Monday, October 31, 2011

These Are The Days of Remembrance

All Hallows' Eve, 2011

Over the course of my life I have had a great deal of formation with respect to remembering the dead. Between ministry both as deacon and as pastoral musician, between witnessing and experiencing the bittersweetness that accompanies the death of a friend, loved one, or family member, and learning the stories behind both mine and my wife's ancestral lineage, no huge leap is necessary to find a place of respect for those who have crossed the bridge of death (over the River Styx, if you like) and have reached the Promised Land of Heaven, the Summerlands, or even the wayside stop some call Purgatory. Nor should a huge leap be needed. 'Nuff said.

In the last ten years I had several means of expression at my disposal. Two had the most impact - one being my dear wife's continuing to maintain memories of her own ancestral line, and the genealogy searches that spawned from it; and the other being the annual Requiem Mass that my Catholic congregation and choir sang every year while Fr. Damien was pastor. Though Fr. D. has retired and Fr. Bill just isn't into this traditional expression, it's been enough to carry me further. Our recent Big Move put us much closer to the cemeteries where our grandparents and great-grandparents are laid to rest..

Another of my expressions of remembrance was intended to be a little more public-facing. When I 'published' a weekly update of family life (nothing of any consequence, just a little 'we're still here' sort of thing), I began including a list of obituaries at this time of year honoring a few of the great and near-great who passed away over the preceding twelve months. It's an interesting read. Since last October 31 I lost two members of my wife's extended family within eight days of each other. Society has lost two of it's more notorious menaces, a technology and marketing wizard, and many other influential people. A romp through the obituary listings at Wikipedia took a couple of hours' time to whittle the list down to what follows. The list is far from complete, and I probably missed a few along the way. Remember them as well, as you remember friends, family, and the rest of my hand-picked list.

1 - Monica Johnson, 64, American novelist and screenwriter (Lost in America, Modern Romance), esophageal cancer.
2 - Jule Sugarman, 83, American educator, creator and director of the Head Start Program, cancer.
3 - Jerry Bock, 81, American musical theater composer (Fiddler on the Roof, Fiorello!), heart failure.
4 - Sparky Anderson, 76, American baseball player and manager (Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers), member of Baseball Hall of Fame, complications from dementia.
5 - Jill Clayburgh, 66, American actress (An Unmarried Woman, Ally McBeal, Dirty Sexy Money), chronic leukemia.
8 - Addison Powell, 89, American actor (Dark Shadows, The Thomas Crown Affair, Three Days of the Condor).
10 - Dino De Laurentiis, 91, Italian film producer.
28 - Leslie Nielsen, 84, Canadian-born American actor (Airplane!, The Naked Gun), pneumonia.

5 - Leslie Nielsen, 84, Canadian-born American actor (Airplane!, The Naked Gun), pneumonia.
15 - Blake Edwards, 88, American film director, producer and screenwriter (The Pink Panther, Breakfast at Tiffany's), pneumonia.
17 - Captain Beefheart, 69, American rock musician and artist (Trout Mask Replica), complications from multiple sclerosis.
20 - Steve Landesberg, 74, American actor (Barney Miller, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), colorectal cancer.
26 - Bernard Wilson, 64, American singer (Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes), stroke and heart attack.
28 - Agathe von Trapp, 97, Austrian-born American singer, member of the Trapp family (The Sound of Music).

4 - Dick King-Smith, 88, British author (The Sheep-Pig, The Water Horse).
6 - Donald J. Tyson, 80, American business executive, Chairman of Tyson Foods (1967–2001), cancer.
11 - David Nelson, 74, American actor (The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet), colon cancer.
17 - Don Kirshner, 76, American record producer and songwriter, host of Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, heart failure.
18 - Sargent Shriver, 95, American diplomat and politician, Ambassador to France (1968–1970), Vice Presidential nominee (1972), complications from Alzheimer's disease.
24 - David Frye, 77, American satirist and Richard Nixon impersonator, cardiopulmonary arrest.

6 - Gary Moore, 58, Irish rock guitarist and singer (Thin Lizzy), heart attack.
12 - Kenneth Mars, 75, American actor (Young Frankenstein, The Producers, The Little Mermaid), pancreatic cancer.
28 - Jane Russell, 89, American actress (The Outlaw, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), respiratory illness.


10 - Eddie Snyder, 92, American composer ("Strangers in the Night", "Spanish Eyes").
13 - (Uncle) Gene Harding, 82
18 - Warren Christopher, 85, American diplomat, Secretary of State (1993–1997), complications from kidney and bladder cancer.
21 - Theodore Green (brother-in-law), 44, cancer.
27 - DJ Megatron, 32, American disc jockey, shot.
30 - Jack Fulk, 78, American businessman, co-founder of Bojangles' Famous Chicken 'n Biscuits.

14 - Arthur Marx, 89, American writer, son of Groucho Marx.
17 - Michael Sarrazin, 70, Canadian actor (They Shoot Horses, Don't They?; The Flim-Flam Man; For Pete's Sake), cancer.

2 - Osama bin Laden, 54, Saudi founder of Al-Qaeda, planned September 11 attacks, shot.
3 - Jackie Cooper, 88, American actor (Skippy, Our Gang, Superman) and director (M*A*S*H).
4 - Richard Steinheimer, 81, American railroad photographer, Alzheimer's disease.
10 - Norma Zimmer, 87, American entertainer (The Lawrence Welk Show).
20 - Randy Savage, 58, American professional wrestler.
22 - Joseph Brooks, 73, American Grammy-winning songwriter ("You Light Up My Life"), suicide by asphyxiation.

3 - Andrew Gold, 59, American singer-songwriter ("Lonely Boy", "Thank You for Being a Friend"), heart attack.
3 - James Arness, 88, American actor (Gunsmoke), natural causes.
7 - Leonard B. Stern, 87, American television director, producer, and writer (Get Smart), creator of The Honeymooners, co-creator of Mad Libs.
12 - Alan Haberman, 81, American grocer, first to use the barcode system, heart and lung disease.
23 - Fred Steiner, 88, American television composer (Perry Mason, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone).
23 - Peter Falk, 83, American actor (Columbo, Murder, Inc., Pocketful of Miracles, The Princess Bride).
27 - Lura Lynn Ryan, 76, American First Lady of Illinois (1999-2003), cancer.

12 - Sherwood Schwartz, 94, American television producer, creator of The Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island.
20 - Mary Simpson, 85, American minister, first woman to be ordained by the American Episcopal Church.
23 - Amy Winehouse, 27, British singer-songwriter ("Rehab"), accidental alcohol poisoning.

3 - Bubba Smith, 66, American football player (Baltimore Colts) and actor (Police Academy).
22 - Nickolas Ashford, 70, American R&B singer (Ashford & Simpson) and songwriter ("Ain't No Mountain High Enough"), throat cancer.


6 - Michael S. Hart, 64, American author, inventor of the e-book and founder of Project Gutenberg, heart attack.
10 - Cliff Robertson, 88, American actor (Charly, Spider-Man, PT 109), natural causes.
17 - Charles H. Percy, 91, American politician, Senator from Illinois (1967–1985), Alzheimer's disease.
17 - Eleanor Mondale, 51, American television personality, daughter of Walter Mondale, brain cancer.
19 - Dolores Hope, 102, American philanthropist, widow of Bob Hope, natural causes.
20 - Arch West, 97, American marketing executive credited with developing Doritos.
27 - David Croft, 89, British television comedy writer and producer (Are You Being Served?, Dad's Army).

3 - Arthur C. Nielsen, Jr., 92, American businessman (ACNielsen), Parkinson's disease.
5 - Steve Jobs, 56, American computer entrepreneur and inventor, co-founder of Apple Inc., pancreatic cancer.
8 - Roger Williams, 87, American pianist, pancreatic cancer.
18 - Bob Brunning, 68, British blues musician (Fleetwood Mac), heart attack.
20 - Muammar Gaddafi, 69, Libyan leader (1969–2011), shot.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them.
May their souls, and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace....Amen.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Quandary #11235

I recently ran across this somewhat 'viral' status update making its way through Facebook:

"Can anyone tell me why it is so hard to pray, but easy to swear? Why clubs are growing and churches are shrinking? Why it is so hard to re-post a Christian status, but easy to post gossip? Why we can worship a celebrity, but not Jesus? Gonna ignore this? The Lord said, if you deny me in front of your friends, I will deny you in front of my Father. Re-post this if you're not ashamed and love Jesus."

I have no idea where this originated. The person who wrote and first posted this is likely a devout Christian, perhaps works or volunteers for a non-denominational ministry; may even be a full-time minister or pastor. I have no way to know.

Further, there's a long-standing quote from Jesus in the Gospels, to the order of 'that which is not against us is for us,' so posting such a status update and asking - no, let's call it challenging - others to copy it is not wrong.

But here's my quandary. As this is a such a great thought-provoking statement, why don't I see the same post as the status of my well-known devout Christian colleagues? Why haven't I seen a post like this from a church or other religious body with a presence on Facebook? I have 'liked' or befriended several. Surely those organizations or high-profile people with an Internet presence would want to promote the mission and vision of Jesus Christ in just this way.

But no. Viral posts like these, no matter how well intended, are generally copied and pasted from one's status to another without much thought. It reminds me of Jesus' quoting the prophet Isaiah when he says, This people pays me lip service, but their hearts are far from me. The proof: several of the people who copied and pasted the status into their own haven't likely seen the inside of a church in a very long time. I mean, not even Christmas and Easter seems to motivate some folks into a house of worship. A wedding or a funeral, perhaps - but begrudgingly perhaps, even then. (Forgive the obviously poor grammar, if not the accusation.)

That it is easier to swear and harder to pray is a mark of our human condition, a sign that we need at a minimum the example of someone like Jesus. Some will think that it wouldn't be that way if preachers didn't keep beating into their heads that they're not worthy of God's attention through prayer. The truth is, that we turn the tables; we don't give God the attention that we should. That secular socialism thrives while churches and congregations struggle is that in our human weakness we would rather be entertained than to focus on making a paradigm change in our lives. There are too many distract---no, too many excuses that have caused the following very real statistics to be shared among pastors and the governing bodies of many churches, congregations, and denominations:

While a church may have a large number of registered members, only about 30% attend consistently week-to-week. Of that 30%, about one in ten serve actively through volunteering to do the 'work of the Church', meaning serve in a program or service or ministry that reaches out beyond attending services. Musicians (such as myself), Sunday School teachers (aka catechists or Religious Education instructors), ministry to the homebound, the sick, the hungry, the homeless, the needy. In the end, only 3% of the community plans and executes, and 30% supports this work financially in the midst of their own financial struggles.The statistics came from the observation of leaders I worked with during ministry formation. They got those numbers the hard way: taking head counts at services over a couple of weekends in the fall (when people are less likely to be away on vacation trips) and comparing the totals to the total number of registered members.

I've drawn a couple of conclusions from this. First, God takes those percentages and goes a long way with them, much as Jesus took five loaves of bread and two fish and fed 5,000 men - plus an uncounted number of women and children - and still had twelve baskets of fragments remaining when all had eaten their fill. God is never outdone in generosity. This is something I have heard many times, and can personally attest to as a genuine truth. Might we be jealous of God's generosity when the recipient clashes with our perception of worthiness?

Secondly, to be able to understand this truth you have to be among those whom God works through to make things happen. Your relationship with God has to run deep and personal. God is not only Lord and Master, Father and Creator, Savior and Redeemer, Spirit and Life, but Friend and Companion. While you may experience any or all of the above independently, it is greatly enriched in the company of others. If great things happen with 3% and 30%, how much more would be done to advance the kingdom of God on Earth if those percentages were significantly higher?

While I do not subscribe to jumping on the viral status bandwagon, I struggle inwardly and outwardly to live my life to its best potential. I make mistakes; but I own up to them. I have great experiences and I share them; I have burdens for which I do my best to shoulder and appreciate encouragement as well as assistance when it's needed. All this is possible by the grace of God, and the love God shares with us through Jesus. I don't ignore it; I live it. I may not be the best living example, but I work at it every day. It's not something you can tweet in 140 characters or less, or summarize in a status update. You have to live it. The printed word alone has a habit of limiting and constraining the reader to the conformity and vision of the reader's mind. Let's try using more of our senses to become aware of who we are, where we are going, and in whom and what we truly believe.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Starting Over

The 19th Week in Ordinary Time

Sunday's Word:
1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a (The Lord comes to Elijah not in wind or fire or earthquake, but in a whisper)
Psalm 85 (v.9: I will hear what God proclaims)
Romans 9:1-5 (Paul explains Jewish heritage and the Covenant with God)
Matthew 14:22-33 (Jesus - and Peter - walk on water; a leap of faith)

Starting over.

With all that is going on around me at present, that's the first thing I thought about after hearing these passages yesterday. Starting over - and the leap of faith that is necessary to make everything come together.

As I write this morning, there are forty days remaining until we leave our dwelling place of the last 9-1/2 years. My wife and my son and I are all anticipating this move. Much has already been done to reduce the amount of 'stuff' we have accumulated; I've made four trips to the Goodwill donation center and the car was full each time. Much remains to do; the arduous and slower process of packing what we can ahead has begun, and other tasks which must wait until closer to the moving date continue to stare me in the face.

There are several objectives about this move that we hope to accomplish. Some of them will be easy, such as additional space, access to amenities and public transportation. Others are a bit more elusive and will require time and reflection. My wife and I had decided on the area to which we're moving because it is in the same Catholic diocese as the parish in which I serve as a music minister. But it is the diaconate, and the faithful horse waiting for its rider, that is among the factors that is taking us where we're going as opposed to elsewhere.

Milestone events - the big events in life - put us in the position of taking a leap of faith. Every change in location from the time I left my parents' home, every new job start, my marriage, my ordination - all have been accompanied by nervousness and anticipation. Have I made good choices? Have I planned well, accounting for potential problems or hangups? And from a spiritual perspective, am I leading the charge or being led?

Considering all the thought and prayer that has been raised going into this move - something that started while going through the last move - and for all the reasons my wife and I considered in making this move, I genuinely believe I am being led this time. Looking back, I can't say that about every big decision. The choices to which I've been led have been the most fruitful - being married 30 years to the same wonderful and thoughtful woman is the #1 example. To make that commitment took a leap of faith. To maintain it takes more leaps; most of them small, but several of them have been large, and I make them all gladly.

There is less of an agenda in this new move. It is more about 'we' and less about 'me.' It's why I believe I'm being led to do this now. Further, my family is taking a larger leap of faith in the sense that they must trust me in taking care of the pre-moving arrangements apart from packing. In the end, I am reasonably certain all will go well; still, I pray that there be no unknown situation that will short-circuit the process. In short, I pray that God continues to lead me.

With that, we jump into these next 40 days. It was my wife who said first, "we're moving into Lent again." In a manner of speaking, we are indeed. We are climbing the mountain, as it were; and the to-do list looks like a rocky climb, indeed. I am no mountain climber. I rely on my faith that I will be shown the correct and safest path.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Filled with the Holy Spirit

Pentecost Sunday

There's a fine line for both disciple and inquirer/observer when it comes to discerning how devout and genuine is one's walk in the Christian faith.

The New Testament contains numerous references to being "filled with the Holy Spirit." John the Baptizer is near the beginning of the list, running through the Apostles through Paul of Tarsus, and ending with a smattering of names of people who were instrumental in the early Christian communities.

Then there's Harold Camping. In case you've just joined us or have forgotten, Mr. Camping heads a non-denominational ministry called Family Radio, and grabbed a great deal of press coverage about seven weeks ago when he announced that the Rapture would occur this past May 21, with the end of the world - as everyone knows it - five months later. This date was supposedly calculated by Camping (and I would presume by at least an assistant or two on his staff) based on 'statistics' found in the book of Revelation. On that great day, those most faithful of believers would all be taken to heaven, and those "left behind" would face the tribulations of the Last Judgment, culminating with the destruction of this world. When May 21 came and went and nothing out of the ordinary appeared to have happened, Camping said he was "bewildered" but stuck to his prediction that October 21 would indeed mark the end of time. (This is, of course, a full fourteen months before the ancient Mayan calendar runs out of days.)

It's not my intention to comment on the "end times" here. There's been more than enough of that and there will be more. It is all speculation. Further, Revelation is written in the figurative language of apocalyptic literature - and not the only example of same in the Judeo-Christian repertoire. During those seven weeks of notoriety, the ultimate question becomes: Is Mr. Camping filled with the Holy Spirit - or full of something else? Again, lots of speculation. He's an octogenarian and could be suffering elements of the diseases among the elderly I'm becoming familiar with as my parents and I age. Any and all manner of rational, plausible configurations are possible. That being said, I'm not out to affirm or condemn Mr. Camping, or what he believes or preaches. That is not the point.

People thought Deacon Stephen was a bit over the edge when he testified that he saw 'the heavens opened' and Jesus sitting at the right of the throne of almighty God. For that matter, a great many people thought Jesus was over the edge, too. Jesus had promised the apostles that another advocate would be sent to them after his departure. None of them really understood what that meant until it happened. But when it happened, it was immediately understood what was to be done.

Receiving the Holy Spirit does not mean you will instantly know everything. That was apparent as we proceed through the writings of the New Testament. What it does mean is that the recipient is better prepared to face whatever God will present in that person's life. This continued presence of God among us is often misunderstood and even overlooked, the emphasis being so much on the person of Jesus as he lived among the people of 1st Century Palestine. It is that presence that moved Paul and the other apostles in the spread of Christianity. It is that presence that one seeks, and finds in the vibrant congregations of today.

On this day, considered to be the birthday of the Church, let us be thankful for this great gift of divine love. May we be moved to think more about the part of our being that is connected to the Divine; to receive anew and afresh the Holy Spirit of God. Let us be filled with that presence - lest we become full of something else.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Looking Both Ways

Seventeen years ago this very day, I turned a page in my life's journey that changed me forever. It was the day I received the sacrament of Holy Orders and was ordained to the permanent diaconate of the Roman Catholic Church. It is one of the most pivotal moments of my life. It was and is still one of the proudest moments of my life.

After all is said and done, it is also one of the most sobering and maturing events of my life. Everything that transpired in the preparation for accepting the office and everything I experienced during the five years I executed that office has indeed influenced my spiritual growth and my relationship with God. The entire experience, still being lived out, has brought me a deep level of appreciation for everything that has come into my life since. Without this, I don't know - and don't wish to know - what I might have become.

I was the center of my own universe back then. I was going to have my cake, and eat it, too. I thought I was going to rise above myself, and proved that it's not possible before you are plunged to as deep as you can stand. Only then do you realize that God must be in the details, and only then can God raise you up. Then you realize that the cake you eat as your daily bread is only yours because God has provided it.

In my innocence, or naivete, or both, I once thought that the Church, as God's legacy upon the earth, had all the answers to ensure your ticket on the road that leads to heaven was properly validated. What God has ultimately taught me since is indeed a blessing. No, the Church doesn't have all the answers, something of which the better leaders will tell you if you pause long enough to listen; although there are an equal number of leaders who will still make every attempt to place her as the ultimate spiritual authority on Earth. No matter how many or few 'I's are dotted or 'T's are crossed, God wants you to come to those understandings about Him one-on-one.

I've also been blessed by God with the understanding that His providence is eternally abundant, even when I can't see it. On the other side of the fence, there are numerous examples that God's 'franchisees' - the hundreds of religious denominations that fall under the general umbrella of Christianity, those who claim Jesus Christ at the core of their beliefs - do not understand the importance of demonstrating, in a real and direct way, the abundance with which God gives freely.

As an example, I was following the semi-continuous reading of passages from the Acts of the Apostles; particularly chapter 6, in which is detailed the origin and establishment of the diaconate:

As the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews
because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution (of food).
So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said,
“It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table.
Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom,
whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer
and to the ministry of the word.”
(Acts 6:1-4, NAB, emphasis mine)

am thankful that this statement is not attributed to Peter alone, but to the Apostles as a whole. I want to believe there was more than just casual discussion over the issue, because the joint statement and decision of the Twelve seems to have forgotten just how Jesus went about doing things. Not only did he clearly take on the role of servant by feeding multitudes on five loaves of bread and two fish, and setting the standard for the sacred meal that most Christians celebrate with regularity, he also reduced himself to washing the feet of those same Apostles. Seems like they forgot about that somehow, and that's sad. I get the feeling it set the precedent for all those gatherings of what I call the "Old Boys' School", where there is often great debate, perhaps a hefty amount of prayer, but the ultimate result is that nothing gets done to further the single great commandment Jesus left his Apostles: that they love one another as he loved them.

That notwithstanding, I am trying to be a bit more cognizant of my own ability to 'change the world', as it were. In a recent post I wrote that my wife had asked me to consider getting back into the active ministry. The horse I'd fallen from twelve years ago is still there; in fact, I realize that I've been walking alongside it for most of the time. There are many things that would have to take place to reconcile the events that led to my fall. It will take time, in terms of years, to reach that point, if I can do so. This time, if it is to happen, it will mean first to discern the place and scope of where and how God will direct my steps. It will mean assuring that I extend God's blessings to my loved ones to the fullest extent possible. It means now more than ever to consider those who are near their own depths, and to pray that God raises them up as only He can.

Then, after looking both ways and acknowledging my lingering imperfections, I will cross that bridge if it is meant to be.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Blind Obedience vs. Divine Mercy

The Second Sunday of Easter, 2011
Divine Mercy Sunday

While considering the possible presence of a horse without its rider, and the long-term decision I must discern over how God is calling me to serve others in ministry, another story was breaking in nearby Chicago that I am trying not to dwell on, but cannot.

Fr. Michael Pfleger is well known around this area. He is a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago. I'm not sure whether I should classify him as an activist, a maverick, the proverbial "elephant in the room" - or whether I should even comment on him here. I have chosen the latter, because the latest turn of events surrounding Pfleger is a reminder of something I must face as an ordained minister of the Catholic Church.

Pfleger has been pastor of St. Sabina Church - a white priest leading a parish in a predominately African-American big-city neighborhood - for the past 30 years. This is an unusual exception to policy; Catholic priests in America spend no more than twelve years leading any one congregation. He has publicly campaigned in support of gun control and other urban issues, and rallied his parishioners to do the same. Unlike most Catholic priests, Pfleger's preaching style is more Pentecostal or even Southern Baptist; hence, it's not a stretch to see him as one of the three descriptive words mentioned in the preceding paragraph.

When Cardinal Francis George became Archbishop of Chicago fourteen years ago, he brought with him a conservative approach, as opposed to the more open appeal of his predecessor, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.  At one point earlier George tried to reassign Pfleger, which stirred up immediate media attention and set the stage for a confrontation. After several days which included meeting with representatives of the congregation at St. Sabina's, George backed down and Pfleger retained his post. The current situation has all the same earmarks.

When men receive the sacrament of Holy Orders and are ordained priests (and deacons), they take a vow of obedience to their local bishop. Herein lies the rub. On the one hand, Pfleger is uniquely gifted as a priest and has been a good fit, surprisingly so, in a congregation where he immediately sticks out. On the other hand, the policy of rotating clergy is meant so that each priest's gifts or charisms can be shared over the course of his ministry with many diverse people.

Basically, the issue boils down to obedience on Pfleger's part; 'go where I send thee' versus making an appeal for the best potential use of an unusual set of abilities. Unfortunately, Pfleger made one critical error this time; saying in front of local media that he might consider leaving the Catholic Church if things didn't go his way. Pfleger has since been suspended from exercising his ministry as a priest by Cardinal George, pending a meeting in the not too distant future when cooler heads and less attention by the media might prevail.

I remember that at issue in the removal of my faculties back in 1999 was something that could be interpreted as disobedience. I was subject to continuing education requirements that I failed to complete. I had tried asking for alternatives that would allow me to remain active, but no alternatives ever materialized. Should I pursue a return to diaconal ministry, I will be subject to whatever demands are in effect in whatever diocese I should happen to apply for reinstatement. I have no real connection with Rockford anymore. What ministry I do is in the Joliet diocese, and I don't currently reside within its boundaries. On top of that, what I do there as a lay minister is compensated - and in order to assist in financing my ultimate relocation, wherever it is, I can't exactly give that up just yet. My son got very wrapped up in "high church" Catholic liturgy on TV over Easter and again this weekend with the beatification of the late pope John Paul II. (JP II and Cardinal Bernardin were both moderates, in my opinion. They opened up a richer sense of being Catholic by extending the accumulated tradition to include people, icons, and symbology from the present.)

Then there is the attachment I have with the Methodist congregation at Cornerstone. They have not lost their appeal. I see a community with heart that is struggling, yet there's still great hope and encouragement. They are personal and personable; something I never really saw growing up Catholic. Catholics believe in eucharist; Cornerstone acts as eucharist. They don't see me or my son as anomalies. The door always seems to be open there.

That makes discernment all the more difficult. For sure, my outlook has changed; and I am nothing of the character of Fr. Phleger. Having said that, though, God gave me the ability to think. To me, obedience can border on blind acceptance, but should never be so blind as to allow those in power to use that authority in a manner inconsistent with the mercy God has bestowed on humanity - mercy that, Jesus teaches us, is meant to be extended everywhere by every Christian. I believe that God's divine mercy is at the very core of all Christianity; surpassing anything taught or imagined regarding divine justice. Those following Christ in sincerity are still going to have bouts of disobedience. It happens in our human experience.

Since the moving question must be answered soon, I have extended my search criteria to include areas within the Joliet diocese that would still allow us to attend Cornerstone while I continue to sort out what I'm really supposed to do. I think that is what is best served for now. Once resettled, I hope to resolve - with God's help, and the counsel of people whose input I value, not the least of which are my wife and son - where the horse and rider will go.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Easter Monday, 2011
The Feast of Saint Mark, Evangelist

Easter Monday is a full holiday in many parts of the world. Here in the USA it's back to work from the Good Friday and Easter celebrations, if you were fortunate not to have to work either or both days. (Yes, I'm sure there are many people who had to work both days.)

I arranged to take today off to transition from service mode (seven events between Thursday evening and Sunday morning) back to working mode. While people are encouraged to reflect during the Lenten season now behind us, I tend to look at the sequence of short-term past events and use it as a springboard to see what direction my life is taking and what I should (or shouldn't) do.

Previously in this chronicle I posted that I lost two members of my extended family in March, less than two weeks apart. There were also three funerals in my Catholic community (the last of which is actually tomorrow). These serve as reminders to me that life patterns are not meant to be static or stagnant. Even behind the scenes, there is still movement and direction.

At the funeral of my wife's uncle, I vested as a deacon and served in that function for the first time in six years. One of the things I noted about this occasion was the utter simplicity in which I was able to 'get back on the bicycle.' Today that is followed by the thought that being liturgically present as a deacon set a prayerful example for those who witnessed it. At least I pray it so. I have managed for the most part to maintain the discipline of daily prayer of the Divine Office, and kept my daily schedule routine enough to catch daily Mass on the radio while driving to work. Trust me, I need these reminders. I once complained about what I saw as a lack of Catholic presence in modern media sources, but that has caught up. I now believe that Catholics have a larger presence among social media (internet, radio, and television) than any other mainstream Christian denomination, save only the independent evangelical movement.

The services in which I participated this year all had new spins placed upon them, given this is the first year under new pastors in both my Catholic and Methodist communities. One of those differences allowed my son and I to participate in the Good Friday service in the Methodist community. The rest of the weekend, my son took a more than passive interest in the high church liturgies on EWTN, the Catholic cable TV channel. I didn't miss much myself as the time difference between Rome and Chicago allowed me to watch significant parts of "church on TV" including a sung proclamation of the Passion according to John, 'performed' in Latin by two deacons, a priest, and a full a capella choir. It is always impressive. I asked him if he'd like to see high liturgy in person, if it were possible, and he said yes, he'd like that.

Meanwhile, my wife is continuing to work on the family ancestry, a 'song that never ends' sort of thing. Just when you think you have run all the lines to the point where there is no longer any reliable or verifiable information, those little 'leaves' pop-up with all kinds of new suggestions where none existed only a day or two earlier. What was originally thought to be a two or three week project is now in its third month! An interesting theory has come up as a result of all the research she has done and what she has uncovered about our collected ancestry. For openers, a significant portion of my wife's lineage figured in the settling of Quebec in the early 17th century. Some were involved in the building of the cathedral of St. Anne du Beaupre in Montreal, and other churches in the French colony. After more research, it was learned that my lineage on my mother's side held high positions in many churches in England in the pre-reformation period. Ironically, these churches were named after (St.) Mary, the mother of Jesus. St. Mary was the church I was active in during the years leading up to my ordination as as deacon in 1994 and for the five years I served actively in parish diaconal ministry. (You can now start humming the theme music to The Twilight Zone.) Strange as it seems, that whole thing about personality traits, the stuff of the soft occultism of astrology and past lives, may have its real basis in the building blocks of life, the DNA molecules that determine what color hair and eyes we have. That there is a spiritual dimension to DNA should not startle anyone, but it is one of those areas few on either the side of science or the Church dare to cross.

The fast of Lenten discipline over, my wife prepared a lavish (understated) Easter dinner. In years long past we would spend Easter with extended family. Over the last few years it has become necessary for many reasons to redefine how much extended family can gather at one place for one banquet. It's not that we wouldn't like to be present; but it's challenging to figure out how to seat everybody, and it gets really hard to host such an affair when the guest list increases exponentially. The only person I know who handled that easily was Jesus himself. Needless to say, the planned meal here exceeded all expectations. My wife worked very hard timing all the cooking and preparation, and she is indeed a blessed woman to be able to pull it off.

After all that, the two of us are exhausted and, wanting to spend a few minutes quietly with each other, went to our room to stretch out for a few minutes. But once there, the conversation took a quick turn I didn't anticipate.

Would I consider returning to the active diaconate?

That's the question my dear wife asked me. She told me she had been prompted by my service at her uncle's funeral, and seeing how much connection to church I seem to have inherited through what we have uncovered in my family's roots.

While I had not deeply considered the question, it had also come to me as a result of serving at that funeral. Add to that the dimension I believe I bring into ministry at present as a musician. I am perhaps the only cantor at an Easter Vigil service who is ordained, as opposed to an ordained deacon assuming the role of a cantor for one portion of a specific rite. Not that I am perfect, or that I want to sound my own horn here, but I have observed how seriously I take this, putting as much of myself in these moments as a minister as I'm able to  allow. So the question, while something of a momentary surprise, was not unexpected.

Where I would probably have jumped eagerly to this question had it been asked twelve years ago, I'm not able to answer the question just now. Something about the character of the soul because I have been ordained compels me to address it. It's not simply a matter of 'hey, I missed you, so I'm back' - or even like the return of the prodigal son. It's something like an estranged relationship that is going to require steps to restore and maintain. Then there's the question of what to do about the relationships I have cultivated over the last twelve years - why I cultivated them, and why they're important today. On top of that, there are two larger issues that require resolution before anything else. First, we have outgrown our current dwellings, and want to find a new place to live. The advantages we have here are being eclipsed by the higher cost of living and other disadvantages of living in the same county as Chicago. There's also the question of being closer to my parents. The situation is awkward at best; my dad tells me not to feel guilty about not having time to see them - but that comes off making me feel guiltier. Just the same, I know that the issue is not whether to move, but where to move; and it has to be answered first.

Then, it looks like the bicycle and the horse I fell from twelve years ago is looking for its rider. The problem is, when I last rode them at length, I had no idea where they would take me. God is asking me to go through this again; because I said I could all those years ago. But can I willingly do it all - and all that goes with it - again?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

And Yet Another Passing

When William Shakespeare - whom, I am learning, is a distant ancestor of my wife's - wrote, "A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March" (Julius Caesar, Act 1, scene 2, 19), he was setting up the backdrop for the Roman Emperor's assassination which took place on March 15, 44 BCE. It would seem in that particular setting, March that year was a rather busy and fateful month.

For me, some twenty and a half centuries later, this particular March has been personally busy and fateful as well. A week ago I related here that my wife's 83-year-old uncle passed away, and all that we as a family went through to pay our respects and mourn his loss. The next morning (this past Monday) we learned of the death of her brother-in-law, of cancer, at the more youthful age of 44.

The first thought was whether or not any of us would attend services for him. He lived over two hours away from us, and we had to consider the number of potential (or lack of) restroom stops we might have to make. The trip out there would be during the day, but the return trip would be at night, with fewer options as far as being able to stop. Then there was the fact that he was brother-in-law through a divorced marriage. But in her great wisdom, my wife reminded us both that we are godparents to two of his three children from that marriage; they would definitely appreciate having family around, and it was very unlikely that anyone else would be able to make the trip, especially on a weeknight and so soon after the last family gathering. So we agreed that I would go.

Sure enough, I met up with my sister-in-law and her two sons, as well as her present husband, who was about as lost in the room as I. We spent a good deal of time keeping each other company. Having lived out there a number of years, my sister-in-law and her boys had plenty of folks to talk to. A lot of people turned out for the visitation and the memorial service; so many that the funeral director had to bring out more chairs to seat everyone.

I had not necessarily known my brother-in-law to be all that much of a church-going man. My godchildren were baptized at a Catholic church in Chicago one summer when he was working there. (He worked for a traveling carnival back then and must have worked some mojo with the pastor at the time.) His mother and aunts were also Catholic. Toward the end of his life, my brother-in-law (or at least his second wife) was attending an evangelical church in the area, so the pastor there was going to lead the service, while his aunts would lead the Rosary later. Nobody left between the two rites of prayer.

It was weird listening to the pastor speak of what a good, caring person my brother-in-law had been, noting in my mind that he had, after all, deserted his first marriage, leaving his first wife and their three children in a rather bad way. And from all my upbringing and education in the Catholic faith, I know he must answer to God for that, with whatever consequences are deemed fitting. Still, to see how the boys and their mother accepted this, and spoke as did others about how the pain and suffering of his last days was now gone, reminded me that no matter what happened in life, the best thing anyone can do is to put aside whatever ill feelings we might have and pray for the repose of his soul.

I thought of that during the long drive home. I have many occasions where I am ministering to the family of someone who has died, none of whom I really know. It is easy enough to pray for them because I don't know the background, and it is not important that I know. When the scene shifts as it will more and more to people with whom I am related or colleagues of mine, I really have to lay down all thoughts of the things I knew about the person, and commend this soul to God. All of us struggle and stumble through life. I think I can apply that across the board, if you will. In the end, where it really matters, is where I hope I can see forgiveness and mercy. It was clear that on this cold March evening, the two were found in this out-of-the way place. I pray not to lose sight of this as life somehow gets back to its regular patterns.

Some Sort of 'Lude'

(Note: I actually wrote this post four weeks ago, when I had a bit of time and not much else to do. Put in the context of what has happened in these last four weeks, a few lines here seem almost prophetic.)

What does one do when you have a limited amount of so-called ‘free’ time, but you’re not in a place where much can be done effectively? One such example of this is if you travel by airplane, and you have to change flights in mid-course. You most likely have a layover at the terminal where you change flights. Chances are you can’t go anywhere, save the bar at the airport. People caught in that scenario are usually thoughtful enough to bring along a book or something else to do to occupy their time. In these modern days of cell phones and wi-fi connections, some people take to their phones and/or laptops and attempt to be productive that way.
I am in a similar situation this Sunday morning. I am serving as cantor at all three scheduled Masses, and there is a layover between each of them. Too long to sit and do nothing, too short to really do anything. On occasions like this I usually take a quick drive to the cemetery where many of my (and my wife’s) immediate ancestors are buried; it is only a five-minute drive away. But it is late February, and the grounds are covered with a fresh layer of snow; and if it weren’t it would likely be too saturated to walk on without getting muddy, so that is out. (However, I am thinking of them in prayer as I write.)

I might have considered calling home. My wife is going through an elaborate family tree research project. It started out as trying to trace her mother’s side of her family back a few generations, but didn’t get too far. When she moved to her father’s side, though, she got caught up in much detail, particularly her paternal grandmother’s French roots, which she’s managed to trace back five centuries and shows no signs of an end just yet. In all of that she’s found out that a great number of her ancestors figured in the settlement of Quebec in Canada, though that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

But I digress. I said I might call her – only I left my cell phone at home. Plus, she doesn’t need interruptions that aren’t important while she does all this research. So, I thought, bring the laptop along. I might get some work done; at the very least I’d have the internet to keep me company. But, as my Catholic parish has an expansive land footprint between the church, the parish center, and the parking lot, there is no wireless signal close enough for me on which to get attached. So, now what??

I’ve had time to think about the last few weeks, along with the next few, and how I am being of service to God and to others. I can’t say I haven’t been busy. I don’t want to toot my horn too much, for I would be quickly reminded that I am not nearly as generous in my situation as I’ve known others to be in theirs. But in my relatively unique position of straddling the fence between a Catholic and a Methodist congregation, I indeed have a bit to reflect upon.

It’s relatively quiet in my Catholic community. Easter is still two months away; Lent hasn’t even started yet. The new pastor here is slowly changing things; a little here, a bit there, nothing to get excited about. Over in the land of the Methodists, on the other hand, things are jumping. They are at a crossroads as a congregation, not only with the change in pastors there (and the new one a woman, my first experience as such), but with the realization that they have to work off a $3 million debt put on by expanding their facilities and building classrooms, meeting rooms, and a youth center.

A couple of weeks back I was asked if I would be willing to volunteer some time contacting members of the congregation, asking them to raise awareness in prayer for their stewardship campaign. Among the goals of this campaign is the elimination of the debt over the next three years. I thought for nearly a week as to whether or not I should really do this. I am probably the least likely to represent the achievement of the goals. I openly admit that I straddle two diverse and markedly different congregations, one out of tradition and where I am compensated for my talent, which keeps us financially solvent and for which I am thankful to God. The other, more contemporary, putting a fresh and more vibrant spin on being a disciple of Christ; and one where I am considered a member even though I am not, formally.

Now throw on top of this today’s Gospel passage from the pen of the evangelist Matthew:
Jesus said: 24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve both God and Mammon” (Matthew 6:24).

Hmmm…this begs a couple of questions. Am I trying to serve God, or myself? And I have to be careful, because as a musician the ministry can become self-serving instead of God and community-serving rather quickly. So, to volunteer more than just getting up in front of others to sing, even if it’s just to sing – that extra time spent calling others to prayer is a proper and good thing to do.

But what about the fence straddling? Is it possible to serve God from two seemingly different perspectives? From a lofty, hierarchical approach, men would generally say no, I can’t. But I don’t know that I can choose one or the other. I am invested in the one because of my office as well as the compensation. I am invested in the other because of my son’s interest and attachment there. I have had several friends there and made others over the course of time. Further, it doesn’t seem that I am the only person who is affected in such a way. No, it is good for me to understand Christianity from more than one perspective or experience. Tradition cannot be ignored, nor should it; for we don’t know where we are without understanding where we’ve been. Putting that into a contemporary context is welcome provided it is not self-serving, but fosters a true extension of God’s will into the modern world; a practice of Christ’s Great Commission to his disciples. Some congregations are able to pool resources, especially in urban areas; but when you’re a standout, you have to stand out. I’ve seen this in a very real and demonstrative way among the Methodist congregation, and I pray fervently that it doesn’t die in the wake of pastoral change, aging congregants no longer able to attend worship on Sunday, or concern about a massive debt. So it is apparent that I have a vested interest there for my own sake as well as that of my son. Are we not all family in the same, the one Christ underneath the skin of denominational doctrine?

In that same passage, Jesus reminds his disciples to seek first the kingdom of God…and He will see to all your needs; in short, not to worry needlessly, because God’s omnipresence knows what we need even without having to ask. So the real question all of Scripture should call on us to ask of ourselves, and in our prayer to God, is two-fold. One, as so gracefully and artistically put by an instructor of mine, is So what?? What does this have to do with me? And the answer is: it has everything to do with me, who I am, where I’ve been and where I am going. It is not an easy path, but it seems to be immeasurably easier than a path where this first question is never asked.

The second question follows almost immediately on the heels of the first: Lord, what is it you want of me? What is your will for me?  I will watch, listen, and observe as You guide me.

It seems the best response at these crossroads comes from the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. The Methodist Covenant Prayer is a reminder to me that God may not have big plans for me, but he does have a Plan and in order to best discern how I fit in it, I must yield myself to whatever it is – and whatever it is not – I am supposed to do.

And so, when those times come along when I think I have nothing to do but wait…are the best times to be with God in the place where I am, and let Him turn me in the direction I should go.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spiritual Stupor

Once upon a time, some years ago when I was serving in diaconal ministry, the pastor under whom I served at the time had given a homily in which he said something to the effect that people guided in the spiritual way of life often had periods of difficulty in managing everyday, mundane affairs. It is perhaps the one thing I remember him saying that had special meaning for me.

While my biggest role in ministry has been as a church musician, it has often been eclipsed by the role just below it, that of a minister of consolation at a time of loss. While in formation for the ministry over 20 years ago, my wife and I suffered the loss of our first child in the 19th week of my wife's pregnancy. The ensuing weeks following this sad event opened my eyes to the level of grief that can be experienced when tragedy occurs. I believe that through this process God pointed the way to a level of service I would carry out, and I desired to do so to honor my lost child's memory for as long as God would allow me.

When my active diaconal service came to an end, the door to this ministry did not close completely. It was not long before I was asked if I could be available for singing at funeral services, which I have been able to accept most of the time. On the occasions when I serve in this capacity I do my best to leave my ego far removed from my duties; to be simply present and let God work through me.

There have been four other occasions when the role took on a significance outside what I might consider normal, if there is such a thing when death occurs. These four have all involved members of my extended family. The first was when my father-in-law passed, just over seven years ago. He was never much of a church-goer, so it was no stretch of any rule to officiate at his rites of passage. That safe passage to the next life being our hope is almost universally accepted; so it becomes a matter of celebrating the good moments and experiences we shared in this life.

Having said that, it's still not simple. The target audience - the living survivors and friends of the family - know who you are, so it can be difficult to put into the best words what hope and consolation I am consigned to convey. Further, as a minister, those closest to you know the pattern of your life both during and apart from service. I have to put the situation at hand in the best possible and meaningful light on one hand; and on the other, take out the trash, wash the laundry, and do my best at my secular day job. Somehow I manage.

My grandmother passed six years ago this month. Being a devout Catholic, her funeral was set according to the formal rites of the Church. This is kept pretty well with regards to the Mass itself; but the elements apart from it vary depending on the local parish and the communication between the parish staff and the family of the deceased. My grandmother knew the Rosary and the verse about the angels meeting her and taking her to Paradise; neither of which were mentioned at either the wake or the funeral Mass. When my father and uncle finally let it be known I was a minister, I was asked if I wouldn't mind leading prayers at the cemetery where she was to be buried. I agreed to do it, and at that moment I knew what I had to do. I had to invoke those things she would have expected to hear and had not.

Three years ago, the father-in-law of my wife's sister passed away. At the time, I had already contracted to sing at another funeral Mass in my parish of service, but I agreed to meet the family at the cemetery and lead prayers there. I had the fortune to catch up with them toward the end of the Mass, so I was able to talk at length with my brother-in-law (the procession to the cemetery being another long drive). I really wanted to convey hope and consolation to him, because his life was changing in a way which could prove out harmful to his loved ones and himself if left unchecked. Something tells me he is still struggling with this loss, as well as that of his mother a couple of years earlier.

The most recent of the four happened just this last week, when my wife's uncle passed away. There was the usual wait to discover the arrangements, and another wait to determine what, if anything, anyone wanted me to do. Complicating matters was the ongoing recovery my wife was enduring from an injury she sustained late last fall. Between aches and pains and the winter weather, she had not been out of our home since just before Christmas. She was determined, however, that she was going to make it to see the family. She had been close to her uncle during childhood.

Before the time came for the wake service, I still didn't know exactly what I was supposed to be doing; only that I was going to do something. And at the appropriate time, we prepared to leave to attend the wake, only to discover that the moment my wife put any shoes on her feet, she lost her sense of stability and couldn't move without pain and uncertainty. Not knowing what to do, and having no time to explore an alternative, I had to attend the wake alone. I know my wife was heartsick, and so was I. However, she was going to explore potential solutions and if anything was possible, she would contact me.

Contact me she did. A department store chain with a store in the area carried ballet-style slippers. Just enough of a sole to protect the feet from pebbles and such, but with the give she needed to have the near-barefoot feeling she had while walking about the house. I was able to find a pair in her size which did the trick. At least now she would be able to attend the Mass and see those in the family who would be there.

At the same time, I also discovered what it was I would do for the funeral. I would serve as a deacon at Mass, something I had not done in twelve years. I weighed on this for some time. I felt this was appropriate as my wife's uncle, a devout Catholic himself, had offered his home to us on the day I was ordained to celebrate the event. I would also lead prayers at the cemetery, which I'd done before.

Even though I knew what I was to do, and did it without difficulty, I have had this strange feeling of wandering around in something of a daze; it's been around since the wake Thursday night and still hasn't quite cleared up. Part of it can be rationalized away, I suppose. It's a busy time for me; I've had to step in and do more since my wife's injury which takes away from time spent on other intellectual pursuits (not complaining at all; it simply is). But there was something about vesting again after twelve years, something I can't put into words. For some reason, time is turning faster right now. Life in general, which had been more or less quiet, has become busy. I've not been able to sleep well for some time, but I manage to do what is needed. I have much over which to pray and often find myself unable to focus on prayer itself; this disturbs me a little. At the same time, my wife and I are still very much happy and in love with each other for who we are.

I sincerely hope and pray that whatever the destiny of my life is as I grow older, that I am granted the strength, perseverance, and love to endure it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

When You Know A Child 'Gets It'

I've got to give credit to my autistic teenage son.

He may not come across as the sharpest tool in the shed. In fact, there are times when my wife and I both wonder what planet he is on. (For that matter, we've shared that same question about ourselves in comparison to other people close to us.)

But God is able to work through him. Sometimes I think that this is the blessing in such an affliction; that the mind is unaffected by focus on mundane concerns so as to be 'in the moment' compassionately when others are in need. In spite of the hindrances I have placed on my son by being who I am, he still manages - and in a positive and enthusiastic way - to contribute to the needs of others. It's happened twice now in the last six months, and has me rethinking how much I should consider doing to support people doing charitable humanitarian works.

The first opportunity came up last September. A group of volunteers were sought at Cornerstone to spend a couple of hours packing food packages for the children of Haiti and other impoverished countries. My son saw this as an 'EVENT' of great magnitude and, as there was an opportunity for learning and for performing charitable service, I got us both signed up. He was happy, enthusiastic, and diligent throughout the session. When we got home he talked Mom's ear off attempting to explain his experiences. He hoped to do this again someday - we are keeping our eyes open for whenever that opportunity surfaces.

This past weekend while attending services at Cornerstone, he learned about the church's Mission of the Month. The organization, Nothing But Nets, is a cooperative effort between the United Nations Foundation, the National Basketball Association, Sports Illustrated magazine, and the United Methodist Church. The charity raises money to buy mosquito netting to provide to families in Africa who must sleep at night among the threat of malaria mosquitoes.

I watched the promotional video twice (since, as musicians, we participated in both scheduled worship services), looking for what might possibly have attracted my son's attention. Since the NBA is involved in the project, the 'nets' could have been symbolized by those used in basketball hoops. Only they weren't. As we're not full members of the congregation, I'm often unprepared to donate on the spot - but whenever there's a website involved, my son will lock that address in his brain until he can get to his computer to check it out.

He decided he wanted to send in a donation from the allowance he has been earning. Ordinarily the 'savings' build up until he has enough to buy the next video game he wants. Understanding that this would mean holding off a potential purchase until his next 'pay day' did not seem to phase him in the least. So today he and I took his investment and paid a donation to the charity.

In all of this, my son is being motivated to do something to help someone else. He's doing this because of his sporadic attendance (due to me) at Cornerstone, a place that seems to go out of its way to welcome people and minister to them,  in spite of a massive debt due to a building expansion and at a crossroads due to the change in pastors last summer.

Up to now I have seen my participation at Cornerstone part of the wandering minstrel that I am. A missionary, as it were; or quite possibly a spiritual 'mugwump' - which, if you recall American history, is someone whose 'mug' sits on one side of a fence while his 'wump' sits on the other. My son's willingness to be even a small part of things has had me apologizing - more than once - that I am not necessarily a member of the congregation.

Three weeks ago, I was tapped by a colleague at the church, asking if I would consider volunteering my time to call other families in the congregation to do no more than raise awareness in prayer over the three-year capital pledge drive campaign that is beginning to move forward. I had to think about this seriously, and I prayed over it myself before deciding accept the invitation. In all of this I've come to understand that where it matters, my son and I are considered part of the family.

I don't have to wonder if God isn't at work in my life. All I have to do is witness the generosity of someone whom 99% of people I know could probably not consider at all. This is the work of love.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It's Not Nice to Fool (Around With) Mother Nature

February 2, 2011
(Groundhog Day)

It's been quite some time - too long - since I blogged anything. I have a few reasons for my lack of presence:
  • I've been working on a software implementation team. The project has taken much more time than anyone thought it would. It's in the semi-final stage of testing now. I have become the functional/navigational 'go-to' guy, and people at upper levels of management are taking notice.
  • When I'm not working, I've had work around the house to keep me busy. While that in itself doesn't take a lot of time, I also tend to want to be present and available to attend to my wife and son. They come first.
  • When I wrote at length a couple of years back, I had a lot to say. I seem to have run out of ideas. Some of the best times unfortunately come at times when I am least able to translate to sentences and paragraphs.
  • To be honest, a certain degree of laziness has also crept in over time. I have nobody to blame.
Having said this, though, I remind myself that this medium is here, and I've gone back several times to remind myself of where I've been, which makes up a lot of who I am.

And, there's nothing better to disrupt the routine than when God invites Mother Nature to remind us Earth-dwellers just who is still in charge.

As I write, I am on the backside of what people are calling "The Great Storm", "Snowmageddon", "Snowpocalypse", and "The (Groundhog Day) Blizzard of 2011." I noted this morning on my Facebook page that I had been invited to the "Blizzard" event, and I had even RSVP'd; but I later posted a status update, apologizing that I could not attend due to the 4-1/2 foot snow drifts keeping me inside my third-floor apartment.

My wife really dislikes all the hype that occurs "every time grey clouds come within 40 miles of Lake Michigan," as she puts it. Winter storm forecasting generally sends out warnings and advisories over a much larger area because, unlike rain, snow tends to hang around for awhile; and a shift of as little as 50 miles in the storm center's path determines whether you get snow, rain, or something in between that is even less liked than the snow.

What I sense is that all the pre-storm hype is geared to remind the more sheep-like among people is that Nature - and Nature's God - are to be feared, as we can never really fully control the elements. (At least not with any immediate consequence. We're only beginning to understand how we interact as part of Nature plays a significant role in how Nature behaves, but the impact isn't generally known for long periods of time.) That we have to be brought into line through fear perpetrated by "Snowstradamus" (a moniker I overheard the other day referring to some meteorologists) is a sign of how far away we still remain from the kind of relationship God wants with us. Of course, 60 mile-an-hour winds and driving snow moving horizontally outside your window will do that without a forecast. Notwithstanding, it is respect for Nature and our part in it is what God wants.

It's enough to have awakened in me the desire to put thoughts into words once more. Right or wrong, good or ...well, not as good, I find myself longing to tackle more than the trivialities of the calendar.

And that time I went and said goodbye
Now I'm back and not ashamed to cry
Oooh, baby, here I am
Signed, sealed, delivered, I'm yours

If you're reading this, I hope you'll stick around.