Written By: Carrie Nantais
This weekend most of the Jesuit high schools and universities will gather together in Washington, DC for the annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice. I imagine that many of us remember going to this, even back when it was held in Ft. Benning, GA, under a tent. But regardless of where it took place, what do you recall from your time there? If you could focus on one memory, or sensory experience, what was it about? And how might this experience of community gathering impact that way I parent?
For me, what I can recall about the numerous teach-ins I have attended throughout the years is a sense of welcome, of greeting, of being ‘known’. I have attended the IFTJ both as a student and staff person, as attendee and emcee. And I always felt that I was walking among my ‘faith peers’, people who felt as strongly as I did that the love Christ pours out for us is trans-formational when we strive to live our lives recognizing each other’s dignity and God-image. I was welcomed as a person who could contribute to the greater cause of justice work. In fact, I was challenged to think of a way to let the issues of the day, including war and violence and oppression and inhumane living situations, to seep into my bones and transform me, literally from the inside out, into a woman that Christ would recognize as one of his own.
I wish that I could attend the IFTJ! But long travel and lots of sitting do not mix well with my darling toddler son. I do hope one day that I can bring him to the IFTJ if only so that he can begin to experience that sense of community as he encounters injustices even as a little person (and even if he considers most of those injustices to be perpetrated by his mom and dad… But that’s for another entry!). Now, you might all be thinking, “Yes, Carrie. That’s right… peace and justice rallies are not on our family calendar for a few years yet.” And while I initially agree, are we parents any less in need for a shot of peace/justice fellowship, one within which we can sow deep roots for ourselves and our children? I was lucky to have been introduced to peace and justice work by a fabulous high school teacher, Barbara Veale-Smith, an FJV, Boston College alumna who works this day in spiritual formation issues. My son, Liam, is lucky enough to have me and my husband who can introduce it to him much earlier. I’m also thinking of many of my former colleagues that work for the Jesuit Provinces or Jesuit institutions, including Mary Baudouin, John Sealey, Julia Dowd and Mark Potter, all of whom brought their children at various ages to experience first-hand the IFTJ and its powerful call to justice. Maybe if enough of us parents come together to think creatively, next year’s IFTJ can host a ‘playroom’ where we can have our children cared for with age-appropriate stories and activities, while moms and dads sit together with our younger colleagues and re-connect to a source so important for our own formation.
But if the IFTJ is just too far, too expensive, or too overwhelming to consider attending, let’s ‘think global, act local’! There are definitely ways to broaden our justice experiences closer to home which means that it could be more accessible for others just on the fringe. I’m lucky enough to be a part of a ‘social justice’ community made up mostly of former volunteers (JVC, Mercy Corps, Methodist Volunteer Corps, etc.) and their partners/families. For the past 11 years, this group has gathered annually for a weekend during the Lenten season for intentional prayer and fellowship. Throughout the year, then, we host a monthly potluck for this group which rotates to one another’s houses. It has worked very well and even though the conversations are not often about ‘Not For Sale’ or the newest Casa de Solidaridad program in El Salvador, it is about our daily lives and the challenges we face to live justly within that context. Finally, another way to build community within the context of your own home is to start a small prayer/reflection group which meets either by phone or by Skype every month. I have know of a group of 3 women that they have been doing this with great regularity for over 3 years, even though it started out in person and then shifted to telecommunication because of moves to different states. They are responding creatively to their common desire to ‘be known’ by another in this very deep way.
So my question to all of us, how are you as parents seeking to be known by a faith/justice community that continues to inspire and challenge you, especially in your vocation as a parent?
Carrie Nantais is a graduate of Boston College ’00 and Boston College School of Theology and Ministry ’05 and is currently seeking a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology at the University of Detroit Mercy. She served as the assistant for social and international ministries for the Chicago-Detroit Province of the Society of Jesus from 2005-2011. Carrie and her husband Dave live in in midtown area of Detroit, Michigan, with their three year old son Liam.