Fourth Day

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Today is the Fourth Day. Yesterday we were born again into eternal life and today is the day we begin to live like it. That’s why I want to tell you what I learned during this Lent.

I gave up 24 hour news channels.

I did it because I have watched people I know slide into anxiety bordering on mental illness over the last two years from watching these channels.

I did it because of how many times in the last six months the hot take has been wrong and caused massive social upheaval.

I did it because a friend told me she hoped her bro-in-law had been able to drag her sister away from CNN for her birthday.

I did it because these channels are an echo chamber. We watch the one we like the most and all they tell us is what we want to hear.  That’s disturbing on so many levels—but the one that disturbs me the most is that viewership is UP on these channels as we all align ourselves for 2020.

I did it because when the lady from Church called to tell me “Turn on  Fox News!” because Notre Dame was on fire, even after 40 days of not watching any of them, I thought to myself “I know something about you now.”

I did it because those channels are not reporting news. They are opining, which is not news. And they are opining for money which means their integrity is questionable at best and non-existent at worst.

I did it because I have noticed that people who watch these channels have lost their faith in humanity and joy in life. They are always angry, always accusing, always ready for a fight.

I did it because that was me.

I think it was probably the best way I could have spent my Lent and I am not kidding.  I learned something gnarly about myself:  how often I turned on those channels to get my “I’m right” validated.

I’m not going back. A little bit of distance has taught me that these channels want us to worship them, submit to them. And a lot of us have done it, especially the ones of us who work from home or at home or are retired. These channels are the noise running in the background of our daily lives—but what is it costing us?

Our sanity, if you ask me. Our kindness. Our faith in each other. Our faith in God. So many of us are scared, and faith-filled people aren’t scared.

You know what I’m not since I stopped watching? Scared. Angry. Suspicious. I’m not sure the world is going to hell in a handbasket. I’m not anxious.

I see love and light in the world. I see kindness and joy. I see work to do, for sure. But it’s not dire. It’s not endtimes. I believe in our ability to climb this mountain together because there is glory and goodness all around us.

All around us.

Turn them off. Just trust me and turn them off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Into the Desert–A different way to think about Lent

I have always tried to find a better way to come at Lent with my kids.

This year is no different, as we are 1 day out and Annie is settled on giving up the monkey bars.

God bless her little heart, she loves her some monkey bars.

It’s probably too much to expect a 7-year-old to be reflective, but Gabe and Kate are now old enough to learn something from Lent.

And the idea of a token “sacrifice” of chocolate or cursing for 40 days has left me wanting more. Maybe because it was always presented to me as a small thing compared to the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.

But what if that’s the wrong way to think about it?

Nothing I can do will ever match what Jesus did for me.

On Sunday, a solid catechism Bible Scavenger Hunt from my partner teacher Megan dropped a new way to frame Lent into my lap.

All three of the Temptation stories in the Gospels tell us Jesus went into the desert after his baptism to prepare for his ministry.

Why the desert? If the goal was solitude, why not a boat on the sea for forty days? Or a trek into the mountains?

Why the desperate, relentless austerity of the desert?

Yes, it calls back to the forty days Moses spent on the Mount before receiving the Ten Commandments and the forty years the Israelites wandered after their escape from Egypt. Jesus is tempted by the devil in the desert and refutes the temptation, staying faithful to God, in contrast to both Adam and the Israelites. There’s a whole world of theological scholarship out there about these forty days.

But I’m just a mom in front of a laptop trying to figure out a way to grow faith in my kids, so I’m going with a boots on the ground application: Jesus went into the desert so he could focus.

In the desert, there are no distractions.

We are running with that this year: Focus—not on what we’re not doing, but on removing the distractions that turn us away from our relationship with God. Making our lives more like a desert for the next 40 days.

Pack up the toys, clothes, stuff that surrounds us. Clear out the clutter. Save money by forgoing nights out, expensive dinners, new things. Use less words, especially of the cursing and gossiping kind. Spend less time online wanting what we don’t have, or what someone else has. Spend less time watching news that is designed to scare, addict, divide. Reject all the ways we are tempted, as the devil tried to tempt Jesus, by the things of this world.

Practice simplicity. Prayer. Contemplation. Fasting.

Listen for the angels who will minister to us.

Open our hearts and hands every day to the word and will of God.

This will be our Lent, our walk in the desert. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.
After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
Matthew 4:1-2

Violet and the Bangs

It has been a few months now, but a while back, I noticed one day that Violet, my 6-year-old, had bangs.  Suddenly. They appeared out of nowhere. The girls had just come back from a weekend at their dad’s and I asked her if she had gotten a haircut…. Nope.

Well, did your dad cut your bangs?  No.

Did your grandma?  No.

Violet, did you cut your bangs?  No.

And the Mystery of the Cut Bangs began.  

Periodically I would ask Violet about the bangs.  She always replied that she didn’t know what happened.  She couldn’t remember. She didn’t know if someone cut her bangs, or who.  It was all very strange.

Then about three months later, my older daughter, Mazie, who is 8, and I were cleaning out one of the toy bins.  I picked up a red plastic cup and Mazie said to me, “That’s the cup that Violet put her hair in.” What? “Yeah, after she cut her bangs.”

Mystery solved.  

I really didn’t care if Violet cut her bangs or not, and I told that to her.  She wouldn’t have gotten in trouble. But now, now she had been lying to me for months.  Lying to my face. And that hurt.  I do not want to raise a liar. 

Lies are slippery little suckers, aren’t they?  They’re a practiced behavior that sometimes start out so small and insignificant.  I’ve often told students that the first lie you tell someone is the hardest one to tell.  The first time you break that trust tears your guts out.  The next time you lie though, it’s easier. And the easier it gets, the bigger the lies become.  

I dated a guy once that would lie about anything.  If he had eggs for breakfast, he could swear on the Bible that he’d eaten cereal.  And he would lie about little things like that. At the time, it just didn’t make any sense to me, but when I found his emails with 4 other women, all of the lies began to unravel.  

Truth is big around these parts.  Jen and I had lots of conversations when we created this blog about Truth being the cornerstone of our writing.  I challenge you today to live in truth.  If you’re doing something you feel you need to lie about, I have an idea:  don’t do that thing! Don’t practice lying. Stop being good at it.  Walk in integrity. It’s so worth it.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering what happened with little Violet, this is how it went down:  She walked back in the room while we were cleaning, and I said, “Hey Violet, is this the cup you put your hair in when you cut your bangs?”  The poor little girl never had a chance. Without missing a beat she said, “Yep!”  And then her eyes got real big.  

Mama always knows. Game. Set. Match.

Maybe Like Me

Maybe like me, you didn’t know that what happened to her, to you, to all your friends, was assault. Maybe you thought that a torn shirt or ripped jeans was not a crime. Maybe you knew someone who had been raped and told yourself “It wasn’t like that, so it must not have been anything.”

Maybe like me, you internalized the narrative that boys will be boys, and if you go where the boys and beers are, you know what you’re in for. Maybe you learned to stay away from the narrow spaces of clubs and bars where men seemed to stand and grab at every woman who walked by.  Maybe you gathered a tribe of sisters around you and pledged to keep each other safe. Maybe you told each other that it was the price to pay for a night out with drinks and dancing.

Maybe like me, you never wondered if the men had to do the same.

Maybe like me, one night you looked at your teammate broken on the beer soaked floor of the bar and decided you’d had enough. You socked the man who did that to her right in the eye. Maybe you felt great satisfaction for the two weeks he walked around campus with the black eye everyone knew you gave him.

Maybe it took you twenty years to realize that his black eye was poor payment for what he did to her.

Maybe like me, you still hate to walk into a bar alone. You hate it so much that even when your giant husband is with you, you make him go first so everyone in there knows you’re with him and that feels safer. Not safe. But safer.

Maybe like me, you haven’t counted the cost of being a young woman then. You didn’t realize how much you carried it with you until you heard people yelling “It was 35 years ago! You can’t hold that against him now!” and you knew that you have been holding it this whole time, the scar from that culture that patted drunk frat boys on the head and promised them the future.

Maybe like me, you’ve thought about that man you punched, and why you did it, and if you would have the courage to stand up and tell that story to the world if he was being considered for the highest court in the land.

And maybe like me, you’ve spent the last weeks really considering what Dr. Ford’s story means to her and to him–and to you–and how the world was then, and how it is now and what that should mean to her and to him–and to you–but the one thing you know for sure is that she isn’t lying.

Because like me, you saw it. You lived it. And that’s exactly how it happened.

 

 

Why I’m Staying In The Catholic Church

I learned that the clergy was full of liars in 1994.

We had a pedophile priest in our parish. His name was Ted Llanos and in 1994 he was accused of sexual abuse of a minor by a person connected to my family in such a way that we knew the accusations were true.

Two days later, I sat at a meeting in our parish hall, facilitated by Monsignor Timothy J. Dyer from the Los Angeles Archdiocese. When he was specifically asked the question “Has this happened before?” he said no.

My dad leaned over to my mom and said “He’s lying.”

It would be two years and dozens of victims coming forward from parish after parish before the lie could no longer be sustained.

Over the next ten years, the American Catholic Church instituted diocesan child protection plans that are too stupid to be believed. Background checks for the parent volunteers? Yes. Gnarly video with lay pedophiles who went to prison (making them different from their clergy brother pedophiles)? Yes again. Parents voicing their guilt and shame that their children were abused by priests? Trifecta.

Victim blaming because God forbid the church take the full and complete blame for any sin it has ever perpetrated in its 2000 year history.

In The Archdiocese of Portland, there have only been two incidents of alleged abuse since the institution of these programs. But that has everything to do with awareness and nothing to do with the clergy.

Now Pennsylvania proves to us that the clergy have not repented. The last 16 years have been a tap dance for the public. The church still keeps secret files. The church still pays lawyers to defend statutes of limitations. The church still lies—Vigano, I’m looking at you—to protect the priests over the children.

Enough already. And not like 16 years ago when all the words were right but the intentions were not. For reals this time. Real shame. Real accountability. Real penance. And until the clergy walk this road to Calvary of their own making, the rest of us HAVE TO STOP RECOGNBIZING THEIR AUTHORITY.

Yes, we need the man in the collar to make the Eucharist. It is his ordained spiritual gift. But we are all ordained through our sacramental vocations. He is different from a husband or a single man. But the idea that he is better is how we got here.

My pray-pay-obey sisters and brothers, listen up. You are a huge part of this problem. I know you live in the penance-punishment construct because you like to believe you are dirt on the bottom of God’s shoe, but here’s the thing: that’s NOT Gospel. And when you preach it and practice it—mostly against others, don’t think we haven’t noticed—your mental/emotional illness is showing. You have to cut it out because God really does loves you AND IT MAKES YOU COMPLICIT IN THE SEX ABUSE.

Yes, it does. Your sadistic Christianity requires an authoritarian regime and the wily and ambitious among the clergy were happy to volunteer. You gave them absolute power and we all know what Lord Acton said about that.

They are a brood of vipers but you are tending and defending their nest and that has got to stop. Same with Church Militant, FOCUS, Conservative Catholic America, EWTN and so on. They actively support clericalism and THEY ARE COMPLICIT AS WELL. Stop sending them money. Stop tuning in. Read your dang New Testament once in while in between sacrifice beads and daily fasting. Repeat after me: The children are more important than my addiction to feeling like a bad person all the time.

Here are the other things that need to happen:

  1. The church should work actively to reform the selection, formation and ordination of the clergy. The system is broke. Fix it already. Stop ordaining the mentally and emotionally ill.
  2. The church has to root out clericalism. Like, yesterday. Offer a stark choice: Accept your humanity with humility or turn in your collar.
  3. John Paul II—he knew. He called the accusers “enemies of the church”. He is complicit and should be stripped of his sainthood.
  4. Pope Benedict—he knew. He needs to say he knew and repent. He was the man in charge of investigating abuse cases and for the twenty years prior to his elevation as Pope, he opened not one investigation. He is complicit.
  5. OPEN THE FILES because the truth will set us free.

Which brings me to my point: Why do I stay?

The answer is simple: I have walked away from God and my faith, and that’s a fastpass to no good. I have been to other churches and while the people there are lovely, they are not my faith tribe.

The people kneeling next to me celebrating Eucharist are my faith tribe.

This is my beloved church. I will write, fight and pray.

But I will not cede it to the vipers.

Still Hopeful

A word from my mom, Terri: 

In February of 2017, 9 days after the inauguration, I wrote a guest blog for Full of Graces. It was entitled #Candles4hope.
In it I wrote that I was scared because the new administration seemed to be uninformed, clueless about the intent and beauty of the Constitution and unaware that we are only one great nation in this world and we needed to collaborate, not dictate to other nations.
I was worried about a seeming lack of truth, rudeness, making top appointments based on wealth, not experience and a disregard for a free press.
I stated that Light drives out darkness. Hope trumps hate. And asked you to join me in lighting a candle in your window until you are no longer afraid.
I kept that a candle in my living room window for more than a year, until we moved the furniture for a project we’re working on.
Today I remembered the candle when the national news told me that the midterm elections are only a few weeks away. My fears about this administration have not decreased–they are greater now than ever before. Things have not gotten better.
Our president is a liar–yes, we must start calling all who make their own truth what they are.
We are at odds with countries who have been our allies for 5 wars.
He is repealing laws that are helping to protect and repair our planet.
And he meets privately with heads of state of countries who condemn our principles without sharing the agreements or discussions with anyone.
He makes me afraid for my children and grandchildren who will have to contend with the results of this man’s egoistic attempts to be a dictator.
It would be easy to feel helpless. But I don’t.
I DO have a say in what happens and my say WILL make a difference.
1. I WILL vote
2. I WILL remind my friends and neighbors to vote.
3. I WILL sign up to help in any way possible to make sure that we have a huge turnout in this election.
4. I WILL put that candle back in my window.
Light drives out darkness. Hope trumps hate. Will you join me?

Loaves and Love

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We paid off the new church.

We got a new pastor.

The newly paid off church almost burned up in a wildfire.

The new pastor had to be threatened to put down the garden hose and leave the church in the face of the wildfire.

For your personal edification, I asked my dad (He Who Used To Work For A Bishop) if there was any official protocol for evacuating a church in the event of a wildfire.

“Take Jesus and go.”

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Father Freddy is from Columbia and he has his English in such a way that he knows the words, but he sometimes says them in the order of the Spanish in his head. This is not the way we speak them. It is so much better.

Today the reading was about the loaves and the fishes, which is propitious because next week is VBS and it’s all about encountering Jesus and one of the focus stories is loaves and fishes. So when Father got up to preach, I snuggled down into the pew to listen.

It was beautiful. He talked about how the little boy in the scripture brought what he had, which was not much. He gave it willingly though and Jesus took it, blessed him and made it BIG. Five thousand people big—well, scripture says men, so if they had wives and kids with them, it was even bigger than that.

Jesus fed them all til they were full.

Father said if we could just be like that little boy, and bring our love to Jesus, he will make it big. Even if we don’t know how our little love could be enough. Jesus knows.

I was super on board with this. Yes. YES. Father is using metaphor. The loaves and fishes are a metaphor for the love we have for others. And if we bring that love to Jesus, he will bless us and make it BIG. Awesome. I am SO using that at VBS.

And then, a little voice inside my head wondered if maybe Father should have explained the metaphor better because you know, not everyone is a used-to-be English teacher.

I started thinking how I would make that connection for the kids at VBS, maybe a giant math equation with a loaf and a fish and an equal sign to a heart…

And then it hit me. He’s not saying love. The whole time, he’s not saying love.

He’s saying LOAF.

The English teaching in me went down screaming, because she doesn’t like to be wrong. The rest of me laughed all the way to Communion.

I mean, it still works. Bring your loaf, which by your very willingness to bring it, shows your love. Jesus will multiply it and use it to feed others. But for reals—the story has stood the test of time. It doesn’t need improvement.

Just better listening skills.

Welcome, Father Freddy. I promise to try harder.