Wednesday Witness: His Plan, In His Time

Blogger’s Note: This post first appeared as part of the Wednesday Witness blog series on the St. Michael Catholic Church website.

“So I hear you’re back at St. Michael?”

That’s been the refrain almost every day for the past few weeks, usually with the lilt of a question at the end—and no, I am not sick of it yet.

The short answer to the implied question is yes – I am now working as the parish’s communications manager. It is a full-time contract position, which gives the parish and me flexibility in how we approach the work that needs to be done, when it needs to be done. This is my dream job, and I am grateful and excited for the opportunity.

The longer answer is that I never entirely left. I resigned from the Faith Formation role here because God was calling me to write and evangelize on behalf of the Church. I had many dreams at the time: to start a radio program, to finish a book, to drum up enough writing and speaking opportunities to be self-employed. But before I pursued any of those, I sought this job—a job that didn’t exist at the time. And for the past two-plus years, we have remained Mass-going, LIFT-attending, sacrament-seeking members of this parish. Continue reading

Reliving My Childhood

Yeah, that’s the look!

I have a confession to make: I have spent the last few weeks with a goofy grin on my face, reliving my childhood. It began back in November when, for the first time in many year, I finished J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and decided against my original intentions to begin The Lord of the Rings trilogy immediately. These were my favorite books as a child and teen, and indeed, I still have the Special Silver Jubilee Edition paperbacks I grew up with — tattered, torn, and taped back together again. I have meant to turn back to them for some time now, considering that the the last time I read and loved them I was less than half the age I am now and neither Catholic nor even Christian in any meaningful way.

Consider this as well: for the past 14 years, the only substantive interaction I’ve had with the peoples and history of Middle Earth has been through the hit movies (and an occasional comment from my older two sons, who have read them in the interim). Truly I underestimated the impact of regular exposure to the films without reading the books. I had forgotten just how wonderful these stories really are!

Somewhat disturbing, but it was all I had!

You see, I had grown up with the Ralph Bakshi animated movies and had not loved them. I daydreamed about what the characters and places would look like in real life. In high school, I ran across a hardcover edition of The Complete Guide to Middle Earth with this image on the cover (the rest of the fellowship shows up on the back), and it fueled those daydreams for many more years.

Loved it, except for Aragorn as a musketeer? And Pippin’s hat…

So when the first of The Lord of the Rings movies was released, my love was deep, fueled by the imagery and fanned by a long absence from the text. As I re-read the stories in recent weeks, I was drawn back in: to the breadth and scope of Middle Earth; to the perils at every stage of the journey to Bree, Rivendell, and Mordor; to the practical concerns of traveling unseen across an unfriendly landscape; to the brutality of war and love of honor, fellowship, and song–and of course a pipe and a pint. I shook my head in disbelief, I grinned, I laughed out loud — I even choked up a time or two!

I also realized how utterly short the movies fall. Not simply because of what was left out or added — but in terms of the overall tone and message of the story.

Then on Tuesday I took the older four kids to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Star Wars has even deeper roots in my childhood psyche: these are the first movies I remember loving, and those stiff plastic action figures are the first toys I ever craved and collected. Even as a grade-schooler I think I recognized that Star Wars had all the elements of the stories I liked best: aliens and spaceships, swords and sorcery, a “lone ranger” and his native sidekick in a rough-and-tumble desert wasteland. Of course, The Empire Strikes Back was the best of three original movies, and of course, Han Solo was the best character — both for the same reason: I was beginning to realize that life wasn’t all sunshine and daisies, and people aren’t always perfect. From that standpoint, Empire seemed very real to me, and Han Solo gave me hope that even a scoundrel could find a way to rise above.

So imagine my delight the first time this image started circulating the Web:

“Who’s scruffy-looking?”

Much has been made about how the new Star Wars movie is a throwback to originals, with so many iconic images like this one that call to mind the movies I grew up with. But on top of that, I found a sense of wonder and chemistry that the three prequels abandoned in favor of spectacle and special effects. Again, I shook my head in disbelief, I grinned, I laughed out loud — I even choked up a time or two. I was a kid again.

Blogger’s Note: I will likely write a more thorough post on each of these experiences in the near future. In the meantime, let me say that, without a doubt, Han shot first. He always more Clint Eastwood than John Wayne, anyway — more of a Lone anti-Ranger than the Lone Ranger himself. Also, if I can’t be Sam Elliott in my elder years, I’ll be Harrison Ford.

Same Blog; New Purpose: Learning From Life In “The Bubble”

Blogger’s Note: The article below will appear in the Sunday, Oct. 26, church bulletin .

Last Sunday, my wife Jodi and I once again experienced the deep faith, honest fellowship, and resounding joy that attracted us to this parish when we moved here in 2003. We began the day with 8:30 Mass and breakfast with our family, then met three other couples for lunch and a book study/discussion about raising Catholic kids. We returned home in mid-afternoon, then loaded the family in the minivan to visit another family here in the community. A lasagna dinner, great conversation, and family games rounded out the evening. We were on the go from the time the alarm sounded, but ended the day rejuvenated.

That’s why life in “The Bubble” of St. Michael’s and St. Albert’s parishes is so appealing to us. Here, we are surrounded by families who can related to our struggles and our goals, culminating (we hope) in eternity in heaven. We feel at home here, secure, and at least somewhat sheltered from the storms of the outside world. 

It is right and good that we should feel this way. Church is meant to be community. This is why, in our first month of LIFT classes this year, we tried to emphasize the importance of getting comfortable with the people around you, with praying and sharing together. It’s why our sacramental programs involve parent meetings, peer discussions, and group activities, and why, in general, we try to draw families in to our programs rather than simply letting folks “go it alone.”

We aren’t meant to be alone. We are adopted sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, and we are called to be family. 

To that end, I hope to share more of myself and my family with all of you, as well as ideas and resources for sharing our Catholic faith among your own friends and family, on the Faith Formation page of the parish website and through my blog at archangelstomp.blogspot.com. I’ve been writing on this site on and off for years now, but with Father’s blessing, I’m refocusing my efforts around this new role in the parish, as well as the challenges of being a good Catholic husband and father.

It is important to note that life in The Bubble can also lure us to stagnation. We can become so comfortable with our lives here, so secure in the like-mindedness of our friends and community, that we can be tempted to circle the wagons and watch the world burn. We sometimes forget our mission to win souls for Christ and become inwardly focused, seeking to preserve what is dear to us here on earth rather than spend ourselves and all we have for God. It can seem like an appealing thought – but anyone who has ever blown soap bubbles as a child knows what happens when a bubble in motion comes to rest. It glistens briefly, shudders, and POP!…it vanishes.

We are many parts, but one body in Christ—and when all the parts pull together, the body is strong, and can do the work it’s called to do. Blessed Mother, pray that your children learn to share with each other, care for each other, and work well together for the Kingdom of God. Amen.

Past posts on The Bubble:

Life In The Bubble, Redux

We had some friends over last Friday evening for a fall chili feed. The week was busier than we’d hoped, so up until the moment our guest began to arrive, we were still cleaning, cooking, and prepping…plus managing our kids, our dog, and our jobs. With 30 minutes to go, I was sincerely wondering if this little “get-together” was gonna be worth the effort.

Our friends began to roll in, bearing snacks and sweets, beer and wine, to complement the spread we had started in the kitchen. These were all our friends and all from St. Michael Catholic Church — and most of them knew many of the others, but I’m not sure if anyone but Jodi and me and Fr. Richards knew everyone. We said grace as a party, sampled chilis and home-brewed beers, and talked about kids (had we invited whole families, the dozen or so couples would have had more than 70 children in tow), work, school, politics, hunting, and most importantly in The Bubble, our shared faith. The men ultimately congregated in the basement, and at one point, I walked in to hear a good friend of mine relating how, at a retreat, I once stopped mid-witness, smacked by the Holy Spirit, tearful and trembling and grinning, to tell the men on that retreat, “You guys gotta try this!” Upstairs in the kitchen, three or four life-giving women of our parish were gathered near the sink I was trying to access, talking frankly about how God’s will manifests itself in our lives. I listened a moment, then quietly said, “I love you people.”

From 6:30 to midnight, our house was packed to the rafters with beautiful, prayerful men and women. Father was the first to head home, but he blessed us, upstairs and down, before he left for the night. There were friends missing — some who were going hunting or had other obligations, some we forgot in our own whirlwind of busy-ness, some who live states away in their own little bubbles — but we spent the evening basking in personal warmth and genuine love, and even the ache of their absence helped us to feel complete.

Was it worthwhile? Definitely. Scarcely a waking hour has passed since that I have not paused a moment, thought of one of these dear friends, smiled, and said, “I love you people.” And I do. We hope this will become an annual event, and we will do our best to invite all the others…

I’ve always been a big-headed, geeky, heart-on-my-sleeve kind of guy, with no athletic talent, a poor sense of direction, and few other manly aptitudes upon which to hang my hat. I’m old-fashioned, idealistic, and a hopeless romantic. I write for a living; I don’t follow sports closely; and I don’t drink much or tell off-color jokes (anymore). Often I feel like I don’t fit in. Except here, in The Bubble. Here, Jodi and I have met men and women, our brothers and sisters in Christ, who understand exactly where we’re coming from, and what we hope to be.

What a blessing. What a life.

Life In The Bubble

On two separate occasions this weekend — on Friday evening and again on Sunday morning — I found myself in deep discussions with fellow parishioners about life inside “The Bubble.” I had heard people talk about “the bubble” (lowercase) before to reference our neck of the woods: the small(ish) communities of St. Michael and Albertville, home to lots of good all-around folk. But I hadn’t realized “the bubble” was actually “The Bubble” — and has come to mean, more specifically, the thriving Catholic communities in which people still have big families and pray the rosary and make it to Mass on Sunday (and any other time they can).

On Friday, I spoke with two other men about venturing outside The Bubble to work each day, the stuff going on “out there” we can’t stomach or abide, and the challenges this poses to our faith and sanity (not to mention our employment). On Sunday, the topic was the insidious encroachment of the outside world into The Bubble — the impossibility of shutting out the world entirely, and how best to manage the slivers of darkness that pierce the iridescent dome and seek to pop! it.

Sounds almost Amish, doesn’t it?

Then on Sunday night I had a dream, in which I was floating on a rubber raft of some sort in the twilight, while gathered around me were various coworkers from jobs past and present, none of whom I ever got along with particularly well. It was a meeting of sorts, except we were adrift, and I was the target of insufficient direction, unwarranted criticism, and a couple of disturbing come-ons. By the time I reached shore I was livid…and (this being a dream) got on my black and gold Huffy Challenger 3000 bicycle and headed straight home.

Home, in this case, was my childhood home on Littlefield Lake, which was a blissful place to be a boy. I rode back to old neighborhood, but, since I was still quite angry, circled the block atop the hill that sloped down to our house and the lake, blowing off steam, knowing my family didn’t deserve the brunt of that bizarre meeting. It was a damp spring day, and the roads were muddy — it must’ve snowed recently, because although it was warm and the grass was greening, along the shoulder of the roads were piles of wet snow a snow plow had kicked up.

Finally I headed down the hill, thinking I would have to push my bike through the heap of wet snow at the end of the driveway. But when I turned the corner, a number of friends from “The Bubble” were shoveling our the end of the drive. My CRHP brother* John M. was there, laughing and throwing snow at the other workers; our dear family friends Butch and Laura were there, joyfully lending a hand; Jim V. from the KCs was there; and more.** They shouted greetings and waved me through. In the garage, Butch and Laura’s oldest son and Bren were conspiring to avoid shoveling and go fishing instead.

It is a comfort to come home each evening to a community of faith and stability — with like-minded people who know where you stand and what you aspire to be. Last night at Adoration, while praying the Third Joyful Mystery, the Incarnation, it struck me: The Word Made Flesh isn’t just the Christ child born two millenia ago; it’s the Body of Christ working in concert here in this world, today, to bring about the Kingdom of God. I’m glad to be a part of it.

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* Christ Renews His Parish retreat
** These names are important because they represent the spectrum: a number of fellow Catholics I know in very different ways…