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Gospel Reflection for September 21, 2014, 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

15 Sep

“These workers last hired have worked only one hour and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”

 Matthew 20.12

When the 11th-hour workers get a full day’s wage, the owner of the vineyard reorients the parable.  It is no longer about the wages workers deserve but about the owner’s generosity and a Christian social order.  The vineyard owner has a unique pay scale that shows a preferential option for the last, the poorest of the workers.  The social order of the vineyard is like a circle, in which no one has a place of privilege.

How is the owner like God?

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Fierce Love

12 Sep
via flickr user Neal

via flickr user Neal

I have a child growing in my womb who will take on the last name of my husband, which is Ruth. When we first met, he joking tried to woo me by telling me that all of his names were Biblical: Daniel Paul Ruth. I love the book of Ruth and have been looking at it with fresh eyes lately.

But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years,  both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

Naomi told her daughters-in-law to go back home. Orpah left. But Ruth said,

“Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—  there will I be buried…  So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.

The book of Ruth started circulating around the time of Ezra when there was some ethnic cleansing going on. The story served as a warning of sorts, a gentle corrective and reminder that limiting family and focusing on purity does not seem to end well for humanity. Fast forward to the genealogy of Jesus, where the four women who are listed are all considered outsiders. This speaks volumes about God’s idea of family.

Ruth shows Naomi her fierce love. It’s a stubborn love, a love that won’t be let off the hook easily. I try to channel Ruth’s fierce love in my own family, a love that won’t let go. A few years ago, my mom got diagnosed with breast cancer. She asked if I could drop her off at the hospital for her surgery. As I pulled into the parking ramp, I realized her request was literal.

“Just drop me off here,” she said.

“No, mom. Are you kidding? I’m coming to sit with you. You are not going through this alone.”

She pushed, not wanting to inconvenience me. Like Naomi. From my vantage, her permission to leave was ridiculous. I wasn’t going anywhere. In the end, she thanked me for sitting with her, but I didn’t need her gratitude. That’s just what family does. When my sister had her third child, when my brother had a bout of depression, when another brother gets married in a few months — when times of great joy or great sorrow arise, we have an opportunity to rush in and offer a fierce love like Ruth’s. We can offer a gift of presence and accompaniment. That fierce love may be highlighted in big moments, but it can be nurtured and grown in the ordinary nature of day to day family life.

Who is the most fierce lover in your family? Most of us have an extended relation who is the source of some of the best stories that are shared every time the family comes together, the stories that tell how of your family got to be where it is today. We tell those stories because they help us understand who we are and where we are going. So it is with God’s family, and the biblical story.

 

 

Gospel Reflection for September 14, 2014, Exaltation of the Holy Cross

8 Sep

“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

John 3.14

 Sunday’s gospel refers to Jesus’ crucifixion as a “lifting up.”  Being lifted up condenses within a single verb the whole paschal mystery—Jesus’ crucifixion and death, his resurrection and return to God.  Ironically, the lifting up to put Jesus to death has the opposite effect; it lifts him and us to new life—to life with God.

Jesus saves us by showing us how to love one another.  We can listen to one another’s stories, share one another’s hurts, and lift one another’s spirits. Christians believe new life is possible.  Easter happens many times a day in our listening, laughing, forgiving, sharing together.  The risen Jesus lives and saves us in our love for one another.

How do you continue the love of God and God’s Son for the world?

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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!

Gospel Reflection for September 7, 2014, 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

3 Sep
“Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”

Matthew 18.18

 
The whole of chapter 18 in Matthew speaks to Church, the ekkeisia.  The word in Greek means assembly or gathering, the members of the Christian community.  Jesus in this chapter addresses all of us and advises us to “talk it through” when one disciple wrongs another.  The process requires speaking directly and honestly and listening attentively.  What we don’t deal with keeps on festering.  The binding and loosing Jesus empowers us to do is not for punishing but for healing.  This is work we can all do.
 
What wrongs or conflicts does Jesus’ words urge you to act upon?

 
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Gospel Reflection for August 31, 2014, 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

28 Aug

“Those who want to become my followers, let them take up their cross and follow me.”

Matthew 16.24

Jesus recommends denying oneself and taking up our crosses in Sunday’s gospel.  This saying packs Jesus’ whole life into a single sentence.  Jesus does not follow God’s will only in carrying the cross.  He comes among us to heal and reveal God’s nearness and love.  He lives his mission throughout his life, even unto death.

How do we imitate Jesus’ self-giving in our lives?  Slowly, over a lifetime, I’d say.  I resist a call to martyrdom. Most of us today see no need to invent suffering.  We give our energies daily to work and family commitments.  Young parents exhaust themselves with round the clock care for a new child.  Older spouses care for one another through doctors’ appointments, blood draws, and treatments in sickness.  Daily we give ourselves in loving one another.

In what ways has giving of your life helped you find you life?

 

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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.

Gospel Reflection for August 24, 2014, 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

20 Aug
“Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

Matthew 16.13


What are people saying about me?  Jesus’ question is a brave one.  It’s a great interview question for potential employees.  What do your colleagues or clients say about you?  What are you proud that they say about you?

Jesus’ question to his first disciples echoes down the centuries.  Who do we say Jesus is?  A prophetic reformer who hopes to breathe life into the legalistic religion of his day?  A revolutionary whose incendiary preaching catches him in the crushing gears of empire?  Is he the greatest party giver ever who invites everyone to come to his banquets?  Is Jesus the omega point in whom all creation will converge?

What do people say about you that indicates they see you are a Christian?

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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.

 

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