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Social Action Has Two Feet.

2 Oct



Visit  Read in Network Connection “Economic Inequality and the American Family” by Sarah Spengeman, which reports 4 of 10 kids who grow up poor stay poor and fewer men with only high school educations marry today (56%) than in 1960 (88%).



Storied People

25 Sep

We are a storied people. Joan Didion reminds us in The White Album that we tell ourselves stories in order to live. We are constantly converting our lives into a story about our lives and bouncing that story off larger cultural tales. It is one reason I teach theology. I love teaching young people the stories in the Bible and looking for ourselves in them. We need to know our story to know where we came from, where we are and where we are going. It gives us a foundation to stand on. It connects us to our ancestors. It reminds us that we are part of a larger narrative.

My son loves books, and it is a gift to surround him with stories. When we play make believe, we are living in the stories we are creating. I get excited thinking about the stories I will share with him as he gets older, stories I loved as a child, stories that changed my mind, changed my life. He will be welcomed to share in my canon, and will undoubtedly add to mine as he creates his own.

When I am taking pictures of him or journaling about him, I am aware that I am crafting his story. As a writer, I take this job very seriously. It feels like a big responsibility. The folklore that comes out of our youth has a role in our identity formation. The stories that our ancestors tell us about ourselves take root. What moments do I capture that get at the heart of who he is? What narrative threads are presenting themselves in his story? He will get a sense of who he was and who he is and who he is becoming by ingesting my interpretation of his life. For now, before he has memory, I am helping craft his story for him.

Ken Burns has a great video on Vimeo called On Story. He talks about re-telling stories of history, how he likes complicated stories where 1 + 1 = 3. Where villains are lovable and heroes are faulty. Where the strength of someones story may challenge us to change our minds. Every story is manipulation, and he reaches for an emotional truth through that unavoidable manipulation. He says, “We tell stories to continue ourselves.” Stories remind us that it is going to be okay.

What stories are you telling?

What stories are you swimming in?

What stories do you hold as true?

What story are you living?

Good Food

11 Sep
Photo via Flickr user Waiting For The Word

Photo via Flickr user Waiting For The Word

In a Work of the People video “The Gospel is Good News,” Shane Claiborne chews on an idea he heard from a rancher. The rancher explained that there are two ways to contain your herd of animals. One way is to build fences, but that is not the best way. The more effective way is to have a really good food source. Shane goes on to talk about how human beings and the human church like to build fences, and maybe we should focus harder on studying, nurturing and tending to our amazing food source.

I don’t think Shane meant good food literally, but it played out beautifully that way in the Season 3 finale of Orange is the New Black, of all places. The show follows a slew of characters in a women’s prison. One of the characters, Cindy, pretends to be Jewish so she can get the kosher meals. The meals are so much fresher and tastier, that several inmates follow suit. The staff brings in a Rabbi to assess if the women truly are Jewish. Cindy recites some Annie Hall and Yentl, which fail to impress the rabbi. Undeterred, Cindy plans then to convert to Judaism so she can continue to receive the kosher meals.

Cindy’s commitment to kosher meals becomes more complex with a flashback to her childhood where her father uses the Bible to berate her at the family dinner table for eating before prayer. In her quest to trick the rabbi into letting her eat kosher, she liked what she learned. What started out as commitment to good food turned into something more. By the season finale, Cindy realizes she actually wants to convert for more than food purposes. Through tears she says:

Honestly, I think I found my people. I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell, and if I was good I’d go to heaven, and if I asked Jesus he would forgive me and that was that. And here you all say there ain’t no hell, you ain’t sure about heaven, and if you do something you have to figure it out on yourself. And as far as God’s concerned, it’s your job to ask questions and keep learning and keep arguing. It’s like a verb. It’s like you do God. And it’s a lot of work, but I think I’m in it.

It is an extremely vulnerable moment, where Cindy articulately conveys where she has found a place in the struggle, in the work, and in the grey area of theology. God is a verb. You do God. What started out as good food turned into conversion for her. Instead of building fences, the rabbi said, “Yes. Join us.”

Shane and Cindy’s character challenge us to continue the work of taking down fences and focusing on really good food. We don’t have to have the answers, but a fertile ground for people to come, enjoy, be fed, and feel at home.

Summer’s End

4 Sep
Photo via Flickr user Dave Heuts

Photo via Flickr user Dave Heuts

The refrain remains the same every year around this time: “Where did summer go?”

“Is it really fall already?”

“September. Wow, summer flew by.”

In the New York Time’s Sunday Review, Tim Kreider writes a beautiful piece on the melancholy that comes at the end of summer. Many of us know this feeling of which he writes:

Part of it of course is just my dread and hatred of back-to-school time, unchanged since childhood. The whole world of work and productivity still seems to me like an unconscionable waste of time; the only parts of life that really matter are the summers, the in-between times — the idle goofing off.

He was planning to go to Iceland this past summer, but he didn’t. And now, at the end of summer, Kreider is reflective of all the things left undone as fall picks up and routine fills the calendar. He did not live the summer he intended to live. Yet it was filled with unexpected loveliness all the same.

Still, the feeling swells from his summer to his life. As he gets older, he comes to peace with the fact that he may not, in fact, live the life he intended:

I suspect that the way I feel now, at summer’s end, is about how I’ll feel at the end of my life, assuming I have time and mind enough to reflect: bewildered by how unexpectedly everything turned out, regretful about all the things I didn’t get around to, clutching the handful of friends and funny stories I’ve amassed, and wondering where it all went. And I’ll probably still be evading the same truth I’m evading now: that the life I ended up with, much as I complain about it, was pretty much the one I chose.

I didn’t take a trip to Iceland this summer, either. I didn’t do much of what I envisioned I would do, but what I did was lovely. It was a beautiful season filled with family time– swimming, going to the farmer’s market, playing, exploring.

I hear the school buses driving by again. There are now only little kids at the neighborhood playground during the day. This time of year, similar to birthdays, anniversaries and New Year’s, may be another instance we feel time strongly. A new school year, the cool breeze, the gearing up for routine again.

It is a time to reflect on the summer plans left undone. To think about what we intended and the beauty that came in its stead. It is a time to embrace and give thanks for the life we ended up with, the life we have chosen.


28 Aug

Arguably the most useful course in my Theology Masters program was God, Evil and Suffering. And arguably the most useful exercise we did throughout the semester was classify suffering. It’s not all the same, and it’s not all equal. One type of suffering we explored was the suffering attached to the experience of our human limitation. We get hungry and thirsty. We need sleep. Our bones break. We get sick. We die. Humans have inside of us a desire to be God, to be invincible, to be immortal. But, alas, we are not. God is God and we are not. When we strive to be more and run into our own human limitations, it hurts. There is real suffering involved.

We see both the striving to be God and the suffering that comes with limitations all over our stories in the Bible. Even in our creation story, that explains who we are and whose we are, Adam and Eve experience limits before sin is ever introduced into the equation. There is no moral component to this suffering, there is no evil involved, and it is worth noting that there is good in limits, too. Good food tastes amazing. A long nap is enjoyable. Striving is fun even when we fall short. Knowing our mortality encourages us to cherish the life we have. It is not the same at its core as suffering that comes out of evil, injustice, or violence. But it still hurts.

These themes have surfaced watching my little boy start to stand and crawl. There is pure joy on his face as he makes his way to the next room or heads for a toy he wants on his own. His face brims with pride, his chest puffed out, with each growing moment he stands on his own. With this newly found power and ability, however, comes more bumps and bruises. He spends more time frustrated. Now that he can crawl, he wants to run. And as he slips and bumps his head, I can see him classifying the hurt as he assess the pain. He is both celebrating being human and experiencing the suffering that comes from the limits of being human.

Since his birth, I have been experiencing this new found love every day. It can be overwhelming in its goodness and intensity. In the last nine months, I have had thoughts that I never had before. His presence is pure love and our connection is so strong, I have had thoughts of not wanting to die. These thoughts surprise me in part because I have no reason to think I will die soon, but also because of their realness and intensity. I want to watch him grow forever. This knowledge of my limits is a pang in my heart, but also a sweet blessing that helps me stay present and cherish now. He and I are both relishing in the gift of life and the adventure of being human, and deciding together, I think, that the freedom is worth it despite and because of the bumps along the way. That’s not always true of all kinds of suffering. The experience of human limitation, well, the hurt is part of the story, which ultimately is good.

Seeking Wisdom

21 Aug
Photo via Flickr user Andy Rennie

Photo via Flickr user Andy Rennie

We’re working through Proverbs the fall, and the planning this summer has been really fun. Proverbs is a book that focuses on the everyday life. How do we proceed today? How can we build a life that is pleasing to God?

We’re focusing on seeking wisdom as a way to get closer to God. I’m excited for our community to commit to intentionally seeking wisdom together. There is value in the seeking, and life in what we find. There is an inherent humility implied in seeking wisdom, yet there is also hopeful action.

By reading and studying Proverbs together, we are turning toward Scripture in our wisdom seeking, but we are not stopping there. We’re using poetry, like Wild Geese by Mary Oliver, as a call to worship that nods to the world outside of the church that is seeping with wisdom. We’re encouraging each other to share ideas on where and how to seek wisdom. I love how the Catholic Church encourages us to seek wisdom in Scripture, Tradition, and out in the world. The world that God created has so much to teach us. And each of us, also created by God, are going to enjoy seeking wisdom in different ways.

When we asked congregation members how they seek wisdom, here are some of the answers we got:

  1. Read the Bible
  2. Seek out experts
  3. Experiment with something new, being willing to fail and start more intelligently
  4. Ask for a slice of wisdom via prayer
  5. Be still, away from distractions, and think
  6. Listen to someone else’s (potentially valuable and unique) perspective on something
  7. List what you don’t know now that you used to think you knew to keep you honest and seeking
  8. Find a good source of information (parent, grandparent, etc.) and ask them the hard questions
  9. Giggle with a child
  10. Walk through the woods
  11. Read a really good smelling book
  12. Listen to classical music
  13. Ask worldly people questions they find interesting to answer
  14. Allow the sound and rhythm of your breath to calm you
  15. Hold a newborn

How do you seek wisdom? I’d love more ideas as I commit to trying a few of these ideas with my eyes and heart open to receiving God’s wisdom.

The Gift of Laughter

14 Aug
Photo via Flickr user CleftClips

Photo via Flickr user CleftClips

I watched Tig over the weekend, a documentary about stand-up comedian and radio contributor Tig Notaro. I pressed play because my baby fell asleep at a decent hour, my mom had suggested the film, my brother respects Tig a ton as a fellow stand-up comedian, and I am very interested in contemporary female comedians as writers and speakers of truth. I didn’t expect to be thinking about the film days later, but here I am.

Tig’s career was going well until, while working in a film, she collapsed. In the hospital, she found out she had C-DIFF, a possibly fatal infection of the intestine. Then her mom died. Then she went through a breakup. Then she got diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. With the cancer diagnosis, because of the sheer ridiculous nature of her Job-like situation, everything seemed funny to her. She started writing. Less than a week after finding out she had cancer, she stepped on stage at the Largo and said, “Good evening. Hello. I have cancer. How are you?”

She proceeded to do a set– a long set– making jokes about the laundry list of challenges God had handed her. Listening to the audio, you can hear the mix of human reactions in the crowd, and she played off of that. Some people laughed so hard you could feel the relief in their guts, finally being able to laugh about something so sad that they were also going through. Others cried and moaned. They begged her to keep going. And this is the moment I can’t get out of my head. Tig suggests changing the subject at one point and you can hear a man in the audience say, “No, keep going. This is amazing.” And it was. It was raw, true, and really funny. The interaction between her and the audience was charged with humanness, surging with emotion. People were aware that they were experiencing something special, something more than live comedy at its best.

As Tig said, the idea of the show went viral. She woke up the next morning more well known than she had ever been. Louis C.K. convinced her to sell audio of the show, which launched her into the national spotlight. The show hit a nerve, struck a chord, rung true. Not only was it healing for her, but it offered healing to others, as well. People couldn’t get enough of her, making jokes about her cancer. They loved her truth, admired her skills of wit, writing and timing, found relief in being able to laugh about something as ugly and scary as cancer, and were comforted by her brash courage in the face of adversity.

I will be thinking about the audio that captured the alive, human, sacred interaction between Tig and her audience at the Largo for a long time. It supports my hunch that comedians have potential to be modern-day prophets. It reminds me how much we need space to talk about what we are afraid of and what we are grieving. It acknowledges that there are days when we have cried so hard that we desperately want an excuse to laugh, not because sickness is funny, but because it is real.

7 Aug


Sunday by Sunday editor Joan Mitchell, CSJ, is leading conversations on Care for Our Common Home, Laudato Si’, the new encyclical on ecology from Pope Francis.

If you are in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area, join the dialog August 27, September 3, 10, 17 from 6:30 – 8 p.m. at Carondelet Center, 1890 Randolph Ave., St. Paul, MN. If not, go to and use the questions posted there for your own study or conversations with friends.


Social Action Has Two Feet

22 Jul


Earthly Advice from Pope Francis

20 Jul

Pope Francis

In his new encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis asks us to care for our common home, Earth. He says this will take both inner conversion and global action. Take a little time each day this week to consider what our sister Earth needs from you. The numbers in parentheses refer to paragraphs in the encyclical. Type in Laudato Si to read the whole encyclical.

• TALK with each other. Such serious issues need to be “reframed and enriches again and again.” Attend a lecture. Read a book. Listen to a scientist. Open yourself to new ways to see. (16, 60, 185)

• Practice the three Rs. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Perhaps even add a fourth one — Restrain from buying more things. (22, 192)

• Can you walk instead of drive? Take the bus or subway? Share with someone going the same way? Talk to your children about their desire to pollute less. (26, 165)

• Don’t give in to denial or resignation. Think of the environmental issue that most worries you and pray to the Holy Spirit about it. “Come, Holy Spirit. Renew the face of the earth.” (14)

• 200 plants, insects, birds, and mammal becomes extinct each day. What dies when a new mall or casino is built? Are you in the coyote’s home or is he invading yours? Think about what our overbuilding is doing to the natural world. Decide where you will take a stand. (35)

• Pray with St. Francis:Blossoms-Pink

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

• Add your own prayer.


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