Author Archives: chriskmn

Glitter is Good

Annunciation

In October of this year my wife, Liz, and I took a 10th anniversary trip to Florence and Paris. I’d been to both cities and was blessed to see many of the beautiful and remarkable pieces of art, faith, and architecture for a second time.

For the first time, we visited San Marco the home of the Italian renaissance painter and Dominican Friar – Fra Angelico. I had studied Fra Angelico’s work, and my favorite piece is his representation of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38). I had first encountered this piece of art nearly 20 years ago, but until this fall had never seen it in person.

When my wife and I climbed the stairs within San Marco and first laid eyes on the beautiful painting you see above, I was stunned. Though I had seen this work hundreds of times, I saw it as if for the first time again. And for the first time I saw the wings of the Archangel Gabriel sparkle. I’d always admired the colorful representation of the angel’s wings, but now I knew that these wings sparkled and shimmered in the light.

Saying yes to God, as Mary does in this moment, is always full of surprises. If you say yes to God, I guarantee that he has beautiful surprises in store for you. Even if you have studied and hoped for and anticipated your next move, if you make that move while saying yes and giving your life over to Christ, God will make it even more beautiful. If you have never said yes to God, I invite and encourage you to say yes, even in a small way, to God’s will for your life. If you do, he will make even a broken and painful life, beautiful.

On this the Solemnity of the Annunciation, I invite you to say one simple prayer – Yes. Say yes to God. Tell God yes. And let that yes be the beginning of a life of yes you give to God. I promise what he will do with that yes is greater, more beautiful than you can imagine

Ray Lewis is half right.

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“If God is for us, who can stand against us?” retorted Ray Lewis to a reporter’s question about how he won the Super big game played in a stadium shaped like a Bowl. Really Ray?! Honestly I was a little pissed. What a stupid thing to say. What bad theology. Do you really believe God picked you, Ray? Forget about Mr. Lewis’s well documented trouble with the law or his pregame hysterics. Put aside any personal like or dislike for the now retired linebacker for the Ravens.  It was this ridiculous statement that irked me and caused me to make that disapproving “tisk” sound through my teeth like a Midwestern grandmother.

The humor twitter account Unvirtuous Abbey may have tweeted it best:

Twitter Post

After my judgmental cacophonous noise making, I instantly thought about Jim Harbaugh, the losing coach of the big game. Following Ray’s line of thinking, the God of the universe pre-ordained John Harbaugh (coach of the winning Ravens) to defeat his brother Jim in a football game.  I’m not sure who is Cain and who is Abel in this, but the logic follows that Jim is God’s enemy and John is the righteous and worthy champion of goodness and light. Come to think of it, the entire 49ers organization must be fallen rebels, akin to Lucifer and his cohorts.  Who can stand against Ray Lewis and God? Not the 49ers, the devils they are.

Fully pleased with my exaggerated self-righteousness, and even more pleased that I kept it to myself and only privately judged this man and his words, I promptly turned off the TV and played Ruzzle for 45 minutes. But something wasn’t right. Maybe it was the nachos or homemade honey mustard sauce, or maybe it was that still small voice that speaks to the deepest parts of ourselves when we haven’t uncovered God’s full story, but something wasn’t letting me rest comfortably in my righteous indignation.

Finally I found it. Ray is half right. God is for Ray Lewis. God desires the absolute best for Ray. God loves Ray Lewis beyond measure. God is also for Jim Harbaugh, even though he didn’t win the shiny football trophy. God is for the 24,000 children who will die today from preventable diseases resulting from unclean drinking water. I have no doubt God will weep for them. God will also weep because we didn’t do anything to stop it.

God is for me. God is for you.

Ray is also half wrong.  God doesn’t love Ray more than Colin Kaepernick. God didn’t choose the Ravens over the 49s.

Fortune doesn’t equal blessing.

God doesn’t prove his love for us through worldly fortune. To believe that is to say God doesn’t love the poor, vulnerable, marginalized, abused, hungry, thirsty, or dying. To say that is stupid and bad theology. Quite frankly it goes against everything Jesus said and did.

God is for all of us and no one can stand against us, and sometimes we lose. God being for us doesn’t always look like winning. Jesus on the cross didn’t look like winning. God is for us, when it comes to what is best for us. Winning the Championship might not be what is best for us.

And here is the key; God has bigger plans for us than our earthly mini-battles.  God has bigger plans for Ray Lewis than football champion. I’m not talking about Ray retiring and becoming a minister or founding a youth sports organization or helping out families in Baltimore. I’m talking about forever.

God’s big plan for all of us is heaven. God being for us is only completed and perfectly experienced in heaven, forever. God is for us spending that forever with him in eternal praise and total bliss. God is for us experiencing the beatific vision.

God is for us going to heaven. When we choose God, nothing can stop us from spending forever with Him.

Naked Prayer

I was just so tired.  Normally I try to pray before I get out of bed because I know I am just so selfish that if I make it to my feet, I will be all about my crap and ignore God.  But I was just so tired, I couldn’t think straight. I decided a nice cool shower would wake me up.  After I stepped in and my head cleared, I was reminded of all the people I promised I would pray for.  I turned my attention from soap and scrubbies, and turned my mind to God in prayer.
I brought to mind my friend who I said I would pray for.  Immediately I was aware that I was naked and praying/thinking about my friend.

Super awkward.

My friend wasn’t standing there. I hadn’t really even brought to mind my friend’s face, but just praying for my friend while I was in a “natural” state was way, way strange. I was overcome with weirdness and quickly turned my attention to a more general intention.

Why was this so weird? Two answers come to mind. First, I don’t normally think about other people when I am naked. Usually, I think about becoming un-naked.  Second, prayer isn’t the same thing as just thinking about someone.  There is a certain intimacy that comes with prayer. When we offer up a friend in prayer, we aren’t just bringing them to our own mind, but we are bringing them to God.  Sharing in God is sharing in the total communion of

Hey, if dancing in his birthday suit was good enough for King David… (2 Sam 6:14-22)

the Trinity. If God himself is relationship, when we bring our friends into that relationship, we too get closer to them through God.

Near the end of my shower I realized I probably shouldn’t be so self-conscious about praying naked. God has seen me naked enumerable times. He loves me even when I am drenched and in the buck. Maybe it wasn’t the deepest, most contemplative prayer of my life, but as Peter Kreeft likes to say, “Less-than-perfect prayer is infinitely better than no prayer; more perfect prayer is only finitely better than less perfect prayer.” (Read more from Dr. Kreeft here)  If we are going to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17), then sometimes prayer is going to be awkward and maybe even naked.

Jesus is Sneaky.

I didn’t expect the hand rung bell. I was at a Saturday Evening Mass at a parish in Miacatlan, Mexico.  The Priest had just finished the consecration. We prayed through the Our Father and shared a sign of peace. The Church was mostly a large roof over an open air seating area. Out of the back and around the corner of the far wall came the clanking sound of two hand rung bells. I didn’t know what it was at first. Then I realized; the head communion minister, the two servers, and about 10 other people with banners were processing the Eucharist from the tabernacle to the altar for Communion.

The ministers and honor guard walked slowly and with purpose.  They were careful in their task. Every step and every movement showed the great care and deep respect they held for what they were doing and who they were carrying.  Every couple steps the servers rang these impossibly heavy looking bells. The group was so careful with the Eucharist.  It was as if they were carrying the very body of Jesus Christ (which of course they were).  I was left asking if we are that careful. More importantly I asked, am I that careful with what I carry when I walk out of Church having received Jesus and I am a tabernacle of the Eucharist?

Curiously, this wasn’t the only time I encountered Christ in the Eucharist that trip.  When we stopped by a small chapel in Cuernavaca where the founder of NPH was first pastor, the chapel was open for walk-ins for noontime adoration.  When we visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, a huge monstrance was exposed in a side chapel and many of us stopped to worship. It seemed everywhere I went Jesus was present in the Eucharist.

Reflecting on a summer of Youth Ministry with the CREW at HNOJ, it became abundantly clear God was near us in the Eucharist. At Christpower, our Mission trip to North Minneapolis in partnership with Church of the Ascension, we had a powerful night of Eucharistic adoration.  At the Steubenville Youth Conference in Rochester, Jesus once again came to our young people in the Eucharist during the large session, and our small groups always seemed to end up by the small Adoration Chapel.

Everywhere we turned Jesus was offering us his very body in the Mass and Eucharistic Adoration.  I shouldn’t be shocked that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, but I was legitimately amazed all the times that Jesus snuck himself into a day of Youth Ministry when we had no purposeful intention to meeting him the Eucharist.

I guess Jesus is sneaky. 

Besides being sneaky, Jesus is persistent.  I really felt like Jesus was pursuing us all summer. Every event, every day it seemed like Jesus was physically really there. Every corner we turned at each event, Jesus was there. Jesus just wouldn’t leave us alone.  This is closer to reality then I normally think about.  Jesus really is chasing after us.  He really is coming for us.  Jesus won’t let us just wander without coming to find us.

We are the dropped coin, the lost sheep, the prodigal son, and our God is coming for us.

I think we often talk about people “finding God.”  People may say, “Oh he found Jesus.”  But in reality, Jesus is finding us.  And here is the thing, Jesus doesn’t just come in some metaphorical way or some random turn of events or some supernatural sign – no. Jesus is coming for us physically, really, truly, completely in the Eucharist. Jesus is literally physically running down the road to meet us.  Jesus in the Eucharist isn’t a symbol, idea, poem, or myth.  The physical, fleshy God of the universe, incarnate (which means ‘taking on flesh’) in Jesus Christ, has come to find us.  God doesn’t send an angel or a cloud shaped like heart to tell us he loves us and wants to be with us, God comes himself.

No messenger, no poetry, no text message or tweet – the God that breathed the stars has come physically to find you and me.

What are you going to do when he finds you?  How are you going to respond when God Almighty offers his body to you at the next Mass you attend?  What are you going to do the next time you step into that Eucharistic Adoration Chapel at HNOJ?  How will you react the next time you come into the physical present of God?

Love really well

I couldn’t get it out of my head.  It was a simple enough phrase, but one I am not sure I had ever heard before.

“He loves really well.”

A couple of days ago I heard a talk at a youth minister’s gathering here in Minnesota. The talk wasn’t earth shattering, but for some reason I couldn’t get this phrase out of my head.  “He loves really well.”

I went to youth group in the 90’s so of course I know the ridiculously dated DC Talk song Luv is a Verb (Here is the video if you

dc talk 1989

Luv is a Verb, even in 1989.

dare.) I know that love is something I do, not something I have. I know that the greatest act of love is Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross. I get the concept, but I honestly had never heard someone qualify another’s ability to love.  “He loves really well” got me thinking about how one could love well or poorly.  Even as I write this, I feel like an idiot – this isn’t new information.

Why was this phrase blowing my mind?  I’m not sure I have an answer yet. What I do know is that I want to love really well.

I don’t want to just love sufficiently.  I want to love really well.

Can you imagine turning to your spouse on your wedding day and saying, “I love you honey. I love you just enough so that you aren’t too frustrated with me.  I love you just enough so that you don’t complain too much about me to your friends.  I want to love you just sufficiently.”  Can you imagine looking your children in the eye and saying, “ My darling children, I love you.  I love you just enough so that you aren’t lacking for anything too critical. I love you just a little bit beyond where you could blame me in future counseling sessions.  I love you just sufficiently.”

How selfish?  No one would say those things.  But I know that I often love just sufficiently.  Love is really hard work, and my laziness often leads me to love just enough.

We all love God just sufficiently sometimes.

When it comes to God, we often don’t love really well.  We often sound like this, “God, I love you.  I love you just enough to pray for 2 minutes this Sunday even though I can’t get to Mass because I have a tournament.  I love you just enough to be generous with my friends even though I am not so good to my family. God I love you just enough that I won’t go ‘all the way’ with my girlfriend even though we have done pretty much everything but that.”  We say with our words that we love God totally, while our lives scream, “What is just enough ‘loving God’ so that I don’t go to hell”?

Loving someone just sufficiently isn’t love – it’s self-service.  Doing for others just enough to get what we want is using them.  So often our faith practice is about getting what we want, loving God only sufficiently.

There is good news.

God doesn’t love just sufficiently – God loves very, very well.  God loves abundantly, overwhelmingly, totally, completely, unconditionally, ridiculously, irrationally, freely, and forever.  And if someone can “love really well,” that means it is possible to get better at it. I can turn it around. I can love better tomorrow than I did today. I can love better tonight that I did the rest of the day.  The good news is that God loves perfectly and by God’s grace, we can love better.

Love really well today.

Tulip Capital of the World

Red Tulips

The often-disputed tulip capital of the world are the Keukenhof Gardens (“kitchen gardens”) situated near Lisse, Netherlands.  The good people of Holland, Michigan hold the title of tulip capital of the USA, but since their town is named after the very country containing Keukenhof, I think it is safe for me to declare once and for all the beautiful Keukenhof Gardens as #1 in tulips. Now you know, whether you wanted to or not.

I bring all this up because on my way into church today I walked past a beautiful bed of multi-colored tulips in full blossom.  As far as I am concerned the front flowerbed at Holy Name of Jesus is as beautiful as anything Keukenhof or Holland, Michigan has to offer.  Long stemmed and big, beautiful blossoms, these flowers were worthy of note.  I couldn’t help but stop and smell the..err..tulips.

I was most struck by the fact that these chromatic creations were all leaning towards the newly risen sun.  Each flower straining and pushing to get closer to that ball of exploding gas which rains radiation, light, and heat down upon our green globe.  I’m no botanical genius, but I guessed this had something to do with photosynthesis and the plants seeking to expose their leaves to the most sunlight possible, but I didn’t really know.

So, I looked it up on the magical interwebs.  The process is called Heliotropism which is how we describe plants turning to face the sun.  According the one website I read, plants follow the sun for better photosynthesis and the warmer flowers may attract more pollinating insects.  What is interesting is that they do this all day long.  These flowering plants will slowly turn their blossoms and leaves all day so as to get the best light as the sun moves across our sky (sorry Copernicus – I meant to say “we rotate while the sun stays still.”).

As Christians we need to be more like Tulips.

No seriously, not photoshopped - Fields of real tulips.

We should be more like these petalled posies not by being heliotropic but by being Christotropic.  I mean this in two ways:

  1. Yearning for the sun: When the sun rises small “motor” cells in the base of the plant enlarge with water in just a certain way to turn and push the tulips to face and ultimately reach for the sun. We need to strain and lean into our God.  We must, from our very base, turn our whole posture to face and take in as much of God’s light as we possibly can.  With our whole being, physically as well as spiritually, we need to turn our life towards Christ.  Christ needs to be the center of all that we do.  We should do this in such a way that others notice.  When I saw the flowers reaching for the sun, I naturally turned my face to the rising sun as well.
  2. From the rising to the setting of the sun: These flowers, and sunflowers like them, not only strain for God at the first moments of sunlight in the morning, but all day long they turn so as to face the heavenly rays of light.  Us too must give each moment, from the rising of the sun to the setting, to God.  Throughout our day, we must learn to turn our attention to God.  Whether we are at school, work, or play, whatever we are doing, we must continuously be attentive to God. As Psalm 113 says, “From the rising of the sun to its setting let the name of the Lord be praised.”

So next time you see some beautiful flowers, let those simple plants remind you to be Christotropic everyday, all day.

50 > 40

Ham

50 slices of ham > 40 slices of ham.

Jesus Christ is Risen today, Alleluia! Sorry, couldn’t help myself. Easter is awesome, and easily my favorite time of year for my faith.  Spring has usually sprung, flowers are starting to bloom, and I feel new too.  After a long, and this year it felt extra long, Lent, we cap off our 40 days of sacrifice with the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil on Saturday – best liturgies of the year) and then Easter Mass.  Can’t get any better than that.

Here is the great thing about being Catholic – 50 is greater than 40.  Lent lasts 40 days. It feels like forever because we can’t drink diet coke or put sugar in our coffee or eat meat or whatever we offered up. But then we get to Easter, and instead of just one day to party; we get 50 full days to party.  Easter lasts from Easter Sunday through Pentecost a full 50 days away.  So as you read this, it is Easter! (Unless you are reading this in like August, then you missed it.)

Everyone has little traditions they do in their house to celebrate Easter.  At my house, we are pretty traditional.  We dye eggs. We roast a ham (like forever till it smells and tastes like bacon).  We eat a lot of unnecessary candy.  We pass out from a sugar comma.  Good times.  Read the rest of this entry

I Love You, Accidentally

Have you ever accidentally told someone you loved them? I totally have. It usually goes something like this.

“Hey Roger, wha’up bro. Did you see Carp’s no-no last night? Ridiculous. So yeah, get back at me if you are going to Kelly’s tonight. K, Love you.”

Hang up. Wait, did I just tell Roger that I “love” him? I barely know Roger. I mean, he’s a good dude and everything, but I don’t really know him. Plus, I just don’t usually tell my buds that I love them. Wait, maybe I do love him. Crap. Should I say something? Do I need to fix it?

Never try and fix it. Just let it ride. Trying to fix it is like trying to clean food off your shirt with water in the bathroom – it is only going to make the problem bigger.

Today we celebrate a big I LOVE YOU that was no accident – the Annunciation. For some reason I have always felt attached to this moment in the story of the incarnation and have found great joy in artwork depicting this moment. The humble “yes” of Mary, the gentle invitation of the Angel Gabriel, and the cosmic consequences in this peaceful beautiful moment all captured in a few brush strokes. Amazing.

My favorite piece of art depicting the Annunciation painted by the Italian Fra Angelico. Take some time to peek through the painting to see all characters present. Further, I am always moved by the empty room behind Mary, which represents the empty tomb of the resurrection. Great stuff.

I’ve included the painting and the scripture from Luke below so that you could take some time to pray through the scripture and do a little Lectio/Visio Devina on this day celebrating the Incarnation.

The Annuciation by Fra Angelico

26In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,* and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, 33and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” 35And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. 36And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived* a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; 37for nothing will be impossible for God.” 38Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.  Luke 1:26-38

Good Coffee won’t save your soul – Part 3

What do we do when we go to Mass and we “don’t get anything out of it?”Coffee Cup

I think at some point in the Mass as our boredom or frustration mount, we have to make a decision.  Are we going to let something as insignificant as bad coffee get in the way of encountering God?

Sometimes going to Mass is like getting great coffee in a bad cup.

The other day I bought a coffee and didn’t realize that the seal on the bottom of the cup was imperfect. The leaking coffee made huge stains over the front my sweater.  I was hacked off to the point of not being able to enjoy the coffee. Then I considered that there was nothing I could do to change the cup at that moment, so either I could be angry and not enjoy my coffee or I could drink it and enjoy every drop that wasn’t on my shirt.

Even when everything seems to be going wrong at Mass, God is still present. And if God is present, we have an opportunity to find Him. The path to finding God in the midst of the messiness of imperfect Church is a shift in focus from our needs or wants to God’s outpouring of love.  When we move our focus from us to God, the bad coffee matters less and less.  In other words we have to name the coffee as bad, and then get over it.

This is hard.

It is hard to experience God in the midst of poorly done Church. So what do we do? I don’t have a great answer. I wish I did. What I do have are two suggestions for making sure every time we walk out of Mass we know God moved in us. Read the rest of this entry

Good coffee won’t save your soul – Part 2

Why are we so infatuated with coffee or preaching or music, if it isn’t the most important thing?  Are we that shallow? Why do we lose the point in the midst of all the things trying to make the point?CoffeWorship

We know when we have a good cup of coffee.

Things like coffee can be judged and measured. We know when we have heard a good homily because we have an emotional or intellectual reaction. We know when the music works for us because our toe taps, and we are tempted, dare I say it, to sing and pray along.  We know when we walk into a church, look up into the mosaic covered dome and utter “Oh my God” (not at all in vain) in reaction the undeniable beauty before our eyes.

We want to know something has happened when we go to Church. We want to be able to observe or even measure the value we received.  If Church is going to be worth our time, we want to know that it worked.  Not only do we want Church to be actually good for us, we want to be aware, to know, that it was good.

Thus, we put more importance on good music, entertaining preaching (did I laugh?), and coffee because when those things are good, we know we got something out of Mass.  When those things aren’t good we often walk out of Mass and don’t know that we were affected.  We may even think nothing has happened. Read the rest of this entry

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