Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

So there has been some drama in my life this week.  Before you jump to conclusions based on the post title and that previous sentence, it was BAND drama.  At home there's only the usual household drama.  Long and short of it, then band decided it was time to part ways with our singer.  And it didn't go well, which we knew it wouldn't.  We knew we it should have been a face to face conversation, but we also knew there would be, you know, DRAMA.  So one of the guys agreed to call our singer.  Who didn't get back to him after several voice mails.  So he (dum dum dum!) did it via email.  I can hear you groaning through the screen.

We really wanted this to be amicable split.  On our part, there was nothing personal in the decision.  We had a great singer with connections in the music scene who we got along with.  Why, then, did we part ways?  Because we weren't on the same page as to what it would take to be polished as a band.  The instrumentalists felt weekly rehearsals were a requirement to becoming a great band.  EVERYONE rehearsing.  Our singer felt as long as everyone did their "homework" we could get together less frequently and be ok.  The final straw was an email at 10 pm the evening before our scheduled rehearsal stating they couldn't make it because they wanted to go to a performance a friend put together.  Oh, and that they couldn't make the next 2 rehearsals as well.  But we'd have like 2 rehearsals before the next gig so we'd be fine.  I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

The bottom line is that our singer's level of commitment was not the same as the rest of the band.  So, what is my point with this?  Am I just venting or airing my dirty laundry?  Actually, no.  It occurred to me today that this is a good metaphor for this past Sunday's Gospel (which you can find here if you care to read it).  This Gospel reading always confused me a little.  Jesus tries to teach us about priorities.  I believe He does so in sort of an odd way.  People come to Him and say they'll follow Him, but first they need to do something.  One needs to bury his father, another wants to say goodbye to his family.  To yet another, he seems frustrated and says "Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head."

So what is Jesus really trying to say?  Jesus is questioning their level of commitment to Him (see how I tied that together?).  For those of us that profess to be Catholics and Christians, what really is our level of commitment?  Is Jesus at the top of our list?  Or do we thing we can just "show up" when it's convenient and nothing better is going on?  Can we really help build the Kingdom of God with minimal effort or on our own?  The obvious answer is no.  For a band to be successful, they need to rehearse together regularly so they get to know each other and even anticipate what the rest of the band is going to do next.  When a band is tight, just a glance will clue the rest in about what you're going to do next.

So too, I believe, with being a follower of Jesus.  You practice your faith in small and big ways every day, pray often, go to Mass weekly, take opportunities to give back your time, talent, and treasure.  After a while, it becomes easy to know what God is calling you to do.  Bringing about the Kingdom of God starts to become second nature.

We have so many distractions in life.  Things we'd rather do.  Obligations we place upon ourselves.  Our children have activities we need to take them to, we work, volunteer, try to find time for friends and family.  Where is the time for God?  If Jesus asks us to follow Him, would we be willing to drop everything, as the disciples did, and just go?  Or would we say, "oh, let me tie up this loose end and them I'm good to go"?  I wish I could answer the same way as the disciples did, but it's not so easy.  I keep saying I'll need to let some things go in order to follow the path to being a deacon.  Yet I haven't given up much at all so far.  That's something I'll need to continue to reflect on and discern.  Am I really ready to let the dead bury their dead and follow Jesus?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

On Love and Hate

So, as a preface, I'm starting to find that cycling is a great way to do contemplative prayer and mull over ideas in my head.  Last couple of rides have given me enough internal quietness to let the Spirit speak and to let things bounce around in my head.

Today's ruminations were about the tragedy in Orlando.  I was thinking less about the details and more about the cause.  The conversation started with my youngest before I hit the road and continued in my brain as I rode.  There are several reasons this tragedy happened but I think it all boils down to one word: hate.  Hate for people that are different.  Hate for people that don't meet our preconceptions.  Hate for people that don't share our values.

Why?  Why did someone hate these people enough to take their lives?  What did any of them do to the shooter?  For that matter, what did they do to anyone?  What makes the existence of people that are different (gay, straight, or whatever) a threat to anyone?  I've never understood blind hatred of a group of any sort.  I'll be honest and say I've met people I don't like.  I'm not sure I ever really "hated" anyone, but definitely didn't like.  However, that was an individual assessment.  I didn't, by extension, not like anyone else that has some characteristic that person had.  I've always judged people as individuals.

I'm firmly convinced that hatred is the work of Satan.  It's that voice inside someone that justifies all kinds of terrible things in the name of righteous anger.  You know what that is.  It's the anger you think you're justified to feel for whatever reason.  You're in the right, others are in the wrong, and it's perfectly acceptable to be upset that your righteousness has been offended.  We've all felt it.  I know I have.  But righteous anger is an oxymoron.  Anger is never right.  Neither is hate.  And the first leads to the other.  That's how Satan tricks us.  Believing that our own righteousness is reason enough for our actions.

So what's the answer?  Well, the obvious answer is love.  The Beatles told us that back in the 60's, right?  Sounds easy, doesn't it?  Well, maybe not.  However, it's what God calls us to do.  It struck me that today's readings (for you non Catholics, if you're interested you can find them here) are a good contrast to the hatred shown in Orlando.  In the Gospel story, a "sinful" woman bathes Jesus' feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, and anoints His feet with ointment.  Why did she do this?  Well, first, out of faith in the mercy of God.  She was truly sorry for her sins and desired the mercy of God.  Her way of showing this need for mercy was to humble herself before Jesus.

Which ties into the second part.  She humbled herself out of love for Jesus and God.  This act of love and desire for mercy resulted in her being forgiven.  In her day, this woman was shunned by the community for being a "sinner".  She was the other.  Did Jesus condemn her like everyone else would have?  No, Jesus loved her and forgave her.  Jesus did not get on his high horse and use "righteous indignation" or anger to cast her our.  Jesus showed us that we need to love those that are different or don't meet our expectations.

Let's face it, we're all sinners.  On our own and by our own actions, we can never be worthy of salvation.  The New Testament is clear that you can't get to heaven by just doing good works and following "the rules".  Only God's grace and mercy allow us to get into heaven.  And how do we receive this grace and mercy?  By loving others.  By confessing our sins and being truly repentant.  By trying every day to live by the example that Jesus set.  By not judging others who do not walk the same path that we do.

As Christians, we're called to live our lives using Jesus as our example.  To be a light for others.  To lead others to God by lighting the way and illuminating the path.  It's not our job to force others to follow us or condemn those that choose a different path.  We plant seeds and we leave the rest to God.  This is what we do by loving others.  We shine God's light to the world in the hope that others will see the path to eternal life.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

For Those Who Wait

I posted a while back about my struggles as a musician, both as a hobby and as a music minister.  Since then, I’ve continued try and figure out just what it is I’m being called to do with music.  Basically trying to discern where the Lord is leading me.  I’m still not 100% sure (are we ever sure of God’s call?) but recent reflection has gotten me closer.  Since I now have a longer drive to and from work, I’ve gotten in the habit of listening to Catholic podcasts on my way home. 

One of the things they’ve reminded me is that God doesn’t always call us to do things that are easy.  Or things that we necessarily want to do.  Sometimes God is like a parent reminding us that we need to do certain things because they’re good for us.  We might not feel like brushing our teeth but cavities are way worse, right?  That’s kind of where I am with music.  There’s the good part (playing) and the hard part (planning, rehearsals, etc).  However, God doesn’t make us do hard things just to be tough on us or to “build character”.  God makes us stretch out of our comfort zones to prepare us to do something bigger.  He helps us learn and develop skills we’ll need for the things He needs us to do down the road.

So I’ve come to the realization, at least as it relates to music ministry, that I need to keep things going.  In fact, I probably need to step up my game a little.  I’ll be honest, I’ve been kind of like a kid doing everything possible to avoid doing something they don’t want to.  You know, like when you put off an assignment until the very moment because you really don’t want to do it?  That’s kind of been it.  I’ve been trying to find reasons to justify why I don’t want to do all the unpleasant parts of music ministry so I can just enjoy the part I like – playing.

But I’ve also realized that I can’t walk away from this ministry.  The last couple of Masses I’ve played, the genuine gratitude people have expressed to me and the group has reminded me why I do it and what the point of ministry is.  And if that means I need to put a little more in to it, then that’s what I need to do.  I need to remember that music ministry is not my work, but God’s work.  It’s not for me to worry about where it goes, who is part of the group, who can commit or not commit.  It’s my job to help put together the best musical product I can to enhance the worship of the people at Mass each time we play.  God can take care of the rest of it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Fear is the Mind Killer, Fear is the Little Death

I attended a seminar just around the time I was laid off last year that said fear is of Satan.  Meaning, Satan uses fear to paralyze us and lead us into sin.  Fear keeps us from trusting in God.  After all, if we truly believe that God will take care of us, what is there to fear?  In one of my favorite passages from the Bible, Jesus reminds us not to worry.  If God takes care of the birds and animals, how will He not care for us if we mean so much more to Him than they?

However, sometimes it's difficult to trust and not to fear.  For example, even though I landed very quickly in an amazing position after being laid off (thanks be to God!), the position isn't at the same salary as my old one.  While the work and being happy doing it is far more important than salary, it does mean my financial situation is different than last year.  And this is a big year for us.  One kid in college and another starting in the fall.  The youngest will be driving soon and we need to get him a car (he'll be commuting in the fall).  Additional insurance to go with that.  Top that off with some repairs (car and home) that need to be made and I'm feeling the strain.

Overall, I know we're good.  But back when the kids were small, we weren't in such a good position.  With 2 young children and day care expenses, we had 2 options: we both work and go slowly into debt or Ellen stays home with the kids and we go quickly into debt.  Guess which we chose?  We hoped that by the time the kids got older, we could pay off the debt.  It actually took Ellen's parents passing away to do it.  Since then, I've been kind of paranoid about not getting into that situation again.

Hence, the fear of not being able to keep up.  Therefore the need to relax and trust in God.  I know we're making smart decisions.  But fear can make you question what you're doing.  Which is why prayer is so important.  Giving the fear over to God to worry about for you is very freeing.  That's not to say you make poor decisions.  But giving your problems to God not only frees you, but it results in new blessings.  The story of the multiplications of the loaves and fishes is still relevant today.  We take what we have.  We give thanks to God for giving us what we have and offer it for others.  God then multiplies what little we have and does more with it than we could have imagined.  So that's what I try to do.  Give what I have to God and trust He'll figure out how to make it enough for me.

Monday, April 18, 2016

First Semester Almost in the Bag

I'm nearing the end of my first semester of diaconate formation.  My last class of the semester is this Wednesday.  Last paper is due then and I'm off until the end of August.  I'll need to do 10 hours of "shadowing" with another deacon over the summer, which is in the works.  Not sure what I expected this semester, but it's been very interesting.  Academically, it's been no sweat.  I've been able to block out the time to get the work done and don't feel like I've been ignoring other areas of my life.  My grades are fine and I have no worries about passing the course.

Spiritually it's been quite a semester.  It's not that there's been anything challenging or that I've learned something that I didn't know previously.  It's just that I've never thought about my faith in the way we've been discussing it.  I've never thought about theology as a subject and it's really broadened my thinking.  And it's left me hungry to learn more.  As in I almost can't wait until the fall to get into it again.

I think the biggest impact on me has been reading Pope Francis' book The Joy of the Gospel.  Part of it is the text itself but part of it is the way he approaches teaching and ministering.  One of the things we learned about in class was Liberation Theology.  Bet you didn't know there were different kinds of theology, did you?  I didn't.  Liberation Theology began in the 1970's in Latin America (think Bishop Oscar Romero).  It's basically a theology of the poor and underprivileged.  The focus is on how does theology help those that are poor and persecuted.  Hence liberation.

The central theory behind it is the praxis method.  You see a problem that needs addressing, you consider ways in which the problem can be solved, then you take action.  Then you repeat.  Pope Francis, being a Jesuit and Argentinian, is steeped in Liberation Theology and praxis methodology.  Once you know what it is, it's so obvious in his writings.  Francis' methods, primarily from Jesuit training, is to observe, discern what God wants you to do, then act.  It's the heart of his message for the Church to focus on the people that are hurting first and foremost.

It was such an "ah ha" moment for me when all of that came together.  I'm a person of action.  I think if we want to improve our country and our world we need to stop saying something should be done and start doing it.  Focus on our own communities.  Get involved with people one on one.  It's one of the things that I believe called me to begin this process.  I have no idea how that will translate into ministry or what God has planned for me, but I'm starting to see the outlines.  I'm keeping myself open to whatever the Spirit is calling me to do.

To me, this is the beauty and wonder of God's grace.  Give God a little bit of yourself and stay open to God's grace.  God will take what little we give and multiply it far more than we could have imagined.  I'm looking forward to where this journey is leading.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Finding Your Niche

My first semester of deaconate classes is quickly coming to a close.  There are two more classes this semester, this Wednesday and next.  I'll probably put up a reflection on what I've learned after next week.  However, last week, as part of the evaluation of potential deacons, I met with a psychologist who will be preparing a profile on me for myself and the diocese to review.  It was kind of a neat thing to do.  One of the questionnaires I had to fill out was kind of hysterical.  There were some seriously paranoid questions on it, like "I hear voices telling me what to do" and "I believe people are out to get me".  I don't recall the specific ones but they were in that vein.  There were some more normal questions as well so it wasn't all craziness.

One of the interesting things we did was a Rorschach test.  You know, look at ink blots and tell what you see.  One was kind of neat and reminded me of the Queen logo.  Wonder what that says about me, hmm?  You'll be happy to know that I "passed" that test and didn't show any signs of insanity.  It appears I've quite good at covering that up.

What struck me most, though, was a casual conversation that came up.  We were speaking in general about family and I was asked about my kids.  You always worry about your kids but my oldest has been on my mind a little more lately because he's preparing himself to "fly solo" and start his own life.  As a parent, it's one of those things where you look forward to them doing so but also worry about whether they're really prepared to live in the "real" world.  My oldest, especially, concerns me probably because his outlook and the way he approaches things is so very different from mine.  Not in a good or bad way, but in a way that I just can't relate.  As an example, I've always been a self starter, getting up early and giving myself plenty of time to get ready in the morning.  I give myself extra time to get anywhere and want to be there early.  He, on the other hand, times things so that he gets up as late as possible and leaves the house with just enough time to get where he needs to go.  Usually.

In the course of this discussion, the psychologist pointed something out that I had not considered and actually resonated with me as well.  When I stated I was concerned about keeping a steady job when you have trouble getting places on time, he replied that everyone finds their niche.  He related to me the story of a client that was the best there was at a seemingly very dull job.  It involved talking to customers for a few minutes to gather information and then refer them to the right person/process to get what they want.  Each call was different and this person excelled at doing it and loved the work.  They did their job so well, this person was promoted to supervisor.  Because if you do your job that amazingly well, you should be able to run the entire team, right?  Wrong.  This person failed at being a supervisor and went back to doing their old job and being happy again.

The moral of the story was that this person had found their niche in their work life.  I realized I'd gone through the same thing recently.  In my last position, I moved into an area of IT and management that placed me in a level of high responsibility and visibility, but the work itself was very different than the customer support work I'd been doing.  And I hated it.  And I didn't think I was very good at it.  I struggled with the position (for many, many reasons) even while trying to get better at doing it.  It was quite a relief when I was laid off, to be honest.

Now that I'm back doing support work, I realize that from a career perspective, this is my niche.  Along those same lines, I'm beginning to feel that from a ministerial perspective, becoming a deacon may also be my niche.  There is a lot more to come, but I'm enjoying the experience so far in the same way I enjoy the work that I do.  I think that bodes well and indicates perhaps this is indeed what God is calling my to do.  I certainly pray that all of us find our niches, personally, professionally, and spiritually.  Because finding your niche can make you very happy indeed.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Are All Religions Created Equal?

Yesterday, I read a blog post that one of my Facebook friends had shared/responded to.  To be fair, the person responding was not in favor of the theme of the blog post.  It was one of those rants that makes you unsure if you want to be sad or angry.  Or both.  I was tempted to post a comment, but the majority of the comments were in favor of this position and were denigrating "liberals" and mocking those that dared disagree.  I doubted my comments would have made a difference as the commenters were so sure of their righteousness.  I was going to let it go, but it was still on my mind this morning so I thought I would put my thoughts here instead.  The post is entitled "It’s Time To Stop Pretending All Religions Are Equal".

The author was ranting about this weeks' attacks in Brussels.  He states multiculturalism and diversity are not potential sources of strength, but drivers of division.  His basic position is that Christianity is the best religion out there and Islam is bad and evil.  He uses a lot of words to try to say so, but he's peddling the tired mantra that Christianity is the only non-violent religion and Islam is a religion of violence.  And he gives lots of "examples" to prove his point, or rather, try to disprove the points of those that disagree with him.  Just a taste of a quote:  "In fact, aside from Islam, the only other truly violent religion in existence is liberalism."  And this little nugget:  "Obscure nut jobs like the Westboro Baptists are not Christian fundamentalists. They are apostates. They’ve fabricated their own fundamentals and sprinkled a little Jesus on top of the fake religion they made up."  Because, you know, that can't happen with Muslim factions either.

The thing that makes me most sad about this silly article is that the author completely misses the point of being a Christian and Christianity.  Are all religions created equal?  I don't know.  But this I do know.  Jesus first and foremost taught us to love.  Unconditionally.  Especially those that hate you.  As a matter of fact, go OUT OF YOUR WAY to love those that hate you.

Today is Holy Thursday.  A tradition in the Catholic Church is for the priest and deacon to wash the feet of others.  Just a little history as background for what Jesus did when He gave us this tradition.  At the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.  Washing of feet was the task of the lowliest of servants.  It would have been scandalous in the extreme for a great teacher and leader to debase himself to that level.  Yet, not only did Jesus do that, He said it was an example for all.  Because Jesus did not come to be served but to serve.  THAT to me is what Christianity and being a Catholic is all about.  Loving and serving others.

THAT is how you witness the faith.  THAT is how you attract others to the truth and message of Christianity.  Going on about how yours is the only true faith will not win you over with anyone other than those that already agree with you.  Also, I've said on many occasions that I believe all religions lead back to God.  We are all created in God's image and have a longing for the spiritual.  For a desire to know God.  We don't all do it in the same way.  I believe the Catholic way is the correct one.  But one thing the Church teaches is that God and His mercy are so big, so wide, so beyond our understanding, that even those that are not Christian can still go to heaven and be one with God.  It's the yearning and searching for God in whatever imperfect human way we manage that matters.

Do some distort God's message for their own agendas?  Of course they do.  Muslims do it.  Christians have done it for centuries and still do it.  I'm sure there are plenty of examples in other religions of doing terrible things for "the glory of god(s)".  Does that mean some religions are better than others?  Hell if I know.  But one thing I do know, people like the author of that blog post are part of the problem that make others hate members of a religious group, not part of the solution.

I pray for all of the families of those affected by the terrorist activities in Brussels and all over the world.  May they find peace and strength in the midst of tragedy.  May we all follow Jesus' example of love and service to make our world a better place.