Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Balance, Breathing, and All Things Survival

I'm a Secular Third Order Franciscan. The First Order are priests, the Second Order are Nuns such as the Poor Clares and the Third Order is made up of priests that are not part of the Friars Minor or Capuchins, sisters that are Franciscan but don't live in the cloisters like the Poor Clares and those not making vows of poverty, chastity and obedience but rather living in the world in our present state of life (married or celibate) according to the Franciscan Rule to which we make our solemn profession.

A recent question by a young student about discerning a vocation is the catalyst for this post. Years ago before I professed as a Franciscan I spent a lot of time in discernment and prayer. I knew I was called to make a commitment. To say I'm "drawn" to silence and prayer is an understatement. Sucked, driven, compelled, hurled... these are more accurate than drawn. But as you can tell by this blog my life is far from silent so when I looked into various relationships with monasteries such as an Oblate or joining a lay order that is monastic in nature, while appealing, the fit was just not right. The Franciscan Spirituality hit it right on the head. In the world, but not of the world, finding God through engagement in creation and relationship not seclusion from it.... like a blind beggar trying to help the other blind beggars find the Life Giving Water.

See my life is a delicate balance between prayer and service, silence and chaos, inhaling and exhaling, expanding and contracting. My survival hangs by the thread of "a little to much" and "not enough." I'm going to share one of my all time favorite stories from a book that aside from the Bible would be the one book I'd want with me if stranded on a deserted island and could have only one book.... Tales of a Magic Monastery by Theophane the Monk. The story: A Creature of Expansion and Contraction.

I'm a monk myself, and the one question I really wanted to ask was, "What is a Monk?" Well, I finally did, but for an answer I got a most peculiar question: "Do you mean in the daytime or at night?" Now what could that mean?

When I didn't answer, he picked it up again, "A monk, like everyone else is a creature of  contraction and expansion. During the day he is contracted - behind the cloister walls, dressed in a habit like all the others, doing the routine things you might expect a monk to do. At night he expands. The walls can not contain him. He moves throughout the world and he touches the stars."

"Ah," I thought, "poetry." To bring him down to earth I began to ask "Well, during the day, in his REAL body..."

"Wait," he said, "that's the difference between us and you. You people regularly assume that the contracted body is the real body. It IS real, in a sense. But here we tend to start from the other end, the expanded state. The daytime state we refer to as 'the body of fear.'  And whereas you tend to judge a monk by his decorum during the day, we tend to measure a monk by the number of persons he touches at night, and the number of stars."

Where God has placed me in life at the moment is a place I never thought I'd be. When He called me to my current situation my response was "Are you sure? Are you really sure? Are you sure you're sure? Ok really who is this?" My daytime, contracted state is much what you'd expect from a lay person working in Faith Formation in the Church, but at night I move around the world touching those who've been wounded and broken from the effects of war and disaster and are in various stages of healing. They've committed themselves to a life of service not all that different from my own but on the opposite side of the mirror, seeing things they wish they'd never experienced. Through discipline and training we strive together to become better persons and do the most good for those we're committed to serve with the hope of making their life a little better and healing our own wounds as we work to heal theirs.

Working side by side to overcome adversities of every kind, which we choose to continue to face, I am surrounded by things that threaten to throw me over the edge, out of balance with that delicate rhythm of prayer and action, quiet and chaos, and the deeper the sacrifice and challenge is, the deeper the quiet and prayer that is required to maintain that balance. And so is this expansion and contraction and in this current mission of mine I invite you to join me, somewhere between awake and asleep, out there among the stars to go further Into Great Silence.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Fight or Flight

I have two M.O.'s (modes of operation). One applies to when you're with me and the other applies to when I'm by myself. One is in play when your safety is in jeopardy and the other is in play when it's only my safety in jeopardy.

My flight reflex has only kicked in a couple of times in my life, I think both were in the face of catastrophic storms, one many years ago and another a couple of years ago. The first time involved multiple tornadoes at a well known theme park with a group of 30 plus people scattered all throughout the park. My instinct was flight but I couldn't, not at the expense of everyone else. I locked my arms through a bike-rack type fence surrounding a merry go round as the twister was about to hit a roller coaster 100 yards away. Instead the miracle I'd prayed for occurred as the twister jumped over the roller coaster and receded a bit. I stood up as it passed over my head and I literally stared in awe up the funnel. I felt like my breath was being ripped from my chest as I watched this gargantuan pillar of wind. The funnel reformed another 150 yards away down the main aisle of the park and I watched as it came roaring down the aisle at me, this time it veered off to my right 50 yards from me and blew itself out. I spent the next hour gathering youth, adult leaders, dodging 3 more twisters forming around the park and praying as I searched for my people. It was a nightmare. I found 6 of my youth and as we made our way to our rendezvous point an electrical storm hit. You could hear the air crackling all around us and smell the ozone in the air as bolt after bolt slammed the ground throughout the park. We had no where to go so I lined my 6 youth up under the overhang of a snack booth that was elevated enough to get them out of the water. There was just enough room for the 6 of them. I told them to stay out of the water, not to touch anyone or anything including the building and told them to stay there until the storm passed, no matter what! I then told them not to look at me as I wandered off a safe distance from them and stood in calf deep water. As I stood there in the torrential downpour I could here the electricity crackling through the structure of a roller coaster less then the length of football field away. I hollered at the youth to close their eyes and stay there. I was sure this was it.

A few years ago another major storm I found myself in was the same thing, fight or flight. I had my wife with me and we were right in the bulls-eye. We had just enough time to get to safety, flight saved our bacon and our car as a tree crashed down where our car had been minutes before.

In my last post I mentioned a disaster life support training I'd attended. After that post I mulled over a few scenarios we were presented with, one was particularly challenging for me. I figured I might as well do the work now before presented with it so I played it out in my mind, unwisely right before I went to bed. I finally fell asleep, sort of, but it wasn't a good night. I don't remember the dreams but I know they were bad. The fight or flight kicked in again. Should I willingly put myself in this situation? Again the two M.O.'s, who's safety is at stake? Fight not flight.

There are situations everyday that we deal with that trigger the fight or flight. In our dealings with coworkers, bullies at school, peer pressure, money issues and on and on. Do the work ahead of time, know yourself and your limits, what are you willing to compromise and what are you willing to struggle with to maintain your integrity. Perhaps the most important question.... where or rather Who do you draw your strength from? If you decide to fight where do you get your strength to fight? And if it's flight Who do you run to? You Decide by Fireflight.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Majority Rules

This isn't going to sit well with you so turn back now.

Lets talk supply and demand, numbers, natural selection, mother nature, life. I recently spent an 8 hour day in a training dealing with basic disaster life support. We saw a few gory pictures, talked about all kinds of nasty stuff, how to deal with nasty stuff, how to treat nasty stuff and how to stuff the nasty stuff. It's quite simple diaster = needs > resources. If your needs are great than your resources you have a disaster situation so then the usual equation of the many working to save the one becomes the one working to save the many and often times it means not lingering with the one who is struggling to survive in favor of saving as many others as possible. Spock said something similar in The Wrath of Kahn when he said "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few... or the one." It's one of the rules of majority. So in a disaster situation the one works to do the most good for the most people, the majority. So you don't drop everything to save one person who most likely won't make it  so you can try to save as many other people that may make it. Not an easy thing and this where you stuff your stuff to deal with at another time. You have the rest of your life to work that out.

It ain't pretty... that's the majority rule. I can understand it even though I have to rewire a few things to accept it but should it really be that hard for a Christian? After all we follow the One who sacrificed for the majority. If I were applying the rules of mass casualty triage, He's got the best chance of survival. The rest of us are questionable. We often meet our demise at the hand of our own bad habits and choices and if not physically definitely spiritually. This is a slippery slope, the rules of majority. Once we take that step we're only one more step from denying help to those who are weak and vulnerable in every situation, after all why waste resources on someone who'll only live a matter of days when we could help many live more comfortably.

And what about popular opinion, the moral (or immoral) majority? Shouldn't we all just fall in line and get with the times, after all this is a new millennium and everybody lives together, has multiple sex partners, takes what they want when they want, blows off responsibility, disrespects everyone and speaks their mind. Why should I forgo the pleasures when someone else will just step in and take my share. TV is full of it, the shows have to be inclusive and show every form of "alternative" behavior and we're just homophobic, racist, non-inclusive bigots if we speak out or don't accept it.  Those that have the power of fame capture the masses to convince them that they're agenda is the only way to freedom and acceptance and if you're not with them the fault of all the worlds problems lies with you. Give in and shut up or be ground up to fuel the system of fear and popular opinion that works so hard at convincing our most vulnerable that the lies are Truth. We have to ask are we doing this for good of the majority of the individuals or are we sacrificing the good of the individuals to create a majority for the good of ourselves. There is a time and place for the rules of majority and then there's a time when majority rules are only there to ensure that you Feed the Machine by Nickelback.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Clark Kent

It all started with a bad haircut.... a really bad haircut. So bad I had to pretty much shave my head. Anyhow it's interesting whats taken place since then, and it's only Wednesday. It's all the same. I have multiple situations where I've told people not to do something or told them I was unable to accomplish their requests. In response to these conversations people have acted like the conversation never took place and proceeded to do what they wanted anyways or others have contradicted what I've said and told them I could and would do it. Others are experiencing the same types of things. It's like people are just going to do what they want and expect others to do what they want as well.

It kinda makes you wonder about yourself, you know. I guess maybe God's got me taking a deeper look at myself, my motives and how others view me. How does all this tie in with a bad haircut? Beats me, if you have insights let me know but it seems that's where things started going sideways this week.

Anyhow I do know it ties in with my super hero super power. No really, I do have a super power. I was sitting in a training a few weeks ago with a whole lot of people whom I'd trained with before when suddenly this woman looks at me and says "do I know you? you just seem like I know you and we've met somewhere before." I said "yes I was at such and such a training and such and such a training a few weeks ago" And she said "I wondered because you act like you know me and your friendly and I don' have a clue who you are, I feel terrible. I don't remember seeing you before." At this she started blushing a little and I said "don't worry, that's my superpower... invisibility... I can be in a room with all kinds of people and no one sees me. That just what I do, that's my super power." I felt amazing!!! I've waited so long for someone to confirm my super power, but something happened, I was exposed to some kind of kryptonite because in that moment she saw me and my super power disappeared. I was back to being Clark Kent, the hum drum nice guy that everyone can count on. But it's pretty cool because I'm invisible to everyone, even those I don't want to be invisible to and some who can see me only see me partially in some distorted image of who they think I am or want me to be.

I know others have this same power so I'm not all that special. To those who do I'll let you in on a little secret.... I've learned to recognize others who have the power of invisibility, like knows like, so don' t get cute... I see you!! Here's the rub. I suddenly become visible when someone wants me to do something, I think this might be my kryptonite because suddenly I'm visible. And the more demanding the need the more visible I become. So here I sit, trapped in a phone booth, tangled in wires trying to acquiesce to your request unable to do everything you want but capable of referring you to someone who just might be able to help. I've been visible way to much today to the wrong people and invisible to the right ones so I'm going to switch into my body suit and tights and make like Superman by Luna Halo.

Monday, May 8, 2017


Saturday afternoon I was outside fixing one of my ham radio antennas. I went into the house to grab something and realized I better check my phone so I did and there's 2 alerts for our emergency response team. We'd been called up for a Search And Rescue. Last weekend I was riding a desk for my second 3 day SAR training in two months. So if you've followed this blog at all you know that I when there's a SAR everything stops and I go.

I drove for a little over an hour and half to get to the staging area. There were a couple of emergency response vehicles and the Incident Commander with the husband. After getting a quick briefing from the IC he informed me he was going to hold me until more arrived as there were 10 people in the field and 4 or 5 other teams in route as well as the helicopter for the State Police. I talked to the husband to get the details of our missing person, the usual .... name, clothing, health condition, age, issues to be aware of, Point Last Seen, direction of travel. As it turns out our 58 y.o. woman was in advancing stages of dementia and wandered off while looking for mushrooms. As I asked him about the PLS he took me to the head of the 2 track and pointed into the woods about 100 yards. As we talked a Ranger drove out of the woods and headed down the road. I asked the IC if he had setup containment or started a hasty search of the roads and trails since she was so close to the road. They hadn't as they'd gotten there shortly before I did. So I headed down the main road and a half mile down hit a 2 track headed right into our prime search area. Our person had been missing for 5+ hours and we were moving towards dark with night time temps in the 30's. I immediately slammed on the brakes and headed down the 2 track confident this is where our person was. Based on personal experience, her physical condition and layout of the area I was thinking this is where I am if I'm lost. As I drove I noticed vehicle tracks in the sand and after determining they were fresh figured the Ranger was in front of me so I drove another 1/4 mile to a place I could identify on a map and turned around. As soon as I headed out I notice the Ranger racing up to catch me so I pulled over. He said "I don't have any information or know who we're looking for but I think I have her". I verified her name, clothing and age and sure enough it was her.

There were tears among family members and many thanks to the SAR team. I spent some time talking with them about the situation and making small talk as our lost person calmed herself down. Then the husband looked at me and asked if I had really driven from  80 miles away. When I confirmed it he said "What's wrong with you? Where you bored or what?" After a moment of self doubt I told them that if one of my family members were lost I would want people to come and help annnd then there were more tears and thank you's.

You know that encounter really made me think. Why DID I spend an hour and half in a car to come help? What drives me to volunteer time and resources to help re-unite families or reach out to people in need, assist in emergencies, recover from disasters or work through personal life crisis and family issues? It used to be a nice thing to do to help others. It's what good citizens do, it's the Christian thing to do. But now it's this driving need to help others when they can't help themselves. I know it started with prayer and when asked I've always described my prayer as driving me to service and sacrifice and after exhausting myself I'm driven back to prayer and so the cycle continues... prayer to service to prayer to service.....

But who's looking for me when I'm lost? Sometimes in ministry we can become so focused on others that we loose ourselves. This is part of the hallmark of the right path as we are called to die to self and this truly is what it feels like. I've never died physically but emotionally, spiritually... this is dying. It becomes more like clinging, hanging on for dear life because I know if I wander to far from Him I'm likely to fall off the cliff. If I wander off and can no longer see Him I make bad choices, follow rabbit trails, get distracted and then lost. Prayer doesn't feel the same any more. The fire is gone, I think I see Him through the fog but maybe my eyes are playing tricks on me. The signs tell me I'm headed in the right direction but it feels like lost. How do I get back to where I was? Do I go back or just keep going? Will anyone even notice I'm gone? If they do will anyone even come looking for this Missing Person? by Michael W Smith

Monday, April 17, 2017

Now What

I hope your Holy Week and Easter Day was as special as mine. So many emotions, so many insights, so many opportunities of deep, personal faith sharing, so many memories.... all inspired by the events of the passion, death and transition to new life by one Man, ferociously full of love and sacrifice, an example of the power of God. My granddaughter and I just held each other yesterday evening as she cried "I don't want to leave, I just want to stay here" and I echoed her sentiment.

I've done this before, you've done this before. I know I'm changed because of it, but for how long? So where do we go from here? Can you imagine the power of the instant they found that empty tomb and encountered the risen Christ, so powerful that it reverberates through the 2000 plus years?

Our Churches where packed with people some may only come once or twice a year, maybe once in a lifetime. How do we live the power of Easter? No matter who we are or what we've done we're called to more, but we hesitate, we doubt, we fear. We wait for the right time but as we wait time is slipping away like the memories of yesterday. We walk a fine line trying to be a "good" person but we can't quite take that step of faith, instead we hide from our God given calling. We run to our responsibilities and concerns and problems and responsibilities and we use them to shelter us from that deep calling.

Go back to that cross from four days ago. It's empty. It's as empty as all those excuses that we use to answer the call to go deeper. Step into that tomb from yesterday morning and call out to Him and hear His voice in your echo, just listen, just be open. That's your calling... be open, empty like the tomb, surrender. He will lead you one step at a time. But you have to take that first step. What are you waiting for? When are you waiting for? What About Now? by The Kry.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

New Life

Love begets new life. Whether it's married love, sacrificial love, enduring love... Love begets life, sustains it and enriches it. Love ends in new life. And do way say He is risen, He is risen indeed!! Happy Easter!