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See.Do.Be.Fee. The Street Psalms Magazine

Issue 003

Reflections on becoming a community in mission that embodies a way of seeing, doing and being, that frees us to do things we never thought possible.

Beautiful Question:

How can we become contemplative activists who help create cities of peace for all people?

a long, loving look at the real.

Our church stairwell is an unofficial neighborhood sanctuary.  It serves as a public toilet, a clandestine location from which drug addicts break in and steal quick sale items.  It provides asylum for suburban addicts to hide after encounters with drug dealers that have taken a violent twist. The homeless sometimes find the stairwell to be a great place for a nap or a good night’s rest and others see it as a comfortable spot to simply drink a beer or smoke a Black and Mild in peace or do their drugs or turn a trick.  Similar sanctuaries are scattered throughout the city of Camden, often publicized as the poorest most violent city in North America.  I can’t help but wonder if it would be a little less poor and violent if we frequented these sanctuaries more often.



"Look in your heart,

there lies the answer.

Though the heart,

like a clever conjuror or dancer

deceive us with many a curious slight and motives

like stowaways are found too late."

W.H. Auden

Unknown Artist | Unknown

Notes from the Underground

An Open Letter to the Community around this year’s theme of Contemplative Action.

“Look in your heart, there lies the answer.”


The following is written by Kris Rocke, Executive Director at Street Psalms.


I’ve been stumbling around lately. More than usual. It’s like I’ve got a case of spiritual vertigo. All this stumbling around has got me thinking about the relationship between what Jesus calls “Skandalon” and “Gehenna” and what that means for this year’s theme  - contemplative action. 

We launched our theme by suggesting that contemplative activists are those who take a long loving look at the real and see God at work in all things. This way of seeing frees us to participate in the ongoing act of creation. To use Street Psalms language, a contemplative activist sees and celebrates good news in hard places.

This all sounds well and good, but somewhere along the way we are bound to stumble. Jesus took great care to warn his disciples about the danger of stumbling blocks.  He called them “skandalon.” 

Skandalon is a word dense with meaning. It is where we get the word “scandal.” It is often translated as “offense” or “stumbling block,” but it also refers to a “trap”, or more specifically, the tripping mechanism of the trap. For example, skandalethron was the stick on which the bait was placed. It’s the thing that triggers the trap.

What’s essential to know about the skandalon is that when we trip over it, we find ourselves trapped in rivalry. It’s hard to escape. This is the great insight of Rene Girard. 

Jesus was exquisitely attuned to the skandalon. He knew that whenever we stumble into rivalry that scapegoats are soon to follow, and this means that hell is on the horizon. Scapegoating is a human invention designed to relieve the tension of rivalry. In the end, it leads to what Jesus calls Gehenna, which the Bible translates as hell. 

If discipleship were jujitsu, learning to master the relationship between Skandalon and Gehenna is the equivalent of a 10th-degree blackbelt.

I believe this is what Jesus is trying to get across in the 8th and 9th chapters of Mark. These chapters contain the most concentrated use of skandalon. It is a section filled with stumbling blocks. The first stumbling block appears when Peter enters into a rivalry with Jesus in chapter 8. Peter “rebukes” Jesus for predicting his own death. Recognizing the spirit of rivalry in their midst, Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan.” Another stumbling block appears when the disciples enter into rivalry with each other. On the way to Jerusalem, an argument breaks out. The disciples argue about who is the greatest. Instead of shaming them, Jesus welcomes a child into their midst, and invites them to see the value of the least among them. Yet another stumbling block appears when the disciples enter into rivalry with someone who is casting out demons in Jesus’ name, but who is not part of their group. The disciples want Jesus to stop him. Instead of stopping him, Jesus blesses the outsider who acts in his name, saying that if he is not against us (in rivalry with us) then he is for us. In other words, to act without rivalry is to act in God’s name. So, let him be. 

It’s in the context of these skandalons that Jesus brings up the nasty business of Gehenna. He does this by using a bit of street theater. As we mentioned, Jesus welcomes a child into the community and gives the child center stage. In effect, he tells the disciples that paying attention to the vulnerable ones is the key to unlocking their rivalries. By receiving the vulnerable ones and putting their wellbeing at the center of our attention, we can unplug from our rivalries, realign our relationships and avoid Gehenna.

Jesus then uses a bit of shock therapy. With society’s most vulnerable member at center stage, he shocks the disciples into seeing the relationship between skandalon and Gehenna. 

Using hyperbolic language, he tells the disciples, it’s better to throw themselves into the sea than to cause one of the little ones to stumble and be pulled into our rivalries. Jesus tells the disciples, If your eye causes you to stumble (skandalon), gouge it out. If your hand or foot causes you to stumble (skandalon), cut it off. He says it’s better to be blind or crippled, or lame than to stumble our way into Gehenna (hell), where the little ones suffer the most. 

Gehenna was a real place outside of Jerusalem. In fact, it was a continuously burning trash heap where the refuse of society was thrown. It was also the place where child sacrifice was practiced among certain idolatrous sects in ancient Israel. The point is that Gehenna is not an otherworldly place of torment. Gehenna is a this-world reality. It is an ever-present possibility whenever we stumble into rivalry. Scandalon leads to Gehenna, where the vulnerable ones are sacrificed. Whatever else hell is, it is a reality of our own making where the innocent suffer. Jesus is clear on this. 

Jesus is trying to awaken the disciples to the skandalons before them. He’s giving them eyes to see the traps they are setting for themselves and others that lead to gehenna. He is trying to help them see the stumbling blocks in their own hearts that have them bumping into each other like drunken rivals, who have lost all sense of direction. 

Perhaps I’m overstating things, but it seems to me that the modern world has become a self-generating minefield of skandalons that lead to Gehenna. The traps are everywhere and they are self proliferating. Social media is but one example. But the minefields that trouble me most are not “out there.” They are “in here.” It’s my own experience that the heart itself is the biggest minefield of all, capable of creating an endless supply of skandalons that have us tripping all over the place. It seems to me that this is what the contemplative activist must attend to above all else - the heart. It reminds me of these lines from W.H. Auden.


"Look in your heart,

there lies the answer.

Though the heart,

like a clever conjuror or dancer

deceive us with many a curious slight and motives

like stowaways are found too late."


It’s my prayer that the stowaway of rivalry in my heart is found before it's too late. And I pray that among the stowaways is another stowaway - the stowaway of mercy, waiting and wanting to be found, undoing from within all the rivalrous traps we set for ourselves and others. 

And so we stumble forward - not into the burning fires of sacrifice, but into the welcoming arms of mercy, that quenches those fires. And this is what the contemplative activist knows. They know that the greatest of all the stowaways in every heart is mercy herself. And she comes to us from within, calling forth a new humanity - one where everyone belongs, most especially the little ones. 


“Look in your heart, there lies the answer.”


a Biblical reflection on a gospel text from a perspective of abundance and peacemaking.

Word from below

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."

The following is written by Joel Aguilar from his Word from Below Titled "Anxious Morbus":


When I was a child, I had these racing thoughts of horrible things happening to me or my loved ones. I didn’t know it then, but that was the beginning of a lifelong struggle with anxiety. So, when Guatemala closed its borders and lockdowns began in March 2020, my anxiety got worse. I had nightmares that the pandemic would last forever and that the world might end.

I’m a worrywart, but I tried to play it cool. For those who know me, it was obvious that I was struggling. I turned to my idiosyncratic coping mechanism — consuming books and knowledge. I went through hundreds of pages of heavy reading every week, but it didn’t help. The more I studied about life, death, and the end of the world,  the more I went down the path of what I call anxious morbus — the anxiety-ridden attraction to things that could go wrong.

I know that I’m not the only one who faced deep anxiety during the last year and a half. For that reason, I want to invite us to bring our anxiety to the lectionary reading this week.

At the end of Mark 12, Jesus and his disciples witnessed a widow giving everything she had in the offering plate at the temple. Her intent, of course, was to give to God. And Jesus applauded her generosity. But he also highlighted the reality that her contributions were supporting a temple system that had strayed from its mission — that was crushing people just like her.

In our reading for today, which immediately follows the story of the widow, we encounter Jesus and the disciples leaving the temple. One of the disciples, perhaps without fully understanding what they had just witnessed, uttered words of praise for the greatness of the Herodian temple, a symbol of political, economic, and religious power. “Look, teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

Jesus responds with apocalyptic and worrisome words: “Not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down.” These words affected the disciples. They jumped to anxious morbus. After all, in their eyes the temple was stable, solid, magnificent, and indestructible. If it could fall, what could stand?

When their anxiety got the better of them, they privately asked Jesus about when this horrible event would happen.

After a year of pandemic, conspiracy theories, and massive disruption in our societies and personal lives, it’s not hard to sympathize with the disciples. They wanted to understand what was coming in order to relieve their anxiety.

Jesus didn’t quite give them the answer they wanted. But the beauty of this passage, and what comes after, is that Jesus creates an alternative to the anxiety and conspiracies that offer the false predictability, stability and control that we crave.

It’s easy to miss, but  in Jesus’ speech in this chapter, he addresses the impending destruction, but he never attributes the violence and chaos to God. He is making a point by omission here, and it’s a point he continues to make throughout the book of Mark.

It is not God who is creating this “apocalypse.” It is us! We are the ones who are violent! God is just revealing our violence.

Jesus invites us to stay alert so we are not sucked into the rivalry and the contagious nature of the violence to come. And so that we aren’t fooled into thinking the violence and suffering comes from a dark, childish god. For that reason, we ought to “Watch out that no one deceives us.”

Even though this message may not seem incredibly comforting at first glance, there is amazing freedom in knowing that we are the ones prone to violence, not God.

We rest in the hands of a peace-full, loving God in whom there is no violence. The more we embrace this truth, the more free we are to approach our neighbors and the world with an attitude of abundance instead of suspicion and scarcity. After all, even if the world falls apart, humanity will fall into the hands of a gracious God, redeemer and sustainer of life.


The Spirit of the Lord is upon us because she has anointed us to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

We pray all of this in the name of the Father who is for us, the Son who is with us, and the Spirit who unites us all in the never-ending dance of Love. Amen.

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