Joan Chittister: Sin and ‘The Good Life’

Sr. Joan's recent lecture in Boston was cut short due to a false fire alarm.
I like Joan Chittister’s understanding of “the good life” and the wages of sin. Personal piety is important because it keeps us grounded in God. But we are grounded in God only so we can spread the good news to the world in which we live. Spreading that “good news” means consorting with those who society deems as “sinners.”

In American society, it is socially unacceptable to be poor. To be poor calls into question the great American “bootstrap myths” and the myth that market capitalism can advance humanity, and that myth that a system of American democracy that allows for an unfettered market will create a stable economy. What’s “good news for the poor” in this context is, indeed, revolutionary.

When Pope John XXIII talked about “the signs of the times,”–poverty, nuclearism, sexism–I began to read these new signs with a new conscience and with a new sense of religious life in mind. Most of all, I began to read the scriptures through another lens. Who was this Jesus who “consorted with sinners” and cured on the Sabbath? Most of all, who was I who purported to be following him while police dogs snarled at black children and I made sure not to be late for prayer or leave my monastery after dark? What was “the prophetic dimension” of the Church supposed to be about if not the concerns of the prophets–the widows, the orphans, the foreigners and the broken, vulnerable, of every society?

We prayed the psalms five times a day for years, but I had failed to hear them. What I heard in those early years of religious life was the need to pray. I forgot to hear what I was praying. Then, one day I realized just how secular the psalmist was in comparison to the religious standards in which I had been raised: “You, O God, do see trouble and grief…. You are the helper of the weak,” the psalmist argues (Psalm 104). No talk of fuzzy, warm religion here. This was life raw and hard. This was what God called to account. This was sin.

When the Latin American bishops talked about a “fundamental option for the poor,” I began to see the poor in our inner-city neighborhood for the first time. When Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. finally stood up in Birmingham, Alabama, I stood up, too. I was ready now. Like the blind man of Mark’s gospel, I could finally see. The old question had been answered. The sin to be repented, amended, eradicated was the great systemic sin against God’s little ones. For that kind of sin, in my silence, I had become deeply guilty.

I had new questions then but they were far more energizing than the ones before them. I began to look more closely at what “living a good life” could possibly mean in a world that was so full of suffering, so full of greed.

I began to realize that “a good life” had something do with making life good for other people. Slowly, slowly I began to arrive at the oldest Catholic truth of them all: all of life is good and that sanctity does not consist in denying that. Sanctity consists in making life good for everyone whose life we touch.–Joan Chittister, OSB

From Joan Chittister: In My Own Words, edited by Mary Lou Kownacki

Anglican Bishop Mark Ryland: ‘Workaholism is Not a Christian Virtue’

The Anglican Bishop of Shrewsbury, UK, has warned against growing workaholism, and has commended relaxation and hospitality instead. In his regular diocesan update, Bishop Mark Ryland lays out the necessity for sabbath, rest, and renewal.

By way of information: The U.S. does not have “national holidays” like they do in the European Union – in the sense of days on which all employees in receive a day free from work and all business is halted. The U.S. federal holidays are technically apply only to federal employees. States and local jurisdictions decide how they will follow them. And private businesses don’t have to follow them at all. Ryland writes:

I wonder if we British don’t really value rest and relaxation? We seem to make a virtue out of unceasing work; we boast about how busy we are, as if the hectic pace of our lives is proof that we are important and significant. We feel guilty when we’re not working and we’re suspicious of anyone who lifts their nose from the grindstone for too long. In France, the whole country basically shuts down for the month of August and everyone heads for the beach or the mountains. While the number of public holidays in Britain is eight; on the continent it’s ten or eleven. Despite working more hours, it is debatable whether our country is any more productive. Indeed, Britain has one of the highest records for workdays lost due to sickness in Europe.

In our fast paced world, tales of emotional exhaustion and spiritual bankruptcy are not uncommon and stress is a recognised illness. People feel stretched and overloaded – indeed it is expected of them! I noticed a recent advert on TV that promised to keep you looking fresh, even after sixteen hours. It seemed to be applauding those ‘tough people’ who worked sixteen hour days. Crazy!

We were not, however, designed to be forever on the go. Fast paced lifestyles and little sleep rob us not only of energy but also of relationships. This seems to be a particular danger in the Church where it is all too easy for work and ministry to become the other woman or man in a marriage. We rob ourselves, however, when we desire autonomy or when we imagine we are indispensable, declaring that we can manage alone, that we don’t need anyone or anything else to help us. As Charles de Gaulle once said: ‘the graveyards are full of indispensable men’.

Jesus may have worked long hours teaching and healing but he knew that he needed to draw aside, to step out of the rush and away from the demands laid upon him. He knew of his need to find peace and to reconnect with his Father, gaining spiritual energy and sustenance in solitude. Exhaustion is a fact of life. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that even young people grow tired and become weary. He tells us that the remedy for weariness is rest, waiting on God, waiting to be filled with his strength. So if the prophets recognised the need for spiritual refuelling and Jesus prioritised time alone with his father, how much more do we need it?

We need to relearn this… I need to relearn this! More than that the world needs us God’s people – his Church – to model a healthy rhythm of work and rest for we live in a world that is a long way out of balance. In our society, young and old seek oblivion in alcohol; anti-depressants are amongst the most prescribed medications. People are yearning for real rest as the lie of consumerisms’ ability to satisfy in any meaningful way is being exposed. This deep recession gives us an opportunity and a choice. It could mean that we go on blindly working harder and harder to obtain the things we have grown used to possessing; or it could mean a time to take stock and count our blessings for what we enjoy – what Archbishop David Hope called an opportunity to model a lifestyle of ‘enoughness’.

If you’re like me, it will be an evening fishing on the river; if you’re like the Archdeacon of Salop, it will be playing with your model railway in the attic: a walk in the park; reading a good book; playing games with your children and grand-children, listening to the radio, visiting neighbours and friends – there are so many simple and inexpensive ways to discover re-creation.

As a creator of community, the church is called to model the true worth of human beings as men and women made in the image of God. Making room for the marginalised and the newcomer, providing opportunities for people to meet, relax, play together and strengthen friendships, is a wonderful way to help people belong and feel cherished. In these simple acts we proclaim good news to our neighbours: ‘you have great worth, regardless of how much or how little you accomplish. You have value because God is your Father and, in Christ, you are loved as his very own.’ –Bishop Mark Ryland

Faith-Based Organic Farm in Central California Sets Table of Abundance

Ched Myers is one of my gospeler mentors. A gospeler is someone who sings the gospel – and Ched and Elaine do that with the way they live their lives. In their recent Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries‘ newsletter that Ched and Elaine are working with a local faith-based organic farm in the Oxnard Plain in Ventura County, California. It’s called the Abundant Table Farm Project. (I’m posting a couple of the Abundant Table’s inspiring videos below.

I thought the book introduction that Ched wrote for The Biblical Jubilee and the Struggle for Life by Ross and Gloria Kinsler was a nice set up for the Abundant Table story. He wrote:

“We read the gospel as if we had no money,” laments American Jesuit theologian John Haughey, “and we spend our money as if we know nothing of the Gospel.” Indeed, the topic of economics is exceedingly difficult to talk about in most First World churches, more taboo than politics or even sex. Yet no aspect of our individual and corporate lives is more determinative of our welfare. And few subjects are more frequently addressed in our scriptures.

The standard of economic and social justice is woven into the warp and weft of the Bible. Pull this strand and the whole fabric unravels. At the heart of this witness is the call to Sabbath and Jubilee, a tradition we might summarize in three axioms: The world as created by God is abundant, with enough for everyone— provided that human communities restrain their appetites and live within limits …

Here’s a 2-minute video about the Abundant Table Farm Project:

“We are a young intentional community of five interns (sisterfriends) living and working on a 10-acre family farm on the Oxnard Plain. Though we come from far and near, our internship grew out of the campus ministry founded by the Episcopal Church at California State University Channel Islands. To learn more about our organic farm and Community Supported Agriculture program, please visit www.jointhefarm.com.”

Senior producer Jim Melchiorre at Anglican Stories visited The Abundant Table Farmhouse Project, a young adult internship program of the Episcopal Service Corps. Below is his excellent 10-minute video.

Planes v Volcano: Who Emits the Most CO2?

While the effects of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano have been devastating on Icelanders, I’ve been thinking that shutting down air travel for a week might have some upsides.

The good folks over at Information Is Beautiful created this infographic that shows how carbon dioxide emissions – the fuel driving our global warming engine out of control – actually dropped in the last few weeks, even though Eyjafjallajokull blew tons of more CO2 into the atmosphere.

Why the drop in CO2? Because air travel took an enforced Sabbath.  The sabbath is a great concept. Ceasing “doing” and practicing “being” is good for humans, God, and the planet.

Read more about it here.

Outlook Good: The Shifting Sands of Young Evangelicals and Climate Change

PocketGuideThe data is in. Kids these days trust the news media as a source for information on global climate change only slightly more than they trust Sarah “I’m-not-one-who-would-attribute-it-to-being-man-made” Palin. So sayeth the researchers at American, Yale, and George Mason universities in a recent study.

Matthew Nisbet, an assistant professor in AU’s School of Communication, writes that “only 33% under the age of 35 trust the news media as a source of information about climate change, a proportion lower than any other age group. This proportion is also only slightly higher than the 27% of those under 35 who trust Sarah Palin on climate change.”

Social intuition has told us that “youth” are and should be more concerned about climate change than older adults. After all, the younger you are the more future you have to lose, right? Well, no. It turns out that the under-35ers are less likely than older adults to believe that global warming is already harming people in the United States and elsewhere in the world and are instead more likely to believe that harm will begin 10, 25, or even 50 years in the future. Just 21% of 18-34 year-olds believe that people around the world are currently experiencing harm due to global warming, relative to 33% of those 35-59 and 29% of those 60 and older.

But here’s a really interesting part of this study–when you add religion into the mix. There was no measurable difference across age when it comes to trusting religious leaders on climate change–except among evangelical Christians. While self-identified evangelicals, who make up roughly 30% of the U.S. population, are more likely to trust religious leaders on global warming than Americans who don’t identify as evangelical, this is especially true of young adults.

Eighty-one percent of the under-35 evangelicals trust religious leaders as an information source on global warming, compared to just 36% of non-evangelical young adults.

In contrast, 51% of evangelicals 60 and older trust religious leaders compared to 41% of non-evangelicals. Notably, 66%  of evangelicals trust scientists. And a full 77% of young evangelicals  says that they trust scientists as an information source on global warming. President Obama is also a trusted source among a majority (52%) of young evangelicals.

This data highlights the critical role religious leaders play in education around global climate change. It is important that the pulpit be a place that provides accurate and trustworthy information on environmental issues within the context of our Christian narrative and moral tradition.

So, pastors out there, here’s your 3-point sermon:

Earthkeeping. Fruitfulness. Sabbath.

“Serve and Preserve.” “Foster Creativity.” “Regularly Choose Being, Not Doing.”

Genesis 2:15. Ezekiel 34:18. Leviticus 25 and 26.

Find more climate change and creation-care sermons at Creation Care for Pastors. And get your solid climate science in easy spoonfuls at RealClimate. Your youth (and your old ones) are listening.

Healing Prayer: Our Bodies’ Intricate Design

by Shawn Lovell
by Shawn Lovell

I’ll be posting sporadically in February while I’m off work recuperating from surgery. (Nothing serious.) During my Sabbath recovery time at home, I hope to have daily prayer at 6 p.m. each evening in February.

I’ll be using the daily gospel reading and the prayer below and invite you to “join” me (through the Holy Spirit internet) each evening.

Healing Prayer

Blessed are You, God of All Creation,
who has made our bodies in wisdom.
It is You who created openings and arteries,
glands and organs, bone and blood,
marvelous in structure, intricate in design.
Should one part be blocked or fail to function
it is difficult for us to praise You properly,
difficult for us to serve Your people with humility.
Wondrous Fashioner and Sustainer of life,
Source of our health and our strength,
bring complete healing to all of our wounds.
You who blessed our ancestors and who
gave healing power to Jesus, send your angels
to accompany [insert names here] and all who are
sick. Let the healing river flow over and
through them. Let the leaves from the Tree
of Life—the tree with medicine for the healing
of nations—fall gently upon them.
May the occasion of their healing
be an opportunity for all of us to be healed,
so that we might more properly praise You.
In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.

by Rose Marie Berger (February 2010). Please reprint freely.

It’s Time to Move Our Money

board_community_bankLet’s be honest. Most of us have what money we have in some big bank because of a) convenience or b) our little bank got eaten up by a big bank and we just didn’t have the time or energy to find some place new.

Last year I went through several hoops to get my accounts out of Bank of America only to find that, 2 months after I switched, my new bank had been taken over by Wells Fargo. Argh!

But now, I’m going to try for it again. I want to try to move most of my accounts to Self-help Credit Union in North Carolina and keep a small checking account here in DC with Lafayette Federal Credit Union that serves D.C. residents.

It’s time for Americans to reinvest in community banks. This movement has been building for a number of years. Churches in particular have made community economics a priority.

Ched Myers and the folks at the Sabbath Economics Cooperative have been educating on community investing as a faith act for 25 years. Now, what was once only practiced by a few is graduating into a mainstream movement of the many.

Eric Stoner over at Waging Nonviolence has a nice post on the movement to get Americans to shift their money out of big banks into community banks and credit unions. There’s also a great little video (below) out promoting the Move Your Money campaign.

Sojourners’ Jim Wallis also just put out a book called Rediscovering Values on what the Bible teaches us about our current economic debacle and had a good piece in the Washington Post called A Religious Response to the Financial Crisis.

Wallis says, “The market’s first commandment, “There is never enough,” must be replaced by the dictums of God’s economy — namely, there is enough, if we share it. … Already, pastors, lay leaders and innovative faith-based practitioners are suggesting creative answers: mutual aid; congregational and community credit unions; and new cooperative strategies for solving such problems as hunger, homelessness and joblessness. If these initiatives succeed, the economic crisis may offer congregations a rare opportunity to clarify their missions and reconnect with their communities. ”

Tell me your stories on where you store the green stuff and what it helps to grow!

Moving Toward a “Whole-Earth Jubilee”

earthjubileeOn October 24 people around the world will be observing the First International Day of Climate Action, hosted by Bill McKibben’s 350.org.

Right now, as the world prepares for the international climate change meeting in Copenhagen in December, the world lacks one thing to save itself: political will. We have the technology to make appropriate changes. But political will is forged through moral vision and religious persuasion brought to bear by a diverse set of grassroots actions. And grassroot action requires you.

For Christians, part of our mission in the world is to bring religious imagination to bear on the crises of our day. Climate change is one of the most critical crises of our day.

Thanks to Tim Kumfer over at Always New Depths for posting his short essay written for his Ecofeminist Theology and Philosophy class at Duke responding to this question: What resources exist in your religious and/or spiritual tradition for thinking about ecological crises like climate change, pollution, scarce resources like water and food, and species loss?

Here’s part of Tim’s response, but I encourage you to read the whole thing and consider what resources you draw on for shaping religious vision. Also, what fun and effective thing can you do for International Day of Climate Action on Oct. 24. Tim writes:

These themes of resistance to dominant ecological and economic practices within the Bible must be brought into the mix as Christians begin to reflect on our contemporary many-headed ecological crisis.  Listening deeply to these stories and paying attention to the dynamics in which they were formed I think we will find more radical conversation partners than we might have first imagined.  Our present lives in the first world are supported by structures of empire similar to those which our foremothers and fathers in the faith strove to leave or subvert from within. The rapacious practices of consumer capitalism need to be stopped; Sabbath can point towards alternatives which honor the earth and workers through the recognition of natural limits. A whole-earth Jubilee is necessary now more than ever, one which not only brings greater equality between humans but recognizes the inherent worth, beauty, and necessity of non-human species and the ecosystem.  This is perhaps the most important thing which the Christian (and Jewish) tradition at its best can bring to the table: an uncompromising moral vision which can go beneath green washing and eco-capitalist hype to re-present to us the truth which we already know: our lives in the first world need to change drastically for life on this planet to be sustained.

Read Tim’s full post here.

The Importance of Daydreaming

peachesAwhile back I wrote a column titled Getting Our Gaze Back that focused on how it important it is for the human brain to rest and recreate itself by staring blankly out the window or daydreaming. In part:

I’ve noticed about myself recently that I stare out the window and daydream when I’m desperate. The unrelenting beam of information aimed at me via the computer screen too often occupies my eyes. My gaze is clouded with data bits. The mind silts up with details, images, pleas for help, advertisements, and thousands of worthy campaigns for social change. “Life shouldn’t be this hard,” I think.

Eventually, nothing can float freely in the stream of my consciousness; everything is stuck. After some time staring at my mind-mud, I turn to the window. A psychological switch is thrown. I watch butterflies and wonder about color variations on peaches.

brainubcNow, the Big Brain Scientists at the University of British Columbia are finding out the same thing, according to Science Daily.

“Mind wandering is typically associated with negative things like laziness or inattentiveness,” says lead author, Prof. Kalina Christoff, UBC Dept. of Psychology. “But this study shows our brains are very active when we daydream – much more active than when we focus on routine tasks.”

The findings suggest that daydreaming – which can occupy as much as one third of our waking lives – is an important cognitive state where we may unconsciously turn our attention from immediate tasks to sort through important problems in our lives.

“When you daydream, you may not be achieving your immediate goal – say reading a book or paying attention in class – but your mind may be taking that time to address more important questions in your life, such as advancing your career or personal relationships,” says Christoff.

Read the whole report here.

I love it when neuroscience finally catches up with the 4000-plus-year-old discipline called Sabbath. It’s what makes us human.

Bee Dreams: ‘Anthers Bright with Pollen’

In the deep mid-winter, it’s nice to think about bees. Below is a photo by California photograher Kate Kunath. It’s from her photo series Stung: Beekeeping in the 21st Century.

bee_california_kunath1

The apiarist in Kunath’s photo is Jeff Anderson of Oakdale, California. Below is a little more about him from Sharon Levy’s article The Vanishing. Her writing is luscious and warm.

Just down the road, Jeff Anderson and his three assistants methodically pry the lid off each of hundreds of hive boxes to check the health of the colonies inside. As the day wears on and the March sunshine warms this little-used ranch road in California’s Sierra foothills, more and more bees take flight.

Wild buckthorn bushes lining the road carry clusters of tiny white flowers, their anthers bright with pollen. Bees work the blossoms, packing the yellow grains into smooth depressions on their hind legs, specially designed to carry this fuel (pollen is a high-protein food) back to the hive. On their travels, they transfer pollen from plant to plant, flower to flower, fertilizing the blossoms and allowing them to set fruit. This ancient partnership of pollinator and plant is essential to life as we know it. One-third of the food we eat comes from crops that need animal pollinators, a role often filled by bees but sometimes by butterflies, beetles, birds, or bats. Bee-pollinated foods include squash, tomatoes, peppers, apples, and pears. Unfortunately, the honeybees surrounding me are members of a threatened tribe, whose loss would have a dire effect on farmers, not to mention everyone who eats fruits and vegetables.

It’s cold and clear in Washington today. The sun is low and the shadows long and sharp. For now the bees are tucked away inside their hives eating the rewards of a spring and summer of hard work. Their primary job for the next few months is just to stay warm–and focus on the queen. I like that. Maybe I’ll try that too. Stay warm and focus on the Sabbath Queen: “Come, let us go to receive Shabbat the Queen.”