The Work of Jared Zimmerer

Since joining my parish’s men’s group back in November, I’ve been thinking and praying more about what it means to be a man of God (not just person of God). Those who know me know I am not a classic “man’s man”. I don’t hunt, fish, or play sports, nor do I put a lot of time or effort into traditional male hobbies like small engine repair, woodworking or…well, you get the idea. However, like a lot of men, my life revolves around my faith, my family, and my career (hopefully always in that order!). Jared Zimmerer gave an amazing talk about how men can become more fully alive by training their bodies, brains, and souls. It’s only 45 minutes long and well worth the time:

Considering checking out his entire body of work here.

On rooting for Carson and finding inspiration for my daily work

And now for something completely different…

You should see North Dakota today. After 4 straight days of rain, the sun has begun to shine. The ground is green, the sky is blue…and everything in between is green and gold.

Its NFL draft day and a local kid from across the river in Bismarck is projected to be the number one or two pick overall tonight in Chicago. Humble, faithful and hardworking, Carson Wentz went from an undersized high school quarterback to a two-time NCAA National Champion in Division One’s Football Championship Subdivision as quarterback for the North Dakota State University Bison.

Bismarck boy who likes to duck hunt leading NDSU to its 5th straight National Championship

The last month has been a unique experience – with the exception  brief hiatuses for the state political conventions and a Collegiate National Hockey Championship – the buzz has been all about Carson.  Despite its land mass (19th largest state) and the recent Bakken oil boom, North Dakota is still a small state (47th most populous). Everyone knows someone who has coached, played with or played against Carson.  His incredible rise to the top of the football world – however short lived it will be – has created a definite sense of community. The whole state is pulling for Carson tonight.

Despite all this, Carson keeps deflecting the attention away from himself. He says he was blessed with good coaches, good teammates, a big brother who was better than him at everything. He was blessed. Period. He seems to be taking it all with a grain of salt because he knows nothing is guaranteed, this can all pass away. Indeed it all will. He’s been preparing for this moment his whole life and he’s ready, but at the end of the day its just football. “I just keep telling myself, don’t make it bigger than it is,” he told ESPN last month.

Its been a good reminder of what hard work and dedication can lead to. That kid pictured up there may be going to bed tonight $20 million richer than when he woke up this morning. But as his Twitter account reminds us with almost every tweet, he’s playing for a bigger reward and a more important audience.

Tonight I’ll be watching excitedly to see where Carson goes, but his rise and hard work have served as a reminder that we are all called do what we do in our daily lives with such dedication and determination, and to strive for our best everyday.

Searching for Peace

This school year has been one of major ups and downs. We are in our fourth year of homeschooling and I feel like as much of a rookie as the day I started. There have been weeks where I feel as if everything is under control and our lives are flowing smoothly, and there have been weeks… maybe even months… where I felt as if it was all crumbling beneath me. Homeschooling is a lifestyle not for the faint of heart.

From a big move into our new home, straight into the holidays, followed by a winter of traveling and morning sickness (we are expecting #5!), I feel like I’m just finally starting to get my bearings again. But it has been hard not to feel like giving up at times. I find myself daydreaming about dropping half of my children off at school for eight hours a day, entrusting their education to a building full of knowledgeable professionals, and it sounds like a dream. No more self-doubt. No more worry. No more comparisons. A break from my children who are driving me crazy, driving each other crazy.

Then I pause and reflect for a moment. Self-doubt? Worry? Comparisons? These are not just the realm of the homeschooling mom. These are the specters that haunt every mother, every parent, in every aspect of parenting. Putting my children in school will not solve any of my insecurities as a mother. And separating myself from them will not solve the problems that are cropping up in our relationships.

I can write about this now from the vantage point of a couple weeks of beautiful, fruitful schooling. We are momentarily living a life of peace and rest, my patience is returning, I have a renewed desire to inspire my children to learn. I am looking forward to being with my children in the morning. And yet I know the whispers will return, telling me I’m not good enough, I am failing my children, my children are failing me, we are failing as a family. I will get angry, I will yell and cry, my kids will yell and cry, and I will want to give up.

But something important has finally begun to creep its way into my heart. In his book Searching For and Maintaining Peace, Fr. Jacques Philippe reminded me of the words of Jesus, “Without me, you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5). He did not say that we can only do a little bit without him, or that if we work really hard on our own we can maybe accomplish something worthwhile. Jesus himself said that we can do nothing without him! Rather than depressing or overwhelming me, these words comforted me in a new, unfamiliar way. Philippe goes on to say that we should not be a bit surprised when we fall, when we fail. We are human and that’s what we do. But if I continually grasp the hand of Christ, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13).

My new prayer throughout the day has been simply this: “Jesus, I can’t do it without you. Help me.” No fancy words, no striving to fix what’s wrong, a simple admission of my incapability. I won’t tell you that things magically improve when I say these words, but the relief that comes with placing my fear, anger, and frustration in his hands has helped me to take steps toward finding inner peace. I have not become Supermom overnight; instead, I have discovered that becoming Supermom is no longer my goal. My goal is to allow Christ to flood my life with so much peace and joy that it can’t help but overflow into the rest of my life.

Moonshine Abbey and Sacred Nonconformity

This past Friday I attended the world premiere of Moonshine Abbey, a musical comedy written by Deacon (soon to be Father) Kyle Kowalczyk. (For the past few years, the students at the Saint Paul Seminary have been writing and producing original theatrical works.) Moonshine Abbey is the story of a small monastery in the rural United States, the lazy monks who reside there, the alcohol they make, and what happens when Prohibition becomes the law of the land. And yes, the following photo is a picture of Elliot Ness dancing with monks:

Seminarians perform during a dress rehearsal for the play "Moonshine Abbey" April 10, 2016 in Brady Education Center Auditorium. The cast of the play was comprised entirely of St. Paul Seminary and St. John Vianney seminarians, and was written and directed by SPS seminarian Kyle Kowalczyk. Front row from left: Max Mauch-Morff and Kyle Kowalczyk.

(Copyright University of Saint Thomas)

On a deeper level, however, the play is about what happens when one’s traditions do not conform to the civil law. Once they are confronted with legal trouble, the monks begin shaping up, returning to a life of prayer and work, and in doing so, they gain the strength to face the trials and tribulations that face them. While the play is lighthearted and full of one-liners, slapstick, and hilarious original show tunes, it also examines the interplay between conscience, society, and morality. At the heart of this interplay are two versions of the same song. The first, “The Confraternity of Sacred Nonconformity,” is sung by a number of monks who don’t really care to follow the rule of their superior. However, after the monastery is threatened by Prohibition, “The Confraternity of Sacred Nonconformity, Part II” is about how the only rule one needs conform to is the law of God. The first song is a tongue-in-cheek anthem about thumbing your nose at religious authority, while the second is about conforming to the only law that matters.

In an eschatological sense, the monks come to realize that the only laws of man they need follow are those that are in accord with right reason, meaning those that have their root in God anyway. So they happily continue to distill their liquor (quite openly, I might add!) and wait to be arrested. There is a beautiful truth in their decision to do so; it’s courageous, and their arrest makes a mockery of the unjust law they are protesting in the first place. I left smiling, but also wondering: if it came down to it, would I have the courage to do the same? Maybe it’s time to double down on prayer and work in my own life so that, if that level of persecution ever comes, I will have those spiritual reserves to draw on!

Home

On my last day of my semester abroad in Italy, I sat in an internet café in Rome, typing my last email from abroad to my future wife. I looked above the computer at the bulletin board and there, staring back at me in plain English was an ad: “WANTED speakers fluent in English for seasonal employment.” I had just spent the last 16 weeks in Europe and it had been an unforgettable and non-replicable experience. I saw the Bavarian Alps, the Julian Alps, the Apennine Mountains, the Mediterrean Sea, the Adriatic Sea, the North Sea, the Nottingham Forest, the French Riviera, the Isle of Capri, the Amalfi Coast and the Cinque Terre. I had walked in the footsteps of ancient Roman armies, martyrs of the early Church and victims of the Holocaust. But I had also spent hours aboard planes, trains and buses; in stations and terminals and depots; calculating the time zones to determine when to call home and hear a familiar voice. Despite the romance of spending a summer in Italy, I was ready to go home.

When I was a kid I wanted to join the Air Force or be a pilot and fly all over the world. When I began practicing law, I realized that there were educational opportunities for lawyers all over, so I traveled as often as I could; D.C., Philly, D.C., San Diego, Albuquerque, D.C., Louisville, D.C., Billings. Even just familiar old Fargo, Bismarck, Grand Forks or St. Paul. You name it, I was going, it was an opportunity to get away and see some place different than the place I had to be every day and, man, did I look forward to going away, getting away.

But something changed recently. Maybe it’s just maturing and finally growing up, but my favorite place to go now, is home.

Last month I travelled to Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville was beautiful, I’d love to go back someday. But with the family I left behind and came home to. I travelled after my conference to visit my sister at Ft. Bragg, NC, and it was good to see family, but when I got to the airport the following day to find that my flight had been delayed and delayed again, the only thing I thought about was a way to get home earlier. As great as it was to see my sister and her family and to know I had a place to stay if I had to, the only thing I could think of was seeing my wife and kids that night.

Luckily I was able to get on an earlier flight back to Minneapolis-St. Paul, which allowed me to share a St. Patty’s Day meal with Taryn and her husband and their family, and Paul had me back at the airport in time to catch a flight that would get me home for bedtime prayers and blessings. Back to the comfort and familiarity of my own bed, and the convenience of my own closet. But mostly, back to the presence and love of my wife and children.

I used to look forward to the opportunity to get away and network and see a new place. But now the part of any trip I look forward to most is my kids running through the terminal shouting “Daddy!” while they launch themselves into my arms for hugs.

My favorite place to go now, is home.

The Prayer for All Occasions

Prayer of St Thomas Aquinas

Grant, O Merciful God,
that I may ardently desire,
prudently examine,
truthfully acknowledge,
and perfectly accomplish
what is pleasing to Thee
for the praise and glory
of Thy name.

Amen

Ever since I was introduced to it at Saint Thomas Academy back in 2007, this prayer has guided my life. Whether making a big decision that will affect the future of my family or just doing the laundry, Thomas’ words have got you covered.

Pray it. Live it. Become a saint!

Songs of Innocence…a review

A year and a half ago, U2 released their latest album, Songs of Innocence, to every iTunes account for free, so if you have iTunes, you have the album. I’ve long toyed with penning my thoughts on the album,  but its taken me a while to put them together, so here goes nothing…

U2_Songs_of_Innocence_cover

The name of the album signifies a return to the band’s roots, as an aspiring punk band in Dublin and opens with an edgey tune (pun intended) punctuated with hard riff and distortion on The Miracle (of Joey Ramone) reminiscent of 70s punk which spawned the band. The song chronicles the band’s experience sneaking into a Ramones concert while U2 was still unknown – Bono had been told he sang like a girl and girls didn’t sing punk. Bono states that hearing Joey Ramone’s voice gave him the inspiration to find his voice “so I can exaggerate my pain and give it a name.”

The second song of the album, Every Breaking Wave. is driven by a steady bass and drum beat while the Edge articulates with his guitar what Bono can’t vocalize. Lyrically, the song is a cry for fidelity in the face of temptation. Every breaking wave on the shore / tells the next one there’ll be one more. Reminiscent of the Joshua Tree’s great love song, With or Without You, Bono asks, “If you go your way and I go mine…are we so helpless against the tide?” Answer to the temptation isn’t to cling fast to the shore, but to go deeper in love: “Are we ready to be swept off our feet and stop chasing every breaking wave?” … a great question we all can ask ourselves. Those who actually purchase the album are treated to a powerful acoustic version of the song, which caused a friend of mine to remark, “Bono’s still got it.”

The third and fifth songs are tied together. California begins with a Beach Boys-esque harmonization as the Bono recalls the band’s first visit to Los Angeles – “the polar opposite of Dublin” Bono writes in the album cover. Bono set out in search of Bob Dylan’s house on that visit – because Dylan couldn’t sing – and then Brian Wilson’s house (hence the intro to the song) – because “Brian sang like a girl too.” And while California seemed as far away from Dublin as the end of the world, Bono sings “all I know and all I need to know is there is no end to love.” He writes in the ablum cover “there is no end to grief…that’s how I know there is no end to love.” The comment is a reference to the loss of his mother who suffered an aneurysm at her own father’s burial when Bono was 14 years old. Iris (Hold Me Close) begins with a synthesized version of the Irish pipes which play a sorrowful tune in 1981’s Tomorrow from U2’s sophomore album, October – once again, tying the old in with the new. Bono writes that on death “we tend to look the other way until the spectre’s face enters our own” and sings movingly, “Something in your eyes took a thousand years to get here…I’ve got your life inside of me.” While in Tomorrow Bono cries out “I want you to come back tomorrow” in Iris the cry is “Hold me close and don’t let me go / Hold me close like I’m someone that you might know.”

The fourth song is the crowning jewel of the album, in my opinion. Song for Someone is about intimacy, forgiveness, love, and, ultimately, prayer. From the opening words of the song, “you’ve got a face not spoiled by beauty/ I have some scars from where I’ve been…”  Bono’s contrasting himself to an Other, Someone greater than he. “You let me in to a conversation / a conversation only we could make.” The imagery throughout the song is beautiful, invoking marital intimacy and healing one’s brokenness.  “And this is a song, song for someone.” The unnamed someone is someone who stand outside time and beauty, someone who can heal our wounds. Written in the same vein as U2 classics like BadAll I Want is You, One, and Kite, the song starts soft and reaches a towering crescendo in the middle.  Bono admits to doing too much in many of their earlier songs and at the climax of Song for Someone he’s content to let the Edge explore the unspoken spaces between verses in this song for an unnamed someone. As the music retreats to a simple melody on piano, Bono closes the song for someone with the hint of who he’s singing to while echoing the band’s classic, Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For:

And I’m a long long way from your Hill of Calvary / And I’m a long way from where I was and where I need to be…there is a light, don’t let it go out.

The sixth and tenth songs, Volcano and This is Where You Can Reach Me Now, are heavy dance infused beats which may recall memories of the band’s ventures into electronica in the 90s with Zooropa, Pop and the pseudonymous Passengers.  However the heavy bass and guitars are also reminiscent of the Clash and INXS and are downright fun to listen to.

The fun is gone in the seventh and ninth songs of the album, Raised by Wolves and Sleep Like a Baby Tonight. Sleep Like a Baby Tonight Bono’s voice is masked with stings and effects and the Edge slashes thru it all making it an incredibly haunting tune. Raised by Wolves chronicles growing up witnessing the violence of Northern Ireland. The song has an edge (no pun this time) and an urgency that I can’t really recall any other tunes of the band’s having. The song puts you on alert, feeling like a bomb is about to go off, indeed the song specifically recalls the twin IRA bombings on a Friday afternoon in Dublin and Monaghan.  Interestingly, U2’s last album had a song called White as Snow, which imagined the final thoughts of a soldier dying from an IED explosion in Iraq. In that song the fictitious soldier recalled, “As boys we would go hunting in the wood/ To sleep, the night shun out the stars/ Now the wolves are every passing stranger…” Its more than coincidence that the mention of wolves attacking has arisen on back to back albums.

Raised by Wolves deliberately recalls Ireland’s Troubles, and so its apt that the eleventh song is named The Troubles. The defiance in the lyrics recalls Sunday Bloody Sunday even if the music doesn’t: “I have a will for survival/so you can hurt me then hurt me some more…but you’re not my troubles anymore.”

As so much of this album looks back to the band’s beginning, and the eighth song is entitled Cedarwood Road, the street address of Bono’s boyhood home. The song captures the fear and hope the band must have faced as boys in a place that’s been wounded, slowly healing but above all, is still home. The song ends with the line, “a heart that is broken, is a heart that is open.”

The actual album contains a second CD, which has two bonus songs – Lucifer’s Hands, where Bono defiantly shouts, “you no longer got a hold of me, I’m out of Lucifer’s hands” – and The Crystal Ballroom, which is heavy on the beat and sounds like a dance club, it fits with Volcano and This is Where you Can Reach Me Now. The bonus CD also contains alternate versions of The Miracle, The Troubles and Sleep Like a Baby Tonight. In my opinion, the best part of the second album is the Acoustic Sessions which features Every Breaking Wave and Song for Someone in stripped-down acoustic versions, as well as Cedarwood Road, The Miracle, The Troubles, and Raised by Wolves.

All in all, I thought the album is one of the best U2 has put out recently. As a big fan of U2, its hard to rank where I’d put this one, but for my money, I’d say its the best one in the post-Joshua Tree era, for non-U2 fans, that’s a way of saying it’s the best in 25 years.  It’s been almost two years since the release and if you haven’t listened to it on your ITunes yet, it’s time to do so.

Passion Reflections 2016

After seeing Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ on opening night in 2004 I had avoided watching it again for a decade. During Lent of 2014, I decided to watch it during Holy Week and have kept this routine up each of the past Holy Weeks since. While the first viewing as a college student likely left me with some mild form of traumatic stress, the past three viewings have been very fruitful for my faith life.

This year I was struck by a couple little things and big one that I wanted to share. The little things – in each scene, Christ connects with a person on the fringe of the Passion story. In the Garden, there’s the healing of Malchus, who’s left in awe as his fellow temple guards detain Christ and bring him to the Sanhedrin. In the temple, there’s a nameless blacksmith who looks up from his craft to find Christ gazing at him. The man’s demeanor changes and he slowly looks away from Christ. At the Praetorium, a Roman servant looks on in wonder as Christ describes his kingdom to Pilate, a servant in Herod’s court makes eye contact with Christ and can’t bear to look back at Him any longer, Barabbas find himself arrested by the gaze of Christ as he is set free. None of these characters in the Passion are leading roles and all come from, retreat to or remain on the edge of the scene. Yet each one, in some way or another, finds themselves pulled into the story. The bigger characters are obviously Dismas, the Good Thief, who finds himself asking for forgiveness and professing his faith, and Simon of Cyrene, an outsider to Jerusalem who comes from the edge of the crowd and reluctantly helps carry the cross, yet can’t bring himself to leave Golgotha once there.

Of course, there’s Mary – ever present throughout the Passion. I noticed this time through, how every time she and Jesus make eye contact, He seems to find the strength to go on – to face the council, stand back up and receive more lashes, to pick up the cross, to stand one last time and walk to the wood of the cross upon which He will die. There’s a real power depicted in Mary’s presence that I hadn’t noticed before, and a lesson for each of us.

The last, big, thing that really stuck me this time watching the Passion was the way in which the Last Supper was depicted parallel to, not before, the Crucifixion. Gibson’s not being subtle about this, which is why I’m kind of ashamed to say it never really stood out to me before. John the Apostle is remembering the last supper “this is my body given up for you…” when Christ elevates the bread, Gibson shows to the Christ being elevated on the cross; “this is the cup of my blood…” John gazes at the blood pouring off the cross as he recalls the words. Christs words are echoed in John’s mind as he watches the Crucifixion and John gets it.

The Passion is never an easy movie to watch, and watching it once a year is enough for me, but I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t seen it recently to watch it again. There’s a lot of depth in the portrayal of the agony, suffering, and death of Christ and I’ve found it to be helpful in my own spiritual life, hopefully it can be helpful in yours as well.

A Bad Lent

About a year ago, I had the audacity to write about what a “Good Lent” I was having. It was so good that I figured that, naturally, this year’s Lent would have been even better.

Ha!

If last year was a good Lent, then this year’s was a bad Lent. I fell off the bandwagon and when I got back on, I found out that I could barely get out of neutral; I hadn’t even made it out of first gear prior to falling. I struggled in fits and starts and when I looked back to Ash Wednesday now, I couldn’t see any real progress or growth as fruit of my efforts.

What I saw were failed resolutions, lapsed disciplines and the same old efforts undertaken for my own edification and my own growth. My benefit. Not my children’s, who I should be sacrificing for; not my wife or her co-workers in the trenches of the pro-life movement; not friends and acquaintances dying of cancer; not even my Christian brothers and sisters suffering under threat of genocide across the world.

The lofty goals I set for myself were great goals… But when the achievement of those goals actually cost me something like an extra half hour of sleep or the enjoyment of their taste on my tongue, I had nothing besides “what I want” to keep me from giving in. When “what I want” is what keeps me from giving in, then there’s nothing to stop me in the moment when “what I want” is to just give in.

In a paradoxical way, the deprivation of material goods and pleasures seemed to heighten my idolatry of the very material world I was seeking to rise above. It became me versus the Second Helping and I found my joy in conquering the desire of the material good. It was never me seeking to rely more on God and less on myself or the material goods or pleasures.

Many saints went through intense times of spiritual dryness where nothing seemed to go right, where God seemed far away. Times where Theresa of Avila could remark, “God if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them.” Therese of Liseaux felt rejected by God, Teresa of Calcutta said she felt no presence of God whatsoever. I’ve wondered why God would allow these times for such good people doing good things. I’m no saint, but in my own situation, why after a good Lent would God allow such a bad one? I realized what I need is purification – purification of my intentions. If I get too high over my ability to abstain from certain goods or pleasures then I focus on my will not His. It becomes – like this Lent did – about me, not Him. I took my eyes off Him and focused on me. And it barely got me into first gear.

“Jesus’ victory over the evil one assures us that we will not succumb at the moment of trial as long as we remain united to the Lord.“ Saint John Paul the Great

Thank God for Easter! With the new life that was born that joyful morning, I pray for the grace to take what I want and nail it to the Cross and unite myself more fully to Christ.