Friday, September 24, 2010


My friend Kristen and I have had numerous conversations about the thought of palanca. It's the spiritual practice of offering up a sacrificial action to help another person in prayer. I don't know if that's a good description, but the gist of our conversations has been that we're not sure we get palanca, or see how it works, and struggle with the implications of it-- that is, if walking with a pebble in my shoe would bend the will of God, well... what the heck?
But now, I get it because someone I love is very sick. Suddenly, I am anxious to do palanca- I want to do something- ANYTHING- to help Katherine. I want to feel pain and suffering if it means that she doesn't have to. I want to do anything to help. I want to give give give to make sure that she gets.
And it dawns on me that I don't know how or if palanca works, I don't know how or if prayer works, and somehow that doesn't matter now- I am coming to see that doubt is for the safe, the secure, the comfortable. Katherine's mother said to me "we'll beat this, because there's no other option." And to me, there's no other option but to turn to God and fall on Him and offer what I can offer, so I will do it, whether I get how it works or not.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

7 Quick Takes: G.O.F. Edition

During my first class with the RE Guru, we were asked to say our names and "what we bring to the table." I should have said "I love kitties" but instead I said "I work at a parish that does Whole Community Catechesis really well." He was happy to hear that, and said "Oh we'll be doing a lot of talking about that this semester, maybe you can do a presentation for us!" (Crap. Note to self: kitties next time.)
But the truth is I am massively proud of our parish and especially of our parish's work in faith formation. Last night we had our opening session of Generations of Faith, starting our year of focus on the Liturgical Year, and it went fabulously well- our parish hall was packed to the gills with happy people, and the breakouts... well, let me tell you what I love about Whole Community Catechesis in seven quick takes...

1) Okay so we call it Whole Community, but lately I am liking better the term "Total Community Catechesis" which is what BC prefers to call it. I like that title because the "total" in TCC means total community, that is, that the whole parish community is invited to learn and grow. All ages, all stages, everyone who is present and not, everyone who would traditionally be in a faith formation and everyone who wouldn't be caught dead in a faith formation program. But "total" also refers to the methods used by a parish to meet those people. GOF, yes, of course, but also publications, programs like LEX and parent groups and Mass and Facebook and Twitter. It allows us at our parish to be incredibly creative and try new things and explore new ways of doing faith formation that has made us grow in amazing ways, and the parish too.

2) Last night we had over 250 people in our hall, and it looked like around 20% of them were new. A 20% increase in faith formation registrations??? Amazing. Our intern who will be working with us this year attended for the first time and said it was like nothing she had ever seen before. She visited every breakout and was, she said, really impressed. In my parent group she sat next to a woman who said "I'm here because my (elementary school-aged) daughter begged me to come." Not one complaint was heard, there were smiles all around, and the energy was amazing. A man approached our dre and said "the community here is wonderful!" Someone finding our community wonderful, through participating in faith formation??? Amazing. (and it is a wonderful community, in large part due to this program.

3) On the other hand, I was amazed and pleased last night to realize how many people there I knew. There were so many familiar faces, whole families that I knew. I remembered that as a youth minister in my first parish, I would often have kids pass through my program for 6 full years without ever meeting their parents. Now, with this model, I know kids, their parents, their siblings, their grandparents, their cousins and aunts. It is such a blessing to know families in this way.

4) I love, love, love working with the parents in this program. I started with them two years ago, and they were uncomfortable and silent. They had not been told how important their faith is to their children's faith, how important they are to the Church community, how wonderful they are, how capable they are, how valid and valuable their faith and experience are. When I first asked them to turn to each other and introduce themselves and share their thoughts, they really seemed to find it uncomfortable. Even last year, when I asked them to turn and talk to each other, there would invariably be a couple of people on the edges, who sat alone and didn't interact. Last night every single person, new to the program or experienced, turned to talk and share with other parents. It was something to behold. I really can't imagine going back to a model of ministry for young people that doesn't involve the rest of their families.

5) Teamwork! This year we're really working on growing the team and involving as many people as possible in the planning and execution of these gatherings. We've really gotten a rhythm down with each other, and love the chances we have to try things out. We have so much fun dreaming up the plans for each session, and really get to use our brains in ways I never could in traditional classroom models. This year our logo features an iphone with "apps" for all the liturgical seasons... jumping off of that, our opening large-group sessions each month feature an older member of our congregation (our emcee) trying to figure out some new "appy" on his iphone, and needing a younger person to explain it to him. They use a "calendar thingamajig" on his iphone to look at the featured season for the night. It's quick and fun (and funny!) and was a great kickoff for the learning last night.

6) It's hard, hard work. Last night we dealt with a flood of people who hadn't registered, ran out of chicken fingers and classroom space, struggled to be present to everyone in some way or another, ran around like crazy headless chickens, and then had to clean up! I want to tell you that I was DOG-TIRED at the end of the night, and needed an extra nap today. It is an exhausting model of faith formation, MUCH more work than sitting in my office while the teachers met with the kids. But I felt pride and satisfaction and genuine love of my job at the end of the night, and don't remember feeling this way in the traditional model. (well heck, I loved what I was doing back then but you can see the difference, can't you?) I am starting to think that anything one works hard for is worth the effort.

7) Check it out: there are people who say that this model is plain EVIL! I have certainly noticed that the excitement around GOF has waxed and waned, at least here in this Archdiocese. In fact, originally here the model was cheered and raved about by the "higher-ups" and then suddenly a letter went out reminding us that "systematic" faith formation needs to be the main model. One might ask what they mean by "systematic," and one might deduce that they're talking about textbooks. In fact the aforementioned evil-sayers' complaints about the model are mostly that it's not didactic enough, and relies too much on "spirituality" (blech!!!) and getting the "love of Jesus in their hearts" (oh man, how horrible!!!). What they're really saying is that the content provided in this model is not controlled by a publisher or an imprimatur.
In fact I believe that the reason the hierarchy has shied away from this model is due in large part to the lobbying of the textbook companies. But I want to assure you that we use lots of texts to plan and teach this program. We use the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we use really wonderful (approved!) resources. But we don't spend $20+ for textbooks and umpteen dollars for teacher editions that can't (really, they can't) be used out-of-the-box in a community. One size really does not fit all. The best part of this model is that it's a model, not a curriculum. It can be as formative as you dare it to be.

Well I've gone on long enough... you can tell I'm passionate about this model. Come and check it out sometime, we'd love to show you what is happening in our parish.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tick... tick... tick... wheeee!!! Arms up, people!!!

This morning before work there was nothing on the radio that I wanted to listen to so I popped my ipod in the player and dialed up a random podcast from the Vinyl Cafe. This one was about Dave taking his son to ride a roller coaster, and how at one point in their lives, Dave was gung-ho to ride but his son was too scared... and suddenly the day came that his son was ready and Dave was too scared. He stopped to read the warning sign that stood at the entrance of the ride and realized that he had gotten older and more scared and couldn't jump right in like he used to want to.
It was a great story, but one point came back to me later today. The son, guessing that his father would have a hard time on the roller coaster, had done some research on the internet to help him get through it. He advised his father:
  • Concentrate on the part of the track that is right in front of you, rather than looking at the whole route.
  • If you get queasy, put your foot down hard and pretend you're driving.
  • Repeat to yourself "you only have to do this once."
Later today, I found myself in the library at school (oh God I hate that place, it is the least-comfortable, most baffling place ever and I hate it!) and looking down the barrel of a three hour class from 6-9, and melted down. I am so done with grad school. I can see it being fun if you have nothing else going on, but honestly, I'm working toward a degree in something I already do and love and it is really HARD to handle it all. I know, I know, I'm whining. But that is how I felt this evening as I wallowed in the library about the overwhelmed state I found myself in.
I went on to said long class and halfway through I heard a voice in my head say "you only have to do this once." Soon I realized that all those rules for how to survive riding a roller coaster were applicable to my life right now (and I bet the lives of anyone else in education, one way or another, right now). So I re-adjusted my vision to just the bit of track that's in front of me, put my foot down and pretended I was driving, and then repeated my mantra. "You only have to do this once. You only have to do this once."

Friday, September 10, 2010

7 Quick Takes: Projects Edition

Oh heck! It's Friday again! Gwarsh, how many weeks have I missed at this? My computer died, you know... anyhooo, here we go, with some of the many big projects I'm working on right now, at work.

1) Generations of Faith:
It's the way we do Faith Formation at our parish, and it's ever-s0-much-better than the traditional CCD model. I am immensely proud of how we do what we do. We're a creative and brave team, willing to try new things, even those things that might not work. Anyway, for GOF at our parish I write the scripts for the opening sessions, teach the parent group, plan the curriculum, coordinate the home-kits, and the events. And that's just one project. Ha!

2) Ministry Leaders:
I facilitate a regular meeting for the Ministry Leaders in our parish, helping them to align their ministries with the mission of the parish/Church, and to cross-pollinate. Amazing things happen when they get together, these leaders. Currently I'm planning a luncheon and workshop for all the volunteers in the parish, which will be centered on the spiritual practice of Hospitality (shh, don't tell them, that's a big surprise!) and we have some GREAT plans for the day!

3) Baptism:
Well I should call this "parent ministry" really, because it includes facilitating baptism intakes, classes for parents and Godparents, etc... but soon will include a mom's playgroup for the parents of kids aged .1 to about 3 or 4 years old. Included in this parent ministry, I could include the GOF parent sessions and a future "whine and cheese" parent support group that will be enacted when we get furniture for the room that we've set aside for it... October? Since moving from Youth Ministry to Everyone Ministry, I've developed a heart for parents that I never knew about before. I love working with them and want to help them feel good and able and not afraid.

4) Catholics Come Home and The Light is On For You:
This year in my new (?) position as Chief Evangelization Officer (yeah, I made up that title.. CEO for short!) I'll be in charge of these two out-of-the-box programs being mandated by the Archdiocese. I'm not sure what they'll entail exactly, but I'm in charge of them. So.

5) Gifts Committee:
This is an idea that I stole from a protestant church, I saw mention of it in a magazine. I'm inviting former members of our parish council to form this committee, whose job it will be to come to know the people in the parish and their gifts. The committee will meet periodically to match people to needs in the parish. SO: if we are forming a new RCIA group (which we are) and need people who could serve on this team (which we do) we turn to the Gifts Committee with our needs and they nominate people whose gifts fit that need. Doesn't that sound cool?

6) Grad School:
This semester I'm taking Sharing Faith, with bona-fide Religious Ed Guru Tom Groome, and an online Sacraments course, and my internship, what BC calls "contextual ed." I've mentioned it here I know, but the code name of my project is "Confirmation Doesn't Have To Suck." First semester, I'll be doing research on Confirmation prep. practices in this area (at least) and then second semester, doing workshops for Conf. coordinators, giving them strategies to get their practices more in line with the theology of the sacrament, if they're not already.

Really, this is giving me hives. Just trying think of all the things listed on my White Board of Doom in my office (coded by color to show how urgent it is for me to address it) is making my chest hurt, because how the heck am I supposed to get all this stuff done? There's much more on there than I've listed here, and each project includes several mini-projects included. The good news is, it's all stuff I'm looking forward to doing, all great stuff that I will love, but holy holy holy there's a lot of it. So I think I'll go to Ikea.

Be sure to check out the other 7QT entries at

Monday, September 06, 2010

Fear and Love and Crying at the Movies

I knew I shouldn't have watched. Nothing on tv bothers me like the sad fate of an old married couple losing each other. Tonight's TCM classic was Make Way for Tomorrow, about an elderly couple who lost their home and had to rely on their children to take them in. None of the five grown children were willing or able to take them both in, so they were split up and lived with different children. The promise was that three months later, they'd be together in the home of another of their kids... but instead, they were separated even farther, after a lovely and romantic night on the town in the hotel where they'd spent their honeymoon fifty years earlier.
I cried and cried at the end of the movie, for a few reasons. Funny, my biggest worry as a kid was that our house would burn down and the five of us kids would be separated like the Waltons. Tonight's movie was a grownup version of that story... and it's just as scary. And now that my parents are getting on in years and fearing their own future, we are all in position to assess what can and should happen for them. They are taking charge of this process so far, which is so kind of them, and helpful. We are blessed beyond explanation that they have planned and thought about this situation much more than Scott and I have done about our own!
Which is my next reason for crying at the movie... it occurs to me that I never remember feeling fear like that I felt when I felt love for Scott and married him for life. I remember thinking that this lifetime commitment, til death us do part, meant just that- that death would part us, one way or another, eventually. How scary is that???
It's worthwhile, this life, I am willing to live with this fear and face this unknown future where ever it leads us. I pray we'll be together for as long as we can be. I pray the same for our parents.

A man and a maid stood hand in hand;
bound by a tiny wedding band.
Before them lay the uncertain years
that promised joy and, maybe tears.
"Is she afraid?" thought the man of the maid.

"Darling," he said in a tender voice,
"Tell me. Do you regret your choice?
'We know not where the road may wind,
'or what strange byways we may find.
'Are you afraid?" said the man to the maid.

She raised her eyes and spoke at last.
"My dear," she said, "the die is cast.
'The vows have been spoken. The rice has been thrown.
'Into the future we’ll travel alone.
'With you," said the maid, "I’m not afraid."

Friday, September 03, 2010

Lord, please...?

If there's been a theme for this past year for me, spiritually, it's been prayer. I know I've written here about this struggle that's been plaguing me- the battle between head and heart. I am glad to say that my faith in God, in God's existence, has been rock-solid. I am amazed that my belief in God has not been shaken through the last 14 years of working for His Organization. (You know, I was told many years ago that if one can work for this Church and keep one's faith, it was probably a miracle.)
But this confusion about how things work, how God works and how prayer works, has really really tripped me up. I'm watching a corny football movie right now, and when the coach prays for his team to win, it's practically a reflex on my part to mutter "let's just hope no one is praying for the other team!"
See, I am not sure I want it to be true that God will change the results of your football game if enough people pray in the right direction. I understand and believe that God knows better than we do, what is best for us and for the people around us whose lives our lives touch, for history, for the universe. I get it, I really do, that God is not going to let my loved ones live forever because heck, if everyone lived forever, then how would that work?
But my inability to pray unabashedly has had repercussions on my relationship with God. It led me to walk the thin line between honoring God's supreme power to choose our fates and an inability to trust that God wants to give me the things I ask for... aw crap, it's even hard for me to type that sentence. Why should I get what I want? Lots of children are starving everywhere- why don't they get what they want? In that light, again, I don't know if I want to believe in a God that would give me a great parking spot while a child goes hungry, her prayers unanswered.
You can see how this spins me around.
But a few weeks ago, we read (and did LEX) about the reading where the friend bangs on his friend's door after the door has been locked, asking for food, and because of his persistence the friend gets up and gives him what he wants (It was Luke 11:13). In my research, I found that the better translation of that word was not "persistence" but "shamelessness." The reading is about Jesus teaching His disciples to pray- and the message is, pray shamelessly.
I have been trying it out, praying shamelessly- (not ridiculously, I am still not praying for my team to win or for great parking spots) but I am asking for good things for the people who I love. And, I'm working hard (and it is hard work) to trust that God's happy that I'm asking and that I can leave my concerns at His feet, and trust that God will address it in whatever way God sees fit.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Lapses, leashes and lasts

well readers, an apology first because of the light blogging. My computer, while newly resurrected from the dead, somehow the router at home doesn't recognize it. That is, the computer says it's online, but I can't get online... mixed messages. Anyone know how to fix that? Anyway, it means I can only be online when I'm tethered to the wall by the wire, which is surprisingly constricting. I used to use my laptop in the kitchen more than anywhere else, and now that's out, and that means I haven't sat down at my leashed laptop very often since its homecoming. And that means little blogging. Sorry. I hope it'll be fixed soon.
In the meantime, I've paid off my car! It's a small accomplishment but I feel extraordinarily proud. Naturally, things are starting to go, like the cd player. Now when I put a cd in (yes I still listen to cd's in the car) I am faced with the very real possibility that it may be in there forever. So I've been thinking about what cd could be the forever cd. Steely Dan? Yes? Maybe the Sundays... should I go with a "greatest hits" cd of someone, or a mix of favorites... or should I have Susan Tedeschi in just in case I need to howl on my way home from a particularly stressful day? What to do?