Monday, November 23, 2009

The Donut Man

How can I not appreciate a guy who hangs out with a donut? Rob Evans & his tasty looking friend Duncan have been setting the Gospel to song & skit for over 25 years via live shows, CDs, videos and television. A convert to Catholicism, Rob's Donut Man offers kid friendly material on the sacraments, the liturgy, and the liturgical calendar.

Rob & Duncan still perform "live" concerts, and Rob can also be called upon as a guest speaker, sharing from his own life experiences on the essential elements of child and whole family faith formation. Visit The Donut Man's web site for information on his CDs and DVDs, his current concert schedule, and for details on inviting Rob to visit your Church community.

Remember, as the Donut Man says, "Life without Jesus is like a donut, 'cause there's a hole in the middle of your heart!" Well - at least with a donut, there won't be a hole in the middle of your belly. (Sorry Duncan.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009


The Liquid Ambers in our front yard are turning. The color of the leaves change daily, turning from summer's green to yellow, orange, and scarlet. They are also decreasing in number, with more and more of the blue sky visible from beneath the tree's branches. The thin veins of blue which once framed the crowded green leaves grow wider, until, with winter, they will become the thing framed, held like large fragments of blue glass set into a molding of bony branches.
Everything in this temporal world turns. Seconds turn to minutes, and minutes turn to hours. Summer turns to fall. Milk turns in the refrigerator. We turn pages and corners. We advance, we move on. We progress, and sometime regress, but still move forward, even with a U-turn, the linear motion of our journey is always forward in time. Towards.
We encourage our children to take turns. My youngest daughter just turned eight. We turn eighteen. Twenty one. Thirty. Fifty.
One of the comforting things about Autumn is knowing that the Winter it introduces will in turn introduce another Spring. The cycle of the seasons lets us visit the stark emptiness of naked trees, the old age metaphor of winter landscapes, the hint of natural death, and consider there our own mortality. Then, when we've had enough of rain and melancholy, the days begin to lengthen, the green leaves return and nests are rebuilt. We color eggs and sing Allelluia. We turn our clocks forward.
In his poem Birches, Robert Frost gave us the image of a boy climbing a birch tree towards heaven, knowing that when he reached the tree's top, his weight would bend the trunk down, giving him a swinging ride back to earth, to life. Frost's narrator liked to ponder the end of things, when the days made him weary, when the world was too much, but he wasn't ready to commit to death. He just wanted a time share there. A place of rest and release from the concerns of life, arrived at with a round trip ticket.
Last night at bedtime, my middle child sadly told me that she wished that she could have parents forever. I realized she was troubled by a nine year old's consideration of mortality. I told her that she did have her mom and dad forever. She quickly added that she didn't mean in heaven, she meant here. I assured her that forever meant forever. I would always be her Daddy. I told her that "here" wasn't forever. The room, the house, the sky above it, was in forever, but it wasn't forever. Our forever had to fit into a forever place. The forever place was the really real place. The really real place where we find God. We would always be together in that really real way.
Our kids feel the turning. The sound of the earth's relentless axis calls to them as it calls to us. It challenges us. It motivates us. Sometimes it worries us. Keeps us awake. That's when we can turn to our wise and loving and unchanging God who sees beyond the mirage of sickness, age and earthly death, who sees beyond all of our turning seasons. A God who holds us at this moment in the really real time that is His true time. Let us ever and without hesitation turn to Him.
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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Give Us This Day Our Daily International Bread

If you decide to visit your child's classroom, a good day to drop in would be International Food Luncheon Day: Philippine lumpia, German potato salad & red cabbage, Indonesian chicken curry, Irish soda bread, French chocolate mouse, English fish & chips (my sons contribution) and much, much more. Some days it's good to be a Dad.

It was a nice reminder to watch as each child introduced a facet of his or her personal heritage through food and a few interesting national facts. So many cultures, so much food. And one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Thank you God, for preparing such a bountiful table. Thank You for the lumpia, the curry, and for deep fried anything. Thank You also for the Diaz's, the Kellys, and the Hiendshaws. Thank You for the vast diversity we behold in Your human face, and the unifying singleness we share in Your one mystical Body. Amen.

And then - there was dessert: Philippine sweet rice, Scotch candied apples, Indonesian fried bananas, Mexican candy . . .

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I'll Get Right On That . . .

The Patron Saint of Procrastinators

(to be determined)

. . . actually, there is a Patron Saint for Procrastinators - sort of.

St. Expeditus, Martyr, is invoked by many for assistance in overcoming procrastination, and as a "special delivery" quick response intercessorary prayer buddy. The problem is, some scholars now believe that he may be more myth than man. Many, though, still consider St. Expeditus a valid member of the good guy team, and his popularity is growing. For more on the debate check here and here.

As for me, my sainted Mother always said that no prayer was wasted, so I will add St. Expeditus to my personal prayer team.
Wouldn't it be cool if people got as excited about building a personal prayer team as they did about fantasy sports leagues?
Guy 1: So - who ya got?

Guy 2: Let's see. I have St Francis, St. Monica, - and St. Peter, of course.

Guy 1: Of course.

Guy 2: And I just picked up St. Remigius.

Guy 1: Epedemics!

Guy 2: Yeah. Ya know, flu season and all.

Guy 1: Smart pick. I just added St. Cajetan.

Guy 2: Patron for the unemployed. Things ok at work?

Guy 1: You can never be too sure. And I drafted St. Michael.

Guy 2: Sweet! I wanted him.

Guy 1: Go ahead and add him. The roster is unlimited, and there's no salary cap.
Prayer to St. Expeditus invoking his intercession before the Lord for the swift resolution of economic problems:
I come before you, St Expeditus, to remedy economic problems in my work and in my home and to ask for your powerful support. Saint Expeditus, protect my income, that I may obtain sufficient money for necessities, and tranquility and joy will reign in my house.By your grace, blessed saint, I request and I pray that I will achieve my desire. (State your petition) And I will give thanks for your glorious intercession. Amen

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bombing the Moon

AP - NASA Releases photo of lunar impact.

Man in Moon Cries Foul. World braces for retaliatory moonbeams.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Family Road Trip 2009

Summer 2009 Family Road Trip. Overall, it was a rewarding adventure and worth every gallon. New Mexico is truly the Land of Enchantment. Arizona is pretty awesome too. Lots to marvel at from the windshield. I filled up my virtual knapsack with generous portions of family time, great food, and endless vistas of God's humbling handiwork. Our God is truly an awesome God. The family was also blessed with some quality candle lighting prayer time in the The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and Loretto Chapel, both in Santa Fe, and the quiet and holy Shrine at El Santuario de Chimayo. More on these in a later post.

Regarding the Family Road Trip: I present for your consideration the following list of 10 Family Road Trip Truisms (in no particular order.)
  1. The Freeway/Highway alphabet game works once. Only once.
  2. If you stop for food with more than 1 child on board, at least 1 of said children will not be pleased with the food options. (Sonic was the exception)
  3. Kids will watch the same DVD again. And again. And . . .
  4. Regardless of what the kids say, they all DO need to go to the bathroom.
  5. Hotel pools # 1 - kids will peek when playing Marco Polo. Always.
  6. Hotel pools # 2 - at some point, a cannonball will be committed, with heavy liquid collateral involvement by dry poolside sitters.
  7. Small souvenir rock dinosaurs will lose their heads if dropped to the floor.
  8. There are countless creative ways to ask "are we there yet?" without actually saying "are we there yet?"
  9. All Rest Stop restrooms will be, as our 10 year old son put it, "disturbing."
  10. There will always be slower cars to annoy you and faster cars for you to annoy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Bread of Life or It Takes a Village?

I heard it again today. It was suggested to me that when we read John 6:1-15, wherein Jesus feeds a multitude with five barley loaves and two fish, it wasn't necessarily a miraculous event. Jesus simply encouraged a large disconnected crowd of people to redistribute the food they already possessed equitably among themselves. In those days, it was pointed out, people did not hit the road without a plan. There wasn't a 7 Eleven or a Jack in the Box on every corner. No Taco Bell. The people comprising that assembled crowd in that particular time and place would have been packing, meaning that they would have brought their own food and beverages, and more than likely had them discreetly stowed beneath their cloaks. Some might have brought more than they needed. Others might not have brought enough. All that Jesus did was to teach, by the example of a generous boy, that the crowd could abundantly feed itself if everyone shared what they already had in common.

Not a bad story. Not a bad lesson. Misses the point, I think.

I'm always curious whenever a believer, be they a theologian, a catechist, or the guy eating a donut next to me at coffee hour, feels the need to weed out the miracles from the words and works of Jesus in the Gospels. His life begins with a virgin birth and ends with resurrection and ascension. The water walking, dead raising, demon expelling, and food multiplying parts in the middle shouldn't be too much of a stretch to accept framed within that context. Why is removing the miraculous (and traditional) understanding of this event necessary? Does it provide more clarity, or is it simply too much to expect modern rational minds to accept the narrative literally?

We can begin by asking ourselves why the author of the Gospel included this event. Is it intended to teach us to share what we have with each other, that hunger and poverty are man induced, and that we, like Dorothy and her companions in Oz, have the solution to our dilemmas within our own grasp all along if we but trust to look? Or is the point of the event a confirmation that Jesus is the messiah, accompanied by signs and wonders, and that this God man is not only concerned with our eternal destiny, but demonstrates human compassion for our current temporal struggles? Might Jesus have even used this sign to prepare His followers, including us, to understand that He Himself would feed us always, would Himself become the bread come down from heaven, would be Eucharist?

In the Gospel story, we're told that the crowd had gathered because of the signs that Jesus was performing, specifically with the sick. This was not a marketed event. There were no flyers posted around the villages noting when and where Jesus would be, including a start and end time. It was a spontaneous crowd that gathered and grew in response to Jesus miraculously curing large numbers of sick people. As Jesus moved away from the populace, the crowd followed after him. Passover was near (think Eucharist.) Instead of returning home for the Passover the crowd continued to follow Jesus into the mountains. The crowd followed Jesus beyond where they had expected to follow Him. The crowd was compelled. Something amazing was happening. This was not a trip that they had planned and packed for. This was a movement of the Spirit. The crowd followed Jesus beyond the line of personal risk. Haven't you ever found yourself there?

"When Jesus raised his eyes
and saw that a large crowd was coming to him,
he said to Philip,
“Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”
He said this to test him,
because he himself knew what he was going to do" John 6:5-6

Phillip's answer to Jesus assumes that everyone in the crowd would need to be fed. Phillip was a man of that time and place. He was familiar with his own culture. He did not say, "Well, most of these people probably have enough to feed themselves. We only need to worry about the geniuses that came along without a sack lunch." No. Instead, Phillip guesstimated that "Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little." John 6:7.

Enter the boy with the "five barley loaves and two fish." John 6:9 It seems that he had brought more than enough for himself. Most likely, when his mother packed his lunch, she always threw in a little extra, just in case. I don't think she realized that this time she was preparing a meal for 5,000 plus. The boy came forward to help, and directly or indirectly, gave the food to Andrew, who then brought the small amount to Jesus. Jesus responded with, "OK. That should do it," gave thanks, and then proceeded to offer the boy's lunch to the crowd. Not only did everyone have enough to eat, but more food was gathered up from the left overs than the amount that had been originally served.

Was this truly a miracle?

"When the people saw the sign he had done, they said,
“This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.”" John 6:5-14-15

The fed multitude believed that something supernatural had occurred. The gathered had become sharers in the type of sign and wonder they had set out to behold.

Jesus then realized that the crowd, in response to what they had witnessed, wanted to carry Him off and make Him king there and then, so He escaped further off into the mountains alone. The apostles departed by boat without Jesus. The boat encountered rough water, and Jesus caught up with them, having crossed the water on foot, just as they reached the other side. It should be noted that many of the people who had "eaten the bread" also departed by boat and were surprised to find Jesus on the other side. He chastised them for being more excited about the bread, the temporal comfort and curiosity, than the implication of the sign, which He went on to connect first to the manna by which their father's were fed in the desert, and then directly to Himself, to the Eucharist. The chapter ends with Jesus repeating that His flesh is real food and His blood real drink multiple times, and that His followers must consume Him in order to have life.( John 6:53-58) For most of the gathered, Jesus' words were too hard to accept. Most walked away. Jesus then asked his closest friends if they were going to leave Him too? Peter responded as we must, "Lord, to whom shall we go?" John 6:68

John Chapter 6 is all about the Eucharist. Jesus is the Bread of Life. Jesus giving us His own flesh and His own blood as food and drink. This is miraculous. This is the central miracle of our faith. Jesus offered on the cross for us. Jesus as the Passover Lamb. It requires faith in the miraculous. More than that, it feeds faith in the miraculous.

The Gospel is still too hard for many to accept. The signs and wonders that Jesus worked are too difficult for many present day believers to fully embrace. Miracles must be made metaphor, the wonder relegated to internal spirituality. The natural interpretation trumps the supernatural. It isn't surprising that some liturgists have begun to more celebrate the gathered than the sacrifice for which we gather. Our God is a miracle. Jesus is still working wonders among us. We need to be a people of the wonder. We need to offer, unashamed, our belief in the wonders of our God to a world much in need of wonder. Accepting that Jesus miraculously fed a multitude of hungry people does not negate the role of the gathered in the miracle. Jesus allowed the saved to participate in the saving act. The young boy risks rejection and scorn by offering a small gift to a large problem. Much like Mary's humble yes to the Angel by which the Word became flesh, Jesus takes a small humble act and magnifies it. When Andrew brought the boys small gift before Jesus, he asked Jesus, "what is that among so many?" John 6:9 Jesus responded by feeding the multitude with 12 baskets in excess. In the company of Jesus, we can always confidently approach the needs before us, the struggle at hand, in our homes, in our parishes, or within our world, bringing no more than the strength, the intelligence, and the faith we have on hand. Some may ask, "what is that against so great a problem?" We know the answer. Everything.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Thanks to RAnn, hostess for Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival for the invite to take part this week. I've selected an appropriately carnival themed entry titled Be Not Afraid .

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Family That Prays Together Really Needs To

No. Really. It's true.

When my wife and I were newlyweds, we decided that when our "two become one" became three or more, that we would commit to praying as a family on a daily basis. We actually asked God in prayer to help us with this. (The knowing now nod knowingly.) Well - God really likes prayer, and you know, the more the merrier, so God must really enjoy family prayer. Asking God to help us pray is one of those slam dunk prayers. It's like asking Him to send forth His Spirit. He can't wait to say yes.

I'm sure you're familiar with the musings about what happens when you ask God for something. Metaphorically it breaks down like this: ask God for toast and he will make you hungrier so that you will learn how to make toast. Well, experience has shown us that asking God to make family prayer a daily norm is pretty much the same as asking God to send us more and more reasons to need Him - daily. Big reasons, sometimes.

In the eleven years since our stormy (El Niño downpour) Valentine's Day wedding, God has blessed us with a total of three healthy children, a comfortable house (although no A\C in 90+ temps at the moment), supportive friends and family, and a great parish community. We've also had the death of a parent and a grandparent, layoffs, unemployment, a broken hip and a broken knee (mine then hers), a child with asthma, and the assorted bumps in the head and bumps in the night that keep us, as a family, in daily need of a quality relationship with our loving and ever listening God. So - daily prayer is a given. The question then becomes, how does a family go about it?

* Family Prayer Fail
Just because we should and do pray as a family, doesn't mean we always get it right. One experiment that didn't go as planned was our attempt to address two challenges with a combo strategy. First, the kids were not loving bedtime. They didn't kiss us, pull their comforters up to their chins and cutely drift off to sleep each night. Second, we were finding ourselves so exhausted after finally getting the kids to sleep, that we would take turns falling asleep during our couple prayer time. My wife heard from a friend that small children could be lulled to sleep by the sound of their parents praying, so we decided that after the kids had been scrubbed, read to, prayed with, and tucked in, we would linger in the soft darkness of their room and say a rosary while they drifted to sleep, hopefully somewhere between the fist few decades. What follows is a near to actual transcript:

Me: In the name of the (put Superman down - under your pillow) of the Father, and of the (Now. Under the pillow and leave him there) and of the Son, and of (Here. Give it to me.)

Daughter 1: I'm thirsty.

Wife: Shhh. You already had a drink, baby. Lay down.

Me: And of the (leave your sister's hair alone!) and of the Holy Spirit.

Wife: Give Batman to me. Now. I told you he can't have these under his pillow.

Daughter 2: I have to go potty.

And so on . . .

* Family Prayer Alleluias
The good news is, in spite of stumbling here and there, we have been successful in establishing prayer as a natural component in our children's lives. Grace before meals (at home and in public.) Bedtime prayers. Road trip prayers. Siren prayers. Where did Daddy leave his car keys prayers. These are all norms of daily family prayer in our household. A phone call or a neighbor's knock at the door that presents someone facing a challenge will usually lead to a spontaneous prayer huddle joined by whomever is in the room at the time.

We continue to seek new ways to incorporate natural and authentic family conversations with God. My wife recently came up with a good one. She had purchased two nicely bound journals after we made our Marriage Encounter Weekend. Loved the weekend, but let's just say the journals were "available." My wife labeled one of them "Our Family Prayer Book" and the other "Our Family Miracle Book." We introduced them to the kids as our family prayer journals, and we told them that all of us would have access to write in them. The first journal was intended to record the needs which we were placing before God, our petitions and our intercessions. The second was to record God's answers - the big and little miracles that happen daily. We've found that it has been wonderfully insightful to be reminded of the storms that threatened our little boat last year, realizing now that God had seen us through each storm . The Miracle Book, which is basically our thank you notes to God, is where we really write our family story. This is an ongoing record of God saying yes to our prayers, where we remember in written form all of our family's safe comings and goings, our prayers for the health of family and friends, recovery from illness, the security of our home and neighborhood, even the found keys and action figures. This is where we can say to God, "Wow! Thanks! That was awesome! Again!"

And so the journey continues. We continue to pray together. As a family. Daily. How could we not? Why would we not? Lord, to whom would we go?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

If They Had Twitter

by @BroThunder1 Me n John totally left our boats today, full nets and all, right there @ the shoreline.
J says we're still fishing. ;)

by @John_o_Zeb Wedding still going strong. More dance - more food - lots of wine.

by @BroThunder1 J just cleaned a leper! Amazing!! Gonna stick close to him. . .

by @Simon_Peter Jesus started me on water walking today! Got a few steps in then sank! Need lots of practice. Not sure how he wants me to use this . . .

by @thomas_of_JC Confused 2nite. My turn to pick up food. Got back & was told J had been by. Up & walking. Want to BLieve, but Y come when I was out? Just saying.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Could You Please Not Look at Me Like That?

Faces. Toys with faces. That's where the trouble starts. I have always had a serious issue with thinning out (code for discarding) our children's old, broken, or outgrown toys. My biggest struggle has been with the toys that look back at me while I'm dropping or stuffing them into an oversized plastic trash bag.

My wife, God bless her, can sweep through a stash of treasured toys with the compassion of an industrial wet/vac. She has the gift of seeing plastic, cardboard and paint where I see Woody, Percy and Po. She does not understand my struggle. For her, my pain is simply a ploy to put off cleaning the over crowded playroom. I don't agree, but I do have to consider that some truth might lurk within her assessment. I've learned to re-listen to my wife's "input," and have discovered much. That's one of the gifts of our sacrament.

It is true, cleaning out the playroom, whose rug has not been sighted since Christmas vacation, is not my first pick for quality together-time. But it is a job that needs doing. Our children have never been the kids who get too many toys. They basically wait for Christmas or their birthdays. Aside from that, it's the little semi toys that come with a kids meal, or the take homes from their friends birthday parties. Throw into that mix the occasional grand prize stuffed animal gleaned from "the Claw." But our eldest is 10 and the youngest is nearing 8. Toys add up. They accumulate. They cluster and pile. They gather in drawers labeled "lined paper." They hide down couch cushions, and the stuffed variety especially like to assemble on bunk beds and along playroom shelves. So, enjoy the task or not, I agree that it needs to be done. It's kind of like thinning out deer. Someone has to do it. But when it comes to bagging my quota of tossed away toys, it truly is a trial for me. Let me present my case.

First, the faces really do bother me. Specifically, the stuffed animals and the action figures (a plastic Calliou or Boots may not technically qualify as an action figure, but for brevity's sake I will stand them alongside one legged Spiderman and Gaston.) As a Dad, I have immersed myself into my children's world, gone along on the ride with them. I watched the Wiggles with them. I learned the songs and danced the dances with them. I collected Blues Clues and pretended not to guess until the third clue with them. Their make-believe friends became my friends. As my kids moved from rug crawlers to two wheel bike riders, I delighted in their delight. I learned to squint and see stars instead of street lights. My kids taught me wonder again, and how to lean just enough into imagination to see life in a cloth face. So, it hurts a little to shove Tommy Pickles into a trash bag. I feel a little guilty watching one of the Country Bears tumble into the abyss of crumpled drawings and broken crayons. (Don't even get me started on drawings - another post.) The faces wear human expressions, and more than that, they were important to my kids, and even though they are now outgrown, some of them still are important to them. Why else do we always schedule the toy purges for times when the kids are not around?

Second, I have a well exercised imagination. I am very much to blame for giving some of the life to these "items." It has become a bedtime tradition with my daughters for the assortment of stuffed kittens, monkeys, baby dolls, and pokemen to come to life in the land of blankets. The drill goes like this: Dad, while tucking them in, drifts suddenly to sleep, which is the queue for whichever stuffed creatures are nearby to come to life and spontaneously partake in a mostly whispering, sometimes giggling, and sometimes (too loud) laughing "playdate." The girls have become very creative and are usually ready with themes, such as Animal Olympics, Animal Idol, Hide & Seek or just random silliness. I can't be too certain. As I've said, I'm already asleep when things kick off.

With my son it has always been all about the action. Heroes and villains, battles and quests - even in blanket land. We would begin by choosing teams, playground style. Certain characters were "protected" from my draft. I would never even think about picking Robin, Knuckles, or Optimus Prime. Still, He-Man, Donatello, and a couple of Bat Men would suffice. It really didn't matter who I picked anyway. His side always won. Eventually.

Imagination, like a muscle, gains strength the more it is used. The problem is, the same child-like "eye" that sees the kitten in the cotton also hears a plaintive "meow" as said feline is bagged away.

The third thing is probably the most telling. The passing of toys is a graphic reminder of the passage of time. When my son was two, blue was his favorite color. He had a non poseable, cape-less Superman that he carried everywhere. Superman had a bald spot on the back of his head from my son's thumb. Within a year it was Thomas the Tank Engine. Still blue. Cooler toy. More friends and accessories. Robin followed, with a color preference change to red. Next came Raphael, the red bandanna'd Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (at least he had an Angel's name), then Optimus Prime, and then Knuckles from Sonic. Each of these favorite toys represents at least a year in my son's life. Learning to walk. Loosing the first tooth. Starting Kindergarten. I used to lie close to his sleeping two year old face and ask God, "Can I get a thousand years of this moment in heaven." I made the same request when he was three. And four. And so on. I am so blessed that God has lent these three young souls to my wife and I. That He has loved us into a family. As a dad I am humbled and proud to watch them become: my son, the soccer playing graphic artist with an eye on his sister's guitar; my eldest daughter, who has already written a song on her little sister's guitar (and performed it publicly twice, with her sister); and the youngest, who seems to be in the biggest hurry to move forward, to keep up with her older siblings, and whenever possible, to pass them.

I love this day, where we are as a family now, and I can't wait to discover the road ahead with them. I pray it is an eternal road. But even now, a certain toy can make me ache for the younger them, and remind me just how fast this temporal life plays out. And so, things become symbols, and symbols become metaphorically weighted and harder to throw out.

I know my wife will understand when she reads this. And then she'll say get over it and hand me another bag. She's right. They are just toys. Material things which will pass and be replaced. But I know she feels it too. Her weakness is clothing, but she has a solution. When she discards their old play clothes, she cuts a swath of material from it first and keeps it. She is planning on making a quilt at some point down the line. Maybe I could save pieces of their toys and construct a sculpture. No - all those faces would just make it creepy.

NOTE: discarded toys and clothing are of the stained, torn, drawn on, and hairless doll kind of variety. Clean, usable toys and clothing are donated to charitable organizations - faces and all.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Candle Wishes

Another birthday. I've racked up quite a few of these. It's funny, the association we have with that one calendar square that marks the day on which we were born. On that day, each year, we are made to feel special, honored, and wished well by our family and friends. Just for being born. Not for being a father, or a graduate, or someone's valentine. Just for being. That's nice. Hazzah to birthdays.

I had to work today, but I was treated to a 5 AM hot breakfast and coffee, and got a birthday hug from my wife and all three children! Each of the kids leaned briefly out of their dreams to smile and breathe "Happy Birthday Daddy" and "I love you Daddy" into my ear. I didn't wake them selfishly. I was keeping a promise they had all procured at bedtime last night. Besides, it's summer vacation. They easily tumbled back into whatever dreamscape I had borrowed them from. They were all rightfully asleep again by the time I left for work at 5:30.

Now it's only a guess, but I suspect that there may be cake tonight, and that my wife and kids will possibly sing "Happy Birthday" to me, and more than likely there will be at least one symbolic candle on the cake which I will be responsible for extinguishing (a literal application of 1 candle for each year would lead to all of the clichéd scenarios including, but not limited to, smoke alarm soundings and retinal image stamping.) The responsibility of "blowing out the candles" carries with it the entitlement of a birthday wish. The birthday wish rules are as follows: 1.) the blower must make the wish prior to blowing out the candles; 2.) all candles must be blown out for the wish to be granted; 3.) the wish cannot be audibly spoken to others or it is invalidated.

I've never put much faith in wishes, although I feel they are harmless enough. I do make them. I think I categorize wishes as little prayers. When I make them, I make a mental hop from the wished upon object to the true hearer of wishes. In that way, the wish becomes a prompt for prayer. A reminder to pray. I put a lot of faith in prayer. All of my faith actually. My prayers and the prayers of others.

It's interesting to note, when contrasting wishes and prayers, that we light a candle when offering a prayer, and we extinguish one when making a wish. We wish on "blown out" birthday candles. We wish on falling stars. We wish on coins tossed into a fountain. Extinguished lights and lost treasure. There seems to be a pattern of wishing on diminished things. At least a connection of the wish to a loss or a cost incurred, unless the birthday candle wish is more appropriately linked to the accomplishment of the snuffing by way of the huffing and puffing, and not with the metaphoric loss of light. I know. Over thinking.

A prayer is a thing begun, a cry called out, a sounding to God. When we light a candle, the flame represents our prayer, reminds us that our prayer speaks on throughout the day and into the long dark hours of the night. Our prayer continues to burn in the presence of our all knowing God long after we have moved on, returned to our cares and our distractions.

There is the tradition of wishing on the evening's first star. "Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight . . ." This image more fits that of the lit candle. Here's an idea. The next time you see a "first star," attach a prayer to it and watch as it flickers before the God of the cosmos. Watch next as all of heaven fills up with more stars, and know that your single prayer has been joined by the prayers of the entire mystical Body of Christ. Soon candles fill the sky as heaven and earth joins your prayer. Cloistered nuns interceding on your behalf, the infirm and suffering who join their trials to the work of Christ. The rosary ladies at daily mass. The email prayer-chain warriors. Saints and angels. The most forgotten souls in Purgatory. All of them saying amen along with you, helping to carry your petition before the face of our great and generous God. Hazzah to the pray-ers.

This will be my wish tonight, my prayer, actually: that our great, mighty, and awesome God will hear and hold each of our prayers. That our God will visit us like the sleeping children that we our, seek us out in the midst of our dreams, and whisper into our hearts. That God will smile when we reply with our imperfect and half awake prayers, when we speak into His ear, whisper that we love Him, before slipping back into the distracting dream that is our temporal world.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Be Not Afraid

   A church carnival is a great place to confront fear in a safe (for the most part) simulated environment. Books and movies can invite our minds to enter dark cobwebbed passageways without a candle, and to conjure up treacherous obstacles and horrifying monsters, but a carnival ride puts our body in the game. The rides are designed for maximum scream factor, within a church carnival budget. We're not talking 6 Flags here, but the creaking, spinning, rising, and dropping carny rides can get the job done. The target audience is the tweens and teens, whose healthy limber bodies tend to better endure the physical retching and tossing without actually physically retching and tossing. This is especially true for frequent flying. Nothing is more disheartening than to triumphantly dismount the Hammer of Death after 3 minutes of absolute chaos with your arm adhered around a six year old, smiling and laughing the entire time in order to more convincingly model courage and coolness, and then to have the said six year old squeal, "That was awesome, Daddy! Let's do it again!" I remember one "thrill attraction" in particular which had my youngest daughter so blissfully excited that the ride operator smiled and sent us past the load/unload position for a second tour "on the house." She could not believe our luck, while I laughed along with her and internally screamed the silent scream.

   I think it's a good thing for our children to test their courage with campfire stories and carnival rides. I still remember my sister's thrill at the close of one summer when she finally forced herself to step off of the high dive at our local public pool. The little victories are critical in preparing us for the larger tribulations we will in time confront. As an adult, I have learned to put my trust in God. I place my fears before God in prayer, and then move on in confidence that "God's Will" will indeed be done. This addresses fear at a faith level, but it doesn't necessarily free me from feelings of anxiety or concern. Not yet, anyway. I'm a work in progress.

   For me, the carnival ride is a perfect metaphor. I know that the ride will end well. I have watched others encounter the ride before me, and as I buckle myself in, I remind myself that the danger will be mostly an illusion, but while I'm strapped in and the "fun" is underway, feelings of fear are expected. Just as rides are engineered to fool our senses into thinking we will fall out, or that the car will leave the track, the trials and tribulations of this 88 year (plus or minus only God knows) temporal life can seem much more critical, or frightening, or hopeless than they truly are,  seen outside of the context of a firm faith in eternal life. Eventually, the ride ends well. It might get bumpy and I might lose my egg roll lunch - but it will end, and forever will just be getting started.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Pentecost Sunday | LOLSaints

A smiling nod to Pentecost Sunday linked from the truly LOL blog LOL Saints . Laughter and lessons with each post! LOL Saints has been nominated for a couple of Catholic New Media 2009 awards. Be sure to vote at

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Staying In There

   Our Little League season has once again come to an end. My son's has anyway. Funny how we add ourselves to the possessive collective. "We" win or "we" lose. "We," the taco-boat eating, cola drinking bleacher contingent. We know our positions: second row of the bleachers, close enough to the batter to get into trouble with the plate umpire. We never actually stepped up to the plate or fielded any grounders. No hits, no runs, no errors. Our kids put their bodies and dreams on the field, but still it was our team too, collectively. And we lost the first two playoff games. Double elimination. Nothing left now but the pool party. That, and a little reflection on the season that was.

   This year, our son moved up to the Minor A division, which meant bigger kids, and faster, harder pitches. This was an adjustment that didn't come easily for our little leaguer. From the first practice game and then into the season, he developed the bad habit of stepping out of the batter's box on strike pitches. His eyes were telling him the pitch was in the danger zone, so as a matter of self preservation, he would back away from a potential bean ball only to hear the umpire growl "striiiiike!" Again and again.
   The coach talked with him, encouraging him to "stay in there." The coach talked to us. We talked to the coach. My son and I logged a lot of hours at the batting cages where he would confidently slug away at the machine pitched balls. We were given many suggestions. Stand a little further away from the plate. Wear a rib protection undershirt. One father suggested that I take him to the park and fire a bucket full of tennis balls right at him. Normally more of an offensive player, my son became increasingly less and less a fan of the plate, and instead enthusiastically developed his defensive skills, which was a positive side effect. 

   Eventually, when his batter's eye adjusted, the problem went away, but first there were a few weeks worth of games with the coach, my wife and I, and even some other parents, routinely encouraging my son through the chain link fence to "be a hitter" and to "stay in there." There were times when I wished that I could download the confidence I held for him into into his own young psyche, to help him to see that the monster he was wrestling with was not as terrible as it appeared. I knew that he was more than capable of staying in there, confronting the pitch and getting quality hits.

   Of course, we didn't speak much of the real possibility that he might indeed get tagged by a pitch. Every time that I encouraged him to "stay in there" I was acutely aware of the fact that it was his body on the line, not mine. Easier said than done. He never said it, but I wouldn't have called him on it. It's funny how we chant these mantras of affirmation with the hope that what we speak will become reality. Wouldn't it be nice if it was that easy? 

   How would it be for my kids to follow me around during my day, watching me take the field in my game? It would start with the 5 am cell phone alarm.

Son: Come on Dad. Hustle up. Be a provider, now.

Daughter A: Alright Daddy! Find those car keys.

It would continue during the commute.

Daughter B: Good merge Daddy! Take the fast lane! Take the fast lane!

   Throughout the day I would see them, the kids and the wife, just beyond my cubicle, sipping iced sodas, eating churros and hot dogs, watching my every move, my every play.

Wife: Let's go, honey! Get in the game! Don't be surfing the internet!

Daughter A: Hey Daddy, hey Daddy, hey Daddy - EARN!

   And of course, I would depend upon them to keep me focussed on the fundamentals. Difficult customer? Losing patience?

Son: That's OK Dad. God loves him. Offer it up.

   Maybe my department is going through a stressful period, or a co-worker is struggling with a physical or emotional burden.

Daughter B: Alright, Daddy! Let's hear some intercessorary chatter out there.

Son: Yeah, Dad, be aggressive!. Let's pray!

Daughter A: Go, Daddy! Be a pray-er!

   This scenario is actually not that far fetched when I consider that our unseen God and the community of saints and angels are ever present in even my most insignificant hour. I do have fans in the bleachers cheering me on. And the love and prayers of my wife and kids place them in those same virtual bleachers. I am not alone. None of us are. We only need eyes to see and ears to hear. Our God believes in us, and in every moment of temptation, doubt, or fear, our heavenly fan base is rooting for us, encouraging us to step up to the plate in the face of our largest trials, and to find the faith to "stay in there" swinging for the fences.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

It's Poem In Your Pocket Day

Today is Poem in Your Pocket Day. What a fitting way to complete National Poetry Month! To learn more about this poetic celebration visit from the Academy of American Poets.

For my literary contribution, I have selected something I wrote several years ago when my three kids were tinier.  Middle daughter has always been joyously tactile in her appreciation of God's creation and the little corners of it that she gets to co create within.

small sacraments of a daughter 
by T. F. Silva

In the bathroom:
a paper cup, a plastic spoon,
a pool of puddled water poured
into a small pond upon the tiled floor.

In the hallway:
patches of damp carpet
places where your tipping vessel
(a teapot? a cereal bowl? a purse?)
required more balance than your tip
toed passage could provide.

In the playroom
I see without seeing:
a tabletop of lids and cups
boxes and tins
and you apportioning
dispensing each to each
in splashy messy wonder.

If I called out, "Emily?"
the silence would still speak
of you, bottom lip puckered,
half pushed out, anxiously
hoping for the transparency
of your non reply.

Aquarian maiden, water princess,
pour forth your liquid generosity
Cana-like, plentiful,
splattery passionate,
and leave for me the privilege
of the cleaning up.

And now, a word from a master:

Pied Beauty 
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things--
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
       For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough;
       And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                     Praise Him.

So - happy Poem in Your Pocket Day! A couple of my favorite poetry sites are the above referenced and former National Poet Laureate Ted Kooser's American Life in Poetry.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Today is Talk Like Shakespeare Day

   Dang the snooze button anyway! It should be called the snooze-you-lose button. How is it that I am so easily seduced by it's empty promises? Message to self - do the math. Delaying wake up by increments of 7 minutes will equal being late to work by increments of 7 minutes. Why increments of 7 minutes? That's what it gives me. Never set it. Never will. Why? Because I don't use the snooze button. Except when I do.

   Apparently I can be sold anything at 5 am in the morning. Like the idea that an additional 7 minutes will make getting out of bed a more enjoyable experience. Like the expectation that an additional 7 minutes of sleep will actually be experienced as a passage of time, and not just an immediate re-slap to the face. I don't know why telemarketers bother me at dinner time. I'm wide awake then and in no mood to hold for an important message. That's the time my wife and I are attempting to set food in front of the kids, keep the cat away from said food, and keep said food away from the carpet, laptops, heater vents and other non-food presentation surfaces. Oh - and my wife and I try to eat said food as well. Don't call me then. Call me at 5 am. It appears I am much more gullible at that hour and would probably be happily receptive to random offers of time shares and mortgage refies. And then call me again 7 minutes later. I'll probably buy another time share.

   Did you know that today is Talk Like Shakespeare Day? It is. It's official. April 23rd is the date usually given for William Shakespeare's birthday. The actual date is not on record. He was baptised on April 26th, 1564, and eventually died on April 23rd, 1616. I was expecting a Shakespearized Google page today - but no. Just Google in ordinary time. Anyway, I thought I would celebrate by penning the following monologue. The lone player, Tomardius, is late for work and having a conversation with his dashboard clock (write what you know.) Let's listen in.

Tomardius' Monologue
Act I Scene I: interior car, morning
Muted clock, thou slayeth me. Wordless, thy trumpet screameth to all sky. What need hast thou of vocabulary? Thou mocketh me that clocketh me. Devoid of passion, thou art logic's clodpole. Unengaged in the very torment that thou maketh manifest, thou showest me no mercy. Champion of my fault, setting forth my failure as a play in light, tenacious in its witness, unflinching in condemnation of my folly and yet seemingly witless of it's crushing weight upon me. Oh, thou art enjoying this. I could subdue thee. I could recreate thee in the image of mine own intent. Set the world and all creation spinning in reverse with but the command of a single button. I could change thee. But thou and I wouldst know the thing. Oh vexing arithmetic! The lie wouldst indeed be sweet, like sugar drizzled down upon candy, and then in chocolate wed! I would make my tongue the willing bed. O kittenhack! My lie would on it's countenance bare like a blemish the reminder of it's contrary nature. Never the thing, but the thing, plus or minus the lie. No. And I'll not give voice to thy sister radio. I'll not have thee joined, a villainous chorus of woe, reminding me of my inadequacies. Nay! Thou hast not won thy victory. I shall raise up now in resolve that which I failed to raise up in my person. Fly. I shall race yon Apollo. I shall rob the titan of his flame with the tempest of my wake. Watch now, wordless spitgape. I shall yet seize and own this hatchling day. Aside! What? Who is this scarlet interloper beckoning for mine other eye. Speak herald. What news bring thee? Low on fuel? Hellkite! I am slain.


   To learn more about Talk Like Shakespeare Day go to  and release your inner bard. 

   Was Shakespeare Catholic? Amardeep Singh, Blogger and Assistant Professor of English at Lehigh University considers the possibility in her blog, linked Here. Singh references a Shakespeare biography by Stephen Greenblatt titled Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. Singh draws from a review of the book in the Chronicle which can be read Here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It's Official - It's All About the Donuts

If you read it in a blog, it must be true!

"In a double blind study that stands to become a landmark in the sociology of religion, American sociologist and RBCU* professor James Thurber has discovered the hidden source in contemporary practices of Catholic religiosity: donuts." The Ironic Catholic

Read all the tasty proof at

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Creation Is Messy

     A puppet theater. That was the vision our middle daughter went forth with (actually, out back with in this case.) It started as a group project, suggested by her older brother. Her little sister and a couple of neighbor kids were around as well when the idea was hatched. I'm not sure how focussed the vision was at first, or how long it remained a group project. Minutes apparently. Later, when cleanup was suggested, none of the others took ownership. When I came upon the project in it's final stages, the other children had long left the effort and the yard. They were in the living room playing Wii with flesh colored hands. But this daughter, she was still embracing the vision. The vision was also embracing her, and the outdoor storage box that she was creating upon.    My wife frowned from the doorway when she saw me taking a photo of the artist at work. Why was I documenting a mess?
    Our family vitally requires my wifes practicality. For example, she thought of having our little Jackson Pollock remove her shoes before encountering the living room carpet. I would have thought of that too, and thought of it again and again as I was futilely scrubbing foam carpet cleaner into the newly tie-dyed berber
    Creation is messy, be it puppet theaters or the cosmos. Sometimes the painter spills. Sometimes the spillage is the thing. Even for a moment.  Considering myself, I sometimes wonder if God created me on his canvas, or on his dropcloth. Thank God we were all keepers.

If you would like to get "virtually" in touch with your own inner-mess maker, try your own take on Jackson Pollock creativity at  Enter .

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Will There Be Donuts?

     I remember one Sunday morning a few years back, my wife and I were hurriedly buckling the kids into the minivan trying to beat the start time for the next Mass at St. Convenience's. St Convenience is any parish other than your usual parish that has a mass time which most closely fits an altered Sunday itinerary. You either slept in late because of a pretty good Saturday night, or you're going in early so that you can squeeze in an all day event immediately afterwards. Basically minimum requirement triaging. I don't remember the specific reason for that Sunday morning, but I do remember explaining the change in our schedule to our youngest as I buckled her into her carseat. She had only one question.
     "Will there be doughnuts?"
     "Oh no!" I thought, "The carrot has been taken from the stick - and she knows." I also remember making the attempt to ease her disappointment with a little preschool catechesis, and I think I remember not being very successful.
It wasn't her fault. She had a very good right to be disappointed, because it really wasn't about the donuts. This particular daughter usually orphaned her donut after a single bite and ran off to be busy with the real attraction of coffee hour. Being in the moment of community. Outside voices inside (with an outside option on most days.) Running, weaving through the maze of chairs and tables, giddy laughing, untethered. Finding friends, or making some. The happy buzz of dozens of voices speaking at once, as one.
     At mass, we the collected, the unsorted assembly, are called to be one. We are called to communion. We are called to become one body. In the Eucharist, we become that one body. Even though we rush in from so many different points of view and states of grace, our God re images us into one harmonious people. Is it wrong then, to want to take this gift from the politeness of our pews and not immediately disperse it to the parking lot? Isn't it a good thing to commit twenty more minutes for a kind of second communion, to spend time actually in communion with the other human faces of our Lord's Eucharistic presence? I mean, most of the people we worship with and share the miracle with, never get past a hand shaking relationship with us. Head nods and smiles and parking lot waves. 
     We should let the kids run a bit. They've been (mostly) quiet for an hour. We could have a cup of coffee and maybe a refill. Find out how George's surgery went. Hear about Tom and Joy's vacation. Get an update on the Smith's kids, and their kid's kids. Welcome the stranger. Listen to the aged. Share stories. Plan plans. Dream dreams. Grow together.
Donuts can be a very good thing. Maple bars. Old fashioned. Jelly filled. Come on people. Let there be donuts.