Two Books for the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena


Nearly a decade ago, I wanted to pick a saint for myself whose life I could study and be inspired by. I ended up (accidentally) choosing Catherine of Siena, the 14th-century mystic, theologian, political activist, and (I’d say) preacher of the faith. She was the perfect choice, and today is the day set aside to meditate on her life and works.

Of all the saints I know, I resonate with Catherine’s energy the most. I really connect with the theology of some (Origen, most the Gregories, Augustine), the social and practical emphasis of others (Francis, Clare, Ignatius, Theresa of Calcutta), and the mysticism of still others (Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Julian). But only Catherine embodies for me all of these dimensions and the brashness and angst I carry with me regularly.

Catherine says and does some weird things. She overstates, goes too far, and is counter-productive in a lot of what she does. But she comes by it honestly and is clearly doing the best she can with what she knows and believes. She sharply argued with and called out Popes, rejected the leadership of church hierarchy, and followed her theology to its end, even when many called her a heretic (she has since been canonized as a theological Doctor of the Church).

And yet, with the world and people around her, and in her spirituality, she is so tender, sensitive, and romantic. There is a passion and ecstasy to her spirituality that can seem weird from the outside but so beautiful and inviting from within.

I resonate with all this. Bucking against authority to unhelpful (and often wrong) degrees, feeling misunderstood and unseen even while trying my best, phrasing things in ways that make sense to me while others stare at me in confusion, the tenderness and desire to sit with people in their pain, and the deep desire for ecstatic union and communion with God. These are all my vibe, and Catherine’s.

A decade on, I still wear my Catherine pendant daily, in order to carry her with me and keep her close. If you are interested in knowing more about Catherine’s life and spirituality, here were two of the books that helped me get to know and be inspired by her. Continue reading

Cultural Vignettes at the End of a Life


I’m still going through some of the materials from a recent course I took on death and dying, and reflecting on the lessons I learned, especially as I engaged much of this course around my deepest experience with death–the passing of my grandfather in 2010.

I previously spoke about how this shaped me personally and vocationally, and how I often felt I was on the outside looking in, taking in the scene at my grandparent’s house almost as an observer. No doubt this retreat into my mind was protective, for better and worse.

But one thing this granted me was the chance to look at this from a bird’s eye view and observe some of the subtle cultural dynamics here, ancient and modern, and their collision with human tendencies around death and grief.

Death–awaiting it, grieving it, and even approaching it ourselves–is wrapped up in a myriad of cultural forces that shape our inner and outer lives. One could even argue that most (perhaps all) of our cultural rhythms are a response to mortality: a denial of it, a distraction from it, outliving it, or an attempt at delaying it.

My grandfather passed passed away the day after Christmas, so our grief and vigil in that last week happened against the backdrop of the holiday (and my birthday, which was another odd dynamic). It was an unusual paradox, to say the least.

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Vigil & Vocation: My Grandfather’s Death & My Life


Two weekends ago was the birthday of my late grandfather, who died a decade ago. I just finished a social work class on end-of-life issues, and that class had me thinking a lot about him, the impact of his death, my own life and legacy, and how that has all changed and morphed over these past ten years.

So I’m going to spend a few posts reflecting on this. Today I wanted to share how the experience of his death shaped my life personally and professionally.

But first, a little about him. Due to a mispronunciation by the first grandchild, we called my grandfather “Peep”; and Peep and Mammaw’s house was where the entire family came for weekly dinners and holidays. He was the quintessential man of his age: the quiet, stoic, Texas man’s man. He was my mother’s father, the patriarch of the family, and exerted a great centrifugal force in the system. His death left a large hole which I don’t know we’ve recovered from, honestly.

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Race, Liturgy, & My Great Awokening


My wife will tell you I have a “both sides” problem. I reflexively think through hard things by trying to see them from all sides and treating them equally. But inevitably, while this makes me think I’m acting “enlightened” and “objective”, that’s largely an illusion–and quite often, it does more harm than good.

At least when I employ it, it gives me a false sense that I am hovering above the conflict and that I am not actual mired by my own bias, defensiveness, and not actually being affected by the conflict itself.

But too often, rather than nobly making space and elevating other perspectives and voices, it leads me to prioritize my own voice and simply invalidate that of others.

And that’s precisely what happened in 2012 after the death of Trayvon Martin.

After Martin’s death at the hands of George Zimmerman, I watched the struggle and lament from black America, and felt an odd disconnect. I felt like I could “see both sides” and “understand” why white America was confused why this particular moment was so galvanizing for blacks.

I wrote a blog post about my frustration that me, as a white man, did not feel like I was culturally “allowed” to speak to these issues. The post is bad. I’m still incredibly embarrassed and ashamed of it–but I’ve kept it online (with a note) to document change and repentance.

I had great friends that really laid into me about that post. They took me to task, were patient with me, fully articulated their thoughts, and demonstrated the implications of and ideas behind the things I was saying. It gave me a lot of pause and made me wonder what I was missing–because while I trusted them, I simply couldn’t see what they were seeing.

* * * *

Around that time I watched a special by the comedian Dane Cook at Madison Square Garden. His final joke of the night was about religion. To set it up, he began with “I was raised Catholic…” but was interrupted by cheers in the crowd.

He stops, takes note, and says, “Peace be with you!” and in return tens of thousands of people responded in unison with the ancient liturgical reply: “And also with you”.

Now, huge numbers of those people had probably abandoned their Catholicism long ago, and yet the repetitive week-in, week-out liturgy of their Catholic upbringings had embedded itself in their psyches so they knew how to reflexively respond in that moment to the words of the liturgy–even if they had left the Church decades prior. 

I don’t know how or why this happened, but it was in that moment that everything my friends had been telling me about race and privilege clicked for me.

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When Death and I have met


I’m currently in a class on caring for those at the End-of-Life. At the beginning of this course, we were given an assignment (which you can do yourself) to give us a baseline as to our feelings and experiences around death and dying, and begin cultivating an awareness of how we cope with it.

I thought I had a good sense of my relation to death in my life, but this really clarified and confronted me in some profound ways. I saw just how unacquainted I am with death, and struggled to recall times it had entered my life.

The first death I knew of was my great-grandmother, with whom I had an oddly strong connection. But I was 10 or 11 at the time and heard about it from my mom, I think, while we sat in the car in our driveway. I remember numbness and confusion, not really knowing how I was supposed to feel. I felt solace in how religious she was, and I felt a responsibility to carry on her “legacy”.

But still, we did not return from Virginia to Texas for her funeral. This meant that my first funeral for a little boy at my church who had drowned. I was maybe 14 at the time. I did not know him, nor his family, and had no connection with them other than we went to the same large church. I went more out of curiosity and was confused at how detached I felt.

My biggest acquaintance with death was that of my grandfather. It was the first dead body I saw, and I was present for the hospice care and process of dying and grief over the course of a couple of weeks or so. But I will have more to say about this death another time.

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Lent, Accompanied by Death


I am back in school. After having received my Masters of Divinity several years ago, I am now completing the other half of training for my desired career path: a Masters of Social Work.

I’ve been working in the social work field for over a decade and have known that I’ve wanted to move towards more clinical therapy-type work. All along, I have imagined this would be your run-of-the-mill outpatient counseling with adults dealing with addiction, marital issues, mental health concerns, etc. I have respected those that work in inpatient settings, with kids, with the elderly, and such–but I have not imagined that would be my route. And I still don’t.

However, here in my second semester, just as the Christian Church is in the season of Lent, I am taking a course on End-of-Life Care, and it’s shaping up to be one of those courses that will profoundly affect me in the long run.

I’m taking the class not only because my desire in clinical work is to try and bring some greater sense of wholeness, health, and dignity to the hardest parts of human existence, but because death is an aspect of human life I’ve not had a lot of experience with. I’ve had some family members, a few acquaintances, and plenty of clients die over the years; and I’ve walked with others in their grief over the loss of others. But still, I’ve had relatively little training and direct experience with it.

Also, while religious faith can provide a structure and a sense of resilience, coping, and meaning in the face of death–that’s certainly been true for me–it can also sometimes serve as a distraction from our mortality. It can be used to minimize death, prevent us from taking it seriously, or keep us from really grappling, internalizing, or accepting it.

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The Meaning of Marriage… Licenses.


A few weeks ago, my fiance Amanda and I got our wedding license. We’re getting married on October 18. Of all the surprises in that process, though, the biggest was me breaking down crying in the middle of this Chester County Courthouse office while signing papers. It took me a little bit to figure out why I was so emotional, and what was going on inside of me. But here it is. 

First and foremost, I love this woman. I’ve known this. But (especially if you know some of my story) it was so powerful and surreal to see another human being willingly and joyfully sign on the dotted line to actually spend their life with me.

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An Open Letter to Senator Pat Toomey, on the Occasion of the Impeachment Trial of President Donald Trump


Senator Toomey,

I proudly voted for you in your first two terms to the Senate. I know you have a justified and well-earned reputation for being fair-minded and keeping the interests of the country first, even above the interests of your party.

I am concerned, however, that your silence about the impeachment proceedings these past few weeks may indicate that you will simply vote along the party line on votes that would do incredible damage to the structural and institutional integrity of our Constitutional process of holding the Executive accountable for its actions.
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This Advent, Pray with the Mothers of Jesus


Yesterday marked the beginning of Advent 2019, a period of time which the Christian Church has historically set aside to meditate on Jesus’ coming into the world at Christmas. It’s usually a time of reflection, meditation, and preparation, leading up to the full-on celebration that is Christmas.

To help focus us in this time, people at my church designed a prayerbook built around the women named in the genealogies of Jesus in the gospels: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.

You can find downloadable and and web versions of the prayerbook here. Or, if a direct link is easier: PDF / EPUB / MOBI (Kindle) / Web.

Different people put together the daily prayer liturgies, reflections, art, poetry, and seasonal meditations, so there’s variety and depth for those that appreciate and connect with such things. Though it is a product of a particular church congregation, it is put together in such away that anyone, anywhere could engage with it and benefit from it. So download and share it widely and sit with it deeply. We all hope it will be a useful way to stop, reflect, and connect during this season.

“The Weather Presents its Caprice” [GUEST POEM]


I have a very dear, long-time friend who is open about being on the autism spectrum. This has given him the gift of seeing the world and its details in beautiful ways, allowing him to do what Emily Dickinson implores of us, to “tell all the truth but tell it slant.”

Below is a text message he sent me this morning that, with his permission, I’ve turned into a poetic form for you to enjoy. (When I asked him, his exact reply was “You go ahead, Paul!”) Continue reading