by Jason Wilde
Every time I hear the story of Zacchaeus, I can’t help but think of this image of my friend and brother in Costa Rica who climbed to the top of a ladder in the middle of a street in order to tell the story of how we all need to be following Zacchaeus into that tree, looking for Jesus.
Luke portrays three kinds of followers in his Gospel, and it is appropriate because when we know Jesus is coming, there are only three possible responses to His presence. The first, and the preferred response, is that of Zacchaeus. He was the worst kind of sinner in the Jewish community - akin to anyone whom the crowds label as a sinner today - a criminal, an intoxicated beggar on the street corner, an LGBT brother or sister, a Hollywood atheist, or even your least favorite politician. But, Zacchaeus, even in his sinful life, was so much more curious about Jesus’ presence that he climbed a tree just to catch a glimpse. Like him, we should all see our own sinfulness and recognize that we should join Zacchaeus in that tree - if not in curiosity, then instead seeking God’s mercy. We should be standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity and in awareness of our own faults.
The second response is that of the crowd, who all knew Jesus was there, but just stood by, following others around them. There was no awareness of the need to reach out and see Jesus, but just knowing that He was there was enough. In many ways, this is a group of people who feel self-sufficient, “(asking) nothing from the Lord because he does not feel needy or in debt, but he feels that God owes something to him. He stands in the temple of God, but he worships a different god: himself. And many “prestigious” groups, “Catholic Christians”, go along this path” (Pope Francis, Mass for Closing of the Amazon Synod). I have been in this group before, not really looking for Jesus, but rather looking at the backs of people around me, the world, and just trying to follow what the world asks of me. I would seek out the group that I felt had the right political views and follow them, hoping they were headed in the same direction I should be going. I followed those who had wealth and power and wanted to imitate them because I had lost sight of Jesus.
The third group of people in the Gospel are those who stand at the front of the line or the front of church every day, but don’t seek Jesus at all - instead they grumble and try to condemn Him when He meets with Zacchaeus, for “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” (Luke 19:7) They affirm that Zacchaeus is a sinner, but aren’t really caring much for him, but rather to pin Jesus for a social crime. This is because in many ways, “we are presumptuous, able to justify ourselves, masters of the art of self-justification” (ibid). We forget that we are sinners altogether and instead seek to destroy the good that Jesus seeks out. How many times have we tried to argue that Zacchaeus doesn’t belong in the Church in our own justification of the Gospel message? How often do we try to criminalize clergy, bishops, or the Pope for accepting those who bring in different views, or even welcoming the outcast? How often do we applaud the ones who withhold Jesus from our perceived enemy? But even worse, are we doing it out of humility and holiness, or out of a desire to point fingers and de-legitimize the merciful one?
Like my brother, I would rather leave the crowd, acknowledge my sinfulness, and seek Jesus’ mercy in ways that no one else does. I call myself a “misionero loco” and will do whatever it takes to be in that tree with the sinner and the poor in spirit - because that’s who Jesus will be calling for. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10)
by Jason Wilde
I watched the scenery from the back of Padre Carlos' tiny hatchback on our way to Mass at a distant Puebla on a rainy Sunday morning. As we slid through the muddy back roads, I noticed that the scenery was changing. The rough, unfarmed greenery was slowly turning into flat, grassy ranches lands spotted with cattle and an occasional horse. Another 20 minutes later, Padre pulled his car up to a tiny little store and we made our way to the even tinier chapel perched on a hill on the other side of the road. The locals were just starting to arrive by truck and by foot, and I noticed that the men were relatively well dressed compared to other pueblas that we'd visited. Most had clean blue jeans, boots and cowboy hats; they were clearly ranchers.
The Gospel reading that Sunday was about Jesus as the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18). Padre Carlos was a very popular homilist, and he didn't let us down. He started by asking the men standing in the back of the chapel how they called their herds. We listened as each one whistled in his own unique way, and the crowd of about 20 people giggled each time.
"If I could imitate one of you"...(whistling feverishly)..."would I be able to call your cattle?", Padre questioned.
"No!", the cowboys all responded in unison.
"Similarly, then if Jesus is the 'Buen Vaquero', do we listen to His call?" Padre continued.
Everyone laughed and seemed to nod in agreement.
"....or do we also listen to others? Do we listen when strange gods call us - gods of money, drugs, alcohol, gossip, TV, internet...?"
The still silence was deafening.
I keep reflecting back on this homily as we stand on the precipice of another season of lent, trying to decide how we are going to prepare ourselves to receive the Good Shepherd whom we all claim allegiance to. But, we live in a world of gods: gods who are loud and in our faces, gods who all vie for our attention and for our support, gods who want us to follow them, to be like them, to reject all others. And while we might claim to only serve one God, in reality we all struggle with this, and unfortunately, our God is a jealous God. He doesn't like when we listen and follow the calls of those other gods:
Interestingly, when push comes to shove, it seems that the faith claims and institutions of one's political party generally trump those of one's religion.
Lent is a time to remove ourselves from the presence and grasp of those other gods. It is a time to clear away the noise that distracts us from His calling. Usually, this means we must sacrifice something that makes us uncomfortable so that we can feel His healing presence. Every year, I struggle to find 'what I should give up', but in reality, I should be working to free myself from the calls of these gods so that I can hear the angelic whistle of the Good Shepherd.
by Jason Wilde
Fear and safety - they are almost certainly not aligned:
We fear things we cannot control.
So why the huge gap in perceived vs. actual risk? It's completely normal, and it's because humans have irrational fears about things they don't control or trust, and they will overlook risk if given enough benefit.
Driving a car is arguably one of the most dangerous activities you will ever do (because of both the immediate and long-term health risks). But, you don't fear driving because:
So, what happens when we do fear something? Fight or flight - remove the risk or remove our self. And this is exactly why Jesus tells us not to be afraid. Fear is the universal gateway to indecision and indifference or hatred and anger - an unlikely dichotomy that are each the most dangerous of all paths because we risk eternal salvation for our soul by doing nothing or hating everything. But more importantly, fear is most often misguided and destructive and so our indifference and hatred are against the very people who need love.
But even in the best case, fear can only lead to safety...
Fear is to Safety as Greed is to Riches
Safety is an idol, a self-preservation that runs counter to life as a Christian witness. And just as greed is the deadly sin used to obtain riches, fear is the conduit to the worship of safety. The Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us to go out of our bubble and help others. Christ never promised safety or an easy life, but He did promise that "whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for (His) sake will find it." (Matthew 16:25)
The best way to fight fear then is not to take control, but to trust Jesus, the Lord of risk, in your life to control your actions and change your feelings. Allow him to turn your fear into a positive emotion like love or empathy. Loving your enemy is the safest path to salvation.
"Can any of you by worrying add a moment to your life-span? If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest?
Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:25-26,32)
"My friends, Jesus is the Lord of risk, he is the Lord of the eternal “more”. Jesus is not the Lord of comfort, security and ease. Following Jesus demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths." (Pope Francis, 2016 World Youth Day Prayer Vigil)
by Jason and Jessica Wilde
(Republished from Facebook post on Nov. 23, 2016 in Georgetown, Malaysia)
Today on the bus, we met a young family with a 3 year old son who had to come check out our own crew. He and Chi were instant best friends, if only for a 20 minute bus ride. While they were showing each other their shoes, his mother struck up a conversation with us, asking where we are from, why we're here, etc. She then said that they were from Ukraine traveling for 'political' reasons (and not planning to go home). They had already 'visited' Sri Lanka and were headed to Thailand next - but we know they are essentially undeclared refugees traveling through the cheapest places in the world on tourist visas. Here was a family that will probably never be able to work legally unless they go home, and who knows what savings they have.
War, political conflict, and forced migration are intrinsic evils that cause families to live a desperate and indignant life. When we talk about refugees, most people think of a bunch of Syrian men and women living in poverty in a tent city. But in reality, the refugees who are just now being resettled, like this father, are working families from conflicts that began over a decade ago, and have been patiently waiting for up to 7 years, and during this time they were limited by refugee laws to living in a refugee area like the tent cities that have become too familiar in Europe. Poverty actually cannot be a reason to declare refugee status. When refugees do get the approval to resettle, they do not have a choice of where or when, or whom with, meaning in many cases that families must be separated if they want to leave at all. In some cases, a wife or daughter will turn down an invitation if her husband or father do not receive one, which basically puts them back at the beginning of the process, or they have to go and become single parent families in a completely foreign country where they will be looked upon as a potential terrorist, separated from their families potentially forever.
And then there are families like the one we met today, who have seen what happens to declared refugees and know the hardships, and so they are undeclared refugees - basically vagabonds on permanent tourist status in any number of countries, and are what most people would call a 'drain on society' because they don't (can't) work or contribute. The Catholic Church considers this a loss of dignity of life due to inability to work and earn fair wages, and furthermore this little boy may be denied access to education and health care since they can't stay in a country permanently on a tourist visa.
It's so easy for us to say that 'they' should just stay put, until their lives are in danger, or they are stuck behind a wall, and then it's 'they shoulda left already'. Or that they should be 'put on hold' until we can verify that they are safe, which of course means that families live several years with limited access to healthcare and education, and then when they are resettled, they are labeled as uneducated and a tax on our healthcare system. (I'm not even sure what "extreme vetting" means in a process like this that can already take half a decade.) But Pope Francis reminds us that "authentic hospitality is a profound gospel value that nurtures love and is our greatest security against hateful acts of terrorism." Also, “We live at a time in which polarization and exclusion are burgeoning and considered the only way to resolve conflicts.” “We see, for example, how quickly those among us with the status of a stranger, an immigrant, or a refugee, become a threat, take on the status of an enemy.” The Pope also warns that this “virus of polarization and animosity” can infect our way of thinking, feeling and acting.
If you are a Christian and are not doing anything to help the stranger, I ask you to please pray not just for those who are refugees, but for anyone who does not have a home, and for direction from God that He might guide you to help where it may be most needed.
Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more. (Pope Francis)
by Jason and the Kids
I remember a time when news organizations were criticized for being biased. I mean, this was really a bad thing, and these networks fought the claim. But in the past year, most people will now accept that some media outlets are biased.
Now, it's gone even farther. In the past year, terms such as "Fake News" and "Alternative Facts" have become so rampant that it has really lost its real meaning. I've seen "fake" posted on anything that someone personally doesn't trust, know about, or agree with, as a way to automatically discount any such information. We've gone from believing that a story may be biased to not believing it at all, and with no apparent regard for the qualifications, sources, or quality of the reporting. It would seem that many people cannot tell the difference between a headline, an editorial, and a rambling blog post, and therefore, all are treated equally...if it falls inline with my own personal opinion.
I spent too many years in graduate school, and if I learned anything from writing pages and pages of thesis and dissertation proofs, it is that all information must be individually verifiable if it is to be considered as a scholarly publication. I also believe the same holds true for our news media - and I honestly believe that most are still credible in this nature.
It is with this mindset that we decided to test this theory, and in the process, teach our kids how to trust, discriminate, and use modern news media to get a true story of what really happened.
The presidential inauguration was upon us, so it was a perfect opportunity to use a very public event that many sources would report on. In our experiment, we gave our kids one of three 'headline' articles from major news outlets, and asked them to create a spider web of major points, details, and takeaways.
We then compared and contrasted each spider web, identifying the unique and duplicate bubbles from each news source. Together, we created a histogram of points which were unique, repeated in two sources, and common across all three sources.
From this histogram, we could easily tell that two of the news sources had a higher ratio of 'unique' points. We explained that these weren't necessarily bad sources or points (or Fake), but that they alone may need to be verified with another sources if we were to trust them. However, having a source with many unique points was also a good thing, because it provided a unique perspective, and if you read many such articles, you can get a better idea of what really happened. It is, after all, these unique points that makes a story colorful or stand out.
We then proceeded to color each point according to political bias - red/blue if it was biased (meaning that it painted one party in a better light), and blank if it was neutral or considered just a common fact. From this visualization, the kids immediately noticed that the organization with fewer unique points was also most biased in the points that it did publish. To our surprise, the other two stories were fairly balanced in biased points in both directions and in neutral points.
Finally, we were able to identify general themes or impressions that each story gave to its readers - one was very descriptive, and another was notably holistic in explaining events surrounding the main story.
What we learned from this exercise:
It's the classic insurance salesman pitch. "Follow me and I'll make sure -this- never happens to you!"
Of course it makes sense - a good politician knows that FEAR is one of the basic innate emotions that generates the strongest response - summarized as "fight or flight" - and in many cases can be irrational or uncontrollable. In this way, an insurance agent is always able to increase their base immediately after a disaster, and a politician is able to change the mind of voters who would otherwise not pay attention or follow a competitor.
How does one use FEAR to gather followers? The most straightforward way of course is to promise that this will never happen again...which is highly unlikely and therefore only captures those who are irrationally afraid or anxious. The second, and more devious approach is to turn FEAR into a contrasting emotion - ANGER. "Of course, this only happened because so-and-so did this-and-that." It is easier to attack than defend, and so the one who attacks first will have the upper hand, and now you have the FEAR of your followers replaced with a healthy dose of ANGER to help you out. Once a leader has ANGER involved, it is a short hop to hatred and division (us vs. them) - and then your support to fight back.
Quoting my favorite fiction philosopher - "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering."
Now, none of this actually leads to a real solution - one in which we improve our situation and ensure the tragedy doesn't happen again. For this to happen, derivative emotions (feelings) must be invoked. Why? Because while emotions are a physiological response, one which we cannot control, feelings instead are the cognitive response to an emotion. Because they require you to think about your response, these typically produce more well thought out and intelligent results. And, they are harder to involuntarily invoke or manipulate.
Specifically those feelings which are tertiary to FEAR and ANGER - Remorse and Disapproval, followed by Love and Optimism, are those that we should be following in our response to a tragedy.
So I challenge you to ask yourself - has someone used your emotions to support their cause? Are you on the path to the dark side? Or have you been able to shut out the salesman and take the path of a Christian - one in which you feel remorse and disapproval, but are reassured in love and optimism - which leads to a solution in peace?
On a Mission
Two passionate parents and their four children are excited to bring His Word to everyone in need while living a life of Gospel poverty as missionaries. They invite you to join them on a journey to encounter our global neighbors that Jesus commands us to love through works of charity and service.