Michaela Bruzzese, a Sojourners ​contributing writer, teaches theology at St. Pius X High School in Albuquerque, N.M.

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The Measure of a Man

How can we avoid judging a person by the worst thing they've done?
Two photos of Charles Rodgers lovingly holding his young daughter Mia

Photograph by Julien James

“WAIT—IS THAT Mr. C?” one of my students asked incredulously. “THAT’S MR. C?” he repeated, making a motion of his head exploding.

The rest of the class was reacting the same way, and I couldn’t help but laugh as I confirmed that, indeed, the person profiled in the documentary we were watching—a man serving a 35-year sentence for second-degree armed robbery—was indeed “Mr. C” (Charles Rodgers), the co-teacher of our class (via video) for the past two months.

Unbeknownst to them, my students had just concretely experienced the lesson with which we started the semester: Don’t judge a person by a single story.

The consequence of a ‘single story’

ACCORDING TO AUTHOR Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, there is great danger in a “single story.” The single story makes a single experience, characteristic, or action in a person’s life “become the only story,” and the only story, in turn, “creates stereotypes.” More important, Adichie says, when we make one part of a person’s incredibly varied life, experiences, and decisions the only story, “It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”

I’ve been teaching Catholic social justice to high school students for nine years. My course always includes guest speakers, documentaries, and movies in which people can tell the fullness of their whole story. The full story allows students, in Adichie’s words, to recognize our “equal humanity” and to emphasize how we are similar. In Christian terms, the revelation of another person’s dignity allows for the possibility for conversion which, in my understanding, allows us to see the truth of another’s situation from a position of equality and solidarity, not judgment (whether positive or negative).

From the Archives: May 2005

by Michaela Bruzzese 03-27-2018
Holy Rest

HOLY REST challenges our individualism: It reminds us that we need each other. The manual for discipleship, if it existed, would come with a warning: Do Not Try This Alone. Christianity is fundamentally expressed in community. Jesus formed a community of disciples, he sent the disciples forth in groups, and he promised that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). The Holy Spirit descended in community, creating church. And our continuous process of conversion is both realized and expressed in community, for, as Tony Kelly writes in The Force of the Feminine, “to be converted, turned out of oneself toward that Universal Love revealed in Christ, is to be turned toward others who, one way or another, support or occasion one’s growth in conversion.”

Beyond Teaching Tolerance

by Michaela Bruzzese 01-02-2018
Anti-Semitic incidents in schools have more than doubled; our curricula must respond.

IN THE 2016 ELECTION, white Catholics and evangelicals voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump and the Republican party’s “pro-life” platform. Since Trump’s election, the United States has also seen an unprecedented rise in hate speech and action, such as the Charlottesville rally, and other incidents aimed at minorities, immigrants, and Jews.

The Anti-Defamation League reports a 67 percent rise in anti-Semitic attacks in the U.S. over 2016; anti-Semitic incidents in K-12 private, public, and parochial schools have more than doubled, including harassment, vandalism, and physical assault. These trends are the very opposite of the pro-life platform white Catholics and evangelicals held as a centerpiece for their voting choices.

The challenge of how to respond to a rising tide of hate is not a new one for Christians—nor is the complicity of churches in spreading it. While individuals and a few churches confronted hate speech and actions against Jews in the years of Nazi power in Germany, most supported the state. If we hope to do better today, we must educate our students not only about the end result of complicity and silence—genocide—but also about the stages of bias and hatred that are fertile ground for brutal, systemic violence.

A Garden Toolbox for Schools

by Michaela Bruzzese 12-11-2013
Online resources

"Mr. Chuck," of Veggiegrower Gardens, shows Holy Ghost kindergartners how to form rows before planting seeds. Photo courtesy of Greta Valenzuela.

Online resources

Rooted in Faith

by Michaela Bruzzese 12-09-2013
A school garden project helps kids learn about plants—and Catholic social teaching about caring for the environment.

BALLS THUMPED against the walls, jump ropes scraped the asphalt, and shrieks filled the air: The kindergarten and first-grade students of Holy Ghost Catholic School in Albuquerque, N.M., were at recess on a chilly December day. The sun was shining and the kids bumbled around in their jackets, oblivious to the cold. Also oblivious were the rows of leafy greens in the two raised-bed gardens just outside the classroom windows. The sun, plastic covers, and just enough water (which the students figured out after a failed crop or two) made for a perfect little garden oasis in the midst of winter.

Seeing me headed toward the gardens, dozens of children made a beeline for the structures, simultaneously shouting “Miss! Can I see?” “Miss, I’ll water them!” They helped me lift the cover to reveal a jungle of rainbow chard, kale, spinach, salad greens, a few radishes, and basil—a kaleidoscope of greens, golds, pinks, and yellows.

“Miss, can I have chard?” Mateo looked at me hopefully, chubby fingers pointing to the rainbow chard. “Sure!” I exclaimed, gently breaking off a leaf. “If you can name it, you can taste it!” Suddenly there were 15 hands in front of me, along with a litany of names: “The pink one!” “Chard! Chard!” “Can I have that spinach?!”

Not everyone was as enthusiastic. “Yuck,” Lenaia said when I offered her a piece of spinach. “I don’t want to eat it, but I’ll water it.”

All in the Family

by Michaela Bruzzese 01-01-2012

Multigenerational households are becoming more common, by choice or by necessity -- and these expanded family circles have both benefits and perils.

Our Redemption Draws Near

by Michaela Bruzzese 11-01-2009
Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle B & C

An Unconventional Messiah

by Michaela Bruzzese 09-01-2009
Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary for September and October.

From Bread to Body

by Michaela Bruzzese 08-01-2009
Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary for August.

A Prophet Without Honor

by Michaela Bruzzese 07-01-2009
Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary for July.

Be Still and Know

by Michaela Bruzzese 06-01-2009
Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary for June.

Christian Community 101

by Michaela Bruzzese 05-01-2009

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary for May.

Believing What's True

by Michaela Bruzzese 04-01-2009
Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary for April.

Alone with God

by Michaela Bruzzese 03-01-2009
Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary for March.

'Listen to Him!'

by Michaela Bruzzese 02-01-2009
Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary for February.

Claiming Our Inheritance

by Michaela Bruzzese 01-01-2009
Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary for January.

Christmas Presence

by Michaela Bruzzese 12-04-2008
A few years ago, as I and the rest of the audience waited patiently for a passion play to begin, a homeless man burst into the church and began running up the aisle, screaming.

Christmas Presence

by Michaela Bruzzese 12-01-2008
Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary for December.

The Sabbath Promise

by Michaela Bruzzese 05-01-2005

To follow Jesus more deeply, we must learn to stop and rest.

A 'Holy Alliance'

by Michaela Bruzzese 02-01-2005
A review of Faith and Feminism: a Holy Alliance, by Helen Lakelly Hunt.