You Don’t Stand a Chance

Note: This post appears as the Sunday, January 10, bulletin column for St. Michael and St. Albert parishes.

Many years ago, I ran across this bit of wisdom from Chinese poet Ching An:

“The joke’s on me: This year’s man is last year’s man.”

Ching An

Ain’t that the way of things? It may be a new year, but old habits die hard. As a result, many of us step boldly into January with big plans and a lot of false bravado to disguise our limp and cover our crutches.

For example, every January I struggle to accept all the things I haven’t accomplished in the previous year. What I have achieved doesn’t matter; the list of things I wish I’d done is always longer—invariably leading to speculation about what I need to do differently:

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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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Equipped by the Struggle

Note: This post appeared in the Sunday, November 22, bulletins for St. Michael Catholic Church and the Church of St. Albert.

Some of you know that my bride and I are discerning the diaconate. Many years ago I mentioned becoming a deacon to a priest-friend. His response was that I should focus on my marriage and family, not ordination.

At the time, I took his response as absolute: The diaconate is not for me. Then, several years later, our beloved retired deacon Maynard Warne suggested it to me. I mentioned the priest’s advice, and Deacon Maynard said it might be time to reconsider.

In the years since, multiple people—friends, acquaintances and colleagues—have nudged me toward the diaconate. And I do feel called to serve the Lord in some deeper and more radical way.

But ordination…really?

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Embrace the Impossibility

When we first moved to Minnesota 17 years ago, I worked for a marketing agency in downtown Minneapolis. I was conspicuous as one of the only conservative folks on staff, and my honesty, joy and general lack of cynicism earned me the nickname “Farmboy” from at least one colleague. I was regarded as a good writer and editor, but so naive and old-fashioned as to be quaint.

At the time, our oldest son Brendan was in in early elementary school. Someone on the bus began to mock him for believing in Santa Claus, and Bren responded that if Santa didn’t visit their house, it was because they didn’t believe in him. When he told Jodi and me about it afterward, he ended the story with, “I’m glad you guys still believe in magic.”

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Home Away From Home and the Gift of Disillusionment

On Labor Day weekend, we took Emma to Bismarck for her first year at the University of Mary. The six-hour trek to Mary Hill is becoming more and more familiar: the wide open spaces, green hills and big skies, the sun and the wind…and that one stretch with the bugs splattering like rain on the windshield. The speed zone through Moorehead and Fargo. The bluffs by the James River.

It’s an easy six hour of driving, and it’s getting easier.

When we took Brendan for his first year, I likened the sensation to a taut wire from the back of my mind to him, constantly aware of his absence. When we took Gabe to NET, the feeling was a bit different: First he was just down the freeway in St. Paul, but then he was who-knows-where, living out of a van and crisscrossing state lines and time-zones.

Subsequent years it was better—easier—because they knew people. Faces unfamiliar to us spoke in smiling shorthand to them, and it was clear they were at home (a perception with its own bittersweetness).

But Emma is my daughter, my first girl-baby. And media and internet insist there is so much to be afraid of. And I was a freshman guy once.

Should I be worried?

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