A Nation of Immigrants

For most of us we needn’t go back more than a few generations to find ancestors who immigrated to the United States.

In my own family we are descendants of fur traders who journeyed from France to Canada and ultimately to the Midwest around the time of the Revolutionary War, as well as Germans seeking political refuge and Welsh miners and laborers escaping possible starvation in the 19th century. Some came seeking fortune and wealth. Some were fleeing poverty, political injustice, or religious persecution. All came hoping for a better life.

In the 18th and 19th centuries when our nation’s economy needed foreign labor, my great-grandparents and great-great grandparents (and many other immigrants) provided it. Most of them suffered great hardships yet they built lives and in turn they served their new homeland. They worked hard. They built homes. They built churches. They raised families. They built our nation. They built a better life for the generations who followed.

Today our nation’s economy still demands foreign labor, yet there are insufficient visas to meet this demand and a political climate that denigrates immigrants. Close family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents face unreasonably long separations, due to backlogs of available visas. U.S. immigration laws and policies need to be changed. Today’s immigrants are also hoping for that better life that we take for granted.

immigrant familyWhy do we often label those who are seeking asylum as villainous? Why do we disregard the humanity at our borders as pawns in some political game?  Why do we only see danger, terror, and suspicion in those searching for a better life?

There may have been some who were frightened by my 13 year-old great-grandmother when she immigrated to the U.S. alone in the late 1800’s. She spoke no English. She had no marketable skills. She had nothing to offer. Nevertheless, she persisted. She found a better life for my grandfather, my father and ultimately me.

The next time we think of immigrants as non-persons or some problem that we wish would go away, we should remember that for most of us it was only a generation or so ago that we were in their shoes. And how much better is our nation because our forebears crossed that border?

Let’s be a nation that welcomes our sisters and brothers.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Love is Perfect

wedding debI still vividly remember our wedding day and my bride walking down the aisle. It felt surreal. The sunlight was streaming through the windows and the light seemed to be emanating from her. I believe I saw my future in her beautiful green eyes at that very moment. That was 44 years ago and the light still shines. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in this life, but the one thing I did right was on January 4, 1975 when I said, “I do.”

I do. I did. I will.

Debbie and I have had an incredible journey along the way. Raising three children and pursuing multiple careers. Living on two continents. Meeting new friends while holding on to those we’ve known since childhood. Being blessed with five grandchildren. Traveling the world together. Praying together. Laughing together. Crying together.

We do. We did. We will.

I have a friend who says he’s the lucky man alive. I think I could challenge that, because I’ve always thought I was the luckiest guy on Earth. I have been blessed beyond measure. I know that I don’t deserve the life I’ve been given. So, I thank God everyday.

I do. I did. I will.

IMG_3774Life hasn’t always been easy but the good times outweigh the bad. The laughter drowns out the tears. And sometimes hanging on means holding on. Holding on to one another. Never letting go. Remembering in our darkest hours that our love will survive. If all is lost, our perfect love can still be found.

We did. We do. We will. Forever.

Peace,

Denis

P.S. Happy Anniversary Deb!

P.S.S. I would have written this song for you 44 years ago, except you know that I don’t have any musical ability whatsoever. Anyway, you’re still perfect for me.

What Christmas Is All About

a-charlie-brown-christmas“I guess you were right, Linus. I shouldn’t have picked this little tree,” said Charlie Brown. “Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I don’t really know what Christmas is all about. Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

“Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about,” said Linus.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were so afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

If your tree isn’t perfect and your meal isn’t amazing and your gifts don’t wow the recipients try to take comfort in the wisdom of Linus. My wish this year for Christmas is that we can be all be Linuses to the Charlie Browns in our lives.

Christmas peace,

Denis

 

 

 

Am I Ready For Christmas?

This time of year, I am often asked, “Are you ready for Christmas?” My polite answer is usually, “Gosh, I still have a few things to (do) (buy) (wrap), etc., etc.” What I’m often thinking is, “Hell no, I’m not ready, I need more (time) (patience) (quiet), etc., etc.!”

So in these final days before Christmas, I try to find the time, patience, and quiet that I desperately need to prepare myself for Christmas. I want to buy my loved ones the perfect gifts and wrap them beautifully. I want the house to be decorated with holiday charm. I want the food to be plentiful and delicious. I want to cue the music. I want to have lots of good cheer! I want my Christmas to be a Hallmark® Christmas with joyous celebrations and a happy ending.

Then I realize how wrong-headed I am. All I want, is what I want. I want the perfect gifts. I want the beautiful house. I want the food and drinks and cheer. There is nothing wrong with any of those things, except that I’ve put myself first. I want. I want. I want…

advent-candles-third-sunday-quizThe Advent Season is a blessing for me. It gives me the opportunity to set aside my needs and my wants, and to instead focus on the love of a God who sent his Son to be with us. It is a good time for me to reflect how loving (or unloving) I have been. It’s an opportunity for me to reach out to others; to become vulnerable; to stop worrying about perfection and to become perfected in Christ’s love.

Advent is counter-cultural. Turn-off. Tune out. Time to prepare my heart and my soul for the celebration of the coming of Christ. That will require some time and some patience and some quiet, too.

So when next person asks, “Are you ready for Christmas?”, I’ll simply smile and say, “I’m getting there!”

Peace,

Denis

 

Will I Know Him When He Comes?

“If Jesus visited me, what would I be able to give Him?” That was the question of the old shoemaker in Tolstoy’s story. The response came back to him from a voice not present, “Dear old shoemaker, tonight I am going to visit your village. Look for Me.”

Of course as the story goes on we learn that the shoemaker is visited by orphans and widows looking for shelter and food. The shoemaker gives to each who approach him. He even shares the soup he has prepared for Jesus. He goes even further by making shoes for children in the orphanage. But ultimately he is disappointed because Jesus does not come.

When he questions God, he is told “I visited you last night and you gave me warmth. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was hungry and you fed me, and I was in the orphanage and you came to visit me. Whatever you did for all these people, you also did for me.”

I wonder, do I serve others as would choose to serve my Lord? Do I have the same spirit of generosity and love for those whom I don’t know? Do I fail to recognize Christ in my fellow humans?

adventcandlesAdvent is a good time for me to stop and listen to what Jesus is asking of me. I try to quiet myself and listen to what is truly important. Mostly I fail. But sometimes Jesus shines through. Sometimes my heart is broken open enough to allow the love of God to fill my soul. The love is always there but often it takes a smile or a kind word or a song or a warm embrace to help me let down my defenses. Last weekend my granddaughter gently put her arm around me and told me (again) that she loved me. Christ came to me at that moment. I didn’t even ask for God’s love and there it was!

I have a dear friend who is volunteering at a Humanitarian Center serving immigrants from Central America as I write this. I can’t help but believe that he has been visited by Jesus countless times. And he has been Christ to those families who are in such desperate need of love and care. He is an inspiration to me.

O come, O come Emmanuel. This year when I hear this ancient and beautiful song, my heart is with those immigrant families mourning in lonely exile until the Son of God appears.

Peace,

Denis

 

Being a Minister of Hospitality with an Inhospitable Heart

I had an Uncle Les who was one of the kindest men I ever met. Always smiling and ready to shake a hand, he appeared constantly happy – always approachable and utterly charming. Fittingly, he was an Usher at our Parish Church. Never a Sunday went by that he didn’t hug our kiddos, give Deb a peck on the check and offer me a pat on the back. It remains one of my greatest joys about attending mass at our old parish. And Uncle Les didn’t reserve his hospitality for his nephew and family. He greeted everyone in the same manner. “Welcome!”  “Good to see!”  “How are you?”

Fast-forward about forty years and now I’m an usher (we’re called ministers of hospitality today) and I try to be a friendly face and welcoming presence like my dear uncle. Usually I fall short of that goal.

I have a secret: I became an usher (oops – minister of hospitality) because I didn’t like most of the people I encountered at Mass. Ours is an upscale, very conservative parish where I often feel out of step with most of my fellow parishioners. I thought that if I could stop judging and start greeting people I would learn to love them as they are and let go of my need to have everyone think and act like me. Some days are easier than others.

But it’s working.  S L O W L Y –  V E R Y  S L O W L Y.

usher-pic_origI smile and shake hands and offer the occasional hug or pat on the back. I’m the ‘Minister of Hospitality’ but in truth I’m the one being ministered. These folks that I’m greeting, that I know I would have never engaged in conversation before, are also welcoming me and greeting me and loving me. I’m certain many are misogynists, and racists, and xenophobes, and all manner of despicable human. But isn’t that why we gather? Aren’t we at Mass to be changed? Aren’t we building the “Body of Christ” in our flawed human way?

So I continue to show up on Sundays and do my thing. I smile. I greet. I welcome. I especially enjoy the ‘late-comers’ – the folks who try to slip in unnoticed. They often have a look that’s a mixture of shame and astonishment (“How did this happen? I’m sure I left my house on time!”) I great them with a special smile and knowing nod – “It’s okay; you’re here; you made it; welcome.” I particularly love our “back of church” officially called the “Gathering Space” It’s an amazing and wonderful place.  Normal ‘Mass behavior’ can be abandoned there; beleaguered parents can allow their children to run and giggle; crying is completely acceptable; teenagers can skulk about like parolees.

In all of this, I see God’s love. Jesus is greeting me with each smile and kind word. I’m beginning to look at the “Body of Christ” in a whole new light. And little by little my stone cold heart is being chipped away.

Some Sundays I even feel Uncle Les smiling down on me.

Peace,

Denis

School Pictures

Recently our grandchildren had their school pictures taken. Of course all of them are beautiful and the photos will be treasured always. But while thinking about school pictures of the past I couldn’t help but reflect on the anxious moments that “SCHOOL PICTURE DAY” sometimes created.

When I was a kid, Mom had my brother and I wear matching clothes on picture day. Not sure if the humiliation was intentional. Every year was another black and white snapshot of crew cut, buck teeth and plaid shirt. Looking back on those photos from 1st to 8th grade is like looking at the progression of early man from Neanderthal to modern human.

With our own children, who wore uniforms to school everyday, picture day was special because it was “out of uniform” day, too. I have never really understood a school that takes pride in its uniformed minions allowing (encouraging?) picture day to be uniform-free. So one day each year the “what am I going to wear?” crisis took place. Truth be told, looking back at those old photos, it appears that some of those fashion choices were made with intentional humiliation. Sorry kids – we apparently possessed poor parenting skills.

With digital photography and nearly instant access, parents today are offered a multitude of choices; different poses; different backgrounds; different lighting. Adorable keepsakes all.

black eyeBut somehow I kind of miss the crap-shoot of the old days. The only choices we had were: wallet size, 5 x 7, or 8 x 10. The mug was the same on all. You didn’t know until “SCHOOL PICTURE DELIVERY DAY” if you had kept your eyes open or if you were smiling or if your hair was sticking up or if you were missing teeth or if that black eye or fat lip was noticeable.

Those photos may have been a truer chronicle of our school days than what today’s kids have. At least they’re funnier.

Peace,

Denis