Tag Archives: theology

Resistance and Relationship

When I was studying theological ethics at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, one of my main research areas was the ethics and spirituality of Christian nonviolent resistance.

Resistance of course now is a trending hashtag on Twitter. I was invited to share some of my thoughts and research about the urgent need for an ethic of resistance grounded in relationship in a guest blog post for NETWORK Lobby (the folks behind Nuns on the Bus).

Whatever comes next, it is crucial that we develop an ethic of resistance that is grounded in human dignity and right relationship. Otherwise, we face the danger of recreating and repeating negative cycles of violent and dehumanizing language and actions. …

In fact, we would all do well to read up on the history of resistance to social sin. Resistance is not futile, but neither is it easy. The Christian tradition of resistance begins with Jesus, and think of where his path of resistance led.  Jesus resisted dehumanizing social norms, created a wide web of relationship, and engaged in liberating action for the oppressed.  In the centuries since, Christians have followed in his footsteps and resisted social sin and injustice.  

Read the rest over on the NETWORK blog.

Life lessons from my mom

MomMeThis weekend is Mother’s Day in the US. My latest Global Sisters Report column is a reflection on racism, white privilege, and lessons I learned from my mother about confronting systemic injustice.

My mother had a particularly informed conscience and made choices that confronted systems of oppression. While I grew up in a mostly-white suburb, my mother would take me shopping at the mall located in a neighboring suburb where most residents were people of color. This was not only to expose her children to diverse groupings of people, but also because she knew that the major department stores intentionally sent lower quality goods and a lesser product selection to stores in communities of color. She was sending a message by choosing to spend her money in those stores, hoping to contribute the strength of her purchasing power to changing what she understood to be an unjust and racist system. …

This Mother’s Day weekend, I choose to remember and honor my mother by lamenting the ways I am connected to and benefit from systems of oppression and exclusion. As my mother’s daughter, I commit myself, once again, to work for justice and the common good.

Read the whole column by following the link

Holy Saturday Moments

holy20saturdayLife is filled with many Holy Saturday moments. Time upon time we must let go of what was before we can even begin to be open to what will come.  I think of the way the first Holy Week after my own mother’s death was different than any other before or since. I felt it in my bones. I think of friends who have lost their job and struggled to find their feet again, or friends who have lost a child far too soon, or seen the end of their marriage.  There is always that messy middle space of witnessing the love lived and lost before something new emerges to call us forth to witness to love and life in new ways.

Theologian Shelly Rambo identifies Holy Saturday as the “middle day, as the site of witness to a more complex relationship between death and life” (Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining, pg. 46.). And what is at the core of this complex relationship? Love of course. “Between death and life, there is a testimony to Spirit, to a love that survives not in victory but in weariness” (pgs. 79-80).

This weariness is real and of the Spirit. It attests to the depth of love that has been lived. But it also can keep us from seeing the new life that is before our eyes. Think of Mary Magdalene at the tomb, mistaking Jesus for the gardener!

I can’t help but ponder the shifting landscape and transformations taking place in religious life through the lens of Holy Saturday. As I wrote in a Global Sisters Report column last year, “Middle space represents this time as an almost Holy Saturday moment. Much is breaking down, we know something new is emerging, but this is a moment pregnant with not yet.”

On this Holy Saturday morning, I found myself reading an article featuring some younger Catholic sisters I know who are members the Sisters of the Holy Redeemer. It is a great article that focuses on the new life that is present and emerging, even as the sisters are letting go of the structures of the past. “Now they are crafting a brave future in which the sisterhood may be minuscule, but its work will go on.”

We are indeed living in a Holy Saturday moment. “We can say, ‘Oh, isn’t it sad, our sisters are aging, nobody is coming, we’re dying out’ – and that’s real,” said Sister Anne Marie Haas, provincial supervisor of the community’s Montgomery County headquarters. “But we have a choice.”

And that choice is love, even in its weariest and messiest forms. As we say in our CSJP Constitutions, “Confident of God’s faithful love, and collaborating with others who work for justice and peace, we face the future with gratitude and hope.”

Resistance to Human Trafficking: Sojourner’s Article

Last month I finished the work on my 122 page thesis for my Masters of Arts of Theology at Catholic Theological Union. The title of my thesis is “Human Trafficking as Social Sin: An Ethic of Resistance.” It was a wonderful opportunity to apply what I had learned in my studies of theological ethics to one of the most important issues of our time. I was also able to draw upon my ministry experiences with survivors of human trafficking and in human trafficking education and advocacy.


This month I was invited to write an article for the Sojourner’s Website for their special series on human trafficking, “Breaking Chains, Raising Voices.”  I took it as an opportunity to condense the main points of my thesis into an 800 word column, “Resistance. Lamentation. Action.”

Resistance might not be the word that comes to mind in response to human trafficking. Most often people speak of “combatting” or “fighting” human trafficking, particularly when it is approached as a crime. But when we consider human trafficking as social sin, one in which ordinary persons are complicit and connected, even if inadvertently, then resistance emerges as an appropriate moral response.

Head over to Sojourner’s to read the whole thing.

Meeting Jesus Again: Thank You Marcus Borg

meeting jesus again for the first timeI read this morning that Marcus Borg has passed away. Theologian, Author, Historical Jesus Scholar, Biblical Scholar, Lutheran turned Episcopalian, Oregonian, Professor, Husband, Friend … surely he was many things to many people and will be deeply missed.

When I heard the news of his death, I immediately said a prayer of thanks for him, and especially for the role his book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, played in my own faith journey.

While I was raised Catholic and went to 12 years of Catholic School, from my late teens to my late 20s I essentially rejected it all as entirely irrelevant–organized religion, spirituality, God, Jesus, you name it.  But then something happened and somehow God broke through. It’s a long story, but the 2 second version is that a friend invited me to her Catholic church and I weirdly and unexpectedly felt at home. The next Sunday and each week after I woke up with a deep desire to return.  So I kept going, but all of my doubts and questions and blanket rejection remained and led to a whole lot of confusion.

One day, a few weeks after I inexplicably became a doubting weekly church goer, I remember riding in my friend Kim’s pick up truck down 39th Avenue in Southeast Portland as she gave me a ride home after mass. I was trying to articulate to her my mixed up feelings around the pull to return to my Catholic roots. I remember saying that I didn’t know if I could do it because I was not quite sure what I thought about “that Jesus guy.” I’m pretty sure those were my exact words.  Kim suggested I read Borg’s book.

I was intrigued by the title. I read the book. And something shifted within me even as I read the opening words of Chapter One of Meeting Jesus Again:

We have all met Jesus before. Most of us first met him when we were children. This is most obviously true for those of us raised in the church, but also for anybody who grew up in Western culture. We all received some impression of Jesus, some image of him, however vague or specific.

For many, the childhood image of Jesus remains intact into adulthood. For some, that image is held with deep conviction, sometimes linked with warm personal devotion and sometimes tied to rigid doctrinal positions.  For others, both within and outside of the church, the childhood image of Jesus can become a problem, producing perplexity and doubt, often leading to indifference toward or rejection of the religion of their childhood.

Indeed, for many Christians, especially in mainline churches, there came a time when their childhood image of Jesus no longer made a great deal of sense. And for many of them, no persuasive alternative has replaced it. It is for these people especially that this book is written. For them, meeting Jesus again will be–as it has been for me–like meeting him for the first time. It will involve a new image of Jesus. 

His book did not take away all of my questions or doubts or lead to instant conversion. Instead, I think what it did for me was give me freedom to not know what I thought or felt. It gave me a way to reconsider Jesus, to meet him again as if for the first time, to start afresh in building a relationship that continues to grow and deepen with twists and turns and meaning and surprise, comfort and challenge.

It was from that fresh reset of my feelings about Jesus that I started on the path that led me to the corner of Susan and St. Joseph.  Having met Jesus again, I was ready and able to then meet him through our CSJP Charism of peace through justice.  As our CSJP Constitutions so beautifully put it:

“Christ is our peace, the source of our power. United with him we engage in the struggle against the reality of evil and continue the work of establishing God’s reign of justice and peace.”

Thank you Marcus for sharing your gifts with the Church and the people of God. If my own story is any indication, I suspect you have had a profound influence in many people’s lives.

Lamenting Racial Injustice: Theology Quotes


I’m reviving a feature from my old blog, at least until I finish my present life as a graduate student in Catholic theological ethics.  From time to time, I’ve been sharing a quote from a theologian which I think people might find interesting, challenging, or otherwise important. This particular quote is from a book which I highly recommend, especially in light of the most recent manifestations of what the U.S. Bishops named in 1979 as “an evil which endures in our society and in our Church” (Brothers & Sisters to Us) … racism.

The book is called Racial Justice and the Catholic Church (Orbis Books, 2010) by Bryan N. Massingale.  Fr. Bryan Massingale is a highly respected Catholic moral theologian who has worked extensively both as an academic and as a practitioner on the issue of racial justice. I was lucky enough to take a very challenging course on the ethics of power and racial justice during my studies at Catholic Theological Union. Massingale’s 2010 book was one of our central texts for the course. It’s easy to read and yet nimbly engages the complex reality of racism, the challenge it poses for the church, and the promise of racial justice.

I found his book very challenging and incredibly important. I also found it empowering, especially his work on the need for a theology and practice of lament. Massingale astutely observes that racism engages us viscerally at the gut level. For this reason, we can’t merely rely on reason as we work for racial justice. The emotional responses on all sides to what’s been happening in Ferguson and across the country illustrate this key point.  Our shared history and present reality is just too messy to logically “fix” the enduring and embedded reality of racism.

Because racism and racial injustice hit us in the gut, they tend to be “impervious” to appeals to reason. If we cannot think, reason, or debate our way through this impasse, what do we do?

Massingale believes that we need to “lament the ambiguity and distortions of our history and their tragically deforming effects on ourselves. We need to lament, mourn, and grieve our history. … Lament has the power to challenge the entrenched cultural beliefs that legitimate privilege.  It engages a level of human consciousness deeper than logical reason.  Lamenting can propel us to new levels of truth seeking and risk taking as we grieve our past history and strive to create an ethical discourse that is more reflective of the universality of our Catholic Faith.” (Bryan Massingale, “The Systemic Erasure,” in Catholic Theological Ethics, Past, Present, and Future: the Trento Conference, ed. James F. Keenan, Orbis Books, 2011).

I share his insights because they have been powerful for me, informing both my prayer and my action as a white woman who experiences white privilege every day that distances me from the entrenched reality of racial injustice which my brothers and sisters of color cannot escape.  Massingale believes that not only the victims of racial injustice, but even the beneficiaries of privilege, can and should lament.

“For the beneficiaries of white privilege, lament involves the difficult task of acknowledging their individual and communal complicity in past and present racial injustices. It entails a hard acknowledgement that one has benefited from another’s burden and that one’s social advantages have been purchased at a high cost to others. Here lament takes the form of a forthright confession of human wrongdoing in the light of God’s mercy. It is a form of truth-telling and contrition that acknowledges both the harms that have been done to others and one’s personal and communal culpability for them.” (Racial Justice and the Catholic Church)

Until we recognize, lament, and mourn this unfortunately reality, we can never effectively counter the distorted denial of our God given equality or find our way to the path towards racial justice.  Until we recognize, lament, and mourn this unfortunate reality, we continue to get caught up on rational discussions of bias and prejudice, from which it is easy to distance ourselves, and fail to see the embedded and structural nature of racial injustice from which we cannot escape.


2014-11-01 13.03.00If I had to sum up my experience and call of the spiritual life in one word, I think it would be “openness.” Part of my story is that I spent about 10 years as a young adult away from the Church, and really away from any intentional relationship with God. Funny, I know, especially given that I’ve spent mostof the last 10 years as a Catholic Sister.

The challenge, and ultimately the blessing, of my own spiritual journey has been to break through the self-imposed barriers that kept me from God’s love. It’s hard to explain, but my own growth in humility and love has been to open myself more deeply to God’s love for me, as me, in all my brokenness and beauty. Somehow, it’s easier for me to experience God’s love for others, especially people in need in our wounded and broken world. But me? That’s been a constant invitation to growth, life, and love which has led me in surprising directions well beyond the boundaries and limitations I placed on myself. In the end, it was my response to that invitation that led me to community and life as a Catholic Sister.

In my religious community we have a tradition where you can choose to have a personal motto engraved in your vows ring. When I was discerning to profess my vows as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace, the phrase that kept coming to me in prayer was “Live with an open heart.” So that’s what is engraved inside my ring. That’s what I wear each and every day, part of my reminder of my commitment to act justly, love tenderly, and walk in the way of peace.

I found myself reflecting on this call, invitation, and response today as I was revisiting the renewal of virtue ethics in Catholic moral theology as part of my preparation for comprehensive exams later this month. I’m working through texts I’ve already read, but this passage by theologian Charles Curran on the particular Christian virtue of openness caused me to pause in my studies (and write this blog post!).

“Openness is a virtue that many Americans today gladly accept. We talk about the importance of being open and the dangers of being closed. However, being open is much more challenging in reality than it seems. Being open to God (and others) stands in opposition to self-centeredness and self-sufficiency. The person who is closed in on oneself can never hear the promptings of the Spirit. … The Christian has to be open to hear the call of God and seize the opportunity in the midst of all the daily duties, obligations, and distractions of our lives. True openness thus calls for a contemplative aspect to our being that allows us to truly discern the call of God amidst the din and cacophony of the many voices we hear. God comes to us not only in the depths of our hearts but also in the circumstances of our daily lives especially in the needs of others. The spiritual tradition often recommends time for contemplation and retreat precisely so that one can truly be more disposed to hearing the call of God in daily life and acting upon it.” – Charles E. Curran, “Virtue: The Catholic Moral Tradition Today”

My response to God’s invitation cannot be a passive response. It requires intention, presence, and attention in the midst of the very many distractions of our lives.