Journaling hope: The church and its people organizing for change

"After a long few weeks, I remember where I have been and who I have walked with." (Aaron Burden/Unsplash.com)

After a long few weeks, I remember where I have been and who I have walked with. The litany of saints paraded through my heart. "This is Easter joy," I thought -- a little confusion, a little courage, caught by surprise, but feeling quite deeply the presence of the spirit in these relationships. "This is Easter joy."

Let me give you a peek into my past few weeks:

Monday through Wednesday: I spent time with directors of service learning programs at Jesuit high schools. Thanks to the Jesuit Schools Network, this collection of professionals gathers every four years to learn, share, and plan. We considered how educators teach their students how to love. We talked about the difference of completing a requirement of hours in order to graduate versus a true formation program that would invite young people to participate in encounters that would transform their lives and in turn, transform their communities. We reflected on how we teach students to analyze their realities and use the spiritual exercises as a framework to understand the deeper movements of the Spirit. We were intrigued by friendships and acts of solidarity that can be made along the border through the Kino Border Initiative as well as around the world through the Jesuit Refugee Services.

On Wednesday, we spent an afternoon with a number of parishioners and organizers at Our Lady of Guadalupe, a third generation Mexican-American church in San Antonio, Texas, whose presence stabilizes the community and serves as a beacon of hope and good will. We learned how a group of empowered citizens can interrupt a system that does not benefit them or their families. In fact, these empowered persons create a new story: Community Organizing Public Service began in 1974 in this parish community.

On Thursday, 17 students and staff from my Catholic school joined approximately 700 staff and students at Sacred Heart Preparatory Atherton for a day-long social justice teach-in. We explored the intersection of race and the criminal justice system, and breakout sessions ranged from presentations on restorative justice programs to learning what detention means for a person without documentation. We listened to Jennifer Eberhardt, a Stanford University professor of psychology whose research is on race and inequality, who set the tone with information about implicit bias. My students and colleagues were energized and filled with hope that, although the world is difficult, there are people willing to talk with one another and destroy a system that no longer values human dignity.

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That evening, I dove into a conversation with approximately 40 members and friends of the Ignatian Family, considering the pope's example of mercy. Hosted at St. Agnes Church in San Francisco and sponsored by the Jesuit Volunteers Corps and the Ignatian Solidarity Network, we considered how Pope Francis' invitation to a Year of Mercy has been both wonderful and incomplete. We, as a church, have much to do to be more inclusive, but at least, we are on the way together.

The following Tuesday, I sat in St. Peter Catholic Church's convent (now parish hall) with approximately 35 other community leaders in the Mission District of San Francisco for a PICO leadership training. (PICO stands for People Improving Communities through Organizing.) In Spanish we considered what kind of poder, or power (both our own that needs to be mined and the power we access when we are united) we had as the laity of the church to be able to organize -- unbind ourselves as we unbind one another from the bonds of injustice, discrimination, and inequality. People took courage to live out their faith in a way that was filled with love, reconciliation, and hope. We remembered how God wants good things for us and that we place our trust in this loving and caring God. Our voices help others to grow in courage to be able to live out Gospel values of speaking truth to power, serving others hospitably, and reaching out to another and being willing to enter into their chaos.

As I draw the constellation of where I've been recently, I begin to recognize where God continues to be in this world -- at the margins, at the very edges of communities, practically unrecognizable due to lack of status or prestige.

Time and time again, God and the story and life of God's child, Jesus, invites us to come to terms with how we are to conduct ourselves as people of faith, hope, and love. Fr. Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries fame writes, "Jesus chose a oneness in kinship and a willingness to live in others' hearts. Jesus was not a man for others. He was one with others. There is a world of difference in that. Jesus didn't seek the rights of lepers. He touched the leper even before he got around to curing him. He didn't champion the cause of the outcast. He was the outcast. He didn't fight for improved conditions for the prisoner. He simply said, 'I was in prison.'"

I wonder how I can continue to choose oneness. Some people would even ask how we can all gain "at-one-ment." I sense a willingness to live in others' hearts as Jesus did ... this is Easter joy.

I share this to offer us hope in a very broken world and church. Lest we fall prey to the dominant narratives of power over which leads to destruction, let us remind ourselves to always choose life, life in its fullness.

May we all be open to God acting in our lives to change and conform our minds and hearts to God's dream for the world. May we grow to be change-makers alongside one another where the value of each life is placed at the center of our families, communities, and systems. I pray for the courage and the grace to continue to live out our Christian vocation to "love one another as God as loved us."

* An earlier version of this story stated that Community Organizing Public Service was founded in 1971.

[Jocelyn A. Sideco is a retreat leader, spiritual director and innovative minister who specializes in mission-centered ministry. She teaches bioethics, feminist theology, Christian sexuality, and Christian Scriptures at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif. Visit her online ecumenical ministry, In Good Company, at contemplativecompanions.org. Her email address is jocelyn@ingoodcompany.net.co.]

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