Stitches for Christmas

I hadn’t planned on the Christmas traffic and so I was a bit late for work.  “I’m not even on the highway yet,” I phoned my receptionist, “So you might want to call my first appointment and advise them to come in 15 minutes late.”

“Just be glad you’re not early!” she exclaimed.  “We had an emergency run in, and the poor thing was torn wide open from getting caught under a fence, and bleeding all over the place.”

“Are they waiting?” I asked as I sped up well past my comfortable speed.  “No, I sent them to Dr. Elsewhere.  Besides they’d never been here before, and said the dog wasn’t even theirs!”

I’d seen the schedule and knew we were slammed; it was good that they went down the road.  I had 18 appointments scheduled for the abbreviated 3 hour day, and that would be plenty.  Besides, it was Christmas Eve and everyone would be anxious to get home after just a half day.  I was glad I wouldn’t have to feel guilty.

I’ve  come to really enjoy my hour and a half commute.  I listen to lots of audiobooks and, now that I’m enrolled in University postgraduate classes again, I listen to my professor’s lectures a few times as well.  But it does make for a long 13 hour day, and there’s not much of me left when I get home.  My coping mechanism involves an hour of silence, contemplation, prayer early every morning.  And I find myself struggling, pleading, praying for peace and joy from each hectic day.

Some days it’s hard to find much joy.  I’m sometimes immersed and submerged in grief of lost life and love.  And so I plead with my Creator for consolation.  I want to know that it’s not all in vain.  That we’re here for a reason.  That I’m here for a reason.  Give me your eyes to recognize opportunities to love and serve as you would have me.  And that I am living my life as He would want – that the world is better for my having been here.  I’ve been having a bit of a dry spell, and feel like I’m just checking the box some days.

I realize I’ll never cure cancer.  And I’ll never make enough money to create a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to end a disease like rubella.  Or embrace the “humans discarded like garbage” as Mother Theresa did.  And so it would be easy to see my ordinary, everyday life as just that. But I strive to find Jesus with every encounter – every time I smile, touch, or open my mouth.  I pray for patience, and compassion, and the vision to realize who it is that is actually standing in front of me, and overlook their human faults.  I ask for wisdom to recognise those opportunities that I’m given where I can draw closer, but be indifferent to those which push me away.

Sometimes people aren’t very kind, or appreciative, or forgiving of my own faults – my forgetfulness, my schedule, my often sarcastic personality, my tardiness.

And so, I zipped into the driveway, with almost 20 cars already in it, knowing that the day would be another challenge.  My first two appointments were waiting, along with two unplanned emergencies; 6 pets had been dropped off for me to examine “in my spare time,” and over 40 charts were on my desk for me to evaluate lab results and to call to discuss treatment options.

After years of this script, my employees know I have a routine, and to only jump on me if someone is bleeding.  Since they didn’t, I made a dash for the baño and returned the three mugs of coffee I’d inhaled almost two hours ago.  I grabbed my stethoscope, and slid into the first exam room.

Soon I had dispersed, delegated, prescribed, and advised everyone waiting to see me, and was shocked to see no charts in front of me.  I looked at the clock and was confused that I had a little down time in the middle of a busy, busy morning.

As I turned to tackle my stack of charts, one of my receptionists spun me around and said, “Dr. K., the person that came in so early this morning, the one I referred to Dr. Elsewhere is back, and begging for you to look at the dog.  I know what you’re going to say, so I’m not sure why I’m even asking, but she wants your opinion. Remember, it’s not even her dog, and she has now told me three times that she doesn’t have any money.”  The other doctor had told her just to hose the dog’s wound off every day and it would probably heal fine.

I shook my head and smiled, “Tell them to bring the dog in, and I’ll have a look.”

“No,” she said, “They’re too embarrassed to come in with no money.  Can you go out to their car and just have a look to see if you agree with the other doctor.”

“Sure.”

The gash was deep, and blood was everywhere.  There was little chance this would heal on it’s own.  Not without antibiotics, and she really needed stitches.  I looked around and “for some reason” there were still no cars in the parking lot.  The little dog looked up at me and wagged her tail.  I looked at the wrinkled, worried forehead of the couple who had cared enough to bring in a dog that didn’t even belong to them.

Fence Gash

“Field stitches” are something that I learned from my boyhood mentor as I “helped” around the neighborhood vet clinic, a lifetime ago, working on cattle and horses, and most certainly aren’t taught in medical school.  They are fast, and require no general anesthesia.  I looked at the huge gash in the little dog, and realized that it most certainly wouldn’t be the best medical care, but one hell of a lot better than hosing it off every day.  Besides, I could shave and disinfect the wound, inject some lidocaine, place a drain, and “field stitch” the dog in about 20 minutes.  (To do it properly, with acceptable sterile technique would require anesthesia and over two hours of surgical time).

OK, so it actually took 30 minutes, and by then about 4 or 5 people were waiting. But, as I placed the final stitch in her neighbor’s dog who hadn’t even flinched, and gave her a shot of antibiotics, I knew it had been the right thing to do.

Her husband had looked at the floor most of the time we were in the exam room together, and finally, looking up, spoke with a cracking voice.

“I’m not sure why ya done this fer us, and I told you I didn’ haf any thing ta pay ya with. Would it be OK if we came back and paid you a little bit each week, when I get m’ check?”  He seemed to fear my response and was clearly embarrassed.

I was a bit moved by his offer.  I had known they couldn’t pay when I invited them in.

“No,” I said, “I only ask one thing.  Don’t go around and tell everyone that we work for free.  ‘Cause if I did this very often, (pointing to my nurse) she’d have to work for free, and then her family wouldn’t get to buy food.”

“What?” they were both clearly a mess now.  “You done all this fer nuthin?”

“Nope. We did it because we were supposed to.  Thanks for coming in today, and … Merry Christmas.”

I gave them each a hug, and high fived my nurse as I left the room.

She smiled bigger than I did.  She knew we hadn’t done it for them.  It was for me.  I’m selfish that way.

Clearly, a businessman can’t give things away on a regular basis, or he wouldn’t be able to pay his staff, and give raises, and pay for health care, or the mortgage.  But sometimes you can.  And it feels really good.

None of this is about “telling people about our good works so that others will know how good we are.”  It’s simply opening our eyes so we can see.

It’s not about doing good, or “giving back,” because others have been good to us.  No, that’s simply the “exchange” of Christmas gifts.  Tit for tat.  And as such, although trades are extrinsically good, they don’t really add good to the world.  The balance shifts when we do good where there is no possible way for the other to repay.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what Christmas is really about anyway?

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son …

JN 3:16

The original gift of Christmas was one given with full knowledge that it could never be repaid, and clearly there has never been that expectation.  We don’t do good because we owe God anything.  Or because we’re afraid of Hell.  We do good because God is good, and in our design we are programed to enjoy doing so.  There are no mistakes in our design.  He did this for a reason.  We are here for a reason.

Centuries ago, Blaise Pascal (consider also Pascal’s Wager) formulated a concept later described as a “God shaped hole” in our hearts.  We seek and try repeatedly to fill this longing with things of this world, trying to satisfy the craving, and fill the void ourselves. Sixteen centuries years ago Pascal observed power-lust and self-centeredness, with the resultant narcissism and addictions.

This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”
– Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII(425)

Only by recognising what “fits” in this hole do we “satisfy that longing.” Only through love and service for others are we truly happy.  What we did on Christmas eve was really no big deal.  Everyone can, and must reach out those around them.  Maybe you can’t stitch up a stray dog.  But you can help someone fix a flat tire, or unload their groceries, or shovel their snow, or give a blanket to someone who is wandering and cold.  Or just stop and, with a conversation or a smile, show a stranger that they matter.

ed. note:  I considered for a week before I wrote this. Last year a similar post about Betty and her dog Baby (Rude) resulted in a considerable number of folks being put off by what they saw as “attention seeking, and patting myself on the back for doing something we should all do anyway.” But that was the entire point of She Wasn’t being Rude, if the reader had actually read it and made it down to the end of the post.  Of course we should do good, and what I (and every other veterinarian I know) am able to do sometimes, is a blessing – to me.

After tragedy enters someone’s life, they see the world through a much different lens.  Everything takes on a new color, with depth and detail that was never before noticed.  When the bleeding stops, everything has purpose;  life becomes deeper and meaningful, and appreciated.

My vision is with other eyes now.  Mainly those of my father and my son.

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“God isn’t fixing this.” (NY Daily News)

I’d be hard pressed to think of a more cynical and exploitative headline at a time of national mourning than the New York Daily News, in exemplary journalism, who took “progressive” rhetoric one step further and decided to use its cover to mock God for failing to “fix” the problem of sinful mankind doing sinful things:

God wont fix this

A quick peek at the Twitter “trending” box found many like this at the top. The very same people quoting “our” Jesus to us just a week ago urging an embrace of more Syrian Refugees yesterday seemed to race again to social media.  They didn’t offer any compassion to the victims of the shooting, any information to the authorities, or any insights on how to prevent future terrorist attacks–but to mock people for having the audacity to pray for the victims and their families.  Another Wikipedia definition seems imminent, “Prayer-shaming.”

we dont need your thoughts & prayers – we need action. Now.

and lots demanding more gun control:

We dont need you to send prayers. We need you to vote for modern gun laws.

(I had to dig deep to find why so many included hash-tags for PP, and then I stumbled upon one who shared the news that the PP “clinic” was a only a 20 minute walk away.  You can’t  make this stuff up.  Clearly a connection with the “Bible thumpin’, AK47 totin’, Shoot ’em up Pro lifers!)

 

Prayers aren’t working.

Another mass shooting prompted another round of silence Wednesday from GOP presidential candidates on the issue of gun control.

Instead, while the Democratic presidential wannabes were calling for stricter gun laws in the wake of the San Bernardino massacre, the Republicans were preaching about prayer.

It’s all they ever have to offer, isn’t it? And it doesn’t make one damn bit of difference.

…discussing out how much money all of those “thoughts and prayers” politicians have received from the NRA.

Since I’ve been on AOL since Al Gore invented the internet, for some reason I get spoon-fed Huffington Post as my reliable news feed. Here’s the best they could come up with:

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 3.27.40 AM

Really?  “Their ‘useless’ thoughts and prayers?”  Really?

“Politicians are the people society trusts to solve society’s ills?” Really?

No one I know trusts politicians to solve our ills.  That’s why (at least most of) the people I know want smaller government, because (again, perhaps it’s my own myopic vision) the bigger and more responsibility ladened a government becomes, the more poorly she performs. A big government is top-heavy, inefficient, and corruption prone.

I honestly understand that half of our population has no idea why private citizens have any business owning guns.  They don’t hunt, and have no desire to learn to use a firearm to defend themself or their family.  The thought of even touching a gun scares them.  So, to them, the second amendment is nonsense, out-dated, and should be abolished.  The founding fathers could not have foreseen the sins of today’s society when they crafted this law.  But I’d purport that they did.  And perhaps if a few of the luncheon participants had disregarded the “gun-free zone” signs and had a 357 tucked in their belts, we’d have different headlines.  Or maybe not. Maybe the entire thing would have not even have been newsworthy if they’d both been slain before they even pulled their first trigger.

Gunfree Zone

But I digress.  Gun control is not the topic of this post.

Anyway, I was honestly confused as to what possessed all of these media types to choose “people who pray” as the target of their anger.

Then I stumbled onto the clincher. The grand pooh bah of enlightenment. A well-regarded, progressive Washington Post journalist wrote this:

This mentality was really weird to me, and revealing. Almost more of a temper tantrum than anything else, particularly since progressives immediately turn to “prayer of a different kind” in the aftermath of tragedy.  They pray to the god of bigger and better government.  Something must be done!  Legislate!  Last week we needed more programs to serve the huge increase of refuges that we “must” accept.  And now we need gun-control laws.

Maybe we should compassionately accept more refugees, and maybe we do need better gun control laws.  These are fodder for later use.

The phrase “thoughts and prayers” sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard to athiests and maybe agnostics, let’s just say “humanists.” Initially, I assumed it was because the “thoughts” portion seem somewhat meaningless. Combining it with prayer makes it seem like prayer is nothing more than “thoughts,” kind of like “good energy,” when New Ager’s send out “white light.” Prayer isn’t just “thoughts” and perhaps people could really drop the “thoughts” portion of the phrase. Kudos to Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan for their more theologically precise public statements in that regard.

Prayer is at the heart of the Christian faith. Jesus spoke about it extensively, explaining to those of us who follow him how to pray to our father in heaven. Perhaps you have heard of the “Our Father,” which provides the model of prayer for the Christian.

Prayer is described throughout the entirety of Scriptures, from Moses’ telling of discussions with God all the way through St. John’s glorious vision of the consummation of prayers in the restored heavens and earth, described in Revelation. And the Gospel of Luke describes how Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of his crucifixion — “being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

Jesus tells us to call God our Father. He tells us that God wants us to ask him for things like a father wants his children to ask of him, so he can answer and give them what they ask for to show his love. For the Christian, we pray because God commands it, and that means it’s extremely important to us. We know God wants to hear our prayers and will use our prayers to help us in some ways that we can’t even understand.  And many that we can.

You see, to a faithful (Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Islamic, as well as Christian) people, praying is not “doing nothing.”

We do believe that God can intervene, to comfort the hurting and even to energize ourselves and others for right action. At the very least it is an expression of, “We love one another, and we hurt for one another.”

kneeling_head_down

Those without such faith might look from afar and just “not get it.”  There’s lots of things I “don’t get,” but I do my best to have respect and civility for those things I don’t understand.

As a (Western) medical person, I don’t get holistic, naturopathic, reikki, and other non-traditional type approaches to healing.  But I don’t stand and laugh, disparagingly, at them.  Some might, in fact, work as well as my own approach.  The fact that I don’t understand how is a side note.

Answers to prayers aren’t like some divine vending machine where you put the money in and out pops a Snickers Bar.  I am honestly a witness to many inexplicable things, both in my personal, as well as medical life.  To these I do attribute Divine Intervention.  Whether or not you agree is also a side note.

But prayers aren’t always (infrequently even?) answered with direct changes in courses of action.  I’d purport that God acts and directs us and our life journeys in lots of altered ways because of our prayers.  In prayer we are changed.  Our hearts and the lenses through which we view our brothers become like clay and conform to His will.  It’s not magic, or meditative self change, nor the power of positive thinking.  It’s opening ourselves up to our God.  Understanding that He is the master and creator of the universe, and that He is God, and that I am not.  Supplication and humility open us up to His love and the changes He wants to see in us. Don’t understand?  Try.  Don’t have a desire to change? Don’t want to yield to a higher power? Don’t have any idea why others feel this “call” to believe?  It’s a thing called grace which enables and empowers us to “open the door” and let Him in.

And so, when we “pray” we do this very thing.  We open the door and let Him in.  He sits to eat with us, and we with him.  And when we open ourselves up to His will, we gain perspective.  We see others through eyes not our own, and we grow in His love.  This, of course, is empathy and that love we all know we should have. We pray also because of our needs; the community’s needs which, in love, we should take on; and the burdens of all of our neighbors and even our entire country and world.

Don’t tell me not to pray for my hurting brothers and sisters. And for you. And for a change of heart for those who hate us. Perhaps enough of these prayers will in fact change their hearts.  But maybe that change will occur because our own hearts begin to love enough that others actually see Jesus in us. Perhaps this is the action you want to see, instead of what you think are empty prayers. Maybe prayers seem empty because you haven’t really opened the door yourself. And so, perhaps prayer is exactly what is needed – for you, and for me.

rsz_prayer

Lots of acknowledgment to Mollie Hemmingway at “The Federalist,” Russell Moore at “The Washington Post,” Jim Martin, at “America.” 

Thankful 2015

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.

I’m out of town with family today getting the turkey ready, but I can get lab-results, and sometimes this forces me to make very painful phone calls.

The 30ish woman and her beautiful 12 year old daughter had come into my veterinary hospital yesterday with a kitten that was very sick.  She was so neurologically affected that she couldn’t stand, and had to be swaddled up like a newborn, or she’d arch backward and thrash around, completely out of control.

Kids seem to have a special bond with pets that only parents can understand.  Although I spoke in my best disguised code to her mommy, Madeline courageously held back hysterical tears, clearly having been prepared for the news that I might deliver.

When a pediatric patient presents with such profound symptoms, the diagnosis is often a congenital or genetic condition.  Neither can actually be “cured,” but sometimes successfully managed.  In veterinary medicine, quality of life is of paramount importance, and so, often these situations sometimes do not end well.

I stepped away from the sweet potatoes and Brussels sprout prep party to make the phone call neither if us wanted to make or receive.  The bile acids test had come back normal, so there was not a hepatic shunt, the often treatable liver anomaly we had both hoped and prayed for.

Next on the list of differential diagnoses were a couple of congenital problems, neither of which had a very good prognosis. My medically correct advice was a neurologist referral, but I knew the likelihood of a good outcome was miniscule.  Big words with no treatment like cerebellar hypoplasia and spongiform encephalopathy now ascend to the top of the list. And so when she asked what I would do if it was my own kitten, my hand was forced with the grim reality.  We are treating for one other parasitic possibility, but the odds are even more slim.

She explained, matter of factly, how this was the first cat that they’d ever had that seemed to love them back.  She exuded love and appreciated  their affection.  This stray kitten just seemed to wander into their house one day, and immediately bonded with her daughter Madeline.  Every other cat they’d ever had received their love, but only “Mo” really gave it back.

The crosses we bear are so heavy.

My heart hurts for her, and especially her daughter.  I told her how sorry I am.  “But,” I explained:

As a father, and as a Christian, I’d like to say a couple of things to you, and I apologize if you wouldn’t expect this from your doctor.

Our blessings come in many forms.  We look at such a short life with anguish and disappointment.  What a waste.  This all seems so cruel.

But, I reminded her.  This was a stray kitten that had never known human love and compassion until she found you.  In you, she found three months of love that she would otherwise never have known.  You gave “Mo” so much.  That is a not a waste.

You told me that Madeline had never felt such a returned love from a pet.  “Mo” gave her so much.  The obvious is the physical, the temporal return of affection.  Mo gave Madeline the opportunity to welcome the unloved and unwanted.  But think also of the ‘not so pretty’ pieces of this puzzle.  Perhaps the bigger lesson includes comforting the suffering, the dying, someone who could not really give back.  And so she learned empathy, sympathy, and compassion; how to love the suffering, the unappreciative, the unloveable.

So, although you have had Mo for such a short time, she gave so more than she received.  These are blessings.

Sometimes, it surprises me when I am emotionally moved by a client or an experience.  This one shouldn’t have been a surprise.

I hung up the phone, sat on the couch and put my face in my hands.

I know pain.  I know the cross.  I know the questions of the cross.

I am thankful today for so many things.  Most of all, I am thankful for  a God who is all good, and understands my frustrations and prayers.

Most people that have continued to read this post, understand me, or at least what I’m talking about.  Our God is good.  All the time.

And for this, I am thankful, on this “Thanksgiving.”  I am thankful that, although we carry different loads, and that our God is merciful.  I am better for my own load, and although I would not wish it on anyone, it is mine to bear.

As is everyone else’s load and cross.  The blessing is not in our destination, the blessing is in the journey itself.  Only through times of emptiness and desolation do we grow.

Today I am thankful for  my life and my cross.  We all carry our own buckets with our own loads.  This makes us human.  Knowing that we do not walk alone is such consolation.  We must be able to lay them at the cross.

 

I’m also thankful for unconditional love, and a career where I hope I make a difference.

Happy Thanksgiving, 2015

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Fr. Joe Nolan, Pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, and Dear Friend

Father Joseph A. Nolan 1936 – 2015 Beloved Pastor Immaculate Conception Parish Melbourne Beach, Florida

“Hallo Beel! How ya keepin’?”

I can hear those words echoing in my particularly empty head this morning.  The lovely Irish brogue that welcomed each of us, week after week, is a beautiful thing but, unfortunately, now a warm memory.

The Reverend Joseph Aidan Nolan left us a few days ago, October 5th, 2015, from complications related to his diabetes.  He was 79 years old.

Most people called him Fr. Nolan, but to me he was Fr. Joe.  I’ve often grown close to our priests, over the years, cities, and parishes on my journey.  To me, “Fr. Nolan” was just too formal for him.  He was an ordinary Joe.  Not that there’s anything less than sacred in ordinary people, in fact we had discussed this very thing not long ago in his office.  We meet Jesus in ordinary people, in our everyday encounters.  We are the only Jesus many people will ever meet.  And as such we must remember that we are always in the presence of God, and treat each other with respect and love.

Anyway, because I tend to see priests also as ordinary people, I think I’m probably pretty forgiving of faults and quirks in those who have devoted their lives to serving us.  Or at least I try to be. When in the Sacramental context, they most certainly are acting “in persona Christi,” but outside of this, he was clearly a human being.  He loved golf, and despite his near blindness could drive a ball further and straighter than anyone I’ve ever met. Fr. Joe was old school Irish, and most definitely enjoyed things going his way, and, like the rest of us, had certain propensities. Which brings us to the human nature.  By being human and making mistakes, those leading us show what it’s like to be human, and vulnerable.  And forgiving, and forgivable.  And endearing.

I’m going to miss those homilies underpinned with peaks and valleys of Fr. Joe’s blood glucose. The “tip-off,” to those of us constantly looking for such stuff was him parting his vestments to look down at his glucometer on his belt.  He must have known something didn’t feel “just right.” But so did we, as on “those days” when his level was too low, his gait would change, and the volume and emphasis of the points he was making would reach fever pitch.

I’m not the only one I noticed positioning themselves on the edge of their seat, positioned for a quick dart to catch him, should he pass out and fall on the altar.

Once, I remember him on a particularly embarrassing morning, acknowledging by pointing out his nephew in the congregation, “Wearing the red shirt, OR WHATEVER COLOR THAT IS!” (Fin’s shirt was not red). And he went on and on for some five minutes, ranting and raving about how much he loved this man, much to Finian’s embarrassment. Please know I’m not making fun of Joe Nolan. These were endearing things that we learned to know, accept, and love. Truly love. Because although there were a few of these moments, Fr. Joe was as sharp as a tack, until his very last day.

Old school Irish indeed, Fr. Joe would end every Sunday Mass with a joke.  Something else I’ll always miss terribly.

He was quick to fault himself, and felt very human at times.  He used to preach an entire homily from the center of the altar, without any notes, and had the entire thing memorized, with breathtaking accuracy and recollection. Recently, he’d begun reading from behind the ambo, where he could refer to his notes, but still had most of it memorized. He shared with me that once he had “lost his place” in what he had memorized, and was mortified. He took his preaching so seriously, that he never again gave a Sunday sermon without notes, because he was so concerned that he might give a wrong message. “There are souls at risk!”  A few weeks later, on a Wednesday, I visited him in his office for a while, and he asked me how to phrase a point he wanted to make in his homily for the next weekend.  I worded it in a way that I felt was particularly poignant, but he thought for a few minutes, then said, “No, no, Beel, that’s not really where I’ll be goin’,” and read what he decided on instead.  I was taken back. I like to think I can turn a phrase and make a point, but his was much better. He was 79 and the sharpest knife in the drawer.

And he was so excited about our new Pope.  He went on and on about how beautiful it was that he was making people squirm and reach outside their comfort zone.  He has the humility of the common man, and teaches us what love and being Christ-like really means.  When I suggested that he was much like our new Bishop Noonan, Fr. Joe said, “You have no idea how right that is. Bishop John Noonan is like you and me, and it’s so humbling how he leads with such love and compassion.”  He went on to share a funny story with me (again) of what a really good friend the Bishop was to him, involving his not recognizing him in public, because of his bad eyesight.  Good friend indeed.  When Bishop Noonan heard the tragic news that our dear Father Joe had fallen, he cancelled his schedule for the day, and drove over from Orlando to administer last rites; and sit with him.  I’m told he sat with him for most of the day, holding his dear friend’s hand and praying.

Fr. Joe came to us at Immaculate conception in 1989, after nearly two decades as pastor of Holy Redeemer Church in Kissimmee, FL.  He came to that then tiny parish in 1972, and over the course of 17 years had rebuilt the Church, and grown it from 200 families to over 2000.

Joe Nolan was born in Mullingar, exactly in the center of Ireland, in 1937.  After ordination and 8 years of service in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, he served at Mary Magdalen in Maitland for 2 years, and then at a year at Ascension in Eau Galle for one year, prior to being named Pastor at Holy Redeemer, before coming here.

Father Nolan then went to Rome to study for a month at the Vatican, and then on to the Holy Land, where he had, what he described as the highlight of his life.  He met Pope Saint John Paul II, got to shake his hand, chat for a few minutes, and receive his blessing.

Fr. Joseph Aiden Nolan with Pope John Paul II

Fr. Joseph Nolan with Pope John Paul II

When he returned to the United States, he learned that he’d been transferred, and had been appointed to Immaculate Conception as pastor; it would be his final assignment, and he would serve us for 26 years.  He’d always get a bit teary describing how good everyone had been to him over the years, and from the pulpit often told the congregation that he’d been so very blessed, that we were the best parish, anywhere.

When we moved to Melbourne Beach in 1993, I remember him already talking about “his legacy,” what he’d like to leave us with.  But those priorities would change over the years. Funny how life works this way.  First he wanted so desperately to enlarge the church with a major renovation.  (side note: Even with subsequent “touch-ups,” he maintained the maroon colored carpet, seat covers, every adornment throughout “his” church. Just last Friday, in our weekly meeting after Mass, I commented on this obviously favorite color of his, since his new eye-glasses were maroon, wondering if he was a FSU fan.  He laughed so loud the others turned to look at us, as he exclaimed that burgundy was the team color of the Meath Gaelic Football Team!)

After the Church enlargement, he pushed hard for funding for beautiful new stain glass windows (which I discovered he had been so proud at Holy Redeemer also), and was so excited about how beautiful they’d be.

After the windows, he pleaded for a new “world-class organ,” quite a different direction from the “guitar masses” so many churches were having “these days.”

Buts shortly after the organ, and then a consistent theme for the next ten years would be his emphasis on the youth of his beloved parish. He’d regularly pop into Sunday and Wednesday CCD classes, and open his back yard up for the annual picnic for them, complete with music, a bounce house, and fishing from his dock.  One year he arranged for jet-skis!

I don’t remember a Mass where Fr. Joe didn’t recognize the youth of the parish, thanking the altar boy or girl, and making then feel so important, that they had just done the best job assisting him ever in his entire life.  When my daughter Kayla sang just a few weeks ago, he went on and on about how wonderful it was that we had such a fantastic group of youth, here in the parish.  Later, when I asked if he had known that Kayla was my daughter (since we had different last names), he pulled back, astonished, and nearly shouted, “Beel, do ya think I’m daft?”

Father Nolan had received special dispensation from the Bishop that ours would be the only parish in the diocese to have high schoolers trained as Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, and distributing communion.  He realized that our young people were our future, and he felt driven to reach out to them.

Every year Fr. Nolan’s annual concert event served to fund scholarships for the youth of his parish to attend Catholic School  if they desired. He’d bring in cabaret style entertainment from Ireland, which was quite popular with many of the retired in our community and “1964,”a Beatles tribute band a couple of times, which drew people for a hundred miles.  Some of my fondest memories include my then pre-teen daughter Camille as a guest performer, Irish dancing with the Tony Kenny Variety Show professional dancers.  And, more recently, I’ll never forget the entire family dancing for almost two hours to the Beatles music, in Fr. Joe’s back yard.

Many of us have so many fond memories of Fr. Joe, but this is my blog, so I’ll share some of mine.  First communion, confirmations, weddings and compassionate consolation and reconciliation to all of us in the confessional.  Keeping me from bashing my head against the wall in anguish and regrets over so many things involving my first marriage. He’d humbly agreed to go to a different church, one where so many of his parishioners had traveled seeking more contemporary services, to con-celebrate with Fr. Tony, the funeral Mass for my wonderful son Cullen.  And he would be my biggest advocate for the diaconate, and told me he’d be “lookin’ down on me an’ smilin’ at your ordination.”  I had no idea what he was talking about – I truly thought Father Nolan would live to see that day.

So many times over the past three years, when Fr. Nolan would say a Mass in honor of Cullen, when announcing the intention of the Mass from the altar, he’d pause for the memory.  He’d shake his head in bewilderment of God’s plan, lamenting the loss of a boy he truly remembered so well, as altar boy, lector, and simply the mischievous little fellow, and share with the entire congregation exactly who we were remembering and praying for.

There’s going to be so many things we’ll all miss.  I’m so sad.  I’ll never again hear (for the tenth time) the story of a mother’s love, Fr. Joe fondly remembering from the pulpit when he was a child on a bicycle, off to the market for eggs.  He was so proud that his mother had entrusted him with such an important task – to take the few dollars she had been able to save of the weeks to go get eggs for Easter.  And so, when he arrived home, she opened the basket and every single egg was broken, except one.  Little Joe Nolan was horrified, and very scared, for these were the only eggs the Nolan children would be able to afford for Easter, and his careless riding had broken them all, except one. As an example of our Lord’s loving forgiveness, mercy, and sense of humor, his loving mum reached in for the only unbroken egg, and with an ear to ear smile, and a loving laugh he claimed he could still hear, smashed the remaining egg on the top of his head.  Every time he told that story, he laughed like it had just happened.

Enjoy this time now with your mum.

We’ll miss you so very much, Father Joe Nolan.

Much Love.

Nolan Obituary

Fr. Joseph A. Nolan

 

If All Else Fails …

As I sped past the billboard, the words lingered in my mind, and even began to bother me.  “If all else fails, try Jesus.”  The well intended slogan had it all wrong, much like the “God is my co-pilot” bumper sticker.

Seriously?  What kind of friend would you consider me if I only called you when “All else fails?”  Wouldn’t that make me the “vending machine god” where we only go when we want something, or worse yet, when we want something, and all else has failed?

It also dips into the “prosperity gospel,” where the believer, one with “enough faith,” gets good fortune, and answered prayers., but when we don’t see that answer, it’s because of our weak faith.  Or –  “Hey God, I’ a pretty good person, I do good stuff, I don’t cheat on my wife, I don’t tell (big) lies, I gave to the homeless dude this morning.  I even go to church sometimes.  I’ve done my part!  What the hell do you want?  Tit for tat.  Quid pro quo.  I’ve done my part, now give me mine.”

Our parents saw it during the Cuban missile crisis.  Churches were packed, and lines to the confessional wrapped around the block.  We see it during times of crisis.  After 9-11, many returned to religion, or at least begging God, or whatever to come to our aid.  How many of us have gotten on our knees (at least metaphorically) and prayed over the past week for the safe return of two 14 year old boys that are complete strangers?

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Me too.  And I prayed for so many reasons.  I’m a father and I know the pain of losing a young son, and another child lost at sea for a week.  I know the agony of a family pulled apart, and a heart broken, and hemorrhaging still.  And I’ve seen so many lose their faith.  I’ve shared stories and tears with other parents, some of whom completely lost their faith after their own darkest day:  “How could a loving God allow …”

I’ve seen the faith of a child lost as the cancer took her aunt despite her pleas to her friend, Jesus.

Millions have reached up and asked for a favor.  Bring these two kids home to their families.

I informed God that this was the time for a contemporary miracle.  Show us a little sign.  How  ’bout a little trick? Jump through my hoop.  “Think of the increase in faith!  Think of those who will come home to you!  It will be all for your greater glory, Jesus!”

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And, because I’m human, and it would all seem pretty logical, I still think all that is true.  But then reality crashes down.  You see, miracles DO happen every day.  But most go unnoticed, or written off as co-incidence, or nature, or lucky enough to have … “a good doctor, or whatever.”  Seldom does anything work for “God’s greater glory,” or increase anyone’s faith.

No, in fact, “faith” is an odd thing.  It has nothing to do with prosperity, or intellect, or merit, or even desire.  Lots of people smarter than me are atheists.  And lots of people smarter than me have strong faith.  (Although I have noticed the majority of physicians and other health professionals have unshakable faiths, probably they see the complexity of life, down at the cellular level, and realize the notion of a random construction of life is absurd.)

Prayer does unite us.  We realize that, although we’re walking this Camino by ourselves, we get much strength and consolation from our brothers and sisters.

Humbling ourselves in genuine prayer also reminds us how powerless we are to control our destiny, and that of our children.

Christians know that Jesus never promised us that we wouldn’t suffer, only that he’d be with us, and from my own experience, even carry us while we do.

Popular singer Matt Maher frames it beautifully, when he writes,

“Lost, everything is lost, and everything I’ve loved before is gone… Where were you when all that I hoped for,  Where were you when all that I’ve dreamed, came crashing down in shambles around me?  …  You were on the cross…”

Not as an excuse as to why He couldn’t help us, but as an image we can contemplate on:

He was in fact, fully human, and knows the fear and agony we feel.

And so we continue to pray for miracles.  And for comfort and consolation of a loving relationship, where we can enjoy life together, sharing our deepest joys and fears, and, sometimes, sit together in grief and loss.

Much of our journey here is a mystery.  Most of it.  But just because we’re not able to understand something fully is no reason to deny the only explanation for the journey in the first place.

We do continue to pray for the impossible.  Every father I know would cry in thanksgiving upon the return of these two boys lost at sea.  And we continue to pray for the consolation of such a faith that allows their families to continue to breathe and get out of bed each morning.  Because that’s going to be difficult for them  Trust me on this.

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This is the very essence of our Judeo-Christian mindset.  Compassion and encouragement.  As “Church,” we love and support complete strangers.  Because they’re not strangers.  Even on the other side of the world, we are connected, so we send our support and offer our prayers.  No, they’re not strangers at all, and we are our brother’s keeper.  We are often the only Jesus someone will ever meet.

We can’t explain these things to someone who doesn’t get it, but our lack of an explanation doesn’t make that connection any less real.

Much love.

kneeling_head_down

Shouting at an Empty Chair, Father’s day 2015

Tyrone presented the family’s new puppy in for his first exam yesterday, and brought along his son, “To meet me.”  I was taken back by this comment, and quickly replied that I was so glad that he had, and then I said something about how I was sure he was glad school was out for the summer.  I asked if they had plans for the summer, and Andrew, reaching his hand out for me to shake it, said, “Yes sir, I’m working as a camp counselor at Wadeview Park.”

“Really?” I said, “That’s fantastic.  What a great summer job!  What kind of a counselor? Will you be teaching, like arts and crafts, or more like a coach, supervising athletics?”

Andrew, who looked to be about 15, respectfully looked me directly in the eye, and said he’d be willing to do whatever they needed, working with the underprivileged kids there. I looked over at his dad, and I said, “Good job, what a great person you’ve raised.”

Tyrone agreed, “He is a really good kid,” but shook his head, claiming none of the credit.  But I knew better.  If nothing else, he had been present for the boy, and done his best to be a really good man.

What makes some fathers step up and be “Dad,” and others walk away or stay around, but not really be “present,” is such an important question.  What, in fact, is a “good father?”

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Do you have to be perfect, never letting your shield down to reveal your human-ness?  Should you lay down the law, and be the disciplinarian (because you used to be so wild and get into so much trouble).  Or should you strive to be their best friend, letting them drink beer and smoke weed, high five-ing over last night’s “conquest,” and providing the latest and greatest toys?

I’ve seen both extremes.  I’ve been both extremes.  OK, not really so much the last one, although at some level, I really wish I could have been “closer” as a friend to all five of my kids.  But we don’t get any do-overs.  A priest at Whitehouse retreat in St. Louis once told me:

We are (and more specifically, that I am) much too hard on ourselves.  “The world only has one Messiah, and you (thankfully and most assuredly) are not Him.  You are not perfect.  You are the way God made you – imperfect, but with the heartfelt longing to be as good as you can.  And that’s good. But you can’t go back and do things differently, with all your new-found wisdom.  Didn’t you always act out of love?  Didn’t you always do what you thought was the best at that time?”

“Yeah, but…”

Yeah but nothing.  By continuing to add that qualifier, Yeah, but…, you deny that Jesus is the Messiah, the Redeemer, the one who makes all things new again.  We must strive to accept Him as our redeemer, and allow ourselves to be human.  You are how you are, and its so much better to accept that.  We are called to always strive to be better, even perfect, and we must try, day after day.  But we’ll never be perfect.  Not on this Earth.

You are made of blood and bones, breath and vapor.  You are the product of the genetics He orchestrated, and that imperfect nurturing from your parents, or lack of them.  Let Jesus carry the cross, you have plenty of other things to do.  As the song goes, “He is God, and you are not.”

A lifetime ago, I was doing everything I could possibly do to save my first marriage.  So in our first session with the marriage counselor, I proudly puffed out my chest and said I’d do anything to save the marriage, that divorce absolutely, positively was not an option.  Less than two months later, he was just as positive that it was the only option.  But we should continue on, to counsel with him, so we could be “better,” and so that we’d not keep “making the same mistakes” (presumably in our next attempts at a relationship).

And so, right out of his Gestalt theory textbook, the family therapist (sic) had me pacing around the psychologist’s office, shouting at my father, “seated” in the empty chair “What I really felt! What I needed so badly to tell him!”  When I couldn’t come up with enough garbage to dump on him, I was goaded and prodded, “Tell him about all those little league games, band concerts, award presentations, and wrestling matches! Tell him he should have been there!”  I continued to pace in silence.  “But shouldn’t I be shouting at his father?”

He looked at me like a deer in the headlights, “You’re enabling him, you’re giving him excuses, he wasn’t present!”

“Can’t I just forgive him?”

Fritz and Laura Perls' Gestalt Theory

Fritz and Laura Perls’ Gestalt Theory

“This will help you do that, you’ve got to put the blame on him!”

“But it’s not his fault.  I think he did the best he could do.”

I don’t think I went back to Dr. Tony after that session.

And so this father’s day I had much to reflect on.  And even more to let go of.  If I can let the old man off the hook, shouldn’t I do the same for myself?  It was a chair I’d sit in too soon myself.

Cullen's Empty Chair

Florida State University graduation, 2012

There are consequences to sins, and since we are social creatures, such consequences often impact others, including within the family and subsequent generations.  I think this is called Generational Sin.  The concept, I’d suppose originated with the “original Adam,” whose act of rebellion and disobedience resulted in our sinful nature, not coincidentally coined “original sin.”

Regardless of whether or not you buy into the whole Christian creation story, it’s a striking allegory.  Clearly, something happened along the lines of (I’d maintain, “designed”) human evolution and development where we as a species developed a sinful nature.  As a reasonably intelligent science based professional, I know of no other “creation” with the the willingness, or even the ability to choose to do evil.  And somewhere, somehow, we made the first act of defiance; Our greatest gift became our greatest curse.  Free will spawned original sin.

But God does not hold children, or present generations, morally responsible for the sins of their parents and ancestors. This is clearly laid out in Holy Scripture when the Israelites were blaming their troubles on the sins of their forefathers (see Jer 23:5-6, and Ez, 18:1-4).

Indeed, we need to look into our own hearts and repent so that we can find (and give) our own forgiveness and healing. God is surely not so unjust as to force children to “pay” in justice for the sins of others.

On the other hand, it is also true to say that the sins of our ancestors — right back to those “first parents,” do affect our lives today and leave us inheriting some pretty heavy baggage to carry around. With each passing day and event, I’m more convinced that we are connected by that “red thread,” or what ever you would call Providence, so that we can and do suffer both spiritually and bodily from the sins of others. We may think this unfair, but remember that the interdependence of the human race is also the source of most of our highest blessings, for example, the solidarity and intimacy of family life and the communion of love with all of us as brothers and sisters.

To make such supreme blessings possible to creatures with free will like us, our creator also had to permit us to misuse that freedom and interdependence, with all its tragic results.

This “interdependence” of the human race also means that the sins of ancestors and parents can affect us in other, more subtle ways. For example, some destructive conditions (such as alcoholism, depression, and hair-trigger tempers) can be passed down to us by genetic inheritance.

Moreover, the problems of our immediate parents and grandparents can be passed down to us in other ways, too.  If they set a bad moral examples for us as, sadly, people tend to do from generation to generation, or if they abused us or failed to give us the love we needed when we are growing up. In such instances, we can become “saddled” with emotional and developmental scars.

For instance, if we weren’t given the love we needed as children, we may spend our lives struggling to learn how to love others and ourselves. This does not make them fully “responsible” for our sins and all our problems today, of course, and we have the responsibility to take action to find healing for these generational wounds ourselves.

Furthermore, in a concept known as transference, we tend to see God the father much as we have had that model of fatherhood displayed by our own father.  If our’s was not forgiving, compassionate, and capable of unconditional love, it is extremely difficult to understand that our heavenly Father could behave in ways like this.  And how could we believe selflessness and unconditional love even exist, if we reject that Jesus came to show us that very thing?  St. Paul says Jesus brought this undeserved grace to the world as the “second Adam.” (Romans 5:12-21).

We did nothing prior to our conception to warrant or deserve original sin.  Likewise, Christians believe we do nothing to “deserve” this Grace that Jesus brings.  But we must accept it, we must open the door He’s been pounding on.  We must forgive, and accept His forgiveness, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Jesus the Christ came and suffered to show us how to love, what unconditional, undeserved love is.  When people fail to fully receive that gift from Him, through repentance and faith — i.e., if their contrition for sin and love for God was “half-hearted” in this life — then they remain in partial debt to God (still owing for, in theological jargon, “the temporal aspect of sin”).

Jersus at door 3

In His parable of the prodigal son, Jesus used the image of a family to teach us God’s love.  The “younger son” could not wait – and in demanding his inheritance, he effectively wished for a dead father, or at a minimum, felt that he was “dead to him.”  The only way for the father to allow his son to really learn to love was to allow him that free choice.  We all know how it ends, with the father’s unconditional love allowing the prodigal to return, but we often miss two points.

Is the father angry only grudgingly allowing this man to return?  No! In fact, from what Jesus describes, this father daily peers into the horizon, hoping to get a glimpse of his returning son! After all, he still loves his son!  In tears, he runs to welcome him home!

Although we play both of these character roles during our respective lives, it’s a harder concept for us to accept that more often than not we’re the other son, the good child.  Too many times, I shout up at Him, “You’re not being fair! I do what you ask of me.  I go to church.  I believe in you. I play by the rules!  And yet you allow this to happen to me? Yet I look around at other “prodigals” (from outward appearances) who have so much success and happiness.  Ouch.  The mirror is seldom a pain-free zone.

I was blessed to have a wonderful father. He was not perfect. He had his many faults. He didn’t lose his temper often, but when he did, I was sad and sometimes afraid and, now looking back, very disappointed, because I wanted our home to be “perfect.” Of course, it couldn’t be. But I knew absolutely, without a doubt, that my father loved me, and that he loved my children, and we were all blessed that he could show my oldest three just how much he loved them.

Jean M. Klein and my three oldest children

Jean M. Klein and my three oldest children

What is your story? Many of you have the vocation of fatherhood. Do unresolved issues with your own father or mother hinder your acceptance of God’s unconditional love? Do they cause you to have a negative relationship with your children? Do not let these keep you from experiencing the Father’s ever-faithful love.

Perhaps some among us desire to reconcile with our earthly father. We will need God’s grace either to ask our father to forgive us or to tell him that he is forgiven. If our fathers are already deceased, we can still do this, with or without the empty chair.

The prodigal son believes that his father will take him back, even if just as a lowly hired hand. Jesus paints a brighter picture: The father loves so much that he puts a ring on the son’s finger and kills the fatted calf.

We must believe that Our Father in heaven will do the same for us if only we go back to Our Loving Father. Pope Francis keeps reminding us: “God never tires of forgiving; we are the ones who tire of seeking His mercy” (cf. “Joy of the Gospel,” No.3).

The elder brother stands in the shadows with resentment and judgment, perpetuating his own cycle. But Michelangelo paints it so very clearly: We see how the cycle is broken: The prodigal son is on his knees, asking for forgiveness. We break the cycle on our knees.

Return of the Prodigal Son by Michaelangelo

Return of the Prodigal Son by Michelangelo

After all, we cannot help our sons become the men they need to be until we allow ourselves to return to the Father. We cannot help our daughters become the women they need to be until we enter into the kind of relationship which Jesus invites us to experience. Husbands here today cannot be the husbands they need to be if they are not coming before the Father like the prodigal son.

kneeling_head_down

Camino to Morocco, Chapter 27

May 17th, My Darkest Day

Last night I lay in bed, unable to sleep, blaming the heat and loud Arabic chatting from the adjacent room. But the real reason was clear. My plan to go to Chefchaouen tomorrow was absurd, and only an excuse. So many people had told me how beautiful and quaint this little village was, almost like in Switzerland, and I just “had to go there.”  But this wasn’t why I was here. I wasn’t a tourist, on holiday. I was, like Dr. Tom in “The Way,” here, on “family business.” I hope to someday return for those reasons, but it will be with my wife, and certainly not on May 17th.

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What I needed to do was to back to ALIF (the Arabic Language Institute in Fes) again to talk to Cullen’s Professor. We had met, earlier in the week, but not really talked.

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I needed to sit in Cullen’s chair in room 100 again and see “his” classroom.

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I needed to sit in the courtyard and drink coffee and eat almond cake. I needed to wander around the university library and gaze in amazement.

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I needed to eat a camel-burger and drink a chocolate shake at the Clock Cafe. I needed to drink mint tea at the corner table in the cafe with pool tables. I came here to see the world through Cullen’s eyes. One last time, for him, with him.

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But I didn’t want to. It would mean saying goodbye, it would mean that I was checking these things off, and throwing my clump of dirt onto the casket. I didn’t want to, but I needed to.

I jumped out of bed, and swung open the door to again tell Allal that there had again been a change in itinerary. We are NOT going to Chefchaouen tomorrow.

And so we did all those things, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute.

On the last stop of the day, Allal had run across the street to digitally capture the moment. I sat at the cafe sipping mint tea, and he shouted to make the peace sign, because he knew our Cullen always did this in pictures.
And now, the end of the day, for some reason, and it was always unpredictable, I melted.

Allal pleaded with me not to cry. Today was the first time this year’s journey had immersed me here. I’d been in Morocco over a week, but this was the first time I would visit that place inside where I had such little control. After almost three years, I was, for the most part, in a really good place. But sometimes, and it was hard to predict the catalyst, the emotions would let loose. I had spent the day vicariously as my son, seeing these things with the same blue eyes we had gotten from my father. We tasted the same mint in every cup of tea, and overwhelming cumin and other spices in the food that was so different from what we had both eaten at the same table. We were drenched with same sweat, and burned with the same sand. We were feeling the same cultural amazement, and now had heard the same professor in the same room.

“Please, Mr. William, please don’t be so sad. Please don’t be always crying and sad!” This actually caught me a little off guard, because I wasn’t “always” crying, and certainly didn’t think I had been acting sadly. These moments were now few and far between. And even now, I wasn’t blubbering and wailing like I used to do. It was just a few tears running down my cheek, and probably wouldn’t even have been noticed under my sunglasses if I hadn’t started wiping them away.

“Cullen is with Allah, and it’s a beautiful thing, a wonderful place!” I’d had quite a few conversations about religion in the El Harrami household, and it was touching that he now felt comfortable saying such things in an attempt to console me.  “He is at salam, (peace).”

One of those conversations with Allal included his sister-in-law Nisrine, who knew well the observance of Islamic law. And not just the ritual observance, this family seemed to have dug pretty deeply, and knew in their heart that their’s was the true religion. So, I’m not so sure they were thrilled with the place I was willing to exit our hour’s-long conversation. If I was such a truth seeker, why would I be content with my “false religion?”

I suppose “turnabout is fair play.” Being reasonably well versed in Catholic apologetics, I was used to responding to concerns from Protestants dispelling misconceptions about the RC tradition. At the end of the day, we Christians really do agree on much more than we disagree on, and certainly the most important tenants.

In fact, my then evangelical wife Sharon and I had had this very conversation on our first date. She was incredulous that I thought my faith tradition was right and others’ were wrong. Not that it’s a perfect church, precisely because I (and other humans like me) are part of it; rather I hold that She’s been guided by the Holy Spirit through apostolic succession for 2000 years. If I didn’t believe my faith was the “true” one, I’d most certainly be somewhere else.

Anyway, so here I am, a guest in a home who thinks any reasonable person who takes the time to learn about the prophet and his writings, couldn’t possibly come to any other conclusion. In their minds, they were as “right” as I am. The fact that I have all sorts of rebuttals for Christianity, and “gotcha” questions for my Muslim family was irrelevant. Perhaps we were both, in our hearts, as good, as faithful, and as loving, as we were called to be. Perhaps our very same God had revealed Himself differently to different cultures, in a way most appropriate to them, and their customs, and traditions.

I sat silently there with Allal for a few moments, for a few reasons.

I did need to recompose, but I also rather enjoyed hearing my new friend, who had never even met my son, be so confident that he was in paradise with Allah.  The phrase Muslims almost always use to greet includes, “Salam,” which means “Peace,” or “God’s Peace.”  This struck me a bit, since Cullen often lifted his hand with the peace sign in photos.

Allal looked directly into my eyes as I lifted my sunglasses to wipe them again, “I know this, my brother, because he is your son. He must be so much like you. You are so loving and such a good person, my brother.” This was a bit much for me also, so I lowered my glasses again, took a final sip of mint tea, and said, “OK, let’s go.”

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And so I had done what I had intended to do. Cullen had had quite a “reversion,” a return to his baptized faith tradition when he had been here in Morocco. He had returned with a faith I was am in awe of.

And now I felt it too. He’d told me that every movement of every day he had felt proselytized, even assaulted in faith by so many here. I certainly hadn’t felt that way, but it was easy to see how a 18 year old could feel this way. And you had to be awe-struck, and even admire, their faith. Five times each day we would hear the Adhan, the Muslim call to prayer. For some reason (I’ll address later), I wasn’t allowed to (visibly) be present to view worship in a mosque, but I found this most interesting, even compelling.

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It’s been called the most beautiful sound in the world, when the muezzin calls to prayer. I would differ in my preference, but I kind of get it. To be so focused on God, and doing what you feel is your reason for being here is a beautiful thing. it’s not all about me, it’s about why I’m here.

I saw so many things during “this year’s Camino.” This has been a culture shock x 10. On any of several occasions I saw things that would have made my son return from this place so changed, so deep, so much better than me.

I am thankful for so many things, and so many people – and you all know who you are. This has been quite a ride, and I am definitely better for it. Much love.

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I realize this is kind of a sad post, and i apologize for that. Lots of good, happy, and funny posts still to come. May 17 will likely always be like this. Sorry.

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“As-salamu alaykum”