Faith’s Business

“Left or right.” I’m not talking politics. A business term, “the left-hand doesn’t know what the right’s doing.” Especially true in large companies but also so very true in our clever, little minds.

If you noticed, I just canceled out the word “minds” with those two adjectives, “clever and little.”

Our minds can justify anything it wishes according to our, uh, wishes, desires. Not too often when it comes to the Gospel. To compromise the Gospel is difficult to do, if not impossible.

“At the end of the day,” another business phrase, our minds slowly merge with our souls. It’s called truth and honesty. Done in darkness to bring about light to our lives. It’s the light of an enviable merger that any corporation (I mean person) acquires. Whether in our dealings with family, friends or playing mind games in our minds, the Gospel strengthens, admonishes, corrects and compliments the efforts of each part of our lives.

More business stuff, “let’s play hardball,” “keep your eyes on the ball.” Whether you follow baseball of not, it’s a Christian focus that Christ offers us today. “Offers,” or is it “demands”? I believe it’s both. Christ demands but it remains an offer. In our free will, it’s up to us to “Knuckle Down” and “Go the extra mile” to live a meaningful, worthy, fulfilling life. (More business descriptors.)

Yet, how often we say about ourselves, “My hands are tied.” I resign myself to that “left/right” game that keeps me comfortably living and acting within my mind while I attempt to hit the “mute” button to my soul.

The soul knows what the mind needs. Forgiveness and grace, gifts only provided for us by the Holy Trinity. It took three ghosts after midnight to convince Scrooge to finally admit to himself his ultimate business. In his redemption, he says, “Humanity is my business.”

Light. City. Salt. These aren’t business terms but Christ’s lifegiving business words. A light that’s proudly placed on a lampstand. Your life, at last, becomes that city on a mountain that cannot be hidden. The salt that fills your life will never, ever lose its zest, its flavor.

Does life need to remain “left or right” or can it be a holy and enriching “left and right?”

At significant times in your life, your clever mind thinking it’s clever, sheepishly inquires of the soul, “When is this merger thing gonna happen?” The soul quickly responds back to that clever, little mind and says another business term, “ASAP.”

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Flying Home

I wake up in my Florida hotel room thinking about those upcoming six unknown hours that I thought about last night. The Web says, on a typical Tuesday afternoon there are about 6,000 airplanes delivering and receiving anxious flyers. It’s just me carting dirty laundry home.

I packed the night before wondering about weather, delays and all the hapless stories I’ve read about that hasn’t affected me in my years of air travel. (Well, only once!) Yet? Yet? No need to wait for the alarm, I was wide awake an hour earlier.

Florida-Uber-driver takes its twenty-minute drive with talk about my home weather until she asks, “What airline?” She rates me at the end of the trip and I get to rate her. What a loving relationship between two human beings sponsored by a company that has no employees but having thousands of people working for them! (I have a 4.9 rating so, I guess, a previous Uber trip about Trump did not go well. We could have talked religion.)

“Lift, pull and walk” are my three moving words returning some of my stuff to the rest of my stuff at home.

Check-in is easy. The airline survey emailed two weeks later will ask me if they used my name. If it’s not said, I don’t fault them, it’s Polish, I have to think before saying it! (And, how does pronouncing my name ensure a safe flight?!) There’s time for a smoke outside with other smokers who ignore me but some smile at my saddle shoes. (Style still counts.) Since smokers are a dying breed, you’d think a little bonding would be welcomed.

Arriving at the hub, those six hours are now reduced to three. Everything preceding it was easy. No losing shoes, belt or computer when you’re TSA approved. Leaving Milwaukee, I noticed the sign that exempts removing personal items if you’re 75 or older. At age 74, you’re still a threatening believer, but when you reach seventy-five, you say to yourself, “I’m done with all that.” At that age, you get to breeze through the line; unemptied and untouched.

Many in the airport either don’t see, spot, notice, or ignore me. To most, I simply don’t exist unless we do a bump in a crowd. It’s not an airport. It’s a town and we inhabit it, at least for a while. There’s no voting, but a hierarchy does exist. I spot the “business people” immediately for their “above it all” attitude as though they’re the pilots. The cell phone is on the right and the coffee is on the left centered by their computer. Perfect symmetry for mergers and acquisitions. There’s a couple wearing their Green Bay Packer pajamas having beers in the bar. I tell them, “I know where you’re from!” Surprisingly, I later find them seated in “business.” (Subsidy, anyone?) This town has many, many restaurants with fattening menus alongside overpriced shops offering you headphones for forty dollars. I buy a sandwich because “business” only gives you an array of free carbohydrates that even the smilingly flight attendant is embarrassed to offer you. I take two.

Finally seated, the trick to airline travel interaction is to never quickly speak to someone for fear of avoidance or pure disdain. Small talk is okay. It can lead to full engagement, however, I don’t need to hear the long story about your childhood trauma since you look sixty. (I only said that I liked your bag.) Short sentences help connect. Mentioning the Excel spreadsheet spread across your tray can work either way. (Is anyone or thing that important at thirty-four thousand feet in the air?)

Pee visits always preside boarding when you occupy a window seat. (If you want to look out, pee first.) Aisle-guy mumbles to himself, “I have my spreadsheets, my headphones and my neck rest and now you have to take a piss?”

To anyone who asks the next day about my flight, my favorite word is “uneventful.” “It was a wonderful and uneventful flight. I love flying. It was an enjoyable event with the stressful-free “un” added returning home. I used air miles to get there and received miles for using my air miles. (How often does that occur in life?) Milwaukee-Uber-guy takes me home to return my traveling stuff to my other stuff. He’ll rate me, and I’ll rate him. No talk of politics this time around.

I’m happily tired to be home again…until the next time.

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CandleMass

“Light, happiness and peace.” That’s what I say at funerals. No, this is not a depressing sermon.

Apparently, however, it appears that those wonderfully blessed and God-given words are finally announced…at your funeral! And you’re not there. You’re in that other “there,” finally enjoying what was apparently lacking here.

These days, however, we can’t say and live those three long words. “Oh, no!” We need to shorten it for the populace like we did for “light.” It’s now Miller “LITE” beer. Apparently, adding a fifth letter cost more. So, let’s call them “LHP.” Sounds like a pesticide applied to your summer lawn.

Yet, what does LITE have to say about “light, happiness, and peace?” Everything is wrong when it’s spelled LITE. Those three beautiful words are perfectly matched when they are matched with three other worthy life words, “darkness, selfishness, unrest.”

LITE is what most people expect out of life. It’s the most they can hope for. That’s pretty sad when, all the time, those fully spelled words are living within each of us. Did I mention, “wonderfully blessed and God-given words?”

I guess as you listen to me, you expect me to say this stuff because we’re in a sacred place, halfway through Mass, waiting for communion; and I’m saying what priests are supposed to say. I say it, you listen, and we all leave returning to our LITE lives.

The first reading talks about “refining,” purifying” in order for a perfect sacrifice. Sounds like darkness and selfishness to me. We know that we often fall short of that faithful mark. That’s when the refining and purifying stuff fills us up. Imagine someone with a dire diagnosis, we probably don’t need to imagine. it. We know plenty of them. Yet, how can they be full of disease and still uncover and experience peace or light, and you can just forget about the “H,” happiness? It’s because they model their lives after the woman who was also full of it herself. Hers was the grace as is the grace that fills our bodies far more than any disease can.

Diseases are often described in stages. God’s three words are not stages but slowly growing movements that only deepens and grows like the exquisite movements of a beloved symphony. A stage ends with the next one beginning. A spiritual movement blossoms into the next movement remembering the previous.

That’s what makes God’s three words eternal, immortal and living within the part of us that cannot die, the soul; the deepest part of us. “Because he himself was tested through his suffering,” says Hebrews, “he is able to help those who are being tested.” Do you want a better definition of the Body of Christ?

The Gospel has “amazed” parents and onlookers. “Contradicted” is heard a few times ending with the child growing in with three more God-given words, “strength, wisdom, and favor.” A Christian lived life can be a contradiction to common understandings or acceptances.

You don’t have to buy the “light, happiness and peace” I’m talking about. You can always default and sadly settle for the LITE of this world … that’s a fake beer and you remain uncomfortably comfortable living between the stages of darkness, selfishness, and unrest. Isn’t that a great pairing of words that we often unconsciously resign ourselves to? “Uncomfortably comfortable.” What I’m selling isn’t for sale. Through all of our life’s successes, setbacks, and settlings that we settle into, it’s already living and breathing within each of us.

But don’t take my word for it. Just look deeper within yourself.

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2/3, St. Blaise Blessing

The St. Blaise prayer with two candles touching your throat ends with, “And deliver you from every other illness.” Now you have to admit that’s a bit of a stretch. Something is going to take each and every one of us. When the time comes, please don’t blame me nor St. Blaise.

The throat. Pretty important part of the body, as are the many others. Your heart tells your head, “Something’s caught in my throat.” Ummm.

The professionals say, “Having the feeling that something is stuck in the throat can be an annoying experience. To get rid of that annoying feeling that something is lodged in the back of the throat…try coughing or swallowing frequently to try and clear their throat. The sensation of a lump in your throat can come and go and could be accompanied by hoarseness, a buildup of saliva at the back of the throat, inflammation, or, in some cases, difficulty swallowing.” Again, from the professionals.

The medical term, if I may impress you this morning, is “globus sensation.” This “sensation could be caused by the muscles that are involved in swallowing. These muscles don’t relax properly resulting in a feeling that there is a lump in the throat or some other sort of obstruction in the throat when there is none. [sort of obstruction in the throat when there is none?!] Stress, stomach acid coming back up the esophagus, throat infection, allergic reactions to food or insect bites can all cause the feeling of having a lump in your throat.”

Remember when I said, “your heart is talking to your head?” I think it’s really the heart talking to your throat. Something is stuck in there and waiting to come out until you, until you, until you … let it out!

A word of praise to God for this gift of life, a long-overdue apology that’s been stuck…in your throat. An unfinished task, forgiving yourself. You can create your own list.
The professional, Fr. Joe, says, “The heart has important information and does its part. It sends the faithful, sometimes fateful, message alerting the head. The head, in all its weak intelligence, then bypasses all responsibility and sends it down to the mouth, which keeps itself shut for things like this, and conveniently sends it further downward lodging and storing this important information inside the throat causing normally relaxed muscles to tighten up and remain that way, sometimes for many years. The throat panics because it doesn’t know where else to pass on this important information, so the throat finds itself stuck with this tightened muscle thing.”

This St. Blaise blessing covers more than words about your physical health. It also blesses, and challenges, us to release unspoken, but true, healing, consoling, enriching words whether to others or to ourselves.

I don’t feel something stuck in my throat this morning. But, there’s always tomorrow.

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“…and seven others”

“…and seven others.” I’ve heard that ending to a sentence countless times the past two weeks. It was a tragic event but a very sad sentence. Seven other lives were cut short in that helicopter crash. Not a follower of sports, I heard and read about him. I know more about him in death than just a famous name while alive.

“…and seven others.” I made a point to look up their names and learn more about who they left behind and what their lives were like. Very interesting stuff. I needed to deliberately look up their names because his name kept popping up. That is, he and his daughter. Their’s was the front of each printed and spoken sentence with those ending three words.

A celebrity remains one even in death, sometimes becoming more famous with exaggerated attributes. New rule: Ask to see a manifest before flying. If the unlikely happens, you don’t want to be publicly remembered as “…and many others died.” If the manifest is a usual list of ordinary people and I’m flying with them then I can imagine the news report: “A famous priest (self-imposed adjective) ‘and many others’ died today aboard…”

The unknown persons behind you and alongside of you at Mass are as important as the tush behind you.

“…and seven others.” John and Keri Altobelli, 56 and 46, Payton Chester, 13, Sarah Chester, 45, Christina Mauser, 38. John and Keri’s daughter, Alysa, 14, Ara Zobayan, 50.

My headline would have read, “The Altobelli family of three died today in a helicopter crash along with a retired someone of some repute and his daughter.”

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Baptism by “Fire”

It’s 6:28 on a Saturday night. The radio announcer thanks his listeners for listening (who knows how many there are in Manitowoc), and he lets the record end as he runs out the door. He’s gone. My lifeline. The guy I’m supposed to ask questions about operation, you know technical stuff. He’s gone.

I’m now all by myself. There is not a single person in the radio station building. It hits me that I’m responsible for these airwaves, until midnight, five and a half hours. My seventeen-year-old mind recalls remembering my radio license test and quiz.“The Federal Communications Commission may very well be listening,” I could be fined and imprisoned if I make a mistake.

The 45-record “Lay, Lady Lay,” by Bob Dylan was already cued up for me. Not my first choice for my first radio musical selection that I’ll remember the rest of my life. Bob finishes singing, and either you hear shhh-shhh-shhh, (Children: ask your parents what that sounds means) or you turn on the microphone for the very first time and attempt to say something intelligent.

“Baptism by fire,” it’s called. Forget the water, this is a do-or-die fire for $2.70 an hour.

Now, what’s your first baptism by fire? It a phrase that describes someone learning something the hard way through a challenge or difficulty. I’m sure you can easily recall your early “baptism by fire” story. Semi-prepared. Excited. Dread. Anticipation. A frozen fear. A dream come true, at least for me, as a junior in high school. Mistakes, mishaps, stutterings, (worst of all) blaming others, blaming yourself – or is it plainly showing us that the baptism hasn’t taken root. The water’s planted all right. But the roots? Those darn roots. And about all that wise, elderly advice that we ignored because we knew better at our younger age.

I hold out for those two m’s: mistakes and mishaps. Our greatest tutor is uncovered through those two m’s. What better time for the intercession of the Holy Spirit than when we think we’ve got it under control and we have it all handled, and she gently or loudly intervenes and alerts us to correct our two m’s.

John, whose last name is Baptist, introduced us to the sacrament. Jesus Christ thoroughly infuses us with the sacrament through the power of the Holy Spirit – and fire.

It’s your turn once more. When did Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit fully baptize you?

We never know when a daunting obstacle or severe challenge will present itself in our lives. A new mom with a colicky baby, your first speech in front of the class and you swear that you’re, indeed, not wearing pants, a mother of two youngsters loses her husband to cancer, a CEO suddenly faces a PR crisis with an employee caught on video, a parent buries a son or daughter, a fresh intern at the hospital is asked to work an additional 12-hour shift – in the ER, a husband who always seems to be two drinks ahead of you, a newspaper writer working the night shift in Washington D.C. is told to cover a breaking White House scandal and deliver an article to the managing editor by 5 a.m., (or my favorite of all) the sixty-year-old daughter becomes the parent to her eighty-five-year-old mother. “Eat your vegetables!” “I don’t wanna!” Fiery Baptisms.

Eliminated, not fired from a wonderful job for twenty-two years. And it’s a Catholic place! Some people asked me if it affected my faith. I wanted to say, “That’s a stupid question!” Instead, I clearly replied that “Nothing can affect my faith.”

And, if you can’t learn, then you learn to fake it. In those high school radio years, I couldn’t say, “Strategic Arms Limitation Talks.” I practiced in the mirror but to no avail. I said, “SALT talks,” which is actually redundant. Listening to the news read by me, the poor Manitowoc folks thought there was something wrong with their table salt. That’s “Baptism by fire,” coping-style.

And here we all thought that the first and primary sacrament of our Christian lives was that one-time deal. I didn’t know it was happening to me many years ago, but those folks who brought me to church knew it was important. My complete and full baptism frequently occurs throughout life. I’m confident the same is true for you all of you.

The fire of the Holy Spirit baptizes us again and again. Water alerts (John the Baptist). Fire burns deeply inside us, demanding a Christian, humane response (Jesus Christ).

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A Funeral with Adjectives

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” So St. John begins the last Gospel. The other three concern themselves with details, facts, stories chronicling the life of Jesus Christ. John isn’t so much concerned with facts. For him, it’s faith and theology.

You know Catholics have often been ridiculed by other denominations for not knowing the ins and outs of the Bible. The others can cite chapter and verse. Catholics for the longest time centered their faith life around what St. John writes about. It’s a spiritual life built around a trusting confidence, a deep faith, and an abiding hope. If Catholics need to find a passage, we’d look it up.

Trusting, deep and abiding. I love adjectives because they give life to nouns. To merely say that the sun is out today doesn’t do much for color and brilliance. But to add that “the warming, bright sun helps me get through my day.” Now you’re telling someone something that has meaning.

For it is not only to simply say “confidence, faith, and hope.” We can all say that we’re confident that the Packers have a chance this season. That’s said weakly. Add a “trusting” confidence and you’ve expressed something that’s potent. It contains power. The Gospel of St. John ends with, “There are so many other things Jesus did. If they were all written down, each of them, one by one, I can’t imagine a world big enough to hold such a library of books.”

For each of us and especially thinking about Beverly on this day, which is now a holy day for her family and friends, “In the beginning was … you and me.” We began this mystery called life and continue living that mystery our entire lives. We rarely understand or comprehend it because if we did then it wouldn’t be a mystery. It would be a puzzle to be assembled. But to live the mystery of life, death and eternal life, is to be a person with a trusting confidence, celebrating a deep faith and sharing with all those we meet an abiding hope.

“Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself.” The struggles and trials of life either weaken or strengthen that abiding hope. We pray that even when weakness sometimes occurs that we uncover a renewed strength through the grace of God. “Deep faith?” St. Paul clearly announces, “I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race…” The “Good List,” as the Beatitudes are called to provide us with the playbook for all our actions in recreating and sustaining what God gives to us, “a trusting confidence.”

However, I’ve left out a very important faith-filled word. It’s not often used at funerals but it ought to be. More than a feeling, it’s a disposition. It’s what I hope folks take home after Mass driving away from the church’s parking lot. It’s what I hope they’re able to share with others because they’ve been nourished by the body and blood of God’s Son. It’s very contagious, so be careful. It’s a divine infection that no antibiotic or no anti-Christ can cure. Feelings are fleeting. A disposition in faith becomes a part of your character. It’s the fiber, bedrock, the foundation of your life. It’s a strength within you that’s indestructible because it didn’t originate in you – it’s God’s gift to each of us. (It also comes with a lifetime supply.)

Are you dying to know the word? I hope so because our Christian faith tells us that we must die to ourselves in order to live in Christ. Then, each of us becomes a “person of Christ.” The suspense is over. The God-given gift is called “joy.” St. John promises it when Jesus said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

Beverly and all of us can only taste of joy on our earthly journey. Especially felt and experienced through family and friends. The metaphorical death while living is now fully satisfied with our physical death. It is the joy of uniting with God.

A funeral is also a time for our personal renewal, for us who continue living this mystery we call life. How can each of us build up our trusting confidence, deep faith, and abiding hope? Living and making those adjectives ours gives us the character for the earthly joy when anticipating our own eternal joy.

I deliberately left out the last sentence from St. Paul. It’s Leona talking to St. Peter at heaven’s gate. “I have competed well;” (I don’t care for “compete,” I would say, “I have lived well, with God’s help.”) Paul continues, “I have finished the race.” The last sentence and the most important of all? “I have kept the faith.”

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The Face of the Blessed Mother

Let’s face it. This is an important day. (January 1) Honoring the Blessed Mother with a clear vision because it’s 2020 time.

For a whole year, we heighten our vision. The way we look at things. The ways we perceive when perceptions are deceiving. The way we can judge others when there’s no trail. Be amazed either for the first time or the umpteenth time at the simplest of things. Go ahead and let your friends think that you’ve lost it.

Let’s face it. Shakespeare wrote, “God gave you one face, and you make yourself another.” Sin and mistakes can be wonderful events, only if we learn and live through them. So go ahead and fall flat on your face. Another quote says, “Falling on your face, at the very least, is a step forward.” Never giving up and doing an about-face but taking grace-filled next step forward. If not falling, then sometimes we all need a good slap in the …

The first face the child Jesus sees, the face of his mother. What kind of face is she making looking down at his face? Smiling? Relief? Wonder at this wonderful birth? Wonder about what kind of life this newborn will have?

How about our faces? Another quote says, “The face is more honest than the mouth will ever be.” They call them “tells.” You can tell if I’m lying to you if while speaking I touch my nose or look down. How many other “tells” that we’re not even aware of but detect in conversations. The face cannot lie.

Just observe the faces of older adults and you’ll see their whole life. Complete with wrinkles and lines that exhibit a fully lived life. Pity those botox folks who nip and tuck away their earned faces, as though they’re a cat with eight of them left.

The face of the Blessed Mother shows us all how to live our lives. It’s as plain as the nose on your face. She treasured all things in her heart. (Not her mind, mind you, but within her heart.) The pagan god of which January is named after has two faces, the past, and the future. When we say that “your two-faced,” it’s calling you a liar. When said about Mary, it means that all the significant past events of her life are kept safely stored away. And, always with an eye toward an unknown but trusting future.

At face value, what better way to begin a new year than with the face of Mary, as best as we can imagine her, guiding our steps and showing us the way to her Son, the God/Man.

Forget the words. I can tell by faces greeting people after Mass. “Nice sermon, Father.” I smile to myself because Deacon Carlos preached. It’s all captured in the face.

Another quote, “A face is like the outside of a house, and most faces, like most houses, give us an idea of what we can expect to find inside.”

She saw his promising face at birth and so few years later wept looking at his vacant face. The meeting of those two faces truly makes this day solemn and special.

Let’s face the facts. Please trust me on this, I’m not just another pretty face. (I couldn’t resist!) The Blessed Mother witnesses for us the faces of the world. She shows us how to look into the face of another person the way she looked into her son’s. To quote a Broadway play, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” With a clear 2020 vision may this year be guided for us by the continuing protection and console of Mary, the one we call Blessed Virgin.

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“Dysfunctional” Family?

Either Ozzie Nelson was left a lot of money or he made an imaginary income, but we know that he left the house. Harriet with pearls around her neck raised their two sons when only one mattered, Ricky Nelson. So goes how the American family was portrayed on television, modeling for us what a family looks like and how they act. How many of life’s situations can be addressed and solved in only twenty-three minutes.

Robert Young arrives home from a real job and his waiting wife and three children are waiting in the living room as though they’ve been waiting for him for eight hours. He arrives home and there’s gleeful Jane Wyatt easily replacing his sport coat with patches on the elbows with his evening sweater with patches on the elbows. His children eagerly welcome him back home – Lauren Chapin, Elinor Donahue, and Billy Gray. Their TV version of family life is settled in those same twenty-three minutes and living up to the program’s title, “Father Knows Best.”

These were my growing up TV shows that influenced and represented for me what American family life looks like and acts like. Not to mention “The Beaver,” who was very influential for me – Eddie Haskel remains a hero for me. He’s an early version of the Fonz character.

(“Leave It To Beaver,” opening theme song, 11 seconds)

Today’s TV families seem to have children who advise and direct the parents, as though their parents don’t know anything; as though that’s real life. At my family’s Christmas gathering last Wednesday, my great-nieces and nephews (1 to 3 years old) are running around and yelling as though they know what they’re doing with doting parents smiling away at their crazy antics. I turned to my 65-year-old sister and said, “We would never have gotten away with this.” She smiled back at me.

The late 70’s and 80’s roll around and suddenly psychology introduces us to a shocking revelation. A new word added to a centuries year old gathering of progenies. “Dysfunctional.” It temporarily gave my family’s world a word to toss around as though we needed a tossable word. “I’m the way I am because of my weird parents!” (My words. The authors had nicer and nastier words for parental actions and behavior.)

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for that forever, unending TV (human) show featuring no one else than that sorry-you in that formidable age-old game show called ‘The Blame Game.’ It’s the show where no one wins and everybody loses. Isn’t that great! I’m Johnnie Olsen, your friendly announcer. We have today in our studio audience a captured audience of … ‘one.’ Please note the word, ‘captured.’ Our parting gift today is, ‘Head and Shoulders’ shampoo because there’s no heart and soul to be found in our product nor in the host and guest. Now, let’s give a one clap welcome to your host and guest who doesn’t need an introduction because it’s the very, same person.”

You’ve now found a new, convenient outlet for all your tales of woe, only now presented in fancy, scientific language. I thought to myself after reading far too many of those books, ‘I belong to a dysfunctional family. That explains ‘who I am.’ I’m me because of my parents!’ I’m the winner of my very own living game show.

This reckless TV show of your young and adult life can, by the way, run for, in TV terms, many seasons. In real lifetime, all the seasons of your life.

I regret to this day some of the information I learned from those books about how my parent’s behavior formed me. I told my mother some of what I learned. I remember her only looking back at me with a forlorn, speechless look as though I hit her in the stomach. I was essentially telling her that she was not Jane Wyatt (although my mother’s name was, indeed, Jane) nor was she the pearl-wearing-while-vacuuming mom, Barbara Billingsley was on “Leave It To Beaver.”

Whewww. I’m done with the setup for this reflection. Time has proven that my family is profoundly and singularly “my family.” Take away the opening and closing credits but don’t ever reduce my family to those perfectionist confines of television in order to shame my family. Families influence, not form. The formation is up to the individual.

The family we call “holy” is riddled with what some may call “dysfunctional.” Sometimes personal, other times divinely planned. Find out for yourself. Cancel cable, dust off your Bible and read away.

On my parent’s trip from Manitowoc to Two Rivers, my mother never realized that she left me in the church for three days. About the Blessed Mother’s wine experience with Jesus at Cana, my mother often tested me when a friend I thought I had wasn’t a true friend. Or, that the thoughts I was thinking we’re not Christian ones. Our “pieta” between my mother and me was my last visit with her when she was in hospice care. I simply knelt down and touching her neck said, “Mother.” I never called her “mom.” She fidgeted slightly and the nurse said, “She knows it’s you. She hears you.”

There is no such thing as a dysfunctional family. There is only your beautifully own, one-of-a-kind assemblage of people sharing your DNA. Or, are you sharing their DNA?

It’s family. My actions. Their behavior. My behavior. Their actions. We witness and either embrace or modify. Ethically, it’s called right or wrong. We witness and either embrace or modify. Morally, it’s called good or bad.

We all know that Jesus had his. A mom with a mysterious birth. A dad who rarely spoke. Aunt and uncle who should have been in a nursing home years before but gave Jesus his best friend. There are more stories to share about Jesus’ family. There are more stories to share about my family and yours.

Embrace, honor, and celebrate your one family as your “holy” family, for they truly are, as best as any family can be. For they live either with … or within you for the rest of your life. Never, for television’s twenty-three black and white minutes.

(“Leave It To Beaver,” closing theme song, 12 seconds)

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“A Tiny Light,” Epiphany

Dusk begins and I finish my sermon for the next day. The laptop’s bright screen is pulled down. “Boy, it’s getting dark.”

The small Christmas tree placed during Advent in my kitchen’s bay window is replaced by an overpriced but lean tree with six birds sitting on lean, white limbs with low lights at its edges. Overpriced tree doesn’t appear to match the glowing light of Advent’s tree. “Should I turn on more kitchen lights.” No. Just wait.

Dusk slowly turns dark and, “Lo, and behold” (Christmas reference), my teeny lights get brighter. “Ummm.” Those tiny lights aren’t giving off any more light than they did during the day or dusk. As night becomes darker, my tinies get brighter.

Those in darkness have seen a great light? So, says scripture. My tiny lights illuminate the very same but, I guess, I notice it more in darkness.

A preacher’s oyster is always found in metaphors relating our faith to life. There’s nothing metaphorical about what was written above. It just is. The darkness that can plague any of us always has an ounce, sliver, or glimmer of a continuing light of hope. (Well, okay, one metaphor.)

A hopeful message for yourselves or to share with those experiencing darkness with apparently no light ahead of them. (Please note the word, “apparently.”) My overpriced lean tree proves the opposite.

Is Jesus that small glow of light? Is he our pilot light? (Okay, so there’s two metaphors!)

It’s getting darker now. Those tiny lights are still offering the same light. What they were created and intended to do. In the darkness, even complete darkness, an ounce, sliver, glimmer.

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