The Wilderness of the City Streets

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

A small caravan of diverse citizens in the city of Columbus walk together in the middle of the street in the Linden residential neighborhood. Derrick Russell, the group’s leader, barks into a microphone: “What do we want?” “Safe streets!” We shout back. “When do we want it?” “Now!” Every Monday night for the last few months, we have been walking.

Along our route, women from Moms Demand Action pass out materials about their organization; their noticeable presence in bright red tee shirts speaks to their passion to end gun violence. Some young black boys eagerly climb the stairs of neighbors’ houses, handing out postcards inviting people to a block party, or some other resources. This week, Bea Tiboldi, Margie Davis, and Robin Richard pass out snacks to kids hanging out in front of their apartments. Another week, Ellen Coates or other sisters might join us. Gemma Doll is there, as am I. Be Peace tee shirts signal our presence.

We stop the caravan every so often so folks can talk with the neighbors and catch up with one another. It is a slow and steady walk. Different routes in different parts of the Linden neighborhood, always the same message: gun violence has to stop.

Local police walk with us.  One white officer holds the hand of a five-year-old African-American girl, they walk together.  Another officer trails behind the marchers in a cruiser, lights flashing, adding to a sense of safety or at least, confirming the desire of the police to be present in the community. A small boy admires the big arm muscles of the officer and he hangs from his bicep as if on a swing.

Sr. Anne Lythgoe (left) at a recent event.

Sometimes a group shows up and passes out lockboxes, as in, here is a safe place to store your gun in the house. Last week we stopped to pray at a house where a mother was killed, and her boyfriend wounded in a drive-by shooting. There were five children in the house at the time. We could see bullet holes in the door and walls, memorial candles on the sidewalk. In the meantime, children peek out from the blinds of other houses, they seem so vulnerable to me. Other adults stay perched on porches, taking it in, hands waving in response to our greetings.

Derrick calls to us again, “Whose streets?” “Our streets,” we call back to him loudly.  Last week, a dead animal lay festering in the heat in the gutter as we walked by. Linden is a stark place.

There is a wilderness here, traffic zooming by on their way somewhere else, trash in some yards while other houses are neatly ordered with flower beds and porch swings. Some neighbors are curious about this modest little group moving through their streets, others say thanks for coming by. Some turn to another street to avoid our little band of walkers.

Gun violence will not stop because we are there. And when we first started walking the neighborhood, I wondered if we would have any impact at all. Does one small group make a difference?  If we did not believe that there is purpose to our walking, then Jesus’ message of peace and forgiveness would never have made it out of the garden where Mary Magdalen encountered him.  I do not begin to understand why violence reigns in our city, why we cannot as a people learn the ways of peace. I do know that being a presence of peace on Monday nights, helps at least one small part of the city.  I know it helps me feel that there must be a way, we need the courage to find it. In our walking, hope happens.

Dear God, please keep the people in Linden safe. Help our city, like so many cities, reduce the violence. Help us find a way to end gangs, poverty, lack of opportunity, lack of trust, of compassion, of purpose. Protect our children.   Protect our walkers. Light our path to the way of peace.

Amen.

Click here to view a feature on these weekly walks from WTTE Fox 28. 

Posted in Weekly Word

The Racial Justice Calendar

Sr. Pat Thomas, OP
Blog by Sr. Pat Thomas, OP

At our pre-chapter assembly on July 7, Sister Addie Lorraine Walker SSND, challenged our Sisters and Associates to look more deeply at the elements of racism within ourselves, our congregation, our ministries, our church and so many of the systems which regulate our lives in this country. During one of our breakout sessions, we were asked to discuss and share ideas that could lead to dismantling racism.

Talk about a daunting task! How would I try to dismantle a system that still exists in various forms and situations for over 400 years? Many folks searched deeply to make concrete suggestions and create plans and models. Many became discouraged and acknowledged that the best they felt they could do because of age, infirmities, a lack of knowledge, etc. was to support all efforts by their prayers. That is absolutely fantastic and no small action, because it means the person praying believes in the need for actions.

The resources available to us in publications, online and hard copy, in all sorts of media from movies to TED talks to music, is astounding. We never learned this stuff in school and by now, we all realize that there was much we never heard about that could be called the “sin history” of the United States. There is still plenty to learn, trust me.

For instance, did you know that on this date, July 28, 1917, 10,000 African American men, women, and children marched in the city of New York as a public response to the lynchings and racial violence going on around the country? It has been dubbed “The Negro Silent Protest Parade.” Not a word was spoken as they walked silently down Fifth Avenue. The children led the way and were followed by people carrying a banner that proclaimed “Your Hands Are Full of Blood”.

This is a bit of information that few of us have heard before. It is the kind of information that helps us learn more about the lives of Black people in our country. How did I discover this fact?

The website eji.org has a link to The Racial Justice Calendar. EJI stands for Equal Justice Initiative and has tons of information where one could spend hours just checking it all out, but we do not always have hours to do that. The calendar is a simple tool and could be sent to your daily email to provide another avenue for information, reflection and daily prayer intention.

We don’t have to do major acts to show we care or have an interest in an issue. Small everyday measures can achieve just as much. And we just keep learning!

Posted in Weekly Word

Gossip lives a long time after we say it

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

On July 22, the Church celebrates the feast day of St. Mary Magdalen, a close personal companion and follower of Jesus, and one of the women present at the crucifixion. She is the only person of whom it is reported in all four Gospels, as having been a witness to the resurrection of Jesus.  On that Easter morning, Jesus told Mary to go and tell the apostles that he had risen and thus, she is considered the Apostle to the Apostles. “Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.” (John 20:18) Among Dominicans, she is treasured as the first to preach the Good News of the Risen Jesus.

But most people don’t think of her that way. Mary Magdalene is frequently identified as a prostitute in popular culture, a sinner who was cured of seven demons. Or, it is speculated, that she was possibly the wife of Jesus, if you believe Dan Brown, the author of the provocative novel, The Da Vinci Code.  The book made Mary Magdalene a celebrity a few years ago and made Dan Brown a gazillionaire. I wonder what she thinks of that.

Was it true? Does she deserve the prostitute reputation?  All those depictions of her in paintings as a harlot, an adulterous woman, a sinner — with a mournful pose, bare shoulders, and repentant gaze — is it true? The answer is no. The truth is that Pope St. Gregory the Great, in 591 AD, wrote a homily in which he connected Mary Magdalen’s seven demons as the seven deadly sins, a construct in Gregory’s mind, a useful literary tool to make a point at the time. [In case you don’t know, the seven deadly sins are: wrath (or anger) greed, laziness, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.] Of course, the worse possible sin is lust, the big “S” which stands for sex. Pope Gregory’s words stuck, the damage was done, and it would seem that her reputation would be sealed forever.

For 1400 years she has had a bad reputation. The Gospel reading for Mary Magdalene’s feast on July 22 used to be the story of the repentant sinful woman and her “tagline” was Mary Magdalene, “Penitent”.  Recently, things got a little better. In 1969, the readings for her feast day were changed to the story of her encounter with the Risen Jesus and her commission to “go and tell the disciples”. (John 20:1-2, 11-18). Much better don’t you think?

So what might we learn from Mary Magdalene?

One lesson is that other people are in control of your reputation and by the same token, you are in control of other people’s reputation. So doesn’t it make sense to give someone the benefit of the doubt when you hear gossip or rumors?  Protect the reputation of other people as you want your own reputation to be protected. What we say about other people lives a long time after we say it.

The particular feature and attraction of gossip is the sense of belonging that comes from being knowledgeable about some only a few people share. And belonging is one of the most powerful attractors in the human heart. We all wanted to sit at the cool kids table in school, get picked first for the team, or win the 4H prize.

You might say that Mary Magdalene suffered from a kind of identity theft. What we know of her reputation has been distorted for more than 1400 years.  That’s a long time to wait until you can straighten things out. You and I don’t have that much time, so be careful. When you hear a rumor or sniff some gossip, it may feel cool to be in the in-crowd, to have that secret guilty pleasure in being part of those “who know.”  But think again.   How would you feel about being on the other side of that?

What would you say to Mary Magdalene?

 

Reprised and revised from a 2015 blog

Posted in Weekly Word

So. The Totally. Absolutely. Awesome. Mutating. Word.

Blog by Sr. Janet Schlichting

Lately I’ve been tracking words that seem to come into vogue for a time and pop up in  opinion pieces, commentary, interviews—do you remember “kerfuffle” a couple years back, appropriated by a number of writers and then faded; or “bloviating” as a descriptive of overblown harangues by a public speaker? The one I keep hearing today in TV commentary  is “inflection point”  which really is not about an incident or a new realization.  but has slipped its definition:  a point in an arched curve where the upward arc meets the downward arc. Somebody publicly used it as a description of an important moment and (surprise! )all of a sudden, political commentators are repeating it as it veers into  evolution, saying it authoritatively,  if not accurately. Words and phrases evolve. And then there are the colloquial habits of speech which catch on and don’t go away, like the affirmation, meaning “yes” or the  Yessiest Yes I can muster, “ABSOLUTELY.”

In common speech, there’s the use of LIKE preceding practically any statement, but often in “And it was, like, AWESOME,” or was “like, TOTALLY, wow…, or du-uhh.” Every so often a writer will Do. The. Thing. With. Periods.   And from some generation after mine, the curious practice of starting any explanation with “SO…”

I’m sure you have heard that “Neat “ and “Cool” are now “Sick” or “Dope,” but have  yet to reach  the superlative pinnacle  of AWESOME.

Words are rarely precise and accurate –much of our language arises from metaphor that solidified into definition, and the misconception that they correspond with reality. You have to hold them lightly as you assume they’ll communicate something close to what culture agrees on, a common understanding. Poets delight in using words in new ways, forging fresh and startling images, new meanings, and oh, the poor mystics who were always getting shushed by Precision-Protective  Censors because they were reaching into experiences of the Holy using uncommon or too-common (read sexual) language to describe the indescribable.  Even Catherine of Siena, who plumbed the depths of trinity and humanity in her Dialogue, has a passage in which she confesses, “What shall I say? I shall stutter  A-a, because there is nothing else I know how to say.” (Dialogue 111)

Words, like viruses, mutate. Used for effect, or fun, or just mistakenly, they may catch on, and perform on a larger stage. Families have key words and phrases that are special to them, carrying memories. So do various organizations and societies, with sayings and signs and meanings only they can communicate.

We Dominicans have our precious words and traditions, our mottoes, our pillars, our hymns. In their sharing and repetition they form us as a Family and will in ways surprising and unforeseen carry us to new understandings of ourselves and our mission.  Praise, bless, preach.  Be Peace. Build peace. Preach Peace. Share the fruits of contemplation.

Think of how the word Preaching has widened and deepened for us as Dominican women have claimed the charism. “The Holy Preaching,” the “Pulpit of our lives.” “ Being formed by the Word of God” which challenges and converts us individually and collectively; the Living Word ever new as it permeates us and all creation and is carried and interpreted by us, each with our own imprint and pronunciation.

We come now to the Word Made Flesh, about as far as language can be taken, and its ever-bountiful corollaries that so audaciously name us “The Body of Christ,” and “Words of God.”   By the Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, by the anointing of the Spirit, by participating in the Paschal Mystery, by being fed at the Holy Banquet of Eucharist, we humans are Christened, “ Christed.” We are sacraments and metaphors for the closest bond, the deepest union God can grant us; of Creator and Creation, Lover and Beloved, Speaker and Spoken.  We are an evolving language by which our world moves into a fulfillment we cannot express, a meaning we will ever be reaching for.

Posted in Weekly Word

MARK 6:1-6, 14TH SUNDAY IN OT

Reflection by Sr. Theresa Fox, OP

The people of Jesus’ hometown didn’t believe that Jesus was anyone special. After all they had held him as a baby. They watched him grow up. They had seen him skin his knees and cry when he was hurt. They observed his clumsy attempts to imitate Joseph in his carpenter shop. He was one of them. They were all from the same village – what others called the hick town of Nazareth. They didn’t think of themselves as special. How could Jesus be special?

So they took offense at him. As a result he wasn’t able to perform miracles. The mighty deeds he did in other places did not happen in his hometown. Jesus, himself, was amazed that they didn’t believe in him.

There’s an ancient story about a group of monks. The monastery was not doing well. The buildings were in disrepair. There were few monks left. Each monk worried about what would happen to him. They were so concerned about their own future that there was a lot of friction in the group.

One monk concerned about what was going on in the monastery went to see the spiritual master. The monk told the spiritual master, we are in serious trouble. Our buildings are in disrepair. We are growing old. We are disgruntled. Few monks are joining us. What are we to do? The master told the monk, “One among you is God’s special messenger”, and sent him home.

The monk went back to the monastery and looked around. “One among us is God’s special messenger.” Who? Which one of us is God’s special messenger? He wondered. Is the abbot God’s special messenger? Is it the cook? What about the gardener? No one looked any different. But one of them was God’s special messenger. The spiritual master always told the truth.

The monk began thinking about this wonderful news and he told the others what the spiritual master said. “One among you is God’s special messenger.”

Each monk thought to himself, I need to be careful not to offend God’s special messenger. Now I don’t always want to do what the Abbot says. But what if the Abbot is God’s special messenger. So he tried to be more willing to obey the abbot – just in case that the Abbot was God’s special messenger. Then he looked around and saw the cook. He didn’t always like how the cook prepared the meals and would complain. But what if the cook is God’s special messenger? He started to find ways to compliment the cook.

The monks began to look at each other expectantly. Maybe this one is God’s special messenger. I need to treat that one well – just in case he is God’s special messenger. A reverence grew among them. They began to treat each monk well – just in case that monk was God’s special messenger. People began to come to the monastery because of the spirit they saw among the monks. They helped repair the monastery buildings. Others saw what was happening and wanted to be a part of the group. The monastery grew and flourished. Each day each monk would begin the day by remembering the words of the Master. One among you is God’s special messenger.

Jesus was the one among the people of Nazareth who was God’s special messenger. At the same time each person is God’s special messenger. What about us? Do you, do I, treat each person I meet at God’s special messenger? What would the world be like if we did?

Posted in Weekly Word