First Sunday in Advent 2021

What does it take to believe in a promise? In a way, Advent is about believing in a promise, a promise that God has made to us. In today’s readings, Jeremiah speaks of this promise in terms of both security and justice. In his own day, Jeremiah was deeply affected by political events. The leadership of Israel had been sent into exile when the kingdom of Babylonia defeated the Assyrians. Jeremiah hearkens back to the “good old days” of a Davidic king and looks forward to new days when a “shoot” from the Davidic line will rule again. That was his hope for the fulfillment of God’s promise of justice. He believed in the promise and articulated it to God’s people.

Promises are an essential aspect of our everyday lives. We promise to love our spouses “for better and for worse” and to seek their good every day, even as we trust our spouse loves us and is doing the same for us. We promise to pray for loved ones and their intentions, and to be faithful in it. And we believe in the prayers of others who are near and dear to us in our hearts even if they are not always nearby.

We also make implicit promises of our fidelity, as when a mother or father has children and the children know they are always “held” in familial love and can return to it at any time. At our workplaces, we implicitly promise to treat others with respect. We can even see our larger work or church communities as a kind of extended family where there’s a mutual promise of care and serving of one another. Teaching students, for example, happens in the context of a university where we live in a community that promises to cultivate learning and where we all continue to be formed as well as informed.

The world, though, often poses obstacles to this rosy picture of community held together by belief in a promise. Consider the lack of mutual respect between people of different political perspectives when they lose faith that others are as well intentioned as they believe themselves to be. In churches, workplaces, and personal relationships, people can fail to love, and so trust becomes damaged. Even if we don’t live with the direct threat of a political Babylon, we can and should be aware of the genuine injustice that many people face. This Advent, we know the world still doesn’t fully live in a way that expresses care for the dignity of all people and all life. Just read the newspaper.

In that reality, what does believing in God’s promise to come and be with us mean? What does it look like to believe that God saves?

The other readings from today give us clues. The Psalm, Psalm 25, suggests it begins with an interior experience. Whatever Advent is for us, at its heart is an interior preparation. The Psalmist lifts up his soul to the Lord. What does he receive in return? An experience of kindness, guidance, constancy, and friendship. The Psalmist’s advice is simple and uncomplicated: first, we begin by lifting up not only our intentions, but also also our very selves to the Lord. We can begin Advent by offering up ourselves to God and trusting that God will come to fulfill us in the many and diverse ways that God can come to be present to us in prayer—whether in more active ways or in silence itself.

We also see on Jesus a model of what a life of kindness, faithfulness, truthfulness, and justice looks like. Jesus lived in a broken world, and in a world where people (like his own Jewish people) were oppressed. Rome asserted its power repeatedly over the peoples it governed and Herod was exceptionally brutal, killing off those whom he saw as threatening, those who were supposed to be under his care, and even his own children. The model Jesus gives us, one we will see more of in the readings from Luke in the weeks ahead, is one of kindness, courage, and faithful accompaniment of others.

The Gospel reading from Luke 21 counsels vigilance and wakefulness. Wakefulness requires our own activity: being attentive. What is called for in my world, here and now? How am I awake to what a world with hunger, poverty, sadness, or injustice needs right now? How am I open and attentive to how God wants to come to me right now? Do I trust in the goodness of Love and the faithfulness of Promise? If not, can I recollect past experiences of God’s love and kindness to increase my faith and hope?

Vigilance, though, means trusting that God will act, that we don’t do it all ourselves but know God will come in God’s own way to fulfill the promise. God acts in creative and surprising ways—-for example, sending a messenger to a poor, unknown young woman in Galilee. The biggest promise we have is God’s promise of love to us. That love never fades and never ceases to blossom. Let’s enter into Advent with a spirit of kindness, humility, and faithfulness to our own end of promises, trusting that God will act to fulfill our deepest needs.

Pope Francis and the inclusiveness of mission

“At that time, John said to Jesus,
“Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name,
and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.”
Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him.
There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name
who can at the same time speak ill of me.
For whoever is not against us is for us.
Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink
because you belong to Christ,
amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.” (Mk 9:38-43)

This reading from the Gospels as well as the first reading (Numbers 11:25-29) are both about the expansiveness of where God is at work in the world. In the reading from Numbers, we see people acting as prophets because the Spirit descended on them without others seeing it, and an initial rebuke against them for doing so, until Moses says, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”  Then a similar idea re-appears in the reading from Mark, when people drive out demons in Jesus’s name even though they are not among the known followers of Jesus. Jesus says, with great generosity, “whoever is not for us is against us.” Jesus’s main concern is not who is recognized as prophet, or healer, or follower, and who is not (division), but rather his emphasis is on the good that people are doing. Who cares for the thirsty? Who is willing to speak the truth? Who cares for the child? Jesus is mission focused, and rebukes (with kindness) those who are more interested in questions of status.

We see a similar way of being with others with Pope Francis and his visit. Pope Francis has been very focused on asking the Church to do the work of love and justice in the world: to welcome immigrants, to feed those who are hungry, to work for peace, to embrace those at the margins of society. At the September 11th speech, he led a multifaith service in which many religious leaders joined together with him in praying for peace. In speaking about religious liberty in Philadelphia, he said:

“I take this opportunity to thank all those, of whatever religion, who have sought to serve the God of peace by building cities of brotherly love, by caring for our neighbors in need, by defending the dignity of God’s gift of life in all its stages, by defending the cause of the poor and the immigrant. All too often, those most in need of our help are unable to be heard. You are their voice, and many of you have faithfully made their cry heard.”

Here we see his inclusive call for people of many faiths to be called to a common mission. Pope Francis yesterday also spoke about the importance of the laity, and especially the importance of woman both lay and religious, in the life of the church, groups that have often been marginalized in attitudes of clericalism. Last night, Pope Francis spoke about the way that the family is a place where we build love and hope in the world, thus reminding us that it’s not only in public and political spaces, but also in private relationships that God’s work is accomplished.

Pope Francis is inviting us all to be part of God’s mission, with our diverse gifts and talents, to attend to the needs of the poor, to welcome immigrants , to practice peacemaking, to cherish and protect the dignity of every human life, and to forgive and to reconcile. As his visit to the US comes to an end, we are each challenged by his visit to ask : where am I called? How can I serve?

God’s vulnerability and our own

“He began to teach them
that the Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed, and rise after three days.
He spoke this openly.
Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples,
rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the gospel will save it.” (Mk 8: 31-35)

I’ve just returned this week from an interdisciplinary conference on vulnerability. Among the topics discussed was whether God can be vulnerable, or if the vulnerability of Jesus is only one experienced by Jesus in his humanity, but not his divinity. Theologically, there are certain “costs” that go along with any abstract position. If God is not vulnerable, we can preserve the idea that God is completely powerful and perfectly good; the influence of Greek philosophy on Christian theology led many thinkers to say that if God is perfect, he must be incapable of being changed, since he is already in a perfectly good state. But how is that god a god of relationship, one to whom we can pray and with whom we can experience intimacy? However, if God is vulnerable, it seems we must give up the notion that God is completely powerful, and therefore also “in charge” in such a way that all sin and all suffering are redeemed. Process theology conceives of  God as interactive and learning through history, but such a divine being is not necessarily in a position of power to redeem and to save all.

I’m not a professional theologians, but as a specialist in Greek philosophy, I also think that our own Christian theological concepts are limited by the manner in which Greek philosophy understood “perfection.” If perfection means being unaffected by change, that is one idea of what it means to be perfect. But if perfection is a perfection in Love, then many of these difficulties can be differently resolved. What it perfection is a perfection of self-gift and not one of self-sufficiency?

When Jesus tells Peter that he must suffer and die, Peter also rejects this notion, although probably for reasons that are more rooted in Hebrew expectations of a Messiah who will save this world, than in ones stemming from Greek philosophy. Jesus responds, “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Here, Jesus invites Peter to let go of a certain degree of intellectual control in understanding how God acts. Peter cannot abide the idea that God will act in a particular way–one that involves suffering, loss, and humiliation–in order to save, because Peter’s concepts, like those of others around him, assume that salvation and redemption always take place through power, strength, and “getting things right.” Jesus, however, points to God’s action taking place in ways that human beings cannot grasp and cannot fully understand. As one of my colleagues at the conference asserted, we must have a very deep trust in how God acts and how God redeems. Indeed, in Greek, the term for faith and the term for trust are the same (pistis).

We all go through experiences of difficulty or suffering, whether messy relationships, uncertain outcomes to health problems of ourselves or others whom we love, personal losses, questions of meaning and purpose in our personal lives or in the larger political community. When Jesus says, “take up your cross and follow me,” I think we are invited into a deepening of trust in God: although often we do not know how taking up our individual or communal crosses can be a way for God’s action to take place, we can trust that God redeems and saves. None of the disciples knew how God was going to redeem the crucifixion, yet some remained at the foot of the Cross in faithfulness of love.

Through suffering, loss, separation, and confusion, Love endures. Love remains. Love is both vulnerable and strong, a place from which we  give ourselves away and a source of renewal. We can embrace the uncertainty, messiness, and even suffering that life delivers because of this faithful renewal of Love.

New Beginnings

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It’s time to go “back to school” and I’ve met all three of my classes this semester already this week. The campus is full of new life, and with the sunny and warm weather the atmosphere seems especially energetic. There are many smiles on campus, and some apprehensive faces and awkward silences in each new class, too. Everyone has a little anxiety on the first day of classes, so I try to help us past it. The first assignment of a class to have the students introduce themselves to the person sitting right next to them, and soon the class is full of talk and lively again. I know almost no one’s name, and it takes time to learn not only the names but the concerns and hopes of each individual for the semester ahead.

In the Gospel reading for today (Luke 4:38-44), Jesus is also off to a new start. He has been in Galilee, first rejected badly in his own hometown of Nazareth, then ministering to others in Capernaum with greater success. In relatively short space, the gospel shows his ministry growing and growing. It’s as is he needs to leave home and where he has always been “known” for it truly to begin. By the time we arrive at this reading, Luke shows a Jesus whose ministry of healing is so successful that people do not want him to leave. “The crowds went looking for him, and when they came to him, they tried to prevent him from leaving them.” (Luke 4:42). I imagine people offering arguments and reasons to Jesus for why he ought to stay: he is doing so much good among them; he’s beloved there; and there are many more people still in need. But Jesus explains to them that he needs to move on, because his ministry is not for some people only, but for all. The people of Galilee, in essence, have to start thinking about not only their own good, but also the good of the people in Judaea, and the bigger mission that Jesus begins. Jesus invites the community to whom he is speaking—and with whom he clearly has a loving relationships— to understand his own need for freedom. In a way, he is also asking them to participate a little more widely in the greater mission. Eventually, Jesus will be asking some of those same community members, like Peter, to be part of the mission themselves, and they also will have to travel and to leave familiar and secure places, both at a physical and psychological/spiritual levels.

Even though we here in academia do not typically pick up and move our place of ministries, whether teaching or other kinds, we also have our new places because the community of students itself changes. In a sense, “where” I do my work and who is in the community of care is also always shifting, even though I have worked in the same location for seventeen years. There is a gift in the excitement and the newness of it all, as we start to see new possibilities. The same old place seems fresh. And the old relationships that took place on these grounds are here, too, part of the formation of what makes a space into a living “place.” The foundation stone in Gasson Hall was laid long ago, and while the building has recently been renovated and practically sparkles, the history of all the people who have studied, taught, laughed, and cried remains somehow present as well. I’m looking forward to whatever new gifts are headed this way, from just over the horizon.

*photo of view from South Bubble mountain, Acadia National Park, by Marina McCoy

Jesus on reconciliation and community

Jesus said to his disciples:
“If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you,
so that every fact may be established
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church.
If he refuses to listen even to the Church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Amen, I say to you,
whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.” (Mt 18:15-20)

Although this passage at first looks as though it is about correcting a fault in a brother or sister in the church, Jesus’s words speak to me even more about reconciliation. One reason to think so is that the passage specifically concerns what to do if someone has hurt a particular individual, personally. Here the rift is initially between two people. Jesus starts by encouraging communication: if someone has hurt you, it’s a good idea to go to the person and to try to explain why. Listening is also presented as a virtue: if the brother listens, then perhaps reconciliation can already take place. Of course, there is a good chance in any scenario that the hurt is mutual, in which case the person who goes to his brother may himself or herself also have to listen and to receive what the other person has to say.

Jesus also offers a strategy for what to do if the other person won’t listen or is uncommunicative: to seek the support of friends. Certainly I know from female friendships that trying to work things out between two people in conflict sometimes takes place by the actions of others in one’s same group of friends–perhaps a third, mutual friend can offer support to both people and ideas for how to encourage reconciliation. Jesus encourages the care and support of the larger community in cases of a rift or of sinning.

Then Jesus says that if this communicative approach does not work, to treat the other person like a Gentile (non-Jew) or a tax collector. While at first glance, that might look like permission to exclude the person who refuses reconciliation from the larger community, when we consider how Jesus himself treated tax collectors and Gentiles, it means the opposite! This Gospel passage comes from the Gospel according to Matthew, who was himself a tax collector then called by Jesus to be an apostle. In other Gospel passages, Jesus ministers to Samaritans, Gentiles such as the Roman centurion, and other outsiders. So, to treat someone like a tax collector or a Gentile is to continue to love them and to minister to their needs where possible. For example, in a personal rift where another person refuses reconciliation, one can pray for the other’s well being with sincerity of heart. This action of relationship in prayer is also reconciling, if imperfect reconciliation– since it is not yet face to face restoration of friendship and care. Jesus’s words emphasize that we are always to restore relationship where possible: even with that difficult family member or with other members of the community, who are, after all, in Christ also our family.

Daily Bread and Dependence on God

“In the morning a dew lay all about the camp,
and when the dew evaporated, there on the surface of the desert
were fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground.
On seeing it, the Israelites asked one another, “What is this?”
for they did not know what it was.
But Moses told them,
“This is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.” (Exodus 16:12-15)

In this reading from Exodus, the Hebrew people wandering in the desert are still on their way to the promised land. They are grumbling because there is not enough to eat. God listens to their grumbling and provides them with manna that appears on the ground like dew, every morning. Moses instructs them that the Lord provides enough for everyone to have each day but not to save up any for the next day. Some people try to save it anyway, and they find that the manna becomes full of maggots, inedible.

Many interpreters read the period of wandering in the desert as a time that the people are learning to trust and to depend on God again, after years of slavery. When Moses first goes to them in Egypt and says that God has sent him, they ask, What name does this God have, indicating that they are more distant from them since the days of their forefathers and foremothers. The name of being the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the miracles that God performs, are enough to get them to follow Moses into the desert. But they are still not ready to go into the promised land and to live lives wholly in accord with the Lord. Thus a time of wandering in the desert and getting to know the Lord again.

The daily manna is part of their learning process. The people learn their daily dependency on God rather than on themselves. When they try to stockpile up their goods, they may think that they are just being practical—just as many people who try to stockpile wealth also think it’s best kept for the sake of security and safety–and yet this paradoxically only leads to decay. Although the passage does not offer details, I imagine people so concerned to collect manna that they forget to enjoy the gifts of one another, or to be grateful, in striving for “more.”

Jesus is named as the bread of life in John’s gospel. The Eucharist is our daily food, and in a larger sense, so too is learning to depend on the Lord here and now, rather than putting our trust in changeable things. For most of us–we who are not hungry, homeless, or fighting for survival in war–our basic daily needs are already met. Yet many people strive for a sense of even more security. Instead, Jesus encourages us to stay with the here and now. We are encouraged to stay in our relationships of today, to strive to love God and to love one another, rather than to strive for our own security. Love always involves some risk of self, yet it’s how we are called to live, day by day, depending on the Lord in all that we do.

An easy yoke

“Jesus said:
‘Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.’ ” (Mt 11: 28-30)

As long as I can remember, I’ve been a goal oriented person. My mother tells me that even as a baby, I was wakeful when many other babies slept and displayed a kind of intensity of watchfulness. She was not sure what to do with a baby like that, so apparently took me around with her and chatted with me while she chopped carrots, cooked dinner, or did whatever household chores. As a small child, I enjoyed a wide range of pretend/ fantasy play as all children do , but one of my favorite pretend games was to play “work,” which mostly involved sitting at a desk, reading books, and shuffling around some papers. I suppose it was inevitable that I’d become an academic!

It’s a great gift to find work that is often as fulfilling as play. This week I’ve been working on writing a book on Plato and the imagination; re-reading one of my favorite novels (Willa Cather’s My Antonia); and reading through Laudato Si— as well as finding time for some real “play”: running , watching the Red Sox, and playing Texas Hold ’em with my husband, and teen/ adult children. (I always lose.)

One challenge of loving so many different kinds of activities is learning how to discern what to choose, given realistic human limits of time and energy. I care about spending time with family and friends. I care about my work. I also have a real need to carve out space for contemplative prayer and silence by myself for a good chunk of the day. Here, Jesus’ words are helpful to me: lean on me, and find rest for yourselves. Contemplation comes first, and all the rest can follow. When I surrender to God’s presence as the center of all, God’s action in my life also becomes primary. Increasingly, it’s less about what I accomplish and more about trusting that God will accomplish something good in me, something good with my life, as God wants to do with all of our lives. Lean on the Lord. Let go and let God.

Dwelling places for the Holy Spirit

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Today is the Feast of St Thomas the Apostle. The reading for Morning Prayer in the Divine Office is from Ephesians on the topic of being temples of the Lord: “You are stranger and aliens no longer. No, you are fellow citizens of the saints and members of the household of God. You form a building which rises on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is fitted together and takes shape as a holy temple in the Lord; in him you are being built into this temple, to become a dwelling place for God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2: 19-22). The reading fits with the Feast in emphasizing the apostles as foundational and the way in which the Body of Christ extends to the larger church.

This idea of “becoming a dwelling place for God” is especially interesting. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his book To Heal a Fractured World, interprets the Torah by noting an important reversal that takes place: whereas Genesis begins with God creating a world for us, eventually God invites us to build a world for God. Sacks asks the question, what kind of world are we building? Is it the kind in which God could dwell? He then connects back this question to matters of social justice, arguing that God does not alone create a just world, but rather asks that we become a part of building it up through our actions. Not only were people inspired to build a temple in Jerusalem but also to make the world a place that respects holiness and justice.

As Christians, we affirm that Jesus came into a world already broken. God comes into the world as it is with all its sin, mess, and brokenness as well as its goodness and light. Still, the invitation to us is similar in the gift of the Holy Spirit: what kind of world are we building? If we knew Christ were coming again today, would we be ready to receive such a guest?

The reading from Ephesians emphasizes the expansion of the building that constitutes the household of God. Although the prophets and apostles are at the foundation, the building keeps growing. Where does the Holy Spirit work; where is God at play? Not only priests and religious, not only the whole Christian community of God, but also all people of good will. Pope Francis in Laudato Si quotes a Sufi mystic along with a number of Christian mystics; a few commentators (such as Frank Clooney SJ) have already noted the significance of doing so, to cite the inspiration of another faith as grounding for Catholic/ Christian teaching: we can believe that the Spirit is alive and at work in other faiths, too.

Indeed, Laudato Si also encourages us to remember that the non-human world which is like a sister or a brother to us. Or, to use the language of the “cosmic Christ,” Christ’s body extends further than the one that he took on in 1st century Judaism, further than the “body of Christ” in the Eucharist and in the Church’s members, and is a force where God continues to create, in and through all creation, working through all that is: human and non-human. The whole cosmos is the “dwelling place for God in the spirit.” How can we cooperate with Christ’s creativity? How do we treat and cooperate with our brothers and sisters, in whom the Spirit is still alive and at play?

Corpus Christi and Carbing Up: Food for the Hungry

Today my husband and I are running in a 5K road race in our community. Last night I made us a pasta dinner with olive tapenade, since it’s supposed to be good to “carb up” before a race, and I’ve been drinking plenty of water to stay well hydrated. Carbohydrates provide the necessary glycogen to keep a runner from feeling fatigued too quickly, but they take time to get into one’s system, so what’s eaten the day before a race (or for longer races, even several days before a half marathon or marathon) is crucial for performance. Of course, this race is short, shorter than many of my training runs this past six weeks (when the Boston snow finally melted), but who am I to pass up a pasta dinner if it’s required for good health? 😉

Meanwhile, today is the Feast of Corpus Christi, when the Church celebrates the body and blood of Christ and his real presence in the Eucharist. I’m a convert to Catholicism. When people ask me why, I can either tell a long story or provide a one word answer: Eucharist. My initial attraction to the Roman Catholic Church was a surprise to me, and happened rather spontaneously after a friend invited me to lunchtime Mass at work. I initially went as an ecumenical gesture, but found myself attracted to the liturgy of the Mass and slowly falling in love with Jesus in the Eucharist especially. For a long time, I was not sure how this church would fit into my life— I was already deeply invested in another church, and not from a Catholic family —but the attraction grew and became increasingly clear over months and years.

I did not formally convert until several years after that initial inkling of a sense that I might be called to this place but recall months of praying over my decision, and longing to partake in communion, often asking God for the spiritual graces of it long before I could receive it in a physical way. Eventually, the decision was clear. I was in my mid30s when I received my first communion (and confirmation), overjoyed to receive that for which I had longed for, for so long.  Through the years, much has changed, but the attraction of the Eucharist never ceases. Every day, all around the world: there He is, food for the hungry, Bridegroom for the bride.

Partaking of the Eucharist strengthens us, a source of renewal in the face of many challenges. Unity with Christ is desirable as its own good, but it doesn’t stop there. We’re called to Christ into the world with us in our ordinary lives, too. In a way, the feast of the Eucharist is our spiritual “carbing up.” The Body of Christ is present in the Eucharist, but also that which transforms the people of God into the body of Christ. In the Eucharist, we are united with Christ and united with the community of the church, too. Divinity, unity, community all strengthen us for the journey ahead.

Jesus in the temple: driving out consumerism and partisanship

In today’s Gospel reading at Mass, Jesus is driving out those who are buying and selling in the temple area. Many years ago when I prayed this imaginatively, I imagined an open plaza in front of a religious temple in which vendors were selling T shirts, the way that often we find vendors at street festivals or like events. Some of these T shirts had political slogans on them, reflecting divisions in the church over controversial issues of public policy. For me, the T shirts symbolized partisanship of the sort where one’s own identity is found in taking sides, rather than working for genuine dialogue. It’s easy to identify with a particular political group not only because we have thought through a particular issue, but also because it gives us a sense of belonging, or being on the side of the “good guys” in a particular conflict. In my imagined prayer, Jesus threw everybody out–the vendors for being commercial in a place of worship, and the folks in the church wearing the T shirts for seeking partisanship instead of working for unity and community in God.

We live in a commercialized society in which consumerism can often take precedence over concern for just relationships with others. The liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, OP, wrote years ago that it is a mistake to understand development only as economic development.* Perhaps the GNP is rising, and the country as a whole is wealthier than ever, but the gaps between the wealthy and the poor have made it harder than ever for those who are poor. Is that development in its fullest sense? Or a country in which people endlessly consume the newest technology or latest fashion while leaving their neighbors hungry  is not developed in a fully human sense. Several years ago on an immersion trip in Nicaragua, I encountered a great deal of material poverty—which should be remedied—but also a richness in relationships and generosity among community members that is less common in the more individualistic suburban neighborhoods of the US. Many of those who had little shared what they had. “Development” must include the development of just communities in which we work together to ensure the development of individual persons.

In the process of working out the means by which we arrive at this sort of a goal, we have to be careful to avoid falling into those easy divisions between the “good guys” and the “bad guys,” when the temptation in our current political climate is first to blame social ills on the other political party. It’s better to start from a standpoint of greater humility: where am I, my family, my city, or my community needing to live differently in order to live out the Gospel? Or, what do I not know about a particular political problem that eludes my capacity to know how to solve it? “Not knowing” what to do is an uncomfortable state but an important place to be when that stage is realistic with respect to our own limits.

That’s not to say that we will never take sides in political issues, but if our starting point is how the “other” political party is to blame, then it is easy to fall into passive complaining and blaming rather than political or individual action. We also can miss out on how the other side might have a legitimate point to make–for example, maybe it is both the case that a higher minimum wage is needed for full time workers to pay for housing, and a sudden rise in wages would adversely affect inflation. If so, then we can look for creative solutions.

*See, e.g., Gutierrez, Notes on a Theology of Liberation