We meet the 1st and 3rd Thursdays at St. Gertrude's Ministry Center
(6214 N. Glenwood), beginning at 8:00 p.m. Folks are welcome to join us at anytime.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

reflection on community and revolution

i was reflecting on this Kairos community, and the larger community of Chicago activists I've come home to, and remembered a poem i wrote during the beginning days of our invasion into Iraq. At that time, i wrote about my dream for a revolutionary community, rooted in a realistic understanding of the brokenness today and an unrelenting optimism for what could be built tomorrow. in 2003, it was a dream. in 2010, that community has become more and more real, and for that i am grateful.

Last night i joined the revolution.
-cat willet, 2003-

I was sitting, smoking, wasting my time.
I was thinking about groceries, books I wanted to read but had not found time to, & the million other deaths we die daily in this quest to maintain the status quo.
I was not thinking about the world.
I was not thinking about the revolution.
Somewhere along the line, I bought into some sort of hippie American dream that offered me organic cigarettes & cruelty-free everything, but still made me complacent and dull.
See, I figured the Revolution would move on, that I would find some new distraction, that i would grow old & bitter because the thing I love left.
But the Revolution waits
- the Revolution needs soldiers armed with words & i have always been a good fighter.
But, more importantly, the Revolution waits because it loves me.
It's nothing personal - the Revolution loves everyone.
So I sat there, thinking crippling, petty thoughts when the Revolution sat down next to me and stole my lighter.

The Revolution lit up and, breathing deeply, told the story of my life.
The Revolution said, "You know, it's not about the poetry or the punks or the politicians or the ones who walk away, or the ones who come back. You know, this is bigger than you, bigger than matching children, matching houses, matching frustrations."
"I know," I said.
"Then, what's it about?"
I started crying cuz I used to know - I used to live it.
But I couldn't remember anymore. "It's about love," the Revolution said.
Don't worry - the Revolution's not going soft.
The Revolution still aches to kill indifference.
The Revolution still throws rocks at glass ceilings.
The Revolution still marches through the streets.
The Revolution still hates abuse, cruelty, misused power & the smell of napalm at any hour of the day.
The Revolution hates that the children are not loved & that all of us, most of the time, are not even respected.
But the Revolution hates these things mainly - no, only- because they are not love.

The Revolution will not be televised.
The Revolution will spend that time in a bar drinking with a man who just spent his last dime & his last wish on a bottle of Jack.
The Revolution will leave, along with a huge tip, a note to that man.
The note says, "I know your story - I see how it ends. Don't give up - we need you. And you are never, ever alone."

The Revolution will not interrupt the latest musical subjugations & slavery on sellout FM to spin pretty little lies over jagged teeth.
The Revolution will topple radio towers.
The Revolution will use its voice & the tallest mountain it can find & scream truths until its throat is dry and it cannot stand anymore.

The Revolution does not read the New York Times or the Washington Post, although sometimes the Revolution will flip through the Weekly World News because the Revolution secretly wants to take BatBoy home.
The Revolution recognizes that headlines are really the same lies we already know except bigger, with pictures.

The Revolution understands that we know truth when we find it, but the world makes us doubt what we believe.
The Revolution wants us to believe again.
The Revolution wants us to believe that change tips the scales of existence to favor those who want to LIVE.
The Revolution wants us to believe that what you say makes a difference, especially when you only say it to yourself.
The Revolution wants us to know that true leaders are not the ones with the biggest bank accounts, or thirst for glory, but the ones with the biggest souls, because only they will have the tools to save the souls of others.
The Revolution wants us to believe that the fires of justice burn in everyone, no matter how hard you try to hide them in the gritty, every-day-city streets.

The Revolution wants to be fuel for your fire.
The Revolution wants to buy you coffee & talk about the world.
The Revolution makes people smile who have not done so in years.
The Revolution always hands out spare change & cigarettes because Malcolm X said you never know when a drunk man may need food.

The Revolution is waiting for you.
Because the Revolution got sick of turning around & seeing the identical goosestepping marchers of progress turn its cities & its soldiers into the next big thing when all they wanted was to be the same old thing they were before.
The Revolution waits on you because the Revolution knows how scary it is to realize that there is nothing you cannot do.
But the Revolution knows that the fear passes & is replaced by an urgency to salvage anything you can for the struggle that's coming.
You will find yourself gathering words like stones & sticks, to hurl at Goliath, with his striped suits and white lies.

The Revolution knows what you don't.
The Revolution knows that we are David & if you could see this eternal battle spread out, you would see that we always win.
There could be no other way.
The Revolution will wait for you & when the Revolution comes,
you will never be alone again.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Lenten Reflection

A Lenten Reflection on the Prodigal Son (March 14, 2010; Cycle C)

(I offered this as part of Loyola University Chicago's Online Lenten Reflections - a little late, but better late than never!)

The readings today offer us a striking reminder of both the solemnity but also the promise of the Lenten journey toward Easter. Traditionally, Lent is a time for fasting and penance: We are called to be more intentional about our own thoughts and actions, our prayer, and our relationships. Through our fasting, a simplifying of our desires and purging ourselves from the need to consume, we can enter into a place where we can more clearly see ourselves, those in need, and God. In penance, we are called to recognize and confess our sins. But our penance is not enough to simply recount the ways which we have "sinned against God or neighbor." Both Greek and Hebrew understandings of sin were not concerned with doing evil - very few of us are guilty of committing such sins. The biblical notion of sin is first and foremost concerned with how one "misses the mark." It is not only what we do, but also what we fail to do, that must be accounted for in our penance. So it is from this Lenten place of fasting and penance, we are invited into a renewed relationship with the Resurrected God - but not without ourselves undergoing a sort of paschal transformation in our own lives that stays with us through Easter and, hopefully, beyond.

Metanoia is a Greek word conveying transformation or conversion. But such a transformation is not simply changing one's opinion or picking up a new habit. It is a total, radical changing of one's self into something new. As Paul writes, "the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor 5:17). It is the transformation of the prodigal son from today's Gospel who, recognizing the ways he has squandered the gifts from his father, undergoes a change of heart - begging forgiveness and mercy for his misgivings and finding compassion and love in return. Lent is a time for us to ask ourselves: "In what way have I acted like the young man and are in need of metanoia?" "In what ways have I missed the mark by failing to serve others, particularly those in need - the orphan, the widow, the poor?" "In what ways have I chosen to put my life, my trust and my faith in the service of things other than the living, all-loving, compassionate God (such as economic security, a certain career, an addiction or even too narrow a view of God)?"

We are called to be an Easter people: a people of celebration, rejoicing and life. But in the midst of so much suffering in the world - ecological destruction, torture, war, racism and sexism, extreme poverty - we are in desperate need of the welcoming embrace of a parent welcoming home a long lost child. We are in desperate need of Resurrection. We need to hear the words of the father to the judgemental son: "But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found" (Lk 15:32). So during the time of Lent, may our fasting bring us closer to the cries of the crucified poor and open our lives to them and may our penance offer us a metanoia that peacefully rests in the God of justice and celebration.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Facing the Furnace

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednago in response to King Nebuchadnezzer's command that they bow to his idol or be thrown into the furnace:

"There is no need for us to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king may he save us! But even if he will not, know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue that you set up" (Dn. 3:16-18).

"even if he will not..." I imagine I must have thought of or heard someone speaking on this before, but today it pierced my heart. S., M., and A. did not acquire the courage to defy the king's order, risking public defamation and painful death because they had faith that God would save them, delivering their bodies and validating their cause. No, they resisted because their devotion was so great that they believed it was more important to love God than their own lives. Their's was a love that demanded to be made manifest not only in thoughts and feelings but in words and deed and they were determined to obey under any circumstances. Here is the profound mystery to me: their love acted out faithfully on the basis of hope; it did not react pragmatically in light of a particular situation. What kind of love is this? What will it require of us? I am afraid of this love, yet I long for it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Reflection on the Parable of the Good Samaritan

"Go and do likewise." When the lawyer, a teacher of the law, asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus answered with a story. He then told his followers to imitate the Samaritan: "Go and do likewise." Each of us could probably recite this story from memory. Perhaps we even acted out the scene in our religious education courses as children. It's one of the more engaging and dramatic stories Jesus tells: a dangerous road run by robbers, a man beaten and left-to-die, well to-do passers-by - a priest and a Levite - and of course, our hero, the humble, charitable Samaritan. We even have laws named after this story of one stranger helping another stranger to protect well-intentioned do-gooders. In the Gospel reading, The Parable of the Good Samaritan, is perhaps one of the most well-known and referenced stories in the New Testament. And yet, like most good things turned popular, it is also misunderstood and misrepresented.

When Jesus tells us to "go and do likewise," it is an easy assumption to make that Jesus' intention, his message to us, is that we are to help those in need. And certainly this is true. Our tradition considers "the Good Samaritan" to be the hallmark of Christian charity. But even if this were all that Jesus was calling us to, to be kind to strangers, how many of us would still miss the mark? What courage and patience and compassion the Samaritan, a stranger in a land where he was not welcome, must have had to risk helping this man - and then, furthermore, the Samaritan puts him up in an inn on his own dime. What remarkable actions we are called to mimic when Jesus says "go and do likewise."

But the story of the Good Samaritan isn't just any story. It's a parable...and the parable is a particular sort of story - one that is often lost on the minds of modern readers and Christians alike. At the heart of a parable is a story, a narrative that tries to convey some sort of religious or moral meaning, but they are provocative - meant to startle and shock people into a new way of being in the world. For example, to Jesus' audience of the lawyer and others at the synagogue, they would have known that the Samaritan was an outsider and someone to be suspicious of and looked down upon. The heroes of that story, the priest and the Levite, were part of the ruling class and observed strict religious principles. To touch an unclean man, someone on the verge of death, would be to break the purity laws that guided Jewish worship at the time. So when Jesus holds up the Samaritan as the one esteemed in God's favor, not the observant Jews, Jesus is challenging the traditional categories of who is understood as neighbor. We are not told who the injured man along Jericho road is, but its easily assumed to be a Jew. In first century Palestine, Jews and Samaritans did not get along. In fact, it would be safe to say that as distinct religious groups, they considered each other enemies. The Samaritan is good not just because he comes to the aid of someone in need, but because the person in need is supposed to be his enemy. Jesus is trying to get us to think outside of the boundaries of enemy and friend and to see all people as neighbor. He is introducing a new paradigm, a new way of thinking and acting in relationship with God.

"Parables are agents of change that aim to question, not reassure us. Jesus' parable provokes; it urges hearers not only to reimagine the relationship between God, world, and people; it also invites them to think the unthinkable:" in this case, the unthinkable is coming to the aid of your enemy. "Go and do likewise." The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was fond of this parable of the Good Samaritan. The road to Jericho, allusions to the Samaritan, the need for compassionate service can be heard in many of his speeches. But just as we don't fully realize the depth and radical transformation that Jesus' parables invite us to, we don't fully appreciate the way Dr. King internalized the mystery of parables either. Dr. King understood Jesus' parables. He got them, not with his head (which, of course, he certainly understood as a trained theologian) but with his heart. Dr. King lived the message of the parables and he tried to share that with others. He understood that Jesus' life and message, the holy mystery he lived and invited others into, was about living in a radically different way - a way where the distinction between neighbor and enemy was no more. In 1967, in his "Beyond Vietnam" speech, Dr. King said this:
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

Nearly 2000 years after Jesus spoke The Parable of the Good Samaritan, Dr. King took to heart Jesus' words to "go and do likewise." And Dr. King, as well as many others in the Civil Rights Movement, saw that to "go and do likewise" meant much more than being nice to their "own kind." They saw a society, a status quo, in need of transformation. And they tried to live it out with their actions and their being: their sit-ins, marches, freedom rides and civil disobedience. From a place of deep compassion and love for their enemies, Dr. King and others embodied the provocative spirit of the Gospel parables. To many whites at the time, what courageous black Americans and their white allies were trying to do did not make sense to them. That's because those were thinking with their heads. Today's parable, as all of Jesus' parables, are stories for the heart. Who are our enemies today? What road is in need of transformation in our time? Our lives can only change, the road to Jericho can only change, when we open our hearts to the radical love of God and the mysterious promise that we, too, can "go and do likewise."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Rethinking the American Dream

By Kylie Noe
Junior Nursing Student, Loyola University Chicago

Visiting the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker (Washington, DC) last year had a huge impact on my life and altered my sense of what it means to live the “American dream”. I was floored by the way Colleen, Art, and Kathy were living their lives and how radically different it was than what most would consider the “American Dream”. I think often times people (myself included) define the “American Dream” as getting married, having children, and being financially successful in our career of choice. I think I often associate these things with the “American Dream” because this is the atmosphere in which I was raised – my parents are happily married, I’ve lived in the suburbs my entire life, my parents have both been successful in their jobs, and I have never had to worry about whether I will have clothes to wear, food to eat, or a place to sleep at night. I have been undoubtedly sheltered my entire life. I like to refer to this as living in a “suburban bubble”. Experiences I have had, such as missions trips to South Dakota, Mexico, and Ghana, and visiting places such as Dorothy Day Catholic Worker and Jonah House (Baltimore), have allowed me to reach outside this “suburban bubble” and crave a “life uncommon”. I am still often seduced by this “American Dream” however, because it’s comfortable, familiar, and all I’ve ever really known. It’s easier to put my life in this context than to seek the uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and unknown.

I want to change my idea and the way I perceive the “American Dream”. I want to find the courage to seek my own “American Dream”, which could be radically different than the way I was raised or the way my parents define the “American Dream”. I want to satisfy what’s in my heart. I want to live with passion, courage, and love. I want to live my faith. I know I could find happiness in what’s comfortable and familiar – in living a life than is not drastically different than the one I’ve grown up in or that I am currently living, but I think I would have to spend a great deal of time ignoring the fact that “something is missing”, that I never really challenged myself, and what I fear the most: that I ignored the life that God was calling me to lead. So I continue to pray for courage, and for an open heart and mind. And out of frustration and desperation, I often ask God to make it abundantly clear what it is I am supposed to do. Again, I’m looking for a clear cut message that I fear (and know) will never come.