Tag Archives: Christian

Gospel Reflection for September 30, 2018, 26th Sunday Ordinary Time

29 Sep

Sunday Readings: Numbers 11.25-29; James 5.1-6; Mark 9.38-48

“Whoever is not against us is for us.”  – Mark 9.40

Often in our disgustingly polarized times, activists, liberal and conservative, reverse Jesus’ saying and eliminate the middle ground. They insist whoever is not for us is against us. Middle ground is liminal space, valuable to preserve for exploring what we have in common with others, what they have experienced, why they think the way they do. Middle ground is where real people replace stereotypes and liberate each other from the demons of prejudice and unexamined certainty. In the news the future of our democracy depends on finding common ground and common good, cups of water in Jesus’ name all around for all in need.

To what and to whom does the name Christian obligate us?

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Power and Limits of Words

30 Jan
Photo via Flickr user JayRaz

Photo via Flickr user JayRaz

A couple I know are torn about which church to attend. One enjoys a more traditional worship and the other tends toward emerging churches with contemporary worship, but they want to worship together. The former read to me the vision and mission statement of the latter’s favorite church and asked me, “Do you even think it’s Christian?”

My immediate response was, “I don’t know enough about the church to say if it’s Christian or not. I don’t know that it’s my place to say.” I thought for a second and added, “That might not be the most important question to ask.” In moments like these, my instinct is to shy away from labeling. In moments like these, I think it may be good to recognize both the power and limitation of words. Take another look at the second sentence of this post. What micro emotions came up as you read the words traditional, emerging and contemporary? We all may react differently to these terms because of our different backgrounds, beliefs and experiences. It quickly gets tricky to talk about these things without defining terms.

It was Kathleen Norris who first got me thinking about semantics when it comes to religion. Her beautiful, powerful book, Amazing Grace, tries to unlock words that have been trapped by years of projection and religious piety. Each vignette is titled with a word that is especially loaded. Instead of defining the terms, she tells a story in hopes of breaking the word back open. Telling stories with people instead of defining terms can counter some of the potential hurt that comes from the power and limitations of words.

Another trick I like is to study other languages. There are words and cultural concepts in other languages that just don’t exist in English. Take, for example, the word hygge. Hygge is a mental state that is loosely defined at coziness or togetherness. But those words don’t cut it. English is too limited to capture the idea. According to Denmark’s official tourism site:

The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family — that’s hygge too.  And let’s not forget the eating and drinking — preferably sitting around the table for hours on end discussing the big and small things in life.

When I am curled up by the fire in sweatpants, snuggling with my loved ones, sipping tea and reading, that is hygge. One word in another language evokes an entire scene with bubbles of emotion and nostalgia. We don’t have a word in English that does it justice. That reminder of the limitation of our language also invites me to approach religious semantics with humility and curiosity. The Bible I read is a translation, and religious experience can be so personal and powerful that words sometimes do not capture the heart of what is going on.

The church being questioned is welcoming people on the margins of society who are coming back to worship after feeling hurt by organized religion. It is, then, I believe, doing healing work of reconciliation that Jesus would approve of. The people who attend that church have stories to tell and moments in their lives that are too big for words.

Independence Day: A reflection by Joan Mitchell, CSJ

3 Jul


This weekend, the people of the United States go to parks, play and swim, eat hot dogs, and watch red, white and blue fireworks cascade, explode, and spill down dark night skies. The Fourth of July celebrates the signing of this nation’s Declaration of Independence from England and George III in 1776.

We come to Independence Day 2013 recognizing that “all men” includes all women and people of every color and their right to vote. We come amid polarizing tensions in our nation on the size of government and ammunition clips, but we rise together for the color guard that leads the hometown parade.

The common good requires negotiation, listening to people unlike ourselves and giving people who are poor a voice. Like James and John in last Sunday’s gospel, many of us are willing to call down fire from heaven to destroy those with whom we differ.

The Fourth of July calls for fireworks of a different kind – involved citizens. As we gather with crowds to watch rainbow colors spill across the sky, we can commit to participate in our democracy, to talk to our neighbors, agree and disagree, dialog with legislators, build coalitions, and seek the common good together.

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Enjoy this blessing for Independence Day and have a safe and happy holiday weekend!

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