Black Lives Matter

The people of St. Louis are trying to process another not-guilty decision in another police shooting that left another young black man named Anthony Lamar Smith dead. I thought I was ‘woke’. I thought I got racism, as much as a white middle-aged woman could. And for this reason, I took to the streets, repeatedly.

On the one hand, I saw amazing moments of solidarity, community and grass roots work by blacks and whites and everyone in between. Keisha Mabry wrote a piece entitled 25 Magical Moments From The Anthony Lamar Smith Protest. Yes, yes, and double yes. I as a middle-aged white woman thought I was seeing this. I am so glad that Keisha named it so well. We are so far ahead of where we were in Ferguson just three years ago, though in truth, we have many miles still to go.

In Ferguson, we heard, we saw, we experienced, we cried, we raged, and we all went home, and many of us came together to try to do our homework. I went to groups where we talked about white privilege and how to address it in the white community. I learned about unpacking my own racism and how to begin being a better ally to my brothers and sisters of color. I wasn’t sure it was making a difference, but my brothers and sisters of color assured me this would make a difference in their lives.

I come back to the streets in 2017 much more prepared. And I think the black community was doing its homework as well. We come back to the streets organized, determined, ready to do the work of justice with the sometimes awkward, partially-woke white community. And the result is the magic we are seeing on the streets.

The police did their homework as well, but the narrative they were working from was how to quell a riot. Well, this is not a riot – this is a peaceful assembly with a clear and persistent message. The people show up: people of color, people of all colors and people of no color. We peacefully assemble, we speak freely, we petition the government to address our grievances, and it’s protected by the constitution which forbids:

…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

We are doing something fundamental to the very existence of our democracy. And the police show up in riot gear with tear gas, pepper spray, zip-ties for mass arrests, and riot guns. So the crowd chats:

I don’t see no riot here.
Why are you in riot gear?

The crowds, a few hundred strong are peaceful, collaborative, disciplined and proud.

Tell me what democracy looks like.
This is what democracy looks like.

One of the actions was an interfaith prayer service. We prayed together, and people even gave speeches to God. People spoke of their faith, their hope, their courage. People spoke of justice and of Gods creation of all peoples to be brother and sisters. People spoke of the grace that disturbs systems of injustice and calls us back to a holy indignation that recognizes and dismantles systems of oppression. Then we marched; we prayed with our feet. And we chanted:

Tell me what theology looks like.
This is what theology looks like.

At one point when I was out on the street, the group was gathered and chanting. Earlier in the day, the police had interrupted an otherwise peaceful protest and started indiscriminately arresting people. So we gathered outside the jail where they were being held. We marched around the area a bit.

I wanted to move outside the group and onto a nearby sidewalk to join a friend. In order to do so, I had to cross a police line that was forming. The officer in semi-riot gear said I couldn’t cross. What??? I told the officer I wanted to join my friend on the sidewalk. He said he had orders not to let anyone out of the group. What??? I asked “Am I being detained?” – knowing that he would have to articulate reasonable cause to suspect me of something. He said he would have to ask his sergeant. They ended up letting me go. But I’m a white middle-aged woman, and the first cop could have been my grandson.

No one was arrested in the action – but only because the protesters kept their cool, kept on message, kept strong and kept together, in the face of aggression from law-enforcement. I repeatedly see the elegance of their planning, organizing and actions. And by the grace of God, they elude the threatening officers.

Walking away from these actions, I am every more ‘woke’ to the brutality of racism. I can go to a protest or stay home. I can walk across a police line on the grounds of my race.

Now I must say, that some officers have been courteous, fair and restrained in some tough situations. I thank them for that and I thank them for the many ways they serve and protect the community. At the same time, it is clear that the police have an element of brutality in their midst. These departments have clearly trained to quell riots. But they seem unable at times to distinguish between a riot and a peaceful assembly protected by the constitution.

I heard an officer report on his radio that a dispersal order had been given, when there was no dispersal order audible. I was close to the officers and the crowd and heard no such order. However, shortly thereafter, squads of riot police appeared on the scene. Why was that report given, when it was clearly wrong? What is wrong with this system? I hear the protesters’ chant, and I seem to see it validated:

The whole damn system is guilty as hell.

I see my brothers and sisters of color who have lived with this system day in and day out, year in and year out, decade after decade. I’m only beginning to see what they have lived with for a lifetime, and too often for a lifetime cut short by violence. My heart is breaking.

I turn to the men and women in blue. In another day, in another place, we walk the streets together, we do festivals together, we pray together in the same churches. Can we talk? Can we talk about the magical moments that are happening on the streets. Yes, sometimes the police protect the crowds as we come together to link arms and build the beloved community. Other times…. there is something powerfully and painfully wrong. And I believe that we can come together. Violence isn’t the answer.

–Sr. Amy Hereford

What Belongs to God

By Mary Flick, CSJ

“That’s mine!” How often I have made this reality known in my life. As a child, I was quick to declare this when my sister absconded with my favorite doll – or my baseball glove. Still today, I think of that childhood cry – even if I don’t say it – whenever someone uses my favorite coffee mug!

In today’s readings, we hear God say, “That’s mine!” – or rather, “You’re mine!” In the first reading, we find Cyrus, the most unlikely of heroes, allowing the Israelites to return home from exile in Babylon. However, Isaiah reveals the true source of this political benevolence is God, who has called Cyrus by name and given him a title, “Though you knew me not.” God works in mysterious ways. Yes, even Cyrus, a non-Jew and pagan military victor, belongs to God.

In today’s gospel, the Pharisees and Herodians, arch enemies, band together to test Jesus by asking him about the census tax, that accursed Roman obligation for the Jews. To say it was unlawful to pay the tax would make Jesus guilty of sedition. To say it was lawful to pay the tax would leave him discredited in the eyes of the Jews, for its payment to an earthly king validated his kingship and insulted God, the only King of the Jewish people. Whichever way Jesus answered opened him to trouble!

Creatively, Jesus answers their question – and invites them, and us, to much more. Coinage was the sign of kingship, since the king had his image struck on the coins as soon as he came to the throne. And the coinage was held to be the property of the king whose image it bore. Jesus astutely tells the Jewish and Roman leaders to give to Caesar what belongs to him. Then he goes further: “and to God what belongs to God.” Obey the civil regulations, give to Caesar what is his – and give to God what is God’s: one’s undivided heart.

There is a double citizenship for Jesus’ followers, in the realms of the secular and the spiritual. But the boundaries must be carefully discerned. Such discernment can happen in the life of a Christian who possesses the qualities Paul cites in his letter to the Thessalonians: grace, peace, thanksgiving, faith, love, endurance, hope. Within this realm, boundaries become clear. Ultimately, we realize there are no boundaries for God. God supersedes all secular laws and rulers. All is one, all is God’s in the Christian life, if we live it authentically and creatively.

Change the Narrative: Celebrate our Differences

Throughout the history of humankind people have differentiated themselves from one another for various reasons. Unfortunately instead of celebrating these differences they have mostly been reprimanded and there was no acceptance or understanding leaving those people deemed ‘different’ excluded. Think about all the differentiations which we make and focus on in our daily life in the U.S. today: gender differences, ethnicity differences, spirituality differences, citizenship status differences, sexual orientation differences, ability differences, economic status differences, political party differences, and the list could go on. All of the differentiation have been made for exclusionary purposes by those ‘with the power’ and have created a sort of stratification system for people within all these categories so that some are  ‘best or morally right’ while others are ‘worst or morally wrong’.  This is a violent way to live and it is not the way to bring about the reign of our loving God. This violence is evident in the U.S. today and I personally find it unacceptable. I also take responsibility in my own life and look to see who I judge and discriminate against and work to change this in my heart and mind.

When we differentiate to discriminate against another we are not living as Jesus did nor carrying out the Good news of the Gospel. When people are hurting, dying, and families are being broken apart or other harms come into their lives because of discrimination then there is a major problem that needs to be changed and fixed. It is affecting all of us in the worst way no matter if you are at the ‘top of the hierarchy and deemed best or better’ or you’re deemed ‘lower’ in the stratification system. We all suffer on multiple levels when so much violence occurs.

Those in leadership or with power keep giving excuses and try to justify the madness and then the rest of us follow suit. To be sure, there is a myriad of people with power even beyond those in actual leadership who further perpetuate the justifications too. However, this is exactly where the narrative has to change. There can be no more, and as far as I am concerned, there are no more excuses and justifications. It is affecting our Churches, nations, states, and cities, and our Religious Congregations here and around the world.

In his book, “The Different Drum,” on Community Making and Peace, M. Scott Peck, says, “Genuine community is always characterized by integrity,” (p. 234). He goes on to note that when “discerning the presence or absence of integrity, you need to ask only one question. What is missing? Has anything been left out?” (p.236). When we truthfully begin to look at these questions as individuals and communities we will be able to honestly answer them.

When our Congregations gather for any event, it is generally easy to see who is missing and/or left out. We have to honestly answer these questions not only our future, but for the present moment too. The vocation team in St. Paul, recently asked all the Vocation ministers to examine how racism is affecting our vocation ministries. I am grateful for the question. I think we need to ask that question for every committee we have as a Congregation and for everything we do or plan on doing—who is missing or who is left out? And Why? For they will also be left out of what is being planned. The answers to these questions are not for one person or a select few to answer. They are something for all of us as a community to answer together.

Since I am a faith-filled person living in a religious community as a sister, I have hope that we can be vulnerable together, work through this and be able to walk with integrity into the future. I know this is hard work to do and I know there is resistance to this work because it makes us uncomfortable and it takes more time and energy.  However, this is what we must do and continue to do in order to bring about the reign of our loving God. God made each of us unique and different for a reason and loves each of us the same. So let’s change the narrative together and really start to celebrate our differences. It’s the only way Peace can begin to flourish in our hearts and in our world.

Peace on the journey fellow pilgrim, S. Clare Bass, CSJ.


Convent Camino

The Camino de Santiago, or just the Camino is a network of pilgrimage pathways leading the shrine of the apostle Saint James of Campostelo on the west coast of Spain. Since the middle ages, pilgrims have followed this path as a form of pilgrimage, penance or retreat. Today, there is renewed interest in the Camino as walkers travel from around the globe to take part in this ancient spiritual practice.
I have long wished to make the Camino, but have never had the opportunity. However, walking is one of my spiritual practices. I just walk and walk and walk – especially on retreat. There is not purpose or direction in particular. But it is a time to be free of the bounds of life and of ministry and to be emersed in God and in creation. I love the image of Camino as a time and space of openness to God, of discernment, and of spiritual clarity.
The Sisters in St. Louis are inviting women to join us for a Convent Camino. Based on the ancient spiritual practice, our Camino will bring us to several convents to enable participants to deepen their discernment of religious life. We will travel to three different locations for prayer, conversation and community sharing. Sisters from several more communities will also be present to help organize and present the various parts of the retreat. Women who join us will have the opportunity to come together with Sisters and with other discerners.
If you’re interested, or know someone who is, here is the link:

We Are One

As Sisters of St. Joseph with a charism of unifying love, the idea that all things are connected resonates.  And I love when science backs spiritual, theological concepts.  For example, the law of conservation of mass-energy tells us that the total amount of mass and energy in the universe in constant.  I am made up of the same stuff as trees and flowers and birds and this stuff has been around since the beginning.  And when I die, the physical stuff of which I am made will be used to make something new.  Death into new life.

And this idea of oneness goes a step farther.  My physical being, physically affects those around me.  On some level, we have probably all experienced this.  If I’m surrounded by people who are always tired and complaining, it won’t take long for me to be tired and complaining.  As principal, I know that the energy and enthusiasm I exude will impact the teachers and, thus, the students.  How does that work?

This summer, I was learning a bit more about trauma and neuroscience when I watched this TED Talk/Youtube video:

Amazing, right?!

So, in this time of societal and world trauma, when things can sometimes seem hopeless and I wonder what difference I make, I remember that I do, very literally, make a difference every day, and I work to make it a positive one.

–S. Sarah