Racism is still with us; it just has a different look

The city of Sanford, Fla. had already contributed a paragraph to the narrative of race relations in America decades before Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman were born. Jackie Robinson, in the midst of his long and difficult path to breaking baseball’s color barrier, was booted from the ballpark in Sanford for the offense of being a black man in a white stadium. As a local historian puts it:

“While playing in Sanford, Florida, Robinson singled, stole second base, then scored a hit run only to find the Sheriff waiting on him in the dugout with handcuffs. He was removed from the game.”

jackie-robinson

Jackie Robinson (LOOK Magazine)

67 years later, Sanford is a much different place. Formerly a steamboat port dependent on the citrus trade, it is now a cosmopolitan bedroom community for Orlando, which sits 20 miles to the south. Sanford is not quite the Southern hamlet it once was, as U.S. 17/92 now bypasses the quaint downtown area to get tourists to the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens or to the southern terminus of Amtrak’s Auto Train. Interstate 4 carries thousands of daily commuters within a half-mile of the Twin Lakes gated community where the Martin shooting took place.

I do not know whether or not George Zimmerman suspected, accosted and shot Trayvon Martin because he was black. The words that pundits have spoken, written and yelled before, during and after the trial have been based on speculation. Zimmerman himself is the only one alive who really knows what happened. Those who were convinced of his guilt before the trial are angry that he was acquitted. Those who were convinced of his innocence before the trial feel vindicated.

Regardless of Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence, the trial has exposed what blacks in America have known all this time: racism is alive and well in this country. We cannot dance around the issue any more.

Americans make the mistake of identifying racism as a personality trait, creating an imaginary dichotomy between those who are “racist” and those who are “not racist.” Being called a racist angers people because they take it mean that they are being lumped together with Nazis, Klan members and other undesirables. However, identifying racism as a trait not only creates labels (which is kind of how we got to racism in the first place), but it also misses the point. Missing from the racism debate is the very Christian notion that it is not “racists” who are bad, but racist thoughts and actions.

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Blessed are the apologeticists; the Kingdom of Catholic Media belongs to them (The Badattitudes)

This post is the first in a series I’m calling The Badattitudes, which are Beatitudes that did not make the cut at the Sermon on the Mount, but are followed as though they were.

I know what you’re thinking. “Apologeticists” is not a real word; I meant to say “apologists,” right? Just bear with me.

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A young nun’s response to “For These Young Nuns, Habits Are The New Radical”

I am fascinated by how the season of Advent/Christmas tends to be a time when the secular media tells stories about how people live their faith. Sometimes it makes me sigh out, “Hey! We don’t just do this faith thing on holidays!  How about some Truth during ordinary times?”

Nonetheless, I appreciate the attention, especially when the stories focus on how our generation keeps the good faith.  Yesterday I was able to catch a story on NPR’s “All Things Considered” called “For These Young Nuns, Habits Are The Radical.” The story gives nine minutes of good attention to a lively congregation, the Nashville Dominicans, who have many new, young members.  Please listen to the story, and tell me what you think.  It’s a conversation worth having for all of us who desire to discern how we are each called to live the gospel radically in our own ways.

I really loved the story.  Everything that was described and stated resonated with my own reasons for becoming a young nun.

My only disappointment is that the story failed to mention that communities like mine are still receiving new young members.  Although we don’t come in as crowds, we count.

While I was discerning the sisterhood in college, some of my friends recommended the Nashville Dominicans to me.   I remember requesting materials and considering them. I also remember being attracted to some things about their life, like how many new young members they have.  I don’t remember why for sure, but I decided to eliminate them from my list of possible communities.  Afterwards, I joined my community.

Today I have no doubts that God called me directly to my community, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.  I am very confident that I am right where I need to be and living the way that God needs me to.  I am grateful and honored to be a member of a holy community of praying, steadfast women of social justice and service.  I am inspired by the wisdom of my elder sisters and the actions of my peers.  I believe that the light that comes out of the adoration chapel in our motherhouse energizes the globe with peace and healing.  We don’t look too traditional, but our motto, “modern lives, sacred traditions”, rings true.

I believe I belong with the FSPA because I fit in, and they support all that I am about. Without having met the Nashville Dominicans I can’t really be sure, but I suspect that they are more concerned with being faithful to the magisterium and upholding church doctrine than I am.  I can’t say that I am not concerned with those things; I believe that it is the call of some parts of the church to do that work.

I have never felt called to dissent against the church.  I do feel called to challenge, however.

As I challenge, I am inspired by the courage and the approach of some of my favorite church reformers: St. Francis of Assisi, St. Clare of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, and Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA.  With great reverence and deep connection to God, all four of these holy disciples stood before church authority and asked for changes.  They pointed to the gospel of inclusivity and stirred the hearts of the powerful.  They stood for and with the powerless.  They prayed, and the changes began.

The reformers of the past have taught me that it is important to ask questions.  We are a church defined by conscience, so we must always offer safe spaces to authentically discern the ways that the Spirit uniquely tugs at our hearts.  As we keep our faith let’s remember that the reign of God in its fullness is unlike anything we have ever seen or experienced before, it’s much better.  I am pretty sure that God’s dreams for us will only come true if we remain open.

I love the diversity within our church.  I am grateful for the witness of the Nashville Dominicans and communities like theirs.  Nonetheless, I don’t think my own gospel witness is any less valid.  The division in our church is very painful and slows us from showing our love.  I scramble for more ways to commune with all types of Catholics, and I want to build bridges.  I believe we need to be diverse because it enriches us, and I pray that we can love and listen to each other through our differences.

I celebrate Christian diversity as Christmas comes closer.  As I sing songs of hope, I am moved to make a proclamation:

Dear journalists who love stories about young nuns,  I hope you’ll notice me too.  I am 29 and I am also a young nun.  I don’t wear a habit and I don’t go to mass at 5:30 in the morning, but I go as often as I can.  I love the pope and I love my gay brothers and sisters.  I pray a lot and I serve the poor. I witness the gospel through my ministries of teaching and writing.  I love Jesus and I proclaim the Truth.  There’s other sisters like me too, and we are also radical. Thank you.  God bless you, Sister Julia

Originally from Northeast Iowa, Sister Julia is a  Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, based in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  Her love for God and God’s good world is manifested in her attempts to be an educator, a youth empower-er, an earth lover, and a peacemaker.  She ministers at an inner-city Catholic high school in Chicago.
Sister Julia blogs at http://messyjesusbusiness.wordpress.com/ and https://youngadultcatholics-blog.com/.

Wide White Margins, And A Few Words

On the days when I particularly overwhelmed–when I am convinced that any reform in my church will require at least 10 million perfect words, when I am sure that nothing I can think or say or write will ever make any difference, when I am tempted to think that the countless number of books in Harvard’s theological library may actually make so little an imprint on the world–on these days you will probably find me cross-legged on the floor of the Harvard Bookstore.  I will be hunched over barren pages held together by thin bindings in the poetry aisle. Their words belong to people that most people do not know, people I do not know.

I don’t just come for the poems; I come for all the white space that fills these poetry books.  The white space actually comforts me more, I think, reminding me  of two things:  First, reminding me of the arduous silence–all the wordless thinking–that accompanied very worthwhile word I have ever written.  Wordlessness can be precious and productive in its own ways.  Second, reminding me that I do not need to say everything–I do not need to say everything–only a few beautiful, dangerous, honest-to-God, true things.  Poems are so captivating because they say so much with so little.

I am so little, and I want to say something worth so much.

Jessica Coblentz is currently studying at Harvard Divinity School where she is pursuing a Master’s degree in theology.  Find this post, along with her other online writings, at www.jessicacoblentz.com.

A Contemporary Pilgrim’s “Progress”?

Recently, for the first time ever, I read the English theological classic Pilgrim’s Progress.  The book, presented as an allegorical dream experienced by the author, follows the protagonist, Christian, in his journey to the gates of the Celestial City.  Along the straight and narrow way, he encounters numerous characters who personify various virtues and vices that one commonly comes across in life’s journey—folks like Hypocrisy, Patience, Hopeful, Ignorance, to name a few.  Time and time again, these characters distract or encourage him along the pilgrimage, but in the end Christian preserves nonetheless.

While it is a brilliant, multi-layered text that presents a reader with plenty to ponder, the book’s title and even the simplest consideration of the allegory inevitably begs one to consider: What counts as progress in Christian life?  What is the ends toward which a Christian should progress?  How can one tell if he/she is making progress?  Continue reading

A Muslim Woman in the Pews

As a college student I often slipped into the refuge of the campus’s large Mission church for a few moments of quiet during the middle of the school day. After entering the sanctuary through the rear doors on one particular occasion, I saw a Muslim woman in hijab sitting in one of the distant pews near the front altar. “That’s great,” I thought to myself, “I am glad that people of all faiths feel welcome in the space.”  Although it was a Catholic university, it was not uncommon to encounter students of various faith traditions, especially Muslim students. Furthermore, the school’s location in California’s Silicon Valley meant that the communities around the school were rich with religious diversity.  Perhaps this was a local community member who slipped in the Mission on a mid-day walk.

As I walked further into the church, however, I realized that this was not a veiled Muslim woman, but rather a rosary-praying Catholic wearing a mantilla, a type of veiling worn by the women of my faith during the pre-Vatican II era when the institution required us to cover our heads. While my initial assumption about the faith of this woman made sense in context–veiled Muslim students heavily out-weighed the mantilla-wearing Catholic population at the university–I was embarrassed. My reaction suddenly seemed incredibly shallow.   Continue reading