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Learning Anew

5 Sep

Equally as a child and an adult, I have always loved back to school time. As a kid, I loved color coordinating my folder and notebooks, looking through my schedule and getting a fresh start in a new grade. Now, my friends put pictures of their kids in oversize backpack sitting on the front stoop before the first day of class. The mornings get cooler. Buses line up, teachers gear up, parents and kids shift gears. Back to school time is filled with so much hope and promise. We are rested, hopefully, and recommit to learning and growing. It is rewarding, like hitting the refresh button to give life a new try.

I remember, at age twenty-two, having a twelve month calendar for the first time in my life. It felt odd to keep going to work in June and then still in September. Where was the rest? Where was the reboot? You mean I just keep going? No new boss? No new tasks? And so on. So how do we, as adults, find that hope and promise in our calendar? How can we commit to learning without classroom time set aside?

Via Flickr User JustMakeIt

Via Flickr User JustMakeIt

The New York poet Marie Howe, on On Being with Krista Tippett, talked about starting to write poetry at age thirty. She had just been through a horrible trauma in her life and remembered and clung to the sentiment, “When you are really sad, all you can do is learn something new.”

I am married to a learner. I watch him pick up a new hobby, dive head first into it with curiosity and playfulness of a child. He will never be boring to me. He will never stop growing. New life will always be waiting for him around every bend.

I have a friend who started taking swing dance lessons last winter. He told me, “In Minnesota, we should all make a point of learning something new every year. It fights off the darkness.”

I’m well aware that my able mind and able body are gifts from God to be used and stretched and celebrated. This fall, even without new folders and notebooks to color coordinate, I’m committing to learning anew as an act of faith. The world is our classroom. Happy back to school to us all!

Fighting Disease

27 Aug

On August 18, in light of Ferguson, Kaya Oakes, a Catholic writing faculty member at UCBerkeley, tweeted:

The sickening thing about racism is how repetitive it is. From generation to generation. That’s also the definition of a disease.

It got me thinking hard about generational disease. My friend talked about being worried when his wife got pregnant. He didn’t want to pass on his Type 1 Diabetes to his child. My brother has talked about maybe never having children. He doesn’t want to be responsible for passing on his struggle with depression to his kids. I have a child growing in me right now. What I hope to not pass down is an eating disorders. Eating disorders and disordered eating runs in my family. I got it. I believe it is a disease. I also believe I am healthy today and have done the work to give my child a chance at a different kind of relationship with food and body. But, like Type 1 diabetes and depression, it is the kind of disease you are never totally free from. I fought to love food and my body through therapy and becoming an active advocate by creating workshops, writing about it and teaching young people. My spouse is a partner in my struggle. As a recovered person, it comes up less and less, and I have tools for when it does, but never goes away completely. Being pregnant has brought on an onslaught of attention to my growing body– eyes and comments– and I have had to recommit to the work. Food is good. My body is beautiful. I am supposed to be gaining weight. It’s good work, and I am happy to do it in hopes of breaking a generational cycle of disease. Kaya’s tweet, however, challenged me. Why is it that I am willing to work and fight so hard to break this cycle and not others? What diseases do we choose to work toward dismantling? What would happen if I were to work that hard in my daily life to break the cycle of racism for my child?

In “Heart of Whiteness,” Tobias Wolff writes:

But look: most of us still live in enclaves. As much as the country has changed since I was young, this has not. Though more and more we work together, learn together, bear arms together, we mostly go home to separate worlds and bring up our children in separate worlds, either by intention or cultural habit or simply as a consequence of economic and class divisions. And if we ourselves never say a slighting word about those others or smile in a certain way at the dramatic fulfillment of a stereotype, our children, living in our world, will still see and hear such things and be touched by them….Here are some race cards: our country has the highest incarceration rate in the world—and young black men have an incarceration rate six times that of young white men.

And so we pass on racism to the next generation like a disease. We live in separate worlds. Refusing to be actively racist is not enough. Like Wolff goes on to write, I have read books and taught units and shown up at rallies that do work toward breaking down race hatred. But do I fight daily? Do I fight as hard as I have over the years to break the eating disorder cycle? No. Omission will not fight off the generational residue. If I am not actively pursing anti-racism, the default will prevail. Separate worlds speaks volumes in the silence.

On his blog, Clint Schnekloth openly struggles with what he should do as a white man in like of Ferguson. He says, “Allies walk a fine line with paternalism.” True. But he ends by presenting a few action steps that he believes will work toward breaking the cycle of the disease:

1) Realize that anything you believe you know about race, immigrants, or mental health is colored by your subjective experience. You don’t know what you don’t know.

2) To gain understanding, engage in love of neighbor, the next step is to “subject” yourself to the truth of the other, especially the truth of oppressed or marginalized communities, to listen to them and trust that their experience is also true and valid even if it isn’t your experience. In fact you may need to accept the possibility that their truth is MORE true than your truth.

3) Do the hard work of discovering the intersubjective truth that lies between you and the other whose truth is different than yours.

The Catholic Catechism states that racism is a sin against justice and a violation of human dignity (1935). As people of faith, it is our collective work to tend to the injustice so what we pass on to the next generation brings hope for God’s renewal and grace and creates space for human dignity to rule. I do want my child to love its body and food more than I have over the years, to know physical happiness and health in a whole new, unrestricted way. I also want my child to love all people and know a world without enclaves and human made boundaries and race violence. And if this is truly my wish, then it must also become my work.

Faith Today

20 Aug

There are days when I feel more connected to the collective conscious of people. It’s like my heart is connected to other hearts, known and unknown by a string, and the string is getting tugged on and saturated with grieving and pain.On those days, my heart feels heavy, and I get overwhelmed.

Today is one of those days. A dear friend is grieving the end of a marriage. Another is grieving the loss of a life after a miscarriage. A mother gets diagnosed with breast cancer. A high schooler falls unconscious at football practice and is rushed to the ICU. And somehow, the pain of these people I know and love makes me vulnerable. The floodgates open and in rushes the pain of Furguson, of violence against women, of depression, of brokenness in our systems of education and incarceration, and on and on.

Days like today require faith.

I have to dig deeper to find the words, the prayer, the belief. It’s not on the surface waiting for me. The truth is so simple, yet it is hard to grasp. “God’s mercy and compassion is not like the compassion of humankind. Humankind favors men over women, white over black, well over sick, strong over weak. God is not like that. God’s unbound love extends to us all.” When I do find the words and utter them, not all of me believes it. It sounds shaky and shallow and unsure in my throat.

Yet this is faith– to utter hopeful truth about a God that is beyond human understanding on the dark days. It is more important to utter with a shaky voice on the dark days than to sing confidently on the days that are bright and hope comes easily. It is an act of faith to have hope on these dark days, to try our shaky voices, and to keep believing in spite of evidence otherwise, that a good God wants to work with us to create a world of justice and peace, full of healing and reconciliation, where all people are free. Dorthy Day reminds us we cannot have the audacity to hope if we are not willing to do the work of implementing God’s compassionate vision of “on earth as it is in heaven.” The uttering calls us forth to action, which reinforces hope.

On our dark days, it takes faith to choose not to wallow in only what is, but to look harder and see what ought to be. It takes faith to believe that God is not satisfied with how it is today. Broken and hopeful, it is an act of faith to claim and live into the love of God that surpasses human compassion.

Pope Francis’ Nudge Toward Happiness

13 Aug

At the end of July, Pope Francis did an interview with “Viva” in Argentina. From that interview, Catholic News Service then published a story about Pope Francis’ top ten tips toward happiness. In very Pope Francis style, there were profound in their simplicity. They were relational and down to earth and refreshing. They also clearly drew on the seven tenants of Catholic Social Teaching.

He encouraged things like fighting becoming egocentric through generosity. “Live and let live.” Letting go of negativity in the name of becoming healthy made the list. By ending being negative about other people, showing our own low self-esteem, we can find more happiness. Moving through life calmly, “with kindness and humility,” like a pool of water. Other tips included combating the stress of consumerism by celebrating leisure with art, playing with your family, turning off the TV and choosing literature. He highlighted the Sabbath by urging Sunday to be a day for family, a holiday. He held up the dignity of work by urging us to create good jobs for young people. Young people need opportunity and labor to give them hope. Love of nature, for the Pope, is tied to happiness. He said, “I think a question that we’re not asking ourselves is: ‘Isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?'” In this time of war, we must work for peace. He does not mean being quiet, but being proactive and dynamic in our work for peace. “The call for peace must be shouted.” And finally, he stated strongly “But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyzes.” Instead, the Pope calls for respecting others’ beliefs, witnessing, communicating and making dialogue that attracts.

Since the interview, the Catholic News Service write up has gotten some serious traction. I overheard a conversation about the Pope where one young person said to the other, “Wow, that man is a serious force for PR in the Catholic Church right now.” A recent college graduate said to me, “How about that Franny huh? You know, if he asked me to come back to the Catholic Church, I think I would.” Pope Francis is speaking truth from his position of power in a way that people are ready for and open to receiving. Young people who were kids during 9/11 are now coming of age to see fighting all over the world in places like Gaza and Nigeria, often in the name of religion. So when the Pope calls for an end to proselytism and a recommitment to shouting for peace, young people, who are often skeptical of the hypocrisy and violence tied to organized religion, perk up a bit. These are the same young people struggling to find meaningful work after the recession as college tuition skyrockets. They are the same young people who started know about bullying over social media and have to navigate screen time and bombardment of marketing messages through media. What Pope Francis is saying is striking a cord and resonating and seeming to make a whole lot of sense to people young and old alike.

In his relevance, he is living exactly what he said about proselytism. He is creating curiosity and witnessing to others with his words and actions. He is encouraging dialogue and making himself approachable and attractive as the most powerful man in the Catholic Church. The way he is posturing himself with power is inviting others to relax, lean in and listen a little closer. I have seen less defensiveness about and combativeness toward the Catholic Church since he became Pope. In a time of serious religious strife around the world, we may do well to take his ten tips toward happiness quite seriously.

 

Encounter

1 Aug

The Church must step outside herself. To go where? To the outskirts of existence, whatever they may be, but she must step out. Jesus tells us: “Go into all the world! Go! Preach! Bear witness to the Gospel!” (cf. Mk 16:15). . . In this “stepping out” it is important to be ready for encounter. For me this word is very important. Encounter with others. Why? Because faith is an encounter with Jesus, and we must do what Jesus does: encounter others. . . with our faith we must create a “culture of encounter”, a culture of friendship, a culture in which we find brothers and sisters, in which we can also speak with those who think differently, as well as those who hold other beliefs, who do not have the same faith. They all have something in common with us: they are images of God, they are children of God. Going out to meet everyone, without losing sight of our own position. (5/18/13) –Pope Francis

I just got back in from stepping out. To go where? The outskirts, the world. To do what? Encounter. I took a lovely group of high school students up to Ely, then out to the wilderness of the Boundary Waters for ten days. In Ely they were stripped of their cell phones, watched as they packed just two pairs of pants and two shirts and two pairs of shoes- one wet and one dry set. They did not know exactly where they were going, or what their next meal would be. They got vulnerable fast. Some young people were thrilled, others were skeptical, but it didn’t take long on the water for them to marvel at the scenery, admire the clear water and get hushed at the sight of loons.

via flickr user Steve took it

via flickr user Steve took it

In Ely our big group split up into smaller groups of eight– two adults and six youth. Day after day we ate together over a fire we built ourselves, we slept wedged together in our tents, we switched up partners to chat with on the canoe while finding our paddling rhythm. We huddled together in the rain, pushed each other through long and technical portages, shared books and hammocks. We fished and played cards, hiked and created inside jokes. Napped. We encountered the Creator in the sunsets. We encountered our Creator in each other.

I had been waiting all year for this trip because I knew the conditions were ripe for encounter. It’s not every day that you get access to a high school student for six days with no technology and nowhere in particular to be and with work to be done and adventures to be had together. I had been trying my best to encounter these young people in fits and starts. In the wilderness, our time together was easy and light. It bound effortlessly. By then end of the week, there was deep recognition and respect between us. We all showed up– really showed up– to play and pray and work and rest together. There was nothing, and then there was something, and that something was very good.

When we returned to Ely, we showered and ate a great meal. We reunited with the other groups of eight and shared stories. And after a weekend of more physical labor as a service project, we got back on the bus to head home. We again had our cell phones and extra changes of clothes, but the ride home felt significantly different than the ride north. There was a comfort, a quiet, calm confidence in the group that can only be earned by stepping out into the world to encounter God and each other.

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.

Weeding

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!”

and

“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.

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