationship with God and to become self aware of our shortcomings and our needs. We are called to honestly look at ourselves and humbly ask God for the grace to lead us according to God’s dream for our lives.

Dear most gracious father God I ask in your son Jesus name that my children come home to me and papa. Amen.

As we discover the areas of our lives where we fall short, prayer is an occasion to bring these things before God and ask for help.

I ask the Lord for a special anointing – the kind of anointing that whatsoever I touch or whomsoever I walk by, they would be blessed. Please also pray that God humbles me and makes me like Christ through and through. Amen.

Often when I am having a hard time with prayer, when I cannot stay focused or I am frustrated by my day, I turn my prayer into a prayer of thanksgiving. At the end of the day I work to quiet my mind by recalling the moments throughout the day that I am thankful for, the moments where God was present in my day.

Thank you God for everything, even the things I don’t see and help the little girl I saw on the bus today. Amen.

It is a blessing and privilege to share these prayers with our guests and in our community. This last prayer was a prayer left on the prayer table in thanksgiving for André House for all of those who pass help with our ministries.

A prayer for André House – may God find you in his mercy and his grace for all you have done for everyone. Amen.