On the spirit and social justice

On tragedy, spiritual badasses, and service

My wife and I were talking about hurricane Irma today and how horrible it is that there’s already been so much destruction thanks to Harvey, but now we’re hearing reports of places where 60% of homes have been decimated. More specifically we were talking about that feeling of being powerless in the face of absolute destruction, especially when you hear stories about the Red Cross mismanaging disaster relief funds or the US refusing relief help from other countries. It’s easy to get a bit jaded about this.

For those that don’t know, I met my wife my fourth year of graduate school through a mutual friend. Many of you already know the story about how our mutual friend set us up and basically tricked us into sitting alone together at an ihop on a random Saturday morning. What most people don’t know is why that bit of matchmaking worked so well: from the time we sat down, we just started talking and talking about our lives and our goals and grandiose things like that. Then we started talking about religion and spirituality.

People who have known me my whole life know that I was raised Catholic and because I was always a good student, I did well at our church’s CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine…basically Sunday school). I remember one particular day at CCD the teacher quizzed me on certain scriptures or something or other and I must have aced it because he said, “you know you would make an excellent priest.” I went home and bragged to my parents about what my teacher said, to which my dad said, “…no you’re not gonna do that.” I didn’t quite get it at the time, but in retrospect he was probably right. I grew up in Catholicism and our family found a church that we went to almost every Sunday. Like most other people, I struggled with questions of God, religion, doctrine and at some point I learned to keep most of my thoughts and fears about that to myself. I know and have many friends who are openly devout, others who are atheist or agnostic, and I never had a real problem with any of it.

Cut to ihop years later and I’m now sitting in front of this cute girl with curly brown hair, Purdue hoodie talking openly about her God and her beliefs and it was startling to see someone who was so kind and thoughtful when talking about it. So I just opened up: we spent hours there at ihop just talking and haven’t stopped since.

Tonight was one of those same scenarios. After talking about Irma we started talking about one day starting a foundation to help with disaster relief, which lead to me talking about my not-so-hidden love of the Jesuits, particularly people like Father James Martin.

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Father James Martin, seen here doling out the harshness

Ever since I became aware of them I’ve found the Jesuit mission extremely compelling, particularly their focus on education, service and social justice. My graduate program at Purdue was hugely influenced by the Jesuits. As I said to my wife, I love when churches dispense with the hand wringing and directly say things like this:

“We believe that the criminal justice system in the United States disproportionately affects poor people and people of color. We believe that prison reform and the abolition of capital punishment will support necessary systemic change.”-Ministry against the death penalty

or this:

“We sponsor over 30 ministries including three Catholic high schools; tutoring and literacy programs; spirituality centers; social service programs; spiritual direction; and pastoral assistance. We are also involved in and support numerous justice and peace initiatives including anti-racism efforts, the abolishment of the death penalty, fair and just immigration policies, non-violence, especially in regards to gun violence, ending the modern day slavery of human trafficking, and care of the environment and Earth.” – Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph

This is what religion should do: service to the spirit and the person. They should have signs that say, “we are here to serve, but we’re not f*#king around”. Every religion and/or belief system has its problems, but this is not me promoting any particular sect. This is me taking the time to untangle the beautiful, messy, confusing, sometimes painful journey that is life and self-discovery. I don’t even know if I ultimately have a point beyond showing how badass certain priests, nuns, or churches can be. But we’re all humans and anything or anyone whose explicit mission statement involves helping other humans gets a hard cosign by me, and I hope to use this moment as inspiration to at least guide me in the future.