Category Archives: Vocation

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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16th day of Lent.

16th day of Lent. Selling Girl Scout cookies is teaching my Sweets goal-setting, people skills, decision-making, money management, and business ethics. This morning she was crushed because she misplaced a four dollar payment a friend gave her. It took a while to realize that it was only four dollars, and that she’d been doing a great job keeping track of the rest of her sales dollars. Once she remembered that she said, “if I don’t find it, I’ll take it from my allowance.” “Great!” I said.This afternoon, she had a nice lesson in customer service also.

I received a call from a customer she’d delivered to who said that two of the boxes she received were for cookies she didn’t order. “Okay” my daughter said when I handed her the phone. “I don’t have those cookies right now. I’ll come back with them later.” She ended the call and turned to me. “Dad, look at the spreadsheet, the cookies I gave her were the ones she ordered. What are we going to do? She wants Tagalongs. I don’t know if I have any.” “Well, I’m sure we can get them somewhere” I said. “What do you think would make her happy?” “Tagalongs. But what if she made a mistake when she placed her order? She has to take those cookies.” “Well, how would you feel if you had to take cookies you didn’t like just because you made a mistake?” “Okay” she said, not because she would feel ok if that happened but because she understood my point. I asked her to look up the order on the original form. She did. “Dad. This says she ordered Do-Si-Dos.” It’s a data entry error and her second mistake of the day. “What do you think you should do?” I asked. “I have to call her.” She calls and confirms that it’s the Peanut Butter sandwich cookie she wants, and not the Tagalongs. That’s what the customer gets.

Sweets loves selling cookies. Tonight I asked her what she likes the most about selling cookies. “People get so happy” she said. “What about delivering cookies. What do you like the best about that?” “It’s the same thing. They’re so happy to see me.” Marshall Rosenberg said “the most joyful and intrinsic motivation human beings have for taking any action is the desire to meet our needs and the needs of others.” She loves selling cookies because she sees them making people happy. To me what she is doing is meeting the needs of others through her service.

This year she beat her goal by a hundred boxes, selling three hundred more boxes in her initial order than she did last year. She did it in less time, and with less effort than she ever has. At the same time, she’s about a week behind in her deliveries. When you sell 1100 boxes of cookies there’s a lot of work that has to happen in between the fun of taking the orders, and the fun of delivering them. That in between part went missing until she came to terms with what had to be done. Now, she’s flowing.

When I think about what it must have been like to be a disciple of Jesus, I think that early on the disciples must have felt, that it was fun. They were spending their days with someone who made them think, who helped others, and who introduced them to living their lives as Jews in a different and compelling way. Like Peter, I wouldn’t have known what to make of the Transfiguration. Mark says, “He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified” (Mk 9:6). Once it’s over, the scriptures say, Jesus told them “not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.” I think they loved being with Jesus, helping people, and listening to him teach. What was next for Jesus was beyond them.

For Jesus, saying that the transfiguration wasn’t to be spoken of? That’s his first real “come to Jesus” moment (it’s late as I write, and bad jokes come out when I’m tired). Or to make more painful and obvious wordplay, it was his “mountaintop experience.” The moment when he realized that being who he was, and living the life he believed he was meant to live, came with a cost. A price greater than any of the work involved in between selling and delivering Girl Scout cookies, yes. But experiences like that for Jesus, for my daughter, and all of us, are crucibles through which we find out who we are. They’re not easy. As a mom who’s given birth to a child might say, “it’s the most pain I’ve ever experienced. It was worth it, too.” Along the way there are moments, and lengths of doubt. Being true to the life you’re called to live, as a scholar, a nurse, a sibling, or spouse isn’t often easy. What parent doesn’t sometimes wish for “a break?” You do the best you can, whether you feel like it or not. Ten times out of ten, it’s enough. When you give what you have, it is enough. That’s you being only the person you can be, “living in time” (Christian Wiman).

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Culling, Surrender, and Bliss.

Five months ago I was happily pacing through the days of Lent. I began each morning with a reading by Madeleine L’Engle and ended the day with a reflection that owed something to where the day started. I was caught up in it, loving the way spending my days in prayer–that’s how I think of that ongoing noodling–gave me focus and helped me remember something of my priesthood. Twenty days into the season, the posts end.

Two things happened. I read an NPR story called, The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re All Going To Miss Almost Everything. It blew me away.

The story boldly highlights the reality that I will never hear the majority of good music that exists in the world. That’s right, never. The same is true of reading books, seeing movies, and encountering art. Their grasp is forever beyond me. There isn’t anything I can do to change that either (or you for that matter).

The article does a nice job describing two different ways people appear to be handling finding themselves in this position. Some eliminate whole categories of things by dismissing them. They say things like, “There isn’t anything good on TV, so I don’t watch it.” Or “I like every kind of music, except Country.” By eliminating a category or two of entertainment, you shrink your list of what you need to see and hear and watch.

Others surrender to this reality. If culling is another way of describing the “bucket list” experience, then surrender may be a way of thinking about experiences you really want to have that will, in all likelihood “miss-the-bucket.” In other words, even though you’d love to have an experience, you realize that it’s probably not going to happen. Your desire isn’t enough. You let go.

Something like this happened to me yesterday. I ran into a friend at the neighborhood farmers market and watched her buy a basket of tomatoes for eleven dollars. I asked her, “Why are you buying those.” She replied, “I like the meat in these tomatoes.” I think they were Roma’s. I continued, “No, I mean, what will you do with all of them?” “Can them. We have a pressure canner.” I remained puzzled. “Can I ask a silly question?” “Sure.” “Why will you do that? I don’t get it.” “Well it’s about flavor and cost. . . . I just used the last jar of tomatoes we canned last summer.” “Wow” was all I could say. I returned home thinking about the canning many of my friends were doing. Should I be canning veggies too? Was I missing out? Did I need to do something about this? If I did, and I think I–yes I want to! What supplies do I need? I emailed a friend who cans, and asked for advice. I visited the website of The National Center for Home Food Preservation. I searched amazon.com for pressure canners. I didn’t know what one was. I had a mission. I was going to figure this out.

Meanwhile on Facebook, a friend commented that a picture of cinnamon rolls I’d posted that morning, photographed in low light and bearing a yellow tinge as a result, looked delicious. “i think you need to open up a bakery.” That’s what she said. Another, “they look a little radioactive.” Note to self, next time use flash. The effect of those comments was to help me realize that while canning may be desirable, cost effective and a wonderful way to eat local vegetables all year long, I didn’t have to do it. I might like the idea very much. That doesn’t mean I need to add it to my list of things that I do. I let go of it and surrendered. I bake almost all the bread I eat. I do not can. That’s okay.

I mentioned earlier that a second thing happened after I wrote my last post. Here’s what it was, I took my own advice. That post is about paying attention and being who you say you are. It’s about making sure your actions match your words and how it’s easy to let yourself slip out of alignment. We lie to ourselves all the time. We tell stories about who we want to be and pretend that’s who we are. Sometimes our actions catch up to our words. Sometimes they don’t. Last March, many of my actions and words were in different places. Good or bad, that’s where I was.

I let go of the blog, because I was culling too much out of my life to make it happen. I’ve been recovering from a brain injury for two years. My capacity, as a result, is diminished. I’m getting better. I am not there, yet. In February and March those Lenten posts took me six to eight hours to write. Each. That’s a chunk of time. They’re not that long. To make the writing happen, I had to remove things from my schedule. Some of the things I cut were important. I put other things on hold that I needed to work on, too.

When I stopped writing, I didn’t consciously realize any of this. Only now, as I look back, can I say these things. Only now, can I see and find perspective. What I was aware of then is that I was, as the NPR story says, “separated from so much.” That realization overwhelmed me. I stopped.

What’s changed? This post will come in at just under five hours when it’s done, with the bulk of the writing happening in a single sitting. Even at a thousand words, that’s slow. While I’d like to be able to write a post in half that time, it’s a heck of a lot of progress. I did most of this work in the late evening, as the day wound down. That’s my actions and words coming into alignment. I have good friends helping me to understand how my actions align with my words. Some have the courage to tell me when I’m being an ass. That’s more important than you know. One, humbles me, here, with lovely words that are all about her journey.

Yesterday at the market, my favorite farmer looked at me and said, “Well. It’s a good day isn’t? You’re holding your head high and have a smile on your face that matches the weather. What can I get for you?” He’s a good farmer and a good salesman. And he knows a shade of bliss when he sees it.

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Lent’s Compass. Day 20: You’re Not Necessarily Who You Think You Are.

I am a particular incarnationalist. I believe that we can understand cosmic questions only through particulars. I can understand God only through one specific particular, the incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth. This is the ultimate particular, which gives me my understanding of the Creator and of the beauty of life. I believe that God loved us so much that he came to us as a human being, as one of us, to show us his love. ~ Madeleine L’Engle from an interview in Christianity Today, 1979.

A number of years ago several friends sat around and imagined things Jesus would never say. The list they came up with included such gems as:

– “Gimme that!”
– “OK, so you come out first and introduce me, then …”
– “Do I look fat in this?”
– “Comme ci, Comme ca” (with hand gesture)
– “If you really loved me you’d try harder.”
– “I’m disappointed with you.”

The list works because the statements are contrary to the person we read about in the Christian Bible. They don’t align with what he said, or how he lived. How many of us can say that? That our thoughts and words about how we should live or who we are are as people are in alignment with our actions? That they’re in alignment with the way we actually do live, every day?

One of the things I like about the Franklin Covey approach to managing time, is that you’re asked to spend time thinking about what your values are and to spell out what each value means to you. After that, you look at the relationship between what you value and the way you spend your time. You’re not asked to consider it once, but every time you plan. Once isn’t enough. To maintain alignment, you have to take stock again and again. That discipline is good practice.

You have to pay attention because it’s easy to lose track. It’s easy to think that the person we think we are and say we are and who our actions say we are, are the same. They’re not. We lie. We lie to others and to ourselves. A friend of mine said to me, “Do you know what I don’t like about Facebook? The way everyone seems to be living an extraordinary life, except me.” It’s not true of course. We’re all leading ordinary lives. What she’d noticed is the gloss that exists in Facebook posts.

The presence of some of the gloss is sometimes intentional. One Facebook friend loves to provoke arguments. To him, if it doesn’t spark controversy a post is boring. Some of the gloss is unintentional. Last year I went to my high school reunion. Several high school Facebook friends told me they look forward to seeing my cooking updates. Two more wondered when I joined the priesthood. I like sharing the meals I’m preparing. I’m deeply interested in the way people think what they’re supposed to do in this life. About vocation and also about the zen of being human. I didn’t think anyone would define me by those posts. Yet they did. It is also something I’ve done too. A friend mostly posts photos she takes. For a long time I thought she’d become a professional photographer.

It’s a short walk from believing the gloss we see on Facebook posts to missing the irony that happens when our actions move out of alignment with our thoughts or words. Before I started working as a coach and trainer, I ran coffee shops for Starbucks. I remember hearing a free-spirited member of my staff having a conversation with a customer about the evils of corporate coffee. She explained how she preferred getting her coffee from independent shops. She did that while working a shift for Starbucks. She was one of my top performers. This same woman enjoyed her job enough to spend chunks of her free time at Starbucks. She never let on that she was aware that who she thought she was, who she said she was and who her actions said she was, were different things.

When our thoughts and words and actions are out of alignment, our being changes.

Pay attention. Take stock. Are you the person you think you are?