Re-Lent

Relent:  1. to become less severe, harsh, or strict. 2. to cease resistance.

Perhaps it’s time for me to relent. Or “Re-Lent”, if you will. Because it’s Lent, some of my Catholic friends are giving up or doing without some of their favorite things again this year. But for me, it’s more about looking inward. I can give stuff up but I don’t think that will really fill me spiritually. I need to “fix” me. I need to become less severe, harsh and strict. And that can only happen if I cease my resistance. It’s much easier to fix other people; to point out their failings; to judge their misdeeds; to excuse their ignorance. But when it’s my turn – well that’s not so easy.

I struggle with the ultra-conservatives. The narrow-mindedness of certain Christians is nothing less than appalling. I feel that some folks cloak themselves in “churchiness” to excuse or justify their racism, sexism, and homophobia. It seems that sometimes faithfulness equals exclusivity and sectarianism. I recently read that “the resurgence of women wearing chapel veils at Catholic mass is an outward statement against modernity and its lies. A political statement against a society that tells us that men and women are the same and that gender is not important when people want to marry.” What a sad commentary on our Church today. I thought Jesus called us all.

acceptanceWhen I attend mass and the priest seems hell-bent on telling us that we’re hell-bound, I want to scream, “Hey I’m here! I’m trying to pray; to worship; to rejoice. But your message week-in and week-out seems to be that I’m not worthy enough; not pious enough; not sorry enough for my sins. Prayerful posturing, sing-songy recitations and chapel veils don’t really set my soul on fire. How about some peace? Some love? Some joy?”

I’m not looking for miracles. I just want to belong to a group of believers that will carry me for a while as I struggle to find my own way.

I want to re-lent. I need to cease my resistance. Not to the message of others but to the message of God. I need to be less severe; less judgmental. I can worship with and even love those with whom I can never agree. Why? Because Jesus told us to love one another. He didn’t tell us who to love. He just showed us how to love.

So I promise to carry you when you need it (and when I can). Because I want to feel something other than frustration and disappointment. I want to hear something besides condemnations and admonishments.

Love. It’s what’s for Lent. Won’t you join me?

Peace,

Denis

 

Relax. It’s Just Lent.

For millions of Catholics and other Christians, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. In observance of Christ’s death and resurrection, forty days are set aside in the Church calendar. During these forty days, many people make personal sacrifices as part of their Lenten journey.

Some folks feel tremendous pressure to “give up” something to honor Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. Or to “do something” honorable or charitable or extra-holy. I must admit that I have found myself feeling the need to do more (or less) some years. Sometimes the sacrifice(s) will have the result of putting me in a foul mood (that year without caffeine was painful and probably unhealthy). I’m hardly honoring Jesus by snapping at someone because I want their coffee and I want them to shut the hell up. So I think it might be time to give myself a break. Besides, my bad behavior or bad habits or good behavior or good habits will not change the fact that Jesus died for my sins. His gift of love is not “earned” by my worthiness. Likewise it is not withheld because of my lack of fortitude.

So this again this year I will try to follow the example of friends and family members who, by their quiet example of love and devotion to God, are models of Christianity. I am thankful for a wife who always shows me how to live a Christ-like life. Deb is never afraid to show public outrage at injustice or public displays of affection. She loves completely. I’m not her equal when it comes to kindness. I’m polite. She’s loving. I’m accepting. She’s forgiving. I try. She does.

It’s just Lent. Somehow that seems too easy. I can give up ham sandwiches on Fridays. And stop drinking caffeine or alcohol for forty days. I can volunteer at some charity for a few weeks. Perhaps pray a little more or get to church more often. But what’s the point of doing all those things for Lent and then remaining an asshole all year-long?

I think I need to look at the whole year. I will try to smile more, listen better, remain calmer, forgive more, judge less, care more, and love more deeply. And not just for these forty days. Everyday. Always.

So if you’re like me and not a shining example of Lenten sacrifice, perhaps this is the year to forgive yourself and just try to do your best. I suppose that I could give up cursing for Lent. But what the hell?

Peace,

Denis

I Just Look Like This

I have a dear friend at work who years ago shared an expression with me that I cherish and I have used countless times since: “I just look like this.” 

i-only-look-like-thisI have found this simple statement to be disarming and confounding and totally appropriate on so many occasions. “Don’t judge this old book by it’s cover” might be another way to say it but somehow when I say the words “I just look like this” it’s often, thankfully, a conversation stopper. It invariably begs the question, “what do you mean?” My responses to that question will depend entirely on the comment or statements that proceeded my pronouncement.

Let me explain:

I’ve used it to prevent racist jokes from being told in my presence. Just because I’m an old white guy, some people assume that I will appreciate jokes that poke fun at ethnicities. Please don’t assume that I share your bigotry. In truth, I find your comments hateful and hurtful.

Likewise, I’ve employed it to dissuade sexually demeaning or blatantly sexist remarks. I’m a feminist (an old white-guy feminist) who believes women should be treated with the same respect as men. And should be paid the same amount of money for the same work. Also please keep your “locker room talk” to yourself, it will only make me think less of you. I’m really not interested in who or what you “grab”.

My son is career military and I am proud of his dedication and sacrifice but please don’t assume that I am a raging hawk. I struggle with ‘The Just War Theory’ particularly when it is employed before “all peace efforts have failed”. Never confuse my pride in my son and my flag-waving patriotism with an endorsement of “bombin’ the hell out of ’em”.

Additionally, I’m Catholic so occasionally people will encounter me after mass to extol the virtues of the latest anti-abortion protest or homily and I gently remind them that while I am pro-life, I respect ALL LIFE. When I explain that I would like to hear the same passion coming from the pulpit with regards to the disadvantaged and disenfranchised in our society and not just about unborn babies, I am often greeted with a look of disbelief, if not horror.

So I just look like this. I look like your grandpa or the guy next door or the mailman or your crazy uncle, but I don’t necessarily fit that look, if you think that ‘look’ makes me a racist, sexist, narrow-minded, xenophobe.

My wife who is much kinder, more loving, and more compassionate than I (thank you, thank you, thank you), often reminds me that you can never really know what is in someone else’s heart. So I promise that I will try to not judge you while you’re trying not to judge me.

Please remember, I just look like this.

Peace,

Denis

Hope Is Still Alive!

Last week my 8 year-old granddaughter said, “My friends at school say that President Trump is going to build a wall around Mexico.” “Pawpaw, does that mean you can’t go to your office in Mexico City anymore?” “Or if you go there, you won’t be able to come home?”

anna-meNot exactly sure how to explain the situation to her, I said, “No Anna, it means something different.” I told her that I would be fine and my friends and work-mates from Mexico could still visit here. My words seemed hollow and I could see the fear in her eyes and felt certain that my explanation fell short of reassuring her.

Fear. What an ugly experience. And now, so many are living in fear. Fear of deportation. Fear of being denied immigration. Fear of separation from loved ones. Fear of banishment. Fear of death.

What about the fear of terrorism? Fear of unknown or unwanted persons who could do harm to our nation; our cities; our homes. Do we build walls and create borders and more restrictions to keep out anyone who is deemed a threat? And what is the criteria for exclusion? Religion? Skin color? Language? Dress? Who decides?

I think of my own great-grandmother who made the perilous journey alone from her homeland, at only thirteen years of age, to build a better life for herself. My very existence depended on her acceptance into this great nation. Today because of her lack of education and inability to prove herself worthy of finding gainful employment, she would doubtless be denied access.

How can I have hope for a future that seems so dismal? How do I tell my beautiful granddaughter that her unbridled love and pureness of heart may not be enough to cure the evils of this world? I can’t. I won’t.

I need her to believe that good conquers evil; that justice is for all; that hope is still alive. And I will follow her example by loving without question and always looking for good in everyone. I will pray, not just for my friends but for my enemies as well. I will stand up for those who can no longer stand. I will speak for those who no longer have a voice. I will fight racism and sexism at every opportunity. I will respect ALL life.

And I will face another day. A better day. Hope is still alive. I know this because Anna tells me so, without ever speaking a word.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Drenched In Love

Recently one of the members of our small faith group shared this insight: When dealing with our enemies, we should try to “drench them with love”.

dancin_in_the_rainFor me the imagery is almost overwhelming. The thought of torrents of water descending upon me is easy to envision. While walking in a warm spring rain, initially I will attempt to stay dry under an umbrella, or run, as if I can somehow elude the raindrops. Ultimately my efforts become futile. I finally embrace the rain and the idea of being completely saturated. I stop fighting it. I stop running. I put away the umbrella. I accept the downpour. I surrender. I am drenched.

And it’s exhilarating.

So much more is true of love. I am drenched in love. Every day, in countless ways, I am drenched by the love of others as they freely pour their love over me. What a blessing. What a gift. To be loved. To be drenched in love. And it has changed me. I am a better husband because of the love of my wife. I am a better father because of the love of my children. I am a better man because of the love of my friends.

What if some of my enemies are loving me?  Perhaps I am blessed to be loved by someone who I have determined to be unlovable or unworthy of my time or attention. Maybe it’s time for me to truly listen to the words of my friend and try to “drench my enemies with love”.

As with most challenges in my life, I know my limitations. I’m not going to start by trying to “drench” ISIS or Ann Coulter with love. I’ll start small. I’ll try to “drench” that annoying co-worker and the smart-ass kid down the street who drives too fast. I’ll attempt to “drench” the guy at the gym who hogs the equipment. I’ll “drench” the lady at the dry cleaners who assumes that we share the same political views (we don’t). And I’ll try to “drench” our associate pastor who I can barely stand to be in the same church with on most Sundays.

Sister Viola Marie, loving our enemies is a tough call. Drenching them with love will definitely be an uphill climb. But I’m going to try. And I know that God will be laughing at my weak attempts when I fail. And I know that you’ll keep pouring your love over me even when I’m a failure.

Peace,

Denis

 

I Still Do…

When I was just 19 years old I made a promise to love and honor and cherish my wife until death. That was 42 years ago. I still do.

Wedding DayWe were poor. We were young. We had little idea as to what we were getting ourselves into. The odds-makers were probably calling us a long-shot. I still do.

We came from different backgrounds. We are about as physically dissimilar as two persons could be. We hadn’t finished college. We had no career plans. We disagreed on which side of the sink dishes should be washed and I argued with her about silly things, like which toothpaste was superior – Colgate or Crest. I still do.

In some ways, the changes in our life have been profound – we have 3 children and 5 grandchildren (all beautiful reflections of our love for one another). In other ways, not much has changed – Debbie still usually gets her way (haven’t seen Colgate in our house for 40+ years). Early in our marriage, I thought it was worth “giving in” just to see her smile. I still do.

1-4-17Our journey together has been one of discovery. There have been good times and bad. But one thing is clear – we’re in this together. We have traveled the world and lived abroad. We have survived a couple of career changes. We have buried loved ones; welcomed new family members and made life-long friends. We have cried tears of joy and tears of sorrow. I’ve always believed that my partner and best friend is at my side. I still do.

So we’re a bit mismatched and we’re a long-shot. And we probably made a big mistake getting married so young. We’ve stumbled through life, at times never knowing what was ‘waiting around the bend’, and we’ve made lots of stupid choices. Yet I believe that God meant for us to be together in this crazy, messy, risky, loved-filled, wonderful life. And I still do.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Let It Be

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.”

Often this passage from Luke’s Gospel conjures images of a submissive Mary. A young woman who is overwhelmed and helpless to understand what is being asked of her. Certainly Mary would have not expected a visit from an angel and she probably was startled by the announcement. But to me, her response is not that of a weak or frightened child but instead that of a strong woman who appears steadfast in her convictions. Mary believed in God. Mary allowed God to work through her without hesitation. Perhaps she understood more than the Gospel tells us.

mary_baby_jesus2_342184954Any mother will tell you that the love of her child is primal and inexplicable. Mary’s love would have been no less than that of any mother. She would likely have been concerned about bringing a child into the politically turbulent world in which she lived, not to mention the very unconventional way that she found herself with child. And yet her love overshadowed any insecurities she may have had. Mary is a model for all of us. Mary took an active role in God’s plan. She wasn’t just a vessel. She didn’t just submit. She stood tall at His cradle and at His cross. And proved that love conquers all!

Christmas comes with hope of renewal. Christmas raises our expectations of peace and goodwill. Friends and families unite. Celebrations take place. Joy is proclaimed throughout the world.

But Christmas itself doesn’t end hunger, or war, or poverty, or terrorism, or racism, or homophobia or violence, or human trafficking, or all other injustices. Still, Christ comes at Christmas and we are reminded by Mary that if we believe in God and take an active role in His plan, we can bring peace to our world. Let it be me who takes a stand; performs a small act of kindness; who makes a small sacrifice for another. Let it be me who shares a smile; who speaks a kind word; gives a gentle touch. These things multiplied by the millions as we proclaim our Christmas joy will transform our world.

And so I ask God, “Let it be” me who helps make a difference this year. Will you join me?

Peace,

Denis