Great-Grandma in Her Stockinged Feet Talking to the Moon

I’m starting to hear stories from my father that he’s never shared with me before. Last night we talked on the phone for a long time. I had been worried about him because my mother’s been fairly sick lately and I know that gets him down.

He always has a story for me. And last night was no different.

He began; “I remember when I was home (Waterford, Ireland will always be “home” for him) and I was up at about 9 in the evening and I looked out the window and there was my grandmother outside in the frost with just her stockings on looking up at the moon for herself. I went out to my uncle (My father was orphaned at a young age, he remembers his mother but has no memory of a father) and asked him why grandma was out in the frosty night in just stockinged feet?

He told me I was crazy, “Grandma went to bed at 8PM and has been sleeping ever since.”

“I figured I must have been dreaming and so I went back to bed.” he said.

He continued: “The next morning I awoke and I went and made the tea and toast by the fire which I would bring to grandma every morning. We made toast by the fire then, no toasters at that time, y’know.”

“When I got to the room she was indeed sleeping and I called to her to wake her up but she kept right on. She never woke up. I ran to Mary (his older sister) and my uncle. Come quick! She’s gone! She’s gone!”

Hearing this story, made me think that my Father was a young man maybe in his late teens. So I asked him, “Dad how old were you when this happened.”

“Oh I guess I was about 7 years old.” he said flatly.

My dad is now 84. I’m amazed he can remember the scene with such vitality but then again, finding your grandmother dead in the morning at 7 after seeing a vision of her in the night air isn’t exactly the kind of thing you’d forget.

With the Irish, all of our stories are true and some of them actually happened. However, this is a story that I know is true and indeed it actually happened. It’s now one of the only memories I have of my great-grandmother and I have no personal experience of my grandparents on either side. So I see all this history through the eyes of my parents. My father had to hear stories of his parents from this woman who he found in the “thin place” that night as we Irish say, in the place between death and life, standing up looking at the moon on a cold Irish evening.

I’m often not one for these kinds of stories. But today I am. And I know that when I look to the moon tonight, I may just do so in stockinged feet and remember the woman who raised my father for just a short time, who helped him get over the death of his parents before she died herself. One of his only female role models and who gave my father the spirit of being a man for others, as he has been for me for more than 42 years and for my mother for more than 62 years of marriage.

The moon and my great-grandma will now be forever linked in my mind. We are truly all connected by God to one another. And perhaps when I look and find the moon in the sky I can pray a prayer to God for a woman I have never met, but who moves me to gratitude this day and who probably has prayed for me for decades.

Maybe we’ll even get to sing in the moonlight together.

Pop Culture and Religion = Trying Too Hard

Over on Facebook, my colleague Tony Rossi over at the Christophers blogged a piece about how Greg Plageman a longtime TV writer got into the business because he noticed his then-students were more influenced by “Saved by the Bell” then by him as their teacher.

My first thought was …Saved by the Bell?? You’ve got to be joking. I don’t know what age the students were that he was talking about but I’m hoping it’s middle school. Regardless, pop culture certainly has some influence but often when Christianity tries to make something in the pop culture realm, it tries way too hard.

I won’t out the group that was singing but at a conference I attended there was a music group from a university who put on what I called “a Sister Act” type of show. It tried way too hard to be “cool” and ended up being a bit nerdy. The students weren’t bad singers, it was just overdone. You could tell that they were trying too hard to be relevant but it smacked of the disingenuous. When asked if we had any questions for the performers I had to stop myself because I wanted to ask:

“How often do you guys get beat up?”

Christians just try too hard sometimes.

Tony makes the point that Christians should have more of an influence in pop culture and he’s probably right–but not if their work isn’t up to snuff. I’ve seen too many syrupy-sweet movies that smack someone in the head with their overdone theme that I can’t possibly take them seriously.

Even the movie, Bella, a good movie about pro-life themes falls short of the standard. It’s better than most, but another movie about pro-life stole the show. It’s name: Juno.

People even started to say that that movie, created by fairly secular producers has a greater effect on teens and others considering abortion than Bella did. They often referred to “The Juno Effect” when discussing the film’s influence–some said it glamorized teen pregnancy and others said that it was a strong pro-life message. Even the USCCB included both Bella and Juno in a tie for their 2nd best movie of 2007.

What did most others say about Bella? Next to nothing. I did an informal poll today on my secular campus of 20 students. Not one student knew about the movie Bella, but they all knew about Juno.

Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen’s movie, The Way, seemed to strike the right chord. I think that’s a must see.

Even the Passion of the Christ, while a huge hit, needed a controversy to get an audience.

The truth is that faith is often subtle and when it is, it often has a greater effect. Nobody makes another person believe in anything. We can influence them certainly, but that takes great care, patience and love.

It also takes trust and conversation. A former student of mine said that he first met me on an alternative break when he sat next to me on the bus headed for New York City. He didn’t know what to talk with me about but he knew my past as a sports radio person and he began a conversation with me about that. In coming to see me as a “normal” person (for lack of a better term), he grew to trust me. I know I had several profound experiences on other trips with some others in similar ways. One even stayed up talking to me deep into the night about some serious matters.

But it all started rather subtly. God whispers through us much more readily than a scream or a shout or an obvious hammer blow. Movies and TV programs should do the same most of the time.

But that’s just my opinion! Inspiration strikes us all at different places on the journey. Where in the modern media has inspiration struck you?

A Melley Morning

One of the joys of being in Campus Ministry is getting to know a bunch of new colleagues at various conferences around the country. When I attended the Frank J. Lewis Symposium for first time campus ministers, I met a musician and campus minister named Paul Melley and we hit it off instantly. I played a good straight man to his often comical self.

While doing a workshop once on forming musicians on campus (something that is not my gift–so I jumped at the chance to learn) Paul was faced with a rather, er…disruptive participant. And it wasn’t even ME! God love her, the woman was complaining about a situation in her ministry–the problem was that she couldn’t stop talking about it.

As someone who does a lot of these presentations, as Crusty the Clown would say “Ugh, talking with the audience is often death!”

He looked to me to try to get the group back on track, hoping I catch his unvoiced plea for help–and so, I asked a legitimate question–actually hoping for an answer. And instead this woman jumped back in with her story–holding the entire workshop hostage.

Eventually it subsided. Afterwards we headed for the social hour and Paul pulled me aside. He asked, “What else could I have done there other than to say SHUTUP! SHUTUP! SHUT UUUUUUUUUP!”

Ya had to be there—but I’m still laughing. I think I said something along the lines of “No, THAT is what I probably would have done myself!”

Regardless, I’ve spent the morning listening to Paul’s new album, God is Love, which is much kinder and gentler than our reaction to this woman. In fact it’s fantastic. I’ve found it to be a particularly sacramental album–with a bunch of songs that can be used in various sacramental settings.

I’ve been looking for a song for our marriage ministry folks to engage with and this one is clearly it. It’s my favorite from the latest album. It’s mellow and sensitive and yet challenging and Paul’s voice is soothing and calming, bringing us into both the challenge of married life and the joy of Christ’s love for us. Check it out:

I also really liked the entire album including the title cut, God is Love which has a nice vibrant rhythm to it. And a song that will be played whenever the gospel reading includes Christ’s greatest commandments that’s awesome is “Who is Your Neighbor?”

I’ve even found a song for my spiritual directees–The Other Side of Prayer is an incredibly haunting song that calls to the person struggling with prayer and hearing God’s voice in their life. Spiritual directees, you’ll probably hear this at least once as a meditation in our sessions.

I could listen all day–and the good news is that I can. And you can too. Check his album out and then go buy on iTunes by clicking here

As Buffalo Celebrates St. Patrick’s…

Today is the Buffalo St. Patrick’s Day parade. The Irish have always had it rough and so, we look to another greenie to provide us a bit of sympathy.

And while we’re at it….

And more seriously…

Happy St. Patrick’s Weekend to all those of Irish descent, especially my father, Michael Sr who is from Waterford, Ireland.

My 10 Best Hymns

Deacon Greg who led me to the First Things Article on the 10 Worst Hymns (in their view, some of which, I like a lot actually) decided to write a post today on his 10 Best Hymns–taking a more positive approach.

So I’ll chime in and ask you to do it as well.

1) In the Breaking of the Bread – by Michael Ward – which became a signature song of the St Paul Singers when the marvelous Anne Holland was the director there. I even had it as the communion hymn at my wedding. Check it out:

2) Sweet, Sweet Spirit – a classic by Doris Akers. Check it out.

3) Be God’s – by Dannielle Rose
Notre Dame grad, Rose, wrote this rousing hymn that has that call and response style that I dig.

4) Lamb of God – Matt Maher. One of my favorite versions of this mass part. The Latin works here for me.

5) Cry the Gospel – Tom Booth
A bit more performance based but I like it.

6) So We Will Worship – by Sarah Hart
I just love her voice and this one touches me deeply. I can’t find it but it’s on itunes.

7) Watch and Pray (taize)- Great for a Holy Thursday Eucharistic Procession. Haunting. Meditative.

8) I Have Been Anointed – Steve Warner and Karen Schneider-Kirne
Notre Dame’s Folk Choir does a nice version of this in an Irish Castle. I love the simplicity of this song:

9) At the Cross – Hillsong
OK so this is a bit over the top.

10) Let There Be Light – Paul Melley
Check this out on ilike

These are samples of mine. There’s a lot more and some more traditonal and some more modern. My parish choir is awesome and I’ll see if I can get some samples from them soon.

What are some of your favorites and why?