Richard Rhor's daily meditations 

Richard Rohr, OFM, (born 1943) is an American author, spiritual writer and Franciscan friar based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

He was ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church in 1970. He has been called "one of the most popular spirituality authors and speakers in the world."

Week Twenty-two

Alternative Community

Loaves and Fishes

Friday,  June 5, 2020

 

We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. —Dorothy Day

 

Everyone relies on community in some way or another, no matter what our personal, social, or economic circumstances. No one can do it all—feed, clothe, heal, comfort, house, employ, and educate—for ourselves or our families. Despite our current obsession with independence and individualism, we were never meant to try! From the very beginning of the evolutionary process, species have worked together in mutually beneficial ways to survive. Mammals particularly have a track record of fostering the young of others within their species and kinship group, but it happens across or between species as well. Even the “fittest,” biggest, and strongest do not survive without the cooperation of others.

 

The Ayni Institute, an organization that envisions systemic changes through reciprocity and mutual aid, points out that human societies have worked this way for thousands of years.

 

    In hostile environments and less than ideal situations people came together, cooperated in order to survive, and continued our legacy of life.

 

    As tribes we collaborated, traded, and built cultures around our collective identities. We created federations and large and loose organizations of reciprocity across groups. . . . Those arrangements created practices, rituals, wisdom that sustained life for thousands of years. . . .

 

    Our history is not a history of competition, rather a history of collaboration. We must develop alternatives that have memory, that seek to bring the evolutionary wisdom of the past in relationship to our current reality. . . . [1]

 

Our own Christian scripture and tradition teaches this insight. All four Gospels contain some version of the miracle of the “loaves and fishes,” where Jesus feeds the multitudes from only a small amount of food (see Matthew 14:13–21, Mark 6:30–44, Luke 9:10–17, John 6:1–15). However, without the willingness of the few who shared the little they had, the miracle could not have taken place. Many have proposed that, in reality, the “miracle” was the generosity lying dormant within the crowds. The resources were there waiting to be called forth.

 

Jesus’ example of mutual aid was so inspirational to Dorothy Day (1897–1980), the founder of the Catholic Worker, that she called her book about the movement Loaves and Fishes. She wrote, “Young people say, What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.” [2]

 

May we all pray for an “increase of love in our hearts” that will awaken, transform, and multiply the impact of our actions.

 

Gateway to Action & Contemplation:

What word or phrase resonates with or challenges me? What sensations do I notice in my body? What is mine to do?

 

Prayer for Our Community:

O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. [Please add your own intentions.] . . . Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, amen.

 

Story from Our Community:

Our street has become even more [of a community] with our doors shut during the pandemic. We have begun to emerge every Sunday evening with musicians on both ends [of the street], trumpets calling one end to the other, young, old, playing instruments, songs, still distancing, smiles appearing. It has been haunting and beautiful. –Kathleen S.

 

[1] Ayni Institute, “Our Forgotten Past,” https://ayni.institute/alternatives/

[2] Dorothy Day, Loaves and Fishes (Orbis Books: 1997, ©1963), 176.

Epigraph: The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day (Harper & Row: 1981, ©1952), 286.

 

 

Week Twenty-two

Alternative Community

Being One with the Other

Thursday,  June 4, 2020

 

It would seem that, quite possibly, the ultimate measure of health in any community might well reside in our ability to stand in awe at what folks have to carry rather than in judgment at how they carry it. —Gregory Boyle

 

Homeboy Industries may be one of the most visibly transformative communities in the United States today. It was founded in 1998 by Jesuit priest Gregory Boyle, or “G” (as his community likes to call him). Moved by the heartache of the people he served while pastor of Dolores Mission Church in Los Angeles, Fr. Greg started Homeboy Industries to assist individuals and families affected by the cycle of poverty, drugs, gangs, and incarceration. Along with many Homeboys and Homegirls, he believes the healing process can only happen when we are in relationship with one another. The success of this organization offers evidence to support his belief.

 

Mother Teresa diagnosed the world’s ills in this way: we’ve just “forgotten that we belong to each other.” Kinship is what happens to us when we refuse to let that happen. With kinship as the goal, other essential things fall into place; without it, no justice, no peace. I suspect that were kinship our goal, we would no longer be promoting justice—we would be celebrating it.

 

Often we strike the high moral distance that separates “us” from “them,” and yet it is God’s dream come true when we recognize that there exists no daylight between us. Serving others is good. It’s a start. But it’s just the hallway that leads to the Grand Ballroom.

 

Kinship—not serving the other, but being one with the other. Jesus was not “a man for others”; he was one with them. There is a world of difference in that. .

 

No daylight to separate us.

 

Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. The prophet Habakkuk writes, “The vision still has its time, presses onto fulfillment and it will not disappoint . . . and if it delays, wait for it [2:3].”

 

Kinship is what God presses us on to, always hopeful that its time has come.

 

At Homeboy Industries, we seek to tell each person this truth: they are exactly what God had in mind when God made them—and then we watch, from this privileged place, as people inhabit this truth. Nothing is the same again. No bullet can pierce this, no prison walls can keep this out. And death can’t touch it—it is just that huge.

 

Gateway to Action & Contemplation:

What word or phrase resonates with or challenges me? What sensations do I notice in my body? What is mine to do?

 

Prayer for Our Community:

O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. [Please add your own intentions.] . . . Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, amen.

 

Story from Our Community:

Our street has become even more [of a community] with our doors shut during the pandemic. We have begun to emerge every Sunday evening with musicians on both ends [of the street], trumpets calling one end to the other, young, old, playing instruments, songs, still distancing, smiles appearing. It has been haunting and beautiful. –Kathleen S.

 

Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion (Free Press: 2010), 187, 188, 190, 192–193.

 

Epigraph: Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship (Simon and Schuster: 2017), 51.

 

Week Twenty-two

Alternative Community

Devotion at the Center

Wednesday,  June 3, 2020

 

As Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968) observed, one of the most segregated hours in the United States still occurs on Sunday mornings when we attend church services. [1] Yet as early as the 1940s, African-American writer and mystic Howard Thurman (1899–1981) was seeking to build a worshipping community across racial differences. In 1944, along with his white co-pastor Alfred Fisk (1905–1959), Thurman co-founded the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, the country’s first interracial, interfaith congregation. Reverend Thurman describes how the collective experience of God became the center of the community’s life, unifying people from many different backgrounds and cultural expressions.

 

Fellowship Church was a unique idea, fresh, untried. There were no precedents and no traditions to aid in structuring the present or gauging the future. Yet [my wife] Sue and I knew that all our accumulated experiences of the past had given us two crucial gifts for this undertaking: a profound conviction that meaningful and creative experiences between peoples can be more compelling than all the ideas, concepts, faiths, fears, ideologies, and prejudices that divide them; and absolute faith that if such experiences can be multiplied and sustained over a time interval of sufficient duration any barrier that separates one person from another can be undermined and eliminated. We were sure that the ground of such meaningful experiences could be provided by the widest possible associations around common interest and common concerns.

 

Moving out from this center of spiritual discovery many fresh avenues of involvement emerged. Art forms provided a natural expression. . . . And around all of these and other activities, one basic discovery was constantly surfacing—meaningful experiences of unity among peoples were more compelling than all that divided and separated. The sense of Presence was being manifest which in time would bring one to his or her own altar stairs leading each in [their] own way like Jacob’s ladder from earth to heaven.

 

Our worship became increasingly a celebration before God of life lived during the week; the daily life and the period of worship were one . . . rhythm. Increasing numbers of people who were engaged in the common life of the city of San Francisco found in the church restoration, inspiration, and courage for their work on behalf of social change in the community. The worship experience became a watering hole for this widely diverse and often disparate group of members and visitors from many walks of life.

 

It was not long before I realized that what I had learned and experienced as to the meaning of love had to be communicated as a witness to the God in me and in our personal conduct as a witnessing congregation.

 

What had I learned about love? One of the central things was that the experience of being understood by another was of primary importance. Somewhere deep within was a “place” beyond all faults and virtues that had to be confirmed before I could run the risk of opening my life up to another. To find ultimate security in an ultimate vulnerability, this is to be loved.

 

Gateway to Action & Contemplation:

What word or phrase resonates with or challenges me? What sensations do I notice in my body? What is mine to do?

 

Prayer for Our Community:

O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. [Please add your own intentions.] . . . Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, amen.

 

Story from Our Community:

Our street has become even more [of a community] with our doors shut during the pandemic. We have begun to emerge every Sunday evening with musicians on both ends [of the street], trumpets calling one end to the other, young, old, playing instruments, songs, still distancing, smiles appearing. It has been haunting and beautiful. –Kathleen S.

 

[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., “Communism’s Challenge to Christianity,” Sermon (August 9, 1953). See The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Vol. VI: Advocate of the Social Gospel, September 1948–March 1963 (University of California Press: 2007), 149. To read more on this topic, see Cathy Lynn Grossman, “Sunday Is Still the Most Segregated Day of the Week,” America (January 16, 2015), https://www.americamagazine.org/content/all-things/sunday-still-most-segregated-day-week

 

Adapted from Howard Thurman, With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 1979), 144, 145–146, 148.

 

Week Twenty-two

Alternative Community

A New Power

Tuesday,  June 2, 2020

 

In an ideal sense, a community is a safe place. By protecting and nurturing the dignity of its members, the community is sustained even when challenged by external forces. Virgilio Elizondo (1935–2016), a Catholic priest and community organizer from San Antonio, Texas, compared communities formed among the marginalized in Latin America today with the earliest Christian communities. Working together in faith, they bring new life, hope, and dignity to their individual and corporate selves. Perhaps the current civil unrest we are experiencing across the nation is a cry for the same?

 

What happened in . . . parts of Latin America appears to be no less miraculous . . . than the spread and consequences of early Christianity itself. When the poor, the oppressed, and the marginated become aware of who they are in the Lord and begin their struggle for humanization, then the true liberation of humanity has begun. No matter how slow and difficult it might be . . . liberation will succeed, because no human power can keep Jesus in the tomb. . . . Not with the weapons of destruction will the converted poor triumph, but with the weapons of the power of selflessness and truth in the service of love.

 

An important element of this new power is that it is not power for the sake of personal gain, but power for the sake of all the oppressed, ignored, forgotten, and exploited members of society. The powerless are recouping power . . . the power of the gospel, which works for the betterment and liberation of all, especially those in greatest need.

 

In all this, prophecy is not just being spoken about; it is being lived out in ongoing confrontations by the previously powerless of society who now dare to go to the Jerusalems of today’s society: city hall, transnational corporations, boards of education, ecclesiastical offices. Those who had before simply accepted their state of exclusion and exploitation are now coming out of their tombs of substandard housing, disease-infected neighborhoods, economically enslaving jobs, schools that strengthened illiteracy, and churches that perpetuated segregation. Those who had been dead are now coming back to life.

 

In this awakening . . . renewed Christians are called to exercise a prophetic role. True prophecy is based upon a prophetic lifestyle, which of itself—wordlessly—confronts an ungodly society. It is this new lifestyle—this new way of relating with persons, goods, institutions, and God—that is itself an arresting alternative to the ways of the world.

 

Deep bonds often form during times of crisis, loss and uncertainty; people seek solidarity in human connection. What new communities and associations are being forged right now? How will they grow in the months and years ahead? What lifestyle changes and prophetic actions are being called forth by the new realities created by Covid-19?

 

Gateway to Action & Contemplation:

What word or phrase resonates with or challenges me? What sensations do I notice in my body? What is mine to do?

 

Prayer for Our Community:

O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. [Please add your own intentions.] . . . Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, amen.

 

Story from Our Community:

Our street has become even more [of a community] with our doors shut during the pandemic. We have begun to emerge every Sunday evening with musicians on both ends [of the street], trumpets calling one end to the other, young, old, playing instruments, songs, still distancing, smiles appearing. It has been haunting and beautiful. –Kathleen S.

 

Virgilio Elizondo, Galilean Journey: The Mexican-American Promise (Orbis Books: 2000), 118–119.

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Week Twenty-two

Alternative Community

Community as Alternative Consciousness

Monday,  June 1, 2020

 

The goal of the spiritual journey is to discover and move toward connectedness on ever new levels. We may begin by making little connections with other people, with nature and animals, then grow into deeper connectedness with people. Finally, we can experience full connectedness as union with God. Remember, how you do anything is how you do everything. Without connectedness and communion, we don’t exist fully as our truest selves. Becoming who we really are is a matter of learning how to become more and more deeply connected.

 

The spiritual experience is about trusting that when you stop holding yourself, Inherent Goodness will still uphold you. Many of us call that God, but you don’t have to. It is the trusting that is important. When you fall into such Primal Love, you realize that everything is foundationally okay. Unfortunately, this confidence is often absent in our world especially under conditions of great upheaval and suffering.

 

Foundational love gives us hope and allows us to trust “what is” as the jumping-off point, no matter how unsteady it feels. It allows us to work together toward “what can be.” The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus shows us what’s fully possible. God will always bring yet more life and wholeness out of seeming chaos and death. In the words of Timothy Gorringe and Rosie Beckham, “Faith in the resurrection is the ground on which Christians hope for a different future, a transition to a society less destructive, more peaceful and more whole. Living in this hope . . . calls ekklesia [the assembly of Christians] to live as a ‘contrast community’ to society.” [1]

 

Building such “contrast” communities was precisely Paul’s missionary strategy. You can see it throughout the New Testament. Paul believed that small communities of Jesus’ followers would make the Gospel message believable: Jesus is Lord (rather than Caesar is Lord); sharing abundance and living in simplicity (rather than hoarding wealth); nonviolence and chosen suffering (rather than aligning with power). Paul was very practical. He taught that our faith must take actual form in a living, loving group of people. Otherwise, love is just a theory.

 

Paul seems to think that corporate evil can only be confronted or overcome with corporate good. He knows that a love-transformed individual can do little against what he calls “the powers and the principalities,” or what some of us call the “system.” Our collective consciousness deems such institutions “too big to fail.” We are mostly oblivious to these forces because we take them as normative and in fact absolutely necessary. Cultural blind spots can only be overcome by a group of people affirming and supporting one another in an alternative consciousness. Thankfully, we’re now seeing many people, religious and secular, from all around the world, coming together to form alternative systems for sharing resources, living simply, and imagining a sustainable future. It has been one of the spiritual gifts of the pandemic. God never misses a chance to help us grow up.

 

Gateway to Action & Contemplation:

What word or phrase resonates with or challenges me? What sensations do I notice in my body? What is mine to do?

 

Prayer for Our Community:

O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. [Please add your own intentions.] . . . Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, amen.

 

Story from Our Community:

Our street has become even more [of a community] with our doors shut during the pandemic. We have begun to emerge every Sunday evening with musicians on both ends [of the street], trumpets calling one end to the other, young, old, playing instruments, songs, still distancing, smiles appearing. It has been haunting and beautiful. –Kathleen S.

 

[1] Timothy Gorringe and Rosie Beckham, Transition Movement for Churches (Canterbury Press: 2013), 79.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Essential Teachings on Love, (Orbis: 2018), 101-105; and

Richard Rohr, Creating Christian Community (CAC: 1994), MP3 download; andGreat Themes of Paul: Life as Participation, disc 9 (Franciscan Media: 2002), CD

 

 

Week Twenty-two

Alternative Community

Common Ground and Purpose

Sunday,  May 31, 2020

Pentecost Sunday

 

It’s sad to say, but for centuries the Christian vision was narrowed to what we have today—a preoccupation with private salvation. Our “personal relationship with Jesus” seems to be based on a very small notion of Christ. We’ve modeled church after a service station where members attend weekly services to “fill up” on their faith. We’ve commodified the very notion of salvation.

 

People want something more from church than membership. They long for a spiritual home that connects with their whole life, not just somewhere to go on Sunday morning. Church is meant to be a place that nurtures and supports individuals along their full journey toward the ultimate goal: a lived experience of the communion of saints, a shared life together as one family, the Reign of God “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

 

Too often, the formal church has been unable to create any authentic practical community, especially over the last half-century. In response, we see the emergence of new faith communities seeking to return to this foundational definition of church. These may not look like our versions of traditional “church,” but they often exemplify the kinds of actual community that Jesus, Paul, and early Christians envisioned. People are gathering digitally and in person today through neighborhood associations, study groups, community gardens, social services, and volunteer groups. They’re seeking creative ways of coming together, nurturing connection, of healing and whole-making. The “invisible” church might be doing this just as much, if not more, than the visible one. The Holy Spirit is humble and seems to work best anonymously. I suspect that is why the Holy Spirit is often pictured as a simple bird or blowing wind that is here one minute and seemingly gone and then nowhere (John 3:8).

 

It’s all too easy to project unrealistic expectations on any community. No group can meet all our needs as individuals for emotional, mental, and physical well-being. The human psyche needs space and healthy boundaries and not co-dependent groupings. I certainly learned this lesson myself through my participation in the New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati in the 1970s and 80s, and even earlier as a Franciscan brother. Almost any community can serve as an excellent school for growth, character, and conversion, even though it may not be a permanent “home” for many reasons.

 

So what makes a good community? The remainder of this week we’ll look at a few of the factors that contribute to healthy, whole communities. Our very survival as a faith tradition, not to mention a species, might just depend upon this. Remember, the isolated individual is fragile and largely helpless to evoke long-term change or renewal. By ourselves, we can accomplish very little. We must find common ground and common purpose to move forward. It was Jesus’ first and foundational definition of church and even divine presence—“two or three gathered together” in the right spirit (Matthew 18:20), and “I am there”—just as much as in bread or Bible!

 

Gateway to Action & Contemplation:

What word or phrase resonates with or challenges me? What sensations do I notice in my body? What is mine to do?

 

Prayer for Our Community:

O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. [Please add your own intentions.] . . . Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, amen.

 

Story from Our Community:

Our street has become even more [of a community] with our doors shut during the pandemic. We have begun to emerge every Sunday evening with musicians on both ends [of the street], trumpets calling one end to the other, young, old, playing instruments, songs, still distancing, smiles appearing. It has been haunting and beautiful. –Kathleen S.

 

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Essential Teachings on Love, (Orbis: 2018), 101-105; andNear Occasions of Grace, (Orbis Books: 1993

 

 

Summary: Week Twenty-one

Solidarity

May 24 - May 29, 2020

 

When the Bible is read through the eyes of solidarity—what we call the “preferential option for the poor” or the “bias from the margins”—it will always be liberating, transformative, and empowering in a completely different way. (Sunday)

 

If one of the primary markers of a Christian life is solidarity as modeled by Jesus, I am afraid that most of us still have a long way to go. (Monday)

 

Our cultural worship of individualism and “bootstrap” mentality deprives us of the capacity to empathize with people in need and recognize systemic oppression. (Tuesday)

 

The work of solidarity is to join and accept others as fully human—in our struggles and gifts alike. (Wednesday)

 

We are one, and through solidarity we more clearly identify and name the systems that separate us. We find in ourselves and in the other the true “image of God” in which we are created and connected. (Thursday)

 

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus’s parables and stories paint a picture of a reign in which the poor and marginalized are lifted up and their needs are met, rather than being despised or ignored by those in control. —The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis (Friday)

 

Practice: Finding Our Teachers

Authentic solidarity requires a series of conversions. It requires our voluntary displacement from our position(s) of privilege—whether that be class, race, gender, physical ability, nationality, or religion—toward someone not like us in a real and tangible way. We may need to develop an appreciation for traits that our culture might not deem “acceptable” or even valuable. Only through relationships can we know what kind of help or advocacy is truly desired. Solidarity is not about “I’m helping you,” but a commitment to walking and learning together.  And of course, learning together requires us to be in dialogue, with the understanding that I have much to learn. The following practice from psychologist Roger Walsh’s book Essential Spirituality is one way to develop this skill.

 

If we choose to, we can see everyone as our teacher. Those people who have admirable qualities can inspire us; those with destructive qualities can remind us of our shortcomings and motivate us to change. Confucius was very clear about this:

 

“When walking in the company of two other men I am bound to be able to learn from them. The good points of the one I copy; the bad points of the other I correct in myself.”

 

When we meet kind people, we can develop feelings of gratitude and use those people as role models to inspire our own kindness and generosity. We can also learn from unkind people. Seeing how sensitive we are to criticism and hostility, we can remember how sensitive others are and resolve to treat them gently. We can also practice forgiveness and find how much better this feels than smoldering with resentment for days.

 

To begin this exercise, select an initial time period such as a morning or a day. During that time, try to see each person you meet as a teacher bringing you an important lesson. Your challenge is to recognize what that lesson is, then to learn as much as you can from this person. At the end of the day, look back and review your interaction with each person, the lessons each one brought, and what you learned. 

 

As exercises like these are repeated, the eye of the soul gradually opens and we become increasingly aware of the sacred within us and around us. Every person becomes a teacher and a reminder of our spiritual nature, while every experience becomes a learning opportunity . . . and we see the world as a sacred schoolhouse designed to heal and awaken us, and to teach us how to heal and awaken others. What greater gift could the world offer?

 

Roger Walsh, Essential Spirituality: The 7 Central Practices to Awaken Heart and Mind (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: 1999), 203–204.

 

Week Twenty-one

Solidarity

A Movement of the Rejected

Friday,  May 29, 2020

 

A powerful example of these five conversions at work is The Poor People’s Campaign, which was revived in 2018 by the Rev. Dr. William Barber II and the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis. [1] Their work with and for the poor of the United States through mutual respect, dialogue, and organizing is foundationally based on their Christian faith and study of the Gospels. In these paragraphs, Theoharis offers a scriptural exploration of what the Kingdom of God implies for the poor and marginalized—a movement of solidarity.

 

The New Testament . . . portrays the survival struggles of the marginalized, the solidarity and mutuality among different communities, and the critique of a social, political, and economic system that oppresses the vast majority of people. . . .  Jesus’s teachings and actions around poverty, wealth, and power create a picture of him as a leader of a social, political, economic, and spiritual movement calling for a world without poverty, want, or oppression . . . what he named the Kingdom or Empire of God. . . . 

 

The Greek word for “Kingdom of God” or “Empire of God,” basilea, has much to do with the economic order that Jesus advocated. Few would disagree that the Kingdom of God is central to the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament. However, many understand this kingdom as otherworldly and immaterial. But if we look at both the prevalence of the concept and the specific references to it in the New Testament, we can see that God’s kingdom is a real, material order, with a moral agenda different from and opposed to the reigning order of the day. The basilea is particularly present in the parables that describe how the reign of God functions differently from the Roman Empire: in God’s kingdom, there is no poverty or fear, and mutuality exists among all.

 

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus’s parables and stories paint a picture of a reign in which the poor and marginalized are lifted up and their needs are met, rather than being despised or ignored by those in control. . . . From these passages and others, we can see that . . . God’s followers are asked to model a community of mutuality and solidarity. . . .

 

Centuries of [New Testament] interpretation have attempted to spiritualize or minimize this good news for the poor, hiding the reality that the Bible is a book by, about, and for poor and marginalized people. It not only says that God blesses and loves the poor, but also that the poor are God’s agents and leaders in rejecting and dismantling kingdoms built upon oppression and inequality. . . . It is the vision of society the early Christians sought to create on earth, and that we who follow Jesus today are commanded to strive for as well.

 

Gateway to Action & Contemplation:

What word or phrase resonates with or challenges me? What sensations do I notice in my body? What is mine to do?

 

Prayer for Our Community:

O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. [Please add your own intentions.] . . . Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, amen.

 

Story from Our Community:

As a nurse practitioner, since the onset of the Covid-19 epidemic, I have never worked harder or experienced more stress in this role. So much has changed in my life. Reading the Daily Meditations and my Centering Prayer practice have been two things that have carried over from my “old life.” These practices remind me I am part of a greater whole. My purpose in life is not finding emotional or physical comfort for myself, but for others. –Sharon S.

 

[1] The Poor People’s Campaign was first established by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others in 1968 to encourage leaders and citizens across the nation to stand in solidarity with the poor. https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/about/

 

Liz Theoharis, “Blessed Are the Rejected for They Shall Lead the Revival,” Revive Us Again: Vision and Action in Moral Organizing, William J. Barber, with Liz Theoharis and Rick Lowery (Beacon: 2018), 11, 12, 16–17. 

 

 

 

Week Twenty-one

Solidarity

The Fifth Conversion

Thursday,  May 28, 2020

 

The Fifth Conversion to solidarity is a choice to walk with the poor and oppressed, to be taught by them, and to love them as equals, each of us bearing the Divine Indwelling Spirit within. 

 

Although he was raised Roman Catholic and worked with many religious organizations, Paulo Freire rarely used religious language or metaphors to make his point. Yet his teaching on solidarity is fully aligned with the ministry of Jesus: “Conversion to [solidarity with] the people requires a profound rebirth. Those who undergo it must take on a new form of existence; they can no longer remain as they were.” [1] 

 

In his work teaching literacy skills in Brazil and Chile, Freire employed a method of dialogue that created solidarity and transformed systems of injustice. The dialogue enables the “helper” to let go any personal agenda and allows the needs of the “helped” to be fully told. Eventually a movement towards liberation is born.

 

    Dialogue further requires an intense faith in humankind . . . faith in their vocation to be more fully human. . . . Founding itself upon love, humility, and faith, dialogue becomes a horizontal relationship of which mutual trust between the dialoguers is the logical consequence. [2]

 

I hope you can see how living out the Gospel is always a process of what Freire calls humanization, [3] a movement toward greater freedom, dignity, inclusivity, and possibility. We are one, and through solidarity we more clearly identify and name the systems that separate us. We find in ourselves and in the other the true “image of God” in which we are created and connected.

 

The dialogue that leads to solidarity is a way that oppressors and oppressed begin to recognize each other as subjects in their full humanity, as both learn and teach in this active encounter of faith and love. Here is Freire, in his own words:

 

    Dialogue cannot exist without humility.

    How can I dialogue if I regard myself as a case apart from others—mere “its” in whom I cannot recognize other “I”s?

    How can I dialogue if I consider myself . . . the owner of truth and knowledge . . .?

    How can I dialogue if I am closed to—and even offended by—the contributions of others?

    Self-sufficiency is incompatible with dialogue.

    At the point of encounter [in dialogue] there are neither utter ignoramuses nor perfect sages; there are only people who are attempting, together, to learn more than they now know. [4]

 

We are all on this journey together and we are all in need of liberation (which might be a better word than salvation). God’s intention is solidarity with, and universal responsibility for, the whole. As Paul taught, “If one part is hurt, all parts share in the pain. If one part is honored, all the parts share in the joy” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Think of Christianity as a giant act of solidarity with the marginalized, and all of creation.

 

Gateway to Action & Contemplation:

What word or phrase resonates with or challenges me? What sensations do I notice in my body? What is mine to do?

 

Prayer for Our Community:

O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. [Please add your own intentions.] . . . Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, amen.

 

Story from Our Community:

As a nurse practitioner, since the onset of the Covid-19 epidemic, I have never worked harder or experienced more stress in this role. So much has changed in my life. Reading the Daily Meditations and my Centering Prayer practice have been two things that have carried over from my “old life.” These practices remind me I am part of a greater whole. My purpose in life is not finding emotional or physical comfort for myself, but for others. –Sharon S.

 

[1] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans. Myra Bergman Ramos, 30th anniv. ed. (Continuum: 2005, ©1970, 1993), 61.

[2] Ibid., 90, 91

[3] Humanization is the process of liberation in which the oppressed are engaged fully as human beings, as opposed to an “object” or “thing” in service to the oppressor’s possession and control.  See Freire, 44, 49, 67–68.

[4] Freire, 90.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Living School symposium presentation (November 25, 2018), unpublished; and

What Do We Do with Evil?: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (CAC Publishing: 2019), 69, 82.

 

Week Twenty-one

Solidarity

The Third and Fourth Conversions

Wednesday,  May 27, 2020

 

We continue our conversions to greater solidarity with the marginalized.

 

The Third Conversion is when we idealize some of the virtues of the poor that we ourselves do not have. When the lens is cleared by our initial awakening to injustice, it is much easier to focus on people’s admirable qualities, especially those that might be lacking in our own group. This was certainly true for me. In my travels to India, the Philippines, and many Global South nations, I saw plenty of people who were happy, generous and grateful with the little they had. By contrast, I could be entitled and grumpy whenever the littlest things went wrong! It was so humbling.

 

Although it feels positive, staying at this conversion stage still places an unfair burden on those who are marginalized. Projecting only good qualities onto them tends to ease the burden of solidarity work from us. Layla F. Saad describes this tendency in relation to black women in her book Me and White Supremacy:

 

    Black women are either superhumanized and put on pedestals as queens or the strong Black woman, or they are dehumanized and seen as unworthy of the same care and attention as white women. Both superhumanizing and dehumanizing are harmful because . . . they fail to capture Black women in the mess, joy, beauty, and femininity of women of other races. [1]

 

If it is unjust to dehumanize others, it is equally unjust to “superhumanize” them, applauding their ability to “do it all” instead of making sure they don’t have to. 

 

The Fourth Conversion is a deepening recognition of the impact of systemic oppression. This tends to come about as a result of disillusionment and disappointment with the poor, especially when one sees how they have been socialized to a worldview of failure and scarcity. This is internalized oppression. As Paulo Freire puts it, “so often do [the oppressed] hear that they are good for nothing, know nothing, and are incapable of learning anything . . . that in the end they become convinced of their own unfitness.” [2] From the very beginning, the systems we operate in either support us or tear us down.

 

From my place in society, I was able to enter into a good education system, and I always had good healthcare. I was offered so many options and encouragement to become “successful.” But when we come from a social location that has put us in systems and relationships where options are limited, we are often humiliated and looked down upon at every stage of our life. Under those conditions, it is much harder to keep putting our best foot forward.

 

The work of solidarity is to close the distance these systems have put between us by joining and accepting others as fully human—in our struggles and gifts alike. This work requires a commitment to relational accompaniment. What is needed, according to Freire, is for us to “stop making pious, sentimental, and individualistic gestures, and risk an act of love.” [3]

 

Gateway to Action & Contemplation:

What word or phrase resonates with or challenges me? What sensations do I notice in my body? What is mine to do?

 

Prayer for Our Community:

O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. [Please add your own intentions.] . . . Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, amen.

 

Story from Our Community:

As a nurse practitioner, since the onset of the Covid-19 epidemic, I have never worked harder or experienced more stress in this role. So much has changed in my life. Reading the Daily Meditations and my Centering Prayer practice have been two things that have carried over from my “old life.” These practices remind me I am part of a greater whole. My purpose in life is not finding emotional or physical comfort for myself, but for others. –Sharon S.

 

[1] Layla F. Saad, Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor (Sourcebooks: 2020), 87.

[2] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans. Myra Bergman Ramos, 30th anniv. ed. (Continuum: 2005, ©1970, 1993), 63.

[3] Ibid., 50.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Living School symposium presentation (November 25, 2018), unpublished.

Week Twenty-one

Solidarity

The Second Conversion

Tuesday,  May 26, 2020

 

If the first conversion to solidarity is to befriend or experience compassion for the poor, the Second Conversion to solidarity is anger at the unjust situation that caused their poverty. Many people never reach this stage of anger at injustice, especially in the United States. Our cultural worship of individualism and “bootstrap” mentality deprives us of the capacity to empathize with people in need and recognize systemic oppression. When we are in the middle or upper tier of privilege, it is almost impossible to see the many ways the system helped us succeed. We cannot recognize or overcome this “agreed upon delusion” as isolated individuals, mostly because it is held together by the group consensus. The dominant group—in any country or context—normally cannot see its own lies. We have to pay attention to whomever is saying “I can’t breathe” to recognize the biases at work.

 

This often only changes when, through friendship with people of different backgrounds and life experiences, we witness mistreatment and marginalization. We get to know someone outside our immediate social circle. Our sister falls in love with someone from another race, religion, or culture. Our grandchild is transgender. We see all the ways life is more difficult for them than it needs to be. We feel their pain instead of standing apart at a safe distance. 

 

Anger is a necessary, appropriate, and useful response to this kind of injustice. It is the beginning of social critique and helps us protect the appropriate boundaries for ourselves and others. Yet anger can be dangerous, too. When it hangs around too long, it becomes self-defeating and egocentric. Then it distorts the message it came to offer us. We can become so intent on pointing out problems that we are never actually willing to be part of the solution. As I like to say, the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better, not more criticism! The question of true conversion and solidarity is, “how can I work through my anger and get to the other side, so I can be a life-giving presence with and for those who are most suffering?”

 

For oppressed communities, however, anger can be a form of survival, a necessary stage on the path towards healing. Listening to such anger with compassionate friendship can itself be a form of solidarity. As my colleague Barbara Holmes writes:

    Many spiritual traditions warn us against anger. We are told that anger provides fertile ground for seeds of discontent, anxiety, and potential harm to self and others. This is true. However, when systems of injustice inflict generational abuses upon people and communities because of their ethnicity, race, sexuality, and/or gender, anger as righteous indignation is appropriate, healthy, and necessary for survival. . . Until the killing of black and brown people stops, all peaceful methods of resistance are appropriate. Right now, our anger is our truth, and our anger is a sacred part of our humanity and our faith. [1]

 

Gateway to Action & Contemplation:

What word or phrase resonates with or challenges me? What sensations do I notice in my body? What is mine to do?

 

Prayer for Our Community:

O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. [Please add your own intentions.] . . . Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, amen.

 

Story from Our Community:

As a nurse practitioner, since the onset of the Covid-19 epidemic, I have never worked harder or experienced more stress in this role. So much has changed in my life. Reading the Daily Meditations and my Centering Prayer practice have been two things that have carried over from my “old life.” These practices remind me I am part of a greater whole. My purpose in life is not finding emotional or physical comfort for myself, but for others. –Sharon S.

 

[1] Barbara Holmes, “Contemplating Anger,” “Anger,” Oneing, vol. 6, no. 1 (CAC Publishing: 2018), 20, 25.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Living School symposium presentation (November 25, 2018), unpublished;

Interview with Richard Rohr, “From Service to Solidarity,” Living School Alumni Quarterly (Winter 2020);

What Do We Do with Evil?: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, (CAC Publishing: 2019), 47; and

Richard Rohr, “Introduction,” “Anger,” Oneing, vol. 6, no. 1 (CAC Publishing: 2018), 15

 

Week Twenty-one

Solidarity

The Five Conversions

Monday,  May 25, 2020

 

If one of the primary markers of a Christian life is solidarity as modeled by Jesus, I am afraid that most of us still have a long way to go. It’s one of the reasons I say that Christianity is still in its infancy. We are just taking our first toddling steps towards a more mature and embodied faith. Transformed teachers like Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day, and countless others, both sainted and anonymous, have invited us into solidarity with the poor and oppressed. When we are comfortably centered, it is difficult to move to the margins, but that is where we must go!

 

About fifty years ago, a Brazilian educator named Paulo Freire (1921–1997) wrote a book titled Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Freire worked for literacy amongst the poor in Brazil and Chile. His work became influential among many liberation theologians and those struggling against unjust systems. This book continues to impact my thinking about what it means to be in solidarity with those on the margins. It challenges many of our preconceived ideas about Christian “charity,” “service,” and “mission.” It is some of the most humbling subject matter we cover in our Living School curriculum. Many of our selfless and goodhearted students have dedicated their lives to Christian “service.” Yet they recognize the ways those vocations, as they are currently designed, often reinforce dehumanizing systems of oppression and marginalization. That paradox is often what drives them to study with us.

 

This week I will introduce you to a teaching I have developed in the Living School inspired by Paulo Freire’s work that I call “The Five Conversions.” It can offer us a path toward a more authentic Christian life where we recognize our deep connections to each other and choose to live in solidarity with suffering. Solidarity begins by becoming aware of our own social location, which is our place in society. For me and most of my readers that place is a starting point of privilege within the dominant culture. Let’s begin:

 

 

The First Conversion to solidarity is to have basic compassion for the poor in general, or one poor person. Throughout this discussion, I will be using the word “poor” in a very specific way—those who are powerless, dismissed, or considered lesser in society. This is far larger than mere economic poverty. Sadly, there seems to be many Christians who don’t even have basic compassion for the poor. In the United States, we are pretty much trained to blame people who are poor, immigrants or refugees, victims, or gay, lesbian, or transgendered people. Far too many seem to think, even if to themselves, that if “those people” would simply work a little more, do things the right way, change their minds, stay hidden, or just “pray a little harder,” we’d all be better off. The first conversion is where we must begin. Our hearts must be softened, and we must experience basic sympathy, empathy, and recognition of another person’s pain

Gateway to Action & Contemplation:

What word or phrase resonates with or challenges me? What sensations do I notice in my body? What is mine to do?

 

 

Prayer for Our Community:

O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. [Please add your own intentions.] . . . Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, amen.

 

Story from Our Community:

As a nurse practitioner, since the onset of the Covid-19 epidemic, I have never worked harder or experienced more stress in this role. So much has changed in my life. Reading the Daily Meditations and my Centering Prayer practice have been two things that have carried over from my “old life.” These practices remind me I am part of a greater whole. My purpose in life is not finding emotional or physical comfort for myself, but for others. –Sharon S.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Living School symposium presentation (November 25, 2018), unpublished; and

Interview with Richard Rohr, “From Service to Solidarity,” Living School Alumni Quarterly (Winter 2020).

Week Twenty-one

Solidarity

Invitation to Solidarity

Sunday,  May 24, 2020

 

Throughout human history, countless people have been poor, vulnerable, or oppressed in some way. Those holding positions of authority within systems of power secure their own privilege, comfort, and wealth—almost always at the expense of those most on the margins. Much of history has been recorded to hide this fact and instead celebrates the so-called “winners.” I call this systemic reality a form of sin, or what the apostle Paul describes as the “the world” (Ephesians 2:1–2). This type of corporate evil is often culturally agreed-upon, admired, and deemed necessary, as is normally the case when a country goes to war, spends most of its budget on armaments, admires luxuries over necessities, entertains itself to death, or pollutes its common water and air.

 

The hidden nature of systemic oppression makes it all the more remarkable that the revelation of God in the Bible is written from the perspective of the oppressed. The Bible reveals a liberating path of humility, compassion, and nonviolence in the face of oppression that culminates in the life, ministry, and state-sponsored execution of Jesus.

 

We see in the Gospels that the people who tend to follow Jesus are the ones on the margins: the lame, poor, blind, prostitutes, drunkards, tax collectors, and foreigners. He lived in close proximity to and in solidarity with the excluded ones in his society. Those on the inside and at the center of power are the ones who crucify him: elders, chief priests, teachers of the Law, scribes, and Roman occupiers. Yet we still honor people in these latter roles and shun the ones in the former.

 

For the first three hundred years after Jesus’ death, Christians were the oppressed minority. But by the year 400 C.E., Christians had changed places. We moved from hiding in the catacombs to presiding in the basilicas. That is when we started reading the Bible not as subversive literature, the story of the oppressed, but as establishment literature to justify the status quo of people in power.

 

When Christians began to gain positions of power and privilege, they also began to ignore segments of Scriptures, especially the Sermon on the Mount. Our position in society determines what we pay attention to and what systems we are willing to “go along with.” This is what allowed “Christian” empires throughout history to brutalize and oppress others in the name of God. Sadly, this is still the case today.

 

But when the Bible is read through the eyes of solidarity—what we call the “preferential option for the poor” or the “bias from the margins”—it will always be liberating, transformative, and empowering in a completely different way. Read this way, Scripture cannot be used by those with power to oppress or impress. The question is no longer “How can I maintain my special and secure status?” It is “How can we all grow and change together?” I think the acceptance of that invitation to solidarity with the larger pain of the world is what it means to be a “Christian.”

 

Gateway to Action & Contemplation:

What word or phrase resonates with or challenges me? What sensations do I notice in my body? What is mine to do?

 

Prayer for Our Community:

O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. [Please add your own intentions.] . . . Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, amen..

 

Story from Our Community:

As a nurse practitioner, since the onset of the Covid-19 epidemic, I have never worked harder or experienced more stress in this role. So much has changed in my life. Reading the Daily Meditations and my Centering Prayer practice have been two things that have carried over from my “old life.” These practices remind me I am part of a greater whole. My purpose in life is not finding emotional or physical comfort for myself, but for others. –Sharon S.

 

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Yes, And . . . Daily Meditations, (Franciscan Media: 2013), 37, 39;

Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 22; and

What Do We Do with Evil?: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (CAC Publishing: 2019), 11.