I am not afraid and I may start blogging again…

Sure about not being afraid, not so sure about the blogging though; I am still discerning.  In the meantime, this is something I heartily agree with. Karl Barth apparently said this to his friend Eduard Thurneysen during a phone call in December 1968. Barth died later that same day.

This feels very true to me in a particular way right now.  I am not afraid.
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Lost in Logroño

google-maps-logoOne of the least faithful elements of my Camino was my reliance on Google maps. At the least provocation, I would grab my phone and start checking details, often when I was in a city. This happened in Logroño when we went in search of a Decathalon store. We did not get lost, but did we ever get misguided because we were sent very far out of our way. This not good for my already ailing feet, bringing new meaning to 10 steps forward, 5 steps back.  The problem was not that I used Google maps; the problem was my utter reliance on something external, and not trusting my instincts. Or God. All while on a… pilgrimage.

Lost is my overwhelming feeling as I begin Advent this year, and there is no Google map app to help me find my way. Thank God! It slowly begins to dawn on me, as I try to “wait in motion” that perhaps the lessons of Logroño offer me a clue.

The Camino was a seed in my heart, albeit a dormant one, for many years. My guess puts my first knowledge of it to around 1992, maybe even late 1991. Although dormant, the Camino was a form of waiting in motion in my heart. Two and half years ago the seed began to sprout when Sue and I began to plan our journey. #SquadGoals, right? And a personal goal as well. The focus became clearer and clearer, even when I felt fear, discouragement, or doubt. My sense of being lost right now has to do with the fact that my goal has been achieved. Veni, vidi, vici! Great. There goes over 20 years of longing… Now what?

Am I really lost? Do I simply need a new goal? What happens next?

img_4429-1Back to Logroño – maybe I am not so lost as I am misguided. Trusting a tiny piece of technology outside of me instead of trusting God within is a challenge. Yet that challenge provides me with some direction. If only I toss the phone of my heart,  take a look at what’s around me, ask for directions, and just walk.  This requires things like contemplation, action, patience, faith, courage – and the willingness to truly get lost in order to get found. Trust in God. Why didn’t I see those directions on my Google map?

Today’s Scriptures sent a glimmer of hope to me, helping to keep the momentum of my waiting in motion up. This is from the responsorial psalm…

It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.

It is also better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in Google maps. Don’t get me wrong, the maps – like humans – have their place in the greater scheme, but they are not the Christ I await this Advent. Again, the notion of a goal springs forth. There is but one goal and that goal is God. I’m not sure how to find my way to the Christ being born, but I do know this, I will not get there if I don’t put the phone away, and trust in God. I pray this day that I can do just that. Care to join me?

Fear? Or faith?

popefrancis-fear-tyrannyOn Saturday I walked to church and listened to a podcast. The thing in the podcast that struck me the most was just how powerful a motivator fear can be. Having already read the mass readings, which address fear and other things, and I began to think about fear in our time. It is not all that different than fear in any other time; it just seems worse because we are bombarded with so much information.

So what are we afraid of? Continue reading

Believe

c63d87b84b0f6d444b27419971cceb5f“They should make a postage stamp with him on it,” one guy told us at his wake. “I owe him everything,” said another. “He believed in me. He changed my life.” This is from a column in the December 4, 2015 issue of Commonweal magazine, entitled “Keeping the Books, Owen McGowan, RIP” by regular contributor Jo McGowan. These are words that were said about her father Owen, who died in August, and they reveal a moving tribute to a great man. I was particularly struck by the sentence, “He believed in me. He changed my life.” It reminded me of Jesus, the one we await this and every Advent.

Not long after reading the column, I opened an email from a friend who does the work of the saints – she teaches at an inner city elementary school. The email contained a link to a video that I present in this link. By the way, I can only share the link, I can’t get the video to embed. It will give you a pop up saying that if you are not signed into your TWC account, you can only view a limited number of videos; just click watch video and it will bring you to the site.) In any case, if you did not or could not watch the video, the story is about an after school mentoring program at the school where my friend works. My friend is Christine Hannan, and she is in the video. The program pairs adults with kids for five years, helping them to learn how to read. The story blew me away. Five years is a long time for a person to give, but imagine what that may yield! Not only does the child have help with reading, but the child also forms a powerful and consistent bond with an adult who is focused on them. In the end, I was reminded of the power of what happens when people believe in us.

If there was any doubt of God’s belief in humanity, the incarnation of Christ, born as a vulnerable infant in challenging circumstances should have clarified the obvious. However, many still struggle – whether they don’t believe that God believes in them, and in daily life, that no one believes in them.

In Advent we are called to this quiet waiting, and every year it can become more challenging. For example, consider this:

Two things immediately spring to mind, well – immediately after I shake the creepy Orwellian doom feeling out of myself. One is that our capacity as humans for waiting is at this point grows ever more culturally eliminated. The second is that it is no wonder so few people believe in God. Why bother when if you are in a position to have all the economic wherewithal to access the mighty drone wonder, who needs to pray? Pfffft! Jesus may be shoved aside by the brilliance of Jeff Bezos and his never ending desire to reinvent the world. That is not always a bad thing… but, just think about how his ingenuity can steal our attention from others – and from God. People worry about our president making himself into some all powerful king? No worries there, Bezos seems to move forth with that with almost no scrutiny. But I digress! I am not here to pick on a rich and powerful man who can fulfill your every dream. He can spur on the economy and fulfill your dreams very well –  long as you can pay, that is.

Anyway, my point being – if we can have our material goods delivered by drone, who needs to pray, when one can simply pay? Why wait, when immediacy is a click or two away? And why bother waiting for God who will soon appear as a baby, when due to your frustration boils over not being able to afford the goods or the cost of the drone flight? There are many barriers to God in the material world, but the material world is where we are, as we watch and wait for the very incarnation who wishes to join us here. Jesus comes into the world, illuminating the darkness. He does not to eliminate our every problem or pain, but he is here be one with us in it.

Whether or not you believe in God, God believes in you. Whether or not you believe in Jesus, Jesus believes in you. The act of believing, having faith and hope in another is a vital step on the pilgrimage of Advent, as well as the pilgrimage of life. With faith and hope in Christ Jesus in his one of his least powerful looking forms, as a child, we see a new light that guides us on new paths. We must find ways to twin waiting and belief, fueled always by the One who believes in us, and who in great mercy – waits for us, as we wait for him.

As we go forth today, maybe we can bring a little light into the darkness by doing what we learned about Owen McGowan doing in the first paragraph – believing in someone. Today, may we come to know more deeply, that someone believes in us.

 

An invitation

act-in-faith-not-fear(This reflection is on the readings for the day before Advent begins, the very last day of the liturgical year, and appears in Give Us This Day. Please see the end of the post for further details.)

Our world seems to run on the fuel of fear. Simply watching or reading the news can fill our tanks with enough anxiety-provoking material to keep us running for days. Work and family concerns, fretfulness over jobs and money, disquiet about health, and apprehension over other things can turn us into nervous wrecks. Constant worry is exhausting, and that exhaustion typically leads to more angst.

Jesus offers a clear warning that might be easy for anxious people to miss. Do we think we’re off the hook because we are not out “carousing” or getting drunk? Not so fast. It seems that the “anxieties of daily life” are on the watch list as well, and that is a net likely to catch many.

It could be easy to take Jesus’ words Continue reading

Sprouting and blooming – some thoughts on Thomas Merton

e7881216984a7402ae7a60713960607eToday we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Thomas Merton’s birth.

Many years ago, when I first returned to church, I – like many others – read his landmark work, The Seven Storey Mountain.  This book moved me in many ways, including to being the catalyst to get me out of my “God’s-only-up-there” piety and into a faith where my feet were firmly planted on the ground.

There are many gifts that God has given to me through Merton and his work, but today, I am grateful that it was the beginnings of a more integrated life of faith that the book shaped in me. And trust me, that seed was planted in 1990, but has taken many years to start to sprout, and even more years to bloom.

And with feet on the ground, those seeds are still sprouting, still blooming.
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Thomas Merton, pray for us!

Step up to the talent show

talent-show-logo-1Have you ever considered entering a talent show? Not me… Oh no, I am far too afraid, and I am pretty sure that if I sang in front of anyone, they would all run, fleeing from the sound.  Public speaking? That I can do with ease, thanks be to God, but acting or singing or dancing on a stage? Which part of no do you not understand?

I bring this up because there has been an itch that I could not quite scratch, since last Sunday’s Gospel from Matthew, the Parable of the Talents. You know, like the kind of itch in the middle part of you back, you can’t quite reach it.

What do you think about that Gospel? If reading blogs and Facebook offers any insight, it is tough Continue reading

Unpacking. A guest post by Sue Karpovich

Man covered in cardboard boxes - moving conceptUnpacking.

It’s been a chaotic and challenging few weeks since our relocation to our new home. We lived in NY for 20+ years. That’s a lot of friendships, familiarity, and family to leave behind. Now, it’s just the two of us for the first time in nearly 34 years of marriage. We no longer have five children and all their activities to lead us into new friendships. We’re on our own…in more ways than one.

if-you-dont-feel-like-unpacking-on-your-own-a-local-moving-and-stora_16001126_33773_1_7045639_500-320x200We’ve managed to get the living room functional and the kitchen, too. Our office spaces, now separate in this new house, are up and running and our master bedroom is pretty organized. We can sleep, dress, work, cook, eat, and even relax (when we’re not unpacking boxes!!). We have a roof over our head, food on our table, and each other. We are doing better than many and for that we are grateful.

We’ve unpacked our necessities and are now moving toward those things that make this house feel like home. Pictures of our kids and grandkids. Scrapbooks. Familiar, favorite artwork. We’re building shelves and getting organized. But we’re missing Continue reading

Faith, doubt, life – Q&A with Kyle Cupp

Today it is an honor to be a stop on the blog tour for Living in Faith, Dwelling in Doubt (Loyola Press, 120 pp., $13.95), written by Kyle Cupp. I’m a longtime fan of Kyle’s work, which I first encountered on the blog Vox Nova, a few years back.

I did write a little about this book at the end of September, when I first read it – a not-review that was a sort of a review. Today I wanted to present this Q&A with the author – and here it is. Enjoy! And read this book, it is wonderful!

-2How and when did Living in Faith, Dwelling in Doubt become a book for you? Was it an idea for a book, or was it a series of notes and essays that became a book?
This may sound strange, but I don’t think it really became a book for me until after my editor, Vinita Hampton Wright, took the manuscript I’d given to Loyola Press, cut out about seven chapters, rearranged the whole thing, and returned the draft to me for my review. I’d composed the manuscript in more or less chronological order, but Vinita restructured it with the work’s core story and themes in mind. As I read through it, I finally felt that I was reading a book.

Initial work had begun after the publisher and senior acquisitions editor at Loyola Press encouraged me to submit a book proposal after reading some of my blogging about faith and doubt and the relationship between the two in my own life. This was September of 2011.

I had a lot of themes in mind as I began early drafts, but during the writing process and with the feedback from the editors at Loyola, I narrowed the scope of the book to three basic ideas: how my faith has thrived in various environments of uncertainty, how my daughter’s fatal birth defect taught me that love has no time constraints, and how my relationships with family and friends have all necessitated and nourished my faith.

What is your practice when you write? Do you write daily, at a specific time, or do you write when the Spirit moves you?
Most of my writing gets done after my son and daughter are in bed and I’ve had a few minutes to relax and maybe drink a little coffee. Late at night, in other words. Sometimes I’ll get on a roll first thing in the morning, a time that would be optimal for me if work and school and such weren’t demanding my punctuality. I keep telling myself that I should get up an hour earlier each morning and immediately hit the keyboard, but as usual I don’t listen to me.

Do you ever find roadblocks, writers block or children’s blocks getting in your way? If so, how do you deal with blocks?
Oh, yeah. The worst offender, though, is just exhaustion. At nine at night my natural inclination is to make some popcorn and chill with a book or television show on DVD. Once I start down that path, though, there’s no going back. I have to fight the urge when I first feel it. I lose as much as I win.

What do you do for fun?
Diagram sentences. Well, not so much anymore. Pity my children, Fran: they will know of my love of the diagrammed word all too soon and all too well. In the meantime, I enjoy the usual stuff: combing dense tomes of continental philosophy, building constructions with my son’s LEGO blocks (and keeping them in my room so he can’t break them), asking divisive questions on Facebook and watching the fireworks. I also play video games.

Name five people or things you are most grateful for.
My wife, my children, my church, my education, and my socks.

Of all the lay ministry experiences you have had, which one has shaped you the most?
I’m going to say the combination of working with couples in preparation for their marriage and working with individuals in pursuit of an annulment. I meet people in love, eager and excited to bond till death do them part; and I assist people whose marriages have left them broken. I’ve come to appreciate the importance of being with others where they live and recognizing that people’s lives rarely conform to my expectations or to abstract rules. Life is messy. Morality is messy too.

Can you name a person who inspires you and tell us why?
My wife Genece. She loves me as I am while encouraging me to be the best person I can be.

What is one thing that you have not done yet, but that you would like to do?
Write a YA novel. It’s next on the agenda.

If you  could go anywhere in the world that you wanted, where would you go? Why?
New Zealand. It looks magical just on photo and film.

What is the best part of having your book published and what is the worst part of the experience?
I’ll start with the worst: burn out. The book is relatively short, just a little over a hundred pages, but the final few weeks of composition and revision just took all desire to write out of me. I lost interest in blogging for a while and still haven’t gotten back to my old production level.

The best part of having a book published? That’s easy. I’ve wanted to be an author since high school. So. Dream. Come. True.

No doubt about it, a not-book-review

Living+by+Faith,+Dwelling+in+DoubtThis is no doubt in my mind that Living by Faith, Dwelling in Doubt by Kyle Cupp, (Loyola Press, 120pp, #13.95) is an excellent book.  This however, is not a book review – just a warning. The review will come soon.

In full disclosure, I have known Kyle online for a number of years. First from his posts at Vox Nova, which caught my eye and engaged my heart and mind. Later, we became Facebook friends and I began to follow his other blog. He’s a pretty smart guy; I can’t claim to always understand him, but I always want to read what he posts.

Back to the book. I get lots of books, which I am deeply grateful for. There are piles of them in the spare room, on tables in various other rooms of the house. Some live in my car for awhile, or I bring them to work. Publishers often send me a review copy, asking me to host a blog tour stop. This book did come to me in advance, in the form of a gift, but not as a review copy.  (Most of the books I receive are never reviewed.Sorry!)

But – this is not a book review!

So what the heck is this post about?  I am planning my unsolicited review of Kyle’s book, which will be pretty glowing. I just want to give you some advance warning! Plus I have not finished the book yet, so I can’t review it.

Fine, but why write this post today? Forget the advance warning, I really just want to tell you that this book about faith and doubt is, *ahem-clears throat*no doubt one of the best books I have read about my favorite co-existing topics of faith and doubt.

It’s a slim volume, why haven’t you finished it yet? Good question! I am reading Kyle’s book with painstaking slowness. I read a chapter or two, I pick it up a few days later,  reread a bit, and then add another chapter. Short does not mean the book should be rushed through.

How do we know the rest of us will like it? There is no certainty that the rest of you will like this book. In fact, there are elements that are going to make some people uncomfortable. It could be because Kyle speaks freely about the depth of his faith, the elements of doubt, and questions of certainty that will cause some to challenge what he writes about faith itself. Others will shrink back from some of the personal stories that Kyle shares, because they have the potential to make one uncomfortable.

Why would we read a book about faith that makes us uncomfortable? Aren’t books about faith, the Bible included, have the potential for discomfort? They should make us uncomfortable; if not, we might have a problem. Shouldn’t our faith journeys cause us discomfort?

Enough questions for today. The only thing that I can add – without a doubt – is that this is a compelling little volume and I hope that you read it.