The Second Third, Week 34: Blessed Are the Meek

Yesterday morning, Jodi and I sat around her mother’s kitchen table with Grandma Pam, her sister, and her brother-in-law, and discussed politics, religion, and parenting. I have heard over the years that these topics are taboo to discuss in mixed company, especially with one’s in-laws, and Jodi’s brother-in-law (by his own admission) likes to stir the pot now and again. But all’s well that ends well, and when they left for home mid-morning, there were still hugs all around.

Part of the reason that it went so well may be the words of Fr. Mark’s homily on Sunday. Fr. Mark is the pastor at Our Lady of the Black Hills Catholic Church in Piedmont, S.D. He is not a big man, but his enthusiasm for his vocation, his joy in the Mass, and his genuine love of the Eucharist erupt in a loud voice that resonates to the wooden rafters of the sanctuary. He tends to gain, and keep, your attention.

On Sunday, he preached on the gospel of Matthew, chapter 11, 25-30:

At that time Jesus said in reply, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him. Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

“Meek and humble of heart” — this from a man who would be put to death for proclaiming that he is God’s only son and the messiah, who toppled tables in the temple and drove the traders from “his father’s house” with an improvised whip of cords, who stood before the authorities unafraid and walked willingly to his doom. This is not the image of a meek man by today’s definition of the word, and in fact, the definition of meekness was the root of our discussion yesterday. Fr. Mark gave two: “not easily provoked” and “strength under control.” Afterward, Jodi’s brother-in-law said that those seemed to be reasonable definitions that worked well for the homily, but were not necessarily in keeping with the commonly accepted definition of weak, cowardly, or passive.

I’ll discuss “strength under control” in a separate post; for the purpose of this post (and the discussions at Grandma’s house), “not easily provoked” is the key. Webster’s online dictionary gives three definitions, and the first and third line up well with Father’s explanation and with Christ:

  1. Enduring injury with patience and without resentment : MILD
  2. Deficient in spirit and courage : SUBMISSIVE
  3. Not violent or strong : MODERATE

Many people do not wish to be seen as activists or evangelists, and it can be difficult to discuss one’s faith and convictions with people who have different viewpoints. It takes a deep inner strength to endeavor quietly to do right and to endure wrongs patiently, without physical or verbal violence, out of loyalty to a higher calling or greater good. The person who can do this possesses a deep inner strength and is decidedly not deficient in spirit or courage.

It is in this respect that I have re-titled and re-focused my blog this year, and that I hope, in my Second Third, to cultivate meekness in my own life, in order to facilitate civil discussions about the things that really matter with people different than myself.

The Second Third, Week 33: Taking It All In

Blogger’s Note: Sorry so late. On the road in South Dakota.

In many ways, , our fifth child is a second chance of sorts for me. It’s been seven years since Jodi’s been pregnant. I was involved in the past: I attended doctor’s appointments when I could, encouraged my bride and cut the cord, helped with the older kids and the baby when practical, and generally tried to be a good dad. But even with Trevor — even though we thought we might be done having children — I never thought of it as over or that I’d miss anything.

But I did miss it. My wife is beautiful always, but uniquely so when pregnant, and the miracle of new life has not lost its wonder. So in my Second Third — since this may or may not ever happen again — I’m taking it all in: every appointment and ultrasound, the anticipation, the excitement of our children…and in December, God willing, every moment and change in our new growing baby. I cannot wait. Best. Christmas. Ever.

The Second Third, Week 32: Growing Up Dad

“Our similarities are different.”
– Dale Berra, son of Yogi

In my most recent Second Third post, I insisted I was becoming (rather effortlessly) more and more like my father. The interesting part, to me at least, is that the more I become like him, the starker our differences seem. Eventually we’ll be identical, and nothing alike at all!

It makes sense in a strange way. Part of Dad’s charm – and, I believe, a big part of why he looms so large in the lives of so many – is that he is thoroughly an individual. He looks how he looks, believes what he believes, and lives how he lives – and is completely unapologetic about it. You can take him or leave him, and he might prefer the latter.

I am not so thoroughly individualized. I still work in a collaborative and political environment in which one must be flexible and take alternative views (many, and often somewhat obscure, alternative views) into account. Dad is oak, not willow: straight, tall, deeply rooted, and hard; inspiring, hot-burning, and impervious to shifting winds.

We also have different aptitudes. Dad didn’t enjoy school, and wasn’t a voracious reader until later in life. He’s always been gifted with mechanical ability, spatial intelligence, and will power. In these ways I am his opposite—but (thankfully), I did inherit both his and my Mom’s persistence. Given time, I’ll make it work, make it happen, make it come out alright.

Nevertheless, I am growing into him. He is not a man of faith, but of deep conviction; my Catholic faith has led me to a similar place, in which the grays of young manhood are reconstituting into their constituent blacks and whites. His full beard and Amish-meets-mountain-man appearance have emerged in me as an unruly mop of hair and pincushion goatee, and jeans and western boots at work. His politics and inclination to be left alone are manifest in my politics and inclination to be left alone, and his willingness to be firm with his children and die for them in a heartbeat shape me more every day.

My sense of humor and involuntary tendency to play word games are his, too. One standard eye-roller for our kids: when someone says, “I’m too tired,” I ask, “Like a bicycle?” I also make up random lyrics to old songs, and spontaneously invert the first letters or sounds of word pairs…and then rhyme them to make new pairs. For example, Dad will call my mother “peety swie” and their dog, Maggie, “duppy pog” or a family favorite, “mirthless what.” (Don’t concentrate on the words; flip the first letters and sound it out…) An example from our house: I took to calling Emma Rose “Rosebud,” then “Boserud” – then ultimately “Nosecrud” if I want to get her goat. Should you find that cruel, consider that I was referred to as Dogbreath for much of my formative years. We played these games all the time when we were younger. Dad loved “runny babbit” well before I’d ever heard of the Shel Silverstein book.

I’ve been told I look more like him, sound more like him, move more like him. In my Second Third, I hope we will become just the same. Only different.

The Second Third, Week 30: Male Bonding

I’ve written a number of Second Third posts about the reasons I need to scale back my work hours and volunteer commitments, but this week drove it home, and gave me a new reason to seek better balance. The past few weeks have been intense at work — a number of major and important projects to bring to a close, a handful of goodbyes to colleagues leaving for new jobs in this time of transition, plus those of us accompanying my boss on his next adventure were supposed to be packing our offices for the move.

Add to that the start of soccer for two of our children, and of daily weightlifting for a third. Then layer on Albertville Friendly City Days this weekend — our KC council sponsors the softball tourney, the beer tent and the pedal-power tractor pull, and appears in the parade. (I have direct involvement with two of these events and at least some vested interest in the success of all of them.) Plus we are trying to organize the annual parish-wide weekend at Camp Lebanon and need to meet with our co-chairs. It’s no wonder I’ve come down with shingles (seriously).

I need to scale back for my family, for the new baby, for my bride, and for my future as a writer. And now I need to do it for my health. But last night, I realized I have yet another reason. I swung by a friend’s place to discuss the fact that I probably didn’t have time to hit the shooting range with him this weekend (and to ask if his family wanted to hand out candy in the parade). He was enjoying the Twins game in his garage, sipping a Summit India Pale Ale. He offered me one, but I was too tired already and had to be up early. We talked about shooting (no), retrieving a deer stand at his brother-in-law’s this weekend (maybe), and other things we ought to get on top of this summer. I told him something I’ve said many times over the past year: “We’re overcommitted. We’ve said ‘yes’ too much.”

“I know,” he said. “You do a lot. It’s good…and it’s bad.”

“It’s bad,” I said.

“You’re needed,” he said.

I don’t know for sure what he meant: needed by the people and organizations we work with and for, or needed by our friends we don’t see. But I know how I took it.

I’ve never had a lot of close male friends, because I’m not a sports nut or a partier; I don’t tell dirty jokes or golf; I don’t build much or have a motorcycle or anything. I love being married, dig my kids, and enjoy reading, writing, music, and faith.

Only now, living in “The Bubble,” I have men around be to whom I can relate, who are walking the same road with the same end in mind. And they like to hunt and fish and enjoy a good beer (and maybe even brew one). They love their wives and balance doting and discipline with their kids. I like these guys. And they deserve more than me swinging by their garage to say I can’t go shooting this weekend.

A while back, another friend was asked by a third if he had seen me around lately. “Nah, I haven’t seen him,” he said. “He’s probably at the church. They volunteer for everything.” That’s gotta change.