Monday, July 9, 2012


I continue to receive feedback on the prayer my brothers and I performed at Walmart last Tuesday. From a correspondent in the Northeast:

I've been ruminating about your actions at Walmart for the past week or so.  I do admire your zeal and passion -- but I wonder if the time and the place were the most appropriate.  On one hand, I do agree with the "point" of what it was you were doing -- workers' rights and on a broader scale economic justice are all too often ignored by the church.  My best experiences with the friars (and beforehand) have been when I've been serving the poor.  I believe that as a church we haven't done a good job articulating what is at stake, nor have we, for the past thirty years, put our money where our ecclesial mouth is located.  Such failures haunt me.

Yet on the other hand, I wonder how closely you took into account the prevailing culture of Hays and the services that Walmart provides to the local community (i.e. affordable goods and jobs, albeit ones that don't pay well).  Moreover, I need to question a group of "outsiders" dropping into a locale for two months, stirring things up and then leaving.  It will be the friars and the local church that remains which will deal with any long-term fallout. 

From my reply:

Doing the prayer vigil was a good thing, and not only because it gave voice to my brothers and me. In the aftermath, it is making me think once again about how to speak in God's name. The Word is sown in human culture, but the Word does not take root in every culture. The prophetic word must be spoken in context, relationally, to the people and not at the people. But it must be a word from God for the people, not a merely human word proffered as divine. I teeter: the organizer in me sees the sense in making concessions to the culture in order to preach effectively, but the radical in me wants always to resist the culture in order to preach faithfully.

The readings from Amos this past week and Ezekiel and Mark today stir my mind and heart. The Capuchins are quite at home in these parts of Kansas ... are they too much at home? Have they long since ceased to do mighty deeds here? Are they too much at peace with "red state religion"? Shouldn't they risk their bourgeois respectability and speak like prophets without honor? Is there merit in speaking as an outsider, in opposition to the culture and its institutions, like Amos? Is there virtue in regarding the people you love as inglorious rebels, like Ezekiel?

Part of me feels for the friars who live around here and may eventually hear unpleasant whisperings about some the postulants who made a scene at the Walmart. (I suspect they'll hear nothing: Walmart's local and regional managers want to act like this never happened.) But another part of me feels like the postulants did the friars a favor. We have given them a new connection to the drama of liberation and salvation playing out among peoples in places far beyond Hays and Victoria. Ah, but I worry I cannot say this without prideful boasting....
Friends, I appreciate your comments as inspiration for fraternal discussion. As these conversations continue, let us work and pray faithfully for a revolution in our souls. Let others worry about what to call us. Whether we are prophets or protesters, saints or zealots, let us live the Gospel. Trusting in the irenic and ironic victory of the Lamb of God, we look forward to the transformation of this world and all peoples, for whose sake Jesus Christ lived and died.

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