‘More Money Than God’

I was talking with our son Trevor the other day and used the phrase “more money than God.” It occurred to me as I said it that the phrase could be taken two ways:

  • The first is the typical way: So-and-so has a greater amount of money than God has. (Not that God needs money…)
  • The second is more ominous: So-and-so has more money than the amount of God he has.

The second interpretation is the one Jesus warns us against, most concisely in Matthew 6:24: You cannot serve both God and mammon.

What is mammon? Wealth and riches, particularly in excess. Historically the word was thought to reference a demon or god associated with material wealth.

I’d like to think we’re not at risk of placing money ahead of God. We are not wealthy by US standards; we live on a budget and give to the church as best we can. Several years ago, Jodi and I began to dig out of debt—and while that journey is ongoing, last week we shared a short video outlining why we are supporting the parish’s BOLD FUTURE campaign.

We are blessed, we know it, and we are trying to share those blessings. Surely we have more God than money in our lives…right?

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Stretching Toward Heaven

This is my father-of-the-groom speech from Brendan and Becky’s wedding on December 28, 2019. I finally got to see this video (and actually hear what I said) for the first time yesterday, and this is one of my favorite things I’ve “written.”

A little context for what you are about to hear:

  • I had just taken our youngest daughter, who fell asleep during the wedding and was not feeling well, up to my parents’ room in the hotel. The dance had not yet started, and my dad had already turned in for the night. This was a long day for both of them!
  • There was a blizzard this weekend, so many people didn’t make it to the wedding—especially those from out of state, like Grandma and Grandpa Venjohn.
  • Gabe had given his Best Man speech just before this, in which he had joked that he felt loved by his big brother Brendan, even though none of our kids have the capacity to express love. (Our kids are often ribbed for their lack of expressed affection toward each other and their parents.)
  • I had detailed notes in my pocket, but because I was caught off-guard and was thinking about Lily, I never took them out. I had written something like this the day before, while cooking chili for the rehearsal supper in the church kitchen. We had cooked a massive amount of chili at home, then failed to get it cooled quickly for transportation and were worried about giving the entire wedding party and both families food poisoning, so we remade it in Moorhead.

I’m sure that just after this recording cuts out, I said proposed an actual toast. But the speech is what I want to share today, so my dad and Jodi’s folks can finally hear it.

“Things change…”

What Child Is This?

Note: This post appears as the January 3, 2021, bulletin column (the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God) for St. Michael and St. Albert parishes.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been smitten with the image of the pregnant Virgin Mary. When Jodi began showing with our first baby, I was struck with a notion that may be foreign to women undergoing the physical changes that accompany incubating new humans, but that hopefully has occurred to other men: Pregnant women are beautiful. The glow of the expecting mother is long established and oft reported, but the bodily transformation is no less captivating. A luminous mother-to-be, her belly impossibly round with child, calls to mind the miraculous, celestial beauty of the stars and planets—even drawing us into orbit around her.

The Pregnant Virgin Mary

This is appropriate, since she bears the future of the species, the planet, even the universe, within her womb.

If that’s true of my bride, it’s truer for our Blessed Mother. Mary’s circumstance was more difficult than most first pregnancies, but her trust and her joy were no doubt more complete. I see this young woman, innocent and unassuming, bearing the changes and challenges confronting her with simplicity and obedience, radiating the life of God within her while pouring herself out in service to her cousin, Elizabeth, and later, to her husband Joseph.

Do you see her, too? Is she not beautiful?

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Last Call: A Christmas Dialogue

This year’s Christmas poem is a conversation and a modest attempt at Shakespearean style. The inspiration popped into my head several weeks ago: an imagined meeting of the World, the Flesh and the Devil, who are sharing a pint of “Christmas cheer” at the end of a seemingly successful year of sowing strife and division. The line that came first to mind was from the Flesh: “The spirit is weak, and the flesh is always willing.”—which survives in a modified form.

For whatever reason, I remain taken with the idea of Satan struggling to accept that he has been defeated by an Infant and His Mother. A few sparks from literature and pop culture also came to mind, for example, C.S. Lewis’s “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” Scrooge’s promise at the end of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to discuss Bob Cratchit’s situation “over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop,” and the exchange between Captain Jack Sparrow and Gibbs in the Tortuga tavern in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

It may be easier to print and read in this format. Apologies to the Bard—I hope a few of you enjoy it. Merry Christmas!

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Scene: A dark corner of a noisy tavern, lit by melted candle stubs and a large, crackling fire. A table with three chairs and three tankards. Two figures are seated: the World, slight, anxious and in constant motion; the Flesh, immense and languid, with eyes that rove around the room. A third figure, the Devil, well-dressed with a commanding bearing, approaches, and the first two rise.

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The Plan and the Power

This post appeared in the December 20, 2020, bulletins for St. Michael and St. Albert parishes.

In my newspaper days, I had the opportunity to profile an inventor, a young man who had created and patented a few small, practical products and was hustling every day to market them to retailers and the public. He proved to be focused, driven and wise beyond his years.

Not long after I wrote about him, I introduced him to another aspiring inventor I knew. The more accomplished man shared all he could about creating a prototype to prove your concept, pursuing a patent and more. Then he took a long look at the younger man and said something like this: “Sometimes a person with an idea gets to this point and stops, because it’s more comforting to have an idea in your back pocket than to try it and learn it doesn’t work or won’t sell. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to say, ‘I can always do that’ than to have nothing to fall back on.”

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