Sometimes, I think I should give up the distraction and mental clutter of the Interwebs for Lent (at least for non-work related things). It might be a good idea to cut off completely for a Lent somewhere down the line. But this year, I think I can try to “plug in better,” as opposed to plugging in not at all.
Gen would probably say plugging in better for me would mean plugging in less, which is definitely true. It also means using the Internet and technology in ways that actually make my life and the lives of others better, and in ways that bring me closer to God. This means less Scramble with Friends and more, well, divinely inspired things.
Stay tuned to our Twitter feed (on the right over there…@MillCatholic) for resources and ideas throughout the season, and please post your favorite ways of plugging in well for Lent in the comments.
Here’s a handful of videos for Lent to get things started.
Living a FaithJustice Lent
I work at the Center for FaithJustice, and I was asked to make a short video about Lent for our e-newsletter. In it, I reflect on how I might live a more integrated, holistic Lent this time around.
40 – A Video of Jesus In the Wilderness
This made the rounds last year, but it’s a great meditation to revisit. Jesus’ 40 days just sort of zip by in a sentence when we hear about them in the Gospels, but this video explores what a chunk of time like that alone could be like. It hits on themes of solitude, fasting, quiet, and commitment — good stuff for Lent.
40: The Series
Keeping with the 40 theme, there’s a new Web-only series debuting Ash Wednesday from the Jesuits out in California. The trailer (below) is intense. It seems post-apocalyptic and allegorical and maybe a bit overwrought? But the production values look great and it’s an interesting idea. Episodes will air throughout the season. Check out its Web site here.
David Foster Wallace on Political Thinking in America
Tuesday would have been the 50th birthday of literary giant David Foster Wallace, who died in 2008. An 84-minute uncut interview DFW gave to a German TV station in 2003 appeared online this week. I haven’t sifted through all of it yet, but the first clip I watched includes a great commentary we could apply to Lenten fasting. Listen for his treatment of freedom vs. “a sort of slavery.”
Alexander Tsiaras: Conception to birth — visualized
Friend of MC Jonathan L. posted this earlier today, and it struck me as a great Lenten video. Lent is about conversion, which literally means to turn around. We commit ourselves to turning toward God during the season in preparation for Easter, and one great way to grow closer to God is to encounter creation with wonder and awe. This is wonderful and awesome.
That should get us through Wednesday. What resources, videos or otherwise, help you get in the Lenten spirit? Please share!
The editor of my nonprofit’s blog emailed me with a reminder to submit my next post. “Published on Valentine’s Day,” he wrote, “for better or worse.”
I wanted to write back, “For worse! Clearly, for worse! Cancel it!”
Like 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon, I’ve never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day. As much as I bemoan the commercialization of Christmas, Valentine’s Day seems to be a 100%-Hallmark Holiday, with no redeeming value. Its portrayal in movies and TV shows displays a sort of immature, mushy “love” that doesn’t look anything like love as I know it.
Not helping its cause is the fact that we really have no idea who St. Valentine was, or if he even existed at all. The conspiracy theorist inside me imagines that about 500 years ago, some bishop who owned a handful of flower shops or had a connection with a monastery that made nice greeting cards decided creating a romantic holiday in the dead of winter with no competing celebrations would be a shrewd business move.
But since I would prefer to not be a spoilsport or cynic, I will grit my teeth and suggest two reasons why I should actually love Valentine’s Day. I’ll see if I convince myself (and yourself, if you’re also a skeptic) by the end. After all, the best way to defend your belief is to consider the good arguments on the other side…
Click here to read the rest of this piece over at the Center for FaithJustice’s blog.
Generally speaking, we Catholics do Lent really well. Parish offerings shoot through the roof; Masses are packed on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday; we give up things and maybe spend some more time praying and perhaps even set aside some money for a worthy cause. All good and worthwhile things. Easter comes, we celebrate with a bang, but then it’s officially “almost summer” (especially this year, with such a late holiday) and things start to wind down.
It feels like we can be more of a Lenten People than an Easter People. But the commitments and renewals of Lent only make sense in an Easter context. We don’t fast for the sake of fasting, but only that we might be ready to feast well when the time comes.
For the next 50 days, it’s time for feasting. It’s time to celebrate our beliefs that love is more powerful than hate and fear, that life conquers death, that light shatters the darkness, that God is big and compassionate and just and generous and merciful beyond all understanding.
As my pastor Fr. Vince said at our Easter Vigil, the world may be in Good Friday, but we are an Easter People. This does not mean we are cockeyed, pollyannaish optimists, but that we are called to live a deep-seated hope in the slow work of God even in moments of grief and struggle.
So each day this week, the wonderful Octave of Easter, we’ll post something short — a song, a prayer, a reflection, a film clip, an article, whatever — that somehow expresses the Easter mysteries of resurrection and fresh life. We’ll then keep the same idea going for each Sunday of Easter. This is quite a commitment for two inconsistent bloggers, but this is the season to put your money where your mouth is. Maybe we’ll one day start asking each other, “What are you doing for Easter?” the way we now ask about Lent.
Please join us in this undertaking! Leave some of your favorite Easter snippets in the comments section, or shoot us an e-mail.
To kick things off, here’s one of my favorite poems: “Descending Theology: The Resurrection,” from Mary Karr’s collection Sinners Welcome. A fantastic poet and memoirst, Karr is an adult convert to Catholicism. Her journey to faith is described in a short, stirring essay in Sinners Welcome. Check it out.
From the far star points of his pinned extremities,
cold inched in—black ice and blood ink—
till the hung flesh was empty. Lonely in that void
even for pain, he missed his splintered feet,
the human stare buried in his face.
He ached for two hands made of meat
he could reach to the end of.
In the corpse’s core, the stone fist of his heart
began to bang on the stiff chest’s door,
and breath spilled back into that battered shape. Now
it’s your limbs he long to flow into—
from the sunflower center in your chest
outward—as warm water
shatters at birth, rivering every way.
In the gospel for the evening Mass of the Last Supper, we hear that just before his betrayal, Jesus washes his friends’ feet. We reenact the foot washing during the Holy Thursday celebration as a reminder of how we are called to serve each other.
I’ve never seen someone with really nasty feet get their feet washed during Mass. Most Masses either pre-inform their selected 12 or invite whoever feels comfortable to come forward to a station to have their feet washed. This means that people either have enough warning to make their feet presentable— I’m thinking of my mother, who got a pedicure before she got her feet washed— or they can choose whether their feet are clean enough to be washed by someone else.
The feet that Jesus washed were probably more like the feet that this gentleman washes: filthy, sore, and maybe even infected.
But let’s face it, at the Holy Thursday liturgy, nobody’s feet are really all that dirty, and there’s hardly much real washing that happens. Even with the chance to sterilize their feet before they’re washed, most people (myself included) still prefer not to participate.
If given the choice to be the washer or washee, I’d pick washer every time. I’m not huge on touching people’s feet, but I’d suck it up and wash feet rather than let my own feet be washed.
The same is true in daily life. I’m much more comfortable (as most people are) doing and helping than receiving.
When I hear the foot washing gospel, my initial reaction is to think I’m not serving whole heartedly enough and that there’s much more I can be doing in my life. While this is true, I’m a doer, who interprets the reading as a doer would.
A dear mentor and friend always used to remind me gently that, “We don’t see things the way they are, we see things the way we are.” On my first read of the feet washing narrative, when I respond by thinking that I need to get out and do something, I’m seeing things the way that I am.
As I sit with the reading for longer, I realize that for me, the more challenging message is that to allow my own feet to be washed is to serve.
There are many ways I refuse to let my feet be washed. When I take too much on, don’t allow a healthy vulnerability with others, or am not up front about my preferences— I refuse to let my feet be washed.
These types of behaviors often seem heroic or Jesus-like. They might even seem like examples of how I wash others’ feet.
When I sit quietly, I can discern the difference between true foot washing and moments when I’m more like Peter, who responds to Jesus’ invitation by refusing to let his feet be washed.
What does it look like, in daily life, to allow others to wash our feet?
Apologies for the two-week absence. The following is a reflection on Sunday’s second reading I offered at “Soup & Psalms,” a weekly night of prayer and supper at the Center for FaithJustice. We had a group from THE Ohio State University’s Catholic Campus Ministry last week on an alternative spring break spent serving in the Trenton area. It was great to have them join us for one of our favorite traditions.
Sunday’s second reading is filled with some of St. Paul’s favorite words. There are, on one hand, words of comfort and strength: Faith. Hope. Love. Peace. Glory. Grace. Courage. On the other hand, there are some that seem just a bit less optimistic: Helpless. Ungodly. Difficulty. Sinners. Died.
When I read through the passage for the first time, the nicer words were the ones that stood out. Maybe that’s because these days, I want to grasp on to the idea of a comforting God. These are days of nightmarish earthquakes and tsunamis, tyrants and civil war. On a personal level, these have been days of particular challenge with Gen, with discussions about our future and work and money turning often into hurtful arguments. Indeed, these are days of seeming helplessness and godlessness, difficulty, sin, and death. My prayer in recent weeks has been short and loud: “Dear God, Help me, and help everyone else. Amen.” I crave that comfort.
And there is something comforting in Paul’s words. Even though we sinners stray from the path, and launch attacks with missiles and with words, God still loves us, and Christ still gave his life for us.
But in this message of comfort and salvation is a challenge, because while I like the idea of a comforting God in theory, I really don’t receive comfort from God too well. I’m usually skeptical, sarcastic, too busy for God. The thought that God could actually have something comforting for me, now, here in suburban New Jersey, sent all the way from heaven, seems ridiculous on most days. I say I believe in a God who’s at work in the world, but I don’t live that belief much of the time. I pray “Help!”, but probably more just to cover my bases than due to any sort of belief that comfort from God will actually arrive.
Specifically, the biggest challenge Paul presents me with here is to live in “the grace in which we stand.” This beautiful, famous snippet takes for granted that there’s grace to be standing in. “Hold on a minute,” my empirical side cautions. “Just look around, will you? Maybe there’s some grace out there, or something, but mayhem and pain seem to be the norm.”
The only comeback that’s ever worked against this empirical voice is gratitude. A mentor of mine has talked about gratitude as the bedrock of the spiritual life, and I’m coming to believe that more and more. When I was in college, I struggled with homesickness, as life outside New Jersey turned out to be far less transcendent than life within its borders. Feeling sad, alone, and stuck, I would head to our campus’ grotto and sit on a bench. No prayer came, just a sort of quiet numbness. But I kept walking down there in the cool autumn nights, if only to get out of my dorm. Then, one night in November, I spontaneously prayed: “God, thank you for…” and I began to make a list, a list filled with friends and family members and teachers and my favorite rock bands and certain national parks I had visited and the opportunities I had been given that I had done nothing to deserve. I went on like this for 45 minutes or so, and opened my eyes feeling refreshed, comforted and very loved.
And this is where my empirical side doesn’t stand a chance in hell, because while you can measure earthquakes on a Richter scale, and measure radiation with a Geiger counter, the love and hope and compassion that I have encountered cannot be measured or counted or weighed. These things exist on a different plane, beyond our capacity to understand. Once I acknowledge that there’s immeasurable stuff out there like love and compassion, I’m moving into divine territory. So if it is true that God is love, then we can flip the equation around: Love is God. When I doubt God’s grace, remembering to be grateful for the love I have received wakes me up.
Awakened, I am empowered to recognize our world as grace-filled. Violent and senseless, yes, and perhaps a bit too obsessed with the exploits of Charlie Sheen and Tiger Woods. But grace-filled nonetheless. May we all stand as grateful witnesses of God’s grace in the midst of our dangerous days.
Gen: So the sun has set on Ash Wednesday. And now it’s the Thursday after.
Mike: Right. Turns out there’s this 40-day thing after the hubbub of the Ashes. (Six Masses at my parish today! Six! And all of them jam-packed!)
I get this feeling at the beginning of Lent that I should really be doing this kind of thing (working on my prayer life, committing to simplicity, serving more, developing personal discipline) all year round.
Gen: It’s nice to have a reason to start.
Mike: It’s the same old song each Ash Wednesday: time to focus on getting right with God. Time to turn this ship around. Which sometimes feels paralyzing and frustrating and stale. But if I’m charitable with myself, it’s just, well, human. I guess.
Gen: Yeah, I hear that. Sometimes I think it even feels silly!
I first saw and heard Fordham theology professor Tom Beaudoin at the LOST? Conference we covered here a couple weeks back. He connected with us via e-mail and linked to our LOST? vid on the America Magazine blog “In All Things.” (He really hits the nail on the head with that conference recap, if you’re interested.) In some follow-up discussion, I learned that he heads up the Rock and Theology Project, which is as awesome as it sounds. I share his passion for this intersection, and thought I’d shoot him a few questions. He graciously agreed and sent some killer responses. I sent back some follow-ups, and what had originally been pitched as a “5 questions with…” feature turned in to lengthy exchange that is more like 9 or 10 questions. We had a lot of fun going back and forth. Oh, and Tom’s also an electric bassist, so if you’re in NYC looking for someone to fill out your band, track him down.
Mike: Wilco is one of my favorite bands, and I’ve always experienced a deep connection with something bigger than myself at their live shows. Then I checked out frontman Jeff Tweedy’s solo concert DVD, and during an offstage interview, he said this: “There’s a collective experience happening at a rock concert that I’ve always assumed would probably be what church should be like.” It’s not fair to the uniqueness of the liturgy (or to that of rock concerts, perhaps) to simply equate them, but the collectivity going on in both seems to embody a common human yearning that stands up to the West’s cult of individualism. Have you had similar experiences at, say, a good show and a good liturgy? A vivid sacramental imagination – being able to see God coming to us in everyday stuff like bread, wine, and three-chord rock songs – seems to come in handy at both.
Tom: I like how your first question goes right to theological experience, and we could take hours parsing the potentially relevant ways into this question from various theological and rockish perspectives, but I’ll be brief in each of these replies. Yes, I do acknowledge a deep consanguinity between secular concerts and Catholic liturgies. The language you use hints at a sort of shared transcendence, a communal sense of the gift quality of existence and the surprising recognition of “what is,” and many who find masses and concerts meaningful use similar language to describe their deep appeal. I might also add that many also describe this overlapping space not only in terms of a shared experience at the event, but a deep ethical formation through such events, over time, that makes them a better human being. That’s very important from the best theological and rockish perspectives. This, however, is not the end but the beginning of a theological analysis of the relationship between liturgy and concert.
The following prayer-poem is from Walter Brueggemann’s fantastic collection Prayers for a Privileged People. Brueggemann is one of my favorite Scripture scholars, and his prose is itself more poetic than most academic writing. I love this particular volume because it (1) provides some beautiful prayers for various occasions throughout the year, and (2) shows how deeply Brueggemann feels and strives to live the stuff he studies. I read this poem last year on Super Bowl Sunday, and it helped bring some measure of perspective to the day. Hope you enjoy it.
P.S. Go Pack!
I love the Catholic stock of saints. Last week we celebrated the feast of St. Francis De Sales – no, not the one who was BFF with animals. The other Francis. He’s the patron saint of journalists and writers (maybe that includes bloggers?). I’ve heard him described as a Catholic humanist because his spirituality roots in his human experience. So anyway, on his feast day, I decided to pull out “Set Your Heart Free (30 Days with a Great Spiritual Teacher),” a 30-day meditation book on the practical spirituality of St. Francis. I opened it up and read:
Whatever it is that you must do
to follow the path that God has shown you
do to the best of your ability.
And when you have done it
move on to the next thing.
Don’t keep rerunning it in your mind
trying to decide
whether your efforts were too little
or too much,
whether it was a great deed or a small one,
whether you might have done better.
If it wasn’t sinful and
you were trying to do the will of God,
it is enough.
Don’t worry. Move on.
Follow the path the Lord shows you
free of anxiety.
your anxiety will undermine
your efforts to grow.
If you do fail,
don’t let anxiety
but admit your failure,
and in God’s presence.
Then get on with following the path
that God will continue to show you.
Wham. I felt like St. Francis was looking me right in the face as he said it.
Read the rest of this entry »
I work at the Center for FaithJustice in Lawrenceville, NJ, and every Wednesday night we gather for a night of supper and prayer called “Soup and Psalms.” This past Wednesday, I offered a reflection on today’s Gospel reading from Matthew. I tried to dig in to where I’m at these days as a millennial minister, so hopefully it serves as a good intro.
Nothing has occupied my mind and heart these past two weeks as much as the unspeakable massacre in Tucson, Arizona. We all know the details too well by now: six lives lost and dozens more changed forever, including that of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who continues to recover miraculously. Alongside the shock and grief and confusion of these past fifteen days have emerged stories of hope and beauty that inspire. We have, simultaneously, both tragedy and reasons to rejoice, both profound pain and deep joy. On one hand, there is the passing of Christina Green, the nine-year old girl who had just been elected to her student council and made her First Communion. That such a life was cut so terribly, violently short makes no sense at all. On the other, there is the heroism of Daniel Hernandez, the 20-year old intern who rushed to help Congresswoman Giffords after she was shot, risking his life while helping to save hers. The good that happened that Saturday morning does not erase the terrible, but neither does the terrible destroy the good. We have both.