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.