Adoption and the Christian Life

“…not in spite of loss or ambiguity, but precisely in the midst of them, we are seen and known, and in our particular, ongoing story, we continue to be knit together in mysterious ways.”

A reflection from me, theological and personal.

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The Latest Buzz: Clicktivism and Gossip

It is a big job, really, meeting the demands of our age. We must be perfectly savvy, always seeing things just a bit more incisively than the rest of the naive folk bumbling around us. At the same time, we must be perfectly morally innocent, constantly dodging any charge that could possibly be hurled our way. Who can keep up?

gossip.jpgOne of the more effective strategies (ones I myself have sometimes employed) is simply to “pass along”—generally on social media—”news stories” of which we are derisively critical. A single sentence of outrage may be included, but this works best when they require no commentary at all, and our silent outrage is all the testimony we need that we are one step ahead.

As I said, who can keep up? We’ve got to figure out something. But I am somewhat disappointed to report something I’ve noticed this Lent. This way of passing along information often functions primarily as a sophisticated form of a terrible sin, a sin roundly and consistently condemned in the Christian Scriptures and Tradition: gossip. The motivations for gossip, unfortunately, have always been the same. I indicate that I am deliciously “in the know.” And my pointing finger is a way to get leverage—and distance.

But what are we to do? What about raising awareness? What about righteously unmasking real injustices?

In the spirit of Lenten repentance, let me offer four principles that may prove helpful.

First, let’s cultivate awareness of our own motivations as we “pass along” information.

Second, if we speak, let’s focus on situations and issues that we feel we know well, especially situations about which we can offer context and insight. For Christians, of course, the ultimate context of any comment of any kind would be love.

For the third and fourth (surely the most important!), I turn to someone who has offered a steady, loving call to abandon gossip: Pope Francis.

If you must speak, he urges, say it to those “who can remedy the situation,” but “not to the entire neighborhood.” At this point in the information age, does your entire friend list just “need to know” about another outrage? If you feel strongly that you need to inform us, at least let us know what we realistically can do.

And finally, citing another age-old principle, “do not judge anyone” because “the only Judge is the Lord.”

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Mary as Global Icon

Here’s an unusual opportunity for an “online tour” of the exhibit currently showing at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (Washington, DC): “Mary as Global Icon.” Well worth a look.

Mary Icon

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Lent When Life Already Feels Like Lent

Lent, an ecclesial tradition of at least 1600 years or so, has, it seems, somehow become a thing. Non-denominational megachurches are advertising Lenten reflections. Baptists are talking about a “spirituality of subtraction.” In a particularly moving example, even some Muslims are joining in.

As for me, a convinced Catholic, a theologian by profession, someone who especially likes to think about liturgy and liturgical seasons: I struggle with the whole thing. This essay from Prof. Rachel Lu captures my own feelings well:

I’m a wife, mother, parishioner, community member, philosopher and professional writer.And a bona fide Catholic, with a real sacramental life. In countless ways, my life has grown immeasurably richer. But it is also dramatically more constrained. Everything I do or don’t do affects other people. Free time? What’s that? I’m only familiar with “chip away at the never-ending to-do list” time, and that clock keeps running until my body and brain refuse to function anymore. Then I sleep, and it all starts over again.

To be clear, I really don’t mind having a hectic life. As I see it, this middle-adulthood phase is meant to be like that: crammed with meaningful activity. It’s appropriate. It’s a blessing. But it does make Lent somewhat challenging, because I just don’t have much latitude for personal adjustments. It’s hard to do corporal works of mercy with multiple small children in tow. Social media is pleasant but not really a luxury; I use it all the time for my work. And while I can pass on the occasional cookie or sundae, I can’t return to the serious fasting of my younger days…

It may seem extreme to ask, as Lu does, “How do you observe Lent when your whole life sort of feels like a perpetual Lent?” But that is often how I, too, feel. Already completely poured out.

So, this year, I have turned to look directly at the Biblical image most often evoked in connection with Lent, the forty days wilderness.jpgJesus spent in the wilderness. I have looked for something new, and here is what I have seen. The wilderness is a harsh place. It surely does involve “giving some things up.” A more fundamental dynamic, however, is at play. The forty days in the wilderness is above all a place of preparation, a place to hear and follow a vocation. For someone like me—busy, distracted, and poured out—it feels like that listening is what is most needed, if I am to learn again how to be a follower of Christ.

So, this Lent, I have “given up” only one thing, which is some of the time I spend on social media. But mostly, I’ve tried to turn that time and that mental energy to spiritual hearing and to contemplation and to the particular question of my own vocation. What does God have to say to me, and where is God calling me now? Dear busy-ones-like-me, the answer has been resounding. It is a call simply to rest and to be beloved.

This has been reinforced in many ways, but especially in relationship to work. All of a sudden, I am encountering the notion of “working from rest” at every turn. Of course, much of my work is teaching, and, in fact, this Lent, I have found myself unexpectedly adding homeschooling one of my children to my list of teaching to-do. At the same time, though, I have also encountered the beautiful concept of “teaching from rest.”

I don’t know what all this looks like yet. But I offer it for what it’s worth. If your Lent has felt impossible, has felt mostly like One More Thing, it would be good today to remember that it’s not over yet. There are at least two weeks, including two weekends, left. Maybe what is needed most is just a chance, even a small chance, to listen.

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Please Meet Myriam, a Teacher of Theology

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Holy Mother

Question: how does one describe a love for, and reliance on, the Blessed Virgin Mary without sounding hopelessly sentimental? Answer: I haven’t figured it out, exactly. But here’s a pretty good attempt from Eric Clapton. (Back in 1986, y’all, when our hair was big, our shoulders were padded, and yours truly wasn’t thinking about the Holy Mother one bit.)

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Racism and Repentance

Yesterday, I had the chance to hear a brief talk by Elisabeth Vasko (who teaches theology at Duquesne), here at Providence College: “Perfectionism and Moral Innocence: Re-examining White Christian Complicity in the 21st Century.” As someone who drank long (and early) at the well of the late Augustine, I can’t help but appreciate one of her central points. She noted that white folks tend to cling to a position of innocent ignorance with regard to race, and that claiming a certain expertise about race or race theory (rehearsing, for example, their own consciousness-raising experiences regarding race) can, ironically, be precisely as a way to do that.

BeFunky_kkk.jpgThe trouble with things like racism—when it’s understood not simply as the collected, unfortunate attitudes of certain individuals, but rather a systemic, sinful reality that we breathe like oxygen—is that there really is no climbing out. The way in which our history with race has shaped us goes to some of the most basic ways that we think and behave. As Prof. Vasko noted, even when we mean well, white folks can actually end up reinforcing a racist structure. Not that it is difficult to understand the impulse to establish one’s innocence, of course. Prof. Vasko noted that we live in a cultural moment when we all seem to be desperately seeking immunity from critique. (And, to be fair, after all, there’s a lot of it.)

(For you theology-types, by the way, I can’t recommend strongly enough that you buy, read, and grapple with the claims of the Rev. Dr. Willie James Jennings, who argues in his new book, The Christian Imagination, that our history with race has shaped our theological work, in particular.)

In the very last sentence of her talk, though, Professor Vasko spoke a hope-filled word that opens up new imaginative world: “repentance.” To repent means finally to give up all our delusions of innocence, to embrace the fact of our guilt. The very old-fashioned category of “true contrition” is captured in the prayer still repeated by penitents in the confessional: “My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.” This is real sorrow, the sorrow of knowing both the sin and its effects.

In the movement of Christian repentance, though, this real sorrow happens against a real horizon of hope. It is only in this way that it avoids another very serious sin, the sin of despair.

Just today, my students and I were reading the famous description given by Dante of the souls in Purgatorio:

And later you will see those who rejoice

while they are burning, for they have hope of coming,

whenever it may be, to join the blessed…

To know that we are far from what we should be is a painful suffering, a baptism by fire. But in the light of that greater hope, well, even we racists rejoice.

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