Friday, November 21, 2014

faith & family fridays: a pause can change the world

It's the simplest thing, really, and yet often hard to do, it seems.

The pause. It all comes down to this, I'm realizing. As in, our life depends on it. Our salvation depends on it. The flourishing of humanity depends on it.

Let me explain. Without morality, our world would crumble in an instant. We are moral people, made thus by our moral God. Morality has taken on a negative tone in this age, but I'm here to offer a different vision of it. I'm here to say morality is very, very good, and we can't do without it.

And for morality to work, the pause has to happen. What I mean by pause is...that moment of restraint. The little bit of time to think before acting. The chance to hold back from our reactive, human inclinations and choose another path.

Do you see where I'm heading now? And do you see why it's such a big thing?

Think about it as it relates to social media. We read something that rubs us the wrong way and immediately, our brain engines begins firing. We want to engage. But should we? And if we do, what should we say? Does it matter? We live in a world that seems to be leaning in the direction of it not mattering, and yet I think it does, a great deal.

The pause can change the whole outcome of the conversation, or whether we even have a conversation, or whom we have it with.

I'm coming to see the pause button as a gift from God to allow us enough time to challenge concupiscence (the inclination toward sin) and do what's right. Often, the right thing is not the first thing that comes to mind. If you're human, you know what I'm talking about, and I am the first among those who have failed in this at times.

Since my earliest days I've been quick to react, but my first reaction hasn't always been the most prudent. The older I get, the more I am getting this. I still don't do it perfectly, and when I don't, I know it. I feel it. I didn't pause long enough and now I've gotten myself in a mess. I should have utilized the pause.

Have you ever paused before acting, then acted, and felt relief, knowing that if you'd reacted on gut instinct everything could have turned out much differently, far worse?

The pause matters. But without developing one's conscience, the pause could end up being a waste of time, a spinning of one's wheels, fruitless. So there must be something there to begin with; a base to build upon.

God put something in our moral well to get us started, but it's up to us to follow through, develop and build  so that when push comes to shove and we're in a position of needing to make a moral decision, we'll have something in reserve. The bigger the reserve, in some ways, the better the pause, the more right the action or reaction.

It's pretty simple, really, and yet I know it's a journey, and that each soul comes at it individually and in its own time.

What's most important is that we recognize the value of the pause, work to build spaces for it to dwell, and know when to use it.

Reflection, restraint, prayer, holding back, being mindful, taking time to ruminate, discernment, fair judgment, choosing the right words.

We live in a world of weak words, when cursing is acceptable and reactions come at the quick click of a button. We're all susceptible, but we don't all have to cave to the pressure. There's a better way.

Consider the pause. Regard it. Honor it. Get comfortable with it. The pause doesn't mean you are rendered powerless. The pause just means you're going to commit to taking a little more time so that what comes from you will be thoughtful and just and right.

Q4U: When did you pause recently in a way that made all the difference?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

writing wednesdays: following fiat

Yes, that's right, but not like the car.

No, not that.

This is the Fiat I'm talking about.

You can follow Fiat, too. Just swim on over to Peace Garden Writer and take a little dip!

Monday, November 17, 2014

meaningful mondays: school family dance!

For 13 years now we've been gathering canned goods each November to gain entrance into our elementary school's fall family dance.

It's always very noisy and energy filled. The kids come dressed in themed attired. This year's theme? Neon!

My son and his friend came equipped with neon goggles thanks to Joey's mama. They danced until sweat beads were running down their temples and dripping onto their shirts.

I still remember when the song "YMCA" by the Village People hit the radio waves. Who knew all those years ago that it would still be fun to stay at the YMCA in 2014?

If for some strange reason amnesia has erased this fine song from your memory, "there's no need to feel down" you go!

Our sixth-grader has graduated from elementary, and often laments over the simpler days of yore. I encouraged him to come to the dance with me, "for old times sake." He did, and I think this pretty much fixed his pining inclinations. After a while of wandering around with a couple of his pals, he decided he was too old for this nonsense, and sat with me on the sidelines, spinning a neon bracelet.

One of the highlights of every fall family dance is the d.j. Nate Callens has been providing music for this event for 11 years now. He has a way of making it super fun for the kids. There are very few who are hanging on the walls. Most are out there on the dance floor most of the duration, and it's a lot because of Nate's fun presence, I'm sure of it.

At one point, I took a bathroom break, and while wandering the halls of the school, noticed the adorable artwork coloring the walls. Each class chose a saint to depict "in abstract." So many of my favorites were represented, but I had to take a photo of this one to share with my friend, Blaise, husband of Karen of the Flannery brigade from this summer.

Isn't Blaise a cool name? If I were to have another son, I'd cast a vote to name him Blaise.

Our fabulous art teacher, Jean Eppler, is doing amazing work with the kids, from what the halls attest.

St. Blaise, pray for us!

Q4U: What memories does the YMCA song bring back for you?

Friday, November 14, 2014

faith & family fridays: if bible alone, which one?

I have to start this post with an admission. I didn't understand during my childhood or even teen years one of the major dividing points between Catholics and Protestants; the Protestant doctrine of "sola scriptura," or "Bible only."

The short explanation of the doctrine, at least how I understand it, is that everything we can know about the Christian faith is contained in Holy Scripture. We need nothing beyond that. By and large, Protestants believe that anything else is extra, and a distraction, perhaps, from the Holy Word of God.

I also want to say that I truly do admire the Protestant verve over Scripture. After all, there are few things more invigorating as words of our Lord himself, not to mention the stories of those who lived in Jesus' time, and in the case of the Old Testament, the base of Christian history, and how pre-Jesus and post-Jesus all flow together into one cohesive guide. The emphasis many Protestants put on Scripture should be a light to us all.

But having said all that, from early on in my "entering the real world" years, I was stumped over the idea that some Christians were "Bible-believing" and some were not. Churches touted their offerings by those very words. "We are a Bible-believing Christian church!" The problem to me was, aren't we all? I scratched my head, wondering what I'd missed along the way.

I'm still looking for the answer to that one, actually, but in the meantime, I've come to a partial understanding of what the term "Bible believing" means. The idea, I think, is that if your church places a strong and whole emphasis on the Bible alone as the authority on which the Church stands, then you are a Bible-believing church. Anyone else -- namely the Catholics, and I'm sure there are other variations of the Christian faith that might qualify too -- would be the non-Bible-believing churches...I guess?

I'm still stuck on that, because our Mass and the Eucharist at its center -- the source and summit of our faith -- is completely Biblical. But I want to move past this temporarily to get to my main point, which is this. Yes to holding the Bible high. I'm there. And for the sake of discussion, I'll even grant this idea of sola scriptura, even though I have a different understanding of what the whole of Christendom comprises. But there's something else that bothers me, especially since having invested in my current read, "Where We Got the Bible," by Henry G. Graham.

Now full disclosure here, Graham was a convert from Presbyterianism to Catholicism, in the early 1900s and at a time when converts to Catholicism were very rare, especially in his native Scotland. The son of a minister destined to become the same, he somehow landed in Rome. I'm reading about his conversion now.

In the main part of the book, he goes into great detail on the origins of the Bible, and it's all been more than enlightening to me, especially given this idea that the Catholic faith is labeled, by some Christians, as not being Biblical. Graham makes the case, and very expertly, that this isn't even close to being true. And having read it now, and realizing just how many translations and editions and variations of Holy Scripture have come into being, both in the years since the canon was finalized and prior to it, I'm now asking new questions. Including, if it's really sola scriptura, which version?

After reading Graham's very well laid out case for the origins of the Bible, I can't help but wonder that if, indeed, the Bible is our only authority for our Christian faith, should we be in more conformity over what version of the Bible is the right one? Consensus has been hard won through these many years since Christ's death, and that concerns me, and should concern anyone who wants to get it right.

It seems to be a matter of importance, especially if one is basing his whole life on Scripture, that the version of Scripture serving at that base should be solidly agreed upon. There should be no question whatsoever that it is the complete word of God, right?

More and more, Christians are being challenged on Scripture, stories that have an increasingly secular world confused and, therefore, are refuting its validity and relevance. It's becoming harder for Christians to argue their points based on Scripture given this environment.

Now I certainly wouldn't propose getting rid of Scripture, but I am wondering more and more how we're going to settle the variances among ourselves so that we will have a unified version to offer that we can all agree to stand by.

I haven't even dared yet open the can of worms of differing versions between Christian and Protestant traditions -- the reality that the Catholic Bible has more books, and that those extra books also can change our understanding of our Christian story.

All of this might seem benign, but in the end, if we are going to rise and fall by Scripture, we should care, I would think.

So, what's the answer? How do we solve the variances? I feel confident in the Catholic Church's view of Scripture. We uphold and honor and live by Scripture too, but it's not all we uphold and honor and live by. We have Sacred Tradition to complement Scripture, and together, these two make the whole. In fact, Sacred Tradition came first, and Scripture from Sacred Tradition. Or, as Graham says toward the end of his book, "The Bible is the Church's offspring."

I didn't write this to unnecessarily challenge my Protestant friends on sola scriptura, however. That's an age-old difference between our traditions that likely will stay firm. But that doctrine and the variances of said scriptura raise questions in my mind; questions that, in an increasingly secular world, we're going to need to answer.

This is an inquiry post more than anything; a chance for me to try to wrap my brain around something that has confounded me for a while now. I'm open to the ideas of others regarding the above thoughts that have me perplexed, or any related subject matter.

Q4U: What questions about Scripture tug at you?

Monday, November 10, 2014

meaningful mondays: party hopper!

The older I get, the more I appreciate weekends at home, hunkering down with a book or just taking a breather and catching up. But every once in a while a weekend comes along with a host of possible social events, and in the case of this last one, four came in the course of a day.

In trying to decide which to attend, I ended up committing to all four, which made for a whirlwind but very fun day and evening. I try to avoid situations in which I might spread myself thin, but this time around, I discovered that party hopping can be a blast!

I didn't find out until Saturday that some friends who moved to Arizona this past summer, who've been back visiting this week, would be guests of honor at a party at a friend's house that same evening. But how can one refuse seeing friends who have gone missing when they show up? I wasn't about to turn down the opportunity to see Patricia and catch up on the latest. Plus, when the host mentioned her husband would be cooking his native Peruvian food, well, at that point it was settled.

I missed the chance to take a photo of Patricia, but sneaked a few from the party. The center of attraction besides Patricia was the lomo; Lomo made by Lucho. Lucho, by the way, had to make a hasty exist just as the lomo was about to be served. A doctor, he got a call to do a baby delivery, so he did not get to enjoy the meal with us, but had the privilege of helping bring a new soul into the world, which is just the coolest thing!

I do hope there was some lomo waiting for him when he returned. Seriously, I am going to be craving this stuff everyday from here on out. It was that good.

Tender, well-flavored strips of meat with tomatoes and onions on rice, along with a side of fresh green beans, fresh fruit and apple crisp for dessert made for a tantalizing visit. Invigorating conversations and a hug from Patricia topped it off.

The next party was at Stella's and Greg's. I have no photos to show, but the house was filled with people who had worked super hard on a recent effort to pass Measure 1. While I wasn't super involved in that effort, I did help from the sidelines. They had planned this party before the eventual defeat of the measure, but called it a victory party. After all, some victories are seen only from the long view, and we are convinced that the cause for life is worth the fight; the lifelong fight, if that's what it takes.

This proved to be the perfect party for me because it was filled with people who believe in the kinds of things I do, had great snacks, and ended with a small collaboration of people gathering around the table to have a truly deep and delightful discussion. For an introvert like me, this is when things get fun at a party -- when the crowd has thinned out, and just some die-hards remain. That last hour made it all worth it, and I felt energized, having helped close out the party.

Earlier in the day, I had a chance to mingle with my longtime children's author mentor, Jane Kurtz, who lives in Oregon now, but previously was a North Dakotan, and did much to inspire me in my work in children's literature. Jane is such a beautiful soul; it's never a bad day when she is around and I adored the chance to hang with her for a bit. Add my friend Bethlehem, "Bette," to the mix and there was no chance of things going sour. I'll write more about this gathering on Wednesday.

Finally, a friend posted on Facebook a couple days back that she'd be selling her awesome-applesauce mittens at a special event, so I pulled my daughter with me to do a little Christmas shopping. Not to mention grab a pair for myself, since my mittens have all gone AWOL. Her business, which she runs with her mom and sister, is called Three Woolly Chicks and a Gopher and produces the cutest, and warmest, mittens around! I was so pleased with this little venture. I'm not much of a shopper but I just love shopping local and crafty around this time of year.

All these events happened in one day and by the end of it, I felt filled up on "happy," good food and love.

Q4U: What party did you attend recently?


Sunday, November 9, 2014

second-chance sundays: brittany's final message: suffering is fruitless

[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, and allowing a second chance for those who missed them the first time, I reprint them here, with permission. The following ran in The Forum newspaper on Nov. 1, 2014. Updated to reflect the reality that Brittany did follow through with her original plan.]

Living Faith: Brittany's final message: Suffering is fruitless

By Roxane B. Salonen

If Brittany Maynard follows the plans she announced to the world weeks ago, she will die this weekend.
I’m not sure if Brittany realizes the date she chose for her death, Nov. 2, marks the celebration of All Soul’s Day; a day when Christians pray for the dead. In that way, her choice seems ironically fitting. She has needed and will continue to need our prayers.

Brittany’s story is heart-wrenching by all accounts. A beautiful, successful, young woman overcome with a deadly brain tumor, glioblastoma, she was given six months to live.

Rather than face more suffering and force loved ones to experience her difficult demise, Brittany relocated with her husband from California to Oregon, where euthanasia is legal.

I find the reality of this chilling. The plan was to celebrate her husband’s life on his Oct. 30 birthday and a few days after the party, end her own by ingesting a lethal drug.

The 29-year-old announced Thursday in a YouTube video that she was considering delaying the ending her life for now because, “I still feel good enough, and I still have enough joy – and I still laugh and smile with my friends and my family enough – that it doesn’t seem like the right time right now.”

Many found Brittany’s decision to end her life heroic and have made her a poster girl for assisted suicide. But others, like me, see her as having fallen prey to a culture that dismisses the sanctity of life and the redemptive value of suffering.

Fervent prayers were sent up by some of the latter, hoping she would change her mind. Those who grieve her decision have been told we have no right; we haven’t stood in her shoes.

While I don’t know what it’s like to be a victim of cancer, I do know what it’s like to love those dying of it, and I passionately believe that every day more is of infinite value.

The desire to escape suffering is very human. Those applauding Brittany’s choice identify strongly with that part of us wanting to avoid pain. I understand this and sympathize with Brittany.

But as a moral person, I cannot approach any situation without passing it through the lens of faith.

How does God see the situation? Firstly, God sees Brittany as a beautiful and unrepeatable soul whose value doesn’t come from a perfect exterior but from within.

We can know God’s thoughts on the matter, at least through the Christian perspective, in remembering that Jesus allowed himself to suffer out of love for us, even knowing it would be painful.

Brittany’s mother, Debbie, told CBS that she would have been honored to care for her daughter, even changing her diaper if it came to that, but Brittany said her mother is just too selfless to admit she doesn’t want to see her suffer another day.

Seeing it through her mother’s eyes helps bring clarity. While a natural death could mean another day or more of suffering, it also means one more day of being able to love her daughter through her suffering.

I’ve stood at the deathbed of a friend’s cancer-filled body, fallen to my knees in anguish, and gathered the courage to stand up again to spend that last day with her and other friends and family, massaging her feet, singing to her and praying her into the next life.

I wouldn’t have given up that day, nor the weeks and months that preceded it, for anything. Without it, the loss would have been even more profound. I am still learning from and will always be grateful for those ending days with her.

There is a peace that comes from doing things on God’s terms. As the author of life, God alone should determine when our lives end.

Consider the word “compassion.” In Latin, compassion means “to suffer with.” Though hard, suffering bears fruit. Sadly, Brittany’s final message says just the opposite.

In taking her life, Brittany denied herself all the moments, hours and days of love that she could have received in that time, and others the chance to bestow love on her. She thwarted the opportunity for her dear ones to grow through being at her side in her natural, final days.

It might be hard to see this without faith, but I’m disturbed that even the faithful have been divided on this issue.

Perhaps another look at compassion and what it truly means can shed light on this difficult topic and encourage those promoting euthanasia to see that true compassion would never lead to untimely death.

Our society has done Brittany wrong by not having taught this well enough.

Sadly, Brittany is no longer with us, and we are left to sort through how to address similar scenarios. Will we choose the truly compassionate and loving route or not?

Friday, November 7, 2014

faith & family fridays: my part-time ministry: lunching with friends

I'm finally going to call it what it is: a ministry.

Boy that feels good! For years, I've not been giving it its due, but more and more, I am seeing the truth of it, this lunching with friends that I do so frequently.

Thursday's lunch, Scratch Deli, Fargo (w/extra cookie for son at home)
I've been doing it for many years, even in the years when the kids were little. I would bring them to a drop-off daycare a couple times a month to take time out with friends.

Even in the years I felt guilty about it -- the mother-guilt thing -- I sensed at bottom that this act of leaving the house to spend time with friends was valuable. I'd even go as far as saying it's spiritual.

Finally, I am recognizing it for what it is: part of what God wants me to be doing, and part of the way I can best serve Him.

It helps to think of it in terms of my deep-down yearning to be a nun. I've posted about that several times before, and I'm sure it makes some giggle. But the yearning helps me think more about my purpose -- what I'm ultimately here to do.

As I've said before, the yearning doesn't mean I believe I've chosen wrong, or that I want another life. It's more of a heaven-leaning desire. The life of a religious sister allows a full-out dunking of spending time with the Lord in a way I am not allowed in my current vocation, but desire. I've been called to something else.

So in the yearning, I step back and ask the question, "Okay, this is where you are, Roxane, where you belong, so in what ways can you go deep to serve God here in this life you are living, versus the dream life you sometimes pine for?"

In pondering this, the regular lunching I do with friends comes to mind. Because what I've found is that when my girlfriends and I take time out of the busy to meet for lunch, it's not just about feeding our stomachs but feeding our very hungry souls. And it's something I couldn't do as a cloistered nun.

And it becomes a necessary mingling of two souls --an effort useful in and of itself.

I think it comes down to this: the gift of time. Taking time out to converse with another soul sister is a valuable endeavor, as important, perhaps, as a nun serving a house guest lunch. It seems so ordinary, but often, when we part, the friend of focus seems changed somehow, and I do, too.

God has called me to be in the world, and so it is in the world, in what would seem a most natural and ordinary act - that of taking time to be with a friend - that I am able to fulfill His purpose for me.

This is a bit of a stretch, you say? Lunching with friends is a luxury, not a spiritual endeavor! Well, I beg to differ. I've been doing this long enough to know that something more is at work than just an ordinary, and somewhat meaningless, lunch out.

When I jumped into full-time, outside work a couple years back, one of the things I missed most of all was not having the time to lunch with friends. When I did go out to lunch, I needed down time, and space. I craved alone time. And my lunch hours were short. I began to feel the loss of this ministry, and it was a small part of the reason I chose a different route, and am now back at home.

Working from home comes with its own challenges, but one of the benefits is that it does allow me to have the kind of schedule that accommodates my lunching ministry. And the beautiful thing about this ministry is that, like most ministries, it's circular. My friends, I think, appreciate these times, but so do I. We almost always come away feeling like something important took place, even if that something important would seem invisible to most.

We shouldn't exclude these small, ordinary acts as significant. The kingdom of God is built little by little, one lunch at a time. We need each other, and it's important, especially in this digital world, that we take face-to-face time to be with our fellow journey-women.

Now, to find time to lunch with everyone in my life who matters -- I've got quite a list, I have to say, and I'm blessed for it. I hope the same is true in reverse

Q4U: Do you see having coffee or lunch with a friend as the sacred act it is?