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Urgent Love

8 Apr
Photo via Flickr user Tara Hunt

Photo via Flickr user Tara Hunt

In John Lewis’ Walking With the Wind, there is a great scene where the Big 6– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, Roy Wilkins, James Farmer, A. Philip Randolph and Whitney Young– are discussing plans for the 1963 March on Washington. They are arguing about the word “patience” as it played out in one of the speeches.

John Lewis, the youngest leader by far, despised the word. He didn’t want to be strategic . He didn’t want to compromise or take the long view. He wanted the rights he deserved now. Today. Immediately. He was sick of waiting. The older men, who had been working for black rights for decades, warned against his urgency.

The more seasoned leaders won out. The word patience was used in the speeches. The scene is powerful in how it pits veteran experience with idealistic vision. Movements that bring about truth and justice at the policy level, changing heats, minds and laws, take both strategies. The civil rights movement needed Lewis’ drive. I have to respect Lewis’ young, energized, righteous impatience. There is a time and a place for urgent love.

Mark’s Gospel is written with a sense of urgency. The beginning is curt and brief:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

So is the ending:

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Mark portrays a Jesus that is constantly moving. The word “immediately” appears 40 times. Jesus moves from one act to the next with haste, humanizing those who feel abandoned and isolated. Their ailments, their sickness, their loneliness matters to Jesus. Mark’s writing style shows us Jesus’ unconditional, urgent love.

In a recent Easter reflection, my friend made the distinction between urgency and haste stating:

I will love with urgency, but not with haste. Urgency feels like saying, “You are important and I want to see this relationship progress and grow because I find you utterly fascinating.”

Haste is reckless, rushed, and stays on the surface. Haste makes mistakes. Urgency, conversely, is intentional. It honors, validates, moves, showers and shows passion. Who and what deserves our most urgent love? Today, how can we accept the urgent love of Jesus and use that love with others?

 

Tall Buildings

18 Mar

“Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” –Mark 13:2

Sky scrapers are powerful modern day metaphors. We build them higher and higher, competing to have the highest. They make us feel powerful, invincible, protected, successful, prospering. They represent our ego, our desire to leave a tangible mark on the world, our fortress from our own mortality and suffering.

Lent is a time to take our buildings apart, one brick at a time, and let our souls flap in the wind. It is a time to be vulnerable to the elements, to come out of hiding and admit that our buildings cannot protect us. Maybe we are better off without protection. Maybe God is outside the walls. This verse in Mark rings in my heart. Not one single stone will be left. This world is temporary. Our buildings cannot protect us. So maybe power, invincibility, protection, success and prosperity are not, actually, what we should be focused on.

Sadly, it sometimes takes our buildings to literally crumble to remind us. How do we not go straight to memories of 9/11/01 when we watched our great buildings come crashing down? We worked hard and quickly to rebuild, to show our strength, to sharpen our weapons so that we might feel protected. Arthur Waskow reminds us that fortresses won’t protect us:

In 2001, just a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, the Jewish community celebrated the harvest festival of Sukkot. Many did so by building a sukkah– a fragile hut with a leafy roof, the most vulnerable of houses. Vulnerable in time, since its roof must be not only leafy but leaky enough to let in the starlight and gusts of wind and rain.

In our evening prayers throughout the year, just as we prepare to lie down in vulnerable sleep, we plead with God, “Spread over us Your sukkah of shalom—peace and safety.”

Why does the prayer plead for a sukkah of shalom rather than a temple or fortress or palace of shalom, which would be surely more safe and more secure?

 Precisely because the sukkah is so vulnerable. 

For much of our lives we try to achieve peace and safety by building with steel and concrete and toughness:

Pyramids, Air raid shelters, Pentagons, World Trade Centers

But the sukkah reminds us: We are in truth all vulnerable. If as the prophet Dylan sang, “A hard rain’s gonna fall,” it will fall on all of us. And on 9/11/01, the ancient truth came home: We all live in a sukkah. Even the wildest oceans, the mightiest buildings, the wealthiest balance sheets, the most powerful weapons did not shield us. 

There are only wispy walls and leaky roofs between us. The planet is in fact one interwoven web of life. The command to love my neighbor as I do myself is not an admonition to be nice: It is a statement of truth like the law of gravity. However much and in whatever way I love my neighbor, that will turn out to be in the way I love myself. If I pour contempt upon my neighbor, hatred will recoil upon me. 

Only a world where all communities feel vulnerable, and therefore connected to all other communities, can prevent such acts of rage and mass murder.

The sukkah not only invites our bodies to become physically vulnerable, but also invites our minds to become vulnerable to new ideas. To live in the sukkah for a week, as Jewish tradition teaches; would be to leave behind not only the rigid walls and towers of our cities, but also our rigidified ideas, our assumptions, our habits, out accustomed lives. 

 “The Sukkah of Shalom,” Arthur Waskow, The Impossible Will Take a Little While, Ed Paul Loeb. Basic Book, New York City: NewYork, 2004, pp. 106-107.

This Lent, I’m trying to identify the ways I build tall buildings around my body, mind and heart. I’m trying to be brave enough to dissolve the walls and build a sukkah in its place so that I may come to feel more connection to my God in my vulnerability.

Stuff Barrier

19 Feb
Photo via Flickr user Jed Sullivan

Photo via Flickr user Jed Sullivan

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. –Mark 10:21

I find stickers in my back pocket. Drum sticks in the middle of the kitchen floor. A little stuffed giraffe propped up in the corner of the couch. A figurine, affectionately named Gordon, in my shoe. These sacred sprinklings are welcome signs of my son’s presence. Joyful, silly, unexpected interruptions in my adult life that fourteen months in, still feel new. These days will not last forever.

At times, when I see one of these objects standing on its own, I cry. They are infused with Simon’s affection, so now I find they are meaningful to me. I adore them because he has chosen them to be special objects in his life.

In my life, I have tried to travel lightly and not cling to things. I try to be a conscientious shopper and an active purger. So this emotional, already nostalgic attachment to a few of Simon’s things has been a surprise to me. This Lent, I’m thinking about the rich man. I’m thinking about my possessions.

We see in the rich man’s grief that he is clinging to his possessions. He doesn’t want to let them go. Jesus sees rightly that they are what is truly holding him back from following Jesus, knowing Jesus. Instead of owning his possessions, his possessions own him. So often, people who have too much stuff are the ones who struggle to give that stuff up.

I asked high schoolers what they would save in a house fire. A writing and sketching journal. A blanket from childhood. A cello. A phone, because on it she has voicemails saved of important voices in her life. These objects have been infused with meaning over time. And I don’t think they pull these youth further from God. In fact, I’d argue these object bring them closer to God.

It is a good Lenten practice to take inventory of our stuff. Stuff is not inherently bad. Some of it, over time and due to love, have become so infused with meaning that they can invite us into thin spaces of gratitude. It’s the stuff that takes us away from God, the stuff that owns us, the stuff that distracts us and keeps us focused on this world that we need to worry about. Are there possessions that are holding us back from following Jesus to the cross?

Finding Prophets Among Scribes

5 Feb
Photo via Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski

Photo via Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski

Prophets tend to have a difficult life. It’s a tough gig. They see society as it really is, and speak truth to power. They are rarely taken seriously, often ignored, because we are pretty sure we don’t want to hear what they have to say. They give a comforting word to those suffering, and judge those who hold power harshly. They promise justice, which is not good news for those perpetuating injustice. They offer hope to the mourners while clearly pointing out the source of the grief.

We are in desperate need of some prophets– people who can imagine the world without war and hatred and violence– to call us to a higher place. What if we could see each other as God sees us, and act accordingly, so that compassion ruled the day?

Prophets rarely make it into the limelight. They are on the outskirts, calling for us to turn around and pay attention. They are running grassroots protests and feeding people and asking policy makers to show more humanity in a way that makes us uncomfortable because they are right. They are living in a way that seems like they may have a more direct line to God, who is tirelessly trying to work through our broken humanity.

During campaign season, we look to our candidates in hopes of finding a prophet. We look for people who have this God-inspired vision of what our country could and should look like. I can’t help but wonder, though, if our fast moving, media- driven society hushes prophets and glorifies scribes.

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces,  and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! –Mark 12:39

In this presidential campaign season, we will hear a few people do a lot of talking, and several more people talk about those people talking. It is a season to beware. Who are we giving authority to? Who are we listening to–prophets or scribes? We do need to pay attention to the campaign, of course. We need to vote with our ballots and vote with our billfolds and television remotes and laptop mice. Meanwhile, I will keep searching for prophets and preparing my heart to listen.

 

Gospel Reflection for November 15, 2015, 33rd Sunday Ordinary Time

10 Nov

Sunday Readings: Daniel 12.1-3; Hebrews 10.11-14,18; Mark 13.24-32

“About the day or hour when these things will happen, no one knows.”

(Mark 13.32)

Sunday’s gospel comes Mark 13, often called the  “little apocalypse.” Apocalyptic writing is a literary genre akin to science fiction or dystopian fiction today. It’s a resistance literature that looks at the struggle between good and evil in the world from the point of view of the oppressed. Apocalyptic writing creates symbols, codes, and visionary journeys that project how good will triumph but keep it secret from the oppressors. In much this same way spirituals expressed slaves’ desire for freedom but kept their meaning hidden from owners.

We worry today about cataclysmic ends of the world today, too. Star Wars describes a great cosmic battle in which good finally triumphs over evil. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings explores in the symbol of the ring the lure to power and evil and in its characters the qualities that will save Middle Earth. Through the mentoring of Dumbledore, Harry Potter learns as he grows up and hones his wizardry skills what will stop the evil V0ldemort and his Death Eaters. The secret for J.K. Rowling is not magic but Harry’s willingness to sacrifice himself out of love as his mother did to protect him.

Dystopian fiction enchants kids. We sympathize with divergents trying to transform a highly controlled society. Advertising for the final Hunger Games film has begun. We await what Katniss Everdeen, the Mockingjay, will do in the final film. Readers of the series know.

What worries you most about our society?

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Gospel Reflection for November 8, 2015, 32nd Sunday Ordinary Time

3 Nov
Photo via Flickr user Tiger Pixel

Photo via Flickr user Tiger Pixel

Sunday Readings: 1 Kings 17.10-16; Hebrews 9.24-28; Mark 12.38-44

“I want you to observe that this poor widow gave more to the treasury than all the others.”

(Mark 12.43)

Widows and orphans were among the poorest people in ancient Israel. The law made care of widows and orphans the measure of Israel’s commitment to keeping the covenant. Like ourselves people throughout history have found forgetting the vulnerable easy and taking advantage of them tempting. The widow is the person in the story most like Jesus; she gives wholeheartedly all she has.

The widow in Sunday’s first reading also gives her all. She uses her last bit of flour and oil to make cakes for the prophet Elijah. She takes Elijah at his word and finds her jar of flour never goes empty and her jar of oil never runs dry.

What is the measure of your generosity?

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Gospel Reflection for October 25, 2015, 30th Sunday Ordinary Time

21 Oct

Sunday Readings: Jeremiah 31.7-9; Hebrews 5.1-6; Mark 10.46-52

Bartimaeus threw of his cloak, jumped up, and came to Jesus.  Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”  “Teacher, I want to see again”.

(Mark 10.50-51)

Even before Jesus heals his blindness, Bartimaeus throws away his cloak, in which he probably collected the money passersby threw his way.  He accepts the call to discipleship before Jesus gives it.  His desire to see transforms Bartimaeus.  Their desire for status impedes the visions of James and John, over confident they can drink the cup Jesus drinks.  His desire for belonging keeps the rich young man from following Jesus.  The blind beggar who sees with eyes of faith becomes the model disciple.  Bartimaeus must have come to faith in Jesus through hearing others talk about him.  In that sense he is like all of us today who believe on the testimony of others.

What keeps you from throwing away your cloak?

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Gospel Reflection for October 18, 2015, 29th Sunday Ordinary Time

13 Oct

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 53.10-11; Hebrews 3.14-16; Mark 10.35-45

“Can you drink the cup that I drink?”

(Mark 10.38)

“We can,” James and John respond to Jesus’ question in Sunday’s gospel.  The irony of their brash response is that they do the opposite.  They forsake Jesus when he gets arrested and flee with all of Jesus’ men disciples except Peter, who denies knowing Jesus in the high priest’s courtyard.  When following becomes life-threatening, neither James or John nor the others stay the course.  Their commitment evaporates.  They shrink from drinking the cup of suffering Jesus is about to drink.  The gospel writer Mark wants us to recognize Jesus’ first disciples had to grow into their commitment as we can.

At every eucharist we drink the cup that Jesus drank.  We brashly say amen, agreeing this is the lifeblood of Christ poured out for us.  It becomes part of us, a commitment to live into each day.

To what do you commit when at Mass you drink the cup that Jesus drank?

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Gospel Reflection for October 11, 2015, 28th Sunday Ordinary Time

6 Oct

Cath-Worker-SBS

Sunday Readings: Wisdom 7.7-11; Hebrews 4.12-13; Mark 19.17-27

“All things are possible with God.”

(Mark 10.27)

More than half the world people live on $2-$10 per day.  In our country we hear calls to keep our economy humming, to buy and consume.  Now the Catholic Church has a leader who comes from a continent where most people fit this low-income category.  In his new encyclical on climate change Pope Francis repeatedly gives voice to people who are poor and quotes the words of other bishops from the developing nations of the global south.

Pope Francis is calling us to protect our common home, to find ways to reduce climate change and its imperiling effects on Earth’s poorest people.  The pope urges peoples, nations, and multinational corporations beyond borders and self-interest to pursue the most basic of common goods — a home for future generations.

What have you experienced of how people live in developing countries or of living at a low-income level $2-$10 per day?  How has this affected your outlook on climate change?

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Gospel Reflection for October 4, 2015, 27th Sunday Ordinary Time

29 Sep
Photo via Flickr user RebeccaVC1

Photo via Flickr user RebeccaVC1

Sunday Readings: Genesis 2.18-24; Hebrews 2.9-11; Mark 10.2-12

“Tell us, does the Law allow a husband to divorce his wife?”

(Mark 10.2)

Marriage is the topic in Sunday’s gospel.  In Rome this Sunday the Synod on the Family begins.  Second marriages is one topic on the agenda.  Many people in the pews pray the Spirit will breathe the embers of Vatican II into flame again.

Church documents praise the family but not in the everyday language we might use.  The Church describes the family as —

  1. a domestic church.
  2. the living cell of society and church.
  3. a school for social virtues.
  4. the first school of faith.
  5. a cradle of life.
  6. a value and goal most people seek.
  7. an icon of the Trinity.

How does your family fit the Church’s descriptions?  Who do you consider family members?

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