Wet Noodle Dance

So I’m not sure if I did the right thing. I went and got my children an X-box for Christmas.

You should know, we did not even have a TV for many years. I’m rather uncomfortable with the idiot box in general. It’s not so much that I can’t stand the degradation of common decency that is present on the thing, I do, but there is a deeper issue for me.

I have no attention span.

What this means is, if the TV is on, I can’t hear anyone speak to me, nor can I be a useful member of our household. If the TV is on, I am glued to it, period. I can hate the show, be angry at the commercials, wish that all the crap was taken off the air, and at the same time, I cannot hear my wife calling me in the kitchen. TV just doesn’t work for me.

While it certainly shows how brilliant all those producers and directors are out there at grabbing our attention, it has also been something I have had an aversion to for most of my life. We usually have a TV in the house, but it is primarily for movies. I can’t even remember the last time I actually watched a live TV show. But I digress.

We live in a very rainy climate, and that means we stay indoors for most of the winter. While this has made my daughters very good at knitting, it does not give them much exercise. Enter X-box Kinect. For those of you who don’t know, Kinect is a device you add to your game system that makes you able to control the game with your body instead of the hand held remote like thingy. If you want to race a car, you just act like you are holding the steering wheel, and it sees you and the game responds accordingly. Pretty darn neato really.

There is however a problem. Racing cars just doesn’t seem to excite my kids. No, they want to dance. So I said sure, let’s buy the dancing game.

What exactly was I thinking here?

There are two major problems here. One is content, and the other is the removal of my masculinity.

Ok, now I like to dance, I mean heck, my name is Dance, I can hardly get away with it. Clearly however, my idea of dancing is not relevant to this game. I don’t think I have ever tried to dance to such hits as “Right Thurr”, “Rude Boy” or “Turn Me On”.

Now, I will admit I am protective, but I have never tried to hide my kids from the evils of the world. We just let it pass, and then I talk it to death. (Effective strategy so far by the way, I think my kids have my voice rolling around in their heads permanently at this point.) Having it blasting on my TV speakers however is another matter. At first, this just made me uncomfortable, but at this point, we have made such fun of the songs that when they start up, we immediately start laughing. So yes, my daughters do know the words to “Baby Got Back”, but they also have a silly dance routine making fun of it. Give and take I suppose.

There is however another issue. I pretty much do everything with my kids, and so now, I am expected to jiggle my behind along with them.

Now, on a twelve year old, this is cute, but on a thirty five year old balding man, not so much. Every time my wife comes in the room she just starts laughing at me. Now I will admit, that is a standard response in my house, but this time it’s not because I look funny. Now it’s because I look like a wet dancing noodle.

X-box, you have stripped me of my masculinity. Now even my sister wants to come to visit just to watch the spectacle.

The Moment I Felt Called

I don’t think every person has one singular major turning point in their lives. I’ll be the first to admit that it does happen to a lot of people, but not everyone. For me, my life as been a collection of small turning points, a nudge here, a push there, never anything major, just minor shifts that add up to large changes over time.

There was a moment that I do remember, and it is one that had to be repeated several times before I really got the point. Our Lord know very well that I am a bit of a dolt, and so in His great patience with me, has repeated this event over and over, just to make sure I would get the point.

Ten years ago, I entered the Church through the RCIA process. It was an amazing experience, but I’ll have to save that for another post. When our family came into the Church, it was a full family experience. My daughters and I were baptized together, my wife and I were confirmed, received our first Eucharist, and had our marriage vows blessed all in one night. It was rather like a semi-automatic rifle, one shot right after another with no space in between.

With such madness, it is hard to grab anything more than impressions. It’s not unlike the day one is married, and between the ceremony, the family, the reception, and the honeymoon, it’s hard to gather any real meaning at the time. It is in retrospect that the true meanings begin to play in our lives. It makes you really understand why Mary always held her thoughts in her heart, meditating on them for years afterwards. It was simply too much to understand in any immediate fashion.

My one “deacon experience” happened that night. I remember coming into the Church all dark after having built a fire outside. Watching everyone process in with candles, the light flickering throughout the church gave such a great sense of timelessness, like we were a part of some great, eternal ritual. We then sat in quiet, full of expectation.

Then his voice began to cry out. The deacon began to sing a song, deeply rhythmic, and yet very personal. I did not cry as I watched my daughters get baptized. I did not cry for any of the Sacraments I received that evening.

But when the deacon sang the Exsultet, tears streamed down my face.

Years have passed since that night, and my life is very different than it was then. There is still one Mass every year that I must attend. It is not Easter until I have heard the gospel sung out through the darkness, reverberating through my body, wrenching on my soul. It is a signal moment for me, and I cannot help but cry with joy every year.

This is the night. Oh happy fault, which gained for us so great a Redeemer. This is the night.

I have always known that I must sing this song of gladness. Every year, my heart sings it for me, right along with the deacon. I want to run through the streets belting it out like a team of overzealous Christmas carolers. I come home glowing, bathed in the candlelight of that Easter morning.

I realize it’s months away, and I should have timed this closer to Easter, but if you have never had the chance to make it to the Easter vigil, make time this year.

Speaking to People on Their Level

“Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible. …….. I have become all things to all, to save at least some.” 1 Corinthians 9:19-22, abbreviated

How did he do it? Let’s face it, Paul was The Man. This is my deepest frustration, it’s like playing target practice 24/7.

With all the new tasks I have been given, I have to speak with such a wide range of people, that I never really know what is coming next. One minute I am speaking with the Knights of Columbus, the next to the youth group.  I won’t lie, I miss the mark rather too often, either treating people like they have no idea what is going on, or shooting philosophy so high over their heads that they have no idea what I’m talking about. I would be terribly confusing to have to listen to.

The other night I was teaching a class for RCIA. Now right off the get go, this was an unfair topic. I think that simple sweet RCIA director is out to get me. Sure, she is super nice, and always complements me on how nice it was for me to come, but when she gets home, I’m certain she grows a sly grin and thinks to herself, “What devious topic can I assign him next time?” Do I get topics like, “Why is Jesus important in our lives?” No, of course not. I get “Sin, Grace and Redemption.”

Now how the heck am I to cover three such major theological ideas in an hour? Seriously? I could talk for a semester on just one of these three topics and just scratch the surface. Yes, I know that it is important for the new Catholic to understand these basic principles, but wow, that’s a serious challenge.

So in my plan to weave all of these ideas together in to one cohesive whole, I shot the mark so high, that at the end of it everyone was looking at me dumbfounded. It took 30 minutes of question and answer just to fix all the misconceptions that I had sprouted. I certainly don’t desire to make anyone feel stupid, and to do so makes me feel stupid. (don’t worry, it wasn’t as bad as all that, and they walked away with a decent understanding)

So I was speaking with a men’s group, and I had the opposite problem. Here were a bunch of full grown men, lifelong Catholics, all in ministry, and I was talking about ministry.

What truly valuable thing can I say to my elders, men far more experienced in the very thing I am talking about? How am I supposed to really share the love of the Christian life when I would be better as a student to those I am talking to? Arrgh. Double Arrgh.

Of course in both cases, everyone was kind, and said I was great and all other necessarily common niceties, but I am frustrated.

Every time I have to speak publicly, I try to remember:

“When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” Matthew 10:19-20

Lord, I hope you said something someone really needed to hear amid all that nonsense coming out of my mouth.
Maybe I should start speaking in tongues.

Convalescent Home Adventures

Every Monday I have the pleasure of visiting Joan. Now let me start by saying I have spoken with Joan’s daughter at length, and she is very glad that I come to visit Joan once a week to bring her Communion. Not to say that Joan isn’t glad, quite the opposite. She is ecstatic to see me every week. The only trouble is one of identity.

Yes, Joan has full fledged dementia. So every week, I am someone else. And most weeks, I am several people in the same conversation.
One week I was there, they were having a social event. Every time they have a recreational opportunity for the residents, they give them some fake money, and this was their chance to spend it. While far less dangerous than Black Friday, this was still some very serious business. Haggling is a lost art form, we should all attend these events to brush up on our skills.
Joan however was not all that engaged, as she had fallen asleep in the hallway with her wad of cash. Joan was rolling in the dough, with a stack of bills that would have been the envy of all the other participants had they seen her, but in her quiet corner, she had been mostly forgotten.
“Good morning Joan!” is usually all I really ever get in, and this was no exception. It took me a good five minutes to realize I was her nephew today, as it didn’t really dawn on me until she was giving me money to help with my rent. I of course let her know how deeply I appreciated the help, took the cash, and when she wasn’t paying attention, slipped it back into her lap.
She went on to tell me about all sorts of things, no more than one sentence devoted to each topic, a bit about her new baby, some silly thing her husband did this morning, (he died here in one of the bathrooms, and she can often be found trying to get in there to talk to him in the middle of the night) about her aunt pulling her hair, all sorts of great, very short stories. Then she noticed the money in her lap, and proceeded to give me some money for rent, since I am having such a hard time.
This played out four or five times till I realized I needed to get to my other friends, and needed to get her Communion. So after praying with her, (while she tells me how to cook artichokes) I finally lift up the host.
It never fails. She stops talking immediately, and just stares, until she receives it on the tongue, as she always has, making the sign of the cross.
It is a golden moment of clarity for her, and you see it every single time. It is also a golden moment of clarity for me.
Ah, but it only lasts but a moment, and with the host still in her mouth, she begins again, offering me some money to help with the rent.
God bless Joan. 
Lord, I don’t really need my mind, as long as I always know who You are.
(of course her name isn’t really Joan)

The Sound of Music

Right now I am being blessed. If you walked into my house at this moment, you might not think it is so, but I assure you it is true. You see, my daughters are performing their mandatory half hour of musical jubilation. I am completely aware they do not feel jubilant about it, and to be honest, it’s not exactly, well, musical to my ears either. My piano playing daughter is playing at about twice the speed needed, over and over again, and my budding violinist doesn’t really have great pitch yet, and I cannot help but recall the sound of two cats fighting.

I will say this, they are oh so much better than last year, the bleeding in my ears has finally stopped.

It is a blessing. I think of all those who get to miss these real moments just because they are not altogether pleasant. They are my daughters, and though their music dulls my taste for any sound whatsoever, I am so thankful for hearing them.

I have two points, one about homeschooling from a father’s perspective, and one about music.

We live in a culture absolutely saturated with sound. Every advertisement, movie, ride in the car, ride in the elevator or walk in a department store is done with an accompanying soundtrack. Our children can’t hear us over their ipods, and we can’t even go for a jog without ours. So much noise. The worst part is, it is all of such good quality.

Good music is a bad thing you say? What do you mean by that Dance?

Well, good music is not a bad thing, but so much of it gives us a totally incorrect view of music in general. Let me put it this way, what do you think it takes to become a country, opera or rock star? You have to be good, really darn good. In fact you really have to be in the top .01% of mankind to be good enough to reach that kind of success. So all we ever listen to is the very cream of the crop whenever we listen to music. Guess what? Nothing you can do will ever match that. A hundred years ago you would go to the local dance hall, and hear good folks in your community play some music, and it was good, and you loved it. It was a treat to hear music at all. The fact that everything wasn’t perfect didn’t hurt your expectations in any way.

Now however, one of the main complaints I hear about at Mass is the choir is terrible. Actually, they usually aren’t, but your ear is way to dang good. If you were surrounded by the top .01% of speakers every day, you would never open your mouth because you would feel like a fool, like you weren’t good enough. I think the fact that someone is willing to sing and play at all in our modern age speaks volumes for their courage.

Next time you hear some good live music, just say thank you, that was wonderful, and I love your selections. Keep the bad opinions to yourself, chances are, they don’t deserve it.

Now for homeschooling.

I realize that homeschooling is not for everyone, and would never advocate that it is. For me though, the greatest blessing is not moral, but personal. I just love my kids so very much, that I can’t imagine a day without their lives flying around me like acrobats in a circus. They drive me crazy, they play badly, they sing at the top of their lungs the same line in a song over and over again, and they laugh like angels playing the harp. I treasure it all. I would hate to give even a moment of it up for a kings ransom. The fact that I only have had to pay for that honor by owning old beat up cars and living in a cheap small house seems like a great bargain.

Not to mention the fact that I get to show them how serious their faith is on a daily basis with daily Mass and prayer built into our life. That is worth more than a kings ransom, that, is what my soul was made for.

The Ramblings, Teachings and Archive of a Catholic High School Theology Teacher, and Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church.