Faithful or fearful servants of the King

On Wednesday of the thirty-third weeks of Ordinary Time, the gospel in the daily Mass reading was Luke’s account of the servants and the gold coins in Chapter 19 of his Gospel.

I’ve always been fascinated by the story of the coins (or talents in Matthew’s gospel), the servants receive their coins and two trade theirs and make a profit, which they give to the king upon his return. The third, fearful of the king’s wrath should he lose the coins, saves the coins and his fears are confirmed when he is condemned by his own words. “Sir, here is your gold coin; I kept it stored away in a handkerchief, for I was afraid of you, because you are a demanding man; you take up what you did not lay down and you harvest what you did not plant.”  I’d always felt sympathy to the fearful servant. Have not we all be entrusted with certain gifts, talents and treasures that we seek to preserve? Why then should we condemned for protecting what has been given to us?

But this time through the gospel reading, I noticed that the servants were commanded to go trade their coins, “He called ten of his servants and gave them ten gold coins
and told them, ‘Engage in trade with these until I return.’” The talents were not to be kept safe, wrapped up and hidden, but were intended to be used, to be turned into profit for the king.

It allowed me to reflect in my own life about how I allow fear to prevent me from engaging in action. What gifts, skills, desires, and passions do I have – yet I shy away from opportunities to use them because it may demand sacrifice or effort? I’m comfortable and would prefer to remain so, like the third servant. To make five additional coins out of what I’ve been given requires hard work, to say nothing of earning ten more! A wise nun-friend of the authors of this blog used to tell me frequently, “God does not call us to be comfortable, but to be faithful!”  I need to heed his command and take action.

The coins, or talents, we have been given are not ours to keep. They are gifts and we have been asked to put them into the service of the King. As we prepare for the return of the King this Advent, and as we move on from this blog, remember to not let comfort or fear prevent you from being faithful to His call in your life!

A Beautiful Curse

A couple of years ago, I came across an article on the New York Times Opinion-Documentary page. The article was about an Oscar-nominated short film documenting a parent’s nightmare having and raising a child with a life-threatening disease. I’m been drafting this post for almost two years and now, as our blog comes to an end, I figured all I wanted to do was to share the video with you all, because it really speaks for itself.

The movie, 27 minutes long, is beautiful, gritty and real. The Polish parents are trying to cope with a son who has Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome (CCHS). CCHS prevents its victims from breathing which asleep and requires the victim to sleep a ventilator. These parents were bringing home a newborn who needed to be close to a vent at all times.

It starts with them preparing for their son expressing regrets and fears. They go through questioning whether its all worth it, express dark despair, blame themselves for his malady. Simple things such as a mother breastfeeding her son turn perilous when she fears he may be sleeping; the ventilator has problems, and alarms don’t sound; the ventilator is working fine, but alarms sound in the middle of the night. Having had the painful experience of needing to change bandages and cut blisters off my then 1-year-old daughter’s third-degree burned hands, the trach-tube changing sequence brought back painful memories for me – but reminded me of the blessings that it was only a burn…

And so the blessings come to the surface with this family. Baby Leo’s “beautiful gasping,” his unawareness of his condition and finally the realization that they couldn’t imagine their lives without their son, nor would they even want to.

The producer states that the matter at hand is the “universal process of coping with an obstacle, even one that seems impossible at first.” And from the despair at the beginning to the joy and hope at the end, I found this to be an engaging and moving documentary and highly recommend it.

I recommend it, with one word of caution– there is strong foul language. Given the fact that the video is subtitled and therefore translated into English, I wish liberties were taken to edit some of the words out of the subtitles. The foul language does speak to the darkness they were in and were experiencing, I don’t condone the language, but the frustration and anger and their responses are very human and authentic. By the end of movie, their son’s eyes and joy have melted that anger. I encourage you to witness that conversion and the joy they find along the way.

The End of the Blog

Almost two years ago, a mere six months after welcoming my twin boys into the world, I decided to launch Man Fully Alive to write about the spiritual life and bring a bit of joy to the internet. Today I am announcing that as of December 21, Man Fully Alive will cease operations:

  • We will be working to archive our posts so they are saved for potential future use.
  • At this time, there are no definitive plans to publish our content elsewhere as co-authors. However, I may be anthologizing some of my own posts as an e-book in the future. Ryan and Taryn’s posts are their own work to do with as they will.
  • There is no upheaval in my own life that is leading to the closing of the blog. However, I’ve been praying about this a long time, and I’ve felt the urge to return to fiction and poetry. MFA-style commentary and essays have started feeling like more of a chore. I want to protect my time by closing down one writing project before starting another.

On behalf of Ryan and Taryn, I’d like to extend my thanks to all of you who have read our work and responded so kindly. Man Fully Alive made us better writers, Christians, and friends, and it has been a very satisfying experience writing for you all. I’d also like to thank Ryan and Taryn for going on this journey with me–they are excellent writers and challenged me weekly to give this blog my very best. May God bless you all this Advent and into the future!

My Deliverer

I want to share something thats been going on in my life over the course of the past couple years. I’m a sinner and, like most other sinners I know, I tend to commit (and confess) the same sins over and over. Year in and year out – I’m not that original.

It drove me crazy and I expressed frustration over it in Confession one day and my confessor asked me whether I’d ever prayed for Christ to reveal the source of my sins to me. He pointed out that our God is a God who loves to reveal, and especially the truth of ourselves to us.

As I began to pray on this I realized how much stress I’d put on myself to free myself to the sins I’d usually commit. So when things were going well, I’d applaud myself for doing well, not fully realizing how dependent I was on Christ, until I’d fall again. In the midst of this my pastor gave of homily on how, in confession, he often prays to loose certain things from his penitents, themes in the manner of their sinning, to free them from the spirits that drag them back into sin, time and again.

I realized that in my pride, I’d never even entertained that I may need some sort of deliverance – from the spirits that drag me back into sin. So I began to pray for deliverance. I began what I call a Chaplet of Deliverance. I know my sins, my offenses are always before me – I’m sure you’re the same – so I began a list of the sins that I confess over and over and began to pray to be delivered of each one of them.

The more I’ve prayed for deliverance, the more I’ve noticed the minute factors that lead me to sin – which in turn allows me to pray from deliverance from that. I’d like to tell you that I don’t struggle with any of those sins anymore, but of course that’s not realistic. I can tell you that it has been life changing to admit I’m not in charge of everything in my life and that my sins aren’t something to be “figured out” and with the right formula, I can be freed of them. Its humbling and freeing to admit that I need to be delivered from my sinful tendencies.

In laying my sins down at the foot of the cross and daily asking for deliverance from them, Christ has freed me from my sins. That doesn’t mean I don’t sin, but it means I don’t allow myself to be defined by my sins or weighed down by them.

As you prepare this Advent for Christ’s coming at Christmas, I’d urge you ask Him to deliver you of the things that keep you from Him. Whether you make a list on paper or just keep a running tally in your head of your sins, of you struggles, your distractions, just simply ask Him – “Jesus, deliver from the spirit of….” lust, gluttony, anger, fear, politics, Vikings football – whatever it is you need to give to Him. Repeat it every day, through Advent, through Christmas, through the year, for years to come.

Jesus came at Christmas not to stuff stockings, but to free us. As the old Christmas hymn says, he came to deliver us “from Satan’s power when we had gone astray.” Ask Him – beg Him – to do so this Advent and then you can wake up one morning and truly proclaim, like Matt Maher does below, God you’re my deliverer!

On October Surprises and Fall Classics

Oh, the drama. The unlikely turns of events. One surges ahead, the other catches up. When you think it can’t get any worse, or there’s nothing you haven’t see yet, something new comes up to steal your breath. Soon its down to the wire and the winner takes all.

I’m talking, of course, about the World Series.

In this great nation of ours, torn by rancor and discord during this election, what we needed was our national pastime to remind us that sometimes screaming and yelling can come in exultant forms. To prove that simple things can bring about joy. To find inspiration in dedication to an art.  To allow imaginations to wander and memories to be relived and made.

For the last week and a half, Major League Baseball delivered.

The teams with the two current longest championship droughts in baseball faced off for the World Series. Multiple generations of fans for both teams had been born, lived, and died without seeing their team with a World Series Chaprionship. There are a handful of fans yet around who remembered the last Indians Championship in 1948; there were only a handful of fans who could remember the Cubs’ last World Series appearance in 1945, let alone their last Championship in 1908.

In the first two games of this series, the teams traded big blows with each other. The third game was a pitcher’s duel, a 1-0 ballgame. But by the end of game 4, when the Indians won their third game of the Series with a decisive victory at Wrigley Field I, like many others, figured this would go down as a typical Cubs postseason run.

Game 5 went down to the wire and Cubs managed a win at home – finally – before hitting the road back to Cleveland. Game 6 was all Cubs, all the way and suddenly the Series was tied going into Wednesday night’s Game 7.

Game 7 was a roller coaster in and of itself. Just when you thought the Cubs would wrap up the game nicely, the wheels came off. The Indians refused to let the visitors go victoriously into the night – and history books; no one was going to accuse them of not wanting this game more than the Cubs. The Indians kept chipping away at the lead until the Cubs’ star relief pitcher came in. Similar to the Cubs turning to their ace earlier in the game to relieve the starter, the new pitcher made some costly errors. In an at-bat that every kid who’s ever played baseball in their life has rehearsed over and over, the Indians’ Rajai Davis blasted a two-out, game-tying home run in the bottom of the 8th. After a rain delay to start the 10th inning, the Cubs put two more runs on the board, before the Indians fought back for one more. When the potential winning run came to the plate in the bottom of the 10th, you couldn’t help but think of the endless possibilities for how the Cubs may preserve the win or how the Indians may pull off one of the greatest come-from-behind victories in World Series history.

I’ve written before about my love for baseball, how I see it as analogous to the spiritual life. Its the great equalizer and every batter, every pitcher, is put to the test; one on one.  In October, the stakes are much higher than they are in Spring Training but, every spring, every team starts out the season with the goal of being the last team standing in the World Series.

How each team fares is contingent upon the men who make up the team. Some overcame the obstacles in their way, like Kyle Schwarber of the Cubs who blew out his ACL and LCL in the second game of the season and managed to work his way back to stand in as the starting designated hitter in Game 1 of thed Series. Some got exposed as high-paid, big-name, but mediocre players simply fulfilling a role. Others poured it all out until they had nothing left to give, like both teams’ star relief pitchers Ardolis Chapman and Andrew Miller. Ben Zobrist came from a small town in Illinois, the son of a pastor and resigned to never play baseball again after his senior year of high school because no one felt he was worthy of recruiting to college ball and found himself the World Series MVP. Carl Edwards, Jr. rose from the obscurity of being a 48th round draft pick and a “player to be named later” in a trade to the Cubs three years ago to get two key outs in the bottom of the 10th inning. Mike Montgomery came to Chicago this summer by  a little-noticed trade and was needed to get the last out of the last game for the Cubs to put an end to 108 years of infamy. Each man put to the test. Years of training, months of baseball, all boil down to minutes in the fall.

In the later stages of Game Seven, I was pacing back and forth. Caught up in the drama of two well-deserving teams fighting hard for the win. When Kris Bryant fired the ball to Anthony Rizzo to end the game and the Cubs finally brought to an end their 108-year-old “curse” I couldn’t help but think of my great grandmother who loved her Cubbies and never saw this day and how she always had hope that one day the Cubs would win the Series again. I was happy for college friends of mine who had been in touch throughout the Series and the game; who’d described getting goosebumps in the lead-up to the game; who were in tears with joy for their team finally having won – in their lifetimes. I thought of Indians fans who had to endure another World Series slipping through their fingers.  Far from my mind was the thought of who of these friends, family and unknowns were voting for who or the latest scandal or accusation against some candidate.

In the late hours of that Wednesday evening, those who watched, listened or followed the game witnessed one of the single greatest baseball games in history. Yet this game had reminded that other things exist outside a polling booth – it reminded us of our common humanity. It’s possible to be both sad for and happy for people you’ve never met; it’s possible to take joy in their joy and feel grief in their sorrow.

History is not an inevitable arc of progress toward some glowing bright and better future; history is not some great golden age that needs to be restored. History is witnessed in moments when our hearts are moved to think beyond ourselves and our thoughts are lifted heavenward seeking to articulate words that can’t be said. Tears may be shed, chills may run down your spine.

On the night of Wednesday November 2, 2016 at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio, history was made and America was great.

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We’re All In This Together

I apologize for my inconsistent writing; baby number five joined our family six weeks ago! He is a beautiful blessing… and we are in survival mode. It seems as if every time we prepare to welcome a new little one into the family, something has to give, and usually it is my writing. I can’t promise that I am getting back into a good routine, but this is my attempt to try. 

With the election only weeks away, the mudslinging and conspiracy theorizing are at an all-time high. It seems that no one, our two major candidates included, has a single nice thing to say about the opposition. This has been wreaking havoc on my mental state every time I set foot on social media, because as a rule I avoid tension and discord. I crave harmony. I just want everybody to stop fighting and get along already or so help me I will turn this car around!  

That is why I sat in disbelief after sharing an article about late-term abortion on Facebook. “What have I done?” I thought. “This is a divisive issue, people have really strong opinions about this. They won’t agree with me. They might be mad at me.” And then, lo and behold, I had notifications of comments from two people whose political opinions are the polar opposite of mine. My heart was in my chest as I read what they wrote, but then I realized that they were both being reasonable and charitable, and they truly wanted to understand my side of the issue as well as explain their own.

The conversation was joined by several people who shared my opinion, but everyone’s words were extremely respectful. Honest and convicted, yes, but respectful. It was a world away from the vitriol I had become so accustomed to seeing spewed from all sides during this election cycle. And it gave me so much hope.

I realized that the voices we tend to hear are the loudest ones, and those who yell the loudest are not yelling to change hearts, but simply to drown out their opponents. They have no interest in conversation, discussion, communication. They just want to be right. They believe that the world is us versus them. They forget that we’re all in this together. But if more of us would speak up who truly care about what the other person has to say, who remember that we’re all members of the human family, the tide of this election would change drastically.

I’m trying to not be afraid to talk about difficult issues anymore. If someone wants to shout me down, that person wasn’t listening in the first place. But there are many people out there who want to have an honest conversation. If we don’t set out to prove our point and “win” the argument, it is amazing the growth and healing that can happen. I challenge you to give it a try.

A Two Bird Day

We were up before the dawn and on the road long before the sun would rise. We awoke to snow on the cars, snow on the roads and snow in the fields.

It was pheasant opener and we wanted the first crack at the fields- my brother, some good friends, my dog and me. We arrived at the spot early to watch daylight creep over the prairie. The desolate blackness of a crisp autumn morning slipped away with each minute.

We walked and walked all morning long and never saw a pheasant. We got into a covey of sharptail grouse that we chased around a square mile of ground. I was the lucky guy of the group and dropped two of them. Late in the day, we finally saw a couple pheasants – roosters nonetheless! But they were on posted land and they just watched us and laughed as we begged them to fly to our side of the road.

The snow had long since melted and as the sun climbed high into the clear blue sky, the clouds too faded away. A light breeze kept us cool under the sun and the layers of clothes.

Along the way we shared jokes and stories. We debated the market share possibility for an outdoor television show which merges hunting with reenactments of musicals (i.e. from Les Miserables: “When the beating of your heart matches the beating of your – ROOSTER! ROOSTER!!”; or from The Sound of Music: “Doe, a deer. A female- no, that’s a buck, a niiice buck…”) We talked about work, politics, family and faith. We marveled at the irony of wildflowers still in bloom, vibrantly colored in contrast to their blanket of snow; we pondered the routes of geese on their migration high above us, and the domestication of wild ducks that were far too tame for their own well-being; we choked on our hearts when we flushed a sleeping deer from some thick prairie grass and laughed at our reactions when we flushed songbirds and butterflies from thin cover. We left tired, stiff and sore.

At the end of the day, we had done a lot of walking and only had two birds to show for it. But we were all richer for the time we spent covering a small part of creation and the fellowship shared along the way.

As I hunt each passing year, I realize that sometimes what we hunt isn’t what we bring home. And what we bring home isn’t really what we treasure the most about the hunt.

Thoughtful Interviews on the Spiritual Life from the Art of Manliness Podcast

Okay, I will admit it: I’m a total Art of Manliness fanboy. I mean…fanman. Right? Right.

Lately their podcast has been amazing. Check out the titles of these two episodes. Then listen to them. You won’t be sorry!

Episode 238: Life in a Secular Age

Episode 242: The Forgotten Virtue of Reverence

“With whom I am well pleased”

Today is Thursday.

No, this isn’t a Rebecca Black parody.

Its the day of the week we pray the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary.

The first Luminous Mystery is the Baptism of the Lord. All four gospels recount Christ going to John the Baptist to be baptized. Christ comes out of the quiet years of his youth and the first thing he does to kick off his ministry is get baptized.

When Christ emerges from the water, John the Evangelist says the Baptist “saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him.” (John 1:32). Matthew, Mark and Luke agree that the spirit came down, but also that a voice from the heavens said, ““You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22; Matt. 3:17).

Think about that for a minute.

The first thing Jesus does in each of the Gospel accounts of his life is get baptized.

And immediately after that God the Father says, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus hasn’t done anything yet. He hasn’t preached the beatitudes, proclaimed the Kingdom, cured anyone of any malady yet. He didn’t earn the pleasure of the Father. He followed the will of the Father in becoming the Word Made Flesh, in being the Son and for that, the Father is “well pleased.”

All the works of his ministry commence from that moment of being the “beloved Son.” That’s where everything starts and yet before everything else, “I am well pleased.”

In my own life at times, I put it backwards. I try and go out of my way to do and serve and act; and none of this is bad. But I’m hoping that the Father will be pleased with what I do and so I run myself ragged trying to make sure I can earn that pleasure.

At times when I feel like I’m being run down, I think back to this mystery of the Rosary and I remember I just need to rest in fact that I am a beloved son of God the Father.

By just being his child, not doing anything else, know that the Father is “well pleased.”