Follow by Email

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dead Man's Party?

And this...from the just plain weird department:

Hackers Crack Into Texas Road Sign, Warn of Zombies Ahead
Thursday, January 29, 2009
By Joshua Rhett Miller

Texas Dept. of Transportation officials confirm a portable traffic sign at Lamar Boulevard and West 15th Street in Austin was hacked into last week.
Transportation officials in Texas are scrambling to prevent hackers from changing messages on digital road signs after one sign in Austin was altered to read, "Zombies Ahead."

Chris Lippincott, director of media relations for the Texas Department of Transportation, confirmed that a portable traffic sign at Lamar Boulevard and West 15th Street, near the University of Texas at Austin, was hacked into during the early hours of Jan. 19.

"It was clever, kind of cute, but not what it was intended for," said Lippincott, who saw the sign during his morning commute. "Those signs are deployed for a reason — to improve traffic conditions, let folks know there's a road closure."

"It's sort of amusing, but not at all helpful," he told

Tampering with portable road signs is illegal and potentially dangerous to drivers. It is a misdemeanor in Texas, with penalties ranging from fines to potential jail time.

Lippincott said the hacked sign — manufactured by IMAGO — is owned and operated by the city of Austin. Texas Department of Transportation signs have not been affected, he said.

"It is always possible that it could occur, but we attempt to prevent hacking incidents," Lippincott wrote in an e-mail. He declined to comment on security measures to protect the state's signs from hackers.

Austin Public Works spokeswoman Sara Hartley said the incident was not initially reported to police, but will be shortly. The sign was reverted back to its original message within hours, according to Hartley, who insisted the signs are tamper-resistant and equipped with external locks.

"This sign was broken into, it was not just a 'walk up and change the sign' kind of thing," Hartley told "This is a new one for us, we've never had it happen before."

According to the blog, some commercial road signs, including those manufactured by IMAGO's ADDCO division, can be easily altered because their instrument panels are frequently left unlocked and their default passwords are not changed.

"Programming is as simple as scrolling down the menu selection," reports. "Type whatever you want to display … In all likelihood, the crew will not have changed [the password]." warns readers not to try to alter the signs, which cost roughly $15,000.

ADDCO Chief Operating Officer Brian Nicholson told that the company is sending out notices to customers on the potentially dangerous security flaw.

"It's incumbent upon users to change the default password and secure the sign with a padlock," Nicholson said. "We're having our engineers review this information."

In the meantime, if you're driving in Austin, you can rest assured: There are no zombies ahead.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Terminally Distracted

Check this out...

So what DOES it all mean? I suppose we could concentrate on any number of departures with this very open ended question(and thanks Pat Madrid for reminding us of this You Tube blast); like our appetite for technology, our shifting population, our growing educational needs for the new generation, time travel or war of the worlds. The scariest one was the prediction that by the year 2049 that a computer costing a grand would exceed the computational capabilities of the entire human species. (I wonder if it's a pc or a Mac?) But where my mind seems to drift is the conclusion that we have again fallen asleep; or have been drugged. Drugged by too much volume, too much sensory input, too much data. Example: Bloomburg TV. Several years ago I commented to Ron how silly the TV screen looked with their myriad of floating factoids and latest breaking news stories littering up the entire viewing space. I could barely make out the dude's nose on his face let alone follow a particular storyline. Now everybody's caught on. So long Sonny Elliot.

Sports. When I was a kid, we used to go watch the Tigers play in Tiger Stadium. An outing to Corktown consisted of a 40min drive downtown; 2 hours worth of trying to locate a parking place and finding a seat in a noisy crowded stadium on a squeaky, wooden spring-loaded seat. Baseball players played 9 innings (or more) on a grass field in an open-air stadium. You ate hotdogs, peanuts or crackerjax. Sometimes it rained. If you wanted a souvenir, you waited patiently until the game was over and walked to the car. On your way, you could buy a pennant, a cap or batter's helmet or a rabbit's foot. Today, there are over 40 vendors inside a domed baseball "cathedral" with shops, valets, ATM machines. We are entertained by choirs, singers, cheerleaders, floating mini-blimps; air guns that shoot clothes out of their muzzles, quad-riding mascots and fireworks. We sit our butts on cozy padded seats drinking sodas the size of a small bathtub or perhaps we watch from a restaurant or penthouse suite. Oh, and did I mention that the game was apparently not interesting enough so there's a jumbo-tron loaded with Bloombergesque stats to make sure we don't lose interest in the....what were we watching?

Music. Old school: Pine Knob outdoor concert...Eric Clapton dressed in a white suit, sitting on a simple stool, strumming a six string and singing. A thing of beauty. New School: TranSiberian Orchestra. A literal sensory smorgasbord. Lasers, fire, water, aerial acrobats, videos, snow, narrator, a 6-person symphony, choir, guitars, drums, 2 pianos and a keyboard and a synthetic violin. And I saw people walking in with earplugs already in their ears.

Do you see what I'm seeing here?

My house as a kid: 1 TV, no remote, rabbit ears that rarely worked, 1 rotary phone, 1 transistor radio used for 1 news station...WJR usually on when a storm was approaching to let us know if we needed to take cover from a tornado. My house as a mom: 5 TVs, 4 computers, 1 laptop, 8 (yes eight!) phone numbers and I have no idea how many radios & music-making devices we have around here. Have we gone loopy? Do we really need so many distractions? From what are we being distracted? I have an idea. Ourselves? Thinking in general? Let's go back to the video...the question was asked: To whom did we used to ask these questions? There were 2 possible answers in the old school: ourselves and God. There are too many answers in the new school, but I'm starting to wonder if our new God is not named Google.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Prayer Warriors

Please pray for a friend, Dawn, who has taken a severe turn for the worse in her struggle with cancer. She is a young Mom of 3 sons.

Hail Mary...

Our Father...

Thank you.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bundy from the Grave

A warning we must heed...

“Pornography can reach out and snatch a kid out of any house today. It snatched me out of my home 20, 30 years ago,” Bundy told Dobson. “I’ll tell you, there are lots of other kids playing in streets around the country who are going to be dead tomorrow and the next day and the next day and next month, because other young people are reading the kinds of things and seeing the kinds of things that are available in the media today.”

Follow link to Lifesite News

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Boss is sending me home to....huh?

What do Japanese employers know that we should know? That the birthrate is slipping to a non-replaceable new-time low and something must be done or else we face...extinction. Thanks to all of the advances made in contraception, women's liberation, abortion and the me, myself and I way of doing things, we now are witness to new employment concepts that allow for time to go home and make whoopee. (And I thought the cloning of the Turin shroud's DNA was weird.)

Japanese corporations cut workday to boost birth rate

Tokyo, Jan 26, 2009 / 08:49 pm (CNA).- Japanese electronics giant Canon and other, seeking to boost Japan’s flagging birth rate, now allows employees to leave early twice a week to encourage them to have more children.

The Japanese birth rate is 1.34 children per woman, well below the 2.1 required to maintain population size, CNN reports. Its population is aging at a faster pace than any other country in the world.

Japan’s 12-hour workday is one factor blamed for the low birth rate, in addition to the country’s high cost of living and social rigidity towards women and parenting.

"It's great that we can go home early and not feel ashamed," Canon employee Miwa Iwasaki told CNN.

"Canon has a very strong birth planning program," Canon spokesman Hiroshi Yoshinaga said to CNN. "Sending workers home early to be with their families is a part of it."

Canon’s 5:30 pm “lights-out” program also helps the company cut overtime expenses during the global economic downturn.

Keidanren, Japan’s largest business group with a membership of 1,300 major corporations, has asked its members to let employees go home early to spend time with families and help improve the birth rate.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bullets and Butterflies

I cannot NOT post this. Was reading one of my favorite mags today...Envoy... and came across another splendid article by Peter Kreeft; How NOT to Win the Culture Wars. It's a take off on the famous Srewtape Letters by C.S. Lewis so you'll immediately recognize its backwardness (Screwtape is from the Dark Side). In presents an insightful 7 ideas to plant into the American Catholic mind in order to collapse the faith of western, I'll just give you a snapshot of #2, Happytalk. If you want the rest, better get your hands on a subscription to Envoy; here's the link:

(By Peter Kreeft, Ph.D.)
The second principal is Happytalk. Let them always talk up the achievements, the successes, the progress that the Church has made in the last forty years. Insist that they insist that the Church in America is healthy even though the statistics are devastating. Keep them at this relentlessly, nose to the grindstone, 24/7, especially the bishops. Keep that bland smile on their faces. Make them forget that they are prophets, and if they remember, make them think that it's socially profitable to be a prophet. (Of course that's another really obvious BIG Lie, and that's what makes it so delightful to us.) Keep the laity ignorant of the facts, if you can; and if you can't keep the facts out of their minds, keep them out of their wills, so that even though their minds are not ignorant, their wills will ignore the cultural abomination of desolation that has removed half the Church's priests, 2/3 of its nuns, 9/10 of its children's theological knowledge, belief in the Real Presence among 70% of Catholics, decreased Mass attendance from 75% to 25% and Confession even more, and destroyed Catholic families at the same rate as non-Catholic families, since Catholics abort, contracept sodomize, fornicate, divorce, and sexually abuse, and thus contribute to the gradual suicide of their society through the attack on its single most fundamental foundation, the family, at almost exactly the same rate as non-Catholics. Amid this devastation, keep them happytalking. Keep them saying Peace, Peace, when there is no peace, exactly like the false prophets in the Bible. Keep them pretending that the battlefield they live on is really a playground, and that those bullets are really butterflies those land mines are really the yellow brick road to the land of Oz, as they blandly celebrate themselves in songs about how they, not God, are "building the Kingdom of God." Thus, thjey will give Our Father Below the tremendous advantage of ignoring his very existence. They can even be persuaded to embrace and accept all the darts and arrows that we shoot at them, and at the sheep thawt are in their care, in a spirit of universal tolerance and nonjudgmentalism. In other words, persuade them to be spiritual Chamberlains at Munich."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tellin' it like it is

As I've said to my kids, say what you mean and mean what you say...

Ms. King has a dream...

A tag along to my earlier post; Here is some text from her message:

Dr. Alveda King to Keynote White House Rally for Birmingham Letter Project
WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 /Christian Newswire/ -- Dr. Alveda King, Pastoral Associate of Priests for Life and niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., will deliver the keynote address at a rally in front of the White House Friday. The rally will honor the 1,400 African American children aborted every day in the United States.

"Over 45 years ago, my Uncle, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote from a Birmingham jail cell that '[i]njustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,'" said Dr. King. "Today, there is no greater injustice than that suffered by the 4,000 babies, 1,400 of them black, who die on any given day at the hands of abortionists. Friday, we will stand witness in front of the White House and testify to President Obama that while he is living his dreams, those babies will be dying horrible deaths because of the policies he supports."

The 12:00 PM rally this Friday is a part of the Birmingham Letter Project, a four-day program that, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous letter, challenges Christians to leave their comfort zones and confront injustice.

"I see the pride on African American faces everywhere, pride in the tremendous breakthrough President Obama represents," added Dr. King. "But I also can close my eyes and see the millions upon millions of young black, white, red, and yellow faces who never had the chance to live, overcome, or witness history. Friday, we will challenge President Obama to see those faces as well."

The Hidden Genocide

From the CNA print edition Jan 18-24, we hear from Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King and Priests for Life's Director of African-American outreach...

"The accomplishment of an African-American holding the nations highest office will be of little value if the black community continues to be destroyed by the horrible plague of abortion". claims that although black women constitute only about 13% of the female population age 15-44 in the US, they underwent about 36% of the abortions.

On this, the memorial of that fateful 1973 decision we must ask ourselves, what has Roe wrought?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

God Bless America

My prayers are with Barak Obama and his family this day as he takes his place as the 44th President of the United States. I am amazed by the calm and ease in which the torch of power is passed from one administration to another in our country; I'm sure it must baffle our foreign counterparts. Still, I am reminded that this democrcacy of ours is very new and very much an experiment. In the meantime, I am recuperating from an extremely busy and exciting weekend. Patrick Madrid and his lovely wife Nancy were in town and showered us with an abundance of wisdom during his three day seminar with us. We had many discussions on moral relativism, global aging and the whys and hows of responding to the many dissenters to the Cathlolic Faith. Moreover, Patrick moved us to think about what is really at stake in our country and in our world if we become complacent or lazy in our duty to defend human life at all stages. So while we bask in the glow of a new head of state, we remain ever-vigilant to our role as church militant in all of the new battles which loom on the horizon. God Bless America.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

An Inside Job: Conversion IV

The 1000sq ft home that had served us as a newly married couple was no longer adequate for child rearing so off to Farmington Hills we went and a new parish: Our Lady of Sorrows. I had parked the idea of being a "joiner" as far as the catholic church was concerned and became immersed in the wiles of new motherhood and a new business venture that Ron and I initiated. We struggled financially but managed to stay solvent. I really liked the Mother's Group at Sorrows and became involved in learning the craft of parenting from people who, frankly, I grew to respect a great deal. There were many ladies there who did not balk at the notion of having a big family which I thought was charming and eccentric; even if it was baffling to me. I also found them to be willing to lend a hand or an ear as needed. We became well acquainted with the priests at Sorrows and struck up a nice friendship with one of the associates there - Father Bill. To my amazement, I learned that "priests were people too" and even could enjoy a round of golf among other "normal" activities. I continued to grow spiritually, relying more and more on this rosary concept and I knew at some level that there was much more to the Catholic Church than I cared to admit. But I wasn't ready. Instead, I decided to distract myself by being busy about things. I became a Stephen Minister (Similar to the work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society) and - get this - I decided that it would be good idea for me to take Holy Communion to the homebound. Not content to stop there, I taught a bit of religious education at the OLS school. Not bad for a rookie! When I look back on all of that now, I've determined that God was working on me from the outside-in. *A Word of Caution to all Pastors & Catechists: It would probably be a good idea to review the credentials of your parish volunteers from time to time!*

Through a strange turn of events, Ron and I received an opportunity to move our business out of state and make a start fresh in a warmer climate. Both of us were weary of window scraping and 4-5 months of snow drifts. We considered Arizona. Ron had family in Phoenix and I, having traveled to Tempe with my marching band in high school became smitten with the desert. We took a chance and made a bold move; one that I have never regretted. On an unforgivably cold February morning as a half foot of ice lay beneath our moving truck's wheels, I left Michigan - the state that I had called home for 30 years. The snow finally melted off in large chunks in San Antonio, 3 days later. By the 4th day we were in bright, glorious, sunny, orange-blossomed, Phoenix Arizona. God is good! We settled into a townhome and another new parish: St. Paul Catholic Church.

St. Paul was a handsome church with a large congregation. We made friends quickly and Karsten found playmates in a well-attended play group, called PlaySpace. Many of the moms in PlaySpace also were part of another group called the Moms to Mom Sharing where I later became involved. I sort of picked up where I left off, minus making the home Holy Communion visits. Missing music, I joined choir instead. I flew beneath the radar at St. Paul for a few years, never admitting to a soul that I was a non-catholic. I countinued to receive Holy Communion every Sunday and sing in the choir without so much as a question from anyone. Until one Saturday.

The Moms to Moms group was looking for a co-chair and my friend Hollie persuaded me to join her for a training session. I indulged her and traveled to the one-day seminar not too far from home. Hollie smoked, so on breaks we would go outside so she could have a cigarette. Hollie was a deeply spiritual woman and I always enjoyed her stories. She had 4 kids and not a lot of money but seemed intrinsically happy all the time. I don't really know how we got on the subject that afternoon, but Hollie eluded to the fact that she was a former Lutheran before joining the Catholic Church. I was surprised. I had no idea that this woman who I had known for close to 2 years was a convert, let alone that we shared a Lutheran background. We talked for awhile and I think what I began to realize is what finally did it for me. Hollie had also "faked it" in the same way that I did. Masquerading as a Catholic and receiving Holy Communion. Some advice had been give her to "fast" from the Eucharist while she prepare to enter the Church. And fast she did. She told me that it transformed her. The more she fasted and restrained herself, the more in love she became with the Jesus of the Blessed Sacrament. Something was changing her...for the better, and why? Not because she clamored after something she felt she deserved, but because something she loved so much that she was willing to accept obedience to the Church that He inspired. If I believed in Jesus, and I certainly did, then why would I not also believe in the Church that He established. And if I could believe in it enough to not only attend as a faithful, pseudo-Catholic, but also to raise my child in this Church, then why would I not go the distance? And where had I ever considered that doing something half right, was right? The questions stirred a lot of pain in my soul but they did lead me to action. Hollie helped me get the big picture. And if she could fast from the Eucharist, so could I.

A surrender. The added embellishments of what I perceived as public humiliation & embarrassment did ensue, but what I discovered was that I was no better than anyone else. My pride had kept me away from the church and my pride would have to be lovingly and thoroughly dispensed with. It was a most appropriate penance.

On April 6, 1996 at St. Paul Catholic Church, after 7 months of formation, I became a Roman Catholic. Ron and I had our marriage blessed at the Vigil Mass and I returned to Mass the next day to sing. I wore the tea length dress that I wore on the day I married Ron. My reception into the church is a true BIRTHday. I came from the darkness of my ignorance into the light of understanding & the new life of the sacraments. I give the glory to God whom I love above all things and my thanks, admiration and love to Our Blessed Mother and the wonderful brothers and sisters that have been placed on my path. The place where I now call home is a parish in Carefree (no kidding) Arizona: Our Lady of Joy. Can't help but chuckle over the "ironies" in all of this...
St. Paul Lutheran to St. Paul Catholic
Our Lady of Sorrows to Our Lady of Joy
The Moms Groups in Michigan and in Arizona where I was "mothered" by many but spiritually by Our Lady in the Rosary which I prayed for the first time 5 years before entering the church. Coincidence? No way. Like I said, it was an inside job.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Never Say Never: Conversion III

As I reflect on this early church experience, I recognize a few things that drew me into it. For one, the idea of attending church seemed novel to me. I loved the ritual of the service, the formality of the worship and I especially liked receiving Holy Communion. We would proceed up to the communion rail and kneel to receive the torn bread and the wine in the little cuplets. (Pity the poor soul that had to clean all those). As a Lutheran, I was taught and I did belive that I was receiving the actual Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. While we knelt, the 20-25 or so folks who were receiving also received a little sermonette. A bonus! The Lutherans were big on preaching and since I had no prior church experience really, this was the best thing since grape jelly. Everyone also dressed nicely for church. It was a rarity that someone came in casual slacks & never did they arrive for church in blue jeans; most of the women wore skirts or dresses with nylon stockings. Church was an elevating experience. When I was in elementary school, 2 of my best friends and a lot of other people I hung around were Catholic. I was envious of their 1st Communion outfits and experiences and I was curious of the gathering they all attended after school called Kattywhatever. What a weird name for a bowling league? After the 6th grade, a lot of them went off to Cabrini and Gabriel Richard. And then I rarely, if ever, saw them again. As a newly minted Lutheran, I sort of felt "on a par" with those who had gone on to higher spiritual endeavors.

A high point of my Lutheran experience was when my mom and dad became members at St. Paul. I couldn't help but feel a whole lot of personal pride that somehow I was behind a deepening of their faith. Besides, Dad was also renouncing his weird affiliation with the Masons, which, to this day, remains a family mystery. The questions were answered, the housecall completed, the family was going to church. It all made so much sense. Until I graduated.

Off to East Lansing and MSU where I would sow my oats. And sow I did...right into the land of the pagans. I started strong with testing out a few Lutheran churches but nothing felt right. Not only was I unable to replicate my St. Paul Lutheran experience, I wasn't even able to muster up enough motivational guilt to care too much. Let's just say that getting up at 7am and riding my bike to church just wasn't on my A list. I received my requested inheritance and I went off to live with the swine. It would be many years before I found my desire to return to church. In this time, I went through what I now believe was a hearty depression as I experimented with all sorts of new hobbies that jaded my character and soiled my garment. I met and married my college sweetheart and shortly after landing my first job, I hit a wall. Divorced within a year of marriage I felt that a geographic cure was in order. I accepted a traveling job which had me tooling all over the state of Michigan and then took a sabbatical to Newport Beach to reestablish my life with my new husband, Ron. Yes, it all happened way too fast.

Ron was a Catholic and his faith life seemed strong. He had many pagan traits like me, but he showed up for Mass on a regular basis and even invited me along. This was impressive. Even when he traveled, it was important for him to make it to Mass. Most of the people that I had known - and especially many catholic friends - were looking for excuses to split that whole religious scene. We attended many Catholic churches together and it felt, oddly, Lutheran! Same style of readings from scripture, the reception of Holy Communion (and yes, I was too proud not to participate), and remarkably, a mostly consistent liturgy no matter where we went - anywhere! I was a little freaked out at some of the statues and Marian devotions that I was unfamiliar with but if they were willint to accept me, I would overlook a few of their theological defects.

I began to identify with some of the stories of the saints that I would hear and began to understand that the church is really one big (sometimes dysfunctional) family! Easter and Christmas were done up nicely and I grew a strong devotion to the big seasons of Advent and Lent. These were downplayed in the Lutheran church but in the Catholic cycle, there was order and reason and everything- literally, everything had a rich, sublime character to it. The Catholics seemed to have an explanation behind everything that they did. Even the blasted colors they wore had theological reason behind it. I felt like floodgates were opening again. But I was really quite content to maintain my Lutheran identity; besides I felt that I had made my peace with God and everybody seemed to accept the fact that I would live a humble life as a Lutheran in a Catholic church. I would never turn Catholic. There simply wasn't reason enough.

Ron and I attended a huge Mass in Orange County one spring. Sitting in a packed pew, a Phillipino priest with a very thick accent was delivering his homily. Straining to understand him, the punchline of his message came home loud and clear. "If you are not Catholic, you may not present yourself for Holy Communion". I went numb. What do you MEAN, IIIII can't receive Holy Communion. Who do YOU people think you are?? Ron watched as the blood drained from my face. If there is one thing I could do well back then, it was form a resentment. No one was going to tell me that I could not receive something that I rightfully deserved. No one. And especially not some guy dressed up in a dress. Enter: The Authority of the Catholic Church.

It would be years before I attended another Mass in California.

In July of that same year, I was pregnant with our first child. We returned to Michigan in September and in October took up residence in Birmingham, MI. We found ourselves at a lovely parish in the city of Troy, ironically named St. Thomas More. (There is more to the names of these parishes than meets the eye, I've found!) STM offered a Lenten Mission featuring a few spirited Redemptorist Priests - Father Turk and Father Rooney. It couldn't have happened at a more opportune time. Ron's job at EDS dissolved and we found ourselves in the midst of a financial crisis with baby on the way. Facing day care choices that simply confounded us, I considered doing something that I swore I would never do. Ron taught me the Rosary, and I prayed to Mary.

Whenever I am asked how it was that I converted to the Church, I give a fairly consistent answer: It was an inside job. What I mean by this is that Our Mother had everything to do with it. It is serious business when you get her involved - suffice it to say; you better want what your asking for. Father John Corapi refers to her as the "power broker"! I credit my husband with giving me excellent guidance on the Rosary. It is a powerful prayer which draws us into life, passion and death of our Lord. Explained this way to a non-catholic, it satisfies that "O, it's just a mindless mantra" argument. And, it's a whopping 17 minutes long...a bit of a challenge for this protestant. Besides, I was quite content using my own, exultant, spontaneous prayers. Nonetheless, we began a practice of praying together a nightly rosary.

The employment/financial storm calmed. Karsten was born. There was the matter of baptism; I was struck for the first time, the thought that if Karsten was baptized a Catholic and Ron is a Catholic, and I attend a Catholic Church, wouldn't it make sense that I be a Catholic too? The question reared it's ugly little head: and why wouldn't I BE a Catholic? This was tough. I was already receiving Holy Communion, ahh, that's it. That would be frowned upon....remember California? I would have to go through public humiliation, wear sackcloth and ashes and wait an eternity before someone would deem me worthy enough to be a Catholic. After all, I had heard stories.

next post: My Damascus Journey: MI to AZ

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Something Lutheran Happened on the Way to Rome - Conversion II

My parents held a prejudice against catholics and pronounced on more than one occasion as it pertained to dating, not ever to bring one home. (I married two!) I always believed that this had something to do with my mom having attended a bday party as a little girl and scored the ultimate prize of a lovely Shirley Temple doll. As mom was walking home with said doll with my Grandma (a spirited woman from Great Britain with a strong middle-england brogue)a little catholic girl from the party approached her and demanded that she trade the doll for an ugly parasol. Somehow compliance was achieved, and thusly, all catholics were evil. I believed that to be the case for quite some time until I actually learned that it was the bad example of a few in-law (or might as well have been outlaw!) Catholics that laid the early groundwork for the bad feeling in the Phillips family.

In fits and starts, my parents would make honest attempts at church shopping. For a little while, we attended a little protestant church of an obscure denomination which eventually turned into a dentist office. I did go to Vacation Bible School and I remember watching Max Von Sydow play Jesus in "The Greatest Story Ever Told" during Holy Week as a kid. I loved that movie (still do) and I was drawn into the drama of the last scene..."and I will be with you until the end of time". Sniff! I wanted to know more and more about this Jesus and questioned my folks more exactly on when I would be baptized like Brian and Jeff. Once they concluded that maybe they would see about getting Rev. Deschant out to the house to do this. That was as close as we got. . Sometime around the age of 15 a few things converged which set things in motion for some spiritual renovations in my life. Paul Menard was my AP History teacher at Riverview Community High School for the 3 years I spent there. I cannot be certain, but I would almost bet that Mr. Menard spent some time, if not a lot of time, in seminary. He was challenging, extremely dry-witted, affable and made the study of History fun and exciting. His most glaring character defect was that he was a UofM alum, but I loved him anyways. We studied World History, US History, Western Civilization, Philosophy, and it all culminated with an Independent Study Seminar in World Religions my Senior Year. Throwing away all of the notes from those three years has remained one of the biggest regrets of my life! I remain indebted to Mr. Menard and the subtle example of faith that he infused into my learning.

At the same time, one of my girlfriends, Wendy, invited me to her church - St. Paul Lutheran. I took her up on it one fateful Sunday and was immediately taken with the whole church concept and started attending on a regular basis. It was as though someone turned on the God faucet and my mind was opened to the constant stream of His love and mercy. Pastor Mike told me to read a little book on the Gospels called "The Way" and I attended Pastors Class faithfully every Sunday. I was on the fast track. By April of that next year, I was to be baptized (yea!) and confirmed in the Lutheran Church.

St. Paul was a large Lutheran Church in Trenton Michigan. It belongs to the Missouri Synod which leans more conservative than the other branches. The church was traditional, baroque with a communion rail and a large glorified Jesus behind the high altar. It had one of those suspended ambos that was elevated from the rest of the sanctuary by stairs. Pastor Pohl (head hancho), had a beautiful sermon delivery and would always conclude his sermons with "And so far". I really don't know if that makes grammatical sense, but it sure sounded cool and everybody respected him. The music at St. Paul was a big deal. Every Easter we'd hire a local orchestra, mix in our own musicians and vocalists with them (I played first chair trumpet at that time) and go crazy on Handel etc. It was a blast. (no pun). The performance would always engender tears and ovations. I lasted at St. Paul until I went away to college. Pastor Pohl stayed on until retirement, Pastor Mike (the younger assoc who ran the Pastor's class) defected to the charismatics and was basically shunned.

Something curious was happening in my soul. Something really glorious. Of the things I managed not to discard, I saved my senior year scrapbook which includes a page entitled "One Important Person". The page is not devoted to any one person, but to our Lord. Some of the clippings and writings are from scripture: Isaiah 53 (Suffering Servant) and 1 Cor 13 (The greatest is Love). I've also got the St. Francis Prayer and quotes that I'm glad I found:
"Dearest Jesus, holy Child
Make thee a bed, soft, undefiled
Within my heart, that it may be
a quiet chamber kept for thee."(author unk)

A Carmelite in the making?

But there is darkness before the dawn.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Spark of Faith-Conversion Part I

Everybody who plumbs the depths of their faith probably has a conversion or reversion story in there somewhere. This being the beginning of a happy new year, tucked into the year of St. Paul and a week or so prior to the feast day of his conversion, I've decided to commit mine to the blogosphere so that in might give live on in posterity (and give some of you a few laughs)! Besides, I like to read the conversions & reversions of others, so why not add my own to the mix?

I was always "spiritually-minded" in a sense. I never had a doubt that there was a God in heaven and my early childhood was sympathetic to curiousities about a God of the universe who had immense power, strength and love. My folks decided, for their own good reasons, to delay baptism for me, the youngest child and only daughter in the family. My brothers were both baptized Methodists in my Mom's tradition but we were never threatened with church-going unless it was Christmas. I essentially learned that they figured it was best that we all "make our own decisions" about religion later on in life; something that I ungrudgingly but vehemently disagree with now as a parent. My mom once gave me a magazine cut out of The Lord's Prayer - retrieved from, ironically, Better Homes and Gardens, which I hung in my bedroom on a styrofoam bulletin board. Sometimes I prayed the Our Father when I was by myself. I also remember saying the bedtime prayer...."Now I lay me down to sleep" and I modified the ending to say: "There are 4 corners on my bed and 2 angels at my head, now God bless everybody; Amen". I was also very taken with a particular good shepherd nightlight-picture that was hung in my room (see above). It was fun to turn off all the other lights and just have this one illuminated showing (as my 16-yr old would lament) a way too "politically correct" image of our Lord. To this day, I still have this image hung at my bedside. And yes,he still thinks it's too "white".

I was probably about 7 years old when I decided to test the God of my understanding. From the refrigerator, I absconded with a corsage my mom had worn from a recent dinner party. I took it upstairs to my bedroom where I placed it on the plastic stool of my small vanity, right below the Good Shepherd picture. I really wanted God to show Himself and accept my little floral offering. We lived near a blasting quarry where a few times per week they would blast for salt. Sometimes the jarring from blasts had the ability to loosen the floorboards. On this particular evening and as it happened, right in the middle of my petition to the Lord... bet you can imagine what happened next? A rather large blast permeated the house causing the Good Shepherd picture to quake right off the wall and fall to the floor. A first! I don't remember regaining my composure, or flying down the stairs until I appeared, ashen from the fright, in front of mom who asked what in heck I had been up to. "Nothin'". I'm not sure how my little 7-year old brain processed this event at the time. I do know that I never attempted that circus stunt again and that it also left an indelible memory almost as fresh today as it was then. It is my belief that most folks grope around for a visible/physical sense of God and what we end up doing is forming attachments to these characteristics of God in people/places and things. It works for awhile, until God pushes us to deeper conversion. I'll get into that later.

Somewhere around 1579, shortly after his escape from the mean monks who imprisoned him, St. John of the Cross drew a sketch of paths up a mountain to protray the spiritual life. Along the pathways, the soul seeks God in all kinds of good things however realizes that God is "not this, not that". Even at the top of the mountain, God is no-thing. Nada. No matter how hard we try, we cannot seem to grasp with our senses what God actually IS. We cannot see Him face to face. We cannot wrap our minds around him mentally for that matter. But that doesn't stop us from trying. In the words of Gerald May from his Book, "Dark Night of the Soul", he writes..."Thus every part of us is, at its core, a desire for love's fulfillment. Though we seldom recognize it, our senses seek the beauty, the sweetness, the good feelings of God. Our mind seeks the truth and wisdom of God. Our will seeks to live out the goodness, the righteousness of God. Our memory and imagination seek the justice and peace of God. In other words, we yearn for the attibutes of God with every part of ourselves. Human beings are two-legged, walking, talking desires for God." Or in the words of one of my favorite saints, Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you. (St. Augustine).

Later on, St. John and St. Augustine both were immensely important figures to me on my journey of faith and their writing and espcially the influences of Carmelite spirituality continue to be guiding forces for me as I struggle in my own Dark Nights.

Next post...Conversion part II: Something Lutheran happened to me on the way to Rome.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Humility Makes the Devil Flee

A HERMIT had a gift from God to cast out evil spirits. One time he asked to learn what they feared most and what compelled them to flee.

“Perhaps it is fasting?” he asked one of them.

“We,” the evil spirit replied, “neither ever eat nor ever drink.”

“Sleepless vigils, then?”

“We do not sleep at all.”

“Flight from the world?”

“Supposedly an important thing. But we spend the greater part of our time wandering around the deserts.”

“I implore you to confess what it is that can subdue you,” insisted the elder.

The evil spirit, compelled by a supernatural force, was pressed to answer: “Humility—which we can never overcome.”

— The Ancient Fathers of the Desert: Section 1
V. Rev. Chrysostomos, trans.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

St. Joseph and the Real Estate Market

Ok, I admit that I have buried a St. Joseph statue or two in my lifetime thinking that his intercessions would sell our home more quickly. Call me an opportunist (and I probably am), I've buried him head down, head up and when I couldn't find one in the store, half considered using the "good one" from the nativity set that I was gifted. Thanks be to God, I did not follow thru on that plan. PS: I have also lost a poor St. Joseph statue and the thought of him still mired in the muck bugs me a little.

Father Philip Neri Powell from his blog responds to a FAQ about the practice of burying the St. Joseph statue. I especially like the the simple and direct approach to prayer that he tags on towards the end. Take it or leave it, it's a great read.

Ok, Father, Do I need to go to confession for this?

Q. I don't get what you are saying about prayer. Don't we pray to God for what we need? Why not ask St Joseph for help in selling a house?

A. My objection to the use of St Joseph statues to sell a house hinges on the superstitious use of a sacramental. If God does not will your house to be sold, it will not be sold. . .you can bury hundreds of St Joseph's statues, and it won't make a bit of difference. Burying statues will not change God's mind. Magic is the belief that we can alter reality by using willing it to be altered. Prayer is not magic. What we do in prayer is train our hearts and minds to receive as gifts all the blessings God has already given us. Every blessing you will ever receive has already been given to you. Prayer is your way of receiving those blessings in thanksgiving. The best prayer is: "Lord, I receive today all the blessings you have given me and give you thanks for them." Petitions are designed to keep us constantly aware that everything we have and everything we are is a direct gift from God. We ask for food, shelter, clothing so that we are reminded that food, shelter, clothing are God's gifts to us for our use. The "claim it and get it" school of prayer is a fraud. When Jesus says, "Ask and you shall receive," he means "You have been given, now ask for it." This is a spirituality of humity and gratitude. Think of it this way: God, from eternity, has willed that you get a new job. He has also willed that you will actually get that job when you ask for it with thanksgiving. Don't ask, don't get. So, the best thing to do is to assume that God always wills the absolute best for you; align yourself with His will for you; ask for what you need, according to His will, and give thanks BEFORE and after you get it.