This is my speech for the commencement at the Seminary of the Southwest.
This is my speech for the commencement at the Seminary of the Southwest.
We will always be busy, but if we have our eyes on the long-term goal of being faithful and the short-term goal of making time for God, everything else will fall into place.
Love Heals, Chapter 13
Recently, I was sitting in the airport, and the departure board flashed the saddest word of all:
"Delayed." Nothing else in my day was delayed but the flight. Not the speech, the board meeting or my son's game I was hoping to catch. So I found myself officially in a bad mood. The irritation caused by that word coursed through my blood stream and transformed into stress, then irritation, then self loathing! "Why do I feel so bitchy?"
As I was trying to get my feelings out & reflect, I had a thought about what it meant that I was typing into my phone to tell the people waiting the whole plan has gone to hell. This feeling and snippy texts are not who I am or how I want to live. I want to be peaceful and kind.
So I told myself to hear the word "delay" differently. I set about to reinterpret the words "flight delayed" to mean "free time to practice a bit of yoga and breath." I didn't know if I could do it, but I was determined.
"Flight delayed"...Breath in and Stretch right...
"Flight delayed"...Breath out and stretch left...
"Flight delayed"...Breath in and bend back...
"Flight delayed" ...Breath out and touch my toes...
I made myself repeat and repeat this until I was no longer glued to the monitors, no longer hating airlines, no longer feeling so lonely that I could cry if i let myself.
"Flight delayed"...All is well, All is well, All is well.
While it was still dark, I walked into St. Augustine’s Chapel Ash Wednesday. “A Peace that Passes Understanding” was the communal reflection for the Lenten season, and so I wanted to begin Ash Wednesday in silence before the first folks arrived for ashes at 7. All of a sudden I was jolted as I heard yelling in the fellowship hall. Two young men who participate in the overnight young adult homeless program at our chapel were in an argument that was escalating quickly. Within seconds, one of the young men picked up a big baptismal bowl sitting on the altar and hurled it into the wall smashing it. Tables were overturned and chairs were launched. In the few minutes it took to separate them and regain peace, everyone in the chapel was visibly shaken. a small glimpse into what must be experienced by groups following the wake of sudden violence was opened up a crack.
That disturbing outburst was a reminder of how fragile peace can be. It was a powerful lesson in how the violence of poverty, racism, trauma, mental health, and fear are poised to tear through any of the false walls we believe peace builds to shield us from the truth. Peace does pass our understanding. Our fragile and finite minds cannot grasp the depth and hope of peace that keeps our hearts in the knowledge and love of God. The peace that passes our understanding isn’t an idealistic quiet mountaintop setting; it is the peace in the midst of a wilderness of tables overturned in the temple, of disciples bearing crosses, and in the midst of loving in the face of violence and oppression. The peace that passes our understanding is a proclamation of faith as we strive for justice grounded in love. The peace that passes our understanding is what carries us through the wilderness with courage, humility, and direction.
The only writing I have from my father, who was an episcopal priest and died when I was five, speaks powerfully about such a peace. The writing is simply a tiny slip of paper that fell out of his prayer book that my mom gave me at my ordination. On that piece of paper are written the words, “In the shadow of his cross may your soul find rest.” In other words, while in the midst of our struggle, may you find peace. My father’s words remind me that the great peace of Easter begins on Good Friday—in the shadow of the cross.
It was in the shadow of the cross where the disciples witness Jesus’s faith and forgiveness. There must have been a deep peace that surpassed her understanding that grounded Mary Magdalene and John to face the uncertainty, fear, and potential violence. While she was still living in the shadow of the cross that Easter morning, she was steady enough to gather the herbs and begin the journey. She headed out prepared to anoint a dead body, not because she thought he was risen. But in the face of injustice, oppression, violence, she was willing to confront the soldiers with her meager offering to anoint the body.
The story of the Resurrection begins with the words, “While it was still dark….” The shadows of the cross were long as the sun was just rising on Jerusalem that Sabbath as Mary heads out with grief guiding her to the body. And that single act of faithfulness is enough to carry her with a peace that passes understanding to the source of love.
The peace that passes understanding leads her through despair, leads her to brush aside fear, and to hold onto love. The shadows of the Crucifixion became the grounding of a deep peace that changed the world. And that story is powerful enough to unravel all the upheaval, violence, and fear that keep us from experiencing peace.
It sustains Mary through meeting angels and feeling the earth shake. It catches her when she falls at the feet of love resurrected. That peace is strong enough for all of that--to lead her to be the first preacher and to offer generations to proclaim peace in our own times of struggle.
During this season, I have glimpsed at such peace that underlies the story of Easter—that peace is our deepest truth. A couple of weeks ago I spoke at a large healthcare company conference about resiliency and women’s leadership. When I finished speaking, I invited two of the powerful women graduates of Thistle Farms to join me on stage and talk about what gives them strength and how they experience healing. We were sitting on three, big oversized chairs with individual mikes like a living room. As the first graduate spoke, tears began to pour down her face. I did not know it at the time, but she was going through a difficult personal tragedy.
To the executives and overachieving workforce, she said, “I have no words right now, but I know I need to show up and keep the faith.” She described how in the midst of the chaos she was in, she could trust herself and the community and keep going. Her strength, her tears, her faithfulness were the living embodiment of how we can live into this deep and abiding peace. She was the truth that when we can walk and live in peace, we can have a clearer memory, more strength, and the freedom to weep. There was such grace and truth in her witness, that the executives sitting in that room wept with her. They recognized themselves in her, and she showed them how in the midst of life that can be unfair, hard, and frightening, peace can give us courage. She, like Magdalene herself, invites us to the truth of peace, the strength of peace, and the freedom of peace, even if we don’t understand it.
Today is the day to proclaim peace as a statement of faith. We don’t have to wait for the mountaintop. We can proclaim it in the valley. We don’t have to wait to proclaim it in the courtroom. We can proclaim it on the streets. We don’t have to wait until the paths are straight. We can proclaim meandering it in the desert.
That peace, offered by the Prince of Peace, even in the face of trauma, broken hearts, and shattered baptismal bowls, is enough to keep us going. We are sons and daughters of peace. Peace has been etched on prayer cloths for centuries across the world and in our hearts. We are surrounded by peace and given it as the first sign of the Holy Spirit who breathes it into us. That is the ancient hope that carries us to love. The Easter story preaches to each of us that when we keep believing in peace, it carries us beyond grief. The stone has rolled, the shroud has fallen and we are free. We can proclaim peace with all those we love who have died and live on in love and the memory of God. Peace carries us through the wilderness to the garden. All we grieve is still a part of us and all our hopes are not in vain. It’s not hard to imagine Magdalene, graduates of Thistle Farms, you, me, or a young man that smashes a primal element in the sanctuary—searching for peace with such longing that we search for life in a tomb. With just a glimpse of love’s fragile truth we can proclaim peace in the shadow of our crosses and live into the hope fashioned on the first morning of creation. We can be at peace in the truth that love lives. Such deep peace allows us to make our song at our own Easter morning, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”
The week before Easter is called Holy Week in the Christian tradition. It's a time to mark both love's sacrifice and healing. We don't focus on love being victorious, but on love's humility, courage, and compassion. This is love's crowning moment. And, there may not be a better week to remember the mission of Thistle Farms and recommit to this sacred work. The mission and our whole extended community is strong, and when we lean into our fears, our pettiness, or our addictions, we are not celebrating love's amazing potential. So I propose another way.
This Holy Week I invite Thistle Farms and everyone who loves Thistle Farms to do the following...
Monday: Drink a cup of tea and imagine someone you would like to share a cup of healing with.
Tuesday: Say something really encouraging and positive to those you work with to encourage them.
Wednesday: Anoint yourself with a healing oil and remember you are love.
Thursday: Fast for a meal or two and pray for the whole world---its people, its needs, the women coming out of jail or off the streets or anywhere we can serve in this world.
Friday: Light a candle and ask forgiveness for the times we have not stood for love. When we have gossiped about our neighbors or not celebrated the love that lives in us.
Saturday: Take a break from all social media and listen to your own voice
Sunday: Eat and celebrate all day!
I was recently given the assignment to interview one of the amazing survivor leaders at Thistle Farms, and I am so grateful to be able to help share her words here on the Boss' blog. I know you'll love Ty as much as I/we do. #loveheals
"My favorite Thistle Farms product has always been the candle, and it will always be the candle. Everyday in the Circle, we light the candle for the woman who's still out there suffering in hope that they would find their way home. And I know now that someone lit the candle for me, for years before I ever made it to Thistle Farms."
--Ty, 2015 Graduate & Survivor Leader
If you've ever met Ty, you know her choosing something that provides light as her favorite product isn't a surprise. Her smile and kind spirit brighten the day for everyone she encounters. Employed as a Manufacturing Manager, her tasks range from inventorying products and assigning projects based on needs for the day to different team members, training new women, and getting in the mix herself as well whenever she can. So, whenever you purchase our products, you're taking something with you that carries the light women like Ty infuse into everything they make.
Ty describes her experience of being a Magdalene resident, graduate & survivor-leader as a gift beyond words. "In the beginning it gave me time to rest, to get myself together physically, mentally and emotionally. It also gave me hope, as well as helping me financially and giving me the resources I needed to take care of myself and my family," she says. Now that her experience has come full circle, Ty thinks it's "a thrill every time I see a new woman come through the door and knowing that they will receive the same blessings that I received."
Holding "love for every single woman on the team," she is also thrilled to be part of all the expansions and growth that her department has seen through the last few years. Ty explains, "Since I've been in Manufacturing, we've added 7 new machines, including equipment that allows us to pour up to 1500 candles a day if needed, as opposed to doing 100 just by hand." In other words, production is great, and the team and their capacities "are growing everyday."
For everyone who has supported Thistle Farms and helped make healing journeys like Ty's possible, she offers a sincere and heartfelt thank you: "Our supporters and all their contributions are changing lives. It allows us to buy new machinery and provide new employment opportunities. It allows us to bring in new women to the residential program. The love from our community partners and friends is just a blessing all around."
Abi, the Director of Thistle Farms Global, just returned from the Syrian Refugee Camp in Ritsona, Greece, where the women of The Welcome Project are still leading with strength, grace, and hope in the midst of seemingly impossible circumstances. Abi returned with stories of hardships, both new and old, and more importantly, women overcoming them.
In that spirit, the following is guest blog that was written by Thaura that was originally posted on I AM YOU’s Instagram. She is a survivor of war, the violence of poverty, and vulnerability of homelessness. What a gift to be able to share her story here.
As Thaura writes about wanting things that so many of us take for granted—warm running water, the means to cook nourishing food for her family, and the longing to be reunited with the country and people that she loves—may her words inspire all of us to continue our work to love the whole world, one person at a time…
A Mother's Story
When we first came to Ritsona, there was only cold water. We lived in tents, and all the people in the refugee camp shared a few showers, where we also had to wash all our clothes. It was hard times.
My husband was already in Germany. He left Turkey before us while the borders where still open, so I was alone with my three children. They all had their own problems, and having to keep their spirits up in camp was heavy. It was hard for my husband also, not to be able to help me. But at least we were able to talk over the phone to support each other.
We had already left Damascus and my husband’s tobacco shop already in 2015 to go to Salamia (city in Western Syria) where my family lived. My son had to leave his psychology studies after only a year of being in the program. But we had to leave also Salamia when Daesh (ISIS) came. We fled to Turkey and stayed for a year. When we got to Chios in Greece, the borders where closed, but we could still leave the island to reach Ritsona.
Things have gotten much better in Ritsona. We live in ISO boxes (converted shipping containers) and have communal kitchens. I am able to cook a lot on my little stove outside my house as well. When we first came here, we only had the bad army food that we tried to make more tasty by adding spices and other ingredients. Now we can make the food ourselves, and since we get the same vegetables and spices as in Syria, we can make the food we are used to…
In October of 2017, I joined the Welcome Project. We are weaving mats from blankets and life vests. It's a very good project. We do something during the days that is worthwhile, and we earn money. I hope I could continue with the same kind of work when I get to Germany, but if not, then I could take Merkel’s place!
It's been almost two years now since we came to Greece. We are still waiting for the family reunification tickets to go to Hannover (Germany) to my husband and my eldest son. But if the war ends, I want to go back to Syria—to my parents and the beautiful landscapes of Salamia.
--Thaura Mustafa, Refugee & Survivor Leader, 43
Transfiguration Sunday 2018
We hear the story of the Transfiguration twice a year in church. The first is the last Sunday of Epiphany and then again at the feast of the transfiguration on August 6th. I have been ordained 26 years, and it is always so humbling to try to preach the Transfiguration on the 6th of August. As you remember, it is also the anniversary of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The dichotomy of thinking of this cloud in the sky offering life and transformation and this horrible, horrible image and reality of death and violence--I always think about that. This is a beautifully strange Sunday, a beautifully strange celebration, that happens in season that is mostly about unrequited longing and fulfillment. And yet, that we get these moments of pure vision...
I also think of this as “Baby Ruth Sunday" because this is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. I always gave up Baby Ruths for Lent when I was a kid. So every time I hear this Gospel, I have a Pavlovian Response and want to eat Baby Ruths because Lent is coming. This is the week we get to think about what we want for our Lenten season: what we want to take on, what we want to give up, how we want to be clear. This is the moment before, the moment that hangs in the balance between the divine light of Epiphany and the beautiful season of reckoning in Lent.
This simple, but powerful, Gospel has so much to teach us about the journey. We remember it is not what we are looking at, but what we see. It’s all about this idea that the Transfiguration of Jesus is actually about transfiguring us. The Gospel writer tells us that the moment before the Transfiguration, the disciples are wandering around hurriedly, wondering what this ministry means; but soon as there is the moment of Transfiguration, their eyes are set on Jerusalem.
Transfiguration gives us hawk eyes: clarity, vision, freedom from distractions. The needs of the world did not change before the Transfiguration or afterwards, but the destination became more urgent and poignant. So, for us. in our lives as we seek transfiguration and moments of clarity, we cannot be distracted. (Remember this passage was written before social media...) We know the goal. We know the destination. On the spiritual path, the destination is important, not the just the journey. We’re headed toward love, so don’t be distracted by all things that will call you away in your life. It's a a time for hawk eyes.
The second lesson of this Transfiguration is about embodiment. This was not just a head trip. This was a “body” trip where there was glowing and fear. There was physical change. They get there, not out of the blue, but out of a lot of hard work and giving up so much. That’s how they get to the mountain. They get there at the cost of a lot in their lives, and they walk up there together in a community. So, then I ask how are we transformed and transfigured in these bodies?
The third and final point of this passage, along with the reminder of how important hawk eyes are and the connection between physical and spiritual transformation, is that transfiguration is always the aftermath. You get these moments of insight, a glimpsing at glory and the beauty of the heavens touching the earth. And there’s a cost, and the cost is the change in us.
Don’t be mistaken. The disciples are changing more radically than any white garments that Jesus displayed. They are tearful and fearful and excited and inspired; their lives are different forever. If you long for transfiguration, be prepared to change.
And that sucks. It’s hard to change. It’s hard for me to change. It’s hard for me to say, “I need to let go. Or I need to take on. Or I need to feel different in this world. Or I need to understand the world differently. Or I need to pray differently. Or I need to act differently.” Those are true for all of us. We need to change if we long for transfiguration. If we want to love and glimpse at this wondrous gift, we have to change.
This weekend, I was preaching at the Diocesan Ministry Convention in Northern Indiana, and they were talking about transformation. They were asking how do we as a diocese hope in community, learn from each other, how do we make changes in this world?
The bishop was upfront, a beautiful, kind man, and they invited us to begin that transformation with the hundred of us all gathered in a circle at that moment. Jennifer, one of the Thistle Farms’ Survivor Leaders was in the back. She lit the the candle and offered the words that we use to begin the weekly meditation circle at Thistle Farms saying, “We light this candle for the women on the streets, and we light this candle for the women trying to find their way home.” In my head, I was thinking, "Isn’t that the way it is?" She has the Simeon viewpoint in the back. She is going to have to speak in a loud voice because the mics are all up front.
Jennifer who is such a powerful, powerful witness on the road said, “I’m the person that you feared when I was on the streets, when you walked by me. I was the person in prison that you may have prayed for, but didn’t come visit, I represent the hundreds of women who are still trying to find their way home. And now I have become the light.” When she lit the candle, I looked back up and realized in very back of this cathedral was a beautiful stained glass window of St. Andrew. St Andrew was raising his hand in a blessing, and the sun was hitting it just right so the glowing in the stained glass was falling on Jennifer, the light that was lighting the candle for everyone else.
Just for a minute, I got to see it, the light that changes everything it touches.
I wish we could live like that all the time. We see this light shining down on each other and the face of God. Everything else goes away, and you do want to stay there. You do want to say, “Can we just stay a little while longer in this beautiful peace and love, where all our judgements get passed aside and where all our fears about our own place in this world get left behind and we just feel love?” I want to live like that so bad, and I am so grateful to Jennifer for the light that she brought. Thank God for when we get to see it and when we get to live in it.
May we have those hawk eyes to experience it and take it in. May we have the journey and the destination clearly in our mind. May we embody it with everything we have, and may we be humble and courageous enough to live it out.
I know it’s important to know when to be quiet. One time when one of my kids was little and had done something horrible, I was explaining in detail why he was in trouble. He finally turned and said to me, “Be quiet so I can hear.” It is true for all of us who have had the gift of parenting that kids are really the best teachers in the world. He was saying, “Be silent. I want to hear what is going on in me. I want to know how to grow and how to do what I need to do.”
The lesson from Deuteronomy is to learn to be silent. The lesson from Mark is that in the midst of a busy Sabbath day in Capernaum the vortex of chaos is thriving. Everything starts spinning out of control. There is so much noise and someone in the front of the temple is spouting nonsense. People must have been thinking—be quiet so we can hear. Jesus knows it is both the demons within and without in this world and it is not of God.
He does his healing work by saying, “Be silent.” For the love of God, be silent. And with those simple words, healing began. Jesus spends the rest of his day healing anyone he can through both words and deeds—Peter’s mom, people coming through the door in the evening. Then he goes to a lonely place to be quiet. This busy day ends with his going to a lonely, deserted place.
Why? So, he can hear again.
And so, it is that preachers have been trying to figure out how to preach on silence. St Francis preached that the best deeds, the best preaching of love, is done not in words, but in the way we are together.
I want to share two vignettes about how I have been preached to—not in words:
Several years ago, one of the women from Thistle Farms went with me to Texas to share her story of healing and hope in the community of Thistle Farms. She, like most of the women, was abused early on and hit the streets at a young age. One of the joys of getting to do this work is being on a woman’s first trip, the first time a woman sees the top side of the clouds, the first time she goes into a community and says, “Guess what? Women heal and women recover. It works.” It is exciting and wonderful. This particular woman started on the plane ha getting knots in her stomach, thinking her words are not going to be sufficient. She started editing. She missed dinner that night at the hotel. I think I heard her read her version of her story three or four times.
The next morning, she got up and said, “I rewrote it and I want you to hear it again.” I was like, “Dear God. It’s beautiful, you’re amazing, it’s perfect, you’re great. The words are awesome.” But she became more nervous. When we arrived at the community where she was to speak, I got up and I said, “This is making me nervous. I think it will go much better for her and for us if we just go ahead, cut to the chase, and give her a standing ovation now.”
She stood up, then everyone stood up with her and started applauding. She started weeping, we all started crying, and it was a big love fest without any words. The words were so much less important than her witness, standing up there being able to say, “Here I am.” And that people could love her.
Two weeks ago, my husband and I had the privilege of being theologians-in-residence at Episcopal High School. Whenever I go to a high school, specifically part of the story I tell is my own story of sexual abuse that started in the church, and I think it’s an important story. I don’t go into detail. I talk about there is healing and that part of the power of sexual assault has to do with silence.
As communities, we need to hear the stories well. We need to be there for each other. When people are little, they don’t have those words, but as they get into high school, they learn those words for their own bodies and their own lives and how to begin to speak that with power. So, I told my story and that night one of the chaplains said, “It was really powerful what you did today and what you said was beautiful. How did you heal from all that?” I said healing was a process, and that I had a lot of sickness still in me when I started Thistle Farms/Magdalene, and it was kind of hard. That I would get triggered a lot and I knew I had to go back to confront my abuser and to go to a therapist. He asked, “What was that like?” And I told the story of going back to my abuser.
I looked over and my husband, to whom I have been married for 30 years, was crying. I don’t know if you know what that is like. To know that you have been with someone for 30 years and they can weep for you, but it is very humbling. He could not have preached love more powerfully.
Think about all the times in your life when someone finally said, “Be silent” and you were able to find the gift of silence. Stop all the noise, the senseless demons within and without us in this world and feel feelings –whether someone clapped for you or somebody wept with you, or maybe it was that you finally just took a breath and allowed the spirit to speak. This is a busy day. There is a lot of noise in our world, and there are a lot of people chattering away.
So, if you take anything away from this—take this: speak the words of God when you need to. Preach through your deeds. And every now and then, for the love of God, be silent.
"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'"
--Martin Luther King, Jr.
The prophets always start with #hereIam, but as they proclaim justice in the world, they move to #hereweare.
The work of justice is a community endeavor. Micah, Amos, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Luther King, Jr. all spoke of the work of community in pursuing justice for all. This applies to our Circle as well.
None of the women of Thistle Farms made it to the streets or prison alone. It took a bunch of failed systems and communities to help them get there. So it makes sense that it takes a community proclaiming #hereweare to welcome them home.
Next month marks the 200th anniversary of the great American prophet Frederick Douglass's birth. His great, great great-grandson Ken Morris, said, "If Frederick were alive, he would tackle the modern-day slavery issue of Human Trafficking."
At this time of year when remember those who have paid the way and given their lives to the work of justice like Douglass & Martin Luther King, Jr., I am so grateful to be able to say #hereweare. Each day we take part in this work and pray for justice, we honor King's vision of a Beloved Community, and help welcome the next woman through the doors.
Love is the most powerful force for change in the world. We need each other. We need this Beloved Community to keep going and to be able to love the whole world one person at a time.
There is a new word out there in the waves called Bodyfulness (think Mindfulness). I believe the idea is to connect being present in our bodies with wholeness and peace. Maybe one of the ripple effects of #metoo is understanding what embodiment means.
We all need to be safe and grounded in our actual body if we want to be at peace in our work or home life.
Our bodies remember everything and differentiating our bodies and our minds is of little consequence, as we realize our minds live inside our bodies. I think an important theme for us this year will be about taking care of our individual bodies and our collective body. I thought a tagline to use is #embodylove.
This figure of speech means we ground love into the very core of who we are. If we embody love, then peace joy and justice will flow naturally from us. If we can't embody love, we will still be acting with fear and shame. There are lots of things to think about with this idea, but I just want to get our wheels turning.
'Tis the season to pray for love and peace all over the world. Such a prayer is inspiring, but it's hard to imagine loving the whole world. Maybe it is easier at Christmas to Pray Globally, but Love Specifically. I believe the only way to love the whole world is a person at a time. Once we love specifically, then we can extrapolate that, so it is wildly comprehensive.
The work of loving the world has taken the community of Thistle Farms--a movement for survivors of trafficking and addiction--all over the globe for the past twenty years to specific women and communities. In each setting, we sit in a small circle with women survivors and listen and hold on to one another. Our first partnership was with 30 women farmers that survived the genocide in Rwanda. Then we began working with groups in more than 30 states, and 20 countries.
Over and over, we fall in love with the individual women we meet as we engage their story and live into their hope. From those individual women and specific communities, we have learned about the universal issues of sexual assault, the violence and vulnerability of poverty and the common way women carry trauma. From loving women and communities we begin to see the exponential growth of love, and that made it feel possible to contemplate that we can truly love the whole world in way I'd never imagined before.
Thistle Farms’ latest partnership took us to the Ritsona refugee camp in Greece this past summer. There we met a small group of women willing to venture into a new justice enterprise that weaves the life vests and blankets they escaped from Syria with into welcome mats. It was a humbling and hopeful week of watching new weavers bind hope into a pretty desolate place. The Ritsona refugee camp is home to more than 1,000 refugees and while we were there the data indicated that 23 babies had been born in the camp the past year.
The camp itself is an abandoned and dilapidated military compound with crumbling and peeling green walls over dusty dirt giant sunken area that serves as the center of the camp. There is dust everywhere inside the chain link camp surrounded by olive groves and grape vines. While the women in the new partnership began weaving, I spent hours wandering through the camp and trying to take in the massive trauma and weight of the collective story I was witnessing.
The heaviness of the air felt thick with evaporated tears. You could witness deep relationships, funny moments and all kinds of creativity, as well. But, it was too much to try and understand the power of the wake of war in people wandering through the camp and lining up for every possible need they might encounter. They stood in lines for water, showers, a simple hammer or nail to fashion a bench out of discarded pallets, or diapers, and while they walked and stood with stoic patience there were glimpses of deep anger and grief.
As we began our work on the second day, I noticed a young mother with an infant stroller walking along the perimeter. Her hair was covered by a blue scarf which resembles icons of Mary I remembered from youth. As I walked near her, I couldn’t see the tiny infant born in this camp as a refugee in the world, because his mother "Mary" had covered him in a thin, swaddling cloth, shielding him from all the dust and heartbreak. And, from an ancient place that women have been singing about since the song of Hannah in the book of Samuel, the words to "The Magnificat" rose in me.
This ancient song was offered by Mary to Elizabeth when they greeted one another and the voice crying in the wilderness leapt in Elizabeth’s womb in the presence of the Prince of Peace in Mary’s womb:
Watching the young mom and her infant, I marveled at her brave naiveté and wondered if she thought this swaddling cloth could shield her baby from the brokenness of this world, the violence of war, the horrors of politics, or the longing for home. But as the scene made its way from my eyes and into my heart where sight transforms into vision, I could see that this tiny veiled, innocent child is so wise and holy that he can teach us again about what it means to love the world. All of the sudden the enormity of the task of taking in the whole world of refugees, which can leave us overwhelmed, numb, confused, and scared, vanished as I just stood there like the shepherds hovering near Jesus’ manger and fell in love with the baby.
I loved the wonder and mystery of him and loved everything about this gift wrapped like hope for the whole world. This baby, born in an occupied nation is a refugee-like Jesus fleeing to Egypt. This wonderful and life-giving child knows nothing yet but love from his mother, who like Mary was poor and powerless. Both of these women draped their child in bands of cloth and saw themselves as blessed by the child.
This Christmas I want the image of that one baby in that one camp for that one moment to offer us the whole promise of peace and love at Christmas.
Let yourself for a moment love that baby and by loving that baby, love his mom.
And maybe for that moment, as we love the baby and his mom, we can love the people who love them.
We can love the people who pulled the mom, great with child, off a boat, whose voyage was as treacherous as a donkey making its way to Bethlehem.
We can love the doctor who like the innkeeper let them find shelter safe enough to deliver the child.
Then maybe we can love all the people who cared for the doctors and rescuers and keep widening the love circle to the not-for-profits and people, who will love this mom and baby and care for them daily.
Then we can keep following those concentric ripples until the world is within the circle.
This baby shows us a way to love the whole world, which is Christ’s greatest longing for us.
In the beginning was love, love as tender and vulnerable as a baby, and was enough for the whole world.
I love this time of year and watching the generosity pour in from all over the country. It is amazing to behold. I keep getting notes from folks on staff asking, "Did you know this or that amazing person did something to support this movement for women's freedom?"
Such acts of kindness and love remind me in the face of an often-depressing news feed just how loving and thoughtful this world can be.
News From The Network of Sister Organizations: Word continues to be great. We just spoke yesterday to Magdalene Chicago and have set a goal for them to open in 2018. They have so many things going for them. Our Education & Outreach Department have tons of more news, including the beautiful new Magdalene Omaha home, where a recent Magdalene Graduate is working as the Executive Director.
News From Global: Things are going inspiringly well, and we are crushing the goals and numbers. Our commitments in 2018 include focusing on Moringa Madres and making a trip in July of 2018. We are just beginning to tap into the possibilities of Moringa and are connecting to another tea blender to form a new partnership. Healing, powerful and delicious is the goal!
When we opened the cafe one of the four principles (in addition to story, hospitality and healing) is Chado, the Way of Tea. I hope we serve and make more tea in 2018! In addition we are going to turn The Welcome Project into an LLC to make opportunities more stable and functional for the refugees.
News About Travel: My assistant and I are making the final notes to the draft of all the trips for spring 2018. There are lots of requests from folks, and we are doing our best to balance it all. We can't wait to see everyone on the #thistleroad.
I love this community so, so much. It's the most amazing group of folks with a commitment and vision that I hold dear.
Thank you for an amazing year.
I remember when Thistle Farms first bought the building on Charlotte Ave. It was shortly before the flood in Nashville in May 2010. When my husband Marcus drove me over to look at the location there was just a huge mud yard on the side of the building.
But there was one Thistle growing up out of that mud, and I took it as a sign.
As I was entertaining a group at the Cafe recently (Thank you to Trish, the Cafe Events Manager) and Kristin, my Assistant) and bussing a few tables myself, all I could think about was what a well-oiled community Thistle Farms has become in every department. You can see professionalism, growth, charity and love exuding as effortlessly as the lavender wafting through the vents.
That afternoon, there were groups of women laughing and talking during a break and even a group from the Nashville Sexual Assault Center learning about how to serve survivors. It is amazing to behold and I'm so proud to be a part of it. Everyone is a testimony to how love heals. From the oils that we lavish this world with to the amazing food to the kind words--it all is healing.
Thank you to everyone who made that day possible. We're only hitting our stride.
History tells us that when a community is struck by unthinkable tragedy there is the common thread of gathering.
Community is the binding force that holds us together when violence and injustice wants to pull us apart.
Amid the wailing and questioning, there will be altars erected and strangers holding on to each other. We need each other to get through the hardest days and darkest nights. We need to remember that love is the fiber of that common thread and hold on for dear life. God bless all the victims, all their families and all those grieving with them.
On Monday, August 21st, 2017, we will all look up from life on the ground and gaze into the heavens. The unfolding of light turning to darkness in the middle of the day will captivate our imaginations and spirits. The moon will dos-à-dos with the sun in an elaborate orbital dance that takes place light years apart, transpires in minutes, and serves us a full course feast for celebration. The idea that the distance between the sun and moon is in perfect proportion so the moon covers its larger sister is a calculation that simply testifies to the miracle of creation.
Last week a friend gave me a small purple carrot on the side of the Harpeth River while we were taking a break from canoeing. As I had never eaten a purple carrot, a root vegetable intricately woven in the depths of the earth, I glanced down and noticed how the inside looked like a microcosm of the universe with a starburst center radiating in gold, orange, and reds into a dark sphere. Popping that star-burst into my mouth I felt the sheer delight of tasting the universe in my mouth. I felt that same delight just a few weeks earlier watching my three sons skipping flat stones along a glacial stream on an island off the coast of Canada.
The cold turquoise waters, cascading from a mountaintop, along with fine silt from copper and quartz, had flattened rocks to skipping perfection. On the second day around noon, the boys set down their rods and began the dance of a child, a rock, and water, counting the with pride the number of ripples and how far the rock traveled. Despite all the trouble and heartache in this world, it was a delight how for a moment they could lay everything down, skip a rock and laugh. Delight in a carrot, a rock, and an Eclipse, is a mortal joy that lives beyond contemplation and awe. It sweeps us up in wonder and invites us to a place where the eternal and temporal meet. Such a cosmic meeting awaits us not only on Monday, calling us to ancient truths and into the future as it sweeps across the sky, but can reach us anywhere if our hearts are open.
If you have ever seen a solar eclipse, you can’t help but feel excited. The first time I saw a partial eclipse my classroom made a homemade box with a pinhole and mirror to peer through at the end, so we could see a teeny dark reflection of the phenomenon. I couldn’t fathom how it was unfolding and seeing it backwards through that box made it more confusing. I remember the moment I put the box down and looked directly at the haloed sun. I just looked for a second; I knew I was breaking all the rules, but I couldn’t help it. Some 40 years later, I still carry that moment with me. In my mind, I could picture the earth rotating. Then I could add the moon orbiting the earth in a tight dance. I could even then put the earth spinning the moon orbiting in a big circle around the sun. But when I tried to put myself on a dot on the earth as it spun and the moon orbited and it all circled the sun, the vision I was trying to hold in my mind’s eye became too much. Putting my small self into the picture of this vast expanse of interstellar space on this fragile earth our island home felt impossible to calculate.
There has always been wonder and delight when the earth turns dark in the middle of the day. The stories in scripture, history, and lore, fill volumes. It is said that Nat Turner had a vision in 1830 during the eclipse that it was time to rise. History recounts that Lawrence of Arabia carried an almanac that predicted the eclipse at the turn of the century and he used that knowledge to storm Aqaba. During total eclipse of 1919, it is said that science changed forever. In that moment, Einstein’s theory of relatively, just a hypothesis that star light gets bent when it travels through massive bodies, was proven true. The eclipse was part of the unfolding plan of our creator God in the stories of faith, mystics from the 13th century to Annie Dillard have marveled at the wonder of God’s unfolding creation.
Let us take time to not only behold the sun, but hold the promise that the stories of our lives are also being changed forever as we look towards something so momentous.
We are looking into the past as we gaze at light formed thousands of years before, we are looking at our present with more humility and courage, and we are looking into the future. We will all carry the story of the eclipse of 2017 with us. We will see in that brief delightful moment our futures sweeping by as quickly as the moon before the sun.
We might tell the story with a prequel. It was the summer of 2017. It had been a hot summer full of trouble that included Neo-Nazis and white supremacists orchestrating horrific demonstrations, a political climate full of scandal, terrorists ramming cars across the globe against innocent people, refugees stuck in overpopulated and underserved camps, prisons overflowing and an opioid epidemic sweeping the nation. But then we will share the event itself…
On a hot summer day in August, we closed businesses and schools. People left their desks and computers and went outside. Collectively we stopped and stared through coveted glasses, not easy to procure, at the magnificence of the dance of the universe taking place before us. We, not even a dot in the scale of what was passing before us, took it in and delighted. We don’t know the story yet.
Maybe I will tell my future grandchildren about that day and how when I stared at the sky I dreamt of them. Maybe all the mothers and fathers who have lost their children this year to violence, addiction, racism, disease, will recount years later the connection to their beloved children that are part of the stardust of creation in those precious moments. Maybe the disciples of peace and justice in this world will recount the inspiration they gained from the moment when they felt part of something bigger than themselves, as love woven into the fabric of creation and vowed to keep going enveloped them.
So, as you take delight on Monday, imagine all the people looking up with you. Imagine a collective prayer throwing its arms around the world like Saturn’s rings. Hope and pray for peace, which may feel as small as the moon, but sometimes can shadow great fiery storms as big as the sun.
In that moment feel your smallness, see our connections, and pray for peace and love in the whole wide world.
In celebration of my new book Love Heals coming out on September 5th, I wanted to share some of my favorite passages on here with you. Let's start with a poem:
The story of faith begins with the unfolding of God's love over the earth. Love is written into the very fabric of creation. Throughout Scripture we read about love's healing power, from the first vision of a garden with a tree of life until the last vision of a kingdom where that same tree stood, with the leaves that were made for "the healing of the nations" (Revelation 22:2). Today we can imagine the roots of that tree running under our feet, calling us to remember God's healing power all around us and in us...
God's Green Earth
There are days when hillsides blush in tenderness
And moments when valleys are unshadowed.
There are seasons when streams roll with justice
And all creation blooms where it is planted.
There are times when we feel God's pulse
Through lapping waves, clapping trees,
And the woodpecker's happy drumming.
There are mornings when we feel the sunrise
Like warm tea on the backs of our throats.
There are spaces where even weeds
And crawly things call us back to grace.
That is when our hearts sing "alleluia"
As we fall in love with God's green earth.
(I can't wait to share this book with you. So excited. Thank you to everyone who has preordered it.)
This blog was written by Regina, a Survivor-Leader, Magdalene Graduate, and founding member of the Thistle Farms community. In April of 2017, Regina went to Greece with Becca and the Welcome Project Team to help start a new social enterprise for Syrian Refugees. The following is Regina's reflection on her experiences in the camp.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to continue the work that started in this community long ago. I am amazed that Survivor-Leaders in the community of Thistle Farms continue to light the candle, not just for the addicted and abused women still walking the streets in our own backyard, but also for the Broken Hearted All Over This World. As a witness to this, our community--that God birthed through Becca--took the Spirit of hope, faith and love across the ocean to a refugee camp in Ritsona, Greece.
Wooden looms, strips of fabric ripped a world away in preparation, life jackets cast aside on the ocean by refugees from Syria after surviving the treacherous journey from their homeland to the camp became the seeds that helped a group of eight displaced and impoverished women turn into a social enterprise right before my eyes.People that felt hopeless found healing love from our community. Light, laughter and love was palatable in their weaving. It's an awesome feeling to know that this grace we've been given can be passed on, even when circumstances seem insurmountable.
I'll never forget the faces of those women or the hope that began to show in their eyes when they realized that we were there to help them produce a livelihood for themselves through something that up until then had brought death to them all in one way or another. They now have a positive outlook on something tragic and designed to destroy.
After coming back home, I find myself tired, emotional, and full of the joy that comes from having witnessed that The Welcome Project's confession #lovewelcomes made good on its promise. As of this post, there are nine women weaving and healing their community, and I am humbled by the chance I was blessed with to give back once more in gratitude for all I have received.
I have been a Survivor-Leader for twenty years now, and I believe in this justice work more than I ever have because I know the community of Thistle Farms welcomes anyone who is lost, broken, and searching for a way to the Circle. And, in the end, we believe that through community we all can find our way home.
Now you can join the #lovewelcomes movement too by preordering your own welcome mat here.
As dawn was breaking on an Early April morning, I was sitting near the windows at the Chapel weaving some of the 1000s of prayer ribbons created by the community of St. Augustine’s. We committed to spend this lent writing prayers on ribbons to hold our thoughts, the names of those we love, the history of our dead and what we long for. For six weeks, acolytes processed torches bearing thistle farms candles tied with our handwritten prayers. As I was weaving, I read the prayers slowly for all sorts and conditions of humanity penned with love. It’s beautiful watching how a single word woven with other words allows a community to pray for the whole world. It occurred to me how weaving and praying are in communion. As I picked up a ribbon, I was praying with the child who wrote simply, “my mom."
I was praying for peace as I read the names of the worn-torn places scrawled onto ribbons interwoven with prayers for strength. As the light grew brighter the weaving was coming to life in the secret hours of the morning. Prayer feels hallowed when our hands do the work so our minds settle to see the sacred threads each day offers. In such moments we feel the blessedness that we have woven from the love, longing, and life we have made.
I remember the holy weaving that depicted the resurrected Jesus with a bright green background surrounded by images of the four gospels. It was a three story high tapestry made by one of the official World War 2 artists, Graham Sutherland. It hung behind the altar in Coventry Cathedral, erected to bring reconciliation after the war dropped a bomb on the original cathedral. During a summer in my early twenties I gave tours in that sanctuary and learned about the amazing tapestry woven by French women who worked 11 years to bring the image to life. The tapestry took the place of the usual high altar carvings or windows to invoke wonder not just for the image itself, but for the way single strands coming together offer a glimpse of heaven.
There must have been a thread of hope to lead Mary Magdalene and the other Mary in the story of Matthew to face the soldiers on Easter Morning. The story of the Resurrection begins with the words, “while it was still dark." The light has not yet risen on Jerusalem on the Sabbath as Mary heads out with grief as her guide to carry her to the body. And that single sacred thread is enough to weave together the love story. Such a thread was enough to lead her through despair, to brush aside fear, and to hold onto love.
That thread of hope after Jesus’s crucifixion became the beginning of a story that changed the world. And that story is powerful enough to unravel all the shame and fear that keep us from experiencing hope. It sustained Mary through meeting angels and feeling the earth shake and catches her when she fell at the feet of love resurrected. That first fragile thread was strong enough for all of that and to lead her to be the first preacher, to offer those threads for generations to proclaim love as the most powerful force that still ties us together. We still sing of those threads even as we face death: Blessed Be the Tie That Binds, May God Be With You Till We Meet Again.
It makes sense to be drawn to weaving in the face of the despair, such as experienced by survivors of war who have fled Syria and have nothing when they land at beaches in Greece except a few items and a life vest. And so for months Thistle Farms under the direction of Abi Hewitt made plans with Luma Muflah from Fugees Family, Ann Holtz from Awakening Soul, Rev. Frannie Kieschnick A Thistle Farms Board Member and visionary, and I Am You to begin the first social enterprise in Ritsona with a group of women to weave the life vests into welcome mats.
Last Sunday, Tara Armistead, Cathy Brown, Ryan Camp, Regina Mullins, Luma, Frannie, Ann and I flew to Greece, none of us sure if the fragile first threads from those vests would be enough. We didn’t know what we would be confronting and if weaving with the women was going to be possible. The luggage holding the spools of thread and the shuttles had been lost. The not for profits who ran the camp were unsure about where to weave and how to help manage a social enterprise that would pay women to weave. It is hard enough to start a business, but to start in the midst of a setting where people walk slowly because there isn’t anywhere to go, where lines of identical boxes form a quarter acre of densely populated sects in the middle of an abandoned and dusty military base, where language barriers flourish, and where lines look like snakes and people in charge have massive key rings, is really difficult.
But on the second day as the sun was climbing on a clear blue Greece spring morning, new weavers and the group from thistle farms gathered in our first circle to welcome one another. One by one the women from the Ritsona camp shared their hopes to help the community, to remember how their ancestors in the middle east wove, to have purpose and meaning, and to help their children. Once they started talking I knew the thread of hope would be enough. That circle is a circle we know. We have seen that circle a thousand times; in the hills of Rwanda and the farmlands of Ecuador and right down the street on Charlotte Avenue in our Thistle Farms Circle.
That circle binds us, even if it is in the face of trauma, broken hearts and inadequate space, and it is enough to start wharfing a loom and weave vests and scraps of cloth. Soon Arabic conversations filled the weaving room as the shuttles from the two looms called out a powerful rhythm. That beating of threads together on big looms became more powerful than all the other issues, and the mantra for the week became simply, “no matter what, keep weaving."
Thread by thread we tore and bound the vests that had traumatized so many. They spoke about the cost of those vests as they ripped them into strips and talked all day about whatever came up. When the first mat came off the loom everyone cheered. There are another 1000 mats to go. We are committed to helping make this business work since less than .01% of any of the refugee families there will be invited to immigrate. And while the women of the camp may have fled war, they cannot flee the violence of poverty. That single thread, woven into a single mat and laid on our altar, is enough to build a community.
And It has always been that way.
Like a first ribbon tied, like a thread from a tapestry woven from the ashes of war, or even like a string from a discarded life vest, we are holding on to an ancient hope that binds us together in love. And the Easter story preaches to each of us that when we take hold of that thread, hope can pull us beyond grief itself. The stone has rolled, shroud has fallen and we are free. We are tied to all those we love who have died and live on in love and the memory of God. It binds the wilderness of lent to the garden in Jerusalem in a single band of love. All we grieve is still a part of us and all our hopes are not in vain.
It's not hard to imagine the Magdalene and the other Mary running to the disciples, starting to weave the story together. The meaning still fragile and not accepted easily. But, Magdalene picks up the the pace as she cannot contain the hope and needs to share it. Let us weave our prayers into the hope fashioned into the first morning of creation. A single thread is enough to bind us to the Easter story. No Matter What, Keep Weaving. It means we can live in hope, dedicated to justice and truth, knowing we are connected to all that is love. The thread is ours for the beholding and allows us to make our song even at our own Easter morning, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”
Read more about The Welcome Project here.
The Ethic of Love: The Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount has been discussed by numerous theologians throughout the ages. Many have interpreted the teachings as law, making this reading some of the harshest words Jesus ever spoke to his gathered community of wayward fishermen, dispossessed people, and searching souls. The sermon is generally thought to be gathered isolated sayings from the early church communities. Each is a summary of something, like an original sermon of Jesus or the essence of a piece of his teachings, that could have taken the form of a question and answer. Joachim Jeremias, a German theologian in the 20th century, wrote that when the Sermon on the Mount is read as certain scholars have defined it as law, three understandings follow:
1. A Perfectionist ethic: Jesus is a Teacher of the Law who tells his disciples what is required of them—perfection. He says he has come not to destroy the law as old vs new prescription is contrasted. You have heard it said, but I say....” He is giving the disciples a clear directive of the will of God.
2. An Impossible ethic: Jesus is the Preacher of Repentance. When Jesus makes such unattainable demands, we know we cannot reach perfection, so despair at our own efforts sets in. Then guilt awakens in us a consciousness of sin, leading us to repentance and the possibility of mercy.
3. An Interim-ethic: Jesus is the Apocalyptic Prophet. Jesus was preaching to men who knew they were living in a time of crisis, that there was not much time left. It was a time to love your enemies. Pull yourselves together and live a death-bed lifestyle.
Joachim questions whether Jesus was any of these. He concludes that we are called to read the Sermon on the Mount not as law, but as Gospel. Another theologian of the 20th century Howard Thurman who was a peace activist and mystic, wrote about the Sermon on the Mount as Gospel. He was one of the fathers of the Civil Rights Movement, who influenced Dr. King so much that he carried Thurman’s book, Jesus and the Disinherited, with him in his brief case. It was Thurman who wrote in the 1940s in the South under the oppression of Jim Crow that when we read the Sermon on the Mount as Gospel and live it out, “We are free at last.” The Sermon on the Mount explains an ethic of love that calls us to radical freedom. In an ethic of love, Jesus is the embodiment of the Sermon in deeds. As long as we see it as a legal prescription, something we have to live out as an obligation, we become slaves to it. But living into an ethic of love, we glimpse at the miracle of the haunting words, Don't worry about what you are to eat or what you are to wear, Take neither walking stick nor traveling bag, “Love your enemies,” Do not return evil for evil, Proclaim good news to the poor.
When Thurman describes this ethic of love, he begins by talking about loving people where there are rifts in our own world—the people we are close to in our circle. But then he talks about rifts in a separated world. These are the “others” and it is where people live in fear, shame, anger, and cynicism. For example, how the people on the hillside listening to Jesus might feel towards the tax collectors, their oppressors. This ethic of love does not ask us to condone the act, but the act does not cause us not to love. It’s not condemning the enemies’ actions; it is penetrating their thickest resistance so that we can all lay bare our interior walls and get to the heart. This person or group of people you consider an enemy is what holds you back from the altar and this person or group still belongs to God. When we awaken this gospel understanding in us and in our former enemies, change is possible. We all know that enemies of religious or political nature, can derail any of us. But politics are not our religion. Take Rome, for example, from the perspective of the occupied people in Jerusalem. Jesus lifted individuals out of that general classification and saw them face to face as equals—willing to teach, heal, and comfort them. It doesn’t mean there is not accountability, resistance, or that it doesn’t come at a great cost to the individuals stepping out of their bounds. But it means we change the balance of love in the world in the most powerful and poetic way. It means we reexamine our own prejudices and live as freely as possible with this guiding gospel.
This week I spent 4 days in LA as part of the CNN Heroes Award given to Thistle Farms. We were there to learn more about running not-for- profits and hear from the other nine groups that also won the award. CNN touts this award as ordinary people doing extraordinary things. As I sat and listened in light of this Gospel, I heard stories of communities wounded and underserved and realized the award should really be about extraordinary people who do ordinary things. I heard the story told by Luma Mufleh who began her talk with, “I am an immigrant, a Muslim, a lesbian, and I serve refugees. I guess you could say I hit the jackpot.” Luma founded the Fugees Family. The Fugees Academy (6- 12 graders) she heads has a very successful football (soccer) team. She told the story to a tear-filled circle of friends about an extraordinary thirteen-year old who was a refugee from the Congo. He had witnessed the death of his father, the rape of his mother, and experienced the hard journey refugees make to our country. Luma described this young man’s anger and how he hit another player on the field. She ran out onto the field and was herself struck. She then embraced the young boy and held her hand over his heart and kept repeating in Arabic, breathe. He placed his hand over her hand, so they were both holding his heart as he began to calm down. Slowly and surely over the next several years, he began the journey from woundedness and anger towards a world of enemies into becoming a passionate student and healer who has gone on to earn a full scholarship to college. It all began simply by holding his heart in an ethic of fearless love.
We all heard other stories of extraordinary people doing ordinary things: a young cancer survivor taking a kayak ride, a foster youth who aged out of a system and got his own apartment, a child with cerebral palsy riding a horse, a survivor of trafficking, prostitution, and addiction taking her first cruise, and a young man from public housing learning to ride a bike. Extraordinary people doing ordinary things not because they followed laws, but because they were casted out and then loved. An ethic of love can overcome any barriers, any divisions as we live out this Gospel in fellowship. Every time we walk out onto a field, take a hit, and then put our hand over a heart in response, every time we step out in love, every time we forgive what we once thought was unforgivable, every time we love an enemy, we are extraordinary and doing the most ordinary thing we were created to do… love. Love. Love.
What is it that still makes you read this Gospel as a perfectionist law we can never attain? What is it that you think you cannot forgive? Who is the enemy who prevents you from loving? That is a good place to feel the freedom embedded in these strange and compelling words. We hear these words, and then step out into a pretty harsh and scary world and remember the common worth and value of every single person we meet, in our circle and beyond our circle. The calling of this Gospel is not to condemn, but to free us.