How to Be Spiritually Bold
Simone Campbell is the executive director of NETWORK. She is the author of A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community.
June 10, 2015
KRISTA TIPPETT, HOST: Sr. Simone Campbell became a national figure — a bit of a religious rock star — as a face of the “Nuns on the Bus.” She is a lawyer and lobbyist in addition to being a nun, a poet, and a serious Zen practitioner. Sr. Simone is a helpful voice for longings so many of us share, across many differences, about how to engage with the well-being of our neighbors in this complicated age. In a live conversation at our studios on Loring Park, it was moving to see the regard in which Sr. Simone is held — and the way she joins activism, contemplation, and a fresh, authentic personal wisdom.
[music: “Seven League Boots” by Zoe Keating]
SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL: I sometimes think we, in the United States, think we ought to do something about everything and that it’s my job to fix everything. Well it’s not. That’s way beyond us. It’s more important, I think, that we listen deeply to our stories and then see where it leads. If we all do our part in community…
MS. TIPPETT: Whatever our part is, wherever we are.
SR. SIMONE: Whatever our part is. Just do one thing. That’s all we have to do.
[music: “Seven League Boots” by Zoe Keating]
MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being.
[music: “Seven League Boots” by Zoe Keating]
MS. TIPPETT: Simone Campbell is the executive Director of NETWORK — a lobbying organization created to represent people on the margins of society on Capitol Hill. Their mission includes “mending the wealth gap,” “enacting a living wage,” and “crafting a faithful budget that benefits the 100 percent.” Sr. Simone grew up in southern California, became animated by the Civil Rights movement, and took first vows with the Catholic order of the Sisters of Social Service in 1967.
MS. TIPPETT: Simone, welcome.
SR. SIMONE: Thank you.
MS. TIPPETT: So much. And tell me this — it doesn’t seem to me when I read about your early life that there was anything that pointed at, necessarily, or dictated that you would enter a religious order in that spiritual background of your childhood.
SR. SIMONE: Probably not. I was a spiritual kid. When I was about 4 or 5, I heard my mom teaching catechism to the older kids, probably second grade. And I heard that the mass was a miracle. And got to study what the priests did, figuring out what the miracle was. Well, what I saw was him pouring water and wine into the chalice and putting his hands over it like, abracadabra. And then I think my attention wandered for a bit because the next thing I knew, he was wiping out the chalice. So I figured that the miracle was he made the water and wine disappear. [laughs]
And so my discovery of a spiritual sense was kind of magical in the beginning. And — but I also knew that nobody talked about what the miracle was. So I just kept the secret to myself ’til I was a grown up. But I think what mattered most to me as a young person was that Jesus had — in a sense had consequences — that it was part of life. And I realized, looking back, that I spent a lot of energy trying to include everybody. And that piece, I think, probably had the most spiritual nuggets of — that’s led me to this religious life. And being a Sister of Social Service is kind of a — what can I say — kind of a rabble rousing crowd anyway.
MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] And the Sisters of — there’s quite a complex family tree of catholicism, right? And of religious orders…
SR. SIMONE: [laughs] Yes.
MS. TIPPETT: And many of them, we’ve heard — well some of them, we’ve heard a lot about. And this is one of these branches that’s, I think, you’ve made well-known: the Sisters of Social Service. It’s a really interesting — you follow the rule of St. Benedict. But it’s a community with a long history, a long lineage of this intersection of faith and politics.
SR. SIMONE: Right, right. Because our founding was really in Hungary in 1923, and then in Los Angeles in 1926. And our foundress, Margaret Slachta, was the first woman in parliament in Hungary when she was the head of our community. And the sisters there started the first schools of social work, started — organized juvenile detention facilities that were humane and educated kids. And our foundress, Margaret, said that, well, if God would — bless the people who wiped away the tears of people who suffered. Wouldn’t God also bless the people who made it so that tears were not shed? And it was that insight that combined the charity and justice aspect of our mission. And for me, it’s been really a wonderful adventure.
MS. TIPPETT: And, you know, it’s an unfamiliar trajectory now in the 21st century to think of an 18-year-old young woman — I mean, I think there are so many things about you also that defy stereotypes about nuns, if people have stereotypes about nuns, or they just don’t know much about nuns. I mean, I really love this picture on the cover of your book, where I think you look like a friendly, successful, formidable lawyer, perhaps, in your amazing red dress.
SR. SIMONE: [laughs] Well, I am…
MS. TIPPETT: And you are a lawyer. [laughs] Right? Which I didn’t even know when I started hearing about you and the “Nuns on the Bus.” So in 2004, you were invited, I believe — you were recruited to become the executive director of this lobbying organization NETWORK.
SR. SIMONE: Right.
MS. TIPPETT: So you were nun, sister, poet, lawyer, lobbyist. [laughs] Again, and what — NETWORK — does NETWORK stand for something?
SR. SIMONE: No.
MS. TIPPETT: OK.
SR. SIMONE: But the reason we have it all in capitals is because…
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. Why is it all in capitals?
SR. SIMONE: It’s because the founding mothers wanted to be sure that it stood out in the list of other organizations.
MS. TIPPETT: OK. Right.
SR. SIMONE: So they said, “It shall be all capitals.” So when you start, your very first day you are told.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. I thought, “Wow, what does this stand for?”
SR. SIMONE: I know. It’s a very long sentence. No, no. It doesn’t stand for anything.
MS. TIPPETT: Founded in 1972, 47 Catholic sisters founded this thing on a shoestring budget.
SR. SIMONE: Right. $187 that they collected.
MS. TIPPETT: Really?
SR. SIMONE: Yeah. They passed around a bag and collected it. And that was it.
MS. TIPPETT: And what did they want?
SR. SIMONE: They want — they didn’t want another organization. But what they wanted was a network of the sisters in the United States to — who were doing charity at the time, but the call really was to do systemic change. To work to change the federal policies. And required us to be active on Capitol Hill. So the whole plan was, as Senator Kennedy used to call us, “the nuns’ lobby.” And even though we didn’t…
MS. TIPPETT: Did he really? He called you the “nuns’ lobby?” [laughs]
SR. SIMONE: Yeah. He called us the “nuns’ lobby.” Yeah. And so we grew and became lay folks. And when I started, it was probably maybe about half sisters, half lay folks as members. But the whole idea was to affect policy on Capitol Hill. Get Catholic social tradition, Catholic social teaching into the best of who we are and make policy based on real life needs. That was our goal.
MS. TIPPETT: I want to — you said somewhere that over the years, your spirituality and prayer life have deepened to become what you called a contemplative life of “walking willing” — that defines who you are and how you do this work and, I think, how this work continues to evolve both in vision and action. So, what do you mean by that? What does that connote?
SR. SIMONE: Well now the — OK, the heart of who I am is the contemplative. And Gerald May, in this amazing book Will and Spirit, says that the only thing that we bring to the contemplative life is a willing heart. And that the two things that shut down the contemplative life are fear and holding on, grasping. And so what I’ve come to realize is that, for me, this journey is about continuing to walk willing towards the hope, the vision, the perspective, the opportunities that are given. But it’s all about where people are hungry. I get invited to where people are hungry. And I’m willing to try to be food for them, just be available, just be present, and listen to their stories or tell mine and — but it’s all about keeping my heart open to what’s around. And not closing up. Because one of the things I’ve discovered — because some people say, “Oh, you travel all the time. That must be exhausting.” The only time I get tired is if I start worrying about me. If I start focusing on myself thinking, “Oh my god,” looking at my schedule, “It’s terrible — ra-ra-ra.” Then I lose energy. But the whole contemplative life thing is about “walking willing” aware that we’re one body, and that I’ll be nourished in the process if I give myself over to this bigger need.
MS. TIPPETT: But I do know about you also that you have a serious Zen practice.
SR. SIMONE: Yep.
MS. TIPPETT: That that’s also part of your contemplative life. And that you do, as busy as you are, and as big a job as you have, you also do — you do cultivate that. And I think you take time away — you go on retreat. You do take time to immerse in meditation and contemplation.
SR. SIMONE: Absolutely. I mean, I meditate every morning. I mean, it’s essential. It’s essential.
MS. TIPPETT: What is that? What has the addition of the — you were contemplative before you had a Zen practice. But it’s a different approach. It’s a different lineage. What does that add? How does that complexify your contemplative life?
SR. SIMONE: I think what it was for me — the first time I did a Zen retreat, it was at our retreat house my community runs in Encino. And it was like, I don’t know — it was like diving into this pool, this refreshing pool. It was so exciting. I didn’t want to go to bed at night. I was really a little nuts.
MS. TIPPETT: [laughs]
SR. SIMONE: But for me — I had been dabbling in centering prayer and trying to find a way. But this was like a doorway to a form that could be used in any — Zen can be used with any content because Zen is the discipline of the meditation. And — OK, so my experience was this, of meeting, of having in my imagination the sense of a sage. Saying — inviting me to go deeper. And that — being willing to do that was the biggest gift of my life ever. And being willing to know that — how can I say this? Well, to know that we’re one body. All of creation is one body. And I’m only just a little piece of it. But the freedom of knowing that means I just have to do my part. It’s — I mean, I don’t know how to communicate how freeing that is.
MS. TIPPETT: And I think what you’re describing is really being immersed in that knowledge, that…
SR. SIMONE: It’s visceral.
MS. TIPPETT: The knowing.
SR. SIMONE: It’s not here. It’s here. It’s in the guts. It’s like, “Yes.”
MS. TIPPETT: So being able to then…
SR. SIMONE: To come…
MS. TIPPETT: …walk out of meditation and live out of that place.
SR. SIMONE: Right. Because on the cushion, doing the Zen is the easy part of the contemplative life. The harder part is the living in relationship, the living it out, the consistently trying to do what I call deep listening, listening to the needs around me, listening to what I’m — where we’re being nudged and drawn, listening to people’s stories, listening to the murmurs inside of me. That’s the tougher part. And the sitting part is just — I say it’s like this: life’s like a snow globe and it gets all shaken up. And then sitting, doing Zen, you put the snow globe down, and it all sinks down. And there’s clarity. For one brief shining moment every now and then. But I must say that my current little mantra is — to God is, “Wake me up. Please wake me up.” So I feel like I need a new waking up.
[music: “First Self-Portrait Series” by Rachel’s]
MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today, with Sr. Simone Campbell of the “Nuns on the Bus.” We’re at our studios on Loring Park in Minneapolis.
The impetus for the original “Nuns on the Bus” tour came from the U.S. House of Representatives budget plan to cut spending on social services, as well as a reprimand, that same year, of the small lobbying organization Sr. Simone runs together with the wider leadership of American Catholic sisters. There have now been three tours to 25 states, with stops and conversation all along the road with all kinds of people, about matters like living wage, the wealth gap, and health care.
MS. TIPPETT: So in 2010, ’11, ’12, you were running this organization that was doing great and important work. And you were worried, as a good executive director would be, about how to get the word out…
SR. SIMONE: [laughs] Yes.
MS. TIPPETT: …about marketing.
SR. SIMONE: Branding, they tell me.
MS. TIPPETT: Branding.
SR. SIMONE: Branding. Ugh.
MS. TIPPETT: Right. [laughs] And the Vatican came along….
SR. SIMONE: I know…
MS. TIPPETT: …as you tell the story and provided that.
SR. SIMONE: Wasn’t it nice of ‘em?
Yes, absolutely. I mean, well, it was our 40th anniversary on April 14th, 2012. And that was a big question, “How do we get the word out?” And then four days later, the Vatican answered our prayer by naming, naming our little organization in the censure of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. I still can’t quite believe they did it. We only had nine full time staff at the time and we made the whole Vatican nervous?
SR. SIMONE: I mean that was just like beyond, beyond… And the sign of Pentecost, really — it was a Pentecost moment — is that no one knows who first said “road trip.” But at the end of an hour-and-a-half meeting, we were going on the road. We were pushing back against the Ryan budget. We were lifting up the works of Catholic sisters. And going in a bus. And they told me it had to be a wrapped bus. And I had no idea what a wrapped bus was. I was so afraid it had something to do with rap music.
And then only to discover that it was “W-R-A-P.”
MS. TIPPETT: Right.
SR. SIMONE: You know, it’s the wallpaper on the bus. But we knew nothing. We were totally — and that was an example of “walking willing” because it was the idea, it was the consensus of the group. I had no idea what it meant. I had no idea where it would lead. But…
MS. TIPPETT: You didn’t know it would lead to nine states, 2,700 miles, two weeks.
SR. SIMONE: Right. And after the first one, we didn’t even do an evaluation because I never thought there would be a second one. [laughs] So, yes. We had no idea where it was going. But that’s “walking willing:” doing the best you can with all the nudges around.
MS. TIPPETT: So I did just really impress my 16-year-old son by telling him that you were not only on — you were on both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.
SR. SIMONE: I know, it’s pretty amazing.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. But I think so many of us — we heard about the “Nuns on the Bus.” It became this phrase. And there’s this language of the nones, the N-O-N-E-S.
SR. SIMONE: Right.
MS. TIPPETT: The — what I call the new non-religious. And when that’s kind of thrown into a public discussion, I’ll often say, “Not nuns as in the ‘Nuns on the Bus.’” [laughs] I mean, you’ve entered the lexicon.
SR. SIMONE: Our trademark — we trademarked the title, you know?
MS. TIPPETT: You did?
SR. SIMONE: And our trademark lawyer is very worried that it has entered into culture because then you don’t have much of a trademark. [laughs]
MS. TIPPETT: See? You’re still thinking about branding like a good executive director. [laughs] But that experience — I mean, beyond all the hype — and there was a lot of great hype — and eventually speaking at the Democratic Convention and going to the White House. But what did — did that — I have to I think from what I’ve read and in just the little bit I spoke with you before that it plunged you in a whole new way into the world that you were, in Washington, lobbying for.
SR. SIMONE: Yeah. That’s a good way to say it. I think the great gift of the bus — among the great gifts of the bus, are that it put us in contact with folks all over the country. And we became a way for them to find hope, to find community, to come together. On this last bus trip this past fall on voter turnout, we — everybody who pledged to vote got to sign the bus. That became like magic, magic. And I was with some people in Chicago — some sisters in Chicago who had been with us in Chicago. And they had looked on the bus to find their sisters from Iowa who had signed the bus earlier. And who else did they know? And then by the time we got to Colorado, the thing was filled. And so everybody’s looking for friends and — so it became a rolling experience of community. And that’s the piece that I think the bus is about because all are welcome on the bus. And that is something that is missing, missing deeply in our nation right now that all could be welcome.
MS. TIPPETT: I really like the way you talk about being for the 100 percent. You know? I mean, in some ways, a lot of the issues you take up and the policies you take up are maybe, in a superficial way, associated with this language of the 99 percent, which had its moment and it’s had its meaning.
SR. SIMONE: Right. Well, and it set it up for me to be able to say the 100 percent. It’s perfect.
MS. TIPPETT: But yeah. Exactly. Set it up. But that you do — you talk about “we the people,” and you talk about being for the 100 percent.
SR. SIMONE: Well, it’s because everybody’s story has a place. But no one should be dominating the rest of the community. And that piece is — I got this chance to talk — we’re doing business roundtables, and I got this chance to talk to some entrepreneur, C.E.O. types. And so I got to ask them finally this question that I’ve been really wondering about which was — the report was that the average C.E.O. of a publicly traded company got $10 million in salary a year, and they were going for 11 million. And so I got to ask them, “Well guys, I’m kind of curious about this. Is it that they’re not getting by on 10 million that they need 11 million? I don’t get it.” And this one guy said, just like this — he said, “Oh, no Sister Simone. That’s not it. It’s not about the money.” He said, “It’s — we’re very competitive. And we want to win. And money just happens to be the current measure of winning.” And then I think, well, could we have a measure that’s a little less toxic?
Because that’s it. It’s not that they want to hoard this money, they want to win. And so if we can understand for the common good what is underlying their desire, and then we could find some other measures that would free up money, so they pay some decent wages for heaven’s sakes. So anyway, it was an interesting conversation. But seeing — having the curiosity to see their perspective allows for finding new solutions. Because if we just fight and resist — this is the other piece about contemplative life. If we just fight against something, it reinforces it.
MS. TIPPETT: You wrote, “Staying open-handed, treasuring but not grasping, is critical to the contemplative stance. I also believe that’s how we have to think of our economic life together.”
SR. SIMONE: Yes.
MS. TIPPETT: That’s a really intriguing statement. Say some more.
SR. SIMONE: Well, if we’re open-handed, then I know a few things. One is no guarantees. All is fragile. It’s all gift. And it also needs to be shared. And being willing to share what I have or what I have been given then becomes the way that we can really engage each other. And one of the pieces that gets lost is it’s as much monetary as it is our stories. And that creates the bond of community where then the economy is better because we build each other up. How could I leave you out if I’ve heard your story? I can’t. So I have to make sure you’re OK. Check in every now and then.
MS. TIPPETT: But you know, I mean, we’re kind of rediscovering story in all kinds of ways. But even stories get — they get woven artfully into political speeches, right? And so that’s not saying you’re wrong, but we still have to work…
SR. SIMONE: Well you know one of the problems with most of the stories in the political speeches is somebody else went out and found the story. And then it gets slipped into a politician’s talk. I mean, the president does it in the State of the Union. I’ve been asked for stories.
MS. TIPPETT: Right.
SR. SIMONE: But the problem is, is the real power of story is to let my heart be broken by the story, to hear it from you directly or to hear it from whoever directly. Then I’m never the same. And — as opposed to using it as a good shtick.
MS. TIPPETT: I mean, you tell a lot of stories of people you met on the road. And they’re the kind of stories that we’re becoming familiar with. Stories of good people who are working too many jobs and still not getting by. Stories of college students who are carrying way too much to be able to focus on that. Stories of people who don’t have the money to get the care they need and die too young. I am aware in myself and I think all around me, maybe, those of you in this room — there are so many of us are so anguished about these gulfs that seem to be growing in our society, in our community, and in our nation. And it’s not that we don’t care. You know, we care deeply. But we don’t know how to connect that care in meaningful, practical ways. To do something about it.
SR. SIMONE: Well, I think there’s — there are several levels of that. One is the doing something. I sometimes think we, in the United States, think we ought to do something about everything and that it’s my job to fix everything. Well it’s not. That’s way beyond us. It’s more important, I think, that we listen deeply to our stories and then see where it leads. And that’s the piece. If we all do our part…
MS. TIPPETT: Whatever our part is, wherever we are.
SR. SIMONE: Whatever our part is. Just do one thing. That’s all we have to do. But the guilt of the — or the curse of the progressive, the liberal, the whatever is that we think we have to do it all. And then we get overwhelmed. And I get all those solicitations in the mail. And I can’t do everything. And so I don’t do anything. But that’s the mistake. Community is about just doing my part. I — oh, can I?
MS. TIPPETT: No, go on, yes.
SR. SIMONE: Can I tell you? I decided — you know how in the scripture it — Paul says how we’re one body? Not everybody is an ear, not everybody is an eye. So one day I was meditating, and I was trying to figure out what part of the Body of Christ I am. So I came up with this insight that I think I’m stomach acid, I think that’s my job.
It’s really important for metabolizing food.
MS. TIPPETT: Yes.
SR. SIMONE: And it can — not — you don’t need a large quantity of it. And it needs to be contained.
And if it runs amok, that’s called illness.
But, see, it’s doing…
MS. TIPPETT: It’s a great analogy for lobbying — the whole lobbying industry [laughs].
SR. SIMONE: Exactly, exactly. It generates energy and heat. And it does all kinds of good stuff, but it’s a very specific small piece that depends on a whole system to be healthy and effective. We all have a piece of it. And we can do this.
[music:“A Circumnavigation” by Balmorhea]
MS. TIPPETT: You can listen again and share this conversation with Sr. Simone Campbell through our website, onbeing.org.
I’m Krista Tippett. On Being continues in a moment.
[music:“A Circumnavigation” by Balmorhea]
MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett and this is On Being. Today: How to be Spiritually Bold with Sr. Simone Campbell. She’s a lawyer, lobbyist, poet, and Zen contemplative best known as one of the animating faces of the “Nuns on the Bus.” She’s the executive Director of NETWORK — a Catholic lobbying organization created to represent people on the margins of society on Capitol Hill. Their mission includes “mending the wealth gap,” “enacting a living wage,” and “crafting a faithful budget that benefits the 100%.”
MS. TIPPETT: I told you before we started that you always get drawn out as a political activist, and I wanted to draw you out more as a contemplative and a theological thinker. And I just wonder how you would talk in theological and spiritual terms about this challenge before us of what we so antiseptically call income inequality.
SR. SIMONE: Well, I think it is the chasm of our age, the challenge for us to turn around from individualism and to know that if I really know I am one with you, then that’s going to affect the choices I make. And that is a spiritual practice as well as an economic practice. Pope Francis is doing a great job at making this known right now by saying that every economic decision has a moral component. And that we are all needing to work to come together in community. And what he’s doing, walking towards everyone in love, is fabulous. I mean, even all these cardinals that really don’t like him.
He’s just embracing them with love. It’s wonderful. I mean it’s so spiritually bold. But that’s really what I think we need in our society.
MS. TIPPETT: That would also be a different approach to politics.
SR. SIMONE: It’s what I try to do, actually. I try — well, a couple years ago on retreat, my retreat director pushed me to realize that I did have a list that I thought — of folks that I called mistakes of God.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah.
SR. SIMONE: And folks that should have been voted off the island. It was God on an off day. But when I — I came to realize that if I was at odds with the God in them, I’m at odds with the God in me. And so I need to hold compassion in my heart for Paul Ryan and — actually, he’s easier. I’ve gotten to know him better.
MS. TIPPETT: We don’t have to name names. [laughs]
SR. SIMONE: Oh no. I have to name names because it’s my sin. It’s my sin.
But John Boehner — but Boehner’s trapped. I came to realize that Boehner’s trapped in his desire to be Speaker and the fact that he’s got two parties he’s trying to lead. And it’s making — he’s paralyzed. And what an awful place when you’ve worked all your life to get to be a leader and then you can’t lead. The worst you — the best you can do is not do something. I mean, it’s a horrible place. So I’m trying to hold compassion in my heart for everybody. It might be easier if I was Pope. But I’m not going to be Pope. But, anyway.
MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] You’ve said that you think at this moment in time, we are called in the United States to develop a theology of insecurity. What does that mean?
SR. SIMONE: Oh, well, that started a long time ago for me because in the ’80s I was totally enamored of liberation theology. I thought it was fabulous. It was wonderful. It fit my thing. But then I realized, “Holy moly, I live in the first world. And the reason why third world Latin America needs liberation theology is because of our first world oppression.” So what was our agenda? What was the theology we needed to develop? And what I — I came to this insight of I think our sin is our obsession with security. Our obsession that everything ought to work out perfectly for us. That we ought to have every conceivable drop of oil ever that we’d ever need any time. That we have to have electricity, and guaranteed that I brought the right clothes, so I brought extra just in case I needed extra layers. I mean, all this obsession with having everything we need, security. And what that — oh, and then look at our response to September 11, 2001. We just went nuts with the topic. And that obsession…
MS. TIPPETT: And then security never ever works the way we want it to. I mean…
SR. SIMONE: No. Because it’s illusory.
MS. TIPPETT: It never ever quite works.
SR. SIMONE: It’s an illusion. It’s an illusion. And rather, we would be better off if we made peace with insecurity. We’re all vulnerable. It’s all illusion.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. OK, let’s hear from you.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: Hi, what an honor to be here. So I’m here tonight with some of my fellow students of female mystics. And I’m wondering if you can tell us who is your favorite and why.
SR. SIMONE: Lovely. Oh, how could it not be Hildegard?
SR. SIMONE: I mean, she got excommunicated three times and then gets made a saint and the doctor of the church. I mean, really. I mean, really. I mean — and then I wonder did they really read her writings? Well, she wrote all about the feminine of God. It was fabulous.
MS. TIPPETT: [laughs]
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: You talked about doing our part. Have you ever been doing your part and find someone else doing their part and there’s a conflict between your parts?
SR. SIMONE: Oh, right. Yeah. But it’s an important part because…
No, no. Seriously, seriously. In many ways, Paul Ryan is doing his part. And I’m doing my part. And we spend our lives annoying each other kind of. I mean, he enjoys sparring with me and I enjoy sparring with him. So even though we’ve been working sort of on opposite sides in a way, my intersection has affected him and he’s affected me. And I think we’re better for it. Well, one thing that happened that was really sweet was I got to testify in front of the House Budget Committee and he — when he was chairing it last session. And one of the crazy Republicans went out after me how I shouldn’t be believed because I was censured by the Vatican and so nothing was trustworthy. And Paul Ryan defended me. It was kind of sweet.
SR. SIMONE: He said, “Well, Sister Simone is well within the teaching of the Church. You know, we may not agree on these things.”
MS. TIPPETT: That’s so great. We don’t hear those stories.
SR. SIMONE: It was kind of sweet. But it’s the intersection where we have affected each other if we let ourselves be touched. That’s the thing. So just do our part.
MS. TIPPETT: “Walking willing,” right?
SR. SIMONE: “Walking willing.”
MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today, with Sister Simone Campbell of the “Nuns on the Bus” at our studios on Loring Park in Minneapolis.
MS. TIPPETT: Um, there’s a question up here.
MR. GILLISS: Over the next five years, how do you see the Catholic church evolving in its role for women?
SR. SIMONE: Alright. Any crowd that took 350 years to figure out Galileo might be right is not noted for rapid change. So let’s put it in perspective. But what is happening is that some things that people aren’t hearing about — Pope Francis appointed a woman to head one of the pontifical theological schools in Rome. This was fairly earth-shattering in theological realm — those studies areas because it was always thought only boys had big enough brains to do that or something. I don’t know. And so — and women have been appointed to this council that’s working on the issue of abuse. Women are gradually getting more positions. But here, Pope Francis is not going to change the rules. He’s trying to build peace in a church that’s been so divided, so hurt, so split apart by certitude and turf, by preferring the fight as opposed to — not hearing the stories of real people and not having everybody at the table. He’s trying to do the opposite. And so that, to me, is way more important than some juridical edict about women. Because it’s a better building for the future, I hope.
MS. TIPPETT: But I mean — just what you just said, as such a strong vibrant woman and a leader, I think it wouldn’t make sense to a lot of, say, young American feminists.
SR. SIMONE: But here’s the thing: my role is to be priestly in places where the Gospel wouldn’t go otherwise. And if I were ordained as clerical, that all gets circumscribed by church and needs of parishes and administration and all that. Where, the freedom of what I have now is, like, huge. And it’s responding — I have a chance to respond to people’s hungers — I mean, I hear many confessions. I comfort many people. I have a chance to speak of the Gospel in places that would never happen otherwise. I mean, really, the Democratic National Convention. I mean, that was pretty amazing. So how could I not rejoice in this opportunity? And a lot of it’s because of the Vatican naming us. So — it’s their — they started it.
MR. GILLISS: We have a question from a student from Benilde-St. Margaret’s.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: Hello. My name is Zeph So you talk a lot about doing our part. I want to know, like, what does that really mean? So, like, how do you know if you’re doing enough or if you’re doing too little?
SR. SIMONE: I think doing your part is the toughest as a young person because you’re finding your place — you’re finding your place. And so the challenge always is looking to the future. It looks dark. When I was in our formation program in the community, this one retreat guy giving us a retreat said that faith was walking through a mist with your eyes wide open. And that’s what it feels like when you’re trying to find your place. But then the amazing thing is to look back. It looks like it all was a straight line. You can see the straight line of light and that makes us who we are. And so I refer to the groping in the dark and that piece of listening for the nudges and paying attention, paying attention to where the nudges are. And don’t procrastinate too much. Just do it. Act on it. And you’ll know the right way for you forward. If you find yourself not doing anything, beginning to save yourself — “I can’t do that, and I can’t do that” — it’s because you’ve got too many ideas in your head. You’ve got to — focus can help. At least, that’s what happens to me.
MS. TIPPETT: There’s something you wrote about deep listening as a compass, which I think speaks to that. And you actually offered some questions which I just think are really great tools for all of us to hear these questions. You said, “For me, the religious life is about deep listening to the needs around us. The question becomes, ‘Am I responding in generosity? Am I responding in selfishness? Am I responding in a way that builds up people around me, that builds me up, that is respectful of who I am?’ All of those questions are at the heart of how we discern best steps forward.”
SR. SIMONE: Yep. Thanks.
MS. TIPPETT: Well said, eh?
SR. SIMONE: Well said.
The — it really is that inside listening to where you’re being called. And what do you — what gift do you have to offer to the situation? You could offer a bunch of lamentation, but lamentation doesn’t often help. And — but what gift do you have to offer in this — to this situation? Who can you connect with? Where — what can you offer? Now, the other piece is, is we can lament a lot, but the other piece that I haven’t really talked about it all and — but I goof off a lot — is joy. That joy is at the heart of this journey. And if we — too often, progressives are really grim. I mean, it’s not a very good advertisement. “Come join us. We’re so miserable.”
I mean, that really isn’t — because the amazing wonder is that we get to live this life in relationship. We do live in an amazing country as painful as it is with our arrogance. We get to know all kinds of people. We live in a hugely complex, multicultural setting, which is not shared in very many places in our world. There are tremendous possibilities. And I get to be here and talk with you all. I mean, that’s fabulous. So the giving, the finding your niche is about life giving and enjoying the life that is given to you and to others in the process.
MS. TIPPETT: I think that attitude takes a lot of practice, though. I feel like that’s what we’re seeing in you. You’ve practiced this for a long time.
SR. SIMONE: [laughs] Well, I have worked at — well, my experience is that God gives us gifts we need before we know we need them to respond to a situation. That’s my experience over and over. Like with the bus, I had all of these colleagues in D.C., and I didn’t know that I needed them until we didn’t know what to do in response to the censure. And then they became gold for us, gold.
And that got started because another friend had taken me to this big table meeting. And that got started because I had worked with them on Iraq. And that — so there were gifts and gifts and gifts and gifts. But sometimes when — like religious life — the big question is, will there be Women Religious in the future? I mean, we’re old for the most part. We have a few new members. We’re going to be smaller. It’s going to be different. But I think that we’re being given gifts right now for a different time. And the gifts Women Religious are being given is that we’ve got deep spirituality, that we know how to live in community and fight it out, that we can listen, we can’t do that — that we’re having to wrestle with death and dying.
And when you look at what our nation needs, it doesn’t need more schools or hospitals or all that stuff. What it needs are community, spirituality, someone to listen, and dealing with death and dying. So I think the gifts that we’re being given as Women Religious just need to be shared in a whole different way. And it’s that puzzle about where are we being called, where is the next breakthrough moment, what’s the next surprise, is being willing to use our gifts for others.
MS. TIPPETT: One of the things you’ve discovered along your journey is that you like to write poetry. And I wondered if, in closing, you would read “Loaves and Fish”…
SR. SIMONE: Oh, I love this one.
MS. TIPPETT: … one of your poems.
SR. SIMONE: Yes. Can I explain the one joke in here?
MS. TIPPETT: Yes, you may.
SR. SIMONE: The — OK. This is “Loaves and Fish.” And remember the story in Matthew — in the Gospel, and they’re out in the countryside, and the Apostles say, “Send them back to town, they’re going to get grumpy.” And Jesus says, “Feed them yourselves.” And the Apostles say, “we don’t have it.” Well, at the end of Matthew’s account, he says, “5,000 men were fed to say nothing of the women and children.” Well, now that made me mad.
So I meditated about that. As you can tell, I have an odd spiritual life. So I thought about it, and I realized they only counted the ones who thought it was a miracle. Because the women had brought food from home. They shared it.
But the guys — I mean, don’t you have this — don’t you experience this all the time? Guys will show up. There’s food on the table. “Wow, food. What a miracle. Isn’t that great? It was like elves produced it.”
So, anyway. OK. Now that you know that, you’ll know the line. OK. OK, “Loaves and Fish:”
“I always joked that the miracle of
loaves and fish was sharing,
The women always knew this.
But in this moment of need and notoriety,
I ache, tremble, almost weep at
folks so hungry, malnourished, faced
with spiritual famine of epic proportions.
My heart aches with their need.
Apostle-like, I whine, what are we
among so many?
The consistent 2,000-year-old ever-new
response is this:
Blessed and broken, you are enough.
I savor the blessed, cower at the broken, and
pray to be enough.”
MS. TIPPETT: Thank you for coming.
[music: “Glitch Perfect” by Andy McNeill]
MS. TIPPETT: Sr. Simone Campbell is the Executive Director of NETWORK. She is also the author of A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community.
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