Book Break: Technopoly

Now for something completely different: I haven’t been writing nearly enough and am way behind on books I’ve read and would like to share. Most of the books I share are fiction, spiritual, or both. Technopoly by Neil Postman is neither.

This book came to me as an unexpected Christmas gift from our son Brendan’s friend Nick, who was his roommate at University of Mary and is now a seminarian for the Diocese of Milwaukee. Brendan has always been a curmudgeon and skeptic regarding technology; Nick, not so much, until he started reading more deeply on the subject. Then, he started spreading the word, including by giving our family a lightly used paperback copy of Technopoly.

One of the concepts that intrigued me as a young anthropology major was the idea that, at a certain point, our ancestors began to compete technologically rather than biologically, meaning that, at a certain point, our ancestors crossed a threshhold and were no longer strictly beholden to their biology to survive—the fittest was not necessarily the fastest or strongest hominid, but may be the cleverest one, with the best tools.

I’m certain that, soon afterward, our ancestors saw another defining characteristic of our species: Our solutions to problems often cause other, unforeseen problems. Indeed we can see this in the anthropological record, with evidence of hominids using “tools” to club each other to death beginning nearly half a million years ago.

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Made To Be Broken

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26

Life in this world seems to dispense blessing with one hand and heartache with the other. In the past few weeks, we’ve enjoyed weddings and worship, family, and friends, brewing and canning in abundance—and learned of the passing of friends, the decline of others, lost children, and struggling families.

Have you ever wished you couldn’t feel each loss so keenly? The joys of life are wonderful, but at times, the temptation to not feel at all becomes so strong that you harden your heart even against the good to avoid the pain of the bad.

Hardness is not a virtue. As a physical trait, it has the peculiar tendency of making a thing seem solid and strong, while rendering the thing more brittle and fragile. (Diamonds are a rare exception, and the conditions required to create one in nature are extraordinary.) Scripture warns specifically against hardness of heart, and many people know from experience that the thicker the shell we build around our hearts, the more painful the blow and crack that finally breaks it open.

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What Discernment Looks Like—for Us

Many of you reading know that Jodi and I have been discerning the possibility of me becoming a deacon. A deacon in the Catholic Church is an ordained member of the clergy, meaning that like priests and bishops, they receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. An ordained deacon is a deacon for life. If unmarried, he remains unmarried; if married, he does not remarry after the death of his wife. They generally serve the Church and assist priests at the altar during Mass, with certain pastoral and sacramental duties, and with teaching and preaching. Generally, they maintain their careers outside the Church, which uniquely positions them as clergy out in the world on a regular basis.

The Church recognizes two types of deacons. Transitional deacons are ordained deacons on their way to becoming ordained priests. Permanent deacons are ordained deacons who do not intend to become priests but have answered God’s call to serve the Church in this deeper way.

 In the Catholic Church, deacon is not a volunteer position or a job, but a vocational call—and for a married couple that has a vocational call as husband and wife, it ought to be a big decision. As the Institute for Diaconate Formation (IDF) here in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis often puts it, Wives need to be comfortable with their husbands marrying another woman, the Church.

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Growing Younger

This post appeared in the Sunday, September 25, 2021, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.

I don’t know if this is typical for adult Christians as they try to follow Jesus more and more closely—but I often feel as though I am regressing spiritually.

It is certainly true that I don’t struggle with the more serious or habitual sins I did as a younger man, before my reversion to the faith—that is real progress. But most of sins I bring to Confession today are things any child or teen might share: short-temperedness, impatience, ingratitude, laziness, vulgarity, jealousy—smaller things deeply rooted in my heart and habits. I struggle to confess these sins, either because they are so frequent and reflexive as to defy counting, or so subtle and ingrained that I don’t perceive them at all without careful hindsight.

Many of these sins are rooted in vanity and insecurity: I become preoccupied with myself and my own needs at the expense of those around me. As a result, I am also a slave to sins of omission (good things not done), another category of wrongs it can be difficult count.

So I’ve been praying to God for an influx of charity—a stretching of my heart—so that I might better see and respond to the needs of others, when and where they exist.

Guess what? God is obliging…and it hurts.

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Blessed to Live in ‘God’s Country’

This post appeared in the September 12, 2021, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.

One of the smaller blessings of the pandemic was that it forced me to find topics to write about for our parish newsletter beyond our typically active ministries. As a result, the May 2020 issue of DISCIPLE (online at stmcatholicchurch.org/disciple) provides an overview of our parish history. From the beginning, the faithfulness and self-reliance of this community was evident: German Catholic families literally carved their farms out of the wilderness along the Crow River; in the early days, the paths to get here were so poor that visiting priests came on foot rather than risking a ride on horseback.

Jodi and I moved here from Michigan in 2003. I took a job in Minneapolis and came out a month earlier than the rest of our family, shopping for a house and a parish on the weekends. The home we ultimately purchased was the first one I looked at, a mid-‘80s split-level near Four Seasons Park in Albertville. The church we chose was the first I visited too: the historic Catholic church in downtown St. Michael.

I think what drew me there first was the Old-World charm—I’m a sucker for old buildings, and old churches in particular. I arrived early that first Sunday and watched the narrow wooden pews fill and fill and fill. Old folks and young families, with toddlers tumbling into the aisles. Singing mixed with the squeals of infants. The church was overflowing with life. I checked out a couple other parishes in the area, then called Jodi and said, “We don’t have a house yet, but I think I found a church.”

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