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.)

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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?

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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

Wednesday Witness: Another Step on the Road Home

My bride and I met while working at Wall Drug, on the edge of the Badlands in South Dakota. I was selling boots and moccasins that summer; she was selling hats and western wear. The day she started at the store, I had been working about a week. Her supervisor had gone to Mass (“On a weekday?” I thought.) and asked me to keep an eye on things and show the new girl how to run the register when she arrived.

So I did. It wasn’t long before I wanted to spend all my time with her, even accompanying her to Mass, which I hadn’t gone to in years—and when I went back to Yale in the fall, I missed her.

I had a job for the School of Music’s Concert Office that took me all over campus and several classes at the far end of Hillhouse Avenue, so multiple times a week (sometimes several times a day), I walked past St. Mary’s on Hillhouse (good photos). Sometimes I would see sandaled and habited Dominicans greeting students as we passed by, and I loved the tall stone steeples, which, unlike the numeorus other gothic structures on campus, announced the presence of the divine. When the I finally (inevitably) decided to go to church and pray for (at least daydream about) the girl I hoped to marry, those gray steeples and thick wooden doors were the ones that welcomed me home, if only as a heathen dabbler at the time.

Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: ‘Fun-Size’ God

Last Wednesday I imagined myself the self-reliant man’s man, scaling Mount God to conquer Him—then shared my gratitude that He forgives my folly and makes Himself small enough to be digestible for His fallen creature.

I’ve said before that the Enemy will gladly you ride you whatever direction you’d like to travel, and so it is this past week. I went to the sacrament of Reconciliation, and my confessor was inspired to give me John chapter 6 as a penance: “Just read through it and reflect on it.” If you are following the daily Mass readings, these are the gospel passages for these middle days of the Easter season, beginning with the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water, and ending with the famous Bread of Life discourses, in which Jesus insists that His disciples must eat His flesh and drink His blood, sacramentally speaking.

I’ve been down this road before and did not expect anything profound. But this time, I was struck hard by the worldly desires of the crowd who follows Jesus, as well as their fickleness: Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Experience the Difference

Jodi and I are blessed with five children, four of whom are high-schoolers or older. All of them are knowledgeable about Catholicism and practice their faith daily. Indeed, they humble us with their devotion to the sacraments, their service to the Church and their willingness to evangelize.

Sometimes people ask us what we did to “make them” this way. We’ve asked them the same question. The clearest answer we’ve received is that going to Mass was never a choice or a question—but more than making them go, we never complained about it ourselves. They knew that Mass, prayer and formation were priorities, not only for them, but for us, too.

It’s gratifying to hear, but we know there is something more. Our example got them through the doors of the church, but St. Michael and St. Albert Youth Ministry made them want to come back and helped them fall in love with Jesus. First they wanted to go to Friday Night Live with their friends, then they asked to go to Extreme Faith Camp, then they began asking to go to Confession, daily Mass and Adoration. They admired the older teens who entertained and mentored them, and decided they wanted to pay it forward. They joined Core Team and began to draw the next generation to Christ. Continue reading