Friday, January 8, 2021

Inaugural Post

 Welcome to the first post of the Mustang Musings blog. The hope is that this will serve as a place to find brief reflections week to week--and from a variety of voices across the campus! 

To get things started, I will offer a brief reflection for the week of January 10. "I", by the way, am Michael Beard, Campus Minister here at the Mount. As a fair warning and perhaps as a call to come back, I don't plan on all the entries here being as long as this one.

Anybody who's tried to make any plans this semester knows that you need to plan for your initial plan to fall through. Have a backup. Call an audible, roll with the punches, etc. Naturally, such was the case for this reflection (and my week in general): this time it was not due to the pandemic as much as by the events of Wednesday, January 6. I don't plan on offering a reflection quite in the vein of more capable individuals vested with more authority. Instead, let me humbly offer something that has come to mind as the political divides in this country have grown ever wider and deeper.

"To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade." (Mark 4:30-32)

Jesus doesn't liken the Kingdom to the mighty Lebanon Cedar or some other tree known in the region for its magnificence. Jesus likens the Kingdom to what was for any farmer except a mustard farmer, a weed. In fact, it was a weed that was unstoppable once it had been planted. The seeds are so tiny, resilient, and numerous. The plant is similarly resilient and well-adapted to inhospitable soil and growing conditions.

I spoke with the Catholic club Emmaus at the beginning of last semester and used this observation as the key for how to engage in faith at college: embrace the mustard seed planted in your heart, let it take over, and let it interrupt your manicured fields, your plans, etc. I think it's important in this time, too, for all people who profess belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior, to reflect on this parable. 

As we recall Jesus' entry into the world with the Christmas season fresh in our rearview mirrors, let's remember that God, in fact, entered the world less like a majestic cedar and more like a mustard seed, being laid in a manger having been born in a stable. Jesus' message, both then and now, is like a mustard seed, too. When the exhortations to love and to forgive come head-to-head with our impulse to revile, resent, and hate, how easy it is to think of love and forgiveness as annoying weeds that we should ignore. How many rationalizations we can give for why our hatred, our tribalism, our pettiness, our resentment, our embrace of the wisdom of the sword are the right, the justified, the reasonable, even the noble course of action! How tempting it is to carve out the wisdom of the cross from Jesus' teachings and life to make our religious beliefs align with a candidate, a party, or how we're currently living. We don't generally like being challenged, called up short, being made uncomfortable, or compelled to examine what we're doing so as to change. To our baser instincts, to our vices, to our flawed view, the mustard seed is a weed: unwanted, invasive, overrunning the field. But for the Christian, the mustard seed is the crop we want. We curb the mustard's spread and emphasize the other growths at to our own detriment and peril.

Is there a takeaway for our daily lives? Yes. Bishop Robert Barron and Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP put it better than I can. In short, Bishop Barron has called us as individuals and a nation to engage in an examination of conscience. To use my own imagery above, he's called us to see where we spurn the mustard and cultivate the bad plants. You can find his reflection here. Sr. Theresa, in turn, composed several questions to aid in that self-examination. I offer them to you below:

"1. Do I make an effort to inform myself in a way that is open to truth wherever it might be found or do I only read opinions and media with which I always agree?
2. Do I make an effort to find, understand, and read news sources that are objective and follow journalistic standards?
3. Do I regularly reduce complex issues to simplistic, partisan sound bites to avoid engaging honestly and vulnerably with people with whom I disagree?
4. Do I speak of my ideological opponents in a way that dehumanizes, stereotypes, or objectifies them? Do I speak scornfully or dismissively of those with whom I disagree rather than engaging with their ideas?
5. Do I allow feelings of rage, hatred, and bitterness toward those I see as political enemies grow in my heart?
6. Do I cultivate sin in my heart more than I cultivate virtue?
7. Do I read spiritual books as much as or more than I read the news?
8. Do I speak of and focus on political events more than the Church’s liturgical calendar?
9. Am I regularly distracted from my responsibilities by news, pundits, political arguments, and negative feelings toward those with whom I disagree?
10. What are my highest priorities? Where do I direct most of my energies? Do I put living for God first in my life?

For all those injured and who lost their lives recently, we pray they may rest in peace.

For an end to division in our nation, Lord hear our prayer.

That peace, justice, and truth may reign in our hearts and in our nation, Lord hear our prayer."

Michael Beard is Campus Minister at Mount Mercy University. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, he has made the Midwest his home for 9 of the last 10 years. He lives nearby with his wife and daughter.

Inaugural Post

 Welcome to the first post of the Mustang Musings blog. The hope is that this will serve as a place to find brief reflections week to week--...