Music and the Gospel: “Million Reasons,” Lady Gaga, 3rd Sunday Advent

This week’s Spirit focuses on open-mindedness and communication, on discovering what we have in common with people who hold different beliefs, come from different cultures, and have life experiences unlike our own. We live in a global world with social media and the internet at our fingertips. We need to learn how to build bridges between ourselves and so many kinds of different others. Lady Gaga’s song “Million Reasons” explores the desire to walk away from someone but acknowledges one reason to stay that overcomes all the others: love.
 
Key Lyrics: When I bow down to pray / I try to make the worst seem better / Lord, show me the way / To cut through all his worn out leather / I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away / But baby, I just need one good one, good one / Tell me that you’ll be the good one, good one / Baby, I just need one good one to stay

Questions: When have you been in conflict or felt frustration with someone from a different background? How might you learn what you have in common? How does listening to others’ stories help you better understand them? When has talking led you to change your mind about someone or something?

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Music and the Gospel: “Elastic Heart,” Sia, 5th Sunday of Lent

All relationships start out on a foundation of trust. We have a right to feel safe and secure. If we don’t, the relationship becomes toxic. Breaking trust changes not only how we view ourselves and others, but it can also leave permanent scars. Sometimes we have people we can turn to, people who will support and help us understand what happened. Other times we may be too scared to go to anyone for fear of judgement and blame. However, by dealing with the experience, we can eventually figure out a way to move past it and rebuild our trust in ourselves and others. Sia’s song is about surviving a difficult experience and finding peace within oneself.

Key Lyrics: And I will stay up through the night / Let’s be clear, I won’t close my eyes / And I know that I can survive / I walked through fire to save my life

Questions: When have you experienced betrayal? How did you handle the experience? Did you tell anyone about it? Why or why not? What helped you move on from the experience? How can you use the experience to help others who may be going through the same thing?

 

6th Week of Easter

Photo via Flickr user  Olga Lednichenko

Photo via Flickr user
Olga Lednichenko

“Peace is my gift to you.” – John 14.27

Jesus promises his disciples peace. He sends them on Easter evening to be instruments of his peace and forgiveness as God has sent him. Be an instrument of peace in your family and office.

Look over the day each evening to see how what the Spirit of Christ risen is teaching you.

Prayer of the week: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Seeds of Peace: Faith In Action

This week’s issue of SPIRIT Online features stories of Seeds of Peace Camp, a month-long experience for teens who grow up in countries in conflict.

How does listening to others’ stories rather than debating help resolve conflict? Why doesn’t taking sides help? When has real dialogue changed your mind about a person?

What difference do you think 4,000 Seeds can make in our world?

Radical?

In this week’s Gospel from Luke, Jesus stands up to read at the synagogue on the Sabbath. He unrolls the scroll of the book of the prophet Isaiah that is handed to him and proceeds to read this passage: “The Spirit of the Holy One is upon me; therefore, God has anointed me and sent me to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty for captives, sight to the blind, release to prisoners, to announce a year of favor from God.” With all eyes upon him, Jesus announces, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus is making it clear that he is the anointed one of God, the one who ushers in God’s kingdom in which the poor will receive good news, the captives will be freed, the blind will see, and all will experience the favor of God.

As I read this passage and thought about how it applies to my life, my first inclination was to spiritualize it. Since I do not encounter too many actual poor people or actual captives or actual blind people, I wanted to think about it more metaphorically. Who are the poor in spirit in my life to whom I can proclaim good news? Who are those who are held spiritually captive by challenges they face either from within or outside of themselves and what can I do to help free them? Who are those who are spiritually blind and how might I walk with them toward sight on their spiritual journeys?

Annunciation House Soccer Game of Guests and Volunteers.

Annunciation House Soccer Game of Guests and Volunteers.

But then I read this week’s Spirit magazine article by Cindy Schlosser, who gave two and a half years of her life to live and volunteer at Annunciation House, a home for immigrants and refugees in El Paso, Texas. I also thought of my own sister. After college, she spent a year living in intentional community with other volunteers while working at a shelter for homeless women and their children. A few years later, she spent another year in a poor village in Uruguay, serving the community in multiple ways, from teaching English at the local elementary school to offering yoga classes to doing odd jobs at the church. Cindy and my sister are just two examples of people who have not spiritualized Jesus’ call to his disciples to do the work of justice. Both of them have made radical commitments to serve those who are most marginalized in our society and to advocate for those who are actually, materially poor and actually captive to social systems that keep them in poverty.

And then I think about myself, and I feel a discomfort that I always feel when I encounter the stories of those who live a radical commitment to justice in their lives. It is a discomfort that I try to ignore and try to rationalize away by thinking about all the things I do already to live as a disciple of Christ. What makes me uncomfortable is that I have this sense that God is calling me to be more radical. I have a sense that there is something more that I should be or could be doing.

At times like these, I am reminded of a prayer that is attributed to Saint Augustine: “Dear God, please make me good, just not yet.” Augustine famously struggled with the passions of the flesh and the joys of the world. Like many of us, he enjoyed things that he knew were not good for him, and he wanted to be freed from his desire for these things … just not yet. My version of the prayer goes like this: “Dear God, please make me a radical instrument for your peace and justice, just not yet.” Even though I feel bad, it is the best I can muster for now.

How do you feel or react when you hear stories about people who have made radical commitments to doing God’s work for justice in the world?

To what do you feel God is calling you? How can you proclaim good news to the poor, liberty for captives, sight to the blind, and release to prisoners in your life?

What prayers do you make to God about how you hope God will shape you to be an instrument of God’s justice and peace?

Peace Be with You

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 24:35-48), Jesus utters a seemingly simple greeting upon appearing to his disciples after his resurrection: “Peace be with you.” It is the same salutation we offer to others sitting around us at mass each week for the kiss of peace. Saying “peace be with you” has become such a habit for many of us that we may have stopped thinking about what Jesus has wished for us and what we wish for others. Peace.

My guess is that many of us consider ourselves to be peaceful people and to have peace in our lives. I have never had to suffer through war waged on the soil of my country. I have never used physical violence against anyone or had it used against me. I even feel guilty if I accidentally hit a squirrel while driving, and I always try to take bugs trapped inside my home outdoors instead of squishing the life out of them. Yet the type of peace I allude to here is what some have called “negative peace,” that is, peace that is simply the absence of violence. Of course, negative peace is much better than violence or oppression and as such is an important baseline measurement of peace. But I believe when Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” he is calling us to live into a peace that goes beyond this baseline understanding, a type of peace that can be called positive peace.

Positive peace is a lot more difficult to identify and achieve than negative peace. In fact, given the reality of sin in the world, positive peace is more of a journey than as a destination. Positive peace encompasses positive content and is something we can strive for across the full range of relationships in which we find ourselves: relationship to self; relationship to other individuals; relationships within groups of people, communities, societies; and relationships with the planet on which we live and the other living things that also call this planet home. What might positive peace entail in each of these relationships?

Relationship to self: Peace in relationship to the self involves being kind to yourself; not being overly critical of yourself when you make mistakes; and accepting and respecting who you are, your body, your personality, your spirit. Living in peace with yourself means respecting and treating your body as a temple of God–eating well, exercising, and resting. It involves seeking help for physical, emotional, intellectual, or any other kind of problem you may be struggling with.

Relationship to other individuals: Peace in relationship to others involves actively seeking ways to be kind to others, including offering help if you notice someone needs it. It involves accepting and respecting other people for who they are. It also means working to restore relationships when relationships are challenged by disagreements or misunderstandings.

Relationship to society: Peace in the larger society involves working to help create social systems that serve the needs of everyone, especially the needs of the poor and oppressed. As the bumper sticker says, “If you want peace, work for justice.” (Before this was a bumper sticker, it was the title of Pope Paul VI’s address on Peace Day in 1972.) It also means finding constructive ways to deal with conflicts—be they religious, political, etc. In other words, peace does not mean there is never any conflict. It means that “people are interacting non-violently and are managing their conflict positively—with respectful attention to the legitimate needs and interest of all concerned.” (Quotation from Irenees.net, a website of resources for peace)

Relationship with Earth: This relationship is especially appropriate to reflect on this Earth Day 2012. Human beings have not always treated the earth and the other living things on this planet with the respect due them as part of God’s good creation. Restoring peace in our relationship to the Earth means finding little things we can do every day to lessen our carbon footprint—walk, bike and carpool more; go meatless one or more day a week; and reduce purchasing and purchase products with as little waste in packaging as possible. It also means getting involved in larger projects—like the high school students in this week’s Spirit who started a recycling program at their high school—and advocating for governmental policies that protect the environment.

Go through the four areas of relationship listed above. How can you work for more positive peace in each of these areas in your own life? What is one thing you can do for more peace to be with you this week?

 
Photo courtesy of  Inspire Kelly (Vita Bella) via Creative  Commons License