Pastor Jim’s Blog: What We have Seen and Hearne

 
 
 
 

It Could Be You…

I didn’t see it.  None of us did.  Or maybe none of us wanted to see it.  But before I get to that part of the story, let me go back to the beginning.  As a little girl growing up the only thing Margie ever wanted to do was to be a mom.  She constantly played with her dolls pretending as if they were her own little children caring for them and tending to their needs.  She would pray to God that she could be a mom one day.  When Margie’s folks had more children she was thrilled beyond all belief at the prospect of taking care of real live babies!  She was ecstatic about being a sister which only fueled her desire to be a mom. 

Margie would date several guys through the years but finally met and fell in love with Fran.  He had grown up in the same town- they shared many of the same friends and hung out at the same places.  In fact Fran as a little boy played baseball with Margie’s two brothers.  Fran and Margie dated for many years and finally decided to get married in 1995.  It was a joyful occasion.  

I wish I would have known.  I could have done something.  Someone could have done something.  Why didn’t she say anything? No one deserves that.  No one.  I wonder how many others experience the same thing?

My sister Margie got her one true wish of being a mommy.  She gave birth to Colette in 1996.  Then came Claire in 1999.  Erica in 2001.  Nora in 2002.  Finally Grace in 2004.  Not one but 5 girls to fill her heart and plate of motherhood!  After Colette was born Margie and Fran would move to a bigger house to settle down and build their dream of family life and happily ever after.  But the happily ever after never came like she thought it would. 

Why didn’t I sense what was going on?  Was I blinded?  Was I in disbelief?  And what about others in my family?  Were they blind to it, tooWas she blind to it?

At first it seemed innocent, harmless and believable.  Our family would gather for a birthday or some other holiday/celebration and Margie would come with the girls while Fran wouldn’t be with them.  “Where’s Fran,” I remember asking.  “Oh he’s home resting…he had a late night.”  Late night out with friends?  Late night doing working?  Late night not being able to sleep?  Well these instances of Fran being “out late” soon turned into a regular repeating performance.  We knew he liked to drink.  On family vacations at the lake he could put away several cold ones with the best of them.  I knew he liked his drink.  I didn’t realize he loved it…or better yet was addicted to it. 

Let me stop for a moment.  I suppose you think you know where this story is going.  Fran was a drinker and chose alcohol over his wife and family, right?  Well, you’re only partly right.  Not only was Fran a drinker, but over time and really after-the-fact did we come to find out he liked to smoke marijuana in the garage and get high.  So, he like booze and drugs.  And yet this still is not the end of the story.  Fran would abuse Margie and the girls.  And that is the part of the story still to this day that makes me cringe, hurt and cry.  My family didn’t see it.  I didn’t see it.  Partly I think because we couldn’t see it and also because Margie hid it from us while it was occurring. 

Margie loved her girls so much she ended up making excuses for Fran.  She covered for his late-night partying, his drinking, his smoking and yes even his abuse towards her and the girls.  In the beginning she’d call his bosses and cover for him at work.  “He was just having a bad day,” she would say.  “The girls got on his nerve so he raised his voice and threw things across the room.  Who doesn’t lose their cool,” she would slyly offer us. 

Did you know, on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States?  During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.  1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.  On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.  Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.  And only 34% of people who are injured by intimate partners receive medical care for their injuries.  1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence.  These statistics and numbers are sobering.  They make me cry.  I cry at the fact that Fran pushed Margie into walls, smashed the oven door, put holes in walls with his fists and at times did so in front of the girls.  I cry because he verbally abused the girls for no reason other for the fact that he could.  I cry because those girls saw something so horrendous in their own home and I know as much as we love and support them the after-effects of his abuse of them is deep in their bones and psyche.

Why does any of this matter? Intimate partner physical abuse is not bound by age, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or nationality; it exists in ALL communities. Contrary to popular belief, physical abuse is not simply a maladjusted person’s occasional expression of frustration or anger, nor is it typically an isolated incident. Physical abuse is a tool of control and oppression and is a choice made by one person in a relationship to control another.  Statistics tell us that it happens right here in our own community among people we call neighbors and friends. 

Realizing this fact of life the women’s washroom here at BLC has information from Family Advocates, Inc. with a number for a 24 hour help line.  It is a sad reality for me as a pastor that on any given Sunday there are people at worship who have been abused- physically, verbally, sexually, or emotionally either in the past or as recently as that morning. 

Back to Margie’s story for a moment.  Fran would go on to intimidate me at the parish I was assigned to threatening to call the Bishop on me for telling my sister to leave him.  Sadly there are some pastors who will tell someone who has been abused that they must remain in the marriage or relationship.  I am not one of them.  Fran would try to intimidate our almost 78-year-old (at the time) dad knocking on his front door and telling him to watch his back.  Margie for the sake of her girls finally made a stand.  She called the Sheriff’s Office several times having him arrested, getting a restraining order and eventually forcing him to move out of the house.  She was afraid of retaliation but she was more fearful about the prospect of doing nothing.  She divorced him.  She never received any alimony from Fran towards the girls.  She’s worked her tail off to raise those 5 beautiful girls.  She’s there for them thick and thin.  Fran has not communicated with his girls at all since leaving the house.  Ever.  Margie and the girls experienced their own Good Friday- unjust and undue abuse and punishment- but today have risen to be something new together. 

 

It happens.  It happens EVERYWHERE.  It happened right in my own family and I couldn’t see it.   Nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Females ages 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 generally experienced the highest rates of intimate partner violence.  From 1994 to 2010, about 4 in 5 victims of intimate partner violence were female. In a nationwide survey, 9.4% of high school students report being hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend in the 12 months prior to the survey. 

 

Again, the stats are sobering…it’s happening all around us.  And when someone is abused at a young age experts tell us they have strong tendencies to physically or verbally abuse when they are older or experience some type of depression or suicidal thoughts.  Yet there is help.  There are ways to save yourself and your children.  If someone is abusing you, you might feel scared, hurt, sad, confused, angry, embarrassed, or hopeless.  Many people have feelings like these when they are being abused or after leaving an abusive relationship.  My sister had some of these feelings have we’ve come to understand in the years since it all happened.  Help is always available.  Talk with someone you trust or call your local domestic/sexual abuse hotline and talk with someone without having to give your name or location. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE or 1-800-799-7233.  Our local branch here in Wisconsin is also a resource.  The number us (608)-255-0539 and the website is endabusewi.org.  Sadly, most abusers track the moves of those under their control.  All of these websites have safety exits on them and will not show up in your internet browsing history. 

 

You may also want to consider a SAFETY PLAN for yourself or your family.  A safety plan is a personalized, practical plan that includes ways to remain safe while in a relationship, planning to leave, or after you leave. Safety planning involves how to cope with emotions, tell friends and family about the abuse, take legal action and more.  The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) does safety plans with victims, friends and family members — anyone who is concerned about their own safety or the safety of someone else.  A good safety plan will have all of the vital information you need and be tailored to your unique situation, and will help walk you through different scenarios.  Although some of the things that you outline in your safety plan may seem obvious, it’s important to remember that in moments of crisis your brain doesn’t function the same way as when you are calm. When adrenaline is pumping through your veins it can be hard to think clearly or make logical decisions about your safety. Having a safety plan laid out in advance can help you to protect yourself in those stressful moments.

Violence can escalate when someone tries to leave.  The following are some tips to keep in mind before you leave a violent abusive situation:

  • Keep any evidence of physical abuse, such as pictures of injuries.
  • Keep a journal of all violent incidences, noting dates, events and threats made, if possible. Keep your journal in a safe place.
  • Know where you can go to get help. Tell someone what is happening to you.
  • If you are injured, go to a doctor or an emergency room and report what happened to you. Ask that they document your visit.
  • Plan with your children and identify a safe place for them, like a room with a lock or a friend’s house where they can go for help. Reassure them that their job is to stay safe, not to protect you.
  • Try to set money aside or ask friends or family members to hold money for you.

I share this information with you because NO ONE should ever ever ever experience abuse of any kind. 

Margie and her five precious jewels! Pictured are: (from left to right) Erica, Margie, Nora, Colette, Claire and Grace

To her credit, Margie has never spoken ill of Fran in front of her girls.  For me, that’s my sister living out what we call grace upon grace upon grace.  She survived.  Many don’t.  You can survive.  Maybe you’re not the one in an abusive situation but you might know someone who may be.  BELIEVE their story.  LISTEN to them.  HELP them.  Let’s be lifelines to those around us who may be sending SOS signals our way. 

There are so many resources available to those who may find themselves in abusive situations.  One I highly encourage is www.thehotline.org/.  Maybe we just need to better educate ourselves on the reality of what is happening…and what could be happening right in our own community, neighborhood, family or home.  Maybe we can help be resources to others who might be too frightened or ashamed to ask for help.  Let’s be a light for them.  God hurts when we hurt each other. 

I love my beautiful sister Margie and my five incredible nieces.  They have seen, heard, felt and experienced things no one should ever have to in this world.  Luckily for them the sun has risen and they have forged ahead as best they can.  For all the Margie’s, Colette’s, Claire’s, Erica’s, Nora’s and Grace’s out there, please let’s be the voice for those victims and survivors.  Let’s create a culture where domestic violence is not tolerated and where society empowers victims and survivors, and holds abusers accountable.  Let’s be Christ’s Light in this world.  Amen. 

 

 



Where is God’s Perfection?

 

What are we looking for in life? What are we finding? During these cold weeks of winter, it is easy to grow impatient and critical as we anxiously await the arrival of spring. Yet, each day is a profound gift from God and a new beginning. Do you find joy in life? Do you bring joy to others?  I hope the following story captures for you how the presence of God is made visible through us no matter the time of year.

 

In Brooklyn, New York, Shush is a school that caters to learning disabled children. Some children remain in Shush for their entire school career, while others can be mainstreamed into conventional schools. At a Shush fundraising dinner, the father of a Shush child delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attend.

 

After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he cried out, “Where is the perfection in my son Shaya?” Everything God does is done with perfection. But my child cannot understand things as other children do. My child cannot remember facts and figures as other children do. Where is God’s perfection? The audience was shocked by the question, pained by the father’s anguish and stilled by the piercing query. “I believe,” the father answered, “that when God brings a child like this into the world, the perfection that he seeks is the way people react to this child.”

 

He then told the following story about his son Shaya: One afternoon Shaya and his father walked past a park where some boys Shaya knew were playing baseball. Shaya asked, “Do you think they will let me play?” Shaya’s father knew that his son was not at all athletic and that most boys would not want him on their team. But Shaya’s father understood that if his son was chosen to play it would give him a comfortable sense of belonging.
 
Shaya’s father approached one of the boys in the field and asked if Shaya could play. The boy looked around for guidance from his teammates. Getting none, he took matters into his own hands and said, “We are losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we’ll try to put him up to bat in the ninth inning.” Shaya’s father was ecstatic as Shaya smiled broadly. Shaya was told to put on a glove and go out to play short center field. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shaya’s team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shaya’s team scored again and now with two outs and the bases loaded with the potential winning run on base, Shaya was scheduled to be up.
 

Would the team actually let Shaya bat at this juncture and give away their chance to win the game? Surprisingly, Shaya was given the bat. Everyone knew that it was all but impossible because Shaya didn’t even know how to hold the bat properly, let alone hit with it. However, as Shaya stepped up to the plate, the pitcher moved a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shaya should least be able to make contact. The first pitch came in and Shaya swung and missed. One of Shaya’s teammates came up to Shaya and together held the bat and faced the pitcher waiting for the next pitch. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly toward Shaya.

 

As the pitch came in, Shaya and his teammate swung at the bat and together they hit a slow ground ball to the pitcher. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could easily have thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shaya would have been out and that would have ended the game. Instead, the pitcher took the ball and threw it on a high arc to right field, far beyond reach of the first baseman. Everyone started yelling, “Shaya, run to first. Run to first.” Never in his life has Shaya run to first. He scampered down the baseline wide-eyed and startled. By the time he reached first base, the right fielder had the ball. He could have thrown the ball to the second baseman who would tag out Shaya, who was still running. But the right fielder understood what the pitcher’s intentions were, so he threw the ball high and far over the third baseman’s head. Everyone yelled, “Run to second, run to second.” Shaya ran towards second base as the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases towards home.

 

As Shaya reached second base, the opposing shortstop ran to him, turned him in the direction of third base and shouted, “Run to third.” As Shaya rounded third, the boys from both teams ran behind him screaming, “Shaya, run home.” Shaya ran home, stepped on home plate and all 18 boys lifted him on their shoulders and made him a hero, as he just hit a “Grand Slam” and won the game for his team.

 

That day,” said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, “those 18 boys reached their level of God’s perfection.”  More than just a cute story, I think this is what we are called as disciples to be everyday: rooting for one another everyday, making our dreams possible and realizing we are all connected together through the incredible act of God’s creation. 

 

Our Lenten journey is near upon us.  Our theme or focus will be: Woven Together: Fabrics of Faith.  Maybe this powerful season which begins Wednesday, February 14th and extends until Maundy Thursday on March 29th is a time given to us to help us reflect that God’s perfection in this world is attainable and reachable by ALL OF US if we but lean on each other and lift one another up.  The question of Shaya “Do you think they will let me play” reminds me of the response I am called to by God in this world to others.  Do I help enable God’s perfection or prevent it from happening?  How will this Lent challenge you to consider that we truly do need each other and that we can reflect God’s goodness and perfection in our response to one another?

 

There is no better place to know, see, hear and feel God’s perfection than when we are together in worship.  Recommit yourself to coming to the place where we lift each other and reflect the perfection of God.  For a brief moment when we worship together, we do really reflect all that is good and holy.  Like the boys who welcomed Shaya to the baseball game and enabled him to know perfection, we too are invited to give and receive this colorful display of God’s love.  Come.  Come back.  Sunday mornings at 9:00am something special happens that we all need in our lives.  And during Lent we will offer a simple worship on Wednesdays at 6:15pm following our soup suppers.  So come.  And then come back.  Lastly, think about ONE person in your life who desperately needs to know God’s perfection and then do something about it. 

 

Let’s reach our level of God’s perfection together,

~PJ

 

 



A New Year, A Fresh Start

Just recently while organizing some things in my office I came across a book of poetry.  There was a note inside of it saying that the book was a gift from the Bishop of South Central Synod of Wisconsin. I suspect the Bishop sent it to all our synod pastors. It is a wonderful reflection on ministry by a Lutheran Pastor Gary Puckett entitled On Living in the Township of Heaven. Well written, often touching, sometimes profound, Gary writes about the ‘holy’ moments of life, the kingdom of God that can be found within the ordinary. As we begin this new year, that is our journey as well.

New Year

Put new calendars on the walls

Misdate the checks that pay the bills

Resolve to be more resolute

It’s a new year

It’s a fresh start

 

Farm out the kids

Shake out the rugs

Take out the trash

It’s a clean house

 

It’s a fresh start

Dig out the sidewalk

Fill up the birdfeeder

Watch for fresh tracks in the yard

It’s a new snow

It’s a fresh start

 

Shed an old grudge

Make a new friend

Do something everyone knows you won’t

It’s a new life

It’s a fresh start.

I think Gary touches eloquently on the holiness of the New Year and its connection to the reign of God, or rather, the township of heaven. It’s all about new beginnings. The ministry of Jesus was primarily a ministry of newness, of granting newness and new starts to people broken by their pasts. People followed Jesus because in him they discovered a God who forgave sins, and absolved weaknesses, and offered those who followed, a new life and a fresh start. Those who followed Jesus discovered that in the township of heaven every moment of every day, every step and every breath was a chance to begin again, to turn away 
from sin and to start over. And it was in this newness that they found their joy!

 

I think it was providence that led me to find that book of poetry and read through it.  Recently I was telling Amy that a part of me died when my dad passed away almost a year ago now.  I don’t quite know which part of me died but I also realize something new in me is growing and coming to life.  That’s the Good News of resurrection and the gospel.  Each day is a new start, a chance to begin again and see things with new eyes and a different perspective. It truly is a fresh start.
 

Every January as we celebrate the New Year, there is an echo of the reign of God. And, if we listen well, we will discover that echo in all of the ordinary moments that make up our lives. If we listen well, that echo will be found in even the most broken, destructive and difficult times of this new year. If we listen well, we will discover that we are living in the township of heaven, that God is walking with us and beside us, always encouraging us to forgive ourselves and others; to turn away from sin and believe in the Good News; to stand up and walk; to live a new life; to make a fresh start.  This is truly Good News!  For all of us here at BLC and for all Christians, every day carries the promise of New Year’s Day. Remember this when you become overwhelmed by the darkness of the world.  Remember this when you are disappointed by your life, your children, your spouse or your situation.  Remember this when death is at your doorstep and darkness threatens to overwhelm you.  Remember this, in the township of heaven God is always inviting us to start again!  

 

I invite you to cut out the poem and place it somewhere you will be reminded daily of the invitation that each day is a NEW YEAR and FRESH START!

Happy New Year, dear BLC friends and friends,

~PJ

 



Stop and See Those Around You

Professional speaker Jim Cathcart often shares a certain story about how our lives impact those around us. One day, during a layover at the Atlanta International Airport, Jim found time for a snack in the food court. All the tables were filled and several passengers, himself included, stood in any available space to eat.

Then Jim noticed a busboy working his way through the crowd. His shoulders were curled forward and he kept his head down. He moved through the crowd from table to table barely making eye contact with anyone as he cleared away the dirty dishes. Well the sight of this overworked and anxious young man filled Jim with an overwhelming sadness. For someone this young to be so burdened by the weight of work didn’t seem right. He knew that there was something he could do or say to reach out to this young person.
 
When Jim finished his food and disposed of the trash, he approached the busboy. “What you are doing here sure is important,” he said. “Huh?” the busboy replied. “If you weren’t doing what you are doing, it wouldn’t be five minutes before there was trash everywhere, and people would stop coming here,” Jim said. “What you are doing is important, and I just wanted to say thanks for doing it.”
 
The busboy began to smile. His posture became more erect and he began to make eye contact with those around him.

A few choice words had served as a reminder that he was worth much more than he realized.

I think that this is a wonderful story to recall as we come to this fall season. We have begun yet another new year of Holy Moly, Bridge, Confirmation and CHAOS.  We will also see Women’s Bible Study begin while ministry meetings and social gatherings like Lutefisk are making this a bustling place!  As exciting as autumn is, it also brings with it a certain “frantic-ness.”  So often people become dismayed by the passing of the summer months and wonder where all the time has gone. They get discouraged by the amount of activities and so often feel like that busboy in the story. They end up walking through their days with shoulders curled forward, barely making eye contact with the world around them. Yet right here in the “frantic-ness” is our chance to share the Good News.  Like Jesus who was always able to remind people of their infinite worth, so we too can become bearers of healing.  It doesn’t take a great effort to pass on a compliment, share a smile, or take a moment to chat. It doesn’t take a tremendous effort to remember someone’s name, remember someone’s birthday, or introduce yourself to a stranger.  It doesn’t take a heroic effort to lend a helping hand, to exercise patience, or offer to listen.  These are the moments of Good News that we can share with each other in this season of autumn.
 
I think it was Mother Teresa who once said: “Holiness does not consist in doing great things; but in doing little things with great love.” If we pay attention to the little things, the small kindnesses, the brief exchanges everyday we can make a difference in the lives of so many people. Watch! They will stand up straighter. They will begin walking with heads held high. Their eyes will be brighter. A few choice words will serve as a reminder that they are worth much more than they realized!  Take a moment this busy season to realize and consider those around you.  Help them stand straight.  When we do, we can claim we are truly sharing Christ’s Light here at BLC!

With you a Christian.  For you a pastor.

PJ



Fr. Powers and the Gift of Presence!

People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did.  But people will never forget how you made them feel.”  I like those words. I’ve seen them attributed to Maya Angelou, H. Jackson Brown and others – still, whoever first said them, they ring true. We honor and love and remember those people who made us feel honored, and loved, and remembered. 
It is certainly true in my life.

 

Fr. John Powers was the pastor (and now retired pastor) of my home parish when I was growing up.  I fondly remember serving at mass for him, listening to his jokes, watching how he preached by walking around the aisles in the church, seeing how he interacted with so many people of various ages and backgrounds.  He’d come into our school classes and spend time with us at recess.  He was funny and intelligent and could make anyone laugh at his corny jokes.  He had a spiritual charisma and charm about him.  I remember thinking to myself: “

I want to be like Fr. Powers when I grow up!”

I think in fact the real reason I was drawn to him was not only because of the reasons I just mentioned but because of his ability to be present.  He was one of the first people on scene at the hospital for both my mom and dad when they were each taken to the ER at St. Margaret’s Hospital in Hammond, Indiana.  He was the one who presided and preached at my mom’s funeral mass.  He again preached words of hope and consolation at my dad’s funeral mass this past January.  Fr. Powers, or “SA” as he is affectionately known in the rectory to his closest friends, now uses a walker to get around, yet he still says mass and does his best to be present to people.  At the crisp age of 92 he still gives wonderful and though-provoking homilies and puts smiles on people’s faces.  To be honest, I don’t quite remember all of what he said at my parent’s funeral masses, but I do remember him be truly present to my grieving family. 
 
I think one reason I really love Fr. Powers is because of the great friendship he had with my dad.  That friendship flowered after I decided to leave the priesthood to marry Amy.  He has done nothing but support me and that included being a good support to my dad.  They’d often talk on the phone and would even help the ladies in the church office on Monday mornings count the offering from the weekend.  They joked together (well Fr. Powers would laugh at my dad’s silly and sometimes colorful jokes)!  They were present to one another.  Fr. Powers would make it a point to walk over and see Amy, Anna and myself when we went to mass with Dad.  One of my favorite images of Fr. Powers when I was a young boy was seeing him walk around the parish grounds while reading his prayer book or breviary.  While being present to the Lord, he was witnessing the importance of taking time to pray for his flock. 

 

Throughout his 66 years of priestly ministry (ordained May 3, 1951), Fr. Powers baptized thousands of babies and adults, witnessed thousands of couples say ‘I do,’ said over a million masses, visited countless in hospitals and nursing homes, buried thousands of parishioners and friends, and yet I don’t think he’ll be remembered for those things.  No, he will be remembered for his
presence.  He took time for people.  And in that presence with him, you met Christ.  Reflecting on Fr. Powers it suddenly occurred to me that what we value most in life is not productivity but presence; not talent but time; not genius but gentleness.  Fr. Powers is someone who continues to show me what being present is all about. Everyone remembers how he made and how he continues to make them feel.  During the rite of ordination, there is a part where all the priests come and lay hands over those candidates being ordained.  There were hundreds of priests who laid hands on me on May 21, 2005.  Yet I knew when Fr. Powers laid hands on me because he gave me a light tap with his hand on my cheek then…I knew it was him without even looking up!
 
I think that John Powers really understood the ministry of Jesus.  As I read the stories of Jesus I think this is what attracted people to the Lord.  Jesus never seemed to be in a hurry. He took time to speak with lepers calling to him from the side of the road. He took time to call Zacchaeus down from the tree to speak with him and eat at his house. He took time to chat with fisherman, and meet with tax collectors and listen to the pleas of Samaritan women. This is the predominant theme in the ministry of Jesus – he had time for people. And because he made them feel honored, and loved, and remembered, they in turn honored him, his followers loved him and to this day the church remembers him!
 

How might we be more present to people these days?  And I don’t mean Facebook, texting, snapchat, Instagram or the other means technology offers conveniences to our lives.  No, I mean by putting those things down and actually talking and actively listening to our spouse, children, friends, co-workers, fellow church parishioners, etc.  Maybe take a moment each day and ask Jesus for the courage and strength to be present in our lives to those around us.  Maybe it might be a note, a call or visit to someone who may desperately need our presence in their lives.  Paperwork and things to do will always be there…people will not.  In the end people will remember not what we did or said, but that we were there for them.

As we leave summer behind and prepare for fall with all the flurry of work and school, I’m trying to remember the lesson of one of my heroes, Fr. John Powers.  Yes, I want to be productive to be sure, but I wish even more to be really present to the people who come into my life and to my wife and two children who share my life.  I want to use my talents wisely to be the best pastor that I can be, but I wish even more to be a person who offers time to others.  And certainly I want to be a good administrator who others see as competent and intelligent, but in the end I want even more to be known as a man of gentleness and kindness.  In the final analysis what we value the most are presence, time and gentleness. I know that Fr. Powers would agree.  Thanks, Fr. Powers, for the gift of your presence to me and countless souls. 
 
~PJ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Summer = Growing With God

Many people in this hemisphere tell time by the seasons of nature. Summer is a warm time of vacations, reunions, relaxing, and playing outside. The church year has a different way of telling time. In the liturgical calendar, time is measured by important events in the life of Jesus (like Christmas and Easter) or the church (like Pentecost). Coincidentally, the time after Pentecost up to Advent is known as “Ordinary Time.” There is also a short period of Ordinary Time after the Baptism of Our Lord in January until Ash Wednesday.  In this way, the rhythm of the liturgical seasons reflects the rhythm of life —brief anniversary celebrations and periods of intensity intermingled with longer seasons of quiet growth and maturing.

Ordinary Time is counted and ordered by the numbers of Sundays that follow Pentecost (for example, you’ll soon notice Sunday bulletins bear titles like “The 2nd Sunday after Pentecost.” In winter we count the number of Sundays after Epiphany. During Ordinary Time the church is usually decorated in green, the color of hope and growth. Think plants and trees, gardens and parks, all showing signs of maturity and fullness of life at this time. The lessons we will hear read in worship will invite us to go deep, to reach our roots down into the groundwater of our baptisms. The focus is on the life and ministry of Jesus and the church. We take this time to descend from the great mountain peaks of Easter and Christmas in order to “pasture” in the verdant meadows of tempus per annum—Ordinary Time.
 
How will you grow during this summer? I hope you will take some time to drink deeply of God’s good creation, whether in far off places or in your own back yard. Additionally, although Holy Moly, Bridge and Confirmation Classes take a hiatus for the summer, you are invited to nurture your faith at BLC in a variety of ways. Two guest preachers will be coming to BLC, each with a unique viewpoint about God’s work in our world and how we can grow our faith. On July 16th, retired pastor Chris Lee-Thompson will preach on mindfulness meditation.  Chris has studied and done a lot of work and ministry in the field of meditation and has led many groups through this way of praying.  Chris has even brought this ministry to the jails in the area helping those there learn about meditating and focusing on the movements of their bodies.  I listened to Chris at one of his presentations and thought our church family could benefit from hearing him!  On Sunday, August 6th, Pastor Jack Finney will be present with us to preach on praying and spiritual practices.  Jack focuses his ministry full time now on teaching people how to pray and grow in prayer.  Please make sure to be present at these special worship opportunities during this season of growing! 
 
If you are looking for something fun and social to do, we will be offering our 1st ever BLC Progressive Dinner on Saturday, July 22nd.  At 5:00pm we will gather at church for drinks and appetizers and then head off to different “host” homes for dinner and conversation.  The end of the evening will be capped off by making S’mores at the Bowe House.  This event is intended for all BLC adults- single and couples- and only costs $10.00.  The theme of the night is wearing your favorite sports team shirt (anything goes from Barneveld colors to the Chiefs)!  Come out and have some fun.  Sign up is in the gathering space at church. 
 
BLC participates in a number of community events throughout the summer—we will host the community VBS/Day Camp the week of July 10th-13th.  This is a fun faith filled week for our little ones and young kids to come and learn about Jesus by singing, playing games and enjoying the theme of God’s gift of water!   
 
The “Movie in the Park” night will be on Thursday, July 13th at the blue park.  A family friendly movie will be shown along with concessions being available.  All proceeds will go to Relay for Life.  What a fun event right here in town for all families! 
 
Speaking of community events, the “Over 55” Group will be a sponsoring a large sale for the benefit of the Food Pantry on Saturday, July 29th from 8am-3pm.  Plan on stopping by for great buys on good stuff which will help support our Community Food Pantry. 
 
Our health team sponsors a walking group each Tuesday at 8:30am.  We start in the church parking lot and walk the bike trail for as long as people can.  Please come out and walk with us…if that time doesn’t work for you, go out and walk when it fits your schedule!  Do something to care for your body this summer! 

 

So many opportunities for us to grow this summer at BLC!  What will you choose?  Pick something and grow yourself. 
 
~PJ

 



Spring Showers Can Bring May Flowers

I recently had a conversation with someone who told me about the loss of her first grandchild.  The baby was a stillborn.  What really struck me though in the conversation was when she said “You know, I just took everything for granted…the pregnancy, the delivery, the birth…we all just assumed the baby was going to be born and that was that.  Conceiving, delivering, birthing is truly a miracle.”  A miracle.  That got me thinking…

 Those words were good for me to hear as Amy just nears entering the third trimester of carrying our unborn child.  At a time when we tend to think of colors and pattern schemes for nurseries, themes for baby showers, day care providers, to breast feed or not to, we maybe should be thinking of the larger picture of this event: conceiving and giving birth is a miracle not to be taken for granted.  And beyond the miracle, there are levels of complexity that unravel with the birth of any child. 

 My mother-in-law shared with me some of what that complexity might look like prior to Amy giving birth to Anna.  She cautioned me to watch out for Amy and any blue feelings she might after giving birth.  I had heard about women suffering from some form of depression or “blues” following the delivery, but never had any first-hand experience.  When Anna was born back in 2014, I was working for the commuter railroad in Chicago.  Working for the railroad has great perks, but family benefits are not among them.  I took those words to heart though of watching Amy’s mood after the birth and especially when I returned to work after two weeks off.  I began to do some reading on the subject “postpartum depression” and what I read shocked me.  A majority of women experience what is often called the “baby blues”—feelings of sadness and frustration—for about 10 days following childbirth, but these symptoms are typically short-lived.  Symptoms that last longer than two weeks can be a sign of a perinatal mood disorder like postpartum depression and anxiety.  Approximately one in seven women experience some form of  postpartum depression, a medical condition that ranges widely in severity and is marked by persistent feelings of anger, shame, irritability, guilt and an inability to bond with one’s child. The symptoms, often rooted in hormonal or chemical imbalances, can be triggered or compounded by circumstances, including socioeconomic status, prior mental health history and birthing experiences like traumatic delivery, premature birth or trouble breastfeeding. The condition can have a dramatic impact on the well-being of families, increase levels of stress in a marriage and have long-term implications for the health of a child

 

50% of mothers who are diagnosed with postpartum depression have depressive symptoms during pregnancy.  Symptoms are often exacerbated by hormone changes and sleep disturbances.

According to Postpartum Support International, the symptoms of postpartum depression can include:

  • Feelings of anger or irritability
  • Lack of interest in the baby
  • Appetite and sleep disturbance
  • Crying and sadness
  • Feelings of guilt, shame or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest, joy or pleasure in things you used to enjoy
  • Possible thoughts of harming the baby of yourself
 

RESOURCES:

+ Postpartum.net

+National Coalition of Maternal Mental Health www.NCMMH.org

+The Blue Dot Project: thebluedotproject.org

+Babies on the Brain: www.babiesonthebrain.com

   

I came across a recent story recounting someone’s experience with postpartum depression.  I share it here so you can get a sense of what happens:  For Marissa Nichols, the turning point came one night in 2011 when her husband went out to buy milk. Sitting in their apartment in Santa Clara, Calif., with her then 2-year-old daughter and infant son, she felt profoundly alone and in despair. They were feelings that had been growing since the birth of her second child and were compounded by the fact that the economic crash left her family in difficult financial circumstances. Nichols had recently quit her job to care for her children at the same time that her husband was transitioning from working as a teacher to training to become a police officer, which meant nights and weekends at the police academy.

 

The sole caretaker for much of the day, Nichols began to feel burned out and overwhelmed by daily tasks—trying to breastfeed her infant while also feeding a toddler or doing laundry at the coin-operated laundromat nearby. Her discouragement grew into dislike, which grew into what she describes as a “delirious, desperate hatred.” She constantly felt frenzied and then would “stop, break down, and wake up and do everything again.” She found herself taking out her anger on her husband, and the two fought often. Nichols occasionally texted her sister for support, but the days continued to engulf her.

She longed for her family life to mirror “this glorious covenant between God and his church,” with children as “this great fruit of our love.” Instead, she found herself thinking: No, I don’t want “fruit” anymore. I just want everyone to leave me alone.
“I just couldn’t bring myself to love anyone or anything,” she said. “I had nothing to rely on, and I didn’t see a point in being alive.”
 
Then, that night her husband left to buy milk, something in his departure triggered a reaction in Nichols.  I feel so alone in this,
she thought. She called the nonemergency number for the police and told them she was worried she would hurt herself. She was voluntarily placed in an overnight mental health facility and soon was diagnosed with postpartum depression.

 

American society often expects women to be all things to all people.  Marissa’s story is one of countless of what postpartum depression can do to someone.  We can all too easily overlook and forget the incredible burden that is placed upon a pregnant woman and the load she is asked to bare.  And then when the baby is born, mothers are supposed to change every diaper with a happy face and get up for that 2:00am feeding with a big smile.  There are unfair expectations put upon mothers and as a result we can miss the warning signs that they might be trying to share with us. 
 
A recent study found that faith communities—especially those in which there are “people who are willing to help and pastors who are willing to listen”—have helped to alleviate postpartum depression symptoms in women. Experts have suggested greater collaboration between churches and formal service providers could increase the number of women willing to seek treatment.  An informal poll of 116 women who had experienced perinatal mood disorders found that 84 percent stated they had not felt supported by their faith communities during their depression.  Despite increasing awareness of the condition, only about 20 percent of women who exhibit symptoms seek help for postpartum depression. This can be attributed, in part, to a lack of understanding of the symptoms, inadequate screening and fear of being stigmatized. Faith communities can serve as a missing link between women and mental health services. It is crucial, however, that faith communities seek out struggling mothers, as studies have shown that women who were experiencing depression were less likely to attend religious services. At a time when women might be most in need of a supportive faith community, they often are less likely to be a part of one.
 
Did you know that approximately 46 percent of women do not return to the workplace after childbirth?  For some this is a deliberate choice; others have no choice but to leave after facing the cost of child care, inflexible work schedules, the wage gap, lack of maternity leave or discrimination.  I think of our own community and church family where there seems to be an abundance of babies being born recently.  We’ve also unfortunately been saddened by the news of stillborns reminding us nothing should be taken for granted. 

All is miracle.  I don’t think we could ever do enough to lift up women who bare so much (physically, emotionally, mentally, etc) during pregnancy, childbirth and raising our children.  Let’s together keep an eye out for them.  Let’s hold them in prayer.  Let’s LISTEN to them and LOOK for warning signs of any depression.  Let’s share the load with them not only on Mother’s Day, but every day.  When we work together and lift each other up, the showers of pain and depression can turn into beautiful flowers.  Let’s give our moms more than odes and poems…let’s give them our attention, understanding, compassion and love.   

 ~P.J.

 



Becoming Yourself

Now I become myself.

It’s taken time, many years and places.

I have been dissolved and shaken,

Worn other people’s faces…”

-May Sarton

What a long time it can take to become the person one has always been!  How often in the process we mask ourselves in faces that are not our own.  How much dissolving and shaking of ego we must endure before we discover our deep identity- the true self within every human being that is the seed of authentic vocation.  Vocation is not so much as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received.  The beautiful scriptures proclaimed in these church seasons of Lent and Easter really invite us to deeply reflect and ponder our vocation.  Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling us to become something we are not.  It comes from a voice “in here” calling us to be the person we were born to be- to fulfill the original selfhood given us at birth by God.
 

I think of Anna and our baby to be born later this summer as regards vocation.  Babies do not show up as raw material to be shaped into whatever image the world might want to make him or her.  They arrive with their own gifted form, with the shape of their own sacred soul.  Biblical faith calls it the image of God in which we are all created.  But we quickly are led to believe that we need to put on masks to find who we are. 

 

What “masks” have you worn in your life?  Even the roles of being a spouse, parent, pastor, grandparent, etc. in a sense “mask” who we are.  As the poet May Sarton reminds us, it does take time, many years and places to become ourselves.  We arrive in this world with birthright gifts and then we spend the first half of our lives abandoning them or letting others disavow us of them.  As we grow, we are surrounded by expectations, images of acceptability, and social pressures.  Then, and only by chance, if we are awake or aware, we spend the second half of our lives trying to recover and reclaim the gift we once possessed. 

 

When we lose track of true self, one way we can seek clues to pick up the trail of our true self is to really listen, read and allow the readings from scripture to touch us.  It is there where we are reminded of our truest self.  We were made in God’s image and likeness.  The stories of Resurrection we will hear April 16th and through the Easter Season will be a wonderful trail of clues for us to discover and re-discover who we are.  You see the deepest vocational question is not “What ought I to do with my life”  It is the more elemental and demanding “Who am I?  What is my nature?”
 

Spend the rest of these Lenten weeks and Easter season lifting off those masks you have put on through the years.  Rediscover who you are.  We are Christ-bearers, imprinted with the seal of the Holy Spirit at baptism.  The task is clear: go become what you are!
 
~PJ


Try Fasting This Lent

Giving things up for Lent, or fasting, is not just a spiritual practice for Roman Catholics.  Fasting has occurred since the beginning of time and can be seen and studied in both the Old and New Testaments.  However, fasting and praying is something that has grown foreign to many Christians today.  It was not something strange in the early Christian Church and it was also not something strange in the time of the Reformation and in the centuries thereafter.  Moses, Elijah, Ezekiel and Daniel fasted and prayed.  Jesus fasted for 40 days. Paul and the early Christians fasted.  In the early Christian Church they fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays.  Martin Luther was criticized because he fasted too much.  John Calvin fasted and prayed until most of Geneva turned to God.  John Knox fasted and prayed and the wicked Queen Mary said she feared no weapon like she feared John Knox’s prayers.  Jonathan Edwards who was God’s instrument in the revival in New England, fasted and prayed.  John Wesley fasted twice a week.  Charles Finney one of the greatest spiritual leaders in history was a man who fasted and prayed.  D L Moody was not unfamiliar with fasting and praying.
 

There are many kinds of fasts one can undertake: a complete fast, partial one or even spiritual one.  Perhaps these 40 days of our Lenten journey we can consider a spiritual or soul fast where we work on those things which deter us from growing in our relationship with Christ. What or who do you need to turn away from?  What vices or sinful behavior causes you to grow full of contempt instead of Christ?  When we fast, we are invited to seek out the Christ in our lives for strength, perseverance and courage.  Fasting moves us away from selfish behaviors and motives.   Try it.  You won’t be disappointed.  The following is a spiritual or soul fast for you think about and try anytime.  How many of these things do all of us need to work on fasting from? 

Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
Fast from worries and trust in God.
Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
Fast from bitterness and fill your hearts with joy.
Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.

Go feast on God’s goodness and love for you and fast from all the things that only in the end drain and leave us empty.  Try fasting.  You won’t be disappointed.  “Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”  Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” (Joel 2:12-13)
 
It was not Christ’s intention to reject or despise fasting… it was His intention to restore proper fasting”
-Martin Luther
 
~PJ

 



Peace Prints

 
There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about the carbon imprint we leave behind on the planet.  By our use of fossil fuels and consumption of goods turned into garbage, we are sure to leave our “marks” in this world.  By recycling, composting and perhaps considering using our feet and bicycles instead of vehicles we can help make a difference.  But what about peace prints?   Francis of Assisi has often been quoted as the one who wrote the beautiful words “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”  We can choose to leave marks of Christ’s Light in our world, too.  Hopefully the following story I came across encourages you to think about the marks you are leaving behind.  
 

I did not know her, but her life and death- a story of willingness to see with eyes of faith and forgiveness for those who can be difficult to love- is inspiring us still today and leaving her prints of peace all around.

Sister Karen Klimizak was a Sister of Saint Joseph.  In 1985, together with Father Roy Herberger, she helped establish Hope House, a communal home for non-violent ex-offenders in Buffalo, New York. Hope House offered a home for men where they could believe in themselves and work toward a better life and future.  She once wrote in her journal, “You leave your fingerprints on everything. We need to be people who leave our imprints of peace wherever we go in our world.”  Sister Karen promoted non-violence through the creation of dove-shaped peace signs that read, “I leave peace prints,” to contrast the fingerprints left at a crime scene, a visible mark of peace as opposed to a visible mark of violence.

Sadly, on Good Friday, April 14, 2006, Sister Karen returned home after participating in Stations of the Cross.  She was murdered by a house resident when she walked in on him trying to steal her cellphone to sell for drug money. Knowing that one day someone she may be working with could cause her harm, she wrote these words in her journal fifteen years earlier, which were spoken at her funeral. Addressed to the person that might harm her she said, “I forgive you for what you have done and I will watch over you, and help you in whatever way I can.”
 
Now almost eleven years later, the story spoke of how Sister Karen’s dove peace signs continue to be seen throughout western New York; a reminder of her steadfast vision of forgiveness and nonviolence.  After reading this, I could not help but think how many people, circumstances, and situations in our world, our church, our country and our own personal lives challenge us to find courage to love those viewed as unlovable. The story of Sister Karen’s life was encouraging to me, and a reminder of how we must all use compassion, mercy, humor and creativity, even when we are stretched to the limit. This, after all, is how we live as the light of Christ in the world.

 

We all leave our fingerprints, carbon prints and spiritual prints behind in this world.  As we prepare for Lent, the start of baseball and the beginning signs of Spring, let’s think more intentionally about how we can leave PEACE PRINTS everywhere we go through our words, actions and deeds.  Sister Karen’s hand prints literally continue to influence us as the SSJ Sister Karen Klimczak Center for Nonviolence carries on her vision of a world without violence.  Is this just a pipedream?  NO!  With Christ all things are possible. Go make peace prints in your part of the world and let the transformation take place!  You can check out more of her story and what we can do at www.sisterkarencenter.org
 
Go, be instruments of peace and leave your mark,
~PJ



“This is what Yahweh asks of you- only this: to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God” –Micah 6:8
 
“A single crocus blossom ought to be enough to convince our heart that springtime, no matter how predictable, is somehow a gift, gratuitous, gratis, a grace.” – David Steindl-Rast
 
“All attack is a call for help. When you know this, you begin at once to look deeply into the question of what kind of help is being called for” –Neale Walsch
 
“Every morning I turn my face to the wind. It is not difficult to scatter seeds, but it takes courage to keep facing the wind” –Middle Eastern wisdom saying