Home Away From Home and the Gift of Disillusionment

On Labor Day weekend, we took Emma to Bismarck for her first year at the University of Mary. The six-hour trek to Mary Hill is becoming more and more familiar: the wide open spaces, green hills and big skies, the sun and the wind…and that one stretch with the bugs splattering like rain on the windshield. The speed zone through Moorehead and Fargo. The bluffs by the James River.

It’s an easy six hour of driving, and it’s getting easier.

When we took Brendan for his first year, I likened the sensation to a taut wire from the back of my mind to him, constantly aware of his absence. When we took Gabe to NET, the feeling was a bit different: First he was just down the freeway in St. Paul, but then he was who-knows-where, living out of a van and crisscrossing state lines and time-zones.

Subsequent years it was better—easier—because they knew people. Faces unfamiliar to us spoke in smiling shorthand to them, and it was clear they were at home (a perception with its own bittersweetness).

But Emma is my daughter, my first girl-baby. And media and internet insist there is so much to be afraid of. And I was a freshman guy once.

Should I be worried?

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Labor Day Book Break: The Long Loneliness

“He who says he has done enough has already perished.” – St. Augustine

One of the great, geeky pleasures of having college-age offspring is that my older sons are making great book recommendations from their own reading. I finished one such book this weekend: Servant of God Dorothy Day’s autobiography The Long Loneliness. My oldest son, Brendan, recommended it to me, and numerous times during the past few months, as I was sharing what was on my mind and in my heart, he asked me if I’d finished it yet.

I now know why: Day’s journey is very different from my own, but my desire to work and to serve appears to have a similar destination.

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Leaving Home, Heading Home

Earlier this week, our second son, Gabe, returned to NET Ministries for a third year, this time as a staff member and traveling team supervisor. When he graduated from high school, college wasn’t calling him; God was. We are blessed to live in a Catholic community with a history and large appetite for supporting such missionaries—the past two years he has been fully funded, enabling extra donations to flow to teammates and friends with less support. He has crisscrossed the state and much of the country, logging tens of thousands of miles on lots of prayer and little sleep, fueled by egg bakes and pizzas, sloppy joes and taco bars. He has shared the word of God, the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit with thousands of middle- and high-schoolers.

He is doing what he loves, and he is good at it. You can get the low-down on the past two years and this year on his blog, Stand Against Goliath—click Mission Update 2020: A New Adventure.

Coronavirus brought him home early this spring, and we were glad to have him. He helped tremendously around the house, schooling his youngest sister, eight-year-old Lily; discovering new recipes and cooking several great meals; helping me get into the habit of praying the Liturgy of the Hours, and generally doing whatever we asked of him. Continue reading

George Floyd: What Can I Do?

Blogger’s Note: This is a long post. I hope to do some shorter ones, rooted in specific Catholic teachings and principles. But I think I need to say a few things first. (Photo courtesy of a local Catholic friend, Jim Lang.)

* * * * *

For days, I have wanted to write and couldn’t—not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because I had too much to say, and most of it felt too easy. I re-read an essay I wrote from four years ago, when the dead man’s name was Philando Castile, then reposted it—but that seemed too easy, as well. Something was different this time. Something more needed to be said. Something else needed to be done.

I wanted to have said something so I could stop thinking. I even sat and began to type a time or two. But the only clear thought that came, again and again, was, “What can I do?”

I also worried about saying the wrong thing. It doesn’t take long online to discover that too many people are looking for fight. I’ve seen folks advocating violence, dismantling the reputation and character of businesses and strangers, and dismissing people entirely for using the wrong word in the wrong way.

And I am prone to vainglory (worrying overmuch about what people think of me) and have a hard time letting things go, especially when misunderstood.

So I’d much rather sit this one out.

With Philando Castile, I simply described the tension in my heart and mind. This time I leaned into that tension, not looking to respond, explain or excuse, but to see, hear and learn about myself.

Something is different this time. Something more needs to be said. Something needs to be done.

What can I do?

* * * * *

I can tell people where I stand. George Floyd’s killing is an outrage, and I am angry. This should not have happened and should never happen again.

Perhaps, like me, your first instinct now is to say, “Yes, but…”

Hold that thought.

Just sit in silence with the image of a six-foot-six man, created in God’s image, dying in the street, held down by police officers who would not help him and watched by bystanders who could not. Let that break your heart. Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Belong. Believe. Behave.

This piece was published in the May 24 edition of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.  At the time, I thought it resonated with our typical approach to welcoming people into our church, but a week and a half later, I challenge myself and everyone else to read and reflect on it in light of the killing of George Floyd and the aftermath.

People need a place to belong. They want a reason to believe.

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Two weekends ago, Fr. Richards preached a homily that has not left me. Over the years, he has talked often about the need for hospitality in our parish—and more recently, he has urged us to move beyond welcoming to actively inviting people into relationship: with ourselves, with Christ and with the Church.

This time Father presented a simple model of how to do this—or more precisely, how we often do it wrong. The model was summarized in three short words: Belong. Believe. Behave.

People are looking for a place to belong. We are made for love and community—without it, we can’t step forward in trust toward belief. And if someone does not believe—specifically, if someone does not believe in a God who loves us and has a plan for us—why would they ever behave? How can they receive a love they cannot see? Why would they follow a God they do not know? Continue reading