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Limits

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

Laudato-Si

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 goodgroundpress.com and use the questions posted there for your own study or conversations with friends.

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Social Action Has Two Feet

22 Jul

Social-Action-Has-Two-Feet(2)

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.

Oscar Romero Proclaims God’s Love

22 May

This Saturday, in El Salvador, Archbishop Oscar Romero will be an official candidate for sainthood. He was martyred while saying Mass in March of 1980. Like Pope Francis, Romero wanted a poor church for the poor. Go to the internet to read his story. Let this message from him resonate in your heart today and give you courage.Romero

Each one of you has to be God’s microphone. Each one of you has to be a messenger, a prophet. The church will always exist as long as there is someone who has been baptized. Where is your baptism? You are baptized in your professions, in the fields of workers, in the market. Wherever there is someone who has been baptized. that is where the church is. There is a prophet here. Let us not hide the talent that God gave us on the day of our baptism and let us truly live the beauty and responsibility of being a prophetic people.

Doers of the Word

7 May

22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves[a] in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. –James 1:22-25

Last week I sat with a heavy heart at work. Because of my spouse’s work at Lutheran World Relief, I traveled to Nepal and saw the beautiful land and met the fascinating people. I could picture, then, the devastating earthquake in a slightly more personal way. My spouse, busy raising awareness about and funds for the earthquake, then received news that the headquarters of LWR in Baltimore had sent staff home to avoid the rioting in the downtown area. The staff in the Minneapolis office kept plugging away, with their minds in both Baltimore and Nepal. It was a day when I let my heart feel the weight of the earthquake and the rioting. I grew tired. I played Ben Kyle’s song “Mercy” on repeat. I took deep breaths to counter feeling overwhelmed.

On a trip to the bathroom, I met Mavis. She introduced herself and invited me to come into a nearby room and see what she was doing. Mavis is part of a quilting group at church. Every Tuesday a few women get together and make quilts to donate to Lutheran World Relief. I told Mavis about my spouse and his work, that he was able to see a quilt distribution in India and see how happy it made refugees to receive something personal, colorful and warm after losing so much in their own personal lives. Mavis smiled.

“You know,” she said, “A lot of groups here at church are just fine. They get together and eat and talk, and that’s great. We do that, too. But I love that our group also works really hard and gets something done every week.”

Mavis gave me hope and pulled me out of my fog. There are things to be done. God wants to co-create with us. Mavis isn’t looking for recognition. Her works goes unnoticed, mostly. Yet she keeps on, week in and week out, using her gifts and her time making warm, personal, beautiful things to give to people who need them. On that Tuesday, when the world was hurting, I felt better knowing that Mavis and her crew were busy being doers of the word. They were making the world better, one stitch at a time.

12 Nov

UN-Infographic

“We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programs, mechanisms, and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment, and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality.”

Joy of the Gospel #204

In 2000 at the United Nations, 192 nations committed to 8 Millennium Development Goals to achieve by 2015. It took only 10 years to achieve the first goal — to cut in half the number of people living on $1.25 a day. Today 90% of the children in our world complete primary school, both girls and boys (goal 2). More than 2.3 billion people had safe drinking water by 2012.

In fact, the success of the MDGs shows more is possible. The United Nations is working on Sustainable Development Goals to focus and further the work of a sustainable future for all.

“Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, enabling them to be fully a part of society” (Joy of the Gospel #187).

What is a way you work to include people in poverty in our economy?

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