Monthly Archives: October 2016

Pray for Peace in Syria Tomorrow

syriaprayerOn October 31, Pope Francis will be saying a prayer for peace in Syria at 3 PM in Sweden. Caritas International is asking all to encourage prayer around the world at that time (9 AM ET) or at 3 PM local time–or any time that works.

Here are links to the prayer and the campaign website.

Here are other resources to help us understand the impact of the refugee crisis in human terms from Catholic Relief Services.

 amira Holy Family in Midst of Refugee Crisis

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Watch the latest from the front lines of CRS’ response to the refugee crisis in Europe, and hear about a special family CRS teams met along the way.

 

 refugee-children Supporting Syrian Refugee Children Through Education

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Since the start of the Syrian conflict 5 years ago, more than 4.2 million refugees have fled to the Middle East. More than half of them are children. In Jordan…

 

 greece Greece | Embracing Refugees In a Time of Crisis

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In just the first few months of 2016, more than 150,000 refugees and economic migrants had already arrived on Greek shores. Throughout the Balkans, CRS and o…

What Problem Is Your Ministry Solving?

monolithWhen I was a new teacher, the main “to do” item was write and teach lesson plans. That’s what I was hired to do–fill a teaching position and teach. That was the problem that needed solving.

If you’ve been following this blog, then you know that in my four years there I did much more than teach. I discovered real problem was–or problems were–personal, social, emotional, and spiritual, not informational.

In the work I do now as an association executive, some of the problems that I’m supposed to solve include: acquiring and keeping new members, attracting registrants to our conference, collecting dues, implementing our strategic plan.

But those aren’t really “problems.” They’re tasks. They don’t focus on who the people or companies that I interact with really are and what they need.

One of the things we do is host a conference. We could have tried to replicate what had been done in the past or is now being done successfully elsewhere. But we didn’t. The conversation long ago started with the question, “What do ministry leaders in this area need and want?” With a little market research, we found out that they needed and wanted professional development opportunities in a context of a strong Catholic spiritual program.

Ministry programs are too often monoliths that exist because someone started them and no one is brave enough to question or end them. And so they continue with perhaps some success, but perhaps not what anyone really hopes for.

So, here are a few question to help you identify what the real problem is that your ministry can solve.

  1. When you look around at all of the options available to the people you minister with, what is the one thing that your people are seeking or trying to accomplish? Learning how to pray as a family? What are you doing and what aren’t you doing to make that possible?
  2. When you look at the overall picture of ministry in your community, where are the gaps where nothing is happening? Maybe that is an opportunity for you.
  3. Are people twisting themselves in knots trying to satisfy a need when you know of or have a way to make it easier? Is Saturday morning religious education always competing with soccer practice, so Moms have to choose one over the other? Can you give Moms and Dads multiple options?
  4. How does the ministry you offer meet a need beyond checking off the “religion” checkbox? What social and emotional needs does or can it meet?

 

A Teachable Moment: Syrian Refugees

Syria - Peace is PossibleThe world has been watching as Syrian refugees flee their country to find warmer, safer, healthier places to live. Catholic Relief Services and Caritas International invite us to Pope Francis in prayer on Monday, Oct. 31.

On October 31, Pope Francis will be saying a prayer for peace in Syria at 3 PM in Sweden. Caritas Internationalis is asking all members to encourage prayer around the world at that time (9AM ET) or at 3 PM local time—or any time that works. Here are links to the prayer and the overall campaign website.

Visit the website for ideas on how to spread the message that peace is possible in Syria.

One Tip on Healthy Culture

Blessed SacramentIf there is one lesson to be learned from this political season, it is how silence can breed mistrust and transparency can feed trust.

Catholics have many positive experiences of silence. The pause between an intercession and the words, “We pray to the Lord . . .” Or the grander silences like the incensing of the altar and preparation of the Blessed Sacrament on Holy Thursday.

In our secular experience, we often keep silent and do not talk about those things we share in common–“life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”–because we do share them.

However, this political year has shown us the high price for not talking about things.

On Sunday when my children’s choir led the music, one of the 6-year-olds looked up at me during the Eucharistic Prayer and asked me what the “round thing” in the priest’s hand was. I said, “It’s Jesus.” He mumbled, “It looks like a round thing.” I repeated it again, “It’s Jesus.” He looked away and the conversation ended.

But I stood there, looking at my eight 6-year-olds, knowing that they would be preparing for First Communion next year, thinking about how easy it was for me to just believe what was happening in the reverent silence, and how hard it was to explain it satisfactorily to a 6-year-old.

His understanding and trust in transubstantiation won’t come through osmosis by silently looking at the elevated host. It didn’t for me–or you. It will take lots of explanation, lots of tumbling around in his brain, lots of conversations and questions before he will be able to trust in our shared Catholic belief about the mystery of the Eucharist.

And if people like me and his parents and his teachers don’t take the time to talk with him about it over the years, he’ll make up his own mind . . . When that day comes (if it comes, please, no!), it will be near impossible for him to trust in any different understanding because those of us around him have been silent.

Bottom line: Information and transparency build trust. If we want to create a healthy culture, we must articulate what we know and believe first–and often–before we can settle into the silence of assumed agreement. And even then, we cannot be afraid to talk about them again and again and again.

Pink Elephants, Anyone? (Rule #9)

elephantDo you remember sitting in a movie theater (or maybe in front of a TV), watching Disney’s “Fantasia?” To a rather klutzy little girl, those dancing elephants in their girly tu-tus gave me hope that the strangest things might actually be possible.

Years later, pink elephants–and the proverbial “elephants in the room” still give me hope that the impossible might be possible.

Do you have any pink elephants in the room–or office or rectory or chancery? You know what I mean. The issues that everyone talks about in the break room or parking lot, by email or text, but no one wants to bring up at the staff meeting, with the boss, or when anyone else is around.

We tiptoe around them like the Fantasia pink elephants en pointe. We try to dress them up in the hopes that anxiety, pain, and tension surrounding the issue might dazzle us enough that we can skate around them without ever having to deal with them.

How wrong can we possibly be?!

When I taught in a Catholic high school, one of the concerns that I had is that we approached participation in Mass the wrong way. Mass was required for all students. It took place in the gym where the girls sat on the bleachers, hovered over by teachers and administrators. The clearest value was obedience. Which squelched any desire to participate in the celebration of the Eucharist.

For three years, while we danced around the subject in department meetings, we indulged in long-winded, exasperating conversations over coffee in small groups of those who held the same opinion.

And as you might guess, nothing changed except that I got more frustrated, anxious, and even angry. I felt so powerless to make any change and every potential encounter seemed like a confrontation.

Hmmm . . . Yes, that’s exactly what happens when we choose to avoid discussing pink elephants.

We knew that discipline was a key issue, but the underlying point we focused on was the value behind it, behind the school’s mission, behind what it meant to be Christ’s people gathered around the Eucharistic table.

Because the school was Catholic, right? And with the word “Resurrection” in our name, didn’t we have an obligation to teach as Jesus did, inviting his followers to the table, to share in the Bread of Life, to be satisfied with His saving Word?

When we started talking about that, the values that we held in common, powerlessness and confrontation slipped away. And the issues of discipline and obedience became logistical details that we had to plan for–which we did. In the end, the administration agreed with us, and let us make the changes we suggested. All-school Masses became optional with certain rooms designated as quiet study AND we would offer weekly Mass in the chapel.

Did it all go smoothly? No. Change never does. But we engaged everyone in the process. We talked to teachers about the best ways to manage those who did not choose to attend. We asked the students to invite their favorite parish priests to work with us, and we formed an “anyone can sing” choir specifically for these Masses.

In the end, it was a major success. All because we took a chance and discussed the undiscussable.

What’s your pink elephant, and how are you going to address it?

Who Will Reap the Harvest?

harvestChange, change, change, change, change.

It’s a key driver in this year’s elections. And the one challenge put before most of us as leaders at some point in time.

As much as we want to be the one out front, leading the way from what was to what will be, the reality is, in most cases, we only sow seeds.

Great leaders know this. They know that most of what they try to accomplish will only be evident years after they leave their position. Politicians take advantage of this sometimes, highlighting the changes that happen during their years in office when, in fact, their predecessor’s decisions were often the ones that forged the current path.

The truth is, the harvest is for others to reap.

Ministry with teens is one of the best examples of this. As I look back at my years of teaching in an all-girls’ Catholic high school and subsequently as a volunteer in my parish’s youth ministry program, we adults knew that we had four years–and in some cases, fewer–to sow the seeds of faith, hope, and love (ah, yes, the theological virtues!) in the hopes that there would be a harvest.

As each graduating class of seniors departed, there was an internal tug-of-war–what more can we do to keep them connected versus just letting them go free in the hope that the seeds would take root and they would find a “home” in their faith and the Church.

Social media has been the greatest friend to this “sower.” With it, I have been able to follow the lives of our “kids” (many of whom now have their own kids). And I’ve been able to share in their joys and sorrows, and watch how the seeds we planted have fared.

Some fell on rocky ground. Some fell among weeds. But some fell on good soil, took root, and have grown and flourished.

So, in a society that seems to grow more impatient and a culture that demands immediate gratification, what are we to do? Remember and practice the theological virtues so that we may teach them in both our words and deeds.

As Jesus shows us, faith is not something that we go from not having to having. It develops over time through prayer and action. While we are conditioned in our culture to connect hope with wanting things, hope is an attitude that looks to the future, but walks with others in the present (think the familiar poem, “Footsteps.”) And love comes through the care we take in the sowing and feeding so that there may be a harvest.

Being a sower is what we are called to. When you have the opportunity to harvest, thank God for those who came before you and tended the fertile ground and planted that seed. And ask God for support to those who will come after you to tend what you have planted.

 

 

It’s the Journey

path(Follow up to last week’s post.)

Second phrase that sticks in my mind is, “It’s the journey.”

One of the stories that you hear repeatedly in Santiago di Campostela–and you see the evidence of it–is of pilgrims who have made the trek along any of the Camino routes, have arrived in Santiago, and are struck by the thought, “So, now what?”

We heard a lot about the how the Camino, especially the most well-known route starting in France and winding its was through Northern Spain has changed. Movies like “The Way” have popularized the journey along the Camino all over, but especially among Americans. It has become an item on many “bucket lists.”

So it isn’t surprising that the end point might have an unsettling, unsatisfactory, and even empty feel to it.

Bucket lists are for checking off — setting an objective and accomplishing it. Being able to say that you did that — like sky diving (remember when that was at the top of the lists of “things to accomplish in my life.”)

Focusing on the Camino as an accomplishment neglects and ignores its basic nature — as a journey. Getting there is good, but how we get there is even more important.

I remember a number of years ago listening to a reading from the first chapter in the Book of Joshua, which starts by telling us that Moses has died before he and the people can cross over the Jordan into the Promised Land. The monologue going on in my head was immersed in the idea that Moses must have been disappointed to have come so far, but not been able to make the final step. As I think back on it, I realize how the 40 year journey was the focus of Moses’ life and leadership, not the destination. Reaching the destination was for another.

But the journey. That was Moses.

Let’s start by admitting that we are focused on a destination (e.g., goal, objective, “bucket list” item) in some way, shape, or form as leaders. Take a look at your list. Wallow in the kudos or endorphins you expect at the end when whatever it is is completed.

Now that we have gotten that out of the way, set that aside and let’s look at what the journey to that destination is and will be like. What are the gifts and charisms that you need for the journey? How do they differ from what you will need once you reach the destination? How comfortable are you with letting someone else lead the last steps or take over once you are there?

Be a Better Leader in the Next 5 Minutes

  1. Set a vision. Create a memorable vision statement for your team or company that states the problem you want to solve, how yo plan to solve it, and why it matters.
  2. Above all else, be clear. “Clarity always results in influence, which is the essence of leadership,” says Andy Stanley. People say they want to follow leaders with integrity, but more often end up following those who are clear. Be a leader who exhibits both qualities.
  3. Understand and communicate the “why.” You can’t have an effective vision to share with your team unless you understand why you do what you do. . .
  4. Be repetitive. “Vision leaks; it doesn’t stick,” says Stanley. Refer to your vision often and in a conversational way, so you–and eventually your team–immediately relate all decision back to the vision.
  5. Reward your people honestly. Stanley suggests “celebrating vision systematically.” In other words, when a team member creates a win for your event, make it known to the individual and the team that that’s the type of win you’re looking for. “What’s rewarded is repeated,” says Stanley.

— Andy Stanley, speaker to leaders at Infinite Energy Arena, as recorded in Connect: The Faith and Work Issue, Summer 2016, p. 17, faith.connectmeetings.com

 

It’s Your Camino

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Safely returned from a five-day “taste” of the Camino de Santiago de Campostela, there are two phrases that have stuck in my mind.

The first is, “It’s your Camino.” Here are some of the distinguishing features of our Camino trip.

  • We walked parts of the Portuguese Camino, the oldest route, but not the one most people think of.
  • We went with a tour group which meant comfortable hotels and good, reliable meals, not hostels with bunk beds.
  • We had “options” — no need to press onward to reach the next destination because there was always the van to pick you up and take you to that night’s lodgings if the hiking was too much.
  • We had a gaggle of women (and I mean that quite complimentary!) who walked and chatted and shopped and . . . bonded over small and big things.
  • We talked about the obvious and the metaphysical.

In and amongst all of this, “It’s your Camino” meant that it was always your choice how you walked it. Long, short, fast, slow, quiet, talking, taking mental pictures, taking physical pictures, in boots, in tennis shoes, with rain gear, without rain gear.

I thought a lot about how my “how” has changed over the years. I went backpacking about 25 years ago, and spent one of the 9 days at the front, right behind the leader. In looking back, I’m not sure what I thought I was going to achieve by doing that, but it was a consistent pattern in my life. In the end, we all arrived at the same destination, but “sooner” was the imperative for me.

On the Camino, one day I started at the front and kept a pace that had my thighs quaking by the time the day was done. It was also the only day that I hiked the longest possible distance and spent it mostly in conversation. On the rest of the days, I found my own pace, often hanging back with my Mom. I had a better opportunity to take in and embrace everything that was around us. And I felt more like a pilgrim on a journey–one of a pair like the disciples that Jesus sent forth, two by two.

It’s still my Camino, my journey, even as I sit at my desk, working through email, solving problems, moving programs forward. So, the big question is, how do I want to walk the journey of my personal, spiritual, and work life? What are the choices that I want to make?

What is your “Camino” like?