Be Present to the Present

Note: This post also appears in the St. Michael and St. Albert bulletins this weekend.

Last weekend I visited my parents in Michigan. It’s a 12-hour drive; my sister and I spent two days helping to sort through and organize 50 years of accumulation in their basement—then I drove 12 hours back home. It was a good weekend, in large part because I mostly avoided my phone and computer to focus on where I was, what I was doing and—most importantly—who I was with.

That is no small thing for me, because I slip easily into thinking about tomorrow, next week, the future. I am a planner by nature and struggle with uncertainty, but providentially, I listened to a wonderful audio version of C.S. Lewis’s book The Screwtape Letters on the way to my folks’ place. The book is presented as a series of letters written by a senior demon named Screwtape, who is offering advice to his nephew, a junior tempter trying to lure one particular human soul to Hell.

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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

Waiting for the Other Shoe

“Seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” – Matthew 6:33-34

One of the aspects of my personality that can be maddening to those blessed to live with me is that, regardless of how well or how poorly things are going in the moment, I am constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. If all is going well, I marvel at the fact, and since I’m certain I don’t deserve it, I wonder how long it can last and how it will end. When things are going poorly, I think not so much about when it will turn around, but how much worse it will get first.

I know, I know. It’s part of my charm.

I don’t think I’m entirely alone in this. These days the anxiety is palpable among so many people—and if I immerse myself too deeply in what passes for coronavirus “coverage,” the fear grows in me, as well. Much of what I read is of the “pick your poison” variety—give up your personal freedom or contribute to mass casualties. Are we overreacting, or underreacting? Will this disease fundamentally change the way we live? Or will government efforts to manage it be the thing that does?

So people change the subject, trying to avoid the question on everyone’s mind: What’s going to happen next? Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Too Much to Carry Alone

I am a proud parent of five children, ages 22 to 8. Our eldest is married in Bismarck, and he and his bride recently shared that they are expecting. Most of my family is from Michigan, where my folks live in a log house we built when I was in high school. Jodi’s family is in South Dakota, for the most part—her parents live in the Black Hills.

We are spread out across three time zones. During this time of uncertainty, I wish we were closer. I worry about all of them: How are they getting on? Do they have what they need? Would they tell me if they didn’t—and what could I do about it? I pray for them daily, but that doesn’t keep the concern away.

Sometime in the past week, I ran across a description of the “layers” of the human heart. The surface layer is the emotional heart; it is reactive and feels what it feels quickly and intensely. The next layer is the intellectual heart; this level weighs the emotions against reality and tries to come to a rational conclusion. But the innermost layer is the spiritual heart, where God resides. This is the core, where we discern the fullness of Truth and experience the peace and joy that come with it. Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Two Little Things That Help

As I’ve mentioned in these posts before, I struggle a bit with the virtue of Hope. As a result, I don’t always cope well with situations in which I can’t make sense of what is happening, come up with a plan, and take some semblance of control.

As a result, the past several days have been challenging for me. COVID-19 coronavirus is pushing all my buttons.

I reached my lowest on Monday evening, after working for a few days straight on nothing but parish communications around the virus. Monitoring social media and other websites became overwhelming, and the world seemed to get hazy. I wasn’t present for my family; I knew it, and so I stepped away to pray. Providentially, a friend had shared a powerful video of a priest preaching our divine authority to implore God’s protection with the passion and powerful name of Jesus. Continue reading