Two or Three is More than One

In today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, Jesus instructs his disciples in how to deal with someone who has wronged them. First, the wronged individual should speak to the wrongdoer and try to help him see his transgression. If that doesn’t work, one must take a couple of others to help the person see his fault. If that fails, bring the church community to help speak to him. Jesus ends his instruction with words we are all familiar with: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

I resonated with the temptation Kayla McClurg speaks of in her commentary on this passage:

Sometimes, in a blissfully quiet moment, or when we are tired and disappointed in ourselves and others, we hear a sneaky little voice telling us we might be better off attempting this journey alone. We can discern our own callings, read thought-provoking books, join an online community, work on loving humanity while avoiding actual people.

As tempting as that can be, as McClurg reminds, “for better and for worse, we are not alone. We have companions.”

Speaking of Jesus’ instruction, she writes:

Jesus says, I know your community, how obstinate and annoying they can be, how they sometimes speak ill of you and blame you for their own problems. I called all of you together, remember? What I’d like for you to learn is not to puff up like a self-righteous toad, or point out how highly regarded and generally well-liked you are. No, this is the time to practice what I have told you will be your primary work—forgive, and live in peace. First, go right to the source of your pain and say what is bothering you. Who knows, maybe you old scoundrels will hear each other this time. You’ll both have a laugh and be done with it. If you get no response, go again and take one or two others along. If the person who is on the outs with you still won’t listen, go to the entire church membership. Not to prove how right you are, but because this is the group that is committed to forgiving one another as I have forgiven you. Together you share responsibility for finding ways to live together in the bonds of unity and peace.

Did you forget that this is the final goal? Not to make everyone feel better, not to decide who is right and wrong, but to bring back together whatever has come apart—to mend whatever breaks.

An important reminder. We are a community, members of the Body of Christ. And we correct another, not to prove we are right, but because of our commitment to living together in unity and peace; our goal is bring back together what has come apart.

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Radical Discipleship and Community

Last week I happened to be at Mass at my former parish, St. Hubert, where the homily was the first of a five or six part series planned by the pastor, Fr. Rolf, on Radical Discipleship. I went back to St Hubert yesterday to hear the second part of the series (probably the last I’ll be able to catch given my upcoming schedule of talks and retreats).

Fr. Rolf opened by talking about loneliness. While it is natural to have occasional feelings of loneliness, he cited from frightening statistics. The percentage of people who describe themselves as chronically lonely has increased dramatically in recent year. Surveys show marked decline in the number of people gathering with family and friends for meals, in attendance at social clubs and other organizations. The number of people who gather for things like regular card or other games has plummeted.

Yet we are wired for community. Created in the image of a Triune God, we crave nourishment from real contact with others. And while I’m not as critical of online social media, texts, etc as Fr. Rolf sounded in his sermon, I recognize the danger his comments suggest: Virtual communication as a way to stay in touch with people who are not physically proximate is wonderful. But virtual communication as an alternative for face-to-face contact with another is not. (Do we really need to e-mail co-workers who sit two or three offices away from us?)

I think Fr. Rolf is right to talk about community as an aspect of radical discipleship. What are we doing to reach out to others? Particularly those who are new to our workplace, neighborhoods and parishes. But not only them. If you look around, it will not be hard to find people who are lonely, who do not have the nourishing human contact they need to flourish.

As the old commercial used to say: Reach out and touch someone.

“Our” Father and Our Brothers and Sisters

In his homily yesterday morning, Pope Francis focused on the Lord’s Prayer. He reminded his audience that we don’t pray “my Father,” but “our Father,” because “we are not an only child, none of us are”.

In my prayer this morning, I sat with the “Our Father.” I don’t mean the entirety of the prayer, but just those two words. As I repeated them over and over in my mind, I saw a parade of people. The first three that appeared to my mind were a close friend who is a priest, a newer friend who strives to find God, and someone I know who has no room in his life for God. After those three, I saw a stream of people: first, those I know – ranging from those with whom I have a close relationship to those I have more personal difficulty with, then public figures, again some of whom I admire and others of whom I find distasteful; and finally with figures further abroad, both geographically and temporally.

All of them my brothers and sisters. The ones for whom faith matters and the ones with no faith. The ones I like being with and the ones I’d be happy never to be in the same room with. The ones we would all label “good” people and the ones who have lost their way.

Our Father. It means something.

One of the first headlines I saw this morning was in an e-mail (I didn’t even look to see where it came from) and it read “Don’t Work with Jerks.” It may be that the piece accompanying the title had some good information about dealing with co-workers. But I reacted to the title because often “He’s a jerk,” of “She’s a jerk,” is a way of writing of people. I don’t need to bother with him/her because he/she is a jerk.

He/she is our brother or sister. And you wouldn’t so easily write one of your “blood” brothers and sisters off so easily.

Our Father. It means something.

Sharing the Pain as Well as the Gain

Yesterday I picked up my first CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) share box of the summer season with great excitement. We’ve been with the same farm for several years now and I love pick-up day.

We eat a lot of vegetables, so despite the fact that Elena is gone for much of the CSA season, we still get a “Grande” box. It is hard to really characterize yesterday’s box as “Grande.” Even taking account of the fact that it is early in the season (and boxes get fuller every year as we move into the summer), it was more limited than I had hoped.

As anyone in the Twin Cities and surrounding areas knows, however, it has been a very challenging spring. We went from cold (including a snowstorm on April 28) to rain. Lots of rain. Days and days of rain, and very little real sunshine. That makes it awfully difficult to get real growth in the garden.

Purchasing a CSA share means investing in a local farm. We pay a prices for our share upfront without knowing exactly what or how much we’ll get over the season. I have no doubt that each season thus far we’ve made out quite well. But the point is that we go into the season knowing that forces external to our farmers (who work incredibly hard) will affect what we get. If it is a great growing season, we wil get more; if it isn’t, we will get less.

And there is something about that set-up I really like. The idea of not shopping to get the best deal – the most product for the lowest cost. But, rather, partnering with a farm such that we share with them the pain as well as the gain, while nourishing ourselves with healthy organic produce.

And if I didn’t already have enough reason to love my farm, this year they started an Affordable Share Program, in which members and the farm contribute so that lower-income families can purchase shares at a reduced cost.

Have you checked out the CSA farms in your area? To learn more about CSA, see here.

Check it At the Door

When I visit Elena in Appleton, I always end up (usually more than once) at Harmony Cafe, a coffee shop near the Lawrence campus and a good place for conversation.

Posted outside the entrance to the cafe, as well as on an insid wall and on flyers, is Harmony Cafe’s “Check it at the Door Declaration”, which reads:

I believe:
that all people should be valued and appreciated;
that every person is a treasure worthy of dignity & respect;
that diversity in humans is a strength;
that by pre-judging people and by holding biases,
I will miss the beauty within each individual person.

I realize:
that it is natural for people to be uncomfortable with those who are different from themselves,
but I will work to overcome these feelings;
that people have different abilities, appearances, beliefs, ethnicities, experiences and identities,
and I realize that the world is a better place because of these differences.

I pledge:
to be aware of my biases and the ways I pre-judge people;
to try to get to know the person who may look, dress, think or live differently than I do;
to check my biases and my temptations to pre-judge people at the door.

I’m guessing no one thinks that buying a cup of chai or a latte obligates them to the pledge. And it may be that some people don’t ever read it all the way to the end.

But I’m guessing it does make some people stop and read it and that it does make them think, and make them a bit more aware of how they look at others. And it only takes some to heed the words seriously for their behavior to have an effect on others. And if it can have an effect inside of the Cafe, it can have an effect beyond.

Road Kill

Yesterday morning I drove the 300 mile distance between Chanhassen, MN, where we live, and Appleton, Wisconsin, where Elena goes to school. During the four and a half hour drive, I saw approximately 34 dead animals on the road or side of the road. Several raccoons and some smaller animals, but mostly deer. Thirty-four seemed like a high number for a four and a half hour drive, until I read a statistic from the Humane Society of the United States, that over a million animals are killed every day on our roads and highways.

Road kill. Amimals hit by drivers who were not paying sufficient attention to the road to avoid hitting the animals. Perhaps lost in thought. Perhaps talking on the cell phone. Perhaps caught up in the music on the radio. But not aware enough to avoid hitting something and killing or maiming it. (Doubtless, I overstate: Many times drivers try very hard to avoid hitting a deer on the road and are simply unable to do so.)

As I drove along, the thought that emerged as I passed two young deer lying next to each other on the median, was: we all have road kill. People we affirmatively injure in one way or another or fail to help by our inattentiveness.

Perhaps we are too preoccupied with our own thoughts to notice someone in need. Perhaps so concerned with our own plan and way of doing something that we neglect the contributions of others. Perhaps so impatient with ourselves about something that we respond in a hurtful way to another. You get my drift – and can doubtless spin out plenty more “perhaps”s of your own.

Who are our road kill? And do we leave them on the side of the road for someone else to pick up, or do we do something about it?

Contemplative Conversation

Yesterday morning I attended a program at Sacred Ground (one of their monthly development programs aimed primarily at spiritual directors) presented by Diane Millis on Contemplative Conversations: Accompanying Adults in the First Half of Life. Given the spiritual formation work I do with law students, the topic is one of great interest to me, and Millis (founder and director of the Journey Conversations Project and author of Conversation: The Sacred Art) has been working with young people for a long time.

Much of what Diane talked about, particularly with respect to how we listen and respond to each other has broad application. In any of the communities of which we are a part, we can learn to listen more compassionately and respond to each other more contemplatively.

Often, when someone shares something with us, particularly if they are in a discerning phase, our approach is to respond with statements – assertions, analysis, advise. We could help the other far more by asking evocative, contemplative questions designed to evoke deeper reflection in the other person.

One of the things Diane talked about (familiar to all with training as a spiritual director or in other listening professions) is the difference between conventional questions and contemplative questions. Conventional questions seek information, while contemplative questions nurture the other’s awareness. The former restricts avenues of exploration, the latter expands the arena of exploration. The former elicits a rehearsed response, the latter evokes reflection. The forme may or may not resonate with a person’a experience, the latter usually does.

Consider the difference between asking a child “What happened in school today?” (which, when my daughter was young, usually elicited “Nothing” as a response) and “What was the best thing about your day today?”

Or between asking a recent graduate, “What are you going to do now?” and “What is your passion?”

Training ourselves to ask contemplative questions of each other, rather than seeking to answer each other’s questions gives us a deeper way to be present to each other.