Thursday, January 30, 2014

Close Encounters

I recently read a story about Pope Francis visiting a very modest parish in a poorer part of Rome. The parish had recently built a new sanctuary, and fifteen families are now living in the old space. The story was about the Pope's visit and the homeless families, but one part that grabbed my attention was the interview with the local parish priest, Don Marco Ridolfo. He said, 
“When peoples’ intentions are sincere . . . a parish can become a school in which to learn patience and tolerance, which can be applied outside as well. Examples of enlightened people like Pope Francis help us do away with that cursed temptation to think that if you are a good person, you are alone. And then, because you are alone, you are weaker and you have to stay on guard, so it becomes easier to embrace all those things that hurt you, to let circumstances make you ugly. When you start to understand that there are other people that see things the way you do, who want to live, who want to believe in this kind of life even if it’s difficult, then it’s a completely different thing."
I was really touched by his description of church as a school for patience and tolerance, and by his honesty about feeling alone while trying to be a good person.

I think Don Marco has articulated two very good reasons for raising your kids in a parish or congregation. First, his point about patience and tolerance: The church is a family of equal siblings (all children of God, and equally beloved in God's sight.) As such, it is a great place to practice patience and tolerance. Just as we have to put up with relatives who we would never invite into our lives otherwise, at church we will be expected to learn to love and respect people we would normally avoid. It has become very easy to simply associate with people we like or who share our values. Most of the time we go places in our own cars, riding only with people we like. Most of us (67.9%) live in single family dwellings in households that average 2.6 people in size. We don't have to play well with others in our daily life! So whether you're the weird relative who is tolerated, or the cool relative who is doing the tolerating, your church family will welcome you.

Don Marco's second point about feeling alone as a good person is also very valuable. We sometimes feel that we're swimming upstream in our "goodness." It is tempting to give up on trying to do the right thing and just going with the flow. Assembling regularly with other people who are also trying to be good people is encouraging. It removes our isolation and gives us strength for the journey. It also allows your skeptical kids to see that other people trying to be good people, and to hear those people share their experiences. (Maybe someone cooler than you will inspire your child.)  Don't you want that for your kids?

I know these thoughts may idealize the church, your church, but you can help it be an ideal community by bringing yourself and your kids to take part. Give it a try!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Choose Your Own Adventure

Living a life of faith can be a lot like those "choose your own adventure" children's books. (If you've never
read one, the idea is that every few pages the reader is given a choice of how to continue the adventure: Do you take the train (go to page 174) or the plane (go to page 185)? Each choice delivers a different plot twist and adds or eliminates possible outcomes to the adventure.)

Living by faith is similarly about choosing and adventure. Every few days, or weeks, or months, a choice comes along. Should I volunteer for this project or spend more time with a small child or aging parent? Should I give away part of this bonus or pay down my mortgage? Do I forgive this person or hold a grudge? And, depending on the choice you make your adventure will take on a new twist.

Children hear a lot about making "good choices." This is a healthy conversation to be having but is usually limited to the simple black and white choices: water is good and soda is bad. What should you choose to drink for lunch? The schools, scouts, clubs and PSAs are making a strong case for making good choices. You'll want to model that for your kids too.

Some choices, however, are far more complex and don't have simply good or bad choices. You and your child will sometimes face decisions between good choices: Home-school, private school, or public school? Should I study to be a science teacher or a physician? Should I borrow money for college and finish in four - or pay as I go and take six years to finish my degree? Other choices involve choosing between undesirable outcomes: Do we continue life support or remove the machines? Who will survive, the mother or the child? Do I do the right thing at the probable expense of my job?  These are choices with pros and cons and opportunity costs that will result in much greater adventures than water-or-soda-for-lunch choices. These choices need a more complex decision making process.

This is where you need to add the dimension of "faithful choices" to the discussion. This is where our core beliefs about what is right or wrong, important or unimportant, responsible or irresponsible, and personal versus societal good come into play. This is not a simple flow chart; these are choices flow out of who one is.

To make faithful choices we must function as faithful people. Joyce Ann Mercer talks about the process of becoming a musician being analogous to becoming a person of faith. Becoming a musician  requires daily practice at increasing levels of difficulty. It requires learning the language of music and participating with others in making music. You can't cram for musicianship or faithfulness. You need to practice daily.

The pay-off? Adventures can abound when life is lived from a place of faith. Decisions made in faith will open doors to adventure, your own adventure. Live into it and share your process with your kids. There's no better way to prepare them for their own adventures!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Catching a Wave

Recently singer-songwriter Dessa was interviewed on The Splendid Table, a radio show about food and cooking. I don't know Dessa or her music but she said one thing in the interview that was such a perfect turn of phrase that I've been turning it over in my mind ever since I heard it. When asked where her inspiration for her songwriting comes from she said "It's more like catching a wave than going to the well." That is pure poetry!

I think this is an apt description of faith as well. The waves roll by and, depending where you are in the expanse of the surf, this wave or that may be your ride to shore. It's probably not the same wave that the surfer 100 yards south of you will catch, but even if it is, your ride will be different. Faith is an experience, not a task.

This is what makes it crucial for parents to speak the language of faith to our children. We cannot simply take our children to the font to be baptized, and then bring them to the well for a drink once a week. Once we've taken them to the font, it's time to take them down to the shore to get their toes wet. That will look different for each family, and for each individual within your family, but everyone has to get wet or they'll never get a chance to ride that wave to shore.

Some families go to the shore by way of devotional time at home. Others go by spending time in nature, marveling at God's great creation. Still others find their wave in serving people in need, and others in making music together. Whatever it is, it might be your wave, or your child's wave, and you need to speak the language of faith into the experience so that your child understands faith is not a chore performed on Sunday morning, it is the experience of life itself.

Just as you need to drink or bathe daily, you also need to splash around in your baptism everyday. Make it an intrinsic part of your daily routine. Remember your baptism in your shower; give thanks for the food you eat; pray for the passenger in the ambulance; trust God and take a risk.

The surfer goes to the beach expecting to be challenged, expecting to take a risk. The person going to the well expects to find the water waiting, still and compliant, ready to be contained in a bucket or jar. The waves at the beach cannot be contained in a bucket - they are wild, powerful, and magnificent. God will take you to still waters, and will carry you to shore. Catch a faith wave and see where it takes you.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Be it Resolved

Be it resolved that in the new year:

  • I will blog on a more fixed schedule
  • I will eat healthier foods
  • I will get more exercise
  • I will spend more time in prayer
  • I will learn something new
  • I will spend my money more wisely
  • I will read better books
  • I will watch less television
  • I will be a better parent, employee, sister, daughter, friend, aunt . . .
It's the tenth of January and I can already find a dozen things I meant to start in the new year that are still lying undone in the back of my mind.  How about you? 

I have decided to dump the list and make this the year of forgiveness. And I am going to practice on myself. I am going to end each day by forgiving myself, and asking God's forgiveness, and then I am going to accept that forgiveness and treat each new day as a fresh beginning. 

Have you ever noticed how your kids wake up from naps and smile at you with that whole-body joy when you come to take them out of the crib? It didn't matter how mad they were to go down for that nap, or how frustrated you had been with whatever had happened earlier, it is brand-new-shiny-love between your child and you. I want that relationship with my whole life. Every new day is a gift, a clean sheet of paper, a newly sharpened pencil. I am going to take it, do my best with it, learn the lessons of that day, and then welcome the next, and the next, and the next! 

Your relationships with your kids, and with God, are always being made new. Why limit yourself to once-a-year hopeful resolutions and then daily self-flogging for your failures. Imagine what you could have done if you had kept that understanding of every waking as a fresh start? Your kids start life with that, and you can learn from them. Be the role model that says it's ok to stay that way. How much more exciting is that?