Sunday, February 21, 2010

Tell me about the God You Don't Believe In

In my first year of grad school, I took a foundational Theology class. One day my professor listed some famous atheists, and described their theories of why God doesn't exist. After explaining them all, she asked for thoughts. I raised my hand and said "it seems to me that before their unbelief came belief- a belief in a God of a particular type- that is, they imagined who God was, or who God should be, before deciding that God wasn't what they thought He should be."
Atheism is fascinating to me, in much the same way as walking a tightrope without a net. Aside from my love of God and real feeling of God's love for me, I acknowledge that to live without the comfort of believing that there is more than this would make me panic. In a real way, I need to believe that there is more, better, waiting for me and for my loved ones, or I don't know how I'd get through life. And I do believe it, and it does guide the way I live.
I remember in my mid-twenties, realizing that I just shouldn't call my mother when I was upset about something. As lovely a person as she is, she just couldn't give me what I wanted when I was sad. I wanted "poor baby" and she could only give me "get over it." It isn't her fault, it is just who she is. It was my ability to shift my understanding of her that set me free from constantly being disappointed in her, and to know her better- who she really is.
In the same way, I remember just a few years ago, having an epiphany driving in to work one day. I was thinking back at some of the very tough times and difficult experiences that I'd gone through in ministry, and realizing how much I had learned. But the big AHA was this: all that time, when I had been asking God to fix things and make my life easier and more pleasant, He was instead, teaching me. I had been looking for a God that would rescue me from pain, and He had been, all the time, a God who was a mentor- a teacher and companion.
Again, it was me who changed- I was the one who realized that I had tried to imagine God in my own image, to fit my desires. It would be comforting to have a God that supplies all our wants- but instead I know that God was relating to me in a way that I truly need. Every week at Mass we recall the persecution, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. It occurs to me: if God wasn't a God who would intervene to stop the suffering of His own Son, why did I think He should intervene to stop mine? Realizing this about God set me free from constantly being disappointed in Him, and to know God better- who S/He really is.
Don't get me wrong, I would love a pain-free life. But now I am comforted by the belief that God mourns when I mourn, laughs with (and at) me, and reveals God's self to me through everything I experience. It has changed my prayer life- I don't really ask God for things in prayer anymore, but rather I turn to Him to share my life with someOne who loves me infinitely. I am still learning about God.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bad Attitude.

I have a bad attitude about Grad School this semester. My classes are fine, but only one of them is really thrilling me to any extent. They both involve a lot of busy-work, and that frustrates me. I resent having to take time away from work to study something that doesn't support my work, like the stupid Holistic Formation nonsense that I've mentioned here before. Last week at HoFo we had to color symbols about our inner and outer lives on paper and make them into mobius strips, and it was all I could do to keep from spraining my eyeballs, in keeping them from rolling.
Plus, I'm getting tired of having something to do all the time. I bought yarn to make a scarf a couple of weeks ago, and haven't even started it because every time I sit still enough to crochet, I should be reading.
I know, Wahhhh.
I dunno. Maybe next semester will be more enthralling. At least then HoFo will be out of my way. Ah look, now it's too late to do all that reading. Tomorrow, then.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Light a Candle For Me

Today, in the middle of a baptism ceremony, I was outside the doors of the chapel waiting for the last stragglers to arrive. An older man approached me and said "where can I light a candle?" I said "I'm so sorry, but we don't have candles to light here." I explained that the bank of prayer candles that we had before had burned, and now we don't have it. (So many church fires have started from those candles. It seems like every church I know has had a fire or two from those candles. It must be impossible for churches to be insured to have those candles anymore.) He said "What?? No candles to light?" I said "no, I'm sorry, but it burned down!" (this was a bit of an exaggeration- there was a fire, but it was extinguished pretty quickly, from what I'm told. But I wanted him to know that we didn't take the candles out just for the heck of it, but only because it's dangerous.)
He was angry! He said "have things changed that much??? This is the third church I've visited, and the other two were locked!!! What the heck?!?!"
I was stuck. I understand wanting to light a candle. But here we were, just outside of the baptism, and I was suddenly having to explain to this man, who clearly hadn't been in a church in many years, who desperately wanted to light a candle for his prayer. I just said "I'm so sorry. I'll pray for you." He harumphed and headed to the elevator.
I love the act of lighting a candle, love the symbolism of it, and do it whenever I get the chance, in the churches we visit on our days off. But the candle, well, it's just a symbol. The important part of the whole thing is the prayer! He could have just dropped to his knees in that hallway (or stayed standing, for crying out loud) and prayed to God and it would have been just as much of a prayer as the lighting of those candles.
It's so easy to get into habits in prayer- I can certainly relate to that. And in a church with lots of rules and rituals, it's easy to land on those rather than remember that God just wants to hear from us- with a candle, with a rosary, with a cry, with a song, with a letter... with a plea for help from behind the steering wheel. I know that man felt frustrated today, and I know I didn't help him, but I also know that God heard his prayer, candle or no.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Friend Your Parish!

I got asked again the other day about Facebook in ministry- it's something I get asked about a surprising amount. I am sort of the Social Media Minister at our parish, updating our parish Facebook page, Twitter account, and blog. People want to know if we've had any problems with it, if we feel comfortable and safe using technology, with all its risks. They want to know how we keep our privacy protected.
When I started my Facebook account, I never dreamed that it would become a place where I would interact with my friends. I opened it as a means of contacting kids, who nowadays never read email, never answer phone calls, and don't seem to be even aware that there is such a thing as mail. It seems that if you want to contact kids, you'd better have access to Facebook. In fact, I recommend to parents that once their kids are in college, Facebook will be the best way to reach their kids, because they check it and update it constantly.
Since then, I've found friends from my 4th grade class on Facebook, and a lot of my peers and friends now are on it. I know Youth Ministers who have two Facebook identities, one that is open to their kids/parishes, and one that is for their personal friends. I can certainly understand that. As for me, having my parish members accessing my page keeps me honest- and keeps me from saying anything too outrageous on my status updates. I don't particularly want pictures of me on the internet if they're inappropriate for a kid to see, anyway.
I love the way Facebook helps me connect with people, love how soon I know about important news in the parish, how easy it is to reach out to people in important moments. When a teenager in our parish had a car accident, we knew right away. When kids' Grandparents die, we can send condolences. When someone has a birthday, we can send blessings. Ironically, our community is more inter-engaged with facebook than we ever were before.
I do see the danger in this, the grey-able boundaries. But I also know that interactions between people on Facebook are traceable, recordable. There's actually a layer of safety there that is missing in phone conversations.
And now the Pope recommends that priests start blogging and looking at social media as a means for spreading the Gospel. I agree with the Pope. How about that!!
I know that new technologies arouse suspicion in every generation. I keep thinking about Katie the housekeeper in Meet Me In St. Louis, who mistrusted the telephone. Her line "Personally, I wouldn't marry a man who proposed to me over an invention" is an echo of people's current concerns about Facebook, I think. So friend your parish, follow its Twitter Feed, and check its blog often! Be connected!

Friday, February 05, 2010


Busy week! We hosted the Called and Gifted workshop at our parish this week, with much success. I have a ton to blog about, including the fact that when I picked up one of the speakers at the airport, she said "do you by any chance have a blog?" Yikes! It never did become clear whether or not she really had seen my blog, but I have, I'm sure, mentioned their Institute before, so if they are in the habit of self-googling, they could certainly have come up with this little rag. Anyway, there's my brush with fame. (Hi Sherry!)
The workshop was wonderful, and has people in the parish intrigued, inspired, and wanting more. But an equally interesting part of the week for me was hearing from these mid-and western-ers, their observations about Boston; as a town, and as an Archdiocese. It was a little bit like bringing friends from college home with me on break, and suddenly seeing my family through their eyes.
The first night, I went to dinner with Fr. Mike, one of the directors of the Institute, and one of the things he asked me was how the Archdiocese is doing since the Scandal. I told him that basically we all are in a state of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder- we've all gone on with our lives and ministries, but nothing really is untouched or un-influenced by what we went through. There is still a real sense of paranoia, which makes every church employee aware of how whatever they're doing, might be construed by someone, as inappropriate. This, among other symptoms, is the legacy of our Scandal.
But as the week went on, I thought a lot about his question, and what he and Sherry, the other Siena Director, might be observing and thinking about us. I started to wonder- is it just me? Am I the only one with this paranoia? Am I the only one who flinches when I hear the Archdiocese mentioned on the news?
At the end of the week, and out to dinner again with our speakers, the topic came up again. I said "I think it would be shocking to anyone around here, to know that people who lived away from here during the height of the Scandal, don't realize how traumatic it was." It seems to me that people who lived elsewhere considered this an awful thing in the news, terrible to consider, but they don't seem to have that PTSD that we have. The other dinner companions confirmed that it really was traumatic in the midst of it, and that the legacy continues for us. Sherry, on our way out of the restaurant, admitted that she was surprised to hear the lingering pain. She said "I guess I kind of figured that people around here would be over it." Really, a shocking statement to me. I guess only those of us who went through it know how little actual healing work was done by the Archdiocese, back then and since then. But I told Sherry that it's an important reality for people to know about if they're going to work in the area.
At dinner that night, Fr. Mike said something about how, to be fair, the Bishops were responding to the "experts" who told them that the abusers would be fine. I acknowledged that we all knew that to be true, and that we know things were different back in the 60's, that we know much more now... but what I wish I'd said was this: be careful about how quickly you settle on that as an excuse. Every horrible stage in history, every movement that victimized people, had experts who said things were okay. But at some point, leaders have to take responsibility. Ours should have. The fact that times were different back then is true, but not a good enough excuse.
The week still has me thinking about this, still looking at our lives from the outside perspective and wondering, is it just me? Is this feeling of PTSD just something that parish ministers are feeling? Am I just holding grudges? I'd love to be "over it." Am I the last one to feel the legacy of the Scandal?