Monday, September 14, 2015

Nuns on the Bus Come to Little Rock: Practicing Holy Curiosity and Sacred Gossip in the 21st Century

Steve and I spent last evening at the town hall meeting hosted by the Nuns on the Bus, as they arrived in Little Rock yesterday after having hosted a meeting in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Their Fayetteville meeting was in an Episcopal church, and in Little Rock, at First United Methodist church.

It was inspiring to get to hear Sister Simone Campbell, about whom I've read much in various news articles, in person. I liked, in particular, her concluding exhortation to the roomful of folks from all walks of life (black and white, gay and straight, male and female, old and young, Christian, Buddhist, non-religious, Methodist, Episcopalian, Catholic). Sister Simone encouraged us to cultivate two virtues for the 21st century:

First, we need to develop "holy curiosity," she said. Ask the pesky questions. Make a nuisance of yourself by inquiring, digging, probing, asking. "What kind of wages do you pay your workers?," we might ask as we go to a restaurant for a meal, she suggested.

And second, following on holy curiosity, aim at "sacred gossip," she urged us. Share with others what you learn by practicing holy curiosity. Start building networks to address concrete problems as you share information with others. If you learn, for instance, as she and her team learned in St. Louis from listening to African-American mothers about the challenge of raising sons who are aware that their lives could be in danger at any moment from police violence, what do you intend to do about what you've learned? What will you do in collaboration with others about this challenge?

Sister Simone granted that we live in an age of information overkill in which we can quickly be overwhelmed by the complexity of problems, as we learn more about the world around us. And so she also enjoined on us the practice of going into our hearts and listening in quiet there to the whispers of our heart about what's most important, most central, to our own lives and mission.

Because no person can do everything, we will inevitably begin to focus our practice of holy curiosity and sacred gossip on those matters, those issues, that most grip our own imagination. We'll focus our attempt to build networks and begin changing the world around us on what's our own particular calling or path.

Both U.S. democracy and the life of faith as it's described in various faith traditions worldwide are communal, she noted. The goal at which we aim is to live in community, to practice our holy curiosity and sacred gossip in a communal way. Since not everyone can do everything, we need to recognize that the talents we ourselves lack are present in the lives of other members of the community, who accomplish what we can't accomplish.

Sister Simone's particular charism in the body of Christ? She's decided, she told us, that she's meant to function as the gastric juices of the body. This is a very necessary part of the biological system of a healthy body: it digests the food we've taken in, breaks it down for the use of the entire body.

In unhealthy proportions, gastric juices — they contain acid, after all — can be dangerous. But contained, as they're meant to be, in the digestive tract, they perform a necessary function demanded by the entire body, if it expects to stay healthy. 

I rather like that image, given as I often am to the acidulous side of things. Not to mention, to gossip, whether sacred or not, I'm not always entirely certain . . . .

It was, as I say, a real pleasure to meet the Nuns on the Bus last evening and to work at our tables on various projects as they put us through our paces talking about the particular needs of our community or how to deal with the difficult family member who refuses to see the world the right way — as we ourselves see it! An added pleasure of the evening was that Steve got to meet a cousin: one of the Nuns on the Bus, Sister Richelle Friedman, is his distant cousin, and they had never met, though they knew of each other.

It was also a real treat to be able to connect with various friends and fellow sacred gossipers in our local community, some of whom we hadn't seen in a while. Because we live in a community without strong, established networks for progressive social change, in a part of the country given to reaction (and hobbled by poor education and endemic poverty), it's easy for many of us who would like to see our small world made better to feel that we work in great isolation. The Nuns on the Bus have given us a renewed sense that we're a community of people capable of working together for effective change in our community — and for that, I'm indeed grateful to them.

The photo: a photo taken by our friend Judge Wendell Griffen of Steve, Sister Richelle, Wendell's wife Patricia, and me following last night's event.

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