Category Archives: Faith

38th day of Lent. Holy Thursday.

Tonight did something I’ve only done a handful of times in the last six years. I sat as a member of the community in my church. I didn’t cantor. I didn’t sing with the choir. I was simply present as a participating member. Sweets nudged me during the opening hymn and said, “Dad, do you have to sing so loud?” I wondered for a moment, “Am I singing too loudly?” I thought of the time when a choir member approached me after Mass and invited me to sing with them. “I could hear you,” she said. “You have a nice voice.” Sweets was probably right. I adjusted. Slightly. I love to sing, and she knows that. That’s why there are rules. Later in the service, she caught me keeping the beat with my index finger, and grabbed it. “Daaaad” she said softly. I smiled. I miss those moments.

When Sweets was small I’d always make sure that I have a notebook with me. At church I’d give it her to draw pictures in, or if the homily wasn’t interesting, use to play a game of hangman with her. Do I owe someone an apology? I think God understood. Besides my answers were always part of a verse from one of the day’s readings. As Sweets has grown I don’t have that same use for a notebook. And since I don’t sit in a pew during the service, the only way we might play hangman is with our cell phones. It’s not going to happen.

One of the things I noticed tonight is it wasn’t just nice to sit with my daughter during the liturgy. It was nice to be with everyone else that was there also. At one point Sweets leaned over to tell me that she noticed our mailman was present. I’d never seen him out of uniform. I saw bunches of people I knew. Among them, two children of one friend had their feet washed. The mother-in-law of another friend did as well. Every time I see her I wonder if I’ll ever remember her name. I saw the brother-in-law of a friend, and the mother of another. I’ve watched two of the altar servers grow from boys to young men. After the service I made a point of saying hello to the organist, who chatted with Sweets for a few minutes. In the sacristy, I stood with my hand on the shoulder of our deacon, because he’s a lovely guy, and I was happy to see him. There’s something nice about finding home in your church.

The weekly liturgy usually ends with the words similar to, “The Mass has ended, go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Tonight we ended in silence, or tried to. I wanted to talk to everyone. A number of other folks did too. I didn’t hear anyone being quieted, and I’m sure some of the talking had to do with giving folks information about the pilgrimage bus rides to seven other local churches. The community who’d shouted “Crucify him!” on Sunday, having eaten the flesh of the one we’d cast out, was united. This is the wonder of the Eucharist. I thought of the way Sebastian Moore ponders in The Contagion of Jesus, whether the Church made a mistake in emphasizing the word “is” in “This is my body” (p.52). Doing that drew the focus towards what was happening on the altar, and encouraged related theories which attempted to harness a mystery that is a liturgical action. The Eucharist is Jesus, our victim, coming into our midst and saying “I know you thought you had to do that to me. You don’t have to do it to anyone. I forgive you. I give my life to you. Now take it and go. Trust each other. Love each other. Be with each other. You are going to do far greater things than I ever did.”

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35th day of Lent. Attempting Clarity.

I thought I’d go back to the beginning of my last post, and try to do a better job of spelling out what I was trying to do there. Since I start these late at night–for example, I’m beginning this one a few minutes after midnight–the late hour in a way limits my ability to polish these. With polish comes clarity. That said, since it’s after midnight, this might not be much clearer. Caveats. There are always caveats.

Anyway I started by juxtaposing a sampling of hot button issues which I purposely tried to present in the way someone who believed whatever side they did, would recognize. The examples are limited, yes. There are rarely only two sides to any issue. Still, one of the things that keeps us from being able to have civic dialogue in the U.S. is that we reduce too many issues to two views. We’re very black and white, very either-or that way. It limits our ability to hold an opposite view to our own with any regard. Recently in conversation, a friend of mine told me that she’s taken to staying silent, rather than hear another friend say a version of “how can you believe that?” Hearing her say that I thought of  Carol Gilligan, and a quote that I think is from her book In a Different Voice, where she said: “The hardest times for me were not when people challenged what I said, but when I felt my voice was not heard.” There’s no greater treasure than a person’s voice. We’re shutting each other down. Shutting each other out, and in what might be a greater sin, we demonize those who hold views opposite our own.

Why do we do that? As I said a few weeks ago, I like the anthropology of René Girard and his ideas about Mimetic Rivalry. Girard, says that desire is mimetic. People want what they see others as already having. The whole idea of the need to “keep up with the Joneses” points to this. You’re driving a seven year old car in great shape, and that you’re perfectly happy with. One day you see your neighbor has purchased a new car. What happens next? You start wondering if you should get one too. Before your neighbor made their purchase, you had no need. Suddenly you do. That’s what he means.

At a social level this rivalry can get so heated that it leads to violence. Of course, your new found desire for a new car that you may not be able to afford may not lead to more than an argument with your spouse, or your boss about your pay. Then again, there are bunches of ways the story of Cain and Abel can play out in our society. To avoid social violence, Girard says, societies developed the “scapegoat” mechanism as a relief valve. That’s why you see in many early religions that an innocent victim is chosen, and after the sin of the community is assigned to them, and they’re sacrificed. It’s under the guise of appeasing the gods/God, but what’s really happening is that the pressure towards violence is released.

Since Liberals scapegoat Conservatives, and Conservatives scapegoat Liberals–that’s how badly things have degenerated–it’s almost impossible to recognize that a person who holds a view different or opposite from our own has come to hold it as true through a process that is as genuine, honest, and legitimate as the way we’ve come to hold true what we do. We can’t get there. At the same time, there is common ground.

Here’s when I made the leap that’s hard to do because we’re entrenched the way we are. While we may not be able to see a view opposite our own has having value–that’s where the phrase “morally equivalent” comes in–this week in Christian circles we’re all, Conservatives, Liberals, Green, Libertarian, Black, White, rich and poor Christians are celebrating the murder of Jesus in the celebration of Easter.

For Christian theologians–and regular folk like myself–what makes Easter transforming, is that Jesus becomes the scapegoat of everyone. That’s where shouting “Crucify him” as we read the Passion is an act that can help us get in touch with the way we we’re still scapegoating people, and cultures different than our own. That’s a hard thing to grasp. You might say, I’m not doing that. I can’t see that. It’s at this point that I think invoking Matthew 25 is appropriate:

41 Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ 44 Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ 45 He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’

Anyway. It’s one. I’m running on fumes. I hope that’s a little clearer. Tomorrow if I’m lucky I’ll dive a little deeper with the idea of Jesus as the scapegoat who forgives us. It’s a very different way of thinking about atonement. It’s a way–despite the way the passage I just mentioned reads–without an angry God.

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34th day of Lent. God Can Only Be Reached When Our Hearts Are Broken.

What’s the issue, or attitude that pushes your buttons most? Is it abortion, and the inability of folks to see that it’s a baby’s life that’s lost, or that a woman has the right to choose? Is it poverty, and the callousness of the 1%, or the laziness of the 47% who just want handouts? Is it the sanctity of marriage being at risk, or the desire of LGBTQ couples to honor the sanctity of marriage? Is it the way “Black Lives Matter” helps us see that the Civil Rights movement needs to continue, or that saying “Black Lives Matter” doesn’t respect the struggles all other races endure?

Lent is about taking a chunk of time, and doing the work required to change your mind. To change an aspect of the way you live your life, or to change a behavior that you’ve lived into that you can see is wrong, or not true to your values. To do that, perhaps especially when it involves regret, you have to be willing to come face to face with your own darkness. Part of the the gift of doing that, James Alison says, is that it encourages us–since we’re people who struggle to be the people we want to be–to realize we’re “morally equivalent” to the people who are on the other side of our hot button issues. This is especially true because we’re all, Liberal, Conservative, Progressive, and Libertarian Christians about to come together to celebrate a murder. We don’t call it that of course, but that’s what it is. A murder.

What follows are a series of quotes from a sermon James Alison gave on April 10, 2006 at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, in Atlanta, Georgia. In the homily they all follow each other, except for the last one which comes at the end. The reading of the Passion that folks in many churches will do on Palm Sunday is pretty powerful. If you read this post before you go to church (or read Mark’s Passion MK 14:1-15:47), you might find the perspective it offers helpful as you hear the Gospel proclaimed. The breaks between them can function to separate Alison’s thoughts a bit. If on the other hand you read this after having heard the Gospel proclaimed, the breaks might be helpful as you reflect on what you heard earlier in the day. In either case, I encourage you to place yourself in the story, using your imagination and see what it does with you. Where is your attention drawn? What are you feeling, experiencing as you read?

“[W]e’ll be asked, as the days go by, to adopt various parts in that re-enactment of a murder. Crowds shouting, “Crucify him”. Crowds saying, “Give us Barabbas”. Different voices of participation in a murder. And we do this, not so as to recite some sacred text, but so that we may be inspired by the spirit of mourning to look around and see the other murders we participate in, to look at the other parts of the world where people are killing each other in the name of God, and saying, “Yes, actually that’s our story”. Another Shiite mosque blown up. “Funny how those religious people murder each other”. And what we’re celebrating is our moral equivalence with that, what it’s like to be people undergoing a murder that’s taking us by surprise.”

*****

“In the story, which we’ll be dwelling in, there are normally three or four positions. One position is the crowd. I don’t know whether any of you were at Palm Sunday services yesterday. In the Catholic lectionary it was Mark’s passion that was read. The interesting thing about Mark’s passion is the sense of how speedy it all is. What a muddle. What chaos. The getting excited about someone coming in. The chanting at him, the words of the great high priest, the muddle, the confusion, the murder, the lynching, the way in which crowds whip each other up and whip each other down with enthusiasms, and how it ends up in a murder. And how it’s everybody’s fault and nobody’s fault. There’s something delightfully chaotic and fast-paced about Mark’s text. We have the luxury now of dwelling in some of that slightly more slowly. Because there are other voices. There’s the crowd which is normally our voice. And it’s the crowd that we are coming to learn how not to be.”

*****

“Then there are the voices of the disciples. And they half get it and half don’t get it. They are half sticking by Jesus, and they are half running away. And another voice of course we hear in the text is the disciples’ retrospective vision. What they got afterwards that they hadn’t got at the time. And of course that’s what most of our Gospel texts are. It’s the “Oh, so that was what it was about” of the apostolic group.”

*****

“But then there’s the fourth and most profound and important voice, which is the one we’ll be straining hardest to listen to, which is the voice of Our Lord, the One who is undergoing this. Speaking very gently and very quietly, not “shouting or crying in the streets” as it says in the Prophet Isaiah, not bullying people, but moving towards occupying a place that only He can occupy, a quiet but deliberate voice. Our surgeon. Our anaesthetist. The one who enables us to have an open heart, to live with our scandal. . . .”

*****

“A word about “the Jews” because they’ll appear frequently enough during this week for it to be worth getting something right here. The word, literally “Judeans”, should not, by any of us, be read as referring to the people whom we now call the Jewish people. We’re talking probably about what would have been something rather like people who now call themselves Christians, since we’re in to moral equivalence. In other words, what had previously been rather a broad term was taken over by a group who wanted it to mean something rather narrower and tighter and more excellent. You know what I mean in that use of the word Christian. Well, the Hebrew people had quite a multifarious belonging and forms of belonging. And one of the groups, the people who had come back from Babylon with quite a strong religious line, was known by others as the Judeans. They were very keen on Moses and the Law and a particular interpretation of ways of belonging. This is by no means the same as the Jewish people. This is, if you like, much more of a cultural and religious group within the Jewish people. And they were clearly interested in Jesus. They were half tempted by him, hence the Chief Priests’ concern. They’re going to be with us, they’re part of the crowd, they’re part of us: – people who want a system of goodness; for whom Jesus is not going to give a system of goodness, but open up heaven. So let’s sit with these people, with these groups, over the next few days, allowing us, allowing ourselves to be approached by one who is about to be murdered. Allowing ourselves to be approached as murderers, not being scandalised. That’s the route Our Lord is taking us, gently, quietly, establishing justice, moving to the space of being the victim, without creating enormous waves of scandal, trying to allow us access to God, who can only be reached when our hearts are broken, and we look at our sisters and brothers as people equally involved, and therefore equally able to be called into new life. That’s our task for Holy Week.”

 

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28th day of Lent. Mantras to Hold and Review.

Every week I visit my local hospital and spend time with patients in the rehabilitation wing. I go because I know what it’s like to stay in a hospital, and what it’s like to spend time with a loved one there. In the first instance, there are never enough visitors. In the second, it’s stressful for everyone. Your anxiety shoots through the roof. Being in a hospital, and spending time with family in one are scary experiences.

During my visits I typically tell patients three things:

– Work hard during rehab sessions. Rehab is training for the Olympics that is your life.

– Listen to your body. Being in the hospital, is stressful. It requires a lot of energy. Physical energy, and emotional energy. If your body is saying you need a nap? Give in. Indulge yourself. If you’re sad and need to cry. Let yourself do just that also.

– Be gentle with yourself. We want healing to happen as quickly as a microwave heats a slice of pizza, or pops a bag of popcorn.  Instead healing takes place the way snow falls, one flake at a time. As folks in Boston have learned, one flake at a time, adds up.

Growing in faith involves three similar disciplines:

– Instead of working hard at having more faith, or trying to live on the outside like Jesus, let yourself be present to the people that are part of your life. Do that and you’ve taken a step towards being Jesus for them.

– Listen to your body, and bring it with you to worship and prayer. The aches of your heart. The pressure of  living. Your anxiety, hurt, and fear. Notice them. Bring them to Jesus, and remember, you are already his body in the world.

– Be gentle with yourself. So many things in our culture encourage us to think about ourselves first.  To consume, and want more. If you find yourself busy and without any room for anyone in your life besides yourself? Don’t beat yourself up. Growing in faith happens slowly, bit by bit. If you beat yourself up, all that will do is shame you. You’ll think you’re a bad person, and not simply someone who made a mistake.

For me, the three points are mantras to hold and review.

 

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23rd Day of Lent. Adult Dance Classes, and Bill Murray’s I am.

Every morning like most people, I take a quick look at email to see if any important messages came in overnight. Today the message that leaped out at me had as its subject: “Adult Dance Classes.” It was striking, not important. My mind started spinning. My first thought–pre-coffee–was that “Adult” meant sexy, and not that the classes were for adults and not children. As my coffee brewed I wondered, “how sexy?” They couldn’t mean Chippendale lessons, could they? Would that be a Groupon? I’m not sure I’d want to take that kind of dance lesson. I’m not sure anyone would want to see me dancing like Chris Farley in an SNL skit. It’s not that I think I look like him. It’s that I know I don’t look like Patrick Swayze. Maybe the class is something closer to Swayze’s dance in the film Dirty Dancing? That’s more reasonable. Though any woman I lifted into the air would end up crashing to the floor on top of me. Yep. I know who I am.

From email, I did a quick check of Facebook to see if anyone had a birthday today. That’s where I found Bill Murray’s answer to one of the worst questions reporters love to ask of athletes, politicians, and celebrities in press conferences: “How does it feel to be you?” To his credit, he turned around the question and presented it to everyone there:

“Let’s all ask ourselves that question right now: What does it feel like to be you? What does it feel like to be you? Yeah. It feels good to be you, doesn’t it? It feels good, because there’s one thing that you are — you’re the only one that’s you, right?”

“You’re the only one that’s you, right?” That’s a fundamental observation we hold to be true, often to our detriment. I say detriment, because our sense of being unique selves can keep us from understanding how alike we are. We want what each other has, just because they have it. We imitate each other, we make people, and brands, and cultures our scapegoats (Girard). Yet the differences between us are trivial. Michael McCullough, in a wonderful podcast at On Being drives home how alike we are, saying:

“[I]n a world where we hear a story a lot that there are genetic differences among persons, those genetic differences, for the most part, are trivial. They are trivial, trivial, trivial. They are just filigree. In all of the important ways, we are the same genetically. Our brains are largely the same.”

So, “you’re the only one that’s you” and the differences between us are “filigree.” In light of that paradox Murray’s next comments make complete sense.

“[W]e get confused sometimes — or I do, I think everyone does — you try to compete. You think, damn it, someone else is trying to be me. Someone else is trying to be me. But I don’t have to armor myself against those people; I don’t have to armor myself against that idea if I can really just relax and feel content in this way and this regard.”

I think the way he points out that armoring ourselves is a choice is precious. It’s optional. A choice you don’t have to make. How do you avoid doing it? Murray leads everyone gathered at the press conference in a short meditation. His goal is to encourage “the most personal identification, a very personal identification, which is: I am. This is me now. Here I am, right now. This is me now.” If you can develop that sense “Then you don’t feel like you have to leave, and be over there, or look over there. You don’t feel like you have to rush off and be somewhere.”

What he’s describing is living life as Parker Palmer likes to say, “inside out” as opposed to “outside in.” People who know who they are are, who accept and own their flaws as well as their strengths are people we describe as grounded. Meditation can help get you to that place because it help us quiet our minds. Without thoughts spinning through our heads–the way they were in mine this morning–we can begin to find rhythm to our being, and work on sustaining that grounded experience. In Christian terms, the ultimate ground of being, is God. The ability to sustain living from this place is possible because opting out of the “armoring” we feel we have to do, opts us in to the flow of who and what God is. That is what living Christianity is about.

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21st day of Lent. I know too many people who are grieving.

I know too many people who are grieving. Women who were in marriages they were committed to working on, enjoying, and seeing through when one spouse died too soon. Yesterday would have been the birthday of one. It was the anniversary of the passing of another. Two days ago I spoke on the phone with a third widow. Seven years ago today my friend Mary (not her real name), lost her husband to cancer.  In the last four months five friends have lost parents. Several more have celebrated the anniversary of a parent’s death.

A few weeks ago I took a “when will you die” quiz on Facebook. The result was ominous. According to the quiz, I’m going to die in six years. Yes. The how is the crazy part. I will die in childbirth. As a male, I could not believe the result. Then the answer came to me.  Of course: Science! I’d love to live to 100, and be as whole at that age. I know if I reach it, I’m going to want to keep going. But a lot of that is out of my control.

Oliver Sacks recently announced that he is terminally ill. With the time he has remaining he says, “I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.”

“I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight. This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well). I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.

This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future.”

Anthony DeMello would say Sacks is awake, and understands that the most important question isn’t whether there is life after death. It’s whether there is life before death (Awareness, p. 42). The women I know who are surviving spouses engage life, the way Sacks hopes to. They’re remarkable that way, though I can’t imagine any of them saying there is anything that isn’t ordinary about the way they’re living their lives.

This week David Malham writes in the New York Times about his mortality. He has ALS. A retired grief therapist, he describes the his response to his diagnosis as follows:

“I knew not to spend more than a few minutes with “No!” In that regard, as in many others, Buddhists have it exactly right: Getting enmeshed in a resisting “no” and in the unanswerable “why me?” is a recipe for self-inflicted suffering. I knew to focus instead on “what now”? What do I need to address — with myself and with others? How do I respond to the reality of a terminal illness? (A year later, “no” still makes infrequent appearances, but it remains unfed so the visits are brief.)”

“Why me?” is an unanswerable question that traps us in what’s happened. “What now?” is about possibility. Two short questions. One traps us, the other frees us. It presumes there is more. That the person grieving will make it to that more, that next.

Malham notes the way grief therapy has changed over time:

“Over the years an interesting change in grief therapy has been the emphasis on resilience; the awareness that people normally find healthy ways to adapt and live with loss. That’s not to say it’s a quick and easy task. It’s not that grieving suddenly ends and the person forgets and moves on. No, what happens is that a weight that initially feels unbearable becomes, in time, manageable. The grief becomes compact enough, with the hard edges removed, to be gently placed in one’s heart.”

Seven years later, that’s what I’m seeing happening with Mary. It’s magnificent.

We’re halfway through Lent. It is as good a time as any to think about the changes you’re trying to make. Which question are you asking? “Why me?” or “What’s next?” As anyone who’s experienced loss of any kind knows, when it happens you don’t know how you’re going to get through it. Mostly you just do. A lot of that is about finding your resilience. As you move through the rest of the Lenten season, don’t mourn who or what you aren’t. Find your resilience and lean into it. It’s the way through to the changes you want to make. Your way into the Kingdom of God that is always at hand, always now.

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11th day of Lent.

Two quotes and a story on this day after hearing the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration at Mass.

“The glory of God is [a person] fully alive, and the life of [the human person] is the vision of God.” ~ Saint Irenaus, Against Heresies Book IV, 20, 7.

“The only true and steadfast Teacher, the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, through his transcendent love, became what we are, that he might bring us to be what he is himself.” ~ St. Irenaus, Against Heresies, Book V, preface.

“Reb Zusya, a righteous rabbi, lay dying. His disciples surrounded him, and were astounded to see that their teacher and sage, a man whom all regarded as a model of appropriate thought and deed, shook with fear at the prospect of death and judgement.

“Master,” said his disciples, “why do you fear God’s judgement? You have lived life with the faith of Abraham. You have been as nurturing as Rachel. You have feared the Divine as Moses himself. Why do you fear judgement?”

Zusya took a deep, shuddering breath, and replied: “When I come before the throne of judgement, I am not afraid that God will ask, ‘why were you not more like Abraham?’ After all, I can say, ‘O God, you know best of all, that I am Zusya, not Abraham, how then should I have been more like Abraham?’ And if God should ask, ‘Why were you not more caring, like Rachel?’ I can respond, ‘Master of the Universe, you made me to be Zusya, not Rachel. If you wanted me to be more like Rachel, you should have made me more like Rachel.’ And should the True Judge say, ‘Zusya, why were you not more like Moses?’ I can respond, ‘O Mysterious One, who am I, Zusya, that I should be like Moses.’ But, I tremble in terror, because I think the Eternal will ask me another question. I believe I will be asked, ‘Zusya, why were you not more like Zusya?’ And when I am asked this, how shall I respond?””

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All The Gifts There Are.

Yesterday I took the Christmas gifts I’d purchased and lay them across my bed. A few more were still to arrive, courtesy of angels dressed in coffee brown. I wanted to see what I’d collected during the last several months, and if everything made sense. I’d made my list and was checking it a second time. Seeing the gifts on my bed helped me realize that I wasn’t quite ready, present-wise. I needed to pick up a few things, last-minute. More shopping? I sighed. I wasn’t looking forward to it.

Sweets is struggling with some of her friends. The other day, she received a text to an old cell number asking if the rumor was true that she didn’t like any of the people she ate lunch with. What an awful question for a friend to ask. And awful to see as a parent. I wanted to reply. I knew I couldn’t. While we were making dinner I let her know that the text had come and what it said.

“What’s going on? Is everything ok?” I asked.

“It’s a long story.”

“I have time now, if you want to talk about it.” She told me the story.

“I don’t understand. I apologized for making them think that.”

“You apologized? Why did you apologize?” I said.

I was feeling defensive on her behalf. I trust her, and she’s a great kid. I know too, that the details upon which things hinge might be beyond her awareness. Her comfort level talking about this with me is also an issue no matter how beloved she is.

“Do you like the kids at your table?” I asked. She shot me a look that let me know my question was too blunt.

Her eyes watered. “It’s a rumor, dad. You know how rumors are.”

“I know. It’s hard.”

“I’m trying. the other day I was telling one friend at the table a story and she fake-laughed. I mean, really fake-laughed. Then she looked at some of the other girls.”

“Ugh. That’s awful” I said.

“I don’t know what to do. It’s frustrating.”

I thought for a moment. “The other day, I saw you talking with–”

Sweets interrupted me. “Yeah. We’re ok. I worked it out with her.”

“That’s wonderful” I said. “I think that’s the right idea. Keep looking for moments like that when you can have good talks with your friends. Don’t worry about explaining yourself or trying to understand. Be who you say you are. That’s one of the most important things a person can do. Show your friends by your actions and your words that you like them. That way the reality they experience will blow the rumor away. It won’t happen right away. It will take time. You just keep being you. Keep showing them that the person you are on the inside is someone who likes them, even though they can’t see it on the outside. Sometimes it’s just hard to see what’s in front of you. You know, the way I sometimes look for the hat that’s already sitting on my head.” She smiled. We hugged, and continued making dinner.

Christmas is about to begin. While it’s good to give, it’s a period of peak tension. There is only one shopping day left. Do I have all the gifts I want to give? Am I forgetting anyone? Rushing to and fro makes it hard to remember who we are, and why we’re doing what we’re doing. Last night I dreaded heading out to shop. I left late and parked in the lot of a movie theater behind the strip of shops that were my destination. I did everything I could to avoid the crowds. I wanted to zip quickly in and out of stores, conserve my energy, etc. I wasn’t looking forward to it.

As I left one store I ran into a woman I sing with in my church choir. While in another I saw another choir member, and her son. Their warm smiles helped me remember that I was doing not just what I needed to do. I was in my community, doing something I wanted, for others. In a way my Christmas began last night as God became incarnate in those two small moments. They helped me forget that my last-minute timing was bothering me. It didn’t matter. They helped me remember who I was, and why I was doing what I was doing. When what we think and feel, lines up with everything we’re doing on the outside? That alignment of presence is a present greater than all the gifts there are.

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Finding God In Our Darkness.

I started working on a post at the beginning of last week for the second week of Advent. Writing now after midnight on Saturday, it’s clear I didn’t get there.

Catholic churches during Advent are subdued. There are no Christmas decorations to be seen, save a Giving Tree decorated with tags listing the name of a person and a suggestion for a gift. The color of the season, like three of the four candles on the Advent wreath, is purple. While Advent is a season of waiting, it’s also one of repentance. We repent because we’re aware that there is a difference between what we do, and who we say we are or want to be.

Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice. Three recent examples of this tension, or difference that folks in the U.S. are wrestling with. Who do we think we are? Who do we say we are? What do the actions of those who act on our behalf say? What does our discomfort with their actions say? What will we do? Anything? We are not yet who we wish to be.

Today is the two-year anniversary of the killing of twenty-six people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. In the last two years, there have been 23 more shootings in schools. We are not who we say we are. We are not yet who we wish to be.

Like many, I followed the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Torture Report on Tuesday. I found Andrew Sullivan’s live blogging of the report’s release gut-wrenching. As the self-proclaimed leaders of the free world, the report makes clear: We are not yet who we wish to be. How do we prepare the way of the Lord in this context? Where is God in our darkness?

That’s my question, and prayer. It may be yours as well. Certainly, it’s the prayer of the Brown, Garner, and Rice families. The prayer of the families of those who were killed in Newtown, CT. The prayer of the families of those who’ve been tortured in our name.

Where is God in our darkness? The Christian answer is a simple one. It’s so simple half the time Christians miss it completely. We think of Jesus as the one who defeated death. We claim Jesus’ triumph over sin, and forget his broken body that hung on the cross. We think of that triumph and forget the reminder in Matthew’s Gospel:

“‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[g] you did it to me.’” (Mt 25:37-40, NRSV)

By extension, our question might be, “Lord, when did we find you on the cross?” That’s where God was–it’s where God, is. Paul J. Nuechterlein in a wonderful Advent homily concludes:

“As long as there is suffering in this world, that is where God will be. And, when we learn to find God there and go to be with God there, then won’t the suffering finally end? If everyone learns to find God and to be with God among the suffering, then who will be left to cause the suffering? Then, when we all learn where to find God and where to be with God, then will that Christmas prophecy of Isaiah come to fulfillment: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness–on them light has shined. For unto us a child is born; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:2,6) Amen.”

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The Love In My Heart.

Bud was sitting in the backseat of the car as we pulled up to his mom’s house. He said goodbye to my friend in the front passenger seat, and looked at me. “I love you, Dad.” “I love you too, Bud. Do you have your keys?” He waved them in the air so that I’d see that he did. Then he got out of the car.

As he walked away my friend turned to me and said, “Wow. Did you hear that?” “Hear, what?” “He told you that he loves you! He’s almost fifteen for Chrissakes! When you were his age would you ever have told your Dad that you loved him in front of one of his friends?” He paused, long enough for me to realize that the answer to that was an obvious no, then added. “You two, have done a wonderful job with your kids, you know?” I nodded, and smiled. “He’s a great kid.” Pointing with his index finger, my friend waved his right hand the way I remember his father doing when he wanted to make a point. “They both are.” We sat with the stillness of that for the short ride to my home.

Sometimes I think telling me she loves me is Sweets favorite thing to say. “I love you Daddy.” “I love you, too, Sweets” is our typical exchange repeated through the day, every day. It’s said frequently enough that it’s like a mantra. I used to wonder if she was checking to see if I really did love her. As if there was a possibility in her mind that I might not respond, or say, no. Now I think it’s just the air we breathe. She’s rich and full. Like a good mantra, “I love you” grounds us.

Sweets is young enough, that her “I love you” comes from a cup that only remembers that love overflows. The wonder of Bud’s “I love you” is that he is old enough to realize that not everything works out in the end. He loves the repeated phrase from the Hunger Games books, “May the odds be ever in your favor…” and is discovering that life, like the game in the book, is unfair. The world can be hard. At the same time, he is also learning to identify his needs. It’s the coolest thing. Something like that can only happen when a person begins to understand who they are. Neediness, in contrast, comes from our emptiness. From the way we feel that we’re lacking, and so, we need approval for example, to know we’re okay, or we need to be in a relationship to feel whole. He’s growing up. He’s beginning to have a sense of  who he is. What a kid!

I love them both. I would do anything for them. When the kids were younger it was easy to see cause and effect between what I would do as a parent, and the impact it had. Just think of the game “peek-a-boo.” Adults don’t play peek-a-boo with kids because it makes the adult feel good, though it does that in a marvelous way. We do it, because we see the joy the child experiences from the play of the game. I think it’s one of the ways we are reminded what it means to love another person unconditionally. Sebastian Moore reports that Marshall Rosenberg–who works in conflict resolution–says that “what we want above all things is to be the cause of joy in each other.” We want to love and be loved. Not for any reason or because of anything we do. We want to be loved for ourselves, as we are.

The kids and I have all the disagreements parents have with their kids, of course. The way I make them happy is different today than it was when we played peek-a-boo. Then, many games brought the cry “Again Dada, again!” Seeing them happy remains something precious, as does seeing them become individual selves. When I told my son that I didn’t like the Hunger Games movie, he didn’t take offense. He didn’t receive it as a rejection. Instead, he calmly suggested that I read the book. That is exactly what my friends said. That sort of thing is happening more and more. Still, I wonder, am I leading them anywhere good?  I worry, even though I know it doesn’t matter how much I want to try and see down the road of their lives. Anything I think I see, is an illusion. Heck, I have a tough enough time seeing down my own road. Anyway, that’s my head trying to control, a richness my gut knows only comes when I am true to the love in my heart.