Narrowing the distance

20160409 cranes photoHere we go again.

Steve and I are sitting in the airport in Minneapolis as we wait for our flight to Paris to board. From Paris, it is on to Beirut, Lebanon, and a rendezvous with our precious brothers and sisters in the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. As always, we are traveling with The Outreach Foundation and our intrepid leader, Marilyn Borst. After being in a consultation with NESSL and their global partners, we will make our way back into Syria.

It always make my heart sing to be setting off on the long journey to an ancient land, a land where the church was born and even Saul-turned-Paul saw the light, was blinded, healed and rose from the darkness to preach the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This time I am going not as a church employee but as a theology student, and I just wanted to start this trip out with a short blog reflecting some truth from one of my classes: THL331, Jesus Christ: Liberator, led by Dr. Thomas W. Kelly, professor theology at Creighton University.

One of our texts for that class is a book that Dr. Kelly wrote with a very appropriate title for me coming from a church with the vision statement, “…on the journey with the living Christ.” The name of his book is When the Gospel Grows Feet, and it is about a Jesuit martyr from El Salvador, Rutilio Grande, and the church in El Salvador, and the gospel of liberation that has been preached from the first day of Jesus’ ministry. I have brought that book and my other required readings with me to keep up with the classes I will be missing and as I sit here in the airport, this is what I read:

“The Eucharist is the symbol of a shared table, with a stool for each person, and tablecloths long enough for everyone. It is the symbol of Creation, which requires redemption. It is already being sealed with martyrdom!” (From Fr. Grande’s last homily before he was assassinated)

This all-inclusive meal, the Eucharist, was the symbol par excellence for Rutilio that God wanted everyone to have a seat at the table of creation. He wanted this symbol of Jesus’ final meal to influence and structure social relationships very concretely. What followed in his homily was a careful argument for what the role of the church should be in the context of El Salvador, how that role should imitate the incarnation of Christ, and how it should perceive the world and its people. After a brief introduction of a church in service to the world, fragile but incarnated in history, the homily is divided into three distinct parts: (1) equality of the children of God, (2) the risk of living the Gospel, and (3) persecuted like Jesus of Nazareth. (Page 208)

There are a lot of geographical miles between El Salvador and Syria. But this I know: the church and its saints in El Salvador and Syria bring me closer to the meaning of this Gospel and that distance should be made smaller as we draw closer to it.

Dona nobis pacem.

Voices of anger. Voices of Peace.

Homs peace signsIt’s the very end of the first week of February, 2016, the month of love as Valentine’s Day looms just eight days from now. I’m four weeks into classes as a graduate student in pursuit of a Master’s of Arts degree in ministry at our local Jesuit university, Creighton.

It’s been challenging in many ways. I still get up every morning, take a shower, make the bed and get Jana down to the print shop. Instead of heading off to a paying job, I wash the dishes, do the laundry, and then launch into studying for the two classes I am enrolled in: The Christian Tradition, Then and Now and Jesus Christ, Liberator. There is so much reading! I have to write papers! I have to use words and a style of writing that are worthy of the academic institution I am now a member of.

Here is the problem: this is not the way I write. If you have read my blog (thank you! if this is so), you may have noticed that I write in the first person and with a lot of emotion. I am a feeler. Look at my Myers Briggs profile. INFP. The “F” there stands for the fact that I tend to make decisions based on feelings or values, rather than logic or reason. As a matter of fact, when I first took the MB profile evaluation I scored absolutely zero on thinking.

I am a feeler. It becomes more clear to me every day.

So this week has been interesting as I have been asked to write academically. Here were my questions on the midterm of my beginning theology course:

How does John’s gospel fulfill its purpose?

What is Augustine’s theology of will?

Why was “The Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas importance to Christians of their age?”

How did Benedict XVI use the philosophical concept of logos in his Regensburg lecture?

It’s hard to write answers as a feeler when what is required is the answer of a thinker.

Somehow, I got through that.

And the assignment for my Jesus Christ: Liberator class, which I absolutely love, was to write a reflection on a movie called Voces Inocentes. This movie is about the war in El Salvador that the U.S. threw its resources into on behalf of the landed, rich minority, represented by the government, against the oppressed majority of the poor. Why do we seem to always find the wrong side to support since the end of World War II?

Since this is a theology class, and we are studying about theology in the form of Christology, Jesus as liberator, our job was to write a reflection on the movie with our texts in mind. It should be thoughtful, not emotional.

So today I wrote my reflection. I tied it to the textbook chapter that talked about a document called Gaudium et spes (the joy and hope), that came out of Vatican II and changed the church’s vision about its mission in and to the world. I tried to be academic even as the feeling heart that is right under my skin wanted to cry out in anger.

Really? How is it possible in this world that eleven- and twelve-year old boys have to choose between being conscripted into an army to fight against their families or join the guerillas trying to overcome injustice in their land? Either choice comes with a price: losing their humanity or losing their lives. Why can’t little boys just kick soccer balls and tease little girls? Why do these same boys have to become “man of the house” because their fathers have left the country to stay out of the war and find ways to support their families in other countries? Why are children in the crossfire? Why are women considered things to be used and discarded? Why does an old woman of faith decide that prayer will not end this war?

Anger. Boiling blood. That is how I wanted to react.

And then I saw a Facebook post from friends in Syria who are living in a war that they experience every day. It takes their neighbors. It takes their sons and daughters. It has torn their country apart and my country and many others are making choices that disrupt their lives. And we pray and they pray and somehow it doesn’t end.

Where is God? Where is grace? Where is peace?

I don’t have an answer to any of these questions. But I am left with this amazing speech by the unnamed priest in this movie that makes the feeling side of me think:

…the word of God must also be heard by those who have not yet found grace within themselves. What is grace? Grace is the presence of the Divine in every one of our actions. Innocence is stolen from our children and hope is replaced by fear. The skeptics say, if God existed, there would be no war. And I respond if men would obey the word of God, then there would be no war! Because God our father has given man the privilege to live in grace, or on the contrary, to provoke disgrace. I assure you when one lives in the grace of God, war does not exist. There are others who choose differently. It is time to raise our voices against them. To defend our right to live! To use our strength to oppose the force of death. Today it is not enough to pray.

It is not enough to pray today. Today is a day to ask people to look in the mirror and see the reflection of God there. And then, to look into the face of the neighbor and see the same thing. Look into the mirror and see Chava the Salvadorean boy, to see Ali the boy from Aleppo, to see John from the streets of Omaha…to see Jesus. Would you throw the rock at Jesus? Would you fire the gun at Jesus? Would you drop the bomb on Jesus? Can we not see the humanity in each face and also see the reflection of the divine? Can we choose to live in grace and not disgrace?

Can’t we have a conversation together about how what I do affects what happens to you? What you do affects what happens to me? Can’t we see that what we have is more than enough and it is enough to share?

I just want to finish by sharing this video which came to me in an email from Creighton University this week. It is a message from Pope Francis about conversations among those who are different in culture and faith. But they are all humans, made in the image of God. And this has helped me with my anger.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6FfTxwTX34&feature=share

Dona nobis pacem.