Category Archives: Forgiveness

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.”


30th day of Lent. Being Open With Your Heart.

Some times I think the most important lesson I’ve learned as a parent comes down to two words: “Walk away.” During conflicts when hormones (theirs), and emotions (everyone’s) are flooding the landscape, it’s almost magic. You’re Harry Potter and expelliarmus-ing yourself out of the room, so that you can deal with whatever is happening when everyone is in a calmer place.

If there’s a corollary, it’s being vulnerable. For a chunk of time when children are small, what you say as a parent defines reality. Even if your child pushes back, appealing to your own authority is enough. We say things like “Because I’m your dad, that’s why” because they work. As our kids begin to get a sense that we’re not infallible we appeal to higher authorities and say things like, “Your teacher said,” or we invoke everyone from the Principal of our kid’s school, to the President of the United States, and God. Then comes the time when those appeals aren’t enough. This story is about what can happen when you get to the end of your rope, and suggests a way through when you do.

“Three times I tried to get my son Matthew not to steal comic books! This is the truth! I’m not sure why, but my son started this comic book collection. And when he couldn’t get them fast enough by buying them, well, he then began stealing them. I tried three different efforts to get Matthew to stop stealing comic books. Matthew! My dear son! My hungry son! Who collects whatever he collects … in the thousands! I tried my best to change him. Three times I used the old law; three times I was the fool.

The first time I found out that Matthew was stealing he had stolen from a public library. So I figured: shame the kid! I called up the librarian and said, “Look, I’m bringing the kid back, and he’s going to return the comic books which he stole from you. Would you please kind of — chastise him?” I thought that the Lord would look down upon Matthew and that he would feel very uncomfortable when the librarian chastised him. So Matthew came in, put the comics in front of her, and said his piece. And she said, “Matthew, Matthew.” (She was very good. She’s an excellent librarian!) “Do you know what you have done,” she said, steel-eyeing him. “You’ll never do that again, right?”

The second time I caught him stealing comic books, I tried a different tact. I used the Word of God, the seventh commandment. I didn’t know if he knew it well enough, so I shook my head and sighed a whole lot, and repeated all the commandments for him. And then for good measure I burned all of his comic books … one at a time. I thought that this disciplinary action was sure to change Matthew. “He’ll never steal comic books again,” I thought. “Look at this conflagration, doesn’t it remind you of hell?”

The third time Matthew stole comic books was while I was teaching at Seminex in St. Louis. While we were staying there, Matthew went around the corner and stole some comic books from a store. Well, that seemed more desperate then ever to me, because I was teaching the Word of God, and my son was stealing comic books!

So this is what I finally decided to do. I took Matthew into my study, and I spanked him. I laid him over my knees, as you do. I decided I should feel what he felt and use my bare hands right on Matthew’s bottom. I told him why I was doing it: that in this position he really left me no other choice. I had to spank him.

The first swat that came down on his bottom came hard. And when it did, I felt his entire body stiffen. And I don’t know why, People, but it was that stiffening that pierced me to the heart. It was that stiffening that made me breakdown on the inside. And I think I gave him maybe four or five good, solid swacks on his butt after that. ‘Cause he was so stiff. He was a board. My son was a board on my knees. And as soon as I was done, I left the room. I went out to where our piano is … in the hall, and I burst into tears. And blessed Thanne, my wife, she came over to comfort me, with her arms around me. Well, I cried at the thing I had done, and then I went back into the room.

Now, this is fortuitous, because I tell you the truth: A number of months later, while the family was driving in the car: out of nowhere, Matthew says to me, “Dad, do you know why I stopped stealing comic books?” (And he had stopped!) I said, “Yea, I finally spanked you.” He said, “What!” And he looked at me. He said, “No…. It’s because you cried….”” ~ Walter Wangerin, Jr., The Manger is Empty pp116-132. h/t Paul J. Nuechterlein

Sometimes the best way to encourage a change of heart, is being open with yours.




29th day of Lent. Monica, Shining Like the Sun.

“I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo, and, of course, ‘that woman.’ I was seen by many but actually known by few. And I get it: it was easy to forget that that woman was dimensional, had a soul, and was once unbroken.”

Those words are from Monica Lewinsky’s  TED talk, “The Price of Shame.” When she says them in her talk, the stillness in the auditorium where she’s speaking reaches through the screen and envelopes you.

“Tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo, and, of course, ‘that woman.'” Those ten words helped me stand in her shoes. She could have stopped right there. I was already finding myself in her story.

As she told her story, these words gave me a window into how difficult her experience was during this time:

“Let me paint a picture for you. It is September of 1998. I’m sitting in a windowless office room inside the Office of the Independent Counsel underneath humming fluorescent lights. I’m listening to the sound of my voice, my voice on surreptitiously taped phone calls that a supposed friend had made the year before. I’m here because I’ve been legally required to personally authenticate all 20 hours of taped conversation. For the past eight months, the mysterious content of these tapes has hung like the Sword of Damocles over my head. I mean, who can remember what they said a year ago? Scared and mortified, I listen, listen as I prattle on about the flotsam and jetsam of the day; listen as I confess my love for the president, and, of course, my heartbreak; listen to my sometimes catty, sometimes churlish, sometimes silly self being cruel, unforgiving, uncouth; listen, deeply, deeply ashamed, to the worst version of myself,a self I don’t even recognize.

A few days later, the Starr Report is released to Congress, and all of those tapes and transcripts, those stolen words, form a part of it. That people can read the transcripts is horrific enough, but a few weeks later, the audio tapes are aired on TV, and significant portions made available online. The public humiliation was excruciating. Life was almost unbearable.”

Her courage blew me away. The stage she’s standing on isn’t just a TED stage, she knows that. As she says during the talk, “I was patient zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.” In choosing to speak in this way what she’s essentially saying to the world is “I’m a person like you. What you did to me–or let others do–and do today when you bully them and/or click through to sites that bully or spread gossip, isn’t right, has a real cost, and needs to end.” [That’s me summarizing her speech.]

Late in the speech she calls for people to be “Upstanders.”

The theory of minority influence, proposed by social psychologist Serge Moscovici, says that even in small numbers, when there’s consistency over time, change can happen. In the online world, we can foster minority influence by becoming upstanders. To become an upstander means instead of bystander apathy, we can post a positive comment for someone or report a bullying situation.”

The reference, “upstanders” reminded me of Thomas Merton’s book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. There are moments of reverie in Merton’s book that are wonderful. Passages like this one help me understand how off-target we are when we shame people like Lewinsky. Off-target because there is so much we have in common. So much that we might otherwise celebrate were it not for the effects of original sin which blind us from what is obvious. Which keep us from seeing at each other with eyes like these:

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . .

This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. . . .

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts when neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed … I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.” ~ Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p171.

The contrast is incredible. The task for me–for each of us–is to think about the Monica’s of our lives. Not because we should fall down and worship them. No. Our goal is to find them as they are, our personal Monica’s, walking around shining like the sun.

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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.



8th day of Lent.

I was stuck in my head for a bit this evening. I found myself with three hours to do five hours worth of tasks. There was no way it was going to happen. Absolutely no way. That didn’t stop me from trying. After all my mind convinced me everything could get done.

In My Stroke of Insight, Jill Bolte-Taylor likes to point out that “Most of us think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, but we are actually feeling creatures that think.” We’ve got it backwards, and our minds willingly support this idea. And why not? They have a marvelous ability to create worlds that don’t exist anywhere, and convince us that they’re real. I did that tonight. As time passed my stress level increased, and there was no way I was going to stop what I was doing to figure out that I was in my head because I didn’t have time! I was impatient with my daughter, and lashed out at my son who had the gall to catch my stress and become stressed, himself. I’d wanted to return to the dinner conversation we’d had about whether emotions were contagious, yes. But not this way.

Seeing him stressed helped the smallest part of me realize that the drama I was in wasn’t real. It was just something I’d made up. I looked at him. “Why are you upset?” I asked. Wrong question. In moments like that any question is the wrong question. It’s just fodder. “I’m upset because you’re upset. And I didn’t do anything!” Fortunately, I’d started letting go of my stress, even as he’d caught mine. That helped keep the loop we were in short. I sent him off to Karate, and did some focusing-based repair later. It was a good reminder that knowing the importance of stopping and paying attention to what’s happening to you, and doing it are different things. I have a lot to learn.


Ash Wednesday, 1st day of Lent.

What is repentance?
“[T]he Greek behind our Latin-based word, “repent,” means to change one’s mind. Repentance, then, is about a fundamental change in the way we think about our lives – their purpose, focus, and conduct.
That process may entail “turning from sin,” from specific behaviors or actions, particularly if those behaviors or actions are at odds with this new change of mind. Repentance may also involve regret or sorrow over having lived our lives under the mind’s old regime.
But, like a person who undergoes surgery for cataracts, the point of repentance is not to make us ashamed of what we couldn’t see. The purpose of repentance is to allow us to see. … Repentance, then, is the beginning of healing, transformation, new-found, God-given, and deeply rooted strength.” ~ Frederick Schmidt

For my readers. I haven’t written consistently in a long time. Thank you for bearing with me. As Lent begins I am thinking about building the discipline of writing during these forty days. My desire is to end each day with a reflection written in a single draft. I know that I want to write, but I haven’t settled on a way of going about that. Will I write about family? Will I take a favorite book and use passages as places to jump of? Will I simply share quotes? Or will there be some combination of the above. I don’t know.

What I do know is that I take my writing too seriously. That keeps me from doing it. It’s much easier for me to post notes on Facebook. It’s casual. As such, these posts will begin on Facebook, and if I’m able to sustain them, I’ll move them over to this blog where they will appear at once. Thereafter, I’ll try to sustain the work here. We’ll see what happens in time.

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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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For 9/11: Being Whole, Together, As We Are.

I watched him run, my friend’s small boy, all of three years old. We were in front of Sweets’ school, the children having just finished singing what I call “The Promise Song,” during their morning assembly.

“I am a promise, I am a possibility, I am a promise, with a capital P, I am a great big bundle of potentiality!”

I was still singing as I bounded down the steps, taking them two at a time. That’s when I saw my friend, watching her son, and I imagined, marveling, as he chugged along. The distance from the steps to the sidewalk is around fifty yards. As he moved past the halfway point, I realized he wasn’t slowing down. The sidewalk was now twenty yards ahead. The street was twenty-one. What was about to happen was unthinkable. Realizing this, my friend Karen, started running, too.

I was still singing, but my voice was soft. My attention was with Karen, and her child.

“I can go anywhere that I want to go. I can be anything that I want to be. I can climb the high mountains, I can cross the wide sea.”

The “wide sea” of asphalt now lay a few feet ahead. Karen, was closing. Would she get there? I continued, “I’m a great big promise you see!” My voice trailed off. He was on the sidewalk when he fell. Karen scooped him up moments later, his laughter having turned into a wail. There was no blood. No apparent scrape. The surprise of falling had simply taken his glee and turned it inside out.

She picked him up, giving consolation the way a mother does, holding her child close. As I reached them she said, “He’ll be okay. I think he’s stunned, more than anything.” He seemed fine. The fall was in his past. We walked. I looked at her and said, “Isn’t this a beautiful day? It’s clear and crisp. I love this weather.” “I know, the sky is so blue.” I looked up. “You’re right! Wow. There isn’t a cloud in the sky. THAT doesn’t happen enough in this town.” I was taking in the sky when she said, “It was this clear on September Eleventh.” In the silence that followed, I thought of that day’s empty sky.

Before singing “The Promise Song,” we’d had a moment of silence, and the Principal read several reflections from Messages to Ground Zero: Children Respond to September 11, 2001. Before going to school, I'd joined my daughter, saying these prayers, written by my neighbor. We’d also watched James L. Martin’s reflection on the events of that day in 2001. September eleventh remains a day where people stop, and remember.

As we reached her car, Karen put her son down saying, “Let’s see if all your parts work.” He’d stopped wailing, shortly after we’d started our conversation. He walked easily to the car. If he needed more proof that he was fine, there it was.

In 2009 Joe Biden read an excerpt from Mary Oliver’s poem, “Wild Geese” at the Ground Zero Memorial Service. His reading came just before a moment of silence, marking the point in time when the second plane struck the World Trade Center.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Another friend said this morning, “I don’t know if I’ll ever feel normal on this day. Eleven years later, I definitely don’t.” His words took me back to Karen, and her son. My friend’s sense of the world is still turned inside out.

When Joe Biden read Mary Oliver’s poem at the Memorial Service in 2009, he skipped the first five lines of the poem.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

For me, those lines change the experience of the poem. Read as a whole, it puts first line he read, “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.” in a different context. We’re not mourning while “the world goes on.” We are people trying to love, what we love. We wrestle with our ability to do that. We beat ourselves and each other up, longing for proof that our love is strong enough. We can be told left and right, time and again, that “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination” and that we have a place “in the family of things” and the words will float through our ears. We can do things like sing “The Promise Song” until we are hoarse, and the words will remain outside our hearts.

The tension of hearing words like those in the poem and the song, coupled with our deep desire to be enough as we are, and at home where we are, is fully felt on days like this one. Days where our sense of what it means to live, and breathe, are turned inside out and revealed as modest constructions.

I like the phrase President Obama made famous during a speech on Super Tuesday in 2008. Quoting the poet June Jordan he said, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” At the time, he was criticized for this turn of phrase. It was called messianic, and self-congratulatory. Andrew Sullivan noted then that “The point is surely that we shouldn’t wait for someone else to save us, or lift us up, or fix our problems or address our fate. We are the only ones who can do this.” That also means “we’re responsible for our own failure.” We see much, want to control outcomes, then blame ourselves or others when we fall short. We hold on and don’t know how to let go, how to turn it around.

September eleventh remains a point of wounding, instead of a place where healing can occur in relation to everything that happened that day. Like every child that falls, we were stunned. We wanted to wail. Instead, we put up a front. We wanted to show strength in the face of trauma. In wanting to present well to the rest of the world, we tied ourselves to our wound.

Thinking in relation, means thinking differently about who we are. We’re used to being part of communities that are born from boundaries, and differences. My family. My town. My country. It’s a way of thinking that separates, and leads to statements like, “you’re either for us, or against us.” That phrasing isn’t just one that comes into play when terror strikes. It’s what happens when we yell at kids, for setting foot in our yards. It happens in our homes, when we decide that an either or ultimatum is the only solution to the behavioral matter of the moment.

What if we let go of the way we’re wedded to good and bad? Us and them? Red state, and blue? If we stop judging and start joining, perhaps we can quiet the voice telling us we have failed again. That we are not good enough. A voice that leaves us to “have to walk on [our] knees / For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.”

Letting go, we might just realize that to find the way through “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” It couldn’t be that easy, could it?

In standing back and letting her child run, my friend Karen was brilliant. I wonder if she sees it that way? After all, you can look at what happened and say, “she let him fall.” I know she didn’t let him fall. What she did was let him run. She could have run with him from the start. She didn’t. That’s Karen opening up “what’s next” to a world of possibility. In this case her son, falling, and our conversation. If she had run with him from the beginning, our conversation would never have taken place. If she and I had not spoken today, you would not be reading these words. Vulnerability is the secret that helps us turn things around. It’s the thing that always works. Not because it is impossible for others to resist. It always works because being vulnerable changes who we are.

Brené Brown says, “When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make….Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.”

Being vulnerable is what happens when we let ourselves be caught up in our mother’s arms. It’s the way we move through from being wounded, to healing, and finding ourselves whole, you with me, together, as we are.


Spin Class Wisdom, And The Love We All Desire.

This morning, I stumbled across this essay: “Everything I Know About Prayer I Relearned in Spin Class.” It’s by a young Jesuit named Michael Rossman. I found it via James Martin‘s Facebook page. He discovered it this morning, in the Sunday bulletin at St. Cecelia’s parish, (Boston). I laughed when I saw the title. It’s a nice piece. One chock full of wisdom.

Reading it called to mind some of the people who’ve helped me understand both the importance of being part of a community (Rossman’s #1), and the challenge of living in community. Nothing takes a person off a pedestal of admiration, the way living with them does. The ordinariness of life. The ebb and flow, with its endless repetition and sameness. Once you understand the ups and downs of a person’s moods, you can see through the sheen we all project to hide our brokenness, and fear of rejection. To see, you have to look. We can choose to not look, and avoid the question altogether. But if you dare–and I think all great loves and friendships require that we do–what remains is the simple choice to be with another person, not as we’ve imagined or hoped them to be, but as they are.

I think the choice is something we first encounter with our families. Having known us all our lives, they can typically see through our facades. We see through theirs, too. We know each other too well, in the sense that when change happens, family is often the last to accept it as real. That, of course is the same reason most of us are our worst critics, we know all the history.

Being able to accept each other as we are? It’s the reason some friendships last, and others, don’t. Everyone wants to belong, to be accepted, and loved. Even Jesus did. I think it’s the secret to happy marriages, too. Someday I hope to test that hypothesis.

Being able to accept ourselves as we are? I think a lot of that involves coming to terms with our vulnerability, and brokenness. If yours is like mine, I’m sure your family is more than willing to help you do this. Of course, they’re often the people we have the hardest time hearing. All that history gets in the way, differently.

I like the way Rossman pointed to the way he’s supported by a communion of saints (#9), who “inspire, guide, and intercede.” And that he allows that the “communion of pop singers that blast from the speakers during [Spin} class could also analogously serve in a saintly role for spinners – even if some of their lyrics or personal lives may not always be so saintly.”

I sometimes consider of some of the bloggers I read in a similar manner. I’m thinking in particular of three women (#5?) who don’t live in my neighborhood, and that I don’t really know, or know well enough to consider part of my community (though one lives about twenty miles away). They write from different places, at different paces, and for different reasons. They are part of my communion of saints because of their willingness to dive deep, and be vulnerable (#10). Again and again they teach me the importance of taking first steps (#11), and pushing through to the end (#3) even though I have no idea where it is. For all of that–it’s a lot–I am in their debt.

If you have time, and the inclination, you can find their windows into the love we all desire, here:

Maternal Dementia
The Jennie Blog
Canned Beer Classy

Dust, And A Water Bottle.

“Dad? When are you going to die?”
“Sweets–I’m dying right now.”
“Daddy, you’re not dying!”
“Yes I am. A little bit every day. I’m certainly not growing.”

We were walking to school. I had reminded her that today was Ash Wednesday, and that at the service, ashes would be placed on her forehead as the minister says, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The next steps were quiet ones.  Standing at the corner of a busy street, we waited for the traffic to clear. After we crossed, I broke the silence.

“If I’m lucky, I’ll live another fifty, or sixty years. That would be nice, don’t you think? I could watch you and your brother grow up, maybe get married and have kids…” Grandchildren and great granchildren. That would be cool. I felt myself starting to day dream as we walked. I could go with this, for a while. Sweets wasn’t about to wander with me.

“Dad! You’ll be over a hundred years old! That’s too old!”
“Is it? What if I don’t feel a hundred? When I was twenty-five, I would look at people who were thirty. I thought they were so old. Then I turned thirty and I felt like did when I was twenty-five. And you know what?”
“The same thing happened when I turned forty. Isn’t that weird?”
“Yeah. But when you’re a hundred, I’ll be… fifty. That’s really old!”
“Thanks.” I shrugged my shoulders, feigning insult.
“Da-ad. You know what I mean. Besides, you’re not that old, yet.” She smiled. “Do you still feel like you’re twenty-five?”

We’d reached another corner. She checked for passing cars. “I don’t know,” I said. I thought about her question as we crossed the street. “Got it. I feel, thirty-five. And if I’m healthy when I turn a hundred, maybe I’ll still feel this young!” I smiled. I also saw an opportunity for a little teasing. “Hmm… If I feel thirty-five, maybe I should date someone in her thirties? Of course, if she really is in her thirties, she’ll feel like she’s twenty-five. That probably wouldn’t be good. Twenty-five is definitely too young.” I continued rambling until we reached the end of the block.

After we crossed, Sweets looked at me, cocked her head to one side and said, “Dad. You’re crazy.”
“I know. And annoying.”
“Especially when you dance.” We were both grinning. She, was serious. She skipped ahead and waited for me at the next corner. Cross that street and we’d arrive at her school. She checked her bag while she waited for me to catch up.
When I reached her, she asked me, “Do you have my water bottle?”
“Do you mean the one I asked you to put in your bag?”
She looked down, her hand was balled into a fist. “I hate when I do that! I always forget things. Always. Why can’t I remember?”

I wanted to help her reset. Sweets has high standards for herself. Sometimes I think they’re too high. I leaned forward, and put my hand on her shoulder. “Don’t blame yourself. I can get it. Things like this aren’t a big deal. They happen.”
She kicked the ground with her shoe. “I don’t like it when it does.”
“I know. Hey. I’m going to tell you something else about Lent.” She rolled her eyes, as if on cue. “Tonight the minister might also say, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” We repent because we don’t always do things the way we’re supposed to. That can be about getting along with your brother, or doing the things your mom and I ask you to–”
“Dad, you really are annoying sometimes.”
“Yeah. I am. Listen, maybe Lent is about accepting that you’re not perfect, and realizing you don’t have to be. Do you want to remember things like your water bottle? Sure. But the idea that you can’t make mistakes? I think that’s the worst sin, ever.”
She reached forward and gave me a hug. “I love you, Daddy.”
I kissed her on the cheek, “I love you too, Sweets. Go inside. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”