I Can’t See My Face!

The other morning, our four-year-old emphatically observed:

“Did you know that I can’t see my face?!?”

And he is right!  Without a mirror (or the like), one cannot see the non-verbal cues that their face communicates.

This reality is kind of a bummer, too, since the face gives off a huge amount of information, and we have evolved to subconsciously interpret even the smallest, quickest emotion on the face of another.

So, what do you hope to unconsciously communicate?

The answer may represent yet another reason for committing to a slower, simpler life and to mindfully accept what we feel when we feel it.

Because I can’t see my face, but everyone else can.

Contribution, the Criterion

Foreign Service families move countries every few years, so that means we have to find a new faith community quite often.

Upon moving to a new country, one FS family we know asks these questions of a new faith community that they enter:  

Is this a place where I can contribute?  Is this a place where I can pour out my love, generosity, and experience? 

If “yes,” they dig in and make it their home.  If “no,” they move on and look for another.

Contribution is their criterion.

So obviously there is more to a strong faith community than that… but I would be willing to bet that this “more” would be there in a community strong enough that it seeks to involve everyone in a robust contribution party. 

I love this family’s mindset and feel appropriately challenged by it.  It is a proper antidote to how many, especially Catholics, have been habituated to engage (or not) in the church.

We are creators of culture, not merely consumers of it.

Jack Sparrow’s Indignation

Remember that moment in Pirates of the Caribbean where Jack Sparrow finds himself on a different ship with cannons firing on his beloved Black Pearl? 

“Stop blowing holes in my ship!” he wildly protests.

I think that we blow holes in our ships – more than we are aware or would like to admit.

In families, when we harbor the grudge or the old way of being…

In the church, when we cling to “commentary” instead of weaving communities and offering contribution… when we polish a tiny idol rather than pray for the Mystery…

And on the earth, when we do not acknowledge what is happening and imagine a new way forward together.

For Lent, let’s give up blowing holes in our ships.

The Availability of Responsibility

Lots of things in life are scarce.

Opportunities to take responsibility are not among them.

Responsibility for one’s actions or anger or aloofness… 

Or for what is happening to the earth… 

Or for a languishing ministry at church, a weak workplace culture, that pile of dishes… 

Or (and perhaps most importantly) for engaging that person who needs to be seen as they are… 

Chances to take responsibility abound.

The opportunity to say “I’m here. How can I help?” is a grace and a gift.

I Don’t Have Time For That

For a long time, I thought about contemplative practice, but never really committed to it. 

“I don’t have time for that,” I told myself.

Then some time ago, I began to think about this differently by considering two things.

1) Life is short – like, wildly short – even in the best case scenarios.

And 2) if contemplative practice is how I am going to (slowly, day by day) begin to see people as they truly are, witness the sacramentality of life, not be reactive and ego-driven… if I am going to do any of this… I don’t have any time to lose.

Put a different way, from the perspective of my short lifespan, the “that” that I don’t have time for is putting off contemplative practice, the cultivation of solitude, the expansion of awareness.

That is what I don’t have time for. I don’t have time for avoidance.

The Beam

First take the beam out of your own eye… -Matthew 7:5

So that old beam in the eye… what is it like?

Maybe it’s clinging to a story that is no longer true…

Or nursing an old hurt because it gives an odd (if destructive) sense of comfort… 

Or seeking always the approval of others…

Or analyzing and rearranging the world to fit my fragility, my idea of how things should be…

Or barricading myself on the moral high ground instead of encountering another and listening…

Or compulsively avoiding all pain…

Or believing my narrative over anything else…

And being scarcely aware of any of the above…

Whoa! That’s a big beam!!

Being sick of the beam is a good first step to see about removing it.

A Scandalous Bargain

A great book is a scandalous bargain.  

To create such a book, an author must assemble a preliminary distillation of ideas, recognize it as worthy enough to continue, overcome waves of fear and inadequacy, show up day after day to the page to write, scrap what was written, and try again.  They then must subject these (as yet unfinished) thoughts to conversations with interlocutors who offer critique.  This feedback in hand, the writer must then undergo the discipline of considering which bits of critique to integrate and which to let go.

(And all of this assumes as a prerequisite that the person has become someone who makes things.  This is no small feat, and a place to which many would-be creators never arrive.)

But when a wise person succeeds in doing all this and offers us a great book, the experience of it is like nothing else.  

Take Consolations, for example.  For me, working through each tiny chapter is like being bowed to by an ancient fighter, then being decisively overpowered, pinned to the mat, and offered a hand back up.  The process teaches me what I was not even cognizant that I needed to learn about the experience of living.

It is scandalous that I have access to this distilled experience for the price of one book.

Dreams, Goals, or Systems

I read the following this week:

“You do not rise to the level of your dreams.  You fall to the level of your systems.” (from chapter 1 of this book)


And, ouch!!

And it might have been “goals” instead of “dreams.” (I was listening to the book while doing dishes, so I didn’t write it down.)  But I think either is true.  

Each moment that we use to simplifying our environment and sharpen our priorities into a habitual system (that gets us where we’ve decided we want to go) is time better spent than waiting for herculean motivation or unimpeachable clarity on the execution of our dreams.

Incentivizing Understanding

This is how my sons ride to school.

Usually they have a grand time, talking shop about school work, school friends, and what is likely to be for lunch.

And occasionally, as brothers do, they disagree with each other.  

The more trips they take in the bike, though, the less these misunderstandings turn into actual fighting.  The space incentivizes gentleness and understanding since, if they start a fight, they have to live with an angry brother for the remainder of the ride.  This vulnerability incentivizes the peaceful resolution of tension.

In public and private life, we, like these two brothers, will disagree with each other.  The modern world (fueled by the interwebs) gives us plenty of places to deal with this disagreement unproductively, to stoke our self-righteousness and circle the wagons on the moral high ground.

But what if, instead, we were to act like we were strapped into a modestly-sized cargo bike with our adversary?  What if we acted like our collective well-being depended on our ability to create structures that incentivize gentleness and understanding?  

My hunch is that is very well may.

PS – For more on this, check out Boston College’s free MOOC on the Synod on Synodality and Jon Haidt’s timely new Substack.

Cathedrals Under Construction

Some years ago, my wife and I spent the day in the Basílica de la Sagrada Familia, pictured below.

The original architect, Antoni Gaudí, hoped the basilica to be “the Bible, made of stone.” Of its uniqueness, one art critic said that “it is probably impossible to find a church building anything like it in the entire history of art.”

These superlative statements are entirely deserved.  Its beauty and layers of meaning were exhausting to take in. 

And what about the crane and scaffolding in the picture? Well, they are still completing construction of the building that was consecrated as a basilica in 2010.

Wait, what?  Unfinished and consecrated?

Yes, indeed!

And so I think it is with us.  

We are also cathedrals under construction – in need of grace and good company to help us to grow and already capable of the participating in the love that is God.  When we are able, with that same grace, to hold our cathedral-ness and our under-construction-ness together, we are capable of unique and remarkable beauty.