Ready For Reconciliation

20 Jan

I should read the daily scripture readings more often. Today’s first lines from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews was just what I needed to hear:

“God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name by having served and continuing to serve the holy ones.”

Like most people who believe in a “traditional” God, I worry about God judging me. I think it goes hand in hand with organized religion, for better or worse. I was in the shower this morning thinking about my need to go to confession, and about what our deacon said at Mass this weekend – we don’t listen to God because we are afraid He will tell us to do something uncomfortable. Ya got that right!

My daughter is currently going through preparation for her first sacrament of reconciliation, and the director of the program handed out an anonymous survey to parents at the first class, assessing our attitudes about the sacrament. One of the questions was a multiple choice about why we don’t go. We could choose more than one. I don’t remember all the choices, because my reason for not going wasn’t on there.

I don’t believe it’s unnecessary, nor do I doubt my own personal need for the sacrament. And it’s certainly not because I haven’t sinned or done something the church tells me is wrong.

I don’t go because I’m not really sorry.

I DO feel guilty that I’m not sorry, though.

Maybe I should go and confess that. I suppose it’s a start.

Part of my spiritual practice includes being willing to be willing. This is particularly helpful when I am just not quite ready to let go of an outcome or a behavior or a relationship I know deep in my heart is not serving God. I’m rarely willing to let go immediately. I joke and say there’s not a relationship I’ve had that doesn’t have claw marks in it from when God wrenched it from my tiny, clenched fists of rage. I may not be willing, but I can ask God to help me be willing to be willing to let go.

Help me to be willing to seek You in the sacrament of reconciliation.

I have a tool borrowed from the 12-step tradition that helps me with this. It’s called an inventory. There’s no one right way to do it. The 4th step talks about a “fearless and searching moral inventory” while the 10th step talks about a continuous inventory.

There is a wrong way to do it. It doesn’t say “list only your failings.” That is what most of us do when we examine our conscience, isn’t it? Today’s first reading encourages me to see myself the way God sees me – with justice. He doesn’t overlook the love just because I have sometimes failed to love. He doesn’t overlook my service to others just because there are times I’ve neglected to serve.

Truth be told, I’m afraid to look at why I’m not sorry for some of my willful disobedience. I just don’t want to go there. I don’t want to go there alone, and I don’t want to go there with God.

What I’ve learned is that God will take me there whether or not I want to go. It’s up to me whether I open my eyes or keep them shut. What am I missing if I keep them shut? I miss seeing my virtues when I shut my eyes to my vices, and seeing my virtues is what fills my heart with healthy esteem for myself. Without taking that fearless searching inventory of myself with a just God who sees it all, I’m dooming myself to a life of low self-esteem and a bottomless black hole in my soul, and an ever-widening gap between myself and the God I profess to love and serve.

Well, if that’s not motivation, I don’t know what else is.

The Gospel reading today also touches on this idea of being judged – not by God, but by our peers, or people in authority. The Pharisees criticized Jesus and his disciples because they were picking heads of wheat in the field they were walking through on -GASP – the Sabbath. Was it breaking the church rule? Technically, yes. Was it a sin? Well, Jesus doesn’t actually answer that question. He merely tells a story about old King David and states, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” We can extrapolate and say the same of any of the commandments, can’t we? After all, God created humanity in Genesis, and it’s not until the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy that we get Ten Commandments and all the other Hebrew laws.

I’m not saying that we start calling them “the ten suggestions.” I’m not saying that the church doesn’t have the authority to say what is right or wrong. That would be justifying harmful behaviors that those commandments address directly. What I am saying is that sharing my struggles with Jesus may yield some surprising answers. But I won’t get those answers unless I invite Him into my fearful heart.

Weekly One Thing

4 Jan

Some of you may recall that when I first started my blog, I kept a list of the “one thing” I felt God was trying to tell me at each Sunday mass. Sadly, I didn’t keep the list very well past 2012, and I didn’t add to it at all during 2014. While I’d like to think this was not indicative of my spiritual condition or willingness to listen to God, I have to admit my other choices were not ideal in 2014. We all have a rebellious period, though. Most of us experience it when we are in our teens; I decided to go through it in my late 30s. Fortunately, I’ve chosen to close that chapter.

So once again I will be listening for my “one thing” whenever I go to church. And for the sake of being accountable, and also to keep a record for myself and others, I’m going to start adding to that page of my blog again. If you’re on the same reading schedule as Catholics, I’d love for you to do it with me and compare what you heard. That whole “where two or three are gathered” thing . . .

Here’s the link:

http://holeyheart.com/weekly-one-thing/

A quick side note . . . just because I completely stopped doing it for a year doesn’t mean the exercise wasn’t useful. Apparently, my friend Laura was inspired by the “one thing” exercise and started doing it herself. This summer, she became the middle school youth minister at my church. And one afternoon when I was volunteering at their faith formation class, she encouraged the kids (including my son) to go to church listening for their one thing, and even gave them all prayer journals to take to church with them! I felt as though my own words had come back to me full circle. Thank you, Laura.

Living My Intentions, Part 2

2 Jan

I love the classical image of Janus, the ancient Roman god of transitions. Two faces, one looking forward to the future, the other looking back at the past.

My friends who are recovering alcoholics have been known to quote from the AA Promises: “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” That is one face of Janus. Regret and guilt can be driving forces in our lives without us ever even realizing it. I remember how free I felt when I finally understood at “heart level” I’m powerless over the past and nothing I do today can undo choices I made two minutes, two days, or two years ago.

Even in recent years as I’ve learned to cut myself a little slack and have the grace to let myself off the hook, I still find lingering feelings of wishing I could change the past or punishing myself (or others) for mistakes I think were made. The former is an illusion and the latter is a waste. The past was either a blessing or a lesson, so the best I can do today is be grateful for it, learn from it, admit that I was wrong, or forgive.

One of my goals for 2015 is to do a more thorough job of looking back. It’s great to take annual stock on New Year’s Eve, like I did yesterday, but how much more effective would I be if I checked myself daily? An annual review may reveal the big picture, but daily reviews can uncover the patterns that unconsciously permeate my everyday life. So I’ve made a 30-day commitment this January: take inventory of my behaviors and attitudes before I go to bed each night. I can’t wait to see what I learn about myself, and how it changes the way I approach the other face of Janus, the one looking toward the future.

As I’ve written before, I prefer setting “goals” and “intentions” rather than making “resolutions.” Usually I don’t choose the intention; if I quiet my mind and observe myself through the last month of the year, the next year’s intention reveals itself. I usually know in my heart what I need to work on, but making a resolution about it is setting myself up for failure. An intention, on the other hand, becomes a guiding theme weaving its way through all areas of my life.

My intention for 2015 is “simplify.”

If 2015 is anything like 2014, I will be offered many opportunities to do the exact opposite of my intention. And if 2015 is to be a truly “new” year, maybe I’ll resist the temptation to complicate and clutter.

Along with an intention, I like to set a few specific, measurable, and attainable goals, and one “BHAG” (that’s a Big Hairy Audacious Goal). This year’s small goals are:
1. Nurture my creative side;
2. Set up a will;
3. Meet with my financial advisor;
4. Finish the back porch;
5. Reduce my sugar consumption;
6. Pursue an additional career path/income source (oops, did I say “simplify?”); and
7. Take a vacation for my 40th birthday in September.

My BHAG is to craft a story that has been germinating for nearly a year and a half (this is the “big hairy” part) and get it into the hands of the man who inspired it (this is the “audacious” part only God can facilitate).

All this talk of looking at the past and planning for the future is a gentle reminder that I have only the present moment, whether it’s January 1, December 31, or any day in between. What can I do today to meet my goals and live my intentions? What lessons did the past 24 hours hold for me? Life doesn’t exist in the past or future, but only in the now.

And right now, I can copy, paste, publish, and share. Thanks for your encouragement through the past few years of Holey Heart. Happy birthday to my blog, and Happy New Year to you!

Living My Intentions

31 Dec

I’m surprised to discover I didn’t write anything about New Years or resolutions last year at this time, except for a little piece on the calendar day book I created (which unfortunately got very little use). It’s kind of a shame, too, because it would have been nice to compare me then with me now, and take stock of how well I lived my intention for 2014.

I had a two-fold intention: responsibility and fun. I very much wanted to show more responsible behavior in all areas of my life, especially time management. How well did I do? Well, that calendar stopped getting any use sometime in mid-April. But I did get myself to the doctor for a much overdue physical.

One of my big goals of 2014 was to use my income tax return to build a deck and pergola off the back of my house, and that little project has taxed my sanity in countless ways for seven months now and counting. I could write volumes on what I’ve learned about myself through this process. Perhaps that song from the “Frozen” movie would be a good place to start.

Speaking of things with which my children are obsessed, I somehow stumbled into my true intention for the year – focusing on my kids. And this intention, I’m pleased to say, is one I’ve lived well. For the past few years I’ve devoted most of my spare time to self-care and recovering from years of losing myself in an unpleasant marriage and the natural erosion of self that happens in parenthood, not to mention years of stuffing my feelings. 2014 saw me getting my groove back and giving myself again, first and foremost to the little ones who often got and continue to get the short end of my stick.

I became involved with my son’s Boy Scout troop, chaperoning camping trips, pushing him out of his comfort zone into a week of overnight camp, and co-chairing the popcorn sale this fall. I enrolled the girls in gymnastics in the spring and dance class this fall, even though it’s a bit of a sacrifice to make sure we all get where we need to be on any given afternoon. And in spite of their belly aching, I make sure their spiritual education isn’t neglected. I sure wish we could have old fashioned Sunday School like the Baptists though!

Mostly I see myself as a guardian of their childhood. Playtime is as much a priority as homework. They only get to be kids once. I sure hope when they are adults that they appreciate that I won’t allow them to grow up too fast. It’s the best gift my parents gave me, even though at the time I couldn’t wait to be an adult.

I’ve taken us on fun little excursions to the river, 4th of July picnic, apple picking , and this Christmas, to the lake. Tomorrow I’m driving us up to D.C. for the day to see the National Cathedral because Teague expressed an interest in catacombs.

I try to allow their opinions to make a difference in what we do as a family, within reason. I’ve disciplined more consistently this year, and I’ve remembered to “let it go” like the song suggests when the battle isn’t worth the collateral damage. I’m unbelievably proud of my kids. They are smart and sensitive and responsible and creative, and I’ve been present enough to see it all unfold every day.

I worked on a few other relationships as well. My connection with girlfriends grows ever more trusting and secure. I’ve reached out to new friends, and I’ve responded to women who have befriended me. I have conversations with other moms at the bus stop. The bus stop is a triggering place for me going back to the teasing days of middle school. To be “part of” for the first time in my life is such a gift!

In a special way, I’ve worked on my relationship with my mom. She and I have always enjoyed each other and have gotten along well for the most part, but like most mothers and daughters, we have our moments! This summer, I made a heartfelt commitment to give to her what I want most (and usually get, too) – a listening heart. And I discovered the old axiom is true – we really do get what we give!

I had two big fights: one with my ex and one with the carpenter who is building my porch. These fights had three things in common – my expectations, the resulting resentment, and making a decision to let it go. There’s that darn song again.

I can’t think of “fun” without thinking of dating. 2014 saw me venturing outside my comfort zone a bit, and what it taught me is a deep appreciation for my comfort zone! The excitement of a temporary infatuation or the novelty of a date with a long-time acquaintance is really no substitute for the trust and emotional intimacy that grows over time. This year I learned to appreciate all the good that was present in my expired marriage, and also the special men in my life today who are worthy of both my platonic and romantic attention. I have the best guy friends, and a friendly sweetheart whose affection is a gift.

My relationship with myself has grown stronger, too. Thanks to all that Boy Scout camping, I rekindled a long-buried desire to hike the Appalachian Trail. That’s a resolution for another year, but I joined a few meet-up groups dedicated to hiking and went on two backpacking trips. I dug a hole to poop in. I learned how to cook freeze-dried meals. I carried a 25-pound pack up steep climbs. I camped alone over Labor Day weekend and saw arguably the best bluegrass group in the country with two complete strangers. I survived an encounter with a bear in the dark in the middle of a wind storm. And I’m pretty sure that when I get my REI reward points this spring, I’m going to have to reexamine my financial priorities! I just hope I can share this newly nurtured passion with my kids in 2015.

I’ve grown creatively this year. I designed a new 200-plus full color book for my long-time client Kimberly Wilson that stretched me to the point of tears. The best thing about hitting a wall in the middle of a project is being told with all the faith in the world, “I know you can do this, Christy.” I did not believe her, but I did believe that God could give me the power to deliver what I’d promised, and when I asked, He made miracles happen. Shortly after the project was completed, a friend literally placed in my hands “The Artist’s Way,” and I’ve slowly digested the first few chapters. And I’ve begun writing my own book.

There are so many other little meaningful milestones I could share. Mistakes and regrets, and moments of gratitude and genuine wholesomeness. It’s a lot like the unfinished back porch. God is in every beautifully-crafted detail, but the timing and the pace and the engineering are completely out of my hands despite my attempts to control and manage.

In the end, I’m responsible for being willing to do the next right thing, to do my best even if my best sucks, to let go of outcomes and practice flexibility. I’m responsible for my own fun, and that starts with attitude, which my children will tell you is something I say I repeat like a broken record. I can control my attitude when everything else is out of my hands, and I have the power to find fun anywhere.

When Great Souls Die

23 Dec

My dog died on December 5.

He was almost 12 years old, and though he was slowing down and we expected this to be “the year,” I certainly didn’t expect December 5 to be “the day.” He seemed fine that morning. But by the time my Olivia started welcoming friends to her after-school birthday party, I knew. My dog, who for almost 12 years hated going outside, begged to go out, and parked himself under my new back porch, back turned to me. I called my mom in a panic, and she came and took him to our vet and family friend, Steve. The moment Steve told me the diagnosis – the moment hope died – was one of the worst moments of my life. Jake had something called “bloat.” It was inoperable given his age. All that was left to do was make him comfortable until I could be with him to say goodbye.

I called my ex-husband in agony. Jake was “our” dog before we had kids. I wanted him to be a part of saying goodbye. He left work early and joined my mom at the vet, and after the birthday party was over I took the kids to my dad and went to bid farewell to the longest long-term relationship I’d ever had.

Having never owned a pet before, nothing could have prepared me for the emotions that have come in waves the past few weeks. Within days of his death, I wrote the outlines of a future reflection on lessons that beast taught me. That is for another day, though. Today, I share someone else’s words. When I heard them, I couldn’t help but think of my dog and the final moments when his breathing finally slowed to a stop. It is from a poem by Maya Angelou, “When Great Trees Fall.”

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

I realize that losing a dog is not like losing a father, or a mother, or a husband, a best friend, a mentor. I have friends and neighbors who have faced those losses this year, and I can only imagine the heartache that accompanies those losses. But the relationships we have with our pets are intimate relationships, perhaps just as intimate as those we form with our fellow humans, or in my case, maybe even more so. The acceptance I received from my dog day after day is the kind of love that I can only dream of receiving from a person, and fail regularly at giving. What a gift.

Jake was a great soul. So were the people you loved and lost this year. I am comforted knowing that he is now keeping your mom, dad, husbands, best friend, and great teachers company, sitting at their feet, watching the children. He is a really awesome dog, and I will always love him.

Playing It Safe

21 Nov

I have been a writer ever since I could pick up a pen and craft a sentence. My elementary school had an annual “young author’s contest,” and every year, I participated and placed. Ironically, my very first “book” was not a story at all, but about the true meaning of Easter, with illustrations. (It was in the shape of an egg; how cute is that?) I was six years old and won first place in my grade. Funny how our souls know our life’s purpose long before we do.

When I was in 6th grade, my annual contest submission not only won my grade level at school but also went on to win honorable mention in the city-wide contest. I attended a ceremony at the Marriott hotel where famed children’s author Lois Lowry gave a speech and presented our awards. I know this not because I remember it, but because I kept the printed program, along with all my childhood stories.

What I DO remember is what happened when the results were announced to my sixth grade class. One of my classmates said, dripping with sarcasm, “Of course she won. She always wins.” And it wasn’t just anyone who said this. It was cutest, funniest, smartest, most popular boy in the class. I’d had a positively paralyzing crush on him for three years and counting, and his words crushed me. That’s what I remember.

I still wrote stories in seventh and eighth grade. But I started to bury my talent. In high school I wrote mediocre poetry. Four years of high school literature introduced me to “real” writing, and when I compared myself to that, I just quit writing stories altogether. An F on my senior term paper ended any ambition I may have had to become an English teacher (never mind that the teacher failed over half of all the Honors English term papers that spring), and I avoided literature classes in college, mostly out of laziness.

Instead, I majored in mass communications and excelled at a skill few others could master – editing. You know, using a red pen on OTHER people’s writing.

I also found an “outlet” for my outspoken nature as an opinion columnist on the school paper. I titled it “Just Say Yes,” making the most of my unusual last name. Occasionally my spiritual side would leak out around the holidays or other special occasions. I felt somewhat legitimate when an “anti-fan” created a Christine Yesolitis hate page (back when the internet was in it’s infancy) called “Just Say No.”

I had lots of artist and writer and photographer friends in college, all of whom seemed much more talented and focused on their dreams than I was. I envied them and their passion, but I decided to play it safe, taking a pragmatic approach to my education, career, and creative aspirations: learn the skills I would need to land a newspaper job so I could edit and opine myself into a position where I could really influence people.

It would have been an excellent plan, except that columnists don’t get hired fresh out of college; they work their way up as beat reporters and feature writers and calendar editors and copy desk assistants. They work as part of a team. They pick up the phone and make cold calls to sources. They play the “game” and promote the “agenda.” I’m an introvert, I was not much of a team player, and if you hadn’t noticed, I don’t care much for agendas. I had too much integrity (or stubbornness?) to write the way some editor told me to write.

By God’s grace I fell into graphic design. By God’s continued grace I found job after job in the non-profit world, where my strengths could grow and my weaknesses could be avoided. I’ve been blessed to use my artistic abilities to design books that other people have written. But I couldn’t keep ignoring my true calling. By God’s grace, a radio personality challenged his listeners to stand wherever it is God tells them to stand and do whatever it is God tells them to do, and by God’s providence I heard. Really heard. And that’s when I started writing for the bulletin. It was almost exactly five years ago; December 6, 2009.

I was 21 years old when I first heard the call to write about the Sunday scriptures, but I didn’t answer the call until I was in my mid-30s. I had some good excuses. I was busy working various full time jobs and having relationships and trying to cross off all the benchmarks on my “list” – marriage, babies, trip to Ireland, etc. I also told myself that I didn’t know anything about theology and that I wasn’t a very good writer. The truth is, I was afraid that I might really be good, and what that might mean.

I still am, by the way.

I share this abbreviated review of my creative self because I suspect we all have histories like this. Some comment or rejection causes us to question our creative self-worth, and like the third servant in Sunday’s parable, we bury our talent and justify it by being practical and realistic. We’re not that talented, we say. Surely God won’t miss our meager contribution to creation. We’d probably just muck it up anyway.

I have admittedly taken the easy route for a good stretch of my journey. Maybe I haven’t completely buried my talent, but I’ve been a bit too afraid to fully use it. I’ve felt like too much of a hypocrite to let loose. I’ve made some very human mistakes just like anyone else, but I often keep making them long after I know better, and it’s embarrassing. If only you knew! Who am I to use this unhoned gift of gab to talk about the spiritual life when I myself haven’t mastered either language or love?

This past Sunday’s Gospel, the parable of the talents, is one of the very few times when Jesus talks about condemnation. The woman at the well? No condemnation. The woman caught in adultery? No condemnation. The thief hanging on the cross next to Jesus? Not only is there no condemnation, he is promised entry to Paradise! These people broke commandments and got slaps on the spiritual wrist. But a fearful servant who played it safe and buried his master’s money because he was too insecure to take a risk? Condemnation, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Most of us play it safe because we doubt our own worth. We think we will be condemned for failing. We think that whatever meager talent we might have could not possibly make a difference. We think our sinfulness and imperfection makes us unsuitable vessels for God to work through.

The master in Jesus story calls that sort of thinking lazy and wicked. I call it SHIT – “Simply How I Think.”

I need to change how I think.

Those of us who were taught to have a “fear” of the Lord may also subscribe to a belief in a demanding God “harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter.” This belief doesn’t have to be a source of insecurity about our worth, but a source of hope! God can harvest where He did not plant and gather where He did not scatter! It doesn’t matter if He gave me a true artist’s measure of talent, or the ability to draw only stick figures; whatever I create is added to the beauty of creation if I’m doing it to serve my creator instead of my fragile ego.

And that’s the key difference. Ego plays it safe. Ego does whatever it can to protect itself and its fantasy world. Ego Edges God Out.

A friend recently posted these inspiring words on his Facebook feed: “Small minds cannot comprehend big spirits. To be great, you must be willing to be mocked, hated and misunderstood. More importantly, you must be willing to be wrong and fail . . . Will you remain quiet about whatever it is that you have been quietly pondering in your heart one more day? Decide today. Promising yourself ‘tomorrow’ will leave you in the end with nothing but empty ‘yesterdays.'”

All of us are hypocrites one way another, if we have the courage to actually have standards and attempt to live up to them. Not a single one of us can use that as an excuse for burying our talent.

Inviting God in doubles our worth. The servant with ten talents grew it by ten. The servant with five talents grew it by five. And the servant with one talent would have grown it by one if only he’d had a little faith in the master he feared so much.

I gain nothing by playing it safe.

Jesus makes it pretty clear, however, that I have everything – everything – to lose.

Tending the Temple

9 Nov

For about a week now I’ve been feeling nudged to write about Jesus cleansing the temple. I didn’t realize it would be today’s Gospel reading.

Many of us think the story is evidence that Jesus was angry about commerce in general. Some even interpret it as a treatise against capitalism, citing this story (one of a few that is found in all four Gospels) as evidence that Jesus was a socialist.

Jesus was not a socialist, nor was he a capitalist. These are modern constructs, and my guess is Jesus could and would take issue with either one just as easily, because any “social construct” has, at its core, a small group of people exercising control over the masses, usually the most vulnerable, in order to further solidify their monopoly on power.

That’s essentially what the cleansing of the temple was about. Remember the Gospel a few weeks ago about giving the Caesar what is Caesar’s and giving to God what is God’s? Today’s story is the sequel. In fact, in the synoptic Gospels, these stories are sequential.

All people in the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus used Roman currency. But the Jewish temple could not accept coins with Caesar’s head on them. It was dirty Gentile money. Jews needed Jewish money in order to pay the temple tax and buy animals for ritual sacrifices in the temple. Hence the need for the money changers. They needed to “give to God what is God’s.”

I can only imagine the disgust Jesus must have had at seeing all the gold and livestock in His Father’s house, not because He was against commerce, or stood up for animal rights, but because of the economic and especially spiritual barriers the Jewish culture had placed between people and their God. It is no wonder the poor and the sick flocked to Jesus; they had no other access to God because they couldn’t afford it.

Think about that. These people believed they must worship God in the Temple at Jerusalem in order to receive God’s blessing, yet they couldn’t even participate in that worship because they hadn’t been materially blessed enough to enter. If you read the Gospels looking for how the Jewish elite excluded their own from being connected to their God, you might see the story of Jesus in a whole different light. It makes me question how my own Church excludes people from full participation. Christ held Himself back from no one, and nothing angered Him more than the barriers and corruption that kept people from His Father. I think if He saw the practices of His Church today, some folks would be in for a good whippin’.

“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,” Jesus said. He meant it as a foreshadowing of His death and resurrection. But sometimes, a structure becomes so faulty, so corrupt, so top-heavy, so complicated, and so dangerous, the best thing to do is to tear it down and start over.

I was blessed to have been a part of my parish from the day we started. I was a senior in high school and we had 300 families. Most of us knew each other’s names. We did not have a physical church building in which to meet, so we borrowed space from the local Methodist church, the Lebanese church, and a Henrico County middle school. We held meetings in people’s homes and set up an office (with only one or two paid staff members) in the dilapidated old house that sat on the property that would become the huge parish complex we have today. Our focus was on learning and teaching that “church” wasn’t a building, but a community. We called ourselves “the village,” because it takes a village to raise a child, to comfort a widow, to serve the poor within and without.

Almost 25 years have passed. Three building campaigns. More that 2,500 families and growing. We have a huge staff managing 60+ ministries. We’ve done a lot of good for a lot of communities, especially for our beloved Haitian brothers and sisters.

But we no longer call ourselves “the village.” I miss that. My unwieldy megachurch is less of a community now than it was when we had nowhere to meet but each other’s homes. We may not exclude people in the same manner that the Sanhedrin did in Jesus’ time, but our sheer overwhelming size excludes people from feeling the personal experience of Jesus. Oh, the staff will tell you that they desperately want more volunteers for the various ministries. But the onus is on the newcomer (or old timer like myself) to find our place in the parish community.

There are times when I’d like to see Jesus tear down the walls and take us back to the days when we were a real community. I long for it. I may even leave my megachurch to find a smaller, poorer Catholic parish that makes do with less, has fewer, and more focused ministries, and doesn’t live the “bigger is better” mentality. Or maybe I’ll find another denomination that keeps faith simple, theologically and practically.

The ironic thing is, today is not just any old Ordinary Time, “green vestment” Sunday, but the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica – the first church building erected. It is a reminder that I need to keep a balanced perspective and not throw the baby out with the bath water, or the money changers. We need a physical space and communal rituals and outreach projects to unite us as community, and just as importantly we need to tend the temple within. Access to the Father is not “either or,” but “both and.” Living a God-centered life needs both a healthy individual heart and the support of a community of like-hearted individuals.

I recently heard someone say, if you ask any great artist what makes a great piece of art, they will tell you it is not what was added to the painting, or sculpture, or musical composition, or piece of literature, but what was edited and taken out. I think the same is true of faith. We humans can complicate anything we put our hands on, and faith is no different. Across all denominations we add our own perspectives on what the Christian life is “supposed” to be and overlook the core teaching of Christ – put God first and treat people the way you want to be treated. The rest is just “temple tax” and ritual that loses its usefulness if it is not fulfilling its purpose – helping us to put God first or to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

I have a category on my blog that I call “Tending the Temple.” It’s where I post about all things “self-care” related, spiritual and material. It’s a category I’ve neglected a bit in recent months, and that should tell me something. I’ve neglected it in my life, too. However, there are some wonderful habits I’ve maintained or picked up. I can’t wait to share more of those with you as the journey continues. Thank you so much for joining me and encouraging me. Sometimes this whole blogging business feels self-centered and ego-driven, but then one of you will comment on how it helps you, and I’m reminded that my feelings about this ministry (and that’s what it is) are not always facts.

Today’s epistle from Paul to the Corinthians is the scriptural inspiration and foundation for my website: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple,God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.”

So we are called to tend our temples, and care for our church communities, whatever they may look like. I think Jesus is less concerned with how we do it and more concerned that we just do it the best we can, without harming others along the way.

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