One nail at a time


I just finished watching the Super Bowl. A party big enough to let the rest of the world recede. Except in this case, as you may have needed heart medication. Sorry Atlanta.

The pre-game highlight?  Did you see the Pope Francis’ Super Bowl greeting? Now we’re talking. “Great sporting events like today’s Super Bowl are highly symbolic, showing that it is possible to build a culture of encounter and a world of peace.” He reminded us that this celebration of sports is good because it takes us out of self-interest, and teaches us sacrifice. Wow.

Here’s how you know it’s a bad week. You get up in the morning and ask Siri, “What’s the news?” And she says, “Are you sitting down?”
And I was invited to join FBA (FaceBook Anonymous). Where you gather each day and admit that you are powerless over the ever growing echo chamber of dander and pique. If you’re lucky, you can keep your account if you stick to puppy photos and an inspirational quote.

We can be so easily dislocated. So I wish to be an evangelist for those who choose to rise above cynicism. I confess to you that when I give in to cynicism, there is a cost to my psyche. I live fearful. I see a world not filled with possibility or hope, but crowded with menace and threat. In the end we are unable to be courageous and unable to laugh. Which is not good considering that they come from the same muscle in our heart.

An elderly carpenter is eager to retire. He tells his employer (a very well respected contractor) of his plans to leave the house-building business. He wishs to live a more leisurely life with his wife and extended family. He knows he will miss the paycheck, but it’s kick-back time and he needs to retire. And his family will get by. “I’ve hammered enough nails in one lifetime,” he tells his employer, with a laugh. There’s no need to put myself out any longer, he tells himself.
The contractor is very sorry to see his best carpenter go, and asks this, “Would you be willing to oversee the building of just one more house, as a personal favor to me?”
Hesitant, the carpenter said yes. In a short time it becomes easy to see that his heart is not in his work. He resorts to substandard workmanship and uses inferior materials. It is an unfortunate way to end a dedicated career.
When the carpenter finishes his work the employer comes to inspect the house. The contractor hands the front door key to the carpenter. “This is my gift to you,” he says. “This is your house.”

Most of us have been there. Holding those keys. And we spend too much time slip sliding down the if-only-stream. And we know where that takes us.

In my memory I’m back in southern Michigan, the son of a brick mason. I’ve been on countless constructions sites. Most of them as a hod carrier (mixing mortar, lugging bricks). So many days eager to quit. And hearing my Father’s words, “Son, build this one like you’re building your own.” (Twelve years ago, my Father helped me build the house I am in today, but that’s a story for another Sabbath Moment.)

So yes. We make a difference with every nail we hammer, each board we choose, each brick we mortar, each window we put in place.

Here’s the deal: Because we live in a culture of hype, I believe that more often than not, the wrong people get the attention.
I’m with David Orr here, “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind.”

I mentioned immigrants last week and received this letter from a SM reader, “Who died and voted you God?” Fair enough. She is concerned about where our country stands and unafraid to be blunt. I’m in favor of honesty. So I didn’t take it personally. But it sure made me think. And it doesn’t help that I play that game in my head, the push – pull drama about not rocking any boats.
So I wrote, “We may not agree on what is happening, or not happening, or how it is happening. But here’s the funny thing. A little over two thousand years ago, someone did die. And invited me to represent God on earth. Or at least to be the hands and feet.” This invitation has nothing to do with ego and braggadocio or dominance. In fact, it is a reminder that while I am here on earth, I am, in fact, a servant and a vessel for hope and redemption. And that invitation I must take to heart. And this isn’t just true for me. It’s true for every single one of us.

One nail at a time…
My friend Larry Murante sings about it, Keeps my hope alive.
We are, all of us, builders. We are about the business of building places and spaces for human dignity and hope and inclusion and resilience and confidence and courage and safety and wellbeing.
But this is important. This parable is not meant to scold you into making a difference. It’s a recognition that you have been created and are able to do so. It’s not about bootstraps and will power and consternation. This is about letting the language of your heart speak.

I saw it this week in the faces of fifth-graders at Ashley Park Elementary School in Charlotte, North Carolina. These children will look back at school with altogether different memories than many. That’s because they have arguably the best teacher in the world.
Barry White Jr (great name I’d say) greets every single student with an individually created high-five. Check this out. With shuffles and slaps and fist bumps and moves that make me want to put my dancing shoes on and join in. White says, “They’re going to get the best of me everyday. High expectation and meaningful relationships and bring light to the entire school.”

I saw it in a second grade class at North Carolina’s South Greenville Elementary, where a majority of students have difficult home lives and many are homeless. Another inspiring teacher, Michael Bonner celebrates these children reminding them that they are more than statistics. Teaching them… I am smart. I am strong. I am cool. Teaching them hope.

I saw it in New York City, where writer Ashley C. Ford felt compelled to act by a sad fact of life in the nation’s school cafeterias. Many kids cannot pay for their lunch. Because of that, they are often embarrassed with a substitute meal of a cold cheese sandwich. Ford, a New York City writer, appealed to her 66,000 Twitter followers with a solution. “A cool thing you can do today is try to find out which of your local schools have kids with overdue lunch accounts and pay them off.”  Walk the walk, she said.

Yes. One nail at a time…
And we see it… in heroes who have gone before and still shine a light and invite us to shine.
“I was fascinated and challenged by Dorothy Day’s piety,” Julie Hanlon Rubio writes.  Day went to daily Mass, prayed with a breviary and a rosary, and could not live without frequent retreats and confession. But piety, Day reminds us, is not enough. To be Christian, one had to adopt the precarity of voluntary poverty and “live with [the poor], share with them their suffering too. Giving up one’s privacy, and mental and spiritual comforts as well.”

The bottom line? Live as if the gospel is true and possible.

In Robert Coles’ biography, he tells of taking his students to see Day. They asked how she wanted to be remembered. I love this part. Day spoke first of her life with the poor, (and, are you ready for this?) of how she tried to serve good coffee and good soup to those who came to the Catholic Worker, but also of learning from those she served.
It doesn’t take much. And yes, we make a difference one nail at a time.

I worked in my garden this week. And I read books. This week poetry, Words under the words, by Naomi Shihab Nye.
Tonight it snowed a good bit. So we’re covered in white. Even so, I’m eager for spring. But the real work is prepping and cleaning and clearing. In other words, it takes awhile. Maybe a little bit every day.

Quotes for your week…
Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.  Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Even if you see the day of judgment coming around the corner, plant a seed. The Prophet Muhammad


For a New Beginning

In out of the way places of the heart
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire
Feeling the emptiness grow inside you
Noticing how you willed yourself on
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
John O’Donohue

Our gracious and loving God,
we thank you that you have been touching our lives:
illuminating us; opening us at deep levels of our being;
stretching us at points of our narrowness;
confronting us where we are distorted;
challenging us to become the word you speak us forth to be;
but in every way working in all for your good purposes in our lives.
Robert Mulholland Jr.



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