A Third Way: Creative Resistance

Perhaps because regimes around the world which lean towards totalitarianism are proliferating, recent works of art have raised the question: how to best resist unjust authority?

It’s not a new question: Jesus himself faced the dilemma of whether to resist or ignore the Roman oppression. Human evolution has conditioned us for fight or flight. Over the centuries, those have been the most common responses to injustice. According to scripture scholar Walter Wink, Jesus proposed an alternate, a third way: creative nonviolent resistance.

“Jesus reveals a way to fight evil with all our power without being transformed into the very evil we fight. It is a way — the only way possible — of not becoming what we hate… Jesus abhors both passivity and violence.”

In the excellent film “JoJo Rabbit” (poorly titled—at first I thought it was a cartoon), a mother and child see bodies hanging in the public square of their German village, overtaken by Nazis. When the little boy asks, “what did they do?” the mother replies, “they did what they could.” As, it turns out, she did too—hiding a Jewish girl in her attic, distributing anti-Nazi fliers. And she met the same fate.

In the novel The Ventriloquists, by E.R. Ramzipoor, the Belgian resistance to the Nazis is diabolically clever and based on fact: writers produce a parody of the daily newspaper filled with Nazi propaganda. They know they’ll hang for their satire, but on one day, 60,000 Belgians buy the hilarious paper and laugh at their oppressor. The writers consider it a small price to be imprisoned and killed for their effort. The leader reflects on what he likes about the group: “former shopkeepers and teachers and builders, people with nice furniture and reasonable salaries, who could have done nothing, could’ve kept their heads down and gone about their business. But they didn’t. Those who could have done nothing instead did everything.” Even the postmistress intercepts a shipment of yellow fabric, imprinted with stars ready to be cut out and forced on Jews to wear. Oddly enough, all the churches suddenly get yellow altar cloths, distributed quietly by the resistance.

The final example is the most dramatic: Franz Jaggerstatter, an Austrian farmer in “A Hidden Life,” beheaded (and later named a saint) for refusing to take the oath of loyalty to the Third Reich. Franz’ decision leaves his wife, three children and mother to fend for themselves making a brutally hard living, with the added difficulty of their villagers ostracizing them.  As Malick’s film unfolds, Franz’ wife suggests they escape, or he do medical service. Those seemed plausible alternatives, which his conscience will not allow. Under the circumstances, everyone might make a different decision. After all, few criticize the von Trapp family for escaping Austria to Switzerland and eventually the US.

Interesting questions for us to chew over, we whose government is relentlessly cruel to refugees, heedless of its irreparable damage to the environment, and so unethical it deserves impeachment. How do we resist bogus authority, in our own spheres, with our own forms of creativity?

Kathy will be speaking at:

St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church 2601 San Ramon Valley Blvd. San Ramon, CA 94583

TUESDAY, JANUARY 14, 10:00-11:30 a.m, on:

“Will the Real Mary Magdalene Stand Up? Stand Back!”

And TUESDAY, JANUARY 21, 10:00 – 11:30 a.m. on:

“Prayer In Chaos, Commotion and Clutter”

All are welcome. Free events require registration. To register, go to https://GIFT2020.EventBrite.com

 

Christmas

Just as the overture to a Broadway musical sounds themes that will recur in later songs, so the Prologue to John’s gospel read on Christmas day begins ideas that will be developed later. One that is especially relevant today is how God seeks out human beings, making them God’s own children. Always, God tries to change human darkness into stunning light.

To apply that truth to our own experience, we might reflect on verse 16:  “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” What have been the special graces in our lives, spilling over from God’s fullness? Have we been aware of them, and thankful?

No matter what our worries are: about scarcity or loss, unemployment or loneliness, illness or death, today we set them aside and rest in the fullness of God’s overflowing love. This is a day to focus on the wonder of God becoming human, uplifting us all to be brothers and sisters of Jesus. Isaiah expresses the good news: “the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem” (52:9). In this case, Jerusalem stands for all of us: redeemed, graced, blessed, joyful.

On this day, we may sing carols around the crèche, worship with our faith community, ring the bells, enjoy the decorations, laugh, tell stories, eat the feast and relish Christmas cookies. If that sounds a bit self-centered, we’re also called to hospitality: as in the Benedictine tradition, to welcome all guests as Christ.

Kathy will be speaking at:

St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church 2601 San Ramon Valley Blvd. San Ramon, CA 94583

TUESDAY, JANUARY 14, 10:00-11:30 a.m, on:

“Will the Real Mary Magdalene Stand Up? Stand Back!”

And TUESDAY, JANUARY 21, 10:00 – 11:30 a.m. on:

“Prayer In Chaos, Commotion and Clutter”

All are welcome. Free events require registration. To register, go to www.sjasr.org/GIFT

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Notice the angel Gabriel’s first word to Mary: “Rejoice.” Let’s remember it this week, which can be one of the most hectic in the year. The angel says, “rejoice.” Not “spend. Clean. Cook. Decorate. Shop. Bake. Wrap. Shop again. Create the perfect holiday ambiance. Work to exhaustion. Make everyone in the family sublimely happy.”

In his Rule, St. Benedict says, “each day has reasons for joy.” Maybe at this time of year, they are more obvious. The shared belief of Christians is that Jesus has become one with humans, indeed has pitched his tent within us. None of us deserves this, so we celebrate God’s lavish abandon, the pure gratuity of God’s gift.

If this seems a tall order, if we’re too tired or depressed to rejoice, we can take heart from the ambiguity of the feast. Mary’s reaction to the angel is to be “much perplexed.” Indeed, the whole experience is for her a two-edged sword: joy tempered by natural, human fear.

This week, we’ll hear Zechariah’s song of praise. He breaks a long silence, welcomes new possibility, and expresses a hard-won trust in God—and his wife. Let’s try to make this week our own canticle of gratitude and praise.

Kathy will be speaking at:

St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church 2601 San Ramon Valley Blvd. San Ramon, CA 94583

TUESDAY, JANUARY 14, 10:00-11:30 a.m, on:

“Will the Real Mary Magdalene Stand Up? Stand Back!”

And TUESDAY, JANUARY 21, 10:00 – 11:30 a.m. on:

“Prayer In Chaos, Commotion and Clutter”

All are welcome. Free events require registration. To register, go to www.sjasr.org/GIFT

Third Sunday of Advent

When John the Baptist appeared, “The people were filled with expectation” (Luke  3:15). How splendid if those words could still describe us: open to wonder, chins uplifted, eagerly responding to words of hope.

This season seems permeated with impossibilities like the dead stump of Jesse budding. Even if we could wrap our minds around the idea of God becoming human, “pitching a tent in us,“ it’s an even longer leap to see ourselves as God’s children, heirs to the divine kingdom. Irish poet John O’Donohue writes of “being betrothed to the unknown.” Christmas means we are also married to the impossible, getting comfortable with the preposterous. It all began with Mary’s vote of confidence: “For nothing is impossible with God.” During liturgies when we hear Mary’s “Magnificat,” we might remember Elizabeth’s words that precede it: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord will be fulfilled” (Luke 1:45).

It’s a good time to ask ourselves, do we let bitterness and cynicism poison our hearts? Ironically, WE are conscious of our own limitations. GOD keeps reminding us of our high calling, royal lineage and a mission so impeccably suited to our talents and abilities, no one else in the world can do it. Again, Mary is the perfect model. She might not understand half the titles given her son in the “Alleluia Chorus” of the “Messiah.” Mighty God? Prince of Peace? Such language is better suited to a royal citadel than a poor village named Nazareth.  While her questions are natural, she never wimps out with “I don’t deserve this honor.” Instead, she rises to the occasion.

What’s become of our great dreams? Have we adjusted wisely to reality, or buried ideals in a tide of cynicism? Mired in our own problems and anxieties, do we struggle more with good news than with bad? If these questions make us squirm, perhaps we need the prayer of Macrina Wiederkehr, OSB: “God help me believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is.”

Remember that the adult Jesus hung out with some unsavory characters: crooks and curmudgeons, loudmouths and lepers, shady ladies and detested tax guys. In his scheme of things, our virtue trips us up more than our sin. The ugly stain of self-righteousness blocks our path to God more than natural, human failures.  Limited as we know ourselves to be, we might ask ourselves the question raised by novelist Gail Godwin, “who of us can say we’re not in the process of being used right now, this Advent, to fulfill some purpose whose grace and goodness would boggle our imagination if we could even begin to get our minds around it?” (“Genealogy and Grace” in Watch for the Light. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2004, 167)

So the “Gaudete” or Joyful Sunday represented by the pink candle invites us to forget our lame excuses (Oh not me! I got C’s in high school, I can’t tweet or sing on key, I’ve always been shy, blah, blah, blah) and come to the feast, join in the dance. To put it in the simple terms of “Happy Talk,” a song from “South Pacific”: “If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?”

Kathy will be speaking at:

St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church 2601 San Ramon Valley Blvd. San Ramon, CA 94583

TUESDAY, JANUARY 14, 10:00-11:30 a.m, on:

“Will the Real Mary Magdalene Stand Up? Stand Back!”

And TUESDAY, JANUARY 21, 10:00 – 11:30 a.m. on:

“Prayer In Chaos, Commotion and Clutter”

All are welcome. Free events require registration. To register, go to www.sjasr.org/GIFT

Second Sunday of Advent  

Throughout Advent, Mary models the perfect response to God’s unexpected, even scandalous intervention in her life. When she told Gabriel, “May it be to me as you have said,” she had no guarantees, no script foretelling the future. All she’d learned was the trust handed on by great great-grandmothers: if it comes from God’s hands, it must be perfectly tailored for me.

In times of central heating and plentiful food supplies, we no longer battle the winter as our ancestors did, finding it a precarious season to stay alive. Isolated from others, running low on resources, great-grandparents endured many cold, gloomy nights. How they must’ve rejoiced at those glints of light in dark forests , when almost imperceptibly, the planet tilted towards spring, and the days became longer.

We too have reasons for despair, crippling fears, anxiety over how much we need to do before Christmas. If problems are more serious, do we run from them, or lean into them, wondering what they might teach us? Can we befriend our pain, knowing we’re more than its sting? Could we embrace for once an imperfect holiday, not scripted by Martha Stewart, but perhaps closer to the first, where an unmarried couple had to scrounge an inhospitable place to have a baby?

Kathy will be speaking at:

St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church 2601 San Ramon Valley Blvd. San Ramon, CA 94583

TUESDAY, JANUARY 14, 10:00-11:30 a.m, on:

“Will the Real Mary Magdalene Stand Up? Stand Back!”

And TUESDAY, JANUARY 21, 10:00 – 11:30 a.m. on:

“Prayer In Chaos, Commotion and Clutter”

All are welcome. Free events require registration. To register, go to www.sjasr.org/GIFT

 

The Mood of Advent

We start Advent not with dread or foreboding, but with joyful anticipation. It’s like welcoming into our homes a dear friend or relative whom we haven’t seen for a while. There’s probably a flurry of cleaning, grocery shopping and cooking—all done with delight. When we look forward to renewing a close relationship, the preparation isn’t a burdensome chore. It may be tiring, but it’s happy.

Jesus gives the disciples similar advice in today’s gospel: don’t be snoozing when an important visitor arrives. Be alert, awake, watchful as people are at an airport, searching the crowd for a beloved face.

How much more carefully we await the arrival of God. God is already with us, always and everywhere. Our Advent preparations highlight that presence, helping us become more aware. If we are lulled into anesthesia by busy schedules or overfamiliarity, Advent is the wake-up call. Look at what richness surrounds us! See how blessed we are! Do we look for God like the gospel gatekeeper, with a sharp eye? Or do we surrender our spirituality for the ersatz cheer of sales and malls?

One way of marking time that has been honored by Christians for centuries is the Advent wreath. Googling the phrase produces over 100,000 results—ways to buy one, make one, pray with one. This circle of pine with four candles nestled within can become the center for Advent prayer, reflection and song. It reminds us to pause, breathe deeply of its fragrance, remember what distinguishes this time of year.

Improved Gratitude

“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel…”—Maya Angelou

Need to jump-start your attitude towards Thanksgiving? Exciting research from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley and A Network for Grateful Living confirms and enlarges what our religious traditions or intuitions may have already told us about gratitude.

As the former points out, in an article by “gratitude guru” Robert Emmons (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu) North Americans, raised on a steady diet of self-reliance,  don’t like to feel indebted or dependent. But the science of gratitude demonstrates how to appreciate that we’re often given more than we deserve. Recognizing gifts from outside ourselves, including our very life from God, and all that others contribute is the antidote to entitlement.

Focusing on the positive is not a Pollyanna-ish “superficial happiology,” or mere politeness, but an ongoing perspective with transformative power. A classic example of reframing by looking for the positive in a negative experience is Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, imprisoned and later murdered by the Nazis. His focus on the good was so strong he could write from jail, “gratitude changes pangs of memory into grateful joy.” So too St. Paul and Martin Luther King Jr. turned obstacle to opportunity, doing some of their best writing in prison.

For most people, circumstances won’t be as dramatic. But at the end of life, do we want to be bitterly cursing the incompetent nurse, or grateful we have medical care and a warm bed? Those attitudes are sown and practiced early, not simply popping up on the deathbed. Humans are remarkably adaptive, even to good things, so we need to cultivate the habit of looking for, and commenting on, our blessings.

Before Emmons, Brother David Steindl-Rast had explored the more spiritual side of the subject in Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness (Paulist, 1984). Born in Vienna, Austria in 1926, he was drafted into the Nazi army as a boy, but escaped and was hidden by his mother until the war ended–which must’ve made him intensely grateful. He defines joy as “a happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.” Gratitude gives the ability to take whatever comes and appreciate it. During an “On Being” podcast, Krista Tippett asked him what he was most grateful for in dark times. He responded immediately: “the next breath!”

A Benedictine monk, he co-founded A Network for Grateful Living, whose website is rich in articles, suggestions, reflection questions and practices of gratitude: https://gratefulness.org. One sample quote from Steindl-Rast: “When I am grateful, I am neither rushing nor slouching through my day – I’m dancing.” A beautiful example of the attitude he upholds is the poem on the website: “Following Treatment, I Wonder” by Terry Martin. Despite the aches, pains and exhaustion of chemotherapy, the poet is grateful for a bowl of crunchy granola made by a friend, the neighbor’s crowing rooster, Chagall’s art, the sun.

Jesus once said, “Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap” (Lk. 6:38). Now science proves the generous measure used for giving will return to us in chemical bodily responses, perpetuating the cycle of gratitude.