Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Good Life

Sit for a bit and rest between sets and I
Will share with you what you already hear
In the creaking, cracking, groaning of my knees
At full flexion, the bottom of the squat or swing
Of the ugly metal ball. With every rep they sigh
And cry
The price
Of life, lived to the full. Loud and clear
Like hawkers in the flea markets, peddling their fleas
My swings sell the idea of strength, but sing
Also of the cost, in the creaking that you hear
So clear.
I fear
I am mere mortal. I feel the changing breeze
In my hips and knees and ankles, at twenty-seven.
If even this life I cannot stand to fill;
And spend my life like water, how much harder still
The greater life poured out on me in Heaven.

I buy this fleeting strength with future pain,
But gain
A strength that will not wane.
I will not hide my capital in the earth,
But burn it out for every bit I am worth
And hope to see it returned to me again
A hundred fold, shaken, tamped full measure
Running over with resurrected treasure. 

The Glory of God is Man Fully Alive! Alleluia!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Come Examine

Daytime prayer from the Divine Office for today had a phrase in one of the psalm prayers that caught my attention: "Come, examine your Church and wash her clean of sin." When I read that phrase it hit me like a ton of bricks, effecting an instant paradigm change.

You see, when I read the first part my first reaction was one of fear. I recoiled. I don't want to be examined. For some reason I have always had a fear of anyone looking at me too closely, especially people I care about; most especially God. I am afraid of what they will see. There is a lot about me that I don't like. I expect others to dislike it as much as I do. I expect rejection, or condemnation. Especially from God, I feel like if someone else sees how unworthy I am, I will stand condemned.

The more I read and talk to other people, the more convinced I am that this is not an unusual feeling. In fact, I have come to believe that everyone in the world feels this deep seated sense of unworthiness. As in my case, growing up as I did with incredibly supportive parents who take immeasurable pride in every good thing I have ever done and never hesitate to tell me so, you would think if anyone would be free of it, I ought to be but that is not the case, because that is not the source. It is not a product of upbringing or childhood neglect or an insufficient education. All of these can compound or mitigate it, but the thing itself is much deeper. It is, quite simply, Original Sin.

It takes so many shapes, this existential shame. Every human being experiences it, because every human being, deep down at his core, is in fact unworthy. No one can be worthy of what we were created for. It is sheer gift, unearned and unasked for. In the beginning, in Eden, this unworthiness was not a source of shame, but of joy. Adam and Eve delighted to receive the gifts they had not earned, and joyfully accepted being eternally in His debt. That is our nature. We were created to be cheerful beggars.

Perhaps it was rejection of that joy, and seeking to be self sufficient, equal with God, that was the core of their sin. Certainly the first thing that they did after sinning was to hide. First they hid from each other by making clothes, and then they hid from God. Why? Their hiding was the root of our fear of being examined. We desperately want to be seen intimately and loved totally, and we desperately fear being seen intimately and found unworthy, rejected, or treated as an object. And because each human being is born with that deep seated awareness of unworthiness, we assume on some level that anyone who does really see us will see our unworthiness.

It takes many forms. The husband who can't understand why, no matter how many times he tells his wife that she is beautiful, that she is precious to him, she brushes him off or doesn't seem to believe him, but she gets upset with him if he never says it. This is because she deeply needs to be told that she is worthy but only one voice is strong enough to tell her permanently, and that is God's voice. That is why she needs to hear it from her husband, but his voice alone will never fully convince her. However, if his love is true love, meaning that God is teaching him how to love, then his voice will become more and more convincing, because more and more it will be God's voice speaking through his. The same is true for the husband who never believes he is good enough, or makes enough money, or whatever. He needs to trust that when his wife speaks to him out of true love, it is a way in which God speaks to him.

But when I read the second half of that phrase, "And wash her clean of sin," something shifted in my head and my eyes opened. I was willing to allow God to examine me, endure it as a necessity, but the prayer of the Church invites me to look forward to His examination and welcome it with joy and even eagerness. Why? Because the purpose of that examination is precisely to heal me of my sin. God wants to heal that deep, fundamental skew that makes me so afraid. The purpose of the examination makes all the difference, and His purpose is not to condemn. It has never been to condemn. It is to heal.

It is as if we said to the doctor, "No! Don't look at me! I am sick!" "Well of course you are sick, you dunce! And if I do not look at you, you will stay that way." In her daily prayer the Church is inviting me to trust in God's desire and ability to make me clean, and to be so eager for that cleansing that I accept, and invite, and welcome with open arms that vulnerabilityof being seen in all my naked unworthiness.

I wonder if that isn't what life is all about. Certain parts of it do seem to be in preparation for that vulnerability. Opening up and allowing friends to see into your heart a little bit; the nakedness of husband and wife, (physical and emotional); most especially the sacrament of Confession; heck, even the decrepitude of old age, and allowing someone else to wipe your but for you, if accepted graciously and joyfully, even that is a preparation for meeting God.

There is much to be learned from just that one phrase, but mostly I guess it can be summed up by saying, "Be not afraid."

He loves us.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


I sit in the terminal in a strange land,
Watching the monsoons fall
On the glass roof above my head.

My thoughts are with the one I love
For she would love to sit here with me
And watch the rain falling from other skies.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Zombies and the Slaying of Them.

I have to preface this by saying that there is nothing wrong with video games. The concept of a video game as such is a legitimate form of entertainment, and can even be considered an art form. Certainly the potential exists for video games to be artistic. I also grew up not playing video games. I remember seeing some friends playing some kind of arcade style fight game on a Sega once when I was a kid, but I did not join in. I wanted to, but I was certain my parents would not approve because it was "violent."

One Christmas, in a fit of I-don't-know-what, our parents bought us a pair of games for the PC. One was a fighter pilot simulator game, the other was a helicopter pilot simulator game. The fighter one was too graphics heavy for our dinosaur of a PC, but we could get the SimCopter to work. We were technically allowed to play it for a limited time each day but my Dad made it quite clear that he thought it was a waste of time and there were much better things we could be doing. That game ended up falling by the wayside.

It wasn't until I joined the Army that I got a chance to play video games regularly. A buddy in my first unit had a ninja game called "Tenchu II: Wrath of Heaven" for the PS3 and I played that quite a bit, although not nearly as much as I wanted to. I found some first person shooters for the PC and put in hundreds of hours playing them on my laptop. "Age of Empires" was another of my favorites, as was "Alpha Centauri." I felt a little less like I was wasting time on those two because they were "strategy" games, and Alpha Centauri at least had a strong veneer of pseudo-intellectualism. The whole "Command and Conquer" series was fun as well.

I had a love/hate relationship with the games through most of this time. I liked playing them, but they left me feeling empty and a bit guilty. The guilty feeling simply came from the fact that there definitely were better things for me to be doing with that time. When we were growing up stewardship of time was pretty solidly inculcated into us. To this day I can hear my Dad's rhetorical question, "That is not bad, but is there anything better?" "Good, Better or Best," was his catch phrase. The emptiness I now recognize as a much deeper product of my upbringing. I had been raised on books, taught to play outside and make up my own games, taught to build things and enjoy learning. Spending all my time on video games or any other empty entertainment was bound to leave me feeling the emptiness. In much the same way, having grown up on solid, hearty food, meat, cheese, vegetables, potatoes and whatnot. If I ate nothing but junk food for a week, or even only a day, I just felt sick.

It wasn't until I came across World of Warcraft that things began to get serious. That game was seriously addictive. I never skipped responsibilities, such as work, exercise or church for the game, but I did skip a lot of healthier and more fulfilling pursuits. I ended up going through three separate WOW binges, a few weeks each, separated by a year or two. During this periods I would do absolutely nothing in my spare time but play WOW. I made time for my morning Bible reading, my daily rosary and daily Mass. I still worked out, but I ate a lot of delivery pizza, and got very little sleep. Each time I would eventually get disgusted with myself and force myself to break away, but it was a negative denial. I was concentrating on not doing what I wanted to do.

As I mentioned in my last blog when I moved to Tacoma I started building the social life I had needed and that reality changed. By slow degrees my life became full and fulfilling and the urge to play faded away. Instead of denying myself I was doing things I truly enjoyed. Recreation is taking the place of entertainment.

Which is not to say that entertainment has no place. I did end up buying an x-box and "Call of Duty: Black Ops," just so that I could play Nazi Zombies with my brother. He and I usually play a round or two after we get home at night. When playing with someone else I am much less likely to over-indulge, and that is when we do most of our talking. The game provides something fun and almost mindless to do while we discuss the day and what is going on. Sharing it turns it from simply entertainment into a recreation.

You see, there has to be a balance in life. It is one thing to be addicted to mindless entertainment, and I don't want to be like that. However, it is just as possible to be addicted to busy-ness, always needing to feel like I am accomplishing something, making progress on some project or goal. It is a mistake, I think, to regard rest and recreation, and even entertainment as mere concessions to human weakness. They are windows into something greater, something that is a part of what Heaven is, and we need them to prepare us for Heaven. Someone who cannot work will be ill-prepared for the rigor of Love that is Heaven. On the other hand someone who cannot rest will be just as ill-prepared for the utter peace and lack of urgency that is also Heaven.

I am who I am, I am where I am. Jesus is with me.

That is all that matters.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


In January of 2012 I moved from Fort Bragg, North Carolina to Fort Lewis, Washington. I had been living within a 3 1/2 - 5 hour drive from Aunts, Uncles, cousins and grandparents, and now I was going to be three time zones, and three days of driving from anyone I knew or cared about. I wasn't too worried about that, but I knew that I never would have made it through the Q course without that regular presence of family, and I was equally certain I would not make it through my time in Special Forces without an equally strong support system. So I planned on:
1) Joining a Bible Study.
2) Being Active in a Parish
3) Building an active social life
4) Doing charity/volunteer work in my spare time
5) Read more books and start college.

With these goals in mind I set out across the country. I drove for 3 days by myself, doing 16-18 hours behind the wheel each day. I especially loved the Rockies and the high deserts of Wyoming and Eastern Washington, which were wide open, sunny, wild and beautiful. I loved that countryside and just driving through it made me happy, despite the fact that I was sleep deprived like crazy.

Then I hit the green belt. I crossed over Snoqualmie pass and dropped down into western Washington, and the whole world changed. The clouds crashed down in around me, the rain started, the trees and hills rose up on either side of me, the traffic turned thick. Then I hit the Seattle/Tacoma area and the buildings loomed around all gray and gloomy and sad looking, and the traffic was terrible and I was tired and homesick, and right then I was certain that I was going to hate living in Tacoma.

I spent the next week living in a hotel room, doing in-processing stuff on post, and playing World of Warcraft most of my spare time.When you move to a different duty station the Army gives you 10 days of leave free (meaning it doesn't come out of your ordinary 28 days of leave per year) to get settled in. On top of that, however, you have just signed out of your old unit, so while you are technically on their books they aren't keeping track of you. You haven't signed into the new unit yet, so they are not keeping track of you either. It's easy to fall between the cracks for a while and get a lot of free time off. I didn't do that, but there was a snow storm in Tacoma that closed post down for three days, and a four day weekend, so I had a lot of free time. I played a lot of World of Warcraft.

I moved into an apartment and kept playing WOW. Life was still miserable. Then one Monday I looked at myself and realized that I hadn't done any of the things I said I was going to do when I moved to Tacoma. Not one thing on that list was checked off. So I deleted WOW and Googled Catholic young adult groups in the Tacoma area.

It would turn out to be one of the best things I have ever done in my life. I walked into Panera bread at the Tacoma Mall on that Monday night, and met the group of young adults who would become my friends here. It wasn't immediate, or easy, but I built relationships within that group. I had to force myself out of my shell, just like I did the first time, many times over. There is a reluctance to reach out to other people which is pretty common for most people, I think. Even if it is just trying to get a couple of guys together to drink beer and smoke pipes, there is the fear that maybe they won't want to do it. No one likes to get rejected, so it is easier simply not to take that risk. If you have a group of friends that you can depend on, it is easy just to stick with that little group that never lets you down, never challenges you. But that is the way of death. That is how your soul dies, and your ability to love shrivels up.

So I forced myself to reach out, invite people out for coffee, or drinks, create events, host pizza parties, even a couple of dates. And you know what? It is fun! Being in community is fun! Sure there is some friction from time to time. Of course there are competing schedules and sometimes you can't make plans work, and sometimes you don't see so-and-so for weeks because they are just busy (I am usually that guy).  It cramps my style, in some ways, meaning it challenges selfishness. It changes priorities. Things that I used to spend time on (like WOW) I no longer even want to waste my time with. On the whole, however, it is good. It opens my eyes, and stretches my heart, and even fills up holes that I never knew were empty.

Since then I have been in and out of the area, Special Forcing here and there around the world. I was right, I don't much care for Special Forces, and I don't intend to re-enlist. However, through all the vagaries and pointlessness of military life, I have friends here who share the same values. When I come home I have folks I can drink a beer with without worrying that the evening is going to end up at a strip club. I have people I can invite over to pizza parties and serve good quality food and drink, and know that no one is going to end up puking all over the furniture. People I can pray with, or talk about God with.

It makes all the difference.

Friday, April 5, 2013


An emissary of the kingdom approached me, offer in hand:
Full citizenship in the democracy of They
With full, unstinted knowledge of what They say
And continuous initiation in the windy way
Of conformity, (which is their word for Mordor.)
To wit, I would be known throughout the land
As One of Us: a standard bearer in that noble order,
With all the rights and privileges pertaining
Thereunto, with not a shade remaining
Of loneliness, (which is their name for solitude.)

I thanked them kindly, and inquired of them the price
To which they laughingly said there was no hurry.
All payments are delayed, and not to worry.
They said, “Our payment is easy and our cost is light.”

So I in their whimsical fellowship was one,
And deep inside the inner circle came,
For a time, and entered into exclusive fun.
Payment was delayed, but all the same
The bill at length arrived. It was very easy.
An automatic payment option for the lazy,
That would take the payment even in my sleep
And the payment (they said) was nothing I would want to keep.
They only asked to take from me my crazy.
Really, you know, they were doing me a service
And the paperwork was already almost complete
Stack, collated and stapled nice and neat,
Needing only a signature. Don’t be nervous,
The signature is only a formality
To set up automatic withdrawal, and return you to normality.

But I noticed that in all that stack of copious paperwork,
There was no “decline” box for me to check.
Not that I meant to decline, but what the heck?
Did they really think that no one ever would?
Or could?
And gradually that lack began to irk
My mind.

And then it hit me out of a clear blue sky,
I couldn’t do it. The price was far too high.
When they said “Crazy,” what they really meant was “Why?”
Pieces fell in place, and the horizon grew apace
Before the dusky incomprehension of their face
Slack-jawed in bland complacency, like my own.
There were options, dawning like the sun
In blinding profusion.
Before their growing confusion,
Mingled with disgust and nascent hate.

I asked, “Why take their paperwork, when I have an empty slate?
Why crawl when I could even dare to die.”
So I politely told them what I didn’t give,
For their tribute; And went my way and began to live.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Feast of Saint Joseph

Dear Readers,

I heard a homily on the Feast of Saint Joseph that got me thinking about this poem. Or rather, it gave a form to a poem that had been rolling around in my head since the prodigal son was in the gospel some weeks before. It gave it form, and I am just posting it here because I wrote the whole thing in ten minute breaks during Korean class and half of a lunch break. Hope you enjoy it!

The Feast of Saint Joseph 

Come Home, My Son, Come Home!
I hear the accusing call, from way out here
In the wilderness, convicting me of my crime
Wallowing with my swine
You are hungry, why delay?
The voice stirs my conscience, reminds me of the way
I lived on borrowed coin
You are worth far more than this. Come join
Your family. I will meet you in the middle.
I am worth so little
When will you come home?
I will go.

My Son is coming home! Prepare the ring!
I accept that I dare not see your face
I confess my sin and take the lowest place.
I deserve your ire
Child, come up higher!
I am not even worthy of serving you for hire
You are a grubby little child, and you need a bath.
You are not so grandly evil as all that, no matter what you did.
Hurry home and I will meet you on the path
With a basin and a towel
Heaven Forbid!
Lord, you shall never wash my feet!
I am not so presumptuous, not by half!
I have saved for you the fatted calf!
See how eagerly I eat my muddy husks
Left over from the pigs?
When I have prepared for you unblemished Lamb?
They cut me with their tusks,
And I chew their dirty twigs.
That’s the best that I deserve.
Of all the nerve! Come in the house.
Lowest of the low, the grimiest louse
That ever infested the halls of the just,
Ashes and dust.
Dust and my breath! Come inside!
Lord, be sane! Have a mind for your dignity
 I know my place and I know my humility.
Although I am fallen, crippled, destined for mean use,
I still have pride enough to know Dominum, Non Sum Dignus!
At least one of us is still aware of your great Majesty!
And so you dare this senseless travesty?
You make me laugh! I know what you have earned.
None knows better your true worth,
And where it comes from. None on earth.
You think you have returned?
Amen I say, you still know not how far
Away from peace and joy and home you are.
You still have never learned
Of love. But never fear.
I am here.

Midway on my Lenten journey back
On the Feast of Saint Joseph, they offered me chocolate ice cream.
Let down from the sky upon a sheet
Held by the four corners, and laid it at my feet.
I turned it down, clung grimly to my lack
Of worthiness until an angel came
And scolded me in my dream
“You’re wound too tight, you silly dupe!
Show some humility and have a scoop!
Or two.
Lent is not about you.
Precious blood has bought for you this chance.
 Salvation is a dance.”

And so I bowed my head and ate
Humble-pie-flavored ice cream; And it tasted great!