And I Remain a Catholic…

This is not an easy time for Catholics. The unspeakable evil revealed in Pennsylvania that over 1,000 persons were sexually abused by 300 priests and even worse the systematic cover up by church hierarchy for seven decades is devastating. The details of the abuse are sickening but they should be read and understood by every practicing Catholic. We cannot bury our heads in the sand. It’s important to remember that pedophile priests aren’t just something that came out of Boston or Pennsylvania or Ireland. Many of my classmates will remember a priest in our Catholic grade school in the 1960’s that was “reassigned” as rumors whirled around about his behavior. I was spared but some of the boys in my class were abused (which is a polite way to say raped). It was an open secret. We all knew something, but we were too young (or ill-informed) to know what we knew. Twenty-five years later a popular young priest was removed from the school where our children attended because of abuse allegations. And on and on…

Many of my non-Catholic friends ask how I can remain in a Church so full of disgrace and sinfulness. How can I remain in a Church where the clergy attack the most vulnerable amongst us? Some of my Catholic friends ask that question, too. Truth be told, sometimes I ask myself. 

I’m angry. I’m outraged. I’m sad. I’m broken-hearted. And still I remain a Catholic.

We must not ignore the crimes of those priests and bishops. We should ALL speak up and speak out. We must ferret out the monsters who would prey upon the most vulnerable. I’m angry that anyone would sexually exploit a child, especially someone in a position of trust. I’m outraged that Church hierarchy covered up the abuse for decades, maybe centuries. I’m sad because of the loss of innocence and the destruction of faith in those young souls and that these despicable acts have been repeated countless times and it doesn’t seem to stop! I’m broken-hearted because now some in our Church are using these latest revelations as an excuse to attack progressives in our midst. Some ultra-conservative bishops are using this latest crisis to instill hate and doubt in the hearts and minds of others to further their political agendas. And still, I remain a Catholic.

Our Church champions pro-life causes when it’s about abortion or euthanasia but remains largely silent regarding affordable health care for the young and the aged. We proclaim our belief in a catholic (universal) Church; one that welcomes all of God’s creation but in practice we don’t really welcome everyone and are often openly hostile when it comes to LGBTQ rights and gender equality. We fail as a faith community when we refuse to fight for the dignity of immigrants and those separated from their children by our government’s overreach. We pay lip service to racism in the Church but in the U.S., we remain predominantly male, white and insular in our worship and leadership. Where is the compassion for those marginalized in our society? Pro-life should mean supporting ALL life not just that with which we are comfortable. I often feel ashamed of the unloving attitudes of some of my church-mates and myself. And still I remain a Catholic.

Our Church (my Church) is like a family: loud, messy, demanding, imperfect, passive-aggressive, arrogant, and intolerant. We have our share of crazy uncles, angry spouses, spoiled brats, privileged teens, and old codgers. We fight. We’re selfish. We neglect one another. We refuse to lift a hand to help one another. We are at times ugly, hateful and mean-spirited.

untitledBut because our Church (my Church) is like a family we also love, protect and cherish one other. We nurture, advise, and counsel one another. We pray for one another. Like any family, we come together in times of celebration and heartache. Our family cheers us on when we feel down-trodden or overwhelmed by circumstances beyond our control. Our family carries us when we’ve lost all hope and strength. When there is a death or a job loss or some natural disaster, families can put aside their differences and be there for one another. It is also true for our Church – we need to accept one another as we are. We need to celebrate one another as we are. I’m reminded that we are the Church. Not the priests nor the bishops, but you and I. If you’re searching for God; if you need to see Jesus’ face, just look at the person next to you in the pew.

We Catholics are human – hopelessly flawed and sinful. Still in spite our failings we are given grace because God’s love is without fail. No matter how we muck things up; no matter how grave our sins; no matter how unforgivable our actions; we are forgiven. God’s love is greater than our sin.

And so, I’m going to keep the “family” that I have and remain a Catholic…

Peace,

Denis

 

 

 

Headache and Heartburn

I travel quite a bit for my job. It can sometimes be a humbling experience.

When I was a child I thought that business travel seemed glamorous and exotic. Fancy hotels with bellhops, jetliners with stewardesses and restaurants serving martinis at lunch were all depicted in the movies and television shows that I watched. I wanted to be Cary Grant or Sean Connery. Jet-setter. High-roller. Globe-trotter.

Instead I’m the schlub who lugs his bags into a discount hotel after spending painful hours cramped in an airplane seat so small that it seems to have been designed for pixies or driving a (less than clean) rental car for far too many miles while being equally frustrated and flummoxed by which side of the steering wheel the wipers are on and where the little button for the gas cap release is hiding. Cary Grant never had to deal with this crap.

Because I’m usually out-of-town for a few days in a row, I will on occasion buy groceries (you know – that already made stuff that can go in microwave) so as to avoid another dinner alone at Panera or Applebee’s or wherever. I will then “cook” in my rental suite while growling at the news of the day on television.

Recently after a long day, with a simmering headache, I decided to stop at the Kroger in Jeffersonville, Indiana and grab a few things. The checker’s name tag informed me that she was Delilah (although in all honesty, I was more interested in reading one of the messages tattooed across her neck). Delilah was big in all the wrong places and she had hair that was a color not found in nature. She proceeded to comment on every single item that I had purchased. Apparently Cokes have names on them now and she asked if my name was Landon because my Coke was named Landon. Of course because I had a headache and was tired and cranky I wanted to say, “Why yes, I make it a rule to only buy soft drinks with my name on them.” “You can imagine my delight in finding the rare ‘Landon’!” Instead I just grunted “no” and hoped she would shut up. Which she didn’t (or couldn’t). She went on to tell me that she had tried the salad that I bought and it wasn’t very good. In my self-righteous indignation, I wanted to sarcastically thank her for her culinary advice and compliment her neck tattoos and nose ring, but instead I just took my lousy salad and my ‘Landon’ Coke and left.

judginLater while getting into my rental car, I saw Delilah. She was hard to miss – neck tattoos, body piercings and all. She was patiently helping an old woman get into her car and then loaded her groceries in the trunk. She took time to speak to this woman and more importantly to listen to her. She absolutely refused to take a tip. She thanked the woman, wished her a good day and offered her blessings.

Wow. What a complete jackass I had been. Perhaps instead of judging my checker’s apperance, I should have been looking into her eyes. Instead being annoyed by her friendliness, I could have shared a kind word or smile. Maybe then I might have seen some of the beauty that the old woman had experienced. Cary Grant likely would have.

Instead I went to my economy hotel suite and ate dinner alone and realized that I missed another opportunity to love like Jesus. And in spite of my arrogance and heartlessness I realized then that I’m forgiven even when I struggle to forgive myself. It’s humbling to know that God still loves me in all my selfishness, vanity and absurdity.

And by the way, Delilah was right about my dinner choice. It wasn’t very good.

Peace,

Denis

Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Matthew 7:1-2  

 

 

Happy Birthday

Today is my wife’s birthday. I met Debbie 45 years ago while we were both working part-time at a discount store while attending local colleges. Friendship turned into love and love turned into marriage. And the rest is history; her story; our story. There have been plenty of ups and downs but we’ve held on tight. We have laughed nearly every day of our married life (sometimes through the tears). We’ve raised three kids, had multiple careers, lived on two continents, and traveled the world together. We’ve had grand moments and enjoyed simple pleasures. We’ve worked hard; played hard and taken turns carrying one another along the way.

IMG_3774I’ve often wondered why I’ve been so fortunate. I look at other couples and I sometimes feel a tinge of sadness (or is it pride?); realizing they’ll never experience the profound love I’ve known. I witness all the madness in our world and I’m secure in the knowledge that at home I will always find comfort, peace, and joy. Those of you who know Deb, know that she is the heart of our family; that friendships are lifelong; that her word is her bond; and that I’m the luckiest man on earth. Lots of people love Debbie. And her love for others is boundless. But somehow I was one who got to share this life with her. Through all these years; the good days and the bad; through the joys and sorrows; I’ve had this beautiful hand to hold.

I’m a simple man and I simply love my wife. Today seemed like a good day for me to tell her again.

Happy Birthday Deb!

I love you,

Denis

 

 

Land of the Free

Today is America’s birthday. A great day for celebrations. Parades. Fireworks. Flag waving. This should be a day to be proud of our great nation.

Unfortunately politics have become uglier than I  can remember in my lifetime, with harassment and threats, and retaliation. The current political climate is disgusting. With constant insults and boorish behavior being directed towards anyone who disagrees with one’s policies or agendas, all the while demanding loyalty and blind adherence to party lines. Where is any compromise or unity? This is America! What has happened?

As a nation have we become so narrow-minded; so entrenched; so chauvinistic; that we can’t accept another point of view? Are we condemned to be living in fear or loathing of our neighbors? We sing “God Bless America” but where is God in all our hateful rhetoric? How do we pledge to be “One Nation Under God” and deny basic freedom and dignity to those in desperate need of asylum? While families are being separated and babies are being torn from their mother’s arms, where are our statesmen and stateswomen?

What can I do?

First of all: instead of wringing my hands, I will be a patriot. I will wave my flag. I will continue to write to my congresswoman and senators and the president. I will vote. I will debate. I will support candidates who will fight for justice for all. I will stand tall. I will speak up. I will remember that our nation is not perfect. I will celebrate what I can. I will protest what I must. I will pray. And I will remember.
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I will remember those who have died to protect our freedom. I will remember that my great-grandparents were immigrants who were welcomed into a strange land with no money, no education and no discernible value or skills to offer. They didn’t speak English. They didn’t have degrees. They probably wouldn’t be welcomed today.

As a nation we have much to do. We have to work to insure our freedom and to guarantee freedom to all who enter here. We can do better! Our children and grandchildren deserve to live in an America that is still beautiful.

Our nation should be celebrated today. It’s messy. It’s imperfect. It’s mine. It’s yours. It’s ours. And it has ALWAYS been great.

Peace,

Denis

“I do not look upon these United States as a finished product. We are still in the making.”Franklin D. Roosevelt

Faking Fatherhood

I became a father at twenty-three. To say that I was clueless would be an huge understatement. Not only did I not know what I was doing, I didn’t think I needed to know anything. Within five years we had two more kids. My knowledge of fatherhood had not increased. I pretended to comprehend the magnitude and seriousness of fatherhood with it’s wisdom and overwhelming responsibility for nurturing and molding young minds and bodies. But I was just faking it.

Don’t get me wrong. I was knee-deep in diapers and feedings and bath time rituals and nighttime prayers and all the rest. I was a hands-on dad. I wiped up puke and dealt with tantrums, and frantic searches for lost pacifiers. But didn’t know any of the “important stuff”. How could I be a father when I could barely take care of myself? When I tucked those babies in at night I prayed for wisdom. I prayed for patience. I prayed that I wouldn’t screw things up too badly. But I was just faking it.

Then came the school years with sports and science projects and Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and all the rest. The kids had homework that I couldn’t possibly do. They played sports that I couldn’t have played as a no-talent, last-to-be-picked-for-a-team kid. I went on Boy Scout camping trips that I hated. And I just kept faking it.

Years flew by and the kids grew up and became adults. Off to the Air Force. Off to college. Down the aisle. I sighed (and cried) but I put on a brave face and big smile and faked it. They weren’t ready for what was coming their way because I hadn’t done my job. I hadn’t prepared them for adulthood. And I just kept faking it.

family

Faking it big time!

Now I have grandkids and I’m still faking it – the wisdom part; the knowledge part; the Fatherhood expertise part; I still fake all that. But the love; the love is real. And LOVE is amazing because it makes up for all my other shortcomings. Love lets me fake all the rest. And so I began faking it the day that baby boy was placed in my arms. Because love is all that really ever mattered.

And being a father is the greatest gift I was ever given. Turns out that you don’t have to be worthy, or brilliant or patient or knowledgeable, just loving…

Peace,

Denis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Apple (or whatever it was)

apple.jpgIf you ask most folks about the story of Adam and Eve, a likely image that they’ll recall is the apple. Eve offered Adam the apple after the serpent convinced her to eat it. It’s hard to blame the first couple for the whole apple ordeal because they had no one else to ask and the Internet hadn’t been invented so they couldn’t “Google” the serpent’s claim to see if it was accurate. I kind of get it. Who hasn’t received some lousy advice and made a few bad choices along the way?

Anyway, the thing is. It may not have been an apple at all. The Bible just says forbidden fruit. It doesn’t mention an apple by name. The poor apple is blamed for the whole Original Sin/Driven out of Paradise mess. Heck it could’ve been a pear. And I don’t even like pears but I still think of the apple as the culprit. Strange how images or ideas get stuck in our consciousness. It could have been a banana or a pomegranate or something we don’t even have a name for now.

This whole thing makes me think about how often I have been the apple. How many times have I been the misidentified fruit? You know, the guy that gets the blame (or shame) for something that he really didn’t do. Or worse, how often have I assigned blame to an innocent person? Assuming that because of circumstances or associations or appearances someone “who could be an apple” is guilty of something.

When my kids were teenagers I used to say, “If you look like a duck, and quack like a duck, and hang out with ducks, people will assume you too are a duck.” The intent was to have them choose friends wisely and avoid troublemakers. I realize now that I was only reinforcing negative stereotypes and sending mixed messages as I constantly implored them to also “think for yourselves” and “stop following the pack”. My parental failures are epic…

The point is: I need to seek the truth. I need to stop calling out the “apples” in my life. After all the “apples” might not even be the offenders. I need to make my decisions based on love and faith and honesty, not on fear and rumor and prejudice. Not everything is black and white. My world is many shades of gray (and thankfully lots of color, too). While on this journey of life I will make some mistakes and break some hearts and do some irreparable damage. I hope that God will forgive me when I have judged too harshly; when I have failed to see the good in others; when half-truths have clouded my ability to reason. I pray that those I have offended will understand my ignorance and excuse it even if they cannot forgive me.

Peace,

Denis

“It is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.’”

 

 

Love is the Answer (so what’s the question?)

Christmas 03My son Blake tells me that he’s pretty sure we are all one consciousness.  The universe experiencing itself; a pulse experienced through different hardware.  He believes that unconditional love is the answer but what is the question?

He and I sometimes have these existential kinds of conversations.  What is the meaning of life? Is there a God?  Or is it all some elaborate myth?  Were we “created” or do we exist because of some cosmic happenstance?  Do we need God?  Does God need us?

It makes me think.  And wonder.  And pray.  And sometimes I wonder as I pray.

People behave badly.  We murder.  We rape.  We abuse children.  We discriminate based on religion, race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.  We arm ourselves.  We build walls.  We exploit the most vulnerable amongst us.

Genesis tells us:  God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness.  But if ‘God is love’ why is there so much un-Godlike behavior happening in our world.  If God made us in his (her) image why aren’t we loving one another?  Why aren’t we lifting one another up?  Why aren’t we caring for one another?

And then I crawl out of my hole and look around.  I see every little loving thing that my wife does each day for me and countless others.  I see my friends who have often lifted me up during times of heartache and self-doubt. I  realize that I am cared for not just by friends and family but by strangers who work for peace and justice in our world.

My grandson Noah asked me recently, “Pawpaw, do you know what zeal is?”  Before I could offer a definition he exclaimed, “It’s how God loves us and how God wants us to love others!”  And I realize then that we do!  We do love one another.  We do lift each other. We do care for one another.  Not always.  Not all of us.  Not often enough.  But we do!

And perhaps that’s the question – why not always; why not all of us; why not often enough?  Unconditional love is the answer.  God was once again revealed to me through my seven year-old grandson.  God is in the love we share; in the countless times that Noah has lifted me up from my gloominess and my self-pity; all the times that we have cared for one another.  Noah full of zeal!  Blake too has loved me and lifted me with his kindness; his sincerity; his goodwill.  These two (uncle and nephew) come from very different places – physically and spiritually but God is there – loving; lifting; caring.

Evil exists.  Bad things happen.  But that’s not the end of the story.  God has given us power over evil.  We just need to share the gift of Love.  Perhaps then others will ask the question – why not always?  why not all of us?  why not often enough?

Peace,

Denis