Thursday, June 22, 2017

My Son Becomes A Pastor

As many of you know, my youngest son is a Catholic priest.  For the last year he has been working solo as the acting pastor of three small parishes in southern Kentucky.  In this part of Kentucky Catholics are few and far between so some consider this area as the “Southern Kentucky Missions”.  For the first year that you are “flying solo” you are considered an Administrator.  My son has successfully been the “acting” pastor for the last year so he is now being formally made the Pastor.  It’s a big deal so this weekend my wife and I, along with Chloe, are going there to attend the formal ceremonies that accompany this change.  Archbishop Kurtz will be there as well to make it official.  Technically the Archbishop is my son’s boss.  The Archbishop’s boss is Pope Francis.  I still remember the day, a little over ten years ago, when Nick came to me and told me he wanted to be a priest.  At the time it kind of blew me away because I did not see it coming.  Despite my own background of going to the seminary and living in a monastery I can honestly say I never did anything intentionally to encourage Nick in this direction.  Some things in life are a calling.  After he went through the rigorous process of being accepted into the seminary, my wife and I drove him to Indianapolis to attend Marian College.  Within the college there is a seminary program for men who need to complete their undergraduate degree before doing graduate level work in theology.  Nick did his graduate level theological studies at St. Meinrad School of Theology and now has a Master’s Degree.  I enjoyed those four years because the school is only about 75 miles away and is run by Benedictine monks.  For obvious reasons I always enjoyed visiting there.  The day we  first drove Nick to Marian College it must have been 95 degrees.  We found the seminary residence hall and it had no air conditioning.  The poor priest who was the seminary Rector was sweating profusely as he tried to get everyone to their assigned rooms.  When my wife and I finally said goodbye and left Nick, I wondered how it would all turn out and if he would be happy.  Ten years later and four years as a priest he is very happy.  He loves his current assignment and he especially likes being in a small town and rural environment.  By all appearances, he seems to be happy and thriving.  Whether your son is a priest or a plumber, isn’t this what all parents want for a child?            

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Unresolved Questions & Issues

In Zen, we don’t find the answers.  We lose the questions”.
-Zen saying
 
Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue”.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
 
As I have said before, I am a very introspective person.  I am always thinking and pondering and musing and contemplating.  It’s part of who I am.  All of these activities can be done too much with the possible exception of contemplation which is a kind of restful gaze into the universe or God, whichever you prefer.  However, even contemplatives need to stand up once in a while and take out the trash or perform some other chore.  The point is that we all have questions or other unresolved issues in our hearts, many of which will never be resolved.  This is true for every person.  I know some people think I have all the answers.  I might have a few.  I, too, have issues and most of them go back to my childhood which is where most issues begin for many people.  Over and above any childhood baggage we carry, we have other experiences on the path of life that may have hurt us.  Sometime we can let these experiences go and move on with our life.  Other times we carry them with us and we continually ask “Why did this happen to me”?  Many times these questions are never answered.  If we are lucky we move on and we lose the questions.  Sometimes we are broken but other times we are healed.  Even with healing there is often a scar.  I once read that gray hair and scars mean that you have survived every challenge so far in your life.  I have grey hair and scars.  You are not weak for having struggles.  You are strong for having survived.     

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

My U2 Experience

Sometimes I am impulsive, like when a concert is announced six months in advance.  I am ready to jump in feet first.  I work out the financial plan and then I purchase the tickets.  The closer the concert gets the more I anxious I become, especially if it is being held in an arena or stadium.  At this stage of my rock and roll life I am better suited for intimate concerts in small venues like the Louisville Palace or the Brown Theater.  In my younger days, when I was in my forties, I made a lot of road trips to Cincinnati or Indianapolis.  If I did that today I would have to stay overnight in a hotel.  In days of old I would come to work the next day.  This past Friday I went to see U2 at Papa John’s Stadium, a place I had never been.  I went with my son the priest.  Going with a priest had its benefits.  There is a Catholic church across the street from the stadium so we had convenient and free parking for the concert.  Although the stadium was across the street from the church it was still quite a hike to get to the entrance.  At that time it was approximately 87 degrees.  I began to have serious doubts about the wisdom of attending an outdoor concert in a big stadium on a very hot day.  Once we got past security and into the stadium, we were able to hang out in a shady spot until the opening act hit the stage.  Unfortunately, our seats were on the sunny side of the stadium in the nose bleed section.  The air is a little thin up there too.  My brilliant son gets out his iPhone and goes to the Ticketmaster website.  A few minutes later he says, “Follow me, Dad”.  He takes me to two seats on the end of a row that were much better than our reserved seats.  What did he do?  He simply looked for seats that hadn’t been sold.  Brilliant!  I never would have thought of that.  The concert itself far exceeded my expectations.  The sun was finally setting as U2 took the stage.  It was a powerful concert and they played most of their iconic songs including the entire “Joshua Tree” album.  Music is more than entertainment for me.  It is often a deeply emotional experience.  Several times I was moved to tears, especially when Bono sang “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, song about Martin Luther King, Jr.  U2 is very political but in a positive way.  Their songs are deep and personal, yet universal.  After the show my son and I maintained a tradition I began many years ago after I had taken him to see the Rolling Stones when he was a teen-ager.  We ate at the Waffle House with all the other creatures of the night.  Much to my surprise I ran into someone from my office but what happens at the Waffle House stays at the Waffle House.  When I finally got home I looked at my Fitbit and I had walked over 40,000 steps!  It wasn’t until Sunday that I felt the pain.  The good news is that I’m still out there getting it done!  Old guys rock!       

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Sleep

In one of his early journals, the monk and writer Thomas Merton describes the experience of lying in his cell at night wide awake due to his insomnia.  In those days monks did not have private rooms.  They slept in dormitories where each monk had a “cell”.  A cell was little more than a small bed with partitions around it.  When I was a young man in the monastery one of the jobs I had was being part of the construction crew assigned to replacing these cells with actual private bedrooms.  Yes, believe it or not I once worked in construction.  Merton goes on to describe the experience of lying in his cell listening to the snoring of all the monks around him while being able to calculate exactly how much sleep he was losing based on the ringing of the monastery bells.  In today’s world individual monks have private rooms and the bells do not ring all night.  They do ring at 3:00 AM to awaken the monks for night vigils in the church.  Whenever I have stayed at the monastery I usually got up with the monks.  The time after these night vigils is my favorite time in the monastic day.  However, I digress.  Sometimes I think I, too, suffer from insomnia.  I actually hate going to bed because I know it will be a struggle to fall asleep.  Sometimes I complicate the problem with evening naps and an overactive mind.  When I go home after a day’s work I usually feel brain dead and exhausted.  It doesn’t matter whether I’ve had a tough day or an easy one.  The only way to not take a nap is to remain continuously busy with chores of some type.  If my mind or body is not engaged it’s off to La La Land.  Thursday morning I woke up at 4:30 AM to heed nature’s call.  I returned to my bed happy that I still had an hour and a half of sleep before my alarm would go off in order to go to work.  I tossed and I turned.  I started hearing rumbles of thunder and seeing flashes of light as a storm approached.  I think I finally fell asleep at 5:59 AM.  My alarm went off at 6:00 AM.  I was not a happy man.  Does anyone else have a problem sleeping at night?  Is this a pattern for older people? 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Is This It? Maybe....

Two Buddhist monks are sitting side by side while meditating on the side of a river.  The older and wiser monk finally says to the younger monk, who has a look of dismay on his face, “Nothing else happens.  This is it.”
 
I have already lived a longer life than many people and I am hoping it will be even longer.  One of the ironies of life is that even if it is tough, people still cling to it and few let go of it without a fight.  Since I was a young man I have been very introspective.  It is part of my nature.  Anyone who spends a lot of time in introspection routinely wonders “Is this it”?  Since life can often seem like little more than toil and struggle we are sometimes afraid “this is it”.  What gives meaning and purpose to our lives?  Many people would say love but there are many people who don’t feel a lot of love in their lives and sometimes the people we do love drive us crazy.  Other people would say a sense of purpose is what gives meaning to our lives.  Most people would say that working takes up much of their time.  Does your work give you a sense of purpose and meaning?  Would you do what you do if there was no paycheck attached to it?  I didn’t think so.  I don’t know about the rest of you but I think my problem is that I am an idealist and my expectations of life are so high that I am constantly disappointed.  My advice is to have low expectations.  If you do you will be surprised more than you will be disappointed.  In spite of some disappointment, I still love life and I do have great moments.  When they come I try not to cling to them.  I try to enjoy them for as long as they last.  However, just all bad things eventually pass, good things pass as well.  Even when life seems boring and uneventful or you're happy and content, it is always changing.  Often the changes of life are so subtle we don’t notice them until we suddenly realize we are five years down the road.  I have spent a lifetime searching and being on a quest.  I’m sorry to report that I still do not have the answers to the meaning of life.  It is very possible that nothing else happens.  We'll see....   

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Addiction To Smart Phones

Yesterday I read an article about how software designers are programming apps to make us addicted to our Smartphones.  I think it is true.  Before I had a Smartphone I was constantly amazed at how much time people spent on their phones.  After I bought my first Smartphone I found myself becoming one of those people.  I slowly found myself constantly checking personal emails, text messages, the Weather Channel, CNN, Facebook, and more.  Some of my co-workers are even worse because they have an app that allows them to read work related emails on their personal Smartphones.  So far I have resisted that temptation and I am resistant to being told I must do it.  In all fairness my Smartphone is great for staying in touch with important people in my life.  I love it that I can text my granddaughter and other distant friends.  There are also some amazing and helpful apps that I like.  One example is my Amazon app that allows me to order a book or a CD during a staff meeting when my manager thinks I am paying attention to the group conversation.  Another is my Fitbit app that allows me to see how many steps I am walking in a day.  One of my favorite is a meditation app that rings a Tibetan gong to let me know when a meditation session is complete.  I also have a Mindfulness bell that rings periodically throughout the day to remind me to breathe.  Admittedly I have turned that one off during work hours because it freaked out my co-workers and occasionally made them jump.  Did I mention my tip calculator?  One final app called WAZE alerts me to traffic conditions wherever I am.  Having all these tools at your fingertips is very helpful at times but I think it is the social media stuff that is truly addictive.  Why?  I think many of us are lonelier than we care to admit and we have a primal need to feel connected to others no matter how distant or causal the relationship may be.  Let’s be honest about “friends” and even family.  I have approximately 350 Facebook friends, including extended family members, but only a handful of them are true friends.  I think part of the social media addiction is also related to our egos.  Most of us, if we are honest, love to put stuff out there and have other people react to it.  How many “likes” did we get and who actually liked it?  I fell into this trap with my blog which tracks how many people read it and where they are.  At last count it was 58,317 people from countries all over the world.  Some people in other countries have written nice emails to me and now we are Facebook friends.   When I think of modern communication technology I am sometimes reminded that I went through my high school and college years without a beeper or a cell phone.  My generation still managed to connect with one another and it was always in person.  Today I have friends I have never actually met.    
 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

What Is In Front Of Us

To develop this mind state of compassion is to learn to live, as the Buddha put it, with sympathy for all living beings, without exception”.
-Sharon Salzman
 
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, now Saint Teresa of Calcutta, once said that if you can’t feed the world, then feed one person.  I think I have a better than average awareness of what is going on in the world.  The world is full of war, famine, poverty, and corruption.  I know my middle class life is very comfortable compared to much of the world’s population.  In my heart I feel empathy and sympathy for all the suffering in the world.  I also feel overwhelmed by it.  Sometimes I get what I call compassion fatigue.  I have heard it said that each of us is called to deal with whatever is in front of us.  This is the work of life and we are called to share in it.  When I was young I never imagined my life as it is today.  Though nowhere near as difficult as many other people’s lives, I’ve had some share in the curve balls that life can throw you.  My own needs are few.  I am usually content with whatever is.  When I am not I try to not complain.  If I do complain I get over it quickly.  In all fairness I do not usually seek out people or situations that require intervention although I know there are many good people in the world who live to serve others.  Their lives are dedicated to serve the needs of mankind.  My youngest son has dedicated his life to the spiritual and material needs of others.  In my own small way, I try to never turn away from others.  Sometimes this doesn’t get beyond family.  Others times it may include friends, co-workers, or strangers.  If I can help I try to do so.  If you have capacity to help others, you should do so too.