“Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”

As a youth, Jesus went missing for three days, causing his parents to go out and search for him. Eventually, they find him in the temple, at the age of twelve, teaching.

His response to the concern is pretty much: Chill out, where’d you think I’d be?

Or

Based on everything I’ve shown you about what captivates me, why wouldn’t I be in the temple? This is where I feel at home. 

Despite his prowess, prophesy being fulfilled through his actions, and people saying he was the guy, there was still so much doubt as to his identity – even from his closest friends.

Later on in the Gospel of Luke, he reads from the scroll of Isaiah, sits down and all eyes are on him. He adds, “Today the scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

The people are described as being grateful, but then an important, and cutting (I suggest) question is asked:

Isn’t this the son of Joseph?

Can this be interpreted in a positive light? Sure. People could have been psyched because they knew Joseph and their response is – WHAT?? I KNOW HIM!

The way I read it, at least for this sake of argument, is that he was being cut down. Trying to remind him of his place in society.

Sometimes, no matter what we do, our past stays with us.

“A Zebra never changes its stripes!”

Often times I’ve heard this when it comes to interacting with someone who has proven to be unreliable or not trustworthy.

It’s sound advice and makes sense – but it can be problematic when applied as a blanket statement. Similar to when they criticized Jesus’ background – Can anything good come from Nazareth?

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I’ve heard this said about Baltimore and many other cities.

Maybe you’ve heard it said about where you’re from or about your family.

It’s unfair and demeaning.

In an article on Discernment by John Whitney S.J. he stresses that to effectively assess and make decisions – truthful, accurate, and non-biased experiences need to be shared.

When reflecting back on my own life – something I’ve been asking recently is,

“Did it really happen like that?”

“Is this level of frustration warranted?” 

This isn’t because I’m a liar, but it’s because at my worst I forget my humility.

I forget where I came from.

And the further I get from humility, the closer I get to despair.

Despair distorts my vision of the truth.

If the people in the temple took a moment to pause, look at the promise Jesus had shown and not measured his worth simply on his family or position in society, they would have been able to see the gift right in front of them.

When I’m able to get to the truth of the matter, unedited, proper actions can be taken.

However, this doesn’t erase the past! The issues I’ve faced or rights I’ve attempted to wrong still might leave their marks (or stripes!) but with this, I need to follow the advice of Fr. Gregory Boyle in his book Barking to the Choir:

Humility returns the center of gravity to the center. It addresses the ego clinging, which supplies oxygen to our suffering. It calls for a light grasp. For the opposite of clinging is not letting go but cherishing. This is the goal of the practice of humility. That having a “light grasp” on life prepares the way for cherishing what is right in front of us.

We can’t edit the past or go back.

Reflection is the closest we’ll ever get to a time machine.

It invites us to look back, with humility, and see things as they are.

Some of the best surprises come when we’re honest, give people a chance, and approach situations with open arms.

So you’re telling me that carpenter’s son is my savior? 

Yeah, why not?

A picture says a thousand words, but what happens after it’s taken?

The past 48 hours have been filled with memories.

Many have been documented.

I have no shame in admitting that much of my life lives on social media. I post almost every week about this blog and sometimes as many as two or three other times throughout the week. I’ve already written and admitted to curating things or, at the very least, not posting the disappointments or depressing events that have occurred.

What I’m writing about this time is what I noticed after taking the pictures.

In Rome this summer, at the Trevi fountain, I saw a couple take at least eight different posed pictures. Not eight of the same, like a photo burst, but eight separate one with slightly different facial expressions or body positions. I remember saying something criticizing them. They would smile joyfully, take a picture, then the expression would disappear in a flash.

Often the times I am most judgemental seem to manifest in my own life experience. This weekend I was definitely guilty of the Trevi fountain couple behavior, but luckily I mentioned it to Anita, and amidst all the pictures we made sure to remember the reason the pictures were being taken – so we can reminisce, smile and laugh.

What’s the moral here?

I need to pay attention to what and who is in the picture and what happens after the moment is captured. Without attention and intentionality, all my photos are Ghost Towns – there, but vacant. Empty frames.

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When I asked Anita what she thought about this, her response focused on how back when we had to wait to develop pictures, all we had was the moment. So we’d take the picture, savor the moment and then wait in anticipation for a reminder of the memory to be developed.

I’m not saying I won’t be reviewing the pictures I take, but in the moment I’m going to take some time and think about why I want to capture that memory.

Sign Here

“It’s a sign.”

I’ve said and heard this a lot when a coincidence is just too good to be true.

Recently I’ve been praying and asking for a lot of guidance from God and those around me. I’m coming off of a long period without running and this has been a period of my life when I’ve really needed it. I felt burned out and then when I attempted to get back to exercise after a week off, I got sick and had to take even more time off.

Two weeks without something that has anchored me and provided with an opportunity for community and joy.

Now, in the grand scheme of things – it’s not a big deal, at all. I’m grateful to be able to run, even a day. This post isn’t about me missing training, it’s about how I dealt with it.

When I wasn’t running, I had a lot more time for other things and unfortunately, I spent a lot of my hours staring at a cell phone screen.

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if someone wants to make this look good and sell it online just make sure I get 5% of the profits (for coffee and ice cream)

Over the past couple weeks, instead of getting up, and getting ready to run, I’d get up and get on my phone.

At night, after reading or doing whatever else I needed to do, I’d be feeling a little down and then reach my phone and scroll social media.

When I put down my phone after doing this, I almost never feel better.

Now, I’m not talking about joking with friends or calling my loved ones. I’m talking just scrolling.

Today I was able to go running for the first time in a while. I took some time to think about my current state. There’s a lot of good stuff going on, but I’m still looking for guidance and direction.

When I sat down to write this, I reflected on how much I’ve been on my phone and how nice it was to run – to temporarily detox and be without it to do some real thinking.

Part of my problem is that while I’ve been looking for signs and guidance, my eyes have been fixed on a screen.

On my deathbed, I doubt I’ll say, “I wish I spent more time on my phone.”

Recently I was in New York for work and ate dinner on Arthur Avenue which is down the road from Fordham. Walking back to the car, I trailed behind the group and looked up at the different street signs (I’ve always been a fan of street signs, not sure why) and I took a picture of this one:

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I am struck by this picture for many reasons. First of all, my father and many good friends went to Fordham and I know they were all big fans of Arthur Ave. Also, this street sign also celebrates the life of an NYPD officer who passed away in 2017. According to an article in the Bronx Times,

DiGiovanna joined the force in 1993. Eight years later, he would be one of hundreds racing toward the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, fighting a fever that initially kept him home. “I begged him not to go,” said Joanna. “He said if anything ever happened to his partner or co-workers, he couldn’t live with himself.”

This sign is a reminder. Get out there and live.

So this week, checking my phone isn’t going to be the first and last part of my day.

I’m going to let myself be bored – if waiting in line or if I have a long walk to get somewhere, keep the phone in the pocket and enjoy the stroll. I know this time will help provide clarity.

Officer DiGiovanna has a street named after him because of the life he lived. His neighborhood loved him and wanted to honor him. In an area where most people spoke Italian, he knew their language and took time to get to know who they were. The direction he followed led him to help others and serve his community.

The signs are all around me. They are here. In people, books, prayer, nature – they’re everywhere.

They might not all be too good to be true but they’re there, waiting for me to look up and follow.

In awe of Medusa

“What is wrong with some people?”

I hear that question often. It’s one I’ve also asked.

If it goes unchecked, it’s a problem.

In all my writing I’ve been committed to using “I” or at least “We” statements. Partially because I don’t want you to think I’m lecturing you and also because it’s the only way to spark legitimate change.

Sure, sometimes the issue at hand is not of our doing, however, for me, I like to make sure I’m not part of the problem before proceeding.

I can only reflect on my experience. I’m not pretending to be an expert on Sociology or Anthropology.

With all that being said, I pay attention to what is going on in the world and in my world.

Currently I’ve been reflecting on my treatment of women.

Despite the loving and honest communication with my parents and educational opportunities in my schooling, for a large portion of my life, I didn’t understand the complexity of my relationship with the opposite sex.

I was raised to respect women, did and still do, however, looking at women as objects was something I didn’t totally confront until I stopped drinking.

AA set the challenge, “Make a searching and fearless written moral inventory of yourself.”

Looking back on my life, it has been important for me to come to terms with my failings and their impact.

Sober or not.

As I’ve stated in previous posts, one of the gifts of sobriety is being able to look back over my day and know that even if I tried, I can’t escape responsibility. Nothing to blame but myself.

On this topic, I keep coming back to power and opportunity.

I know that being a white man in this world has afforded me advantages – power and opportunity – that I can’t fully comprehend.

How can I quantify continually getting the benefit of the doubt in various situations?

Acknowledging this undeserved place of power and presence of opportunity, I also know that in order for this to exist, it means many do not receive this same priority.

All these thoughts danced around inside my head as I gazed at Medusa.

Medusa by Mark Bradford

Growing up I only heard (or paid attention to) one narrative about Medusa. Her gaze turned people to stone and Perseus beheaded her and used this gaze as a weapon.

In his installation, currently at the BMA, Mark Bradford repurposes materials such as paper, paint and rope to send a message that redefines the Medusa narrative.

He invites us to focus on the life before her gaze was weaponized.

He challenges us to expand our minds when comprehending women and their experience. Particularly in this installation he focuses on African American women and their resilience.

For me, reexamining the Medusa narrative allowed me the space to reflect on my intentional and unintentional contributions to perpetuating a message of degradation.

A few weeks ago, I was in an elevator and a woman in hospital scrubs was in the back corner. Recently I’ve been trying to avoid just being on my cell phone during situations like this, so I decided to start some small talk.

After going back and forth about how we were doing, I asked,

“Are you a nurse?”

Graciously, she responded,

“Doctor, actually.”

Embarrassed, I apologized and it was time to leave.

She went on her way, I went on mine.

Did I turn her to stone? Maybe not fully, but damage was done.

If she was man, would I have led with, “Are you a doctor?”

Probably.

Why do I share this story?

Because Medusa was considered positive and beautiful before being cursed.

Power and opportunity – taken away from her.

This is not the only time I’ve perpetuated the perceived hierarchy.

Minor or major, my actions contribute to hearts being turned to stone.

I need to always remember that no person needs to do or change or be anything in order to earn dignity.

It is the purpose and the joy of my life to ensure and protect this dignity.

As stated in The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz,

All of humanity is searching for truth, justice, and beauty. We are on an eternal search for the truth because we only believe in the lies we have stored in our mind. We are searching for justice because in the belief system we have, there is no justice. We search for beauty because it doesn’t matter how beautiful a person is, we don’t believe that person has beauty. We keep searching and searching, when everything is already within us. There is no truth to find.

So what’s the takeaway?

It’s not about looking away.

It’s about looking back and looking inside, learning and listening.

When it comes to the gaze of Medusa, my focus is on awe, not avoidance.

Washed away

I build my sand castles way too close to the water.

Last year on a service trip to Jamaica we had a day off to go to the beach and I did exactly that.

No bucket. No shovel. Just elbow grease and way too much time in the sun without re-applying sunscreen.

I constructed two towers, four walls, a big door, and a moat.

After an hour or so of work, ten minutes later it was gone.

The moat was overrun and I was left with only the memory of what once was. Now, when I say it was close to the water, I mean it was dangerously close.

It’s almost as if building it away from the water, although much more sustainable, would be too safe.

I live my life the same way.

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If you know me well, chances are you’ve seen me cry. Or at least get a little misty.

Why do my eyes sweat easily? Not sure. Embarrassing? 100% But I like to think it’s how God communicates with me.

Years ago when reading about St. Ignatius of Loyola I learned he was often moved to tears at the times he felt closest to God. When I was in Spain and Italy this summer visiting places that were significant to his development, at times, I was full-on waterworks. Thinking about what he experienced and how important his spirituality has been to my life caused me to be overwhelmed, not with sadness but tears of joy. The type of crying that happens when a good friend hugs you in a time of need.

A feeling of relief or refuge from the storm.

Some might hear this and think, “That’s not God, that’s just being overly emotional.”

They wouldn’t be wrong.

We’re all entitled to our own opinions and we all choose how we want to navigate life. Some are better at keeping themselves together and prefer to be emotional in private or in other ways.

Some of us like to build our sand castles far away from harm, with more stability, in places that allow space and time for detailing and picture-taking. This can lead to beautiful and important creations.

Maybe one day I will get to that point. For now, I’m going to stick with the thrill of the occasional wave flooding the moat and overrunning the northwest wall. Partly because I like the challenge, but also because I need a resilient spirit if I want to continue to grow.

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I’ve learned there’s no shame in growing and rebuilding.

One of the biggest traps I fall into is the belief that I can control the outcome of every situation. When planning for an event, my to-do lists have to-do lists. But, even with foresight and attention to detail, inevitably something goes awry. Because I’m often very close to situations and personally invest my attention – this can weigh heavily on me.

I’ll never forget being in my classroom during my first year of teaching, crying because a lesson I spent hours planning turned out to be a total miss.

Or when I fell to my knees when I realized I could no longer drink like my friends, which in my case, meant quitting altogether.

Looking back, even if I was upset at the time, I see them now as tears of joy.

Lessons learned.

New life embraced.

In the end, like my sand castles, life is temporary.

Happiness, stability, and comfort can be washed away at any point.

I’m not fazed. In vain or not, I’m still down by the water, building the bridge over the moat and thinking about adding a lookout tower in the southeast corner.

Show through

Although the internet disagrees on who said it first, we’ve all heard it before, 80% of life is showing up.

I’ve said it and meant it and it’s helped me.

I’ve applied it to my faith, sobriety, friendships, running, work, you name it.

Be there. Make the effort. Show up.

Now that I’m 33 and a little wiser, I’ve realized the percentage in this statement is skewed. Don’t get me wrong, showing up is cool, showing up is admirable, showing up is certainly more than physically being there – I get that. When most people say this, they mean show up and be present, be attentive. However, now I know to really make a difference in this world I need to show up and follow through.

People don’t care that I just show up.

(The following are not actual conversations but could have been)

Oh, you went to church Sunday? Nice man, so how are you putting that faith in action?

Cool, you showed up to my event. That’s really nice of you. You left after twenty minutes though…

Thanks for taking the time to meet. I appreciate you making it a priority. You haven’t really heard a word I’ve said though…

Plenty of people show up but aren’t really there. At my worst, this is me. An empty vessel.

This isn’t enough.

What’s the next step?

A revolution of attentive action.

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We’re all broken, some more than others.

Some brokenness stays hidden, some is on display for all to see.

When we show up we bring everything with us. Often times this brokenness keeps us from following through.

Insecurity, self-doubt, thin-skin – they are stumbling blocks I must be aware of at all times. They are real. They are rooted in legitimate pain, an emotional brokenness that occasionally comes back to haunt me.

The past ten years of my life have been marked with the peaks and valleys. I never thought I could hurt as bad as I have, and I never thought I could be as happy as I am.

So what.

I’m not the only one. 

If I want to make a difference, people need me to show up and follow through.

Following through helps break my cycle of doubt.

Following through helps heal wounds.

Following through shows the people around me they are important.

More than just being there, checking a box and filling a seat.

I teared up in mass tonight when I heard the reading from Isaiah:

The Lord God helps me;
    therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
    and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
      he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
    Let us stand up together.

Whether you believe in God or not, the message is clear:

Have the confidence to accept help.

The pain of the past doesn’t win.

Show up, be strong.

Take action and bring someone else along.

Let the truth show through. 

“Gonna be like this all week.”

Sometimes I can be a downer without even knowing it.

Twenty miles in the rain yesterday morning left me tired and pessimistic.

I didn’t feel great during the run, and I had much higher hopes for what it was going to be like. Even some new BOA shorts (comfortable running shorts with fun designs) and a positive attitude weren’t enough. I finished, grateful but bothered by my underwhelming effort. Then I went to get a bagel.

While waiting for my breakfast, number 363 (I was 364) turned to me and said,

Rough one out there huh?

I responded, with a depressed,

Gonna be like this all week. 

His number was called, which brought an end to our interaction, but I could tell I made an impact. After he left, I realized he wasn’t being negative when he addressed me, he probably just saw how I was cold, soaked, with legs caked in mud and was making conversation. However, I responded with undeniable, unnecessary negativity.

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In the book, Think Small by Owain Service and Rory Gallagher, they discuss strategies for reaching goals. One of their main points of emphasis is, Break your goal down into manageable steps. Not a revolutionary concept at first glance, but it goes on to highlight how the process of ‘chunking’ can make seemingly unattainable goals, rational and reachable.

What does this have to do with my bagel store dialogue? Everything*.

*pun intended

Probably all #363 was doing by commenting on the weather was making small talk and passing time. Unfortunately, I took it as an opportunity to sprinkle a little negativity on what was really not a big deal.

So what, it’s raining one day. But now I come around and add that it’s gonna be like this all week, and all the sudden the issue becomes something more.

This might not seem important but who knows? Maybe he was in a pretty decent mood, got in his car with his bagels and coffee and started thinking about how crappy the weather was going to be all week. What a downer. I should have said something like, yeah but this chocolate milk certainly helps.

We all have these opportunities, small instances where we let our current emotional state seep into our interactions and we are tempted to make problems or situations more than they are – or we don’t, and we find a way to put things in perspective.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post – at times, the task of staying sober for the rest of my life seems daunting. However, focusing on the next 24 hours is much more manageable. It’s also something that can be celebrated daily (like paying attention to the chocolate milk).

It’s a big goal, but when broken down, it seems attainable.

So what’s the lesson?

For me – one conversation, one interaction, one day at a time.

Spread the positivity or try to say nothing at all.

Yeah, it’s raining today, gonna be like this all week, but there’s no need to dwell on that or even remind me or others of that reality.

Worry about tomorrow’s rain tomorrow.

Today’s rain is enough.