On the corner of 12th Ave. and Jefferson

True story shared by guest blogger Liz  Diedrich

I was happy to see William pull up next to me on his bike. Last I heard he had been stabbed in a fight and I did not know the extent of his injuries. Surprised at the opportunity, I ask him how he was doing. He seems embarrassed about his injuries and the fact he was fighting; he says he was fine but really blows the question off.

I have known William for three years and I have seen him on and off “the wagon” twice as many times. I know he is an alcoholic. I know he finds himself in a lot of fights. I changed the bandages on his gunshot wound a few years ago. We have a good rapport and I feel comfortable teasing him and challenging him.

So I continue to push a bit. I ask about the fights, work, housing and his alcohol addiction. He is not really in the mood to chat so I continue on my walk to work and he starts to peddle away. But then he stops me.

“What is the beginning of 1st John all about?” he asks.

Confused and surprised, I respond, “What William?”

“I was reading my Bible last night, and I was reading John and it did not make sense. I could not sleep because it did not make sense,” he responded quickly.

“William, are you talking about the Book or the Gospel?” I ask, secretly hoping he is asking about the Gospel.

“The Gospel. What is all this talk about the Word, and God, and light about?”

So I sit down. He sets his bike down and sits with me. I pull my Bible out of my bag. And together on the corner of 12th Ave. and Jefferson we have a Bible study. In the part of town where drug dealers, prostitution, homeless shelters, and soup kitchens exist. In the part of town people try to avoid. Here we are sitting on the corner having an impromptu Bible study.

Street signs for 12th Avenue and Jefferson Street

In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God.

All things came to be through him,

and without him nothing came to be.

What came to be through him was life,

and this light was the light of the human race;

The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness has not overcome it.  –John 1:1-5

We talk through each verse. We take each line and individually look at its meaning. We discuss the passage as a whole.

It’s simple. We do not use the word exegesis or talk about homoiousios vs. homoousios. It’s beautiful. Two people are caught in a moment; two people are finding God; two people are drawn together by grace.

“So really, it’s all about Jesus. Jesus and God. And Jesus saved us. And Jesus is still the Light. That’s it?”

 “Yep, William, it really is that simple.”

in a cave, prepping for sunrise

I am a slow learner. I hear the sacred invitations of Lent and I still move toward the darkness.  My life is busy right now and I wonder if my time with God in the desert is caving in on itself.  Is it true that I need to understand darkness to be a child of the Light? Are all my examinations of the truth really helping me get ready for the sunrise? Or, am I making things harder for myself?

Together we’re in a Lenten desert where things aren’t too comfortable.  God seems to have turned up the heat and hallowed out cool caves of confusion for us to take refuge.  Our explorations of the caves of truth cause us to wonder.  Is there a reason why we want to examine the rock formations within the dark?  Can it also be our nature to stand and face the horizon, waiting to watch the glory of the sunrise?  As light emerges can we listen to the songs of creation getting ready for a New Day?

I ponder these scenes in my heart when I remember to pause during my busy days.  God is certainly using the local, natural beauty to ground me as I run around. I have to pay attention while I try to serve, teach, help and love.   Every day is full of the Truth that can bring me closer to God.  Truth can be rocky, heavy and hard.

This week daylight savings time has warped my routine some.  My alarm clock becomes part of my dreams and I tune it out but the singing birds stir me out of slumber.  Then, in a daze, I watch the sunrise over Lake Michigan and read psalms.  I bow, blow out candles and say the Eucharistic prayer that my sisters say in our adoration chapel every hour with me while I am away on mission:  “Sacrament most holy, Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine. Eucharistic heart of Jesus, furnace of Divine love, grant peace to the world.”

I gather my stuff and rush to work. On the way I encounter the needs of the world, hoping to bring the peace I pray for. Every child needs positive attention, every person needs to know that she is loved.  I can’t keep up with the demands of being a teacher, no matter how much sleep I sacrifice or prayers I pray.  It seems that I have to remain real. It’s more true to admit that I am doing my best but I would like to do better.  A stone of truth in the cave is named: I must be humble.

I read the news and check my email.  Awareness of injustices layer upon more demands.  The freshness of the signs of spring stir worries and unrest.  I am worried about the safety of the city, the garbage wrapping around fences and coating the land.  I get crabby and annoyed that other people are messing up the world, but I fail to look in the mirror.  Yet I am getting used to violent and cruel language. Along with other sufferings and wrong-doings, I tune things out instead of caring.  Another rocky truth in the cave is named: I could be more loving and passionate about injustice.

When evening arrives I am exhausted but still spinning in restlessness.  I realize I survived another day of mean misunderstandings and heavy work, but my guilt is stronger than gratitude.  I feel like I need to keep working as long as I can or I won’t be ready for tomorrow.  God stirs in my heart, asking me to sabbath. Come, rest in me.  I shrug off God’s desert invitations and turn instead to shame and sorrow;  I think I need to work harder.  A boulder of truth in the cave is named:  I need to trust in God.

I am glad that Lent is longer than a month because I seem to be a slow learner.  I am getting it though, little by little, and with each new awareness my relationship with God is being restored and renewed.  Eventually I’ll be able to leave the cool cave and re-encounter the heat of the furnace of Divine Love.  Eventually all this Lenten work will ready me for the best sunrise ever: the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the true Light of the world.

"thorns in the desert" by Julia Walsh FSPA

And this is the verdict,
that the light came into the world,
but people preferred darkness to light,
because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light
and does not come toward the light,
so that his works might not be exposed.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.  -John 3:19-20

consciousness, change and Joseph Kony

A lot of interesting things are happening in the movements for change in our society.  Videos are going viral, the Occupy movement continues, we’ve experienced an Arab Spring, and our nation is divided so much about issues (like wealth, poverty, war, abortion, contraception and sexuality) that I’m beginning to wonder if the two-party political system is failing.

General global consciousness is awakening.  More people seem to be concerned and talking about social problems and issues of morality than I can remember happening in the past.  Naturally when we start discussing the things of right and wrong, we begin talking about God and religion.  Our true human nature drives us to desire justice.  For Christians like me we learn what real justice is by looking to Jesus.

Many of the debates are very heated because there’s a lot of passion surrounding the topics people are concerned about. The topics of contraception, abortion, the treatment of the poor, the rights of women and human rights in general are pretty big deals.  Tension and chaos are getting us uptight.  The debate can be overwhelming, confusing and complicated.  Are there easy answers? Can there be?

About the viral video this week- all about children soldiers in Uganda- (Kony 2012) the CEO of Invisible Children made an important statement about the video’s popularity: “The core message is just to show that there are few times where problems are black and white. There’s lots of complicated stuff in the world, but Joseph Kony and what he’s doing is black and white,” – Ben Keesey

I think it’s true that the global, human family is hungry for some simple black and white morality.  We want some things to be cut and dry.  Ah, it’s a beautiful day! Wow, the sun is shining!  How wonderful, I can see clearly now!  When things seem clear, we feel refreshed.

The thing is, helping things be better means that we can’t stay cozy.  Our thinking doesn’t always stay clear when we let ourselves really get into it all.   Actually, to really effect change we need to turn toward the darkness. We need to face the ugly, awful truth that people are suffering and sin is destructive.  We need to learn the facts. We need to do social analysis and learn different perspectives.  We must be willing to get into the cracks of civilization where it’s complicated and uncomfortable.  We often play a part in the systems of violence without knowing it.  It’s haunting and humbling to know that we are part of a human family who is- in part- quite awful.  Facing the despair is Messy Jesus Business and it’s the stuff of the season of Lent.

Alas, we learn about the ugly and the awful but we don’t stall in it so long that we become infected with depression.  We become motivated to work hard because we want a better world.

alex

We desire to see the Kingdom of God and really know peace on earth.  We want change. We want things to be fair for everyone and we want to preserve rights and freedom.  We believe that all people matter. The power of the Kony 2012 video- and its cries for action- is that it is organized and direct.  We are made to believe that we can create change and are shown how.

We can join our diverse human family and build a kindom of equality, peace and justice – a real Easter message.  Thank God, we’re on our way.  We know that Jesus shall rise and Love and Life shall conquer death and evil. This great arrival of God’s glory is something we want to get really ready for.  We’re trying to get ready for this joy we’ll know when justice reigns.  We’re fasting, praying, giving alms, serving and living in solidarity with those who suffer.  Or, we’re trying our best to do the Lenten actions and accepting the fact that we keep falling a bit short.

So our Lenten work continues and we keep gaining awareness.  Our personal conversions create cultural conversions, and together we’re truly working for change.  As we reside in the challenging space of the Lenten desert where things are ugly and true, we all are getting ready to experience the fullness of God’s goodness. For that we shall be grateful and for that we shall keep trying.  As we do this work, we remain aware that God is with us, no matter how ugly the world may be.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lmiersbond/4709653204/

The Transfiguration

“Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, ‘Rabbi, it is good that we are here!  Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’” (Mark 9:5).

When I went hiking with a group of junior high students, we were going up a pretty steep mountain and we were having a hard time finding a place to camp.  Finally we came upon an old railroad grade.  It was the only flat land we had found.  So we tied up our tarps and settled in to sleep.  In the middle of the night, it started pouring rain.  The rain came right down the side of the mountain, across our flat railroad grade like a river, and straight down the mountain again.  We spent together a long sleepless night, fortunately, with a lot of laughter and good humor.

I get Peter.

Can we just stop for a moment and pitch a tent?

In this crazy 4G-speed world can we rest and stay and be?

I’ve been tired lately,  Bone tired,  Take-a-nap-on-my-lunch-break-cause-I-cannot-keep-my-eyes-open tired.  My friends and parishioners have noticed my tiredness and told me to take it easy.  So right now I am in the middle of a five day retreat.  I am finding restoration.  And I am reflecting on being tired.  

I think a lot of us are tired: from justice work and daily work, school and jobs and family.  The speed is relentless and the expectations are never-ending.  I remember making a list of Holiday stressors and writing down, “existence.”  Sometimes, just this living wears us out.  

Jesus,

Show me the things

That lumber up my heart,

So that it cannot be filled

With your life and power.

–Evelyn Underhill


What lumbers up my heart? 

Lord, show me the logs of attachment and self-criticism, of pettiness and envy, of over-analysis and just pure flight that keep me from filling with your love.  Help me, my Jesus, to rely on you.  To rest in you.  To be wholly in you.  Help me to find a little more interior space to be who I am just as you made me, and to be okay with that.  I cannot do it without you.  I cannot do anything without you.

 


Peter came down from the mountain.  He asked to put up a tent, but he followed Jesus back into the daily healing work of the world.  Eventually, he picked up his own cross. I think maybe it is okay to be tired for a while.  It is okay to rest.  And also I know that the greatest rest will not come to me on my own.  Jesus is my rest. 

counter-culturally powerful

Yesterday I asked a section of my students to raise their hands if they thought power is something God gives us.  Only half of the students raised their hands.  When I asked the other half what they thought they spoke about how power is something people earn because of their success.  “If we are all children of God, aren’t we equal?” I asked.  Not really, I was told, status sets us apart.

I believe that the electric energy of equality has the power to unite all.

"Light's great uniting power" By Sister Julia Walsh, FSPA

Within the core Christianity is a belief that all people are children of God. We are all made in God’s image and likeness, we are all people of dignity.  Everyone is holy and is worthy of honor.  God is alive within all of us.  Although our diversity helps us all to be more whole, no one is better than anyone else.  God sees as us equals and loves us all equally.

But then there’s the way society sees it.  Common culture tells us a totally different story.  Before we can read, we learn about winning and losing.  Competition is fun.  From a very young age we are taught that success and achievement are about accomplishing more, having more and earning more.  In the dynamics of capitalism, we base power upon wealth.  The rich and powerful seem to perpetually oppress the poor and powerless.  Perhaps it is because of this that we blame the poor for their problems and we are convinced that the rich are powerful because they deserve it.  Competition and consumerism connect with our experiences of power.   The fanfare of the Super Bowl is a manifestation of these attitudes.

The principles of non-violence imply that all people have the same power. No one is actually more powerful than anyone else,  just as in the eyes of God no one is better than anyone else.  The problem is that power is abused, misused, misunderstood and unknown.  Those who are more wealthy begin to believe they have the power to control, lead and guide. Those who are poor haven’t experienced the wealth and goodness of their own power.  We don’t really need to empower others, we need to encourage them as they desire to unleash the power they already have.

As we try to be faithful Christians, the tension between God’s ways and the world’s ways seems to keep us moving in circles.  When we want to experience what power really means we look to Jesus for grounding and growth.  The early Christians had some pretty good ideas about all this:

“Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him. You know the word [that] he sent to the Israelites as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all..”   -Acts 10: 34-36

We know Jesus loves all.  Jesus has been with us through our highs and lows.  Jesus’ humility is power’s true way.  Into the broken, hurting, bleeding cracks of creation Christ is crying.  He’s with us and showing us what is real.

Powerlessness and being powerful blend together in a place of true humility.  We know we are nothing without God and this knowledge sets us free.  As we bend to God’s power, we are enlivened for God’s good mission.  We’ll build unity so that status no longer sets us apart.  Energized to be together, we love like Christ loves: with great humility.  May it be so, amen, indeed.

advice at the start

Here is a poem drafted from advice given to me by experienced, wise Franciscans as I set out to start my ministry at this high school three years ago. I am so grateful that they warned me and gave me good blessings when it began …

If you think

you can do

this without

making a mess

you are kidding

yourself and

expecting too

much.

Ministry

must be

messy.

Service

can’t

just be

sweet.

Work

must be

laborious.

Be consistently

firm, fair and kind.

Let Love

be your purpose.

Your yes means

more when

you can say

No.

Be

Loving

Presence.

Obama and Jesus on Fairness

Obama always snags me.  I try my best to avoid being sucked into his beautiful rhetoric, but he got me on Tuesday during the State of the Union. What captured me was his strong language about fairness.  Over and over again he talked about fair practices in trade, fair taxes, and creating a world where “everyone gets a fair shot, and does their fair share.”

What is this gut reaction that “fairness” stirs in me?  Philosopher John Rawls calls it rationally and self-interest in his system titled, “justice as fairness.”  He believes if we all existed in a pretend state before we were born and didn’t know where we would end up, we would all create a world that was fair because we would fear being on the bottom.  We would identify with the other and know that she could be us.

Another philosopher, Martha Nussbaum, names this feeling of fairness as our understanding that we are all humans who deserve better.  She thinks we innately see the dignity in other humans and want them to have the basic necessities and the capacities to create a life that the person deems worth of living.

Are these philosophers’ ideas of mutuality, fear, and dignity what moves me when I hear Obama speak?   Yes, I think that is part of it, but I think it also points to something much deeper.  Obama touches upon my desire for salvation.

Talking of salvation, I turn to Jesus.  He talked about fairness just as both of these philosophers do.  He used the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to strike fear in us and point to how we are our “brother’s keeper.”   Jesus also respected the dignity of everyone as children of God and worked to meet those bodily needs through feeding and healing.

But Jesus also called the poor, the downtrodden, those who mourn “blessed.”  It wasn’t just about a “fair shake” or doing your “fair share.”  They are not simply deserving, but blessed in a spiritual sense.   God chooses an economic location for grace.   Our longing for truth, love, and wholeness –that is, salvation–is mysteriously and indistinguishably tied to being with and working for those on the bottom.

Being with the outcast and creating a world of fairness and justice is not simply to fulfill a divine command then.  It is an effort to labor with Jesus for the salvation of ourselves and the world.  It is through being converted, embracing solidarity with the least, laboring for healing and justice, and painfully dying to self to find new life that we become Christ and begin to discover our true selves and meet our deepest desires.

Obama was preaching an American gospel of hard work and fairness for all Tuesday night.  While as Christians, we must distinguish this gospel from the Good News of Jesus, we can be stirred when it echoes the Spirit.  We do need to create a fairer world and structure government in that fashion, but not because we or others earn it.  We work for this because all is a gift from God and in creating such a world, we find grace and the gift of salvation.

turning laments into love

It’s a lamenting sort of day.

I’m a modern Franciscan sister and live in a way that keeps me pretty tapped into the problems of the world. This morning was not unlike other mornings. I woke up, made coffee, said some prayers and then checked the weather on my laptop.

When I opened my laptop this morning, though, my email inbox appeared and it was jammed with news.  I learned that  Troy Davis had been executed over night. I had an email from one of my Catholic Worker friends about a shooting in Kansas City. Then, I had the usual emails asking for my assistance with campaigns for environmental, agricultural, immigration and economic justice from a variety of activist groups.

As I gain awareness I usually become overwhelmed or angry.  Fires burn in my belly and I am compelled to respond.  The challenge is to respond with love.

On my way to work, I prayed prayers of lament.  I begged God for mercy.  I asked that all of the unjust systems that humanity has so sinfully created are reformed.  As we are converted, may the ways of humanity be converted.

Soon after, I am with my students.  I decide to be real with them. “I feel so angry about what’s wrong with the world today that I want to go scream in the streets,” I tell them. “I am trying not to take my anger out on you.  Let’s try to have mercy on one another and be open to God’s goodness.”  They nod in agreement.

In my classroom, we grapple with the theology of love. I am taught by my students through their encouragement and kindness.

I try to teach them something too.  I play this little video for them and we marvel at how great the world would be if humanity really lived out the basics of our faith, if we really lived with love:

Help us God! Amen!