Healing Divisions – Building Bridges

Giving Voice is wrapping up the 2017 National Gathering.  Although the gathering has not officially ended, I feel the need to share and get some thoughts out there.  Today especially had some unexpected gifts including a liturgy that moved my heart in profound ways.  As I prepare for vows (3 weeks!), I find myself feeling overwhelmed.  I’m struggling to be in the moment.  The next few weeks have some rich opportunities.  I have found my mind wandering away from the gathering.  I end up needing to gently call myself back to the moment.

The most stark example of this is an idea, a dream, that keeps coming back to me in prayer.  The Holy Spirit seems to be calling this dream forth.  The gift of my peers, my sisters, is an affirmation of my gifts, talents, and ideas.  I only hope that the love they have shown me, is felt by them as well.  The greatest gift of this experience is that the gift of sisters is not limited to sisters in my community.  These inspiring women are passionate in their faith, living the Gospel, and devout.

At times, my discernment has felt lonely.  My experience is one of being the only one discerning with my community.  At times this has felt like a burden.  What about the future of my community?  What about the future of religious life?

Today’s Gospel gave me the reminder I needed, “Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”  This is the reminder that I can trust and rest in God.

So much of the world is divided and polarized.  This weekend reminded me that our unique gifts, our different thoughts, our different paths in Christ are a gift.  Differences don’t have to be divisions!  This is the grace that the world needs.

Let us celebrate our differences.  Let us build bridges.  Let us seek to understand others.

We live in a challenging time.  We can rise to the occasion.  Let our burdens rest in God.  Let us see the best in each other.  Together (not just sisters!) we can heal divisions and build bridges.

Peace and all good!

Dear Olivia: An open letter

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Dear Olivia,

This is an open love letter to you and the ministry I’ve left behind.  I didn’t leave it behind for any bad reason.  I left to answer God’s call to take the next step in my vocation.  The time I spent in youth ministry was the best.  I hope and pray your experience is as joy and grace-filled as mine.  You will learn some important lessons.  As the torch is passed, I hope that you take this beautiful, messy, awesome ministry and take it to the next level- supporting and encouraging as many teens and families as possible in the process.  So here’s some (unsolicited) advice.  Take what’s helpful and ignore the rest (due to tip #1).

Tip #1: Trust Yourself

Intuition is a funny thing.  You can’t really name exactly why something is giving you pause, but you feel it.  TRUST THAT!  Every time, every time, my gut has told me something was “off,” it turned out to be true, even if it was months later. You want to succeed.

Tip #2: Trust the Pastor

Ultimately, he’s the one that has to answer to parishioners, parents, the deanery, the vicariate bishop, and the cardinal.  If he asks you to let something go or asks you to give something more attention, even if it seems annoying, do it.  He wants you to succeed.

Tip #3: Trust the Teens

Give trust freely until they do something to break that trust.  They will push limits and test boundaries, such is the way of adolescents!  When they tell you what they “want,” hear them out.  Make as many things happen as is possible.  If something “fails” there’s lessons for them in that too.  They’re learning, you’re learning, don’t say no unless you need to.  They want you to succeed!

Tip #4: The parishioners are your biggest cheerleaders

They are passionate enough about youth ministry to outline it in the parish plan.  They care about the ministry and you.  They will support you any way they can.  Prayers are as important fundraising.  Engage them, inform them, and enlist them as advocates for the teens and parish in the bigger Church.  The teens of the parish are their most precious resource and they take seriously the gifts and talents that the teens add to the parish.  They want you to succeed!

Tip #5: Network

Your fellow youth ministry directors/coordinators “get” it.  Celebrate with them, commiserate with them.  They want you to succeed!

Tip #6: Paperwork

Do it.  It’s annoying, and for many youth ministry coordinators it’s the most frustrating part of the job.  Take breaks, prioritize relationships, and make sure all your paperwork is in order.  Struggling with it?  Enlist the parish staff to help.  At the very least, they can point you in the right direction.

Tip #7: Stuff Happens

Seriously, you know this.  Everyone knows this.  What people don’t always remember in the moment is that stuff always happens.  Teen accidentally breaks something at a retreat center? Rains on the day scheduled for the car wash? The possibilities are endless.  There are very few problems that can’t be solved and worked out fairly easily and painlessly.

Tip #8: Mistakes Happen

Teens are still learning.  They do something that perhaps wasn’t the best decision?  Give them the opportunity to redeem themselves.  Be gentle with them.  They’re often harder on themselves than you are.  Their parents are often harder on them than you are.  It isn’t the first time they’ve screwed up and it won’t be the last.

You will also make mistakes.  Be gentle with yourself.  Take the lesson with you and leave the negative energy behind you.  If you figure out how to do this, let me know!

Tip #9: Keep Them Safe

I was always a ball of anxiety whenever it came to retreats or mission trips.  The reason?  Someone is trusting me with their most precious thing in the whole world, the thing they would literally die for.  I took that role seriously.  Teens don’t always realize how what they could be doing could be dangerous. “Emily you worry too much.”  When it comes to safety I respond with a firm “no.”  I’ve never had someone complain that no one got hurt. Funny thing about that…

The archdiocese used to have an overnight, all night ski event.  I was lucky that during my tenure there were no injuries.  When we would come back the Pastor would ask, “Emily, how was it?” “It improved my prayer life.”  You only do as much as you can to keep them safe, then you let go.

Tip #10: Love Them

When I asked the first Pastor at my first youth ministry position what his goals for me within the ministry were, he gave me two words, “love them.”  This stays with me every day.  There’s so much in the world that tells everyone that they’re not worthy of love.  Teens cannot be loved too much.  Love them!

Sometimes this is easy, sometimes this is difficult.  The teen that is least likeable is the one that needs love the most.  Acting out? Show them love.  Some love is tough love, but the important word in that is love.  When you show teens love, you’re showing them a glimpse of God.  I’d quote scripture, but you already know it.

In my experience, the teens you will be working with are easy to love.  Affirm them, encourage them, and tell them how loved they are.  The world will tell them the opposite, so remind them of their goodness!

Tip #11: Parents, volunteers, and teens are not your friends.

Remember you are there to meet their needs, not the other way around.  Foster relationships that meet your needs outside of your ministry.  You’re never not the youth ministry coordinator.

At the same time, everyone has ideas.  Some are good, some are good for a different time/place.  All ideas are good ideas.  Not all ideas are practical or able to be implemented.  You will be tempted to please everyone.  It’s not possible, so don’t let it bother you.  If you figure how to do this, let me know!  You will be tempted to prove yourself.  You have nothing to prove.  They chose you.

Tip #12: You can never have enough photos and videos!

I tried to keep this to ten tips and was unsuccessful.  I think they’re all important, so here’s the last of your twelve tips.  You can never have enough photos and videos!  Share as much as possible on social media, the parish website, and in youth ministry newsletters.  Parents and parishioners love it!

When these wonderful human beings move on to college and beyond, you’ll have the memories immortalized.  Love leaves an imprint.  So here’s some imprints from my time in youth ministry:

There’s more on the magic flash drive.  I would check out the Fretus promos and outtakes, mostly just because they’re funny.

So in closing, know everyone is here cheering you on! YOU GOT THIS!

You have the honor, privilege, and grace of serving in one of the most beautiful parishes with some of the most beautiful souls. God has chosen YOU!

The Spirit Choir does the BEST version of this song ^^^.

And remember, climb every mountain.

Need more advice?  There’s a bunch of books on this.  The most helpful? Renewing the Vision.  It’s twenty years old and it’s never led me astray!

I know I’m one of a cacophony of people cheering you on, ready to affirm, encourage, and help.

Peace, love, and all good,

Sister Emily

Did it really happen?

A great conversation I was a part of last week included asking ourselves in the social media age, if there aren’t photos, did it really happen?  So much of what we see and experience is through a screen.  Part of this is the desire to share that experience with others.  I’m very guilty of this.  I have my phone at the ready to capture anything!

For me part of this is a habit from documenting youth ministry adventures and posting them on a Facebook page so parents know what’s happening in real time.  Really, the obsession with documenting everything and posting it online began back in 2004 when I went to Scotland.  Back then I had a brand new digital camera and had to document everything.

 

This is really the shift from film to digital media.  The sheer amount doesn’t matter.  There’s even a feature on those fancy smartphones where you hold down the shutter and it just keeps taking pictures at an insanely rapid speed.  That way you can look through them later and find the perfect one!

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So what about those times when you have such a personal experience you don’t want to photograph it? Or you just don’t want to document every second?  It could be the single most significant moment! If you didn’t photograph it, did it happen?

I recently went on an eight day silent retreat in preparation for vows this summer.  My phone was off.  That also meant that my camera was off.  It was awesome to not have the distraction.  I could just be and be in the moment.  I wasn’t living through the lens of a screen, I was just there.  I am challenged though.  I want to memorialize that time.  I want to remember every detail (thank goodness for journals!).  That time was special and sacred and when it was coming to an end I had a quandary on my hands.  Do I take pictures?

Well, I gave myself permission on one walk to take photos that I would capture another piece of that time.  My journal has the fullness of the experience, but the visual is also important, right?  Since I’m not going to share my journal, I thought I’d share a few pictures from a wonderful spot in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin.

 

So to answer my own question, yes, even if there aren’t pictures it still happened.  Sometimes the experience is so personal that that is all you can share.  One of the minor lessons I learned is that living without the lens of a screen is incredibly freeing.

If possible, I challenge you, like I challenge myself, to be in the moment without a screen attached to the hand. Sure, memorialize what’s important. Just don’t forget to look up and experience the gloriousness of the moment that is now.

The Primacy of Love

Every time I engage in ministry with a new group of teens I am convinced they are not and will never be as awesome as the last group of teens I ministered with and to.  Yet, each time I am so pleasantly surprised.  I was graced to go on a mission trip with a local high school to Franciscans of the Poor in Cincinnati last week.  From Monday-Thursday they worked each day at a different site.  From moving mattresses for hours, to opening and sorting used paint, to going out of their comfort zone to embrace ministry of presence with those experiencing homelessness, to embracing prayer and community together- these teens gave themselves fully to the experience!

I’m not sure why I hear about “kids these days” in a negative tone, EVER.  My experience has and continues to be one of complete awe at their compassion, their desire to do good and bring goodness to the world, and their commitment to learning about and dismantling systemic injustices.

Their hearts and souls are filled with the inexhaustible and urgent primacy of love.  No matter their faith background or practice- they recognize and live this primacy of love.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is love.  Intuitively, they embrace this primacy of love.

At some point, the concept of the blind idealism of the primacy of love gets lost in the busy-ness of life.  The primacy of love, of embracing “the other,” is not blind idealism or impractical.  As Pedro Arrupe, S.J. said, “nothing is more practical than falling in love in a quite absolute way.”

When you hear about “kids these days” I hope and pray that it’s in the positive tone of all they bring to the future full of their love and goodness.

Young people will be faithful to the journey on the road of the primacy of love only with the example and encouragement from all of us just slightly ahead of them (time-wise) on the path.  They need cheerleaders, affirmation, and above all the love they give reflected back to them.

Teens and adults on mission experiences can fall into the trap of service as a source of absolving their conscience and to make themselves feel better about well, themselves! I have found that more often than not, I’ve observed true transformation that the primacy of love leads us to.

With love and gratitude I want to thank the incredible teens I’ve had the honor of serving alongside over the last decade.  They continue to impress me with the incredible adults they become.  Keep on focusing on the primacy of love!!

Oh hey, what would this post be without a few pictures?  I am not including pictures of the teens to honor their privacy.  However, I will share that the wonderful navigator/music coordinator in my car set my wallpaper and lock screen to a car selfie. They are not only hope for the future, but hilarious as well!  This is what happens when you give a teen the passcode to your phone, ha!

Also… here’s a news clip of these awesome teens in action!

Peace, LOVE, and all Good!

And the WORLD united…

If only for a brief moment, the entirety of the world was unified in condemning terrifying tactics, rhetoric, and policy.  January 21, 2017 will stay emblazoned in my memory as a day when people throughout the world said that women’s rights are human rights.  Today I am proud to be an American.  I am proud to have a voice that echoes the voices of my sisters and brothers that will not go silently into the night.  I am energized and motivated to organize and participate in this crazy idea called democracy.  Love is a verb and so is democracy.  I could go on and on, and instead I’ll let the pictures speak.

I am so very blessed to have family that supports, encourages, and stands with me.  They taught me that feminism isn’t a dirty word.  They taught me that feminism is the radical idea that men and women are equal under the law with equal rights and responsibilities.  They taught me that men and women are created in the image and likeness of God.

These two marched in other parts of the country and I’m grateful for their courage and voices adding to the cacophony.

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The parents that brought their children and are teaching them the value of standing up to injustice are my heroes.  The little girl in pigtails could have been me so long ago.

My greatest hope for this global initiative is to state unequivocally that women’s rights are human rights.  This movement throughout the nation and world should speak loudly not only to the current administration, but to governments throughout the world.  Here’s an awesome map. “Participants outside the United States say they are marching in solidarity with American women and standing up for the rights of women in their own countries.”

Keep on keepin’ on!

This Special Snowflake Has Something To Say!

There are a multitude of memes and hateful rhetoric going around that “all those precious, special, little snowflakes are protesting because their candidate didn’t win and now their wittle bitty feelings are hurt.”

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Yea, I’m hurt, and it has nothing to do with America’s failure to elect the first female president.  Did I grow up in a time when “women can do anything?” Yes, yes I did.  Did my father’s encouragement and support that I am just as capable, smart, talented, and even athletic as my male counterparts reinforce this idea? Yes, it did. I also grew up when there were a lot of female firsts.  Anyone remember Eileen Collins? She was the first female commander of a space shuttle.  She’s from a little town called Elmira, NY.  When she returned from her successful mission there was a big celebratory parade planned in my hometown.  What the wikipedia page won’t tell you is that that parade in 1995, when I was 11, was cancelled because she received death threats.  She did speak at this year’s RNC.  She was and continues to be inspirational.  At the same time, there are costs to that inspiration.  Death threats.

For the past eight years there’s been obstruction on multiple levels and a sentiment of “not my president.”  There’s a reason we have a system where supreme court justices are not elected.

I am passionately pro-life.  I also believe that the law (Roe v. Wade) has very little to do with abortion rates.  You can argue and give me all the statistics you want.  I have friends that have had abortions.  I cannot and will not understate the emotional and psychological consequences of those decisions.  Changing the law will not change abortion.  You know what will?   When we welcome life without shame.  We need to support families that have their fourth, fifth, or sixth child.  We need to support teen mothers instead of slut-shaming them.  That support goes beyond birth.  They need a network and community of people that are cheering them on, as well as providing emotional, spiritual, and material support.

Imagine if all of the money, time, and resources spent on changing that law went to supporting women (and families!) faced with challenges leading them to that decision?  That’s what will make a difference in abortion rates.  Abortion should never be a form of birth control.  I also understand the heart-wrenching decisions that some families have to make for the health of the mother.  It ends up being classified as “late term abortion.”  Reality is that if this were not legal, the mother would have died.  Compassion needs to be shown for the unborn AND those faced with horrifying choices.  The article linked above mentions that they consulted not only with physicians, but with their bishop.

I’ve heard and seen people say that if Roe v. Wade is repealed all of this will be worth it.  Well I have some challenges to that statement.  What about the promise to bring back torture like water-boarding and much worse?  What about the promise to appoint a special prosecutor to jail a political rival?  What about the obsession with nuclear weapons and using them?

President-elect Trump has been heavy on promises and light on policy.  Embedded within those promises are hate-speech and rhetoric that has emboldened hate groups.  How is it possible that in 2016 there’s a spike in hate crimes related to the president-elect’s campaign and he has not condemned these attacks?

Do you want to know why there are protests in the streets?  It’s not about our wittle bitty feelings being hurt, it’s about how words have power, and that power right now is being used to inflict harm on minorities.

And what about all this LGBTQ business?  Oppression under the guise of “religious freedom” is STILL OPPRESSION!  The government isn’t forcing churches to start marrying people.  Funny thing about religious freedom, churches can deny marriage to whoever they want for whatever reason.  The rights and privileges enjoyed by straight, married couples are now the same rights and privileges enjoyed by a small percentage of the population that happens to not conform to traditional marriage.  (Which really if we’re looking at “traditional marriage” means men can have multiple wives… So which definition of “traditional marriage” should we use?)

The irony of this president-elect is that vice president-elect, Mike Pence, enacted reforms in Indiana and has indicated that LGBTQ rights will be the first to go (and if you don’t like Huffington Post as a source, here’s an article that’s from July and goes in depth from Time).  More information needed? Here’s CNN.

You want to know what the real assault on traditional families and “family values” is?  Divorce!  It affects way more people.  You know who’s an expert on divorce? President-elect Donald Trump.  This is the first time I’ve seen a presidential campaign spend so little time on the faith of the candidates, especially since there was such great concern that President Obama might be a Muslim.  Newsflash! He’s not.  And if he were, why does that matter?  Religious freedom is one of the cornerstones of our country and constitution.

The real challenge is that this isn’t a reality television show, this is REALITY! It has real consequences for real people.

Need some evidence? Here you go:

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This horrifying incident.

Statistics.

Where is president-elect Trump’s statement condemning these actions?  Where is his speech denouncing these hate-crimes?  This isn’t rhetorical, I’m literally asking, where is it?  This is particularly where silence is violence.  By not condemning these actions, the protests will continue.

There’s a protest planned from the Federal Plaza to Trump Tower next Saturday.  I’m considering attending.  If president-elect Trump will not denounce these crimes, who will stand up for justice? I will.  Will you stand with me?

Here’s a petition you can sign encouraging president-elect Trump to denounce these hate crimes.

Until president-elect Trump actually does something to unify the country, we will continue in this divisive spiral.

So my question is where is the hate coming from?  Here’s a facebook post that shows just how deep it goes…

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Want it to get personal… Here it is.  One of my former teens is quoted as saying, “The results are the results. Suck it up.” Wow.  Suck it up?  The very idea that as a country we’re okay with the rampant hate-crimes and endorsement of misogyny is the very reason why these protests are happening.  The lack of understanding what’s behind the protests is shocking to me.  It’s not about the vote.  It’s about the statements, hate-filled rhetoric, and demonizing that’s gotten us to president-elect Trump.

Last night I watched Judgment at Nuremberg.  It illuminated to me  yet again what happens when we choose silence and just go along with whatever is happening.

Hillary Clinton’s concession speech was simply perfection.  The ultimate sadness though, was that she had to remind young women and girls of their worth.

It’s not that Hillary lost, it’s that hate, misogyny, racism, and inflammatory rhetoric won.  President elect Trump “credited Twitter with helping him win the election, saying it had been more effective than spending campaign money on advertising.

Hillary, to her credit, says we should give president-elect Trump a chance, be open-minded and all that.  Well, okay, I will.  This precious, little, snowflake doesn’t have to like it though.  You know what would help me be open-minded and all that? For president-elect Trump to denounce all the hate-crimes. Again, this is reality, not a reality TV show.

Yesterday I was lamenting how I don’t get to see the stars.  As I was returning from Judgment at Nuremberg, I unlocked the door and looked up.  Rather than seeing one or two dim stars through the light pollution, I saw the Orion constellation.  This was comforting because whenever I felt lost or far from home in the past sixteen years, all I’ve had to do was look up and see that constellation and know what the God of the universe made me, a beloved child of God, and placed me here in this time and place for some specific reasons yet to be revealed.

Let us all remember we are humans of inherent dignity and value.  Let the healing begin, starting with our president-elect.

Peace and all good.

 

How Donald Trump Made Me Afraid Of Tic Tacs

I debated a lot internally about whether or not to share this.  This is a reflection on an experience, which is valid.

Friday, October 7 the news story broke of a now infamous tape with Donald Trump and Billy Bush.  Even though I was at the Arizona border with Mexico, I was not immune to what has become a serious concern about the Republican nominee for President.  That’s not my opinion, that’s simply a fact.

As I boarded a plane from Tucson to Phoenix on Sunday night, all the experiences of the Convergence at the Border were still swirling in my head.  It was a small commuter plane with two seats on either side of the aisle.  I had a window seat (side note:window seats are the best and I try to be in a window seat every flight).  My seat mate was already seated and got up to let me in.  He was a middle aged guy and very little seemed threatening about him… Except the Tic Tacs.

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The video I had seen on the news and in my Facebook newsfeed multiple times included, “I better use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her.”  Now, that’s not directly threatening.  What followed was a description and bragging about sexual assault.

So this gentleman, who by the way is not Donald Trump in any way, was shaking a thing of Tic Tacs and downing several at a time.  This continued as the plane was boarded, as the flight safety information was given, even as we were taxiing out to the runway.  This flight was a short one, for which I am thankful.

The sound of that man shaking a Tic Tac container and downing Tic Tacs, made me anxious.  Why was he doing this? At no point did I think this guy was going to start kissing me, however, that’s what this entrenched sexual violence of our society does to women- it makes us fear the sound of Tic Tacs.

The Tic Tac company even immediately issued a statement found here, denouncing Donald Trump’s statements.

Fear has been a major component to Donald Trump’s campaign. Be afraid- Hillary’s going to take away your guns! Be afraid- Hillary wants open borders! Be afraid- Mexicans are rapists! It doesn’t matter if the statements are true, it’s what his campaign has been peddling from the beginning.

Often in Trump’s debates and speeches regarding the 2nd amendment and reasonable gun control measures, Trump cites the violence in Chicago.  He is totally oblivious to the challenges in Chicago that are in the shadows of Trump Tower, as well as the fact that guns in Chicago are trafficked from the suburbs and Indiana.  This is why common sense, reasonable gun regulations need to be national.  It doesn’t matter what laws Chicago enacts, if we have open roads guns come from all over.

This all brings me to my experience last night.  On a brisk Monday evening (October 24) I met my dear big brother at Palmer House downtown.  I had no idea how swanky it was.  He was hankering for some Chicago deep dish pizza.  We took a nice walk down Michigan Avenue and made our way to Giordano’s.  On the way back we stopped by “The Bean” which I’m proud to say was his first time!  I had an awesome time.

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Being the good big brother he is, he sent the leftover pizza home with me.  I didn’t make it the half block from his hotel to the train station before a homeless man asked for my leftovers.

Just let that sink in for a second.

Less than half a block.

A homeless man asked for my leftovers.

Of course I gave my pizza (which was amazing by the way) to him.  How could I not?

About to walk up the stairs to the train platform, I looked back at the man I shared my pizza with, what was above him? TRUMP of Trump Tower.

No single politician has the magic fix for all the problems that exist in this country.  I just can’t stand the arrogance of a man that uses Chicago in false, manipulative ways to further his personal agenda.  At this point it isn’t the GOP platform, it’s his personal agenda.  Anyone who thinks otherwise is entitled to their opinion, and should look at some of the most glaring gaps in his campaign.

How do we fix Chicago?  How do we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless?  Easy. One person at a time.  Our mayor, our city council, our local politicians, and even our state representatives have the honor and the privilege to serve to meet the needs of this great city.

We need politicians to bring us together, not to continue the dangerous polarization of our society.  There is no more polarizing figure than Donald Trump.  He made me fear Tic Tacs.