Category : Scripture

Do not forget reminder
Action, Article, Faith, Love, Scripture, Service
0

Help Me Remember

The last week of August is the first week of school in our area.  The Friday before school started, the boys and I returned from four weeks of traveling and visiting family (New York, New England, China, and Malaysia… including the rides to and from the airports, the trip home took 42 hours).  We spent the first week of school recovering from jet lag and readjusting to home, schedules, and packing lunches.   Things were chaotic and everyone was exhausted, but we were slowly-but-surely finding our way back to normal.

Mid-morning Thursday on that first week of school, my sister called with an urgent request.  Laurie is the Executive Coordinator for both SafePlace (an organization focused on ending sexual and domestic violence through safety, healing, prevention and social change) and Austin Children’s Services (ACS offers protection and healing to children who have experienced abuse and neglect).

ACS has received eight children this week, and our clothing closet is empty.  Three brothers came in late last night with nothing but the clothes on their backs…and they are going to be here for a while.  Do you have any clothes that you could donate for these three boys?  We need size 3T/4T and size 5/6, as well as size 9 shoes.
Sorting through clothes to make a donation was not on my to-do list.  It wasn’t even on my radar.  But I didn’t even hesitate; of course we can help!  We live in Houston and were planning to visit Austin for the weekend.  I had a little over 24 hours.  As I went through the closets and bins of clothes, I found a lot of 5/6 clothes but I had already passed the 3T/4T on to my nephews.

So I reached out to five local friends who also had boys.  Not one hesitated.  Every single one of them found something to donate – with apologies: “sorry it couldn’t be more…”  The generosity was overwhelming.  We barely had room in the trunk for our luggage.

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  • Recall a time when you were asked to help someone in need.  What happened?

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Rubber-boots-in-the-water
Divine Providence, Faith, Friendship, Grace, Scripture
2

Seek and You Shall Find

Last week, during heavy rains and flash flood warnings, my living room flooded.  The exterior drain got clogged and water seeped in, drenching the carpet and padding.  I only discovered it because a meeting I was supposed to be preparing for got postponed. So while the kids took care of their afternoon responsibilities, I emptied the dish-drying rack and tidied the kitchen. When I walked along the far side of the living room to place a special platter back in its display holder, I felt the squish of puddling water in the wet carpet beneath my feet.

My first call was to my husband (the iPhone tells me I made the 16-second call at 3:23pm).  His office is a mile from home, so he arrived within six minutes. In that time, my boys and I grabbed every towel in the linen closet to sop up the mess.  That’s when I texted my network of friends.

Flooding Texts

Flooded-Carpet-and-PorchWithin moments of texting each request, different friends responded telling me they had what I needed.  Within 90 minutes of discovering the flooding, I had everything I needed to fix the problem, including a neighbor who came over to help my husband snake the exterior drain–all without spending a dime.

In response to this situation, I had a choice.  I could either focus on the frustration of the flooding or I could be amazed by how quickly everyone responded.  I could be annoyed by the clogged drain or touched by the outpouring of kindness, generosity, and availability of the friends in my community.  I could obsess about the potential for the problem’s recurrence or I could be grateful for every aspect of the solution.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)

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Waiting Alone
Faith, Grace, Hope, Scripture
0

Waiting…

I struggle with Waiting.  Patience is not my strongest virtue.

I’m not talking about the banalities of waiting in traffic or waiting behind a check-writer in the check-out line of the grocery store.

I’m talking about Waiting to hear news about a job in the midst of unemployment. Waiting for a diagnosis.  Waiting for that life-changing email or phone call.  Waiting for a response.

Waiting for more information so that you can move beyond the gazillion choose-your-own-adventure style possibilities in your head and actually start doing the “next thing,” whatever that may be.

Most recently, this Waiting sat like a ball of anxiety in the pit of my stomach.  My boys got sick while we were visiting my parents in Malaysia.

Sick and Sleeping

When my younger one gets sick, it’s always been no-energy with a scary-high fever for the first 24 hours.  After that first 24-hours, the high fever always breaks and then, I can tell whether it’s worthy of a doctor’s visit or just a passing bug.  My older one has a similar cycle, but the high-fever isn’t quite so scary.  It was only a 24 hour wait.  I have waited longer for other things, but this was my children… in another country… it was just hard.

Waiting is hard.

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sheep panorama
Leadership, Liturgy, Sacraments, Scripture
1

That’s No Ordinary Shepherd

Think about the best teacher, leader, or boss you’ve ever worked with.  Who was it?  What was it that made them such a good leader?  On the flip-side, think about that experience with someone who was a rather poor leader, teacher, or boss?  What were the characteristics or behaviors that made it so?

A few months ago, I was preparing to teach two separate groups of people two distinct lessons:  during the day, a Godly Play session on “The Good Shepherd” for 3-6 year olds at my kids’ Montessori school and later that night, a Catechism class for adults on the Sacraments.   What I thought were two different lessons turned out to be an opportunity to gain a deeper insight by looking at them together.

Jesus-Good-Shepherd-guides-me

The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd story from Godly Play weaves several Scripture passages into one story, primarily from Psalm 23, John 10:1-16, and the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matthew 18:12-14, Luke 15:1-7).

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.  (Psalm 23:1-4)
“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:4-7)
‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. (John 10:11-13)

The words and materials used to tell the story of the Good Shepherd are very intentional, but not identical to the translation we may be used to hearing at Mass or reading in the Bible.  Therein, they communicate the underlying truth to children in a remarkable way.  The Good Shepherd loves, cares for, and leads his sheep.  He protects them and looks for them when they are lost.

The storyteller explains the Good Shepherd’s relationship with his sheep, and then introduces “the ordinary shepherd” who neither knows their names nor leads them.  Instead, the sheep wander and scatter.  The story concludes by driving home the distinction between the Good Shepherd and the ordinary shepherd:

When the wolf comes, the ordinary shepherd runs away. But the Good Shepherd stands between the wolf and his sheep–and even gives his life for his sheep–so the sheep can go safely home.

When the children–ages 3-6–first began discussing the story, I noticed that they kept talking about the Good Shepherd and the bad shepherd.  Had I been listening alongside, I may have made the same mistake.

But that’s the thing: the “wolf” is the bad guy in the story.  It is the ordinary shepherd that Jesus distinguishes himself from.

Sacraments

Later that night I taught my Catechism for Adults class, covering the chapter on Liturgy which sets the stage for talking about Sacraments; after all, every Sacrament occurs within a liturgy.  It is not just the gestures and substance which make for the Sacrament; it is also the prayers we say and the Word of God we read in Scripture that makes it a real gift of God’s grace.

The word liturgy comes from a Greek term meaning “public work or work done on behalf of the people.” Liturgy always referred to an organized community. A work, then, done by an individual or a group was a liturgy on behalf of the larger community. All the worshipers are expected to participate actively in each liturgy, for this is holy “work,” not entertainment or a spectator event. Every liturgical celebration is an action of Christ the High Priest and of his Mystical Body, which is the Church. It therefore requires the participation of the People of God in the work of God.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) (2012-04-02). United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (Kindle Locations 2570-2574). United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Kindle Edition.

When it comes to celebrating the Sacraments, one of the most basic questions that we need to answer is Who celebrates the liturgy.  Unfortunately, we usually get the answer wrong by saying “the priest.”  Who celebrates the liturgy?  We all do.  The entire Body of Christ.

Liturgy is not private prayer, but public, requiring “full, conscious and active participation” of all faithful (CCC 1141, SC 14).

The idea that all of us are expected to participate actively in each liturgy, and that this is holy “work,” not entertainment or a spectator event is a vital understanding to bring to any study of both the Liturgy and the Sacraments.

Too often, we approach Mass as a spectator sport.  And it’s not.

We judge the value of the liturgy by the quality of the homily and/or the music.  And we miss the point.

Moreover, when we translate that “spectator sport” mentality into the Sacraments, we set ourselves up to treat Sacramental grace like some sort of magic to befall instead of the gift of God’s grace that they are.

A lot of these attitudes have to do with our expectations of leadership.

Leadership

Recall the questions above: think about the experiences you have had throughout your life with leaders: teachers, bosses, managers, and the like.  Think about the characteristics and qualities of good leaders.  Good leaders…

  • Take the time, effort, and energy to teach and empower people
  • Encourage creativity
  • Appreciate individual strengths
  • Facilitate growth
  • Allow people to make mistakes and learn from them
  • Practice good communication skills, both in expressing themselves and in understanding others
  • Care about their people
  • Value responsibility, honesty, integrity, and hard work
  • Offer assistance when needed
  • Create atmospheres of mutual respect
  • Approaches leadership as form of service [servant-leader]
  • Has a big-picture sense of mission and vision
  • Can you add to this list?

On the flip side, we find it easy to complain about “poor” leaders:

  • Micro-manage every aspect of people’s work
  • Overly strict
  • Diminish freedom and creativity
  • Make people feel small and insignificant – like a replaceable cog in the wheel
  • Control others through fear or manipulation
  • Non-communicative
  • Self-centered, arrogant, and egotistical
  • Narrow-Minded
  • Can you add to this list?

Notice this list describes the “poor” leader.  Not the “bad” leaders with malicious intent or “evil” dictators.

Take it to the next step.  Recall the description of the Good Shepherd; see how the list of characteristics of the Good Leader help flesh out the way in which Jesus as the Good Shepherd leads us.

Now look at the description of the poor leader and notice how it reflects the ordinary shepherd.

The Connection

When it comes to our understanding of Liturgy and Sacraments, it is very important that we check in with our expectations: Do we expect the priest to micromanage our experience of Liturgy and Sacraments, making it happen for us?  Or do we enter into the experience of Liturgy and Sacraments expecting the leadership of the Good Shepherd who empowers us to participate in receiving God’s grace?

The Sacraments are not magical things that happen to us.

One way to think about the empowering leadership of the Good Shepherd is to think of the Sacraments with what’s been called a bumper-sticker theology:

Without us, God won’t.
Without God, we can’t.
Without us, God won’t

Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He does not micromanage our experience of faith.  He invites us to participate with him in the transforming power of God’s grace.

Without God, we can’t.  We need God’s grace.  We cannot do it without God’s help.

The Good Shepherd wants to lead you.  But to really make it work, you’ve got to want it too.


sheep panorama by Arend licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Tent in Cayonlands
Scripture, Transformation
3

Pitching a Tent

My dear friend Amalour passed away last week.  And in my grief, I am still having a difficult time paying attention to almost everything.  So it  didn’t come as any surprise when I had a hard time following the homily today at mass.  The Gospel on the Second Sunday of Lent is the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28:-36)

Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.  And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.  Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.  As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.  Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.

Years ago (before kids), I facilitated a faith sharing group at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Maryland, and one of the women explained how the story of the Transfiguration was one of her favorites because it offered a glimpse of Jesus Christ glorified.  I heard her words and felt moved by her passion, but that’s not how the story struck me.

Personally, I find myself identifying with Peter, James, and John.  Like them, I would have been happy to follow Jesus up a mountain.  Like them, I would have probably been overcome by sleep.  Even before kids.  And like them, I would probably been so awestruck, I would have been happy to  to pitch a tent.

Actually, I would have been happy to have my husband pitch the tent while I set up camp.

IMG_1690

At the Vigil service for Amalour’s funeral, her husband Brian offered one of the most moving eulogies I have ever heard.  Brian talked about Amalour’s unending quest for improvement.  In their marriage–in their lives–they’d do the work and come to a plateau.  It was a nice plateau, on which Brian was ready to pitch a tent and enjoy the view.  And Amalour would say no; we’re not there yet.  We can do better than this.  There’s more to see; there’s more to do.  Again, and again, and again in their lives, Amalour was always striving for something more… for something better… in all the ways that mattered.

I am a do-er.  I’d like to think of myself as someone who walked alongside Amalour on the path of growth.  In many ways, I know I have.  But I also know one of my weaknesses is doing too much.  I have been guilty of distracting myself from the real, true, important things in life with busyness… filling my days with so much stuff that I don’t have time to think.  When I’m in this mindset, pitching a tent and enjoying the view sounds like a GREAT idea!  In fact, I’ll even busy myself with setting up camp.

Thing is, life is more of a journey than a sit-down and watch (or in my case, get everything ready to sit down and watch).  And sometimes that journey is hard.  Very hard.

I can imagine that witnessing the Transfiguration was to be a gift to inspire Peter, James, and John for the journey that lay before them.  It was not meant to be the end of the journey… or even a break from the journey.

So the challenge, I suppose, is to take those moments of grace, peace, hope, and light and allow them to inspire us along the path.  To avoid the temptation to pitch a tent as though that moment was the end-all-be-all.  To avoid the temptation to busy ourselves with setting up camp instead of doing the real work of journeying through life.


Tent in Canyonlands by [Rob Lee]https://www.flickr.com/photos/roblee) licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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