Ready for Kingdom Living?

“the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to possess”  –Dt 30:16

Being a Christian is about earning check marks in God’s book, right?

Wrong.

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Image: “Vast” by IronPoison via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

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And as the people of Israel stand ready to enter the promised land, we see how belief leads to action. See, God has already set aside the blessing of land for his chosen people. The Lord had a plan way back when he rescued them from slavery in Egypt. The blessing already exists. Israel doesn’t have to keep God’s commandments in order to “earn” the promised land, God has already given it freely to them. The issue, however, is Israel’s ability to live and dwell in God’s land. God doesn’t force us to change our lives to conform to his ways. But, without leaving behind our worldly ways of thinking, and transforming our lives in order to live joyfully in God’s kingdom, there’s simply no way we would ever be content in God’s promised land!

Think of it this way—life in God’s kingdom is different than our earthly reality. God’s kingdom is based on love. As we follow the Lord Jesus as his disciples, we gradually want to change our ways, to conform to his example. Why? Not to “earn” blessings, but to become people who can live in God’s kingdom, living by God’s rules with joy. The kingdom of God has come—it exists now and in eternity. The question is, are we ready to live there, to possess God’s blessings both now and forever?

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When Your Pastor Announces a Credible Allegation

Scene Soffits Microphone
Public Domain via Max Pixel

Over the past week I’ve watched my parish pastor lead a pastoral response, within the context of our local church, to the announcement of a credible allegation of inappropriate sexual behavior with an adult male by a priest who’d served our parish community.

In my own small attempt to keep victims and those hurt (rather than those acting immorally) first, I’m not going to mention the name of this particular priest. I’ll share a bit of the background though, for context. He had a long history with my parish, having served as an assistant chaplain to the fellowship, and association of lay faithful (from 1983 to 1991) that preceded the formal, canonical establishment of my parish, Christ the King in Ann Arbor. In the past decade or so, he’d been active in various ministries based in the parish, as well as a neighboring Catholic radio station, and celebrated Mass and the sacrament of reconciliation in our parish and in the chapel of a local office park.

Okay, so how did the news unfold?

Tuesday Afternoon: Bishop informs my pastor

Wednesday: Parish sends out all-parish email from pastor, informing us of the diocese’s announcement of credible allegation, and encouraging anyone affected to contact the diocese or him personally. Local Catholic schools also sent out the diocese’s announcement.

Friday: Through an all-parish email, our pastor announced that following all Sunday Masses, he would hold Q&A.

Sunday Mass: Our pastor speaks at the end of each Mass, sharing what the credible allegations were, that the bishop had conducted an investigation, and that the diocese had shared information with local prosecutors (the possible charge might be something in the realm of lewd behavior, but also might not meet standards for a formal charge–only our speculation at this point). I was deeply moved by Fr. Ed (our pastor)’s authenticity and vulnerability. He tried very hard not to cry–and may or may not have succeeded. He encouraged anyone who may have additional information or who could have been affected to get in touch with he or the diocese. Though the recipients of unwanted inappropriate sexual behavior were adults, Fr. Ed called them “our kids”–because some were likely adults who had grown up in the parish community as children.

Sunday Q&A: I attended the post-Mass Q&A. Again, I was impressed by how direct, blunt, and forthright our pastor was. He didn’t hide behind legal language. He shared his own feelings of sadness, shock, and anger. He allowed all questions–which stretched quite a range of perspectives, i.e. those who’d lived with the priest in the past spoke, those who’d been positively impacted by his ministries, parishioners who happened to be attorneys shared opinions, those who work with the elderly spoke (note: this priest is elderly suffers from some health afflictions and lives in assisted living), and those who had known him for more than three decades. There were two Q&As, and the second one, I was told, went as long as needed to allow all questions. [I was at the first one, which did have a necessary set end time due to the second Mass needing to begin.] Our pastor demonstrated very open listening, though was direct in closing off speculation that veered into not believing the allegations, questioning the conclusiveness of the bishop’s investigation, or wondering about the specific identities of those making the allegations (i.e. parishioners? non-parishioners? etc.). A strong statement was made about our co-responsibility as laity, and our role in accompanying anyone who has an allegation to bring–supporting them spiritually and practically in getting to the right person to hear the concern. I did notice that most of the people at the well-attended Q&As were predominantly those with more than two decades of life in the parish, those who would have known this priest from his younger, more active years. As someone younger and newer to the parish (<5 years) I’ve had very little public contact with him, and so I think those like me may have had less specific need to attend the Q&A (plus many of us have young children…and they’ll only happily play on the parish playground for so long after Mass!).

In closing

I don’t have anything more to share at this point, simply wanted to document the pastoral communication and leadership I observed in what would be called a “crisis response.” Without a doubt, I hold my pastor in higher esteem than I did before this began, I trust him more than I did eight days ago. Evil is never God’s will. Period. But where evil is present, where injustice occurs–our response certainly matters.

Disclaimer: I’m assuming that facts and details may expand over time from what is presently publicly known, but this is my take as I can observe it now as a parishioner.

Why Serve in a Parish

Parishes (or local churches) can be frustrating places for many an enthusiastic, devoted, and mission-oriented follower of Christ. Often due to human sin and blindness of a variety of sorts, people cannot find a place to belong, to be accepted in service. This shouldn’t be the case, but, it’s a reality (and it can hurt, take time, and require great discernment). I wanted to share an encouragement, from my own life, on why it’s worth it to keep trying and hang in there–even when one’s local church/parish feels like it’s [or you’re!] falling, we can at least be falling together.

My husband and I began serving on the Alpha Team for our parish’s first season of parish-wide Alpha in fall 2017. Going into it, we knew from all of the homilies at Mass how important this was–to follow Jesus by being love to others, making space in one’s life for conversation and relationship-building. I’d already been quite immersed in Divine Renovation and the DR Guidebook, and had been incorporating Alpha content into classes for years–so we were “low hanging fruit” to our Pastor and Senior Leadership Team’s exhortations to get involved with Alpha.

What I didn’t know, was how much God was going to make His presence known in my life through the Alpha Team experience. After serving as a Table Host and Session Leader, I was invited to join the Alpha Core Team. My focus was on developing volunteers as Table Hosts and Helpers, helping us build more and more amazing interpersonal, relationship, and conversation skills so that we truly connect with those we encounter.

This has changed me, personally, as it’s drawn me to be attentive to who I’m called to accompany in my own life–and to treat those relationships, no matter now nascent, as a priority, as if they were a “calendar event” I need to keep making time for, keep trying to schedule…no matter how many failed attempts it takes.

Being given this specific mission from staff and those of a different generation at my parish has been an experience of shared trust and mutual accountability, of being invested in by brothers and sisters in Christ in a way that isn’t just about Alpha, but is personal. This is something new. Many parishes are places where generations “guard” certain ministries, hold on to leadership roles, or simply don’t trust (or give the benefit of the doubt) anyone who’s “new” or thinks a bit differently due to different life experiences.

God shows His loving presence so much through my co-workers on the Alpha Team who intercede, both in prayers and actions, for me. Service within a parish can transform relationships (even while some, inevitably, remain painfully broken within the Body of Christ, especially a the local level). It doesn’t erase pain, but good can still come forth. Bottom line, we must not give up on it, but pursue it. 

I think this ancient hymn sums up both the challenge and grace:

English Translation (Ubi Caritas)

Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ’s love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
As we are gathered into one body,
Beware, lest we be divided in mind.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease,
And may Christ our God be in our midst.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
And may we with the saints also,
See Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good,
Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.

Why do Liturgy [of the Word with Children]?

Why do liturgy?

This question could be asked of any of us, of any age-level–why do liturgy? For each of us, liturgy offers an unparalleled experience of being joined to Christ and made worthy to offer divine worship in the Holy Spirit.[1] This experience is not limited to adults, nor limited to the Liturgy of the Eucharist–it inherently includes all of the baptized, all those filled with Christ and the Holy Spirit. And in doing liturgy, sharing in this divine worship with Christ our Savior, each of us–child, parent in the pews, and Liturgy of the Word for Children is formed.

Liturgy teaches each of us, “not by means of an artificial system of aim-conscious educational influences,” but by simply creating “an entire spiritual world in which the soul can live” as God desires.[2] Doing liturgy in any form disposes us by wrapping an individual in Christian witness, the witness of those present on earth, and of the communion of the blessed in heaven.  Liturgical habits can provide words and actions ready to become the response of ongoing conversion, months, years, or even decades later in a person’s life.[3]

David and Henry
little liturgists [cc-by-nc 2.0, Alves Family]

While liturgy has an objective aspect (meaning, the Mass is the Mass, even if “celebrated poorly”), the objective truth of liturgy, “has no end in itself apart from the formal, and therefore subjective, response of the faithful.”[4] This is where Liturgy of the Word for Children plays an essential role–encouraging adults to open themselves to the fullness of the liturgy to discern, through the Holy Spirit, how to foster a liturgical environment where our younger children hear, experience, and respond to Christ.

We do this confidently, knowing that in his earthly ministry, Jesus himself affirmed the religious potential of young children, correcting those who would assume that children have no place in the Kingdom of God.[5] Likewise, we trust in the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit who lavishes supernatural gifts of grace on all of the baptized, calling each of us to be committed to spreading the Good News.[6] In doing liturgy, we respond to this call with humility, trust, and love for God and His people.

[1] Mediator Dei, §20; see also Synod of Bishops, XI Ordinary General Assembly, Lineamenta, “The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church” (2004), §13.

[2] Romano Guardini, The Spirit of the Liturgy (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1955), 66.

[3] Timothy O’Malley, “The Habit of Worship, the Domestic Church, and the Pedagogy of Cultural Catholicism,” Church Life vol. 3, no. 4.

[4] Louis Bouyer, CO, Liturgical Piety (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1955), 35. Referencing Mediator Dei.

[5] Matthew 19:13-15

[6] Pope John Paul II, Christifidelis Laici, para. 21, Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, para. 13.

“How Not To Teach Someone to be a Baseball Fan”–a September Examen for Catechists and Teachers

Entrepreneur Seth Godin offers this commentary on teaching a school setting, he writes:

How not to teach someone to be a baseball fan

Teach the history of baseball, beginning with Abner Doubleday and the impact of cricket and imperialism. Have a test.

Starting with the Negro leagues and the early barnstorming teams, assign students to memorize facts and figures about each player. Have a test.

Rank the class on who did well on the first two tests, and allow these students to memorize even more statistics about baseball players. Make sure to give equal time to players in Japan and the Dominican Republic. Send the students who didn’t do as well to spend time with a lesser teacher, but assign them similar work, just over a longer time frame. Have a test.

Sometime in the future, do a field trip and go to a baseball game. Make sure no one has a good time.

If there’s time, let kids throw a baseball around during recess.

Obviously, there are plenty of kids (and adults) who know far more about baseball than anyone could imagine knowing. And none of them learned it this way.

An end of summer examen for us as catechists and teachers:

Is Godin’s example in any way similar to…

  • how we catechize (adults or children) in parish life?
  • how we share the faith in Catholic schools?
  • how we prepare children, adults, and married couples for sacraments?
  • how we theologically form those preparing for lay or ordained ministry?

LIttle League baseball, May 2009

Space-Saving Bulletin Tip

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Maybe in theory you’ve convinced that an overly-busy bulletin is causing distracting, sideways energy in your parish. Now what? How is it possible to shrink the bulletin–either in size or the effort that goes into publishing it each week?

One key idea is to use a standard format for all announcements. For example,

Renewed Marriage Seminar // Saturday, March 9, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. // Fellowship Hall // Pastor John and Jane Smith are leading the seminar. You can register for $35 (includes materials, lunch and childcare) in the atrium or by contacting Dorothy at 555-555-1234 or dorothy@church.org.

“Kelvin Co” (aka Kelvin R.) reflects on this style template explaining:

  • Placing the what, when and where upfront makes it easy for people to find key information they need to know as opposed to navigating through sentences to figure out the basic information about an event.
  • This format shaved off significant time in writing copy for me.
  • It streamlined the communication process of capturing the information needed to promote events from announcement requesters.
  • Putting the day of the week before the date is a good rule to follow. It is easier for people to make scheduling decisions when they know what day of the week an event is.
  • The main purpose of announcements is to get someone to respond to the opportunity. Stating the call-to-action clearly is a must.

Is Your Bulletin Sideways Energy?

Lengthy bulletins can be sideways energy. What is “sideways energy”? As Art Rainer summarizes it:

People are working. Busyness is occurring. But little movement is experienced.

That’s sideways energy. Now, bulletins at a church can become an exercise in sideways energy for two different reasons:

  1. The length bulletin may be communicating and promoting a lot of different events, programs, opportunities, etc. when we try to communicate everything, we end up sharing a lot of information, but without the prioritization and emphasis that makes this “mass” of information palatable and action-able for readers.  If you float 20 ideas to me, I can tune out. If you compellingly encourage me to move toward one–or just a few–I’m a lot more likely to take action.
  2. Let’s say your very-lengthy bulletin effectively communicates with focus–it’s not just a huge menu smattering of different ideas that may or may not be connected–but actually reveals a discipleship pathway. This is great. You may be a parish that doesn’t need to change the approach to the bulletin at all. However, consider the resources necessary to produce this–the work of editors, secretaries, visits with publisher advertisers, etc. Is that resource use sideways energy that could be better directed elsewhere?

As many churches start a “new year” right about now–how’s your bulletin?
Is it contributing to transformation? Or, is it an instrument that distracts from the central movement of energy and vision in your local church?

Crotalus cerastes mesquite springs CA-2.jpg

“The common name sidewinder alludes to its unusual form of locomotion…as its body progresses over loose sand, it forms a letter J-shaped impression, with the tip of the hook pointing in the direction of travel.” Sidewinding–good for desert snakes, not for our communications 😉 Source: “Crotalus cerastes” via Wikipedia