To the Ends of the Earth

Q: What is Franciscan Passages?

A: In a nutshell: Hi! Franciscan Passages is a 501(c) non-profit educational

Julie not only reads and writes, but she also loves being outside.
Julie not only reads and writes, but she also loves being outside.

organization. My name is Julie McElmurry. I live in Charlotte, NC. I travel wherever invited to give retreats and presentations on the writings of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi.

With the help of four people who now serve on the board of directors, I started this non-profit in 2010 upon “retiring” as a campus minister from Wake Forest University. I’d served in that role for the Diocese of Charlotte since 1999. Thanks to a good spiritual director and many external indications pointing me in the right direction, I discerned that the proper time had come for me to leave that role in order to share what I’d learned in my studies about St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi. While a campus minister, I spent five summers studying at the Franciscan Institute thanks to a generous scholarship from the Conventual Franciscan friars. I  traveled from NC to NY every June and returned to my campus ministry post every August for a total of nine summers, including my M.S. studies at Fordham University in NYC). I graduated with the M.A. in Franciscan Studies in 2009. Currently, the Franciscan Institute is not offering that degree because the numbers of enrolled students has declined over the years. I graduated with five fellow classmates. One of them joined the friars right after graduating and the other four were Franciscan sisters from India who returned to their amazing, colorful country to share what they’d learned. From my graduation, I went on to complete what would be my final year serving as a campus minister.

For the sake of keeping this post short, I’ll sum up the subsequent 5 years by saying that God has continually surprised me by the types and location of invitations that have come my way. I live in NC but am willing to travel anywhere that I am invited in order to share the actual writings of Francis and Clare, showing people that these are easy-to-read, accessible and relatable so they realize that these writings are theirs to discover. My husband and I are experienced low-budget backpackers who have been to over 40 countries between us. In 2013, I was blessed with the invitation to offer retreats at Farm of the Child in Honduras. I hope and pray for more international invitations. I already have a high level of Spanish competency and have been working for the past 5 weeks to improve my pronunciation and other skills. I am willing to go “to the ends of the earth” to talk about Jesus and to talk about two of his followers, St. Francis and St. Clare. I’ve been working on my Spanish because I have a feeling that I’m “supposed” to be doing that for some greater purpose. I’ve given retreats in Spanish in the U.S., a few presentations in Spanish and a Mission Appeal on behalf of Catholic Volunteer Network in Spanish a total of about 1500 people. They were kind and about 50 people responded when I could not remember a certain word and asked them for help (for the word for “pheasant”). That was a fun moment and helped me realize the listeners were on my side and wanted me to succeed. They were so gracious as I spoke my accented Spanish. I hope that native English speakers will be as gracious with others.

I have met a Korean Poor Clare sister and a Korean Franciscan friar. Their stories of Franciscans in Korea interest me and make me want to go there and learn more from them.  I would like to go to Korea to offer these takes and to lead a retreat. My lack of Korean language skills is an obvious obstacle to this happening, but it is a desire I have had for about two years now. This is the first time I’m putting it “out there” and I will start looking into this as a possibility. In addition, if it turns out that God wants me to offer more talks in Spanish, I am up for that challenge. Accepting an invitation, the process of preparation and traveling to the destinations are challenging and made even more so with a difference in language.

How this relates to St. Francis. He had no idea at the outset of his conversion where God would lead him. He found himself on stormy seas in ships, walking the pilgrimage route in Spain, traveling behind enemy lines in the crusades, talking to fancy people in Rome, hugging lepers and preaching wherever they’d let him. He wasn’t stuck in his own tiny world of Assisi. In fact, it is ironic that we all flock to that beautiful town to learn more about him when scholars like David Flood remind us that he spent his whole life running away from Assisi!

Name a place you’d like to go to do ministry.

Do you think you may be called to go there?

How can you make some steps toward making that happen?

When Love is Your Mission

My months of effort on a particular project were finished as I waited for others to see it through to the next stage. The obstacles and opponents outnumbered and intimidated me. One morning, while in the middle of that ordeal, I was a guest at the home of friends when I discovered a quote pinned to their wall. It is from a very thick book which I do not claim to have read: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (although in 1992 I watched the fabulous Flying Karamazov Brothers, a juggling troupe). Anyhow, I snapped a photo of the quote with my smart phone (as you do) so I could keep it at hand. I want to share it with you in case you’ve created something you love, in which your mission all along was love and now you sit back,anxiously watching the obstacles pop up in front of it, wondering if a mission of love is enough to power it through to the other side of its opponents.

Here’s the quote:

“ in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action, rapidly performed and in the sight of all. Men will even give their lives if only the ordeal does not last long but is soon over, trawith all looking on and applauding as though on the stage. But active love is labor and fortitude, and for some people too, perhaps, a complete science. But I predict that just when you see with horror that in spite of all your efforts you are getting farther from your goal instead of nearer to it — at that very moment I predict that you will reach it and behold clearly the miraculous power of the Lord who has been all the time loving and mysteriously guiding you.

It is a quote which assures us of breakthroughs. We need other people to give us a break, to cut us some slack, to lay off, to crack open the door, to do us a solid, to make way for a breakthrough. When love is our mission, that fact is more important that the details of the actual project. I want to believe that when love is the mission, that mission will see the project through to the other side. We now have a little solar powered machine wandering around Mars because a team of people had a mission of sending it there and worked on that crazy endeavor. Sure, they are into robotics and geology and solar panels but I guarantee you that it was love (of discovery, of exploration, of being the first at something) that motivated them. Whatever your own project, if it is in a holding pattern, as St. Francis’ plane was above my lovely home state of North Carolina for a long time today, double check to make sure that love is your mission and if it’s not, re calibrate some things so that it is.
traHere’s the connection to St. Francis of Assisi: he wanted to find his way in this world. He tried many paths with many fits and starts. Following his dad’s footsteps as a merchant did not work out for him. Being a solider was a bad match. The monastery he ran to stuck him in the dishwasher’s area without even a change of clothes and he was left trying to figure it all out, likely entertaining the fleeting thoughts that he really had lost it and had just made a series of big mistakes. The Lord brought the right people and circumstances into his life to help him find his way. It was around the time he would have “sense(d) in horror that in spite of all [his] efforts [he] is getting farther from [his goal] instead of nearer to it” that a path emerged from the wood and he knew which way to go next. All along, love was his mission and it saw him through to the end of his very short yet influential life of service.

Open the Door for Others (aka Show Me the Mercy!)

Mercy is about unlocking the door and opening it for others.
Mercy is about unlocking the door and opening it for others.

This morning’s homily included a story about a business owner who made sure every single one of his employees got out of the World Trade Center alive. He ended up perishing as he was opening the door and ushering lots and lots of other people through to safety.
The priest mentioned the importance of opening the door for other people. This was his metaphor for Mercy. As we embark on this year of Mercy I think this is a great image to keep in mind.
Ironically enough, as I write this, I now find myself locked outside of not one but three doors and am waiting to find a way in since two hours of my day has already been eaten up by my effort to attend a meeting that is going on somewhere deep inside this locked building. I guess I should be happy that I have time to think about this metaphor as I’m experiencing the frustration of wanting to be let in while people inside are having a hunky dory time and not thinking about the possibility that someone else is locked out.
[Update:} I circled the building, peering into every window I could reach, an effort that took about twenty minutes. I had plenty of time (about 2 hours overall from arrival to getting inside) to experience the gamut of emotions. The one I allowed to linger longest was the one where I felt indignant about the whole thing. At last, someone else entered the building and I popped up from my (by then, comfortable spot on the ground with a great book) to go inside. She showed me where the meeting was going on. They were on a break and invited me to join them for some food. Empanadas and brownies never tasted so good on the same plate! When some of the participants recognized me, I felt warmly welcomed and took a seat next to someone who invited me to sit next to him. I felt right at home after a few minutes and was so glad I waited around instead of (indignantly) getting in my car to drive the 30 minutes back home.

The questions that came to me as I sat on the concrete, waiting for some sentient being with keys to show up, were questions related to the homily about opening the door for people. I was experiencing in a very direct way what it is to be locked outside when I really want to be inside. I find this metaphor of opening the door to be very useful as I’m thinking about the Year of Mercy proclaimed by the church for 2016. The word “mercy” is not one I use in my regular vocabulary. I know St. Francis mentions it in the beginning of his Testament, that the Lord led him among the lepers and he showed mercy to them. While studying abroad in college, I recall looking up the Spanish (and Latin) word “misericordia” which I had originally thought meant “misery” only to find it means mercy. Anyhow, I have a short history with the word and it’s not something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. Metaphors speak to me and enable me to understand otherwise amorphous thoughts.

Here are questions for you and I to consider:
Who do I lock out?

Do I enjoy the safety and comfort of being on the other side of a locked door while others sit outside?

Franciscan Passages’ Manifesto

Hi. My name is Julie McElmurry and I am behind this blog. I also created the book Living & Serving in the Way of St. Francis, which was published in July. I give presentations and retreats on the writings of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi. I know what I’m about and I know why I do what I do.

Here’s my first attempt to articulate for you what the heck I’m trying to do.

trashFirst, a metaphor: do you remember those little looms form making pot holders? They came with a few colors of yarn and could create thousands of different designs.

Here are the “yarns” I’m working with.

Serving the poor. A watershed of my life happened in Hartford, Connecticut during my year with Jesuit Volunteer Corps. I served 40 + hours per week at a homeless shelter for teen girls. I lived with four 20something women, two of whom, disappointingly,  quit the program midway through. I had $75/month for food (our community shared money to buy food together), $75 for my own entertainment, and housing/insurance/bus pass were provided. I lived Frog Hollow, a poor neighborhood, biked a few miles through other poor neighborhoods to my job downtown everyday. My boss at the shelter taught me to stand there, praying and just standing as a steady, constant, stable person when a young woman freaked out. They were there because their adult family members had abused them. I know terrible stories. When the intensity of life got to them, sometimes they’d flip out, yelling and out of control. I learned to pray for a girl as she freaked out. I stayed until the anger and anxiety subsided and stayed even beyond that, while she got a hold of themselves, calmed down or went down for a nap. It is something I’ve used a lot since then, whenever I’m confronted with something new or strange that needs a response from me. I ask God to help me keep steady and to give me wisdom when its time to respond. Meredith, a fellow volunteer who lived with me, worked at a men’s wet homeless shelter. This meant that part of her job was to stand at the door telling men to ditch their bottles of booze. As a wet shelter, they were allowed to come in even when intoxicated (so many guzzled the booze then tossed the bottle so they could enter the shelter). A “wet” shelter operated under the still-controversial, then-brand new concept called “risk reduction” which gave a safe place for men to spend the night to keep them from freezing, even if it meant they were intoxicated.. trash 1When I told her I was afraid of the homeless dudes in our neighborhood, she assured me that they knew who we are and had our backs. I grew up in rural North Carolina, different from the poor, urban streets of Hartford. Living so close to the urban poor, working everyday with innocent voiceless kids (who were lost in the social service system) and learning to eschew materialism and careerism in favor of service made me who I am today.  These days, I speak (for free) to groups around the U.S. on behalf of Catholic Volunteer Network, pass out hundreds of copies of their free booklets, Response, and do whatever I can to talk people into doing a year of service program, namely a faith based one. It is why I spent 18 months working on the book Living & Serving in the Way of St. Francis, which shares the voices of 40 men and women who have similarly volunteered among the poor.

trashThe words of St. Francis of Assisi. There is great value in reading the actual words of St. Francis and St. Clare. You can spend your life reading people’s interpretations of their writings or reading stuff written by Franciscans on various topics but if you like Francis and Clare, you’ve got to read what they actually wrote (or dedicated or what was written by their contemporaries about them). I see it as my calling to introduce people to these writings. I provide a description of the context during which they were written and guide people through an enjoyable, entertaining, intimate look at the texts. I do not claim to be a scholar in my own right, but I have been taught by the finest Franciscan scholars alive today. I attended the Franciscan Institute in NY, earned the M.A. in Franciscan Studies with a focus on Sources.  The book Living & Serving in the Way of St. Francis takes Francis’ Testament as the jumping off point for reflections on modern day Franciscan service.

In summary, these are the two main colors I’m using to make Franciscan Passages’ potholders.   I don’t have a marketing degree, I have never had a business class antrashd I have to learn something new every day as I try to find ways to teach people what I have learned about the writings of Francis and Clare. This is my first attempt to articulate these things. In fact, I assumed I’d have a lot more when I started but what it all comes down to is these two strands: encourage people to spend time among the poor & introduce people to the writings of Francis and Clare. These have changed my own life for the better and I believe they can help provide a center of gravity for others as well. The world can be kinda lonely and confusing and I believe that time spent among God’s favorite people (widows, orphans and the poor) and learning from two of God’s inspired people (Francis and Clare) can help you find your way and find companions on the journey. These two threads make some pretty nifty potholders.

Read this if Someone is Persecuting you and Making you Suffer

Here’s my take on Psalm 37

(New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE))
Exhortation to Patience and Trust
1 Do not fret because of the wicked;
do not be envious of wrongdoers,
Another translation substitutes “provoked” for “fret.” I prefer that since I definitely can identify when I’ve let myself be provoked but “fret” is harder to name. Also, if I think of it like I’m allowing something to happen to me, I have power over it and can likewise prevent it from happening from me. Being provoked is not inevitable-I have to accept its “invitation.”

2 for they will soon fade like the grass,
and wither like the green herb.
When we have troubles, it is hard to imagine they will be gone one day. When in the trough or valley, it is hard to remember that we will one day be back on top of the hill again, where we have a much better view-of all the future and past hills rather than the same old view of our own little valley. When problems or problem people come our way, we must remember that they will not be forever with us. We have choices. Life moves on.

3 Trust in the LORD, and do good;
We are being instructed to do good. Even in the mist of great evil or trials or people trying to provoke us, we still have to be good people and do the right thing. I joke that moral dilemmas are easy to discern because the “right” thing is usually the thing we don’t want to do in the moment as we are tempted by a wrong thing.

so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
You probably are not dealing with a land dispute or land inheritance issue right now, unless you live in a part of the world where this and your very livelihood and your family’s existence are under threat right now. You can substitute another word for “land” as it appears throughout the psalm, or think of the word as representing whatever it is that God has promised you.

4 Take delight in the LORD,

and he will give you the desires of your heart.
This is never a tit-for-tat deal. We are to take delight in the Lord, keeping up with our prayer life, continuing to trust him and build a relationship with him even in the mist of difficult people or circumstances.

5 Commit your way to the LORD;
It can be hard to commit your way to the Lord when there are a lot of other ways that seem more appealing in the moment: the way of revenge, the way of attitude, the way of fighting, the way of telling people to go away and leave you alone. The way of the Lord may not look as appealing but it is the way that will lead you to the right place.

trust in him, and he will act.
It is hard to trust in him. His timing is not always our timing. The deacon one Sunday at our church preached to us about timing and that we have to be reminded again and again that God isn’t just doing stuff the way we want Him to, but that we just have to trust his wisdom. Trust his timing. Let go when you have to and tell him you don’t understand his timing or techniques, but you do trust them.

6 He will make your vindication shine like the light,
and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
This can be hard to believe, too. If you are on the side of God and you’ve been working to serve God all along then you have to believe that in the end, things will work out. A popular saying goes, “If you’re going through hell, keep going!” This promise of vindication and justice includes some lofty words and ambitious moments. Maybe in the end, everything will be this bright and obvious to you and those around you.
7 Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him;
Again with the waiting! So much waiting, it seems. It is so hard to be patient. It is so hard to keep on believing that God will come through. It would be easy to believe that for an afternoon and then see God make everything work out. It is much harder when we see days, months or years pass us by and we have to be steadfast in this faithfulness that God is working. It is not that he is a slow poke or it takes him longer to do things than it takes us. The timing thing is a mystery and the patience thing is something I have to work on again and again because it does not come naturally to me. Faith is really put to the test when it requires patience.

do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
over those who carry out evil devices.
This is where I substitute the word fret with “be provoked” (as indicated in another translation). It only seems that they are prospering or getting their way, but it is like the person who cheats on a marathon run by taking the subway between checkpoints (it has happened) who wins the day only to be humiliated later when everybody finds out what she did.
8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
So, letting myself be provoked (aka fretting) leads to evil? This seems really unfair since I am putting myself as the hero of the psalm, the one who is dealing with persecution. Now, it says I have to even put the kibosh on my own actions, thoughts and words or else I could end up making things even worse for them and me. Seems like a slippery slope when we are dealing with evil, we have to be vigilant not to add more evil to the mix.

9 For the wicked shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.
What does it mean that the wicked would be cut off? As hard as it is to believe while they are right there in the mix, stirring you into the mix with them, that they might actually be extracted from the whole thing one day, hopefully before it is put into the oven! You don’t want to stay in that mix with them. Hard to believe that they may actually be gone from your presence forever one day, but the psalm promises it.
10 Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more;
Well, it is being said more than once, so it is probably worth believing that it is true…one day those opponents will be no more. Right now, it seems they are everything to you but one day they will be nothing.

Though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.
Hard to believe but one day, you will actually be looking for them. Right now, you can’t stand the sight of them so it’s hard to believe you will look for them but this is because as the psalm promises, one day, they will be gone. You won’t believe it and you’ll cautiously poke around wondering when they’re going to jump out and get you but they will actually be gone!

11 But the meek shall inherit the land,
and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
Hopefully, that’s you. That’s why you have to keep your cool, do the right thing, stay on the right path and make the right decisions because in the end, there’s this.
12 The wicked plot against the righteous,
and gnash their teeth at them;
What a scary image. Does it feel like your opponents are actually plotting against you? So angry that they are actually gnashing their teeth against you? Have they been badmouthing you and gossiping about you? Probably so. Have they worked to ruin your reputation? Probably so. This is where Isiah 50 comes in and challenges us with the words, “I offer my back to those who beat me” because, believe it or not, in some circumstances, it isn’t your job to defend yourself. When the haters want to hate you, they will. There are times when you mustn’t waste your time listening to them or even defending yourself from them. Remember, earlier the Psalm promises that your vindication will shine like the noonday sun. That will outshine all the disparaging remarks they make against you.

13 but the LORD laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that their day is coming.
This should be reassuring. God is actually laughing at your opponents! Laughing at them! Can you imagine a hockey player who is tough and brave enough to stand there and actually laugh as his opponents come bustin’ out into the rink like a bunch of bulls in a stampede? God laughs at them not for sport but because he knows their day is coming. Rest easy, friend, and keep doing the right thing.
14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
to bring down the poor and needy,
Because they are out to get you, they will bring out weapons. These could be reputations-ruiners, gossip, unkindness, nasty phone calls, belligerent emails sent to lots of people at once about you. Don’t be surprised by this-they really are out to get you.

to kill those who walk uprightly;
15 their sword shall enter their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.
But here, the Psalm tells us that all of these weapons they draw on you will only cause their own suffering. They try to make you look bad and besmirch your reputation? Hard to believe but maybe that will come back upon them.
16 Better is a little that the righteous person has
than the abundance of many wicked.
It only seems they have it all. If you are doing the right thing and letting God guide your steps, you are on the right path. It may seem your opponent has a lot of people on his side and that everyone is equally against you but that may just be an illusion. Remember, you are the one who is asking God to lead you and who is his willing sheep.
17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
but the LORD upholds the righteous.
Those same arms with which your opponents draw swords and bows against you? Yeah, those will be broken or made useless against you. God is on your side that is why you cannot stray from the path.
18 The LORD knows the days of the blameless,
and their heritage will abide forever;
If you are keeping at your prayer and discernment, God will lead you. Be blameless.

19 they are not put to shame in evil times,
in the days of famine they have abundance.
Will they try to shame you? Probably. In a very public way? If they can.
20 But the wicked perish,
and the enemies of the LORD are like the glory of the pastures;
they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.
The Psalm promises that like smoke they will vanish. Like withered grass they will fade away. It will be over soon. There is a beginning and a middle and an end to your suffering at their hands. It will not be a permanent state.
21 The wicked borrow, and do not pay back,
but the righteous are generous and keep giving;
Though they be greedy and only out for themselves that has nothing to do with you. Keep being generous. Keep giving. These are part of being the righteous one. Don’t play their game, trying to cheat, lie and steal. Play your own game.

22 for those blessed by the LORD shall inherit the land,
but those cursed by him shall be cut off.
Read that again. And again.
23 Our steps[a] are made firm by the LORD,
when he delights in our[b] way;
24 though we stumble,[c] we[d] shall not fall headlong,
for the LORD holds us[e] by the hand.
We are imperfect creatures so we will not do this perfectly. We will stumble and fall. We may slip up and let our emotions come out or in a moment of weakness, use some unprofessional language or otherwise show our weakness. We will stumble but with God leading you on his path, you will not fall. Keep walking. Don’t obsess about your mistake.
25 I have been young, and now am old,
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.
26 They are ever giving liberally and lending,
and their children become a blessing.
Your children, either real or metaphorical here, will become a blessing not just to you but to all. Stand firm. Be bold. Do the right thing.
27 Depart from evil, and do good;
so you shall abide forever.
Even when you are in the right, you will be tempted from the left, the right, the top and the bottom to do the wrong thing. Keep doing the right thing. Keep on.

28 For the LORD loves justice;
he will not forsake his faithful ones.
Hear that? Keep doing the right thing. Keep being one of his faithful ones.
The righteous shall be kept safe forever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
Believe that God will keep you safe.

29 The righteous shall inherit the land,
and live in it forever.
If that’s still you, then that should be good news for you. You will inherit it. It will be yours.
30 The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom,
and their tongues speak justice.
That’s right. That should be you through and through. It won’t be easy, you will see your opponents getting away with misbehavior and you’ll want to do it too but you cannot. You aren’t like them; that’s why this is such a hard time for you.

31 The law of their God is in their hearts;
their steps do not slip.
Again with the steps. You may stumble but God will not let you fall on your face.
32 The wicked watch for the righteous,
and seek to kill them.
They are out to get you. Hard to believe but you do have opponents.

33 The LORD will not abandon them to their power,
or let them be condemned when they are brought to trial.
Whatever kind of trial they put you through, you will prevail. Keep doing the right thing. God will be with you.
34 Wait for the LORD, and keep to his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on the destruction of the wicked.
It probably doesn’t seem like things will ever go your way, but you have to notice the small things along the way. Fill your heart with gratitude so you can get through the next steps. One day, they will be no more.
35 I have seen the wicked oppressing,
and towering like a cedar of Lebanon.
36 Again I passed by, and they were no more;
though I sought them, they could not be found.
It once seemed that every day for the rest of your life would be marred by your opponent’s presence, anger, and menacing ways, but we are assured here that your opponent will be gone one day. He once seemed such a permanent fixture but nothing is permanent.
37 Mark the blameless, and behold the upright,
for there is posterity for the peaceable.
Keep doing the right thing so you are the peaceable one. Don’t assume that all those who surround your opponent are also out to get you. Some are just silent while he persecutes you. Some are just clueless.

38 But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
the posterity of the wicked shall be cut off.
See, they’ll be taken care of soon enough.
39 The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD;
he is their refuge in the time of trouble.
Refuge like an overpass in a storm. Imagine a storm going overhead and you seek shelter under the bridge. You’ve got to find your overpass where you can squeeze in, hold tight and wait for the storms to blow over. They will blow over. Even the worst storms blow over.

40 The LORD helps them and rescues them;
he rescues them from the wicked, and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.
Its okay to skip to this last line and read it again and again. It is hard to believe when, as Isaiah 50 says, they pluck your beard, buffet your face and beat your back but this will not go on forever. Take refuge in God. He will release you from all of this and you will be at peace. One day, all of it will be a distant memory and your opponents will no longer be part of your life.

I hope you find encouragement in these words. They were not written in a vacuum.