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New Church Partnership Models

15 Jul

My work as a writer, editor and church worker have all put me in conversation with friends in Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Muslim and Jewish communities who are all wondering about the future of spiritual life in the United States. In many of these US circles, attendance at worship is down, especially among young people, and religious professionals are asking some hard questions. When Good Ground Press invited me to blog at Keeping Faith Today, they simply said, “Write about what it means to be a faithful person today. Talk about it all– the joys, controversies, and challenges.” It is rewarding work to be a part of the conversation across denominational lines.

Some exciting new models are coming out of the hard questions that religious professionals are asking about the future of the church. One trend I am seeing is churches and nonprofits being open and willing to work with for profit companies in new partnerships. The examples that are working are those where the partnership is savvy, relevant, and symbiotic. Here is an interesting example brought to my attention by Adam Copeland, a Presbyterian friend working at a Lutheran College with faith, leadership and new media, on one of his blog posts:

Via Kickstarter, Broad Street Ministry is seeking to partner with Federal Donuts to create Rooster Soup Company:

We want to use high-quality chicken backs & bones that would go to waste…

… to make delicious soup to sell

… and donate 100% of our profits to [Broad Street Ministry] dedicated to helping those in need.

Let’s break this down a bit. Broad Street Ministry is a forward thinking church in Philadelphia that does a lot more than worship. Federal Donuts is a for profit donut and chicken shop in Philadelphia. Kickstarter is a crowd-funding platform often used by artists and entrepreneurs looking for start up funds to launch the next great idea. Very few churches and religious nonprofits have used Kickstarter thus far, but visionaries at Broad Street are giving it a try. So we have a church partnering with a for profit and using a crowd-funding platform to build a new model. The pieces are all there. Federal Donuts is in because if this launches, they will not have to pay to have their backs and bones disposed of. Broad Street Ministry is in because all the proceeds from Rooster Soup Company will go back to Broad Street to fund programming. And in theory every day people like you and I are in and decide to support them by funding their start-up costs because we are fans of donuts, chicken, soup, less wasted food, more good ministry and smart partnerships like this one.

Young people want to see churches doing relevant work in their communities. Here is an example of a church willing to be in the community not only addressing the hunger in Philadelphia with its ministry, but also being willing to work with for profit companies in the community to create partnerships where everyone benefits. These partnerships are popping up in cities all over the US, driven by innovative leaders with a pulse on issues that need addressing via street-smart means. Check out this Kickstarter campaign and keep your eyes open in your community for new models of church partnership.


9 Jul
Photo via flickr user Digital Temi

Photo via flickr user Digital Temi

Last week my spouse and I closed on and got keys for our first home. The seller was long gone. Not being able to stand the Minnesota climate, he moved to Northern California. The yard of our new home is landscaped beautifully, but in his absence the weeds had grown to hip height and spread quickly into lush bunches. I spent a chunk of time on Saturday crouched over in the warm sun, pulling weeds and chucking them over my shoulder into the driveway. This monotonous, rhythmic activity lends itself to spiritual reflection, which I thoroughly enjoyed. None of my thoughts were especially profound, but as someone who strives for gentle, continual growth and improvement, the activity of pulling weeds became a metaphor of spiritual renewal work right before my very eyes.

The priest at my high school, before offering the sacrament of reconciliation, would always talk about the importance of doing spiritual check-ins as often as we do physical check-ups. The work of sifting through the spirit, looking for light and weeding out darkness takes time, intentionality, and sometimes help from other people who can offer expertise and objectivity. Here are some thoughts I had while weeding in the garden that also pertain, I believe, to weeding in the soul:

- Some weeds are pretty. It was harder than I thought it would be to identify the weeds. I had to double check with Dan that I was pulling the right roots. Invasive species can disguise themselves as flowers if left to grow and thrive for too long.

- Pulling the weed without it breaking was easier and more efficient if I took the time to search for the base of the stalk. Identifying the entry point before acting helped me get at the root of the problem.

- Finesse and strategy are a good paring for effective weed pulling. The weeds were so tall and thick, it was tempting to grab huge handfuls and just yank forcefully. This would have been a quicker way for the yard and garden to appear weed free, but the roots of the weeds would have remained healthy. I had to find the right amount of weeds to pull at the same time. Often this meant one weed at a time- no shortcuts. The roots often came out easier, too, when I used finesse instead of force. A little restraint in the process set me up for longer term success.

- Pulling the weeds at the root was fairly easy because the soil was soft. Minnesota had a very rainy June. When I was getting at the root of the weeds, then, the soil was soft and gave way easily. A month of rain had prepped the foundation for the weeding process to go smoothly. The yard was ready for the task at hand.

-I won’t really know how I did weeding for some time. The yard looks better, but I will see in a few weeks how many weeds I pulled superficially and how many I got at the root. Either way, the yard will take continual oversight and attention if I want the plants and grass to thrive.

At the end of the afternoon, my back and hamstrings were tight. My fingers were sore, but I felt revived. The yard looked fresh, clean and new. The landscape was more easily navigated and looked more inviting. The plants now had more room to breathe and grow. It was hard work, but good work. It was rewarding. I’ve heard that there is a correlation with gardening and happiness. I can see why. I left my time in the yard peacefully tired and reflective. And it inspired me to keep getting down on my knees to look for the roots of the weeds inside of myself that were choking who God is willing me to become.

Fierce Advocacy in Community

25 Jun

This evening a former student came by my place to watch World Cup Soccer with my spouse and I and catch up on life a bit. He brought delectable cannoli from a deli by his house. We talked about his music and his new job. He told me the story of breaking up with his girlfriend and then, months later, the new woman he is interested in. I caught him up on my life as well. We had a lot of ground to cover. We both admitted to going underground a bit during the long, cold winter.

Eventually, I asked him about his grieving. His dad committed suicide a year and a half ago. Losing that man in that way was unthinkably painful for him. “I gave up on God immediately,” he admitted. “So in a way it felt like I lost two dads. I thought it was cool to be an angry atheist, the thing to do. I thought I was smarter than the people who believed in God. I needed to be in that dark place.”

I remember him talking to me about this decision. I remember thinking that considering the circumstances, it made sense as a reaction. I did a lot of listening and nodding in that first year.

“But now I think I’m ready for something,” he continued. “Maybe not religion just yet, but I’m ready to believe in something bigger than myself again.”

He explained how isolating it was to lose his father to suicide. It made him feel so alone, like no one understood what he was going through.He was in shock during the funeral, and then people stopped asking him how he was doing. He didn’t realize how much he needed to talk about his loss and his fears. He didn’t know where to start. Then one day at work, a woman asked him about his life, asked him about his parents, pushed about his dad, and he decided to tell his co-worker the truth.

After expressing her condolences, she asked, “And what are you doing about it?”grief_journal_cover2

“What do you mean?”

“What are you doing to tend to your grief? If you don’t work on your grief, it will come out eventually in unexpected ways, decades from now. It can affect your marriage and your children without you even realizing it. Can I help?”

Because he was open and curious, she did some research and found some support groups for him to go to. He went. He realized he wasn’t alone. After a few weeks of meetings, he broke down and sobbed telling his story. Instead of pity, when he looked up, his peers nodded and just said, “Yeah, yeah.” It was comforting. The floodgates opened.

He said, “I thought just getting out of bed every day was dealing with it, but it wasn’t, I wasn’t dealing with it. Now I am dealing with it. I cry more, but I am also writing music again. And I am able to tell stories about my dad that come from happy memories.”

It makes sense to me that it took having the fierce advocacy of his co-worker and the community of his support group first before he considered giving God another shot. For him, right now, that support group is the community of truth he needs. It is a space to be broken and heal. It is the place to ask hard questions and grow. Meanwhile, his co-worker showed him that he matters, and that sometimes, we have to fight for life. The survivors have to work to claim the hurt and keep going. The co-worker and the support group remind him that he is indeed not alone. That is church at its best. He did lose one dad, but maybe he doesn’t have to lose two.

Joy in Jesus’ Good News

23 Jun

by Sister Joan Mitchell, CSJ

via flickr user Catholic Church (England and Wales)

via flickr user Catholic Church (England and Wales)

Joy brims over in our circles of sisters and associates that gather on Wednesdays to talk about Pope Francis’s exhortation Joy of the Gospel.  Spreading joy is his intent.  Its source―“a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ” or at least opening ourselves to let Jesus encounter us.  His writing infects us with hope, Catholics and Protestants alike in our groups.

What is so infectious?  Francis writes out of his real life, what he prays and lives daily.  God loves us.  This is what Pope Francis wants us to experience and teach our children.  No one can take way the joy that God loves us.

The cross he wears images Jesus as a shepherd carrying a sheep on his shoulders, a lost sheep.  Francis identifies with the lost sheep.  “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking mercy.  Time and again Christ carries us on his shoulders.  No one can strip us of the dignity of God bestowing boundless, unfailing love” (3).

Francis wants an evangelizing church that shares the joy of God’s love for us, a Church that is poor and for the poor.  Sharing our joy is really how Francis defines evangelization.  Joy attracts others.  It bubbles over into love of neighbors.  It infects us with hope.

“The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded.  That is what the angels proclaimed to the shepherds in Bethlehem: “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people” (23).

God excludes no one, which is why Francis goes on to call for a global economy of inclusion.  “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh Christ in others” (24).  Francis wants us to smell like the sheep.

If you want to start talking about Joy of the Gospel, just type in the title online and print a copy or buy a book copy at your local Catholic bookstore or on Amazon.  Here are the questions we used to talk about paragraphs 1-49.  This blog will continue with other chapters.

1.    What joy do you experience in the Gospel, in your relationship with Jesus?  How does your experience compare with Francis’s description?  (paragraph 3)

2.    What does Francis think threatens our capacity for joy?  What threats do you experience? (2)

3.    What call do you hear in Francis’s urging us to become evangelizers who “take on the smell of the sheep?”  What sheep do you or should you smell like?  (24)

4.    How have base communities or small Christian communities helped sustain your commitment as a Christian?  How can parishes contribute to renewal?  (28)

5.    What message is “most essential, most beautiful, most grand, most appealing, and most necessary” in your mind? (35)  What communicates the gospel today?  What burdens people?

6.    “The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open.  …The Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems” (47).  What changes does Francis want to inspire in the church?

Justice Through Sport

17 Jun
via flickr user Corpus Christi Soccer Academy

via flickr user Corpus Christi Soccer Academy

When I lived in Uruguay, I took a trip to see my friends in Argentina during the 2006 World Cup. It was thrilling to live in South America during the Cup, to be among people who loved the sport and were devoted to their team. We went to a local joint to watch the Argentina-Germany game. In a heart-breaking match, Germany advanced on a penalty shoot- out after being tied 1-1 during regulation time. The folks in Argentina were totally devastated. On the streets after the game, I, with my blond hair and blue eyes, got accused of being German on multiple occasions. It felt a little intimidating. These people take their soccer very seriously.

“No, no, I’m not German. I’m American. I was cheering for Argentina!”

It was the one time in Argentina that being from the United States just about saved me life.

After living among soccer enthusiasts, I was not at all surprised to see that Pope Francis had something to say about the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. After all, he came to the Vatican from Argentina.

“To win, we must overcome individualism, selfishness, all forms of racism, intolerance and manipulation of people,” he said. He said being “greedy” in football, as in life, is an obstacle.

“Let nobody turn their back on society and feel excluded!” he said. “No to segregation! No to racism!”


“Sport is not only a form of entertainment, but also — and above all I would say — a tool to communicate values that promote the good that is in humans and help build a more peaceful and fraternal society,” he said.  (READ THE FULL HUFFINGTON POST ARTICLE)

Historically, sports have been at the forefront of social change. The influence of the global athletic stage is not to be discounted. There have been athletes so talented, so enticing to watch, they have broken open social movements: Jackie Robinson, Mohammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, Tony Smith and John Carlos, Billy Jean King, Magic Johnson and Gareth Thomas to name a few. A victory in the sporting arena can feel like a victory for an entire marginalized people. Athletics becomes a staging for life itself. And soccer is the world’s sport. I know from being welcomed into soccer games in El Salvador, Uruguay and Kenya that soccer is a universal language. Any patch of ground can be a pitch. Any two objects can make a goal. You don’t even need a ball. I’ve met amazing soccer players all over the world who started out as kids practicing with nothing more than some paper tied up with a string. Soccer has the power of universality. Maybe that’s why Pope Francis has such a large collection of soccer jerseys. And why he is hoping that the World Cup can be a celebration of solidarity.

If there is a sport that has world power, it’s soccer. And it’s biggest, most strategic stage to do some good is the World Cup. How interesting that Pope Francis knows that, cares, and is using the event to remind us what is truly important.


13 Jun

A few years ago my friend invited me to a join her at a yoga retreat on the North Shore. It proved to be an important invitation to accept. I had been practicing yoga for a few years, but was still very much a beginner. I had little experience in Iyengar yoga and had not experienced the restorative power of the practice. My cabin at the retreat overlooked Lake Superior. The air off the lake was chilly in June. I spent hours between classes sitting on the Adirondack chair reading and watching the sky change over the water. Twice a day a small group gathered in the yoga center to practice. We took saunas. We shared in a vegetarian potluck. This, for me, was retreat at its best. There was movement and rest, silence and conversation, ample sun without ample heat. Everywhere I turned it was gorgeous. When I returned home, I actually felt like a different person. My mind, body and spirit were awake and calm, rested.


The morning after my return, a co-worker tilted his head at me and said, “What’s different about you? Did you cut your hair?” He couldn’t put his finger on it, but to him, I looked different physically. I wasn’t surprised. I felt different at my core, at the cellular level. It was incredible. I told him about the weekend and he said, “Wow, that must have been some retreat. You’re glowing.”

This weekend I’m going back to the same retreat. Now, three years of yoga learning later, I am even more aware of how little I know. I’m excited to learn, and I’m equally excited to get away. I’m bringing my spouse, good food, good books, good podcasts and lots of comfy clothes. Dan and I are giddy in anticipation of a few days in a new place, away, in nature, finding balance between movement and rest, silence and conversation, sun and shade.

The word retreat can have a subtle negative residue, maybe from old wartime images of retreating– running from, backing down, defensively on our heels. But it doesn’t feel like I’m running away from anything. This retreat feels like I am running toward my own body, my partner and my God. I know those things are here and now, too, but breaking routine is a gift that I cherish. I believe in retreating. I retreat myself and bring young people on retreats all the time. Every time, I think of people who simply can’t retreat. Taking enough time in a new place to find renewal and rejuvenation can come at a cost. I believe leisure time, this time of reflection, is a human right not a luxury. It’s good for the body, mind and soul. Yet the middle class is shrinking and the working poor population is growing. Retreating for some is becoming a luxury.

I think of this coming retreat as a check-in and a check-up. It’s a chance to listen to God through nature, through my partner, my teacher, my friends, the silence and myself. I hope to come home refreshed and renewed, conscious and grateful, ready to continue to encourage retreat and work for a world where are people are able to embrace the humanity of leisure time.

Face to Face

3 Jun

In a beautiful blog post about idolatry, human encounter and the Ark of the Covenant, Evan Wolkenstein writes:

In Parashat Terumah, the Israelites receive the blueprints for a majestic tent—the mishkan—that will eventually house the magnificent Ark of the Covenant. As we read the vivid description, we can picture its grandeur. During the Israelites’ journeys through the desert, the mishkan serves as a portable temple, with the home of God’s indwelling, the Ark, at its center.1 The Israelite tribes camp around it, placing it at the heart of the nation.While the detailed beauty of the Ark sounds stunning, the medieval commentator Abravanel wonders about its design. The first of the Divine Laws prohibits graven images of any kind, replications of any being, heavenly or earthly.2 But upon the cover of the ark perch two cherubim, winged human forms.3 It would seem that by including these forms, God is breaking God’s own Law. There is a possible resolution to this seeming contradiction in the very details of space and shape that make this parashah and its focus on design so fascinating. “From above the cover,” says God, “from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark of the Covenant,”4 God will meet with humanity. The voice of God emerges not from the mouth of any graven image, but from the empty space between two faces.

I love the idea that God emerges from the empty space between two faces. God shows up in human encounter. When I lived in Uruguay, we took an afternoon break to sit together and drink mate, which required a thermos of hot water, loose tea leaves in a gourd and a special metal straw. Mate was the excuse, but the ritual was about human encounter.

via flickr user angel de olavide

via flickr user angel de olavide

In the US, for me it tends to look like inviting people to sit down to drink coffee or eat food together. Just the other day, I sat with three different friends individually throughout the day — one for morning coffee, one for lunch, and one for dinner. I woke the next morning filled with a sense of intimate and abundant love and joy, but I was also tired. The act of sacred listening and vulnerable sharing in honest conversation takes energy from our entire beings. So much so, that at times we forget to truly show up in these encounters. We pace ourselves to get through our days by presenting a veiled version of our truest selves. But that is one place God has promised to show up.

When I am feeling burned out at work, for example, I imagine the two cherubim with God dwelling in the empty space between the two faces. I go through my day more intentionally looking people in the eye, asking how they are and waiting, open to really hear the answer. It takes discipline and a different posturing. I always move more slowly on those days. I generally get much less “work” “accomplished.” But I also get re-energized about that work that I am supposed to be accomplishing.

Wolkenstein goes on to say, “In other words, if idolatry is to hear the voice of God emerging from a block of gold, then the opposite of idolatry is to see God’s face in every human being, to hear God’s voice emerging from the relationship of any two beings, face to face, eye to eye, ish el achiv—from one person to another.” Our society could benefit from less blocks of gold and more face to face encounters of true listening. I think of drone strikes, anonymous internet bullying and screaming politicians. I think of gated communities, texting during dinner and people in prison or the hospital or nursing homes who don’t get visitors. Then I think of the two cherubim on the Ark. Encounters are the true gold. God promises to dwell with us, among us, when our communities prioritize sacred human encounters.

Living the Easter Message

16 May

Recently, a wise woman pointed out to me that while Catholics tend to spend a lot of time and energy thinking about the season of Lent, we often celebrate Easter Sunday and then forget that we are in the midst of the longest special liturgical season of the church year. The Easter season extends from Easter through Pentecost, which comes fifty days after Easter. On a liturgical calendar, the Easter season is marked in gold, a color of joy and victory, as the Easter season is the time when we celebrate the fulfillment of our faith—the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise of new life this brings.

Prayer, fasting and abstinence, and almsgiving are three traditional pillars of practice for Catholics during Lent that help us prepare for Holy Week and the coming of Easter. These practices encourage us to see the world in a different way and to change our way of being in the world by focusing on ideas like penance, sacrifice, and living our baptismal calling. But now that Easter is here—now that Jesus Christ is indeed risen, Alleluia!—what can we do to help us see and engage with the world with an Easter mindset? In other words, how can we live the joy of Easter during this season?

A baseline form of obligation for all Catholics is to receive Eucharist at least once during the Easter season. This is sort of like a minimal membership requirement for being Catholic. And while it is important to receive Eucharist, it seems like there is more we can do to celebrate the miracle of Easter that is at the center of our faith. Yet there do not seem to be too many widespread practices associated with the Easter season, something that would be similar to lighting Advent wreaths or abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent. Given that Easter is the greatest feast of the church year, it seems as if there should be more practices in which we could engage so that the celebratory mindset of Easter has more of a chance to take root in our lives.

I read on-line recently that a group of monks answers the phone with the greeting, “Christus resurrexit!” (Christ is risen) during the eight days after Easter. I have to admit that I would be hesitant to answer my own phone this way (or to post this as my status update on Facebook). Yet as I think about my life during this Easter season, it turns out there are already practices I do or could return to that contribute to living with Easter hope and joy.

  • Focusing on joy: When I was finished with my student teaching many years ago, the class of fourth graders gave me a little journal embossed with the title “Claire’s Book of Joy.” The first page had the heading “Things that Bring Me Joy,” and under it was one entry: “Teaching religion to a group of fourth graders who think you are awesome.” Over the years, I have added to this list, entries such as “Hearing the perfect song for your mood on the radio” and “Cuddling with my children on the couch.” To heighten my focus on joy, I could revisit this list, reading through it daily, offering prayers of thanksgiving for the joy that is in my life, and adding to it as I am so moved.
  • Celebrating new life: It might sound cheesy, but I love watching the plants in our yard come back to life each spring, an activity that is made all the more pleasant now that I have two inquisitive little boys with whom to share it. This year we plan to enhance our celebration by planting and tending to our first vegetable garden. We also love to walk to a nearby pond, where we observe the ducks and geese sitting on their nests and try to predict on which day we will first see the ducklings and goslings go for a swim. Together we wonder at the process of learning that takes place as these young animals make their way in the world. We could also celebrate life by making a special effort this Easter season to offer our support (perhaps in the form of homemade meals or baby-sitting time) to friends and family who have recently had children.
  • Giving from Abundance: In our society, it is all too easy to focus on scarcity. We are socialized to hang on to everything we have for ourselves, to “look out for number one,” and to do whatever it takes to get ahead. And yet one lesson of Easter is that God loves and provides for us with gratuitous love that is overflowing and that knows no bounds. When my family lives from a mindset of scarcity, we focus on buying things for ourselves and saving our money to protect against a disaster that may never happen. In contrast, when we remember to live from a sense of abundance, we find many ways that we can give of ourselves, not just in charitable giving but also in giving of our time and talent.
  • Living with hope:There are situations in life that seem hopeless and that cause much despair. For example, I have a relationship with someone important in my life about which I despair; I fear I will never be able to move past how I have been hurt by this person and do not trust that this person will ever be in a position to be his authentic self with me. Living with hope would mean finding a way to change my attitude about and participation in this relationship, which might start with the seemingly small and simple act of praying that one day our relationship is restored to one of mutuality, respect, and love.

Economic Justice

15 May

At the end of April, Pope Francis tweeted, “Inequality is the root of social evil.” He then expanded on that statement a few days later in a talk with U.N. officials in Rome. In addition to calling for redistribution of wealth, he asked the U.N. to address “structural causes of poverty and hunger, attain more substantial results in protecting the environment, ensure dignified and productive labor for all, and provide appropriate protection for the family.” Conservatives immediately named these comments Marxist and socialist.


In her Huffington Post article, Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite argues this is not Marxist or socialist, but Christian. I agree. Pope Francis reminds us of the encounter between Jesus Christ and the rich tax collector Zacchaeus in Luke 19: 1-10. Zacchaeus had his conscience awakened by Jesus and chose to move toward the justice of economic sharing. The Pope thinks the extreme economic inequality alive in society today can change if politicians and citizens make radical changes to our free market system.

Zacchaeus is not an isolated Biblical story. Jesus’ ministry addressed wealth inequality in Mark: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” and “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.'” Or in Luke: “If you have two coats, give one away,” he said. “Do the same with your food.”

In addition to Scripture, Pope Francis is leaning on a long tradition of Catholics calling for economic justice in the face of economic violence. The USCCB have published some beautiful, powerful statements on economic justice. Their framework includes:

  1. The economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy.
  2. All economic life should be shaped by moral principles. Economic choices and institutions must be judged by how they protect or undermine the life and dignity of the human person, support the family and serve the common good.
  3. A fundamental moral measure of any economy is how the poor and vulnerable are faring.
  4. All people have a right to life and to secure the basic necessities of life (e.g., food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, safe environment, economic security.)
  5. All people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefits, to decent working conditions as well as to organize and join unions or other associations.
  6. All people, to the extent they are able, have a corresponding duty to work, a responsibility to provide the needs of their families and an obligation to contribute to the broader society.
  7. In economic life, free markets have both clear advantages and limits; government has essential responsibilities and limitations; voluntary groups have irreplaceable roles, but cannot substitute for the proper working of the market and the just policies of the state.
  8. Society has a moral obligation, including governmental action where necessary, to assure opportunity, meet basic human needs, and pursue justice in economic life.
  9. Workers, owners, managers, stockholders and consumers are moral agents in economic life. By our choices, initiative, creativity and investment, we enhance or diminish economic opportunity, community life and social justice.
  10. The global economy has moral dimensions and human consequences. Decisions on investment, trade, aid and development should protect human life and promote human rights, especially for those most in need wherever they might live on this globe.

Pope Francis believes that the current inequality is society is not natural, but the result of a myriad of human ethical decisions that can be reversed by adjusted human ethical decisions. He is not calling citizens and politicians to Marx, but Scripture and tradition to stand up against the economy of exclusion that marginalizes people.

Self-sacrifice and Motherhood

8 May

If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps. (1 Peter 2:20B-25)

via flickr user VinothChandar

via flickr user VinothChandar

These lines from this coming Sunday’s second reading jumped out at me this week because this coming Sunday is also Mother’s Day. In the cultural imagination in the United States, this image of patient suffering for the good, of following in Christ’s footsteps of self-sacrifice, of giving of the self to the point of giving the self away for the sake of others is often equated with being a “good” mother. On a more personal level, these are also the images that I have held myself to over the past six years as I have parented my two sons; yet they are images with which I struggle mightily. On the one hand, it is hard to ignore the centrality of self-sacrificial love in the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Certainly patient suffering and giving the self away for the sake of others is part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

On the other hand, I have begun to question the wisdom of holding up self-sacrifice as the quintessence of Christian love. This reflection has been spurred by the marked ambivalence I feel as I anticipate the addition of a third child to our family in a few months and the return to the intense care-giving that goes with having an infant. Certainly, I feel blessed that we will welcome a new person into our family, yet alongside this gratitude is no small amount of terror. As I have worked to understand this fear, I realize that a large part of it is related to the ideal of self-sacrifice to which I have held myself during my tenure as a part-time stay-at-home mother to my first two sons. Since I feel fortunate to be in a financial and career situation where I am able to be at home part-time, I keep quiet about how excruciatingly boring this has been at times and how isolated I feel, convincing myself that this is simply the price I have to pay for spending time with my children. Used to being “successful” in the professional realm, I project an image of a successful caretaker, not letting on to the constant questions about doing and being enough for my kids that plague me day in and day out. Another sacrifice for the greater good. Taken in by the idea that mothers are supposed to give everything of themselves to their children, I have ignored my own likes and dislikes and played chess with my three-year-old following the real rules and one-on-one football with my five-year-old, even though I despise these activities enough that I cannot make it through them unless I am accompanied by a pocket full of M & M’s (a sign of an eating disorder that I am just beginning to understand). At base, the trepidation associated with having a third child is grounded in a sense that if I keep sacrificing myself this way, I may completely lose myself and may never be able to get it back.

So how is a good Christian mother, who wants to walk in the footsteps of Jesus without losing herself, supposed to deal with the ideal of self-sacrifice? In her wonderful book Caretakers of Our Common House, Christian educator Carol Lakey Hess offers what I believe is an important proposal: change the ideal and put self-sacrifice in its proper place. Drawing on the work of theologians like Louis Janssens and Don Browning, she argues that rather than self-sacrifice being the essence of Christian love, “Mutuality and equal regard constitute both the essence of love and the ethical vision for community life” (p. 95). Equal regard includes regard for the self and regard for others. If we are called to treat others with respect because they are human beings, made in the image of God, then we are also called to extend the same respect to ourselves. The temptation of sin in a world where equal regard is the ideal is not only that we would operate with inordinate self-regard; it also is that we would operate with inordinate other-regard that risks sliding into unthinking giving that can harm ourselves. As Hess articulates, when mutuality and equal regard are the ideal, self-sacrifice still has a place; it becomes “the extra mile we must travel to help bring a situation of conflict and disharmony into mutuality again” (p. 95). Rather than being constitutive of a relationship, self-sacrifice can be a gracious catalyst for restoring relationships of mutuality, reciprocity, and respect. To bring it closer to home, self-sacrifice should not be the only way in which I relate to my children. More accurately, it is part of a larger vision of harmonious relationships in which all parties, including myself, are treated with respect.


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