Finding common ground in the din of debate

Debate divides this nation, and democracy is in disarray.

On one hand, we enjoy light, good-natured disagreements:

— Is the dress blue and black or white and gold?

Photo credit: https://www.zenia.com/2015/11/19/black-and-blue-dress/

— Do you hear Yanny or Laurel?

And then, there are the more serious debates; the ones that could be causing our civility to crumble.

The latest is emotional, intense: were the high school students recently filmed in DC being racist and mocking Native Americans? Or, were they just caught up in a complex situation?

As I observe the debate and consider how our government is failing to serve the common good right now, I have noticed I am not compelled pick a side; to make a public statement condemning anyone.

Why am I reluctant to stand up for peace and justice? Am I afraid of something, like offending a partner in ministry or someone I care about? Am I undecided about what’s right and wrong? Am I refusing to stand with the oppressed and marginalized?

I have been praying with these questions because I want to be a courageous disciple; I want share Christ’s light and love. And, I think that’s why the answer — that my opinions or outcry will not contribute any peace or unity — has come to me in prayer. It will only add to the din. The last thing our society needs right now is more din and debate. It is time for us to listen to another, to dialogue, to discover our common ground and work toward rebuilding a society full of peace and justice. The kingdom of God that Jesus established, the building of which is our Christian mission.

Certainly it’s valuable for me to evaluate my hidden prejudices — to attend to the ways that judgement can influence how I understand or react to situations. We all need to do this; it’s part of growing in health and holiness.

Even more importantly, though, is the call to increase the compassion and mercy offered to others, no matter who they are. Teenagers, Native Americans, republicans, democrats, African Americans or people who look and think like us — everyone deserves compassion and mercy.

I’ve learned how to get in touch with my own darkness, with my own ability to get involved in complex social sins. I do this by trying to see myself in others — even those who are clearly different than me. In other words, I try to imagine the story of how my life might have led me to behaving badly. I could have ended up a white supremacist if I would have felt desperate and allowed myself to become convinced by the propaganda I was exposed to as a youth growing up in rural America. I could have become involved in crime; in drugs and other addictions. I could have perpetuated violence and oppression upon others. I could have flaunted my privileges in ugly ways. I can imagine the narratives, the ways my life could have gotten me into trouble. I am no better than anyone else. We are all capable of evil.

Even though my life has gone in different directions (fortunately!), I still carry the potential to give into the temptations, to succumb to the darkness. Most of us do. And freedom is found in allowing ourselves see the truth of who we are; the truth of how desperately we need God’s grace, mercy and guidance. Only with God’s help can we grow in holiness and be peacemakers. This is the light we are called to offer.

Photo by Luca Baggio on Unsplash

When it comes to the complexity of sin and the din of debate, I believe the only way forward into God’s reign is to increase compassion and decrease judgement. Sharing this light will increase unity and peace.

Let us set down the stones and stop condemning one another.

Early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them. “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” John 8:2-11

Let us try, by the grace of God, to go and sin no more.

We walk together: reflections of the Women’s March

Leading up to the Women’s March on Washington last week, I noticed a lot of #WhyIMarch and also #WhyImNotMarching social media posts. Because the spirit, style and mission of the event—seemingly driven by language of “reproductive rights” (a new expression I’ve not yet come to terms with)—didn’t resonate with me, I found my own feelings and conclusions undecided.

adam-eli-marching
Adam and Eli marching (photo courtesy of Amy Nee-Walker)

What attracted me was the immediate, massive response of women (and men) coming together to respond in an assertive but nonviolent way with their bodies (not just Tweeting and tagging). The ambiguity of the platform appealed to me too but also gave me pause for possible interpretation as inclusivity: many people feel wronged for different reasons and it’s necessary to create a space where all can come together and voice their concern; not in a series of separate events but in unity.

It’s not uncommon for the term unity to be mistaken as synonymous with sameness. In fact, unity requires diversity: many different people, beliefs and ideas coming together to form “a complex whole.” Unity is not clean and neat, it’s messy and complicated. (Something we readers of Messy Jesus Business should appreciate!) What finally tipped the scales for me was the presence of my family members, with varying political and religious views, joining their voices across the country. In the spirit of sisterhood and unity, I asked some of them to share their reflections of the march.

Grace, who lives in Ohio and shared her home with a family of four (while in between jobs, after the birth of her second child), knows well what it means to practice hospitality:

I entered the Women’s March in D.C. as a skeptical outsider, wanting to observe and understand even though I felt like I didn’t quite belong. I wanted to stand up for dignity: for the right to dignity for women, Muslims, immigrants—all those who have been demeaned and treated as “less than” in the rhetoric of our new president. As a Christian I take to heart the command given in Leviticus to welcome and love the stranger (Leviticus 19:33-34).

Yet because I believe dignity of life extends to the unborn, the newly formed life, I kept questioning if there was a place for someone like me—pro-women, pro-equal rights, pro-intelligent sexual education, pro-supportive and affordable health care for women and pro-life—in this march. I had a desire to stand in solidarity with my fellow women and men in a historic moment but based on the official platform of the march I felt in many ways my presence wasn’t wanted.

As I struggled I came to recognize that to remove oneself from a discussion because you disagree is to render your voice obsolete. What part can we play in inspiring change and perpetuating truth when we refuse to begin the conversation? Conversing is not to speak at someone; to spew statistics, Scripture, opinion, or fact and then write them off when they disagree. A conversation involves listening, giving and receiving. So I sought to observe and understand the varied reasons so many people felt they could stay silent no longer and among these many voices I heard and saw things that made my heart say, “Yes, I see you, I know how you are feeling. I feel the same way.”

Ann Marie is a mother of three and long-time advocate for human rights who attended the march in Los Angeles wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt:

placas-nee-girls-at-march
Placas-Nee girls marching (photo courtesy of Amy Nee-Walker)

BLACK LIVES MATTER means our neighbors live lives in which they are told they matter less than us, and we need to do something about it. At the very least we must recognize it’s true, it’s happening and it’s their experience instead of foolishly insisting “but we ALL MATTER.” Yes, WE ALL MATTER. That’s the point. We need to change society—that they matter the same as us— till it rings true.

I took my two daughters, five and nine years old, to the march in L.A. because while we each have a voice now, we may not always. I may not fear for my immediate way of life or that of my blond-haired, blue-eyed children. We are safe and comfortable in so many ways. We haven’t been attacked because of our religion, our skin color, our parents’ country of origin. We may not have been threatened by Trump and his campaign promises, but our neighbors and fellow Americans have. So we went to speak out and lend our voices to theirs.

Allison traveled to D.C. along with her husband (my brother), both compelled by dismay that a man with such obvious disdain for women, Muslims, people of color and the environment is the new president:

It felt like a momentous day just from the bodies present, the singing, the buzz of electricity. And amidst all this excitement, one thing stood out to me the most.

We had been standing in the crowd for a couple of hours when a cry started. “Karen! Karen!” My husband and I joked “You’re in a crowd of 500,000 people and you’re trying to find Karen? Good luck.” Then we heard Karen’s son had been separated from her. A little boy lost his mom. We joined in the “Karen” shouts until she was found. Then we saw a group of women encircling a young boy, spreading the sea of people with their bodies, shouting “We’ve got a lost kid!” The women marched him backwards until he was reunited with his mom.

amy-penny-marching
Amy and Penny marching (photo courtesy of Amy Nee-Walker)

I keep thinking about the way those women protected Karen’s son, a child none of them knew. The way ripples of “Karen!” flooded the human logjam. The way everyone worked together to solve a problem. The way I’d been skeptical and my quick change of heart when I realized a child was in need. The way we all thought of our own children getting lost and needing help. That moment was a microcosm of the world in which we march.  If we all shout “Karen!” loud and long enough, Karen or peace or human rights or equality can be found. We have the power to move ourselves with the best interest of our children in mind through the masses; to push ourselves to the front, and to let our leaders know that we will not let even one of us be lost, trampled, forgotten. We walk together. I have your back.

As for me, I carried a sign my husband Ted and I had quickly assembled the morning of the march. Trying to decide upon words we could confidently stand behind and uphold, we settled on those of the prophet, Micah: “Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly.” I’ve carried these words—as a challenge and a guide—for most of my life. They indicate the spirit with which my husband and I resist the rhetoric and actions of Trump, who embodies the exact antithesis of justice, mercy and humility.

act-justly-sign-march
Photo courtesy of Amy Nee-Walker

The march was one opportunity to join our voices against what was only rhetoric and obscure proposals but which, over the course of last week, became executive orders and inhumane threats. I raise my voice again—sturdy on the foundation of the millions around the world with whom I stood in solidarity last Saturday (and all the more so, those who have been dedicating their lives to truth and compassion long before) to speak a resounding NO:

NO to banning people from this country because of their religion or nationality!

NO to dishonoring treaties and desecrating sacred lands!

NO to militarizing police and marginalizing people of color!

NO to torture!

And with Hebrew Scripture and teachings of Jesus prodding me forward, I dare to proclaim a determined, hopeful YES:

YES to welcoming foreigners and sharing with those in need!

YES to reverence and care for marvelous Earth and the creatures inhabiting her!

YES to defying oppressive powers and violence!

YES to recognizing that real security comes through accepting our individual vulnerability, embracing collective connectedness and choosing to care for one another!

ABOUT THE RABBLE ROUSER

Nee-Walker FamilyAmy Nee-Walker grew up in the middle of a large and lovely family in Central Florida. Living into questions about truth and love has led her to the Catholic Worker, the Catholic Church, her incredible husband, two audacious, adorable children, and (for the time being) a home in the hills of Appalachia.

 

We are one

Daily readings for October 8, 2016: Gal. 3:22-29; Ps. 105:2-3, 4-5, 6-7; Lk. 11:27-28

You are all one in Christ Jesus. – Gal. 3:28

We live in a society that has a tendency to divide us into enemy camps. Violence and squabbles due to differences like politics or culture have become strangely normalized.

No matter what has become culturally acceptable, the Gospel challenges us to live counterculturally. Although some people may avoid those they don’t like or agree with, we reach out to others with love and compassion. While others discriminate against or systematically oppress those who are different because of their race or beliefs, we seek to welcome and appreciate diversity. Such bold actions help us know our belonging in part of an inclusive, universal Church. To embrace and celebrate diversity is central to what it means to be Catholic. As challenging as it may be, when our family of faith unites as one we are obeying the words of Jesus Christ.

Jesus, thank you for the beauty of human diversity and creating us as one. May I recognize and promote our oneness today. Amen. 

photo credit: http://laurengregorydesign.com/projects/united-as-one-sermon-series/
Photo credit: http://laurengregorydesign.com/projects/united-as-one-sermon-series/

Lent: Time to make some changes

Last week, I bemoaned Lent’s fast approach on Twitter:

Ready or not, Lent is here and it is time to get into it—time to get into the spirit of prayer, fasting and almsgiving in order to experience great conversion during this sacred season.

It’s time to make some changes.

On this Ash Wednesday we are marked with signs of Truth: all of us are sinners, all of us need to repent, all of us have humanity in common. The fact that we came from dirt and shall return to dirt is one of the great equalizers among us.

Photo credit: http://adamsartgallery.com/art-from-ashes/

Because we are not God we all are imperfect, and must work together for growth and development. No matter which Lenten practices we commit to today, let’s remember it takes a lot work—two months on average—to really change our habits.

The ashes say it: Lent is a time to remember how connected, how communal we’re designed to be. As we change and become better together, let us remain patient—let us be compassionate when changes come tough.

Together, then, changed by our Lenten practices and the grace of God, let us unite as one and return to God with all that we are.

Amen!

In the world, not of it: Thoughts on countercultural Christian living

Be in the world, not of the world.”

Live countercultural Christian lives.”

“Be radical for the Gospel.”

Such mottos of countercultural Christian living have been ingrained in me for much of my life. Lately they have been going around in my mind like a record, while I have been pondering instances of divisiveness and polarization, both in American politics and…

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

Photo credit: http://lovealonecreates.com/counter-cultural/

praying for a democracy of love

I used to like politics. For a period of my life I worked as a lobbyist and I loved it.  Democracy and citizenship excited me. I believed in the democratic power to build God’s kingdom of peace and justice through cooperative problem solving.  I appreciated the diverse perspectives. It seemed that every person in every party had the same  vision: peace, liberty and security for the common good.  For the most part, people of all political parties still seem to be motivated by a common desire: creating a country where everyone is better off (even if the route to get there is completely different).

Lately, though, politics has sickened me.  The debate isn’t interesting, it’s predictable. The squabble sounds horrible. Some of the behavior (of adults!) reminds me of the bad habits of junior high students.  We put-down others, we tease, we say mean and untrue things just to make ourselves look better.  I frequently feel disheartened that adults aren’t modeling peaceful, cooperative, problem-solving for our youth.  What are the children learning from us?

When I was a child attending public school, I was taught a basic American value: we are supposed to care for others even if they are different from us.  I don’t remember adults showing me anything different.  Tolerance for diversity is supposed to be what our country is made out of.

For Christians, it’s even tougher and goes much deeper; we are called to LOVE everyone, even our enemies.   Love is a lot more self-giving and challenging than caring alone.  As stated by Thomas Merton “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether they are worthy. This is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is love, and this love itself will render both our neighbors and ourselves worthy if anything can.” 

I am hoping and praying that Christians can really love others, even if they are in a different political party or have a totally different worldview.  Let’s love! Then perhaps the energy of love will transform all of us to be the people we’re made to be, like Merton suggests.  By the grace of God, I believe we could even reunite and work together for the common good once again!

photo credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1390217

you’re invited to a church family reunion

Church is tough.  We are like a big dysfunctional family regularly squabbling and bickering about bizarre things.  Sometimes we try to divorce each other or run away from home. But, we can’t, really.  The Christian church family is the only family that can heal us and give us true freedom. In the Catholic branch, there’s true Eucharistic Love.

No matter what, like it or not, we’re in this together.  And no one can really separate herself from her roots; we can’t really forget who we are and where we belong. No one can really leave his family.

In this family, our connection is Christ. Christ is the heart that keeps beating and keeps the energy flowing.  Christ keeps us moving and building and creating.

“shadows” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

All the diversity is essential for the body to function.  Let’s love and cherish it. We can’t persist; we can’t exist without being different. God designed us this way on purpose.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.    -1 Corinthians 12: 4-7

I love being Catholic because we’re a wide Church with a very deep spirituality.  (At least that’s the way I understand Ecclesiology.)  There’s a wide range of what makes one Catholic. Despite our diversity, we still unite in Christ through the same sacraments, the same traditions and basically the same liturgies.

In this family, we don’t know all our relatives because we’re all so busy doing different work.  It’s a little understandable.  We are permitted to be different because we need to be.  Part of the diversity of spirit means that we have different opinions about what our priorities should be.  The challenge- and the frustration- is when we seem to lack appreciation for the others’ efforts in building the kingdom of God. We can’t all be working hard at every need.  So why do those who are passionate about one issue get frustrated if others aren’t working at it with them?

Personally, I have discerned that I am called to collaborate with peacemakers who are working for non-violent Gospel systemic change in the issues of poverty, war, torture, immigration, environmentalism and food. I depend on those who are working hard with the issues of health care, education, death penalty, abortion, contraception and equality to keep working hard in my name.

No one can do everything. But we must all do something, right? Perhaps the most important thing we can do in these divided times is support each other.  Truly we can never say thank you enough.

There’s struggle and pain in our divided, yet united, beautiful diverse body.  When we criticize each other, we so easily feel as if no one has noticed all the hard work we have been trying to do.  I’ve noticed and I say thank you!

Thank you dear bishops for working hard to keep us grounded in the traditions and doctrines that you value.

Thank you dear pro-life activists for working hard for our freedoms to say no to things that are wrong and deathly.

Thank you, dear sisters and brothers who are working hard to build equality and justice in our church.

Thank you, dear friends who are putting their bodies on the line to end war, torture and violence.

Thank you, dear sisters, for creatively raising consciousness and advocating tirelessly for legislation to help the poor and vulnerable.

Thank you, dear elders who have dedicated your entire lives to the service of the church and poor.

Thank you, everyone for all you do to build the kingdom of God!

Coming to a Sunday near you, we can celebrate the gratitude.  While we commune, look and listen for the resurrections and alleluias. You’re invited to a wild family reunion.

trusting fire’s power

The fire of God is burning and we gather to praise and rejoice.  No barriers divide us, no division separates us.  God’s mystery connects us through the diversity of language, origin, world-view, culture and class. We are together, glowing with the heat that can only be experienced by the fullness of humanity.

Fire is beautiful, enlightening, strong.  We can become mesmerized and tempted to play in it and with it, teasing the limits.  With deep wonder, we can get too close to the power, only to be burned and scarred.  If we dance with God’s designs, we can’t stay the same.

In fact, the elements of God’s designs instill in us great lessons about the mystery of God’s nature.  Fire is fierce, dangerous, destructive.  Without our attention or understanding, the sparks of elements and energy ignite flames in fields and forests.  Dry air and strong wind force rages for miles, destroying life, homes, security and control.

We lament at loss and grieve our lack of understanding.  It feels like an injustice, it’s definitely a mystery. How can we love and have faith anymore?  How can we believe and trust?  How are we supposed to accept that this is Love’s Way when we feel so hurt?

Nature tells us, though, that with time life comes back brighter and stronger after a fire sweeps through.  In my childhood, I remember being confused about how my parents would start brush fires in our pastures to renew the grasses for something better. It made no sense to me, just as I now don’t understand my Divine Parent’s fire-y ways.

I try to trust, despite the struggle.  I’ve been hurt by the sudden death of a colleague and I am trying to live through painful good-byes; I’m ending my ministry in Chicago and moving to Wisconsin to be near the motherhouse. On Tuesday, another student told me that someone he knew well (his cousin) was shot and killed.  A foot taller than me at fifteen, I suddenly fell onto his chest, sobbing at the injustice.  He stood there like a pillar of stone, trying to comfort me through his own stunned grief. “It’s OK, Sister.” he muttered.  “No, it’s not!” I said.

Somehow, I must be faithful to my call to be an itinerant Franciscan and say good-bye to my students who are in so much pain.  Somehow, I must trust God that things will really be OK.  I must trust the mystery of God’s glorious fire, because I have no other choice. And, I believe that Love is truly stronger than any other energy, even the energy of non-understanding.

Deep in the dark, I shall snuggle up to the coals of God’s comfort with my community, family and friends.  The force of the Spirit shall heal and transform all of us, together, to be united as one body: the fire of God’s love. May it be so, Amen, indeed, Amen.

The Golden Sequence

Come, Holy Spirit,

send forth the heavenly

radiance of your light.

Come, father of the poor,

come, giver of gifts,

come, light of the heart.

Greatest comforter,

sweet guest of the soul,

sweet consolation.

In labor, rest,

in heat, temperance,

in tears, solace.

O most blessed light,

fill the inmost heart

of your faithful.

Without your grace,

there is nothing in us,

nothing that is not harmful.

Cleanse that which is unclean,

water that which is dry,

heal that which is wounded.

Bend that which is inflexible,

fire that which is chilled,

correct what goes astray.

Give to your faithful,

those who trust in you,

the sevenfold gifts.

Grant the reward of virtue,

grant the deliverance of salvation,

grant eternal joy.

Amen, Alleluia!

loving Love

I have always loved Valentine’s Day.  We don’t tell people we love them often enough and it’s our Christian message and way.  I love celebrating love and sharing it.   Love is pretty much my favorite thing. Because, well, God is totally my favorite thing.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us. 1 John 4:8-12

Love is God.  The union of Love is the force of the holy.  Popes write and teach all about it, saints marvel in it, lovers dwell in it. It is the duty of all the Christians to share it.  When we love others, we help them to get to know God.

I hope that my ministry is all about love.  I hope that I provide a loving presence to all who I meet.  I pray that all people will really know the power of the greatness of God love- Agape Love– and be made more whole.  I hope I help others understand what that means.

One of my students randomly approached me recently and asked me to tell him three of my main religious beliefs. It was an really profound and interesting question.  I believe so many things so I didn’t really know what to say.  The first thing I said, though, is that I believe God is love and when we experience love, we experience God.  Love really is the foundation of my faith.

The challenge is that love is really hard work.  Living the Gospel means we love everyone, no matter what. It means we are willing to care for those who seem most broken, dirty, smelly and diseased.  We end up putting our lives on the line, all for the love of God and neighbor.

As Dorothy Day showed us, a life of love means we join others in soup lines and joyfully break bread with the hurting, trusting in the healing power of union.  As we share, care, create and renew the face of the earth, we build the Kingdom of God.

Little by little, Love changes the world.  The good news is that the changing is God’s work- we just cooperate with God’s ways, by sharing the love we have known.  It’s pretty awesome to give what we have been blessed with, a lot of Divine Love.  Have fun celebrating Love today! God loves you and so do I! Happy St. Valentine’s Day! Love, Julia

"love light" by Julia Walsh, FSPA