Monday, November 13, 2017

Roger went missing again for the third time in as many months. He’s unpredictable, like watching a friendly ghost fade in and out of sight with little difference between “present” and “absent”. Yet over the years his coming and going has been woven into our lives. Even in between appearances he is one of us.

Jesus told stories about lost sheep, lost coins and stumbling upon hidden treasure. For him it was never about “who messed up?” or “what went wrong?” but always about “who is missing?” Without the missing ones “we” can never be whole.

Roger went missing again and we went looking.  Thankfully, he found us when we passed one of his usual haunts. He said, “where you been?” It’s frustrating but we went looking because being mindful of the “missing ones” is how we find ourselves. It’s the way God comes looking for us.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

“Don’t be afraid”. It was a provocative thing for Jesus to say since the political and economic order of his time was established and maintained by violence. But he knew the world can work in more than one way. He not only believed it and taught it but also lived an alternative way.

I am afraid. I live in society that is addicted to violence. We trust in the power of violence. I see it expressed everywhere in our conduct, speech and thinking. We are even entertained by it. However, I know it’s absurd to condemn the violence of others if I cling to it myself.

“Don’t be afraid”. The world can work in more than one way. We don’t have to passively accept violence as the “way of the world”. We do have to be willing to live an alternative way.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

It took Jeanne McNulty many years to understand her vocation. It was confusing and frustrating at times. She began with great enthusiasm, completing formation training in a Franciscan convent. But as the day for her first profession of vows approached she knew that something wasn’t right. She remained faithful to the call of God and soon left the convent.
Jeanne would later serve with a community of Franciscan Friars, Nuns and laypeople, living and working among the poor in the inner city of Chicago. That was closer to her vision of “being poor among the poor” but she needed more time and space for solitude and prayer. To fully live into her vocation she would have to find a place to do both.
The journey ultimately led to the mountains of rural West Virginia where she founded a Franciscan hermitage. Jeanne devotes much of her time to prayer and solitude but also faithfully ministers to her neighbors, giving special attention to the poor. It’s a unique vocation and one that doesn’t readily fit into traditional categories. Perhaps Orville, one of her neighbors, described it best. He once told her, “Jeanne many folks around here do not know why you are living all alone down there on Colt Run [Road], but I do.” When she asked him “why?” he responded “You are down there for us”.
Voice for the Hollers chronicles Jeanne McNulty’s incredible journey. More information at Outskirts Press
For more information about the contemplative retreat ministry visit the Franciscan Appalachian Hermitage site

Saturday, February 28, 2015


Lent is a good time to think about change and consider new possibilities. It is also a good time to be changed. One possible starting point is a change in perspective.

When Jesus was in the wilderness (Matthew 4, Luke 4) he was confronted with some very enticing possibilities: popularity, prosperity and power (and all the privileges these afford). The path of humility and suffering was open to him as well. What was ultimately in question was how the work of God’s kingdom would be done, from the “top down” (through power and privilege) or from the “bottom up” (the way of humility). Jesus chose to work from the “bottom up”. God always comes to us from that direction.

I could certainly use a change in perspective but it’s not a simple thing to achieve. I can’t get there if I begin with “what-I-think-the-world-might-look-like-from-the-bottom”. My participation in systems of power and privilege colors how I see and what I see. I can only begin to learn what others have always known by sharing life with people who bring God to us from the “bottom-up”.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Simple Words, Earnest Ashes

They said the case worker was a jerk. I wanted to tell them that he anticipates being lied to (and about). Folks usually say “whatever-they-think-he-wants-hear-to-get-what-they-want”. You wrap yourself in a crusty, cynical veneer to avoid something worse. These two strangers before me are not yet wounded enough to know that.

“You are dust and to dust you shall return”. Simple words profound enough to cut through the veneer. They’re a reminder that too much time is spent chasing “wants” or defending against what others might want. I am also reminded by the mark of earnest ashes on my forehead. It speaks truth and nudges toward what’s real.

With enough time and honesty the words and ashes leave an inner mark. The kind of mark that carries you out late at night to help two young strangers who might be less than honest. It reminds that we will soon be no more and these two clueless kids will then be beyond our reach and we beyond theirs.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Another Epiphany

Epiphany was different this year. It’s a feast day of the Church which (in some traditions) focuses on the visit by the Wise men to honor the Christ child in Bethlehem. In “Church-speak” that translates into “the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ”. But it was different this year.

-          Ira needed a ride and a friend. Who is giving and who is in need of receiving sometimes gets confused. We split the difference and met some place near the middle.

-          Robby, who is frequently lost to us and the world went missing for a week. We went looking. Jimmy found him hiding in plain sight. We were happy and healed a little by that.

-          A call came in about Marty who was drunk-as-a-bicycle again and too stubbornly broken to accept anything other than “what-I-want”.  We were bruised a little by that.

-          Neil has little or nothing but healed us with his laughter and smiles. Ashley is on the fence. She wants to leave this wilderness for another one where the friends are less hit-and-run.

-          There was a late evening call from a dear soul fighting desperately for life and family. She called to say “thanks”.

Like those Wise guys from long ago we were compelled to go out by something inside us that cannot be understood or explained, only obeyed. It carried us along and we wandered into places and with people foreign to us and for a while became alien among our own. We were blessed.

Epiphany was different this year. We didn’t observe the feast as much as we were seized by it. It wasn’t a past revelation celebrated as much as God-present in flesh and blood.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Border Crossing

This year l tried to approach the season of Advent and Christmas as a “thin place”, a space where the border between heaven and earth is blurred. I’m not sure the experiment was a success but at least it helped me get through the prescribed “watching a waiting”. I am not a patient person.

Unfortunately the border crossing did not go according to plan (should have seen that coming). God did not show up on time or at the pre-arranged (and conveniently located) check point with required Tourist Visa in hand. The crossing was clandestine, occurring somewhere along the remote frontier. A few stragglers (what where they doing out there?) allegedly stumbled upon the scene. They acted as if they had deliberately been included in the event.

It makes no sense.  There was no limo or stretch SUV. No arrangements were made for military escort or photo ops with political dignitaries. State authorities and local vigilante patrols went on full alert due to unconfirmed reports that God was smuggled across the border by a poor immigrant couple (disguised as an infant!). The religious establishment was outraged by the total disregard for established protocol and blatant violations of liturgical tradition.

In the future, if I get the urge to “watch and wait” for God along the border I will go with radically different expectations.