Archive for the Uncategorized Category

To Life and All Its Tragic Beauty

Posted in Uncategorized on December 13, 2016 by thecrossingchicago

o-eric-schmitt-matzen-570Last night, I read an article about Eric Schmitt-Matzen whose long white beard and large frame makes him a shoo-in for playing Santa.  Eric received a call from a nurse at the local hospital saying that a terminally ill five year-old boy was not doing well and had a last wish to see Santa.  So, he went to the hospital and granted the boy’s wish.  After a brief discussion about going to heaven, the boy died in his arms.  I couldn’t help but weep in hearing this story.


Having the boy die in his arms understandably made a wreck of Eric.  He had so many mixed emotions about holding this young child’s lifeless body in his arms that it wreaked havoc on him.  Even four years as an Army Ranger could not prepare him for this event.  I can certainly relate from holding the body of a three year-old in my arms after he drowned.


When I was working as a hospice chaplain, I would often kneel at the bedside of dying patients and hold their hands and pray with them.  Many times, the patient was not coherent because of the amounts of morphine they had to take to ease their pain and family would be gathered at the bedside keeping vigil.  I can recall one particular time especially when I was holding a patient’s hand and had my other hand on his chest as I gave him a blessing and said prayers with the family.  At some point I noticed that I wasn’t feeling the slow and belabored rise and fall of his chest and I opened one eye to look at him.  I noticed the rest of the family was looking at me and then back to the patient.


I was mortified.  I was sure this family would hate me for the rest of their lives and blame me for letting their dad, grandpa, husband die.  I was at a loss for words and trying to think of something to say quickly when his daughter said through silent tears: “That was beautiful.  I can’t think of a more peaceful way to go.  That’s exactly what he wanted.”  I let out a sigh of relief over the lump in my throat and quietly thanked God.  I would have six more similar experiences in my time in hospice and came not to see them as horrific experiences, but instead as things of beauty.


I hope that Eric can, and maybe he already has, come to see that young boy’s passing in his arms as the precious thing that it was.  Yes, it was terribly unfortunate that the little boy had to die so young and it was incredibly sad, but if he had to go, I’m sure he wouldn’t have wanted to go any other way.
Whether we have the heavy, yet great honor of shepherding someone through their transition from life to the arms of God, or observe any other event that could be seen as trying, it would serve us well to look for the beauty in it.  Life isn’t easy and neither is death, but there is always a mysterious element of grace that sits right within the border of tragedy and harmony –  if only we have eyes to see it.

Posted in Uncategorized on November 16, 2016 by thecrossingchicago

repdemI was recently reading an article in the Christian Century about Paul’s preaching methods and visit to Athens when he encountered an idol dedicated to an unknown god.  Paul was invited to go to the Areopagus and speak and had his hackles up about all of the idols he had seen when he decided to change his approach.  Instead of criticizing the Athenians for their idolatry, he commended them on being “religious people” and looked for the common thread that connected him and them.

The author of the article, Anna Carter Florence, had these astute words to say about this event and about ourselves when we are in a situation where we have assumptions and preconceived notions about those around us:

If Paul hadn’t been paying close attention, he would have sailed right past it; if he hadn’t been examining the idols with interest, he would have missed its significance. He would have gotten all caught up in the flashiness of machinery and technology, which are not, in the end, what display our humanity. If you want to know the pulse of a place, look at how it marks its own borders. Look for what it is yearning and searching for beyond those borders. Find its idols, and then find the one that is missing.

Don’t just take a second look; take a second look at the very things that make you want to look away. Take a second look at the idols: the ones that repulse you most, the ones you love to hate, the ones that go against everything you stand for. Examine them closely, because in them you will find the opening. In them you will find the entry point to dialogue and conversation about our common human ache. And just so you know: those idols, the ones you scrutinize so carefully, will actually put your own into sharp relief. Another culture’s statue to the unknown god will probably show you that you had one, too, all along.

In today’s America with a contentious political fog that is so thick that you could cut it with Trump’s barber’s scissors, it is easy to get caught up in what divides us.  We have mental “frames” that shape how we see and think of others.  Our language itself helps create the image that we have of them.  This advice by Florence is timely as it reminds us to look at our brothers and sisters whom we may not agree with in a new light.
As human beings, we all have common needs.  Although those on the other side of the aisle may present them in a way that seems repulsive, it is critical to consider the why of their reasoning.  One example is the belief that we are created in God’s image and every life has value.  For conservatives, this may manifest itself in policy against abortion and euthanasia.  For progressives, it may be apparent in positions that stand against the death penalty or those that provide teaching and training to reduce gang violence.  At the roots of our being, there lies a common thread.  However, depending on how and where we were raised (Athens, Topeka, Chicago), our stances may be in stark contrast even though the premise is the same.
It’s helpful to keep in mind that it’s not just them who invoke moral reason to justify policies that seem utterly senseless to us.  We do it, too.  Even with everyone looking at the same object, it can appear vastly different depending upon the vantage point.  So, perhaps we can find some common ground with those we are ideologically opposed to by looking at our own idols to find the common ache.  Because “those idols, the ones you scrutinize so carefully, will actually put your own into sharp relief.  Another culture’s statue to the unknown god will probably show you that you had one, too, all along.”  Well said, Anna.
Peace on the Journey,

Poetry is Worthless

Posted in Uncategorized on November 12, 2016 by thecrossingchicago

Poetry is worthless, I heard.

It supposedly does nothing for the world.

But it’s not without value, I agree.

Lest the sweet voice of a child or

The sound of a requiem played in the distance

Wafting through the trees to my expectant ear

Be deemed to be without reason.

A prayer whispered on the lips of a dying saint

Or a liturgy penned by a poet of old

For a people who could not find the words.

Worthless?  Perhaps.

Needed?  Absolutely.

– Brandyn Simmons

Pressing On

Posted in Uncategorized on November 12, 2016 by thecrossingchicago

Real estate tycoon Donald Trump flashes the thumbs-up as he arrives on stage for the start of the prime time Republican presidential debate on August 6, 2015 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN / AFP / MANDEL NGAN        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Well, whether we like it or hate it, are elated or mortified, it’s done.  It happened.  There are so many adjectives that I’m tempted to insert here, but I won’t.  I have decided that rather than being bitter, I am going to be hopeful.  Last night at the prayer vigil that our church hosted, I prayed that God would bring mindfulness and compassion to the hearts of all people, including our President.

I have heard talks of revolts, uprisings, and revolutions.  I obviously don’t agree with violence and know that such ideas could only lead to detrimental outcomes for all.  I do believe in revolution, however.  This is not to say that it should be done by force or coercion, but rather that there needs to be a change in the hearts of all Americans.  Instead of looking at one another as enemies, we should be seeing each other as brothers and sisters so that we might be capable of empathy.  Our divisive speech and comments such as “I’m tired of ‘them’ taking ‘my’ tax dollars” needs to stop.  This will lead to the manifestation of the kin-dom of God right here where we are.

Many have quoted the saying that the Chinese characters for “crisis” are “emergency” and “opportunity.”  The latter is how I choose to see the situation.  I don’t see a need to be in a panic and become irrational.  Instead, I see this election as an opportunity for a new way of doing life.  Presidents only have so much power.  The real change happens in the trenches with the common folk.  So, if we say we are for social justice, equality, and empowerment, then now is our time to shine.  We have our work cut out for us and there’s no time like the present to get busy.

Blessings on the Journey Ahead,


Cubs Fan

Posted in Uncategorized on November 3, 2016 by thecrossingchicago

img_0802It hardly seems fair.  There were people who lived 100 years and never saw it happen.  There were folks who were life-long fans and died days or hours before getting to see it to its completion.  And then there was me, a Sox fan, decked out in Cubs hat and shirt gathered with the real fans holding my breath as Bryant threw to first to get the final out of a roller coaster of a game and chase away the Goat’s shadow.

Am I a sellout?  A fair weather fan?  A supporter?  I would say I am the latter.  I heard so many Sox fans say that they couldn’t bring themselves to root for the Cubs.  I even saw some that were wearing Indians hats during the game.  I can’t quite understand it, but some people feel the need to hold on to ideas for dear life.

After seeing all the names written on the wall at Wrigley, I could tell that we were getting somewhere.  Names of moms, dads, husbands, wives who didn’t live long enough to see their dream come true.  The way a man wiped back tears after writing his young wife’s name on the bricks and explaining that he had lost her to cancer.  The thoughts that these departed were “angels in the outfield” who somehow helped the Cubs win.  All of it beautiful.

We all have strengths that we should be putting to use to heal the world.  These are gifts that nobody else has, nor can use in the same unique way that we can.  If used wisely, we could start a revolution of hope and change.  Instead, unfortunately, so many people are holding on to ideas that don’t suit them.  They are looking over their greatness to grasp a desire that doesn’t suit them – even if it’s at others’ expense.  This is akin to the fan who can’t just be happy for their brothers and sisters and root for their team when they are strong.

It’s time to get on the bandwagon and become a fan.  Be a fan of yourself and those around you.  What are those skills or talents that you have that you may not have used as much as you could have?  What is someone near you doing to improve him/herself that is resulting in good for others?  Let’s start cheering for the good in people and in ourselves while we focus on the positive!

So, some may call me a sellout.  But I’d like to think I’m a just a fan – a fan of Chicago, a fan of humanity.

Strike the Same Iron

Posted in Uncategorized on September 22, 2016 by thecrossingchicago

the-blacksmith-and-the-kingThere seems to be a lot of tedium in my life.  The same repetitious stuff that brings on ennui and an unsettling feeling that every day is Groundhog’s Day.  I can kind of imagine how Bill Murray must have felt.  I’m not trying to sound melodramatic or come across as though all is bleak and dreary, but there is definitely an ever-present feeling of “here we go again.”  Another way that was eloquently put by Stephen King in his book, Dreamcatchers, is SSDD: Same Shit, Different Day.

For some reason, rather than breaking that cycle and doing something different (because I felt like I didn’t have the energy or had some excuse not to act with intentionality), I continued to endure.  I just went through the steps and rode the waves of highs and  lows until the end of the day would come and it was finally time to sleep and take my opportunity to get off the roller coaster at least for a few hours.

There is something to be said about “waiting until things get better” and having patience.  There is also a danger of failing to act when the power is there to affect change.  Ultimately, nobody has the ability to change my life except for myself.  The (perceived) lack of inspiration to write, the uncanny loss of desire to read, the feeling of complete loss of creativity and motivation in general.  All of these things seemed to stem from being caught up in this endless cycle of repetition and routine.

I finally did force myself to read.  I grabbed Paulo Coelho’s Aleph and began to devour it.  Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down.  This reminded me of the age-old truth that nothing will ever get done without taking the first step.  All I had to do was force myself to pick up the book and open it.  All that was needed was to sit down to this computer and start writing.  No matter what feelings I had about the process or the endeavor, doing it, was the only thing required to get me back on track.

We can’t control our feelings.  We can’t change our emotions on a dime and “cheer up” as many tell us to do.  What we can do, however, is decide how we react to those feelings.  If past experience tells me that I have enjoyed and succeeded at something in the past, then I have to remember that and get to it despite what the emotions tell me.  This is all a part of learning from the routine, which I realized from reading Coelho, isn’t the same as repetition.

In this enlightening book, Aleph, the main character tells a story to teach that:

Routine has nothing to do with repetition. To become really good at anything, you have to practice and repeat, practice and repeat, until the technique becomes intuitive.  I learned this when I was a child, in a small own in Brazil’s interior where my family used to spend the summer holidays.  I was fascinated by the work of a blacksmith who lived nearby.  I would sit for what seemed like an eternity watching his hammer rise and fall on the red-hot steel, scattering sparks all around, like fireworks.  Once he said, “You probably think I’m doing the same thing over and over again, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, you’re wrong.  Each time I bring the hammer down, the intensity of the blow is different; sometimes it’s harder, sometimes it’s softer.  But I learned that only after I’d been repeating the same gesture for many years, until the moment when I didn’t have to think – I simply let my hand guide my work.”

There is a beautiful lesson in here about mastery of skills and practice.  But I also see an even more important lesson about mindfulness and awareness.  Although each strike of the hammer looks like the same thing done over and over again, each blow is unique.  And so is each day for me.  Although my days are filled with a lot of the same activities and characteristics, each day is unique.  I am in control of how mindful I am about noticing those different and special opportunities that each day affords me.  This is a great  lesson about breaking habits and cycles.  Ultimately, though, viewing each facet of the day with new awareness is just as important as escaping the cycle itself.  It takes just such an awakening to lead to new beginnings and first steps.

First Step Exercise

Posted in Uncategorized on September 21, 2016 by thecrossingchicago

Here is a spiritual centering exercise that I created for our last council meeting that I thought might be helpful:

Sit with your back straight, yet relaxed.  Be comfortable with your feet flat on the ground and your hands resting lightly on your lap.  Feel your head getting lighter on your shoulders as you take deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth.  As you become aware of thoughts coming into your mind, do not try to push them out.  Merely be aware that they are there and let them pass by.

As you continue breathing, be aware of that feeling in your heart that often goes ignored.  This is God tugging on your soul to bring your attention to your calling.  Open yourself to that calling, because it contains your True Self.

Picture your ideal self a year from now.  As you continue breathing, what does that you look like were you to accept your calling and be true to who you really are?

What’s prevented you from becoming that true version of yourself?  There have likely been barriers that may have served you well in the past, but have merely becoming a stumbling block to becoming your True Self.

How are you going to overcome these barriers?

What’s going to be your first step toward the new and true you?  Imagine a concrete and measurable action item that will set you on the right trajectory and get you one step closer to who you are called to be.

How will you keep yourself accountable to make sure it happens?  It is ok to seek accountability from others around you at times, but this can sometimes lead to codependency and a lack of ownership on your part.  Ultimately, it is you that you must be accountable to in this process.  You have to be able to trust yourself to take that first step and the following steps that will be needed to get you to where you know you need to be.

The journey is yours.  You have the strength, the power, and the tools necessary to do this.  God has always been with you and always will be.  You’ve got this.  Now get ready.

On your mark.

Get set.


Blessings on the Journey,


The Ballad of Dixie Lee

Posted in Uncategorized on September 16, 2016 by thecrossingchicago

This poem is one that was previously posted and removed for publication:

Your hair was short and done up perfectly the way it always was.

Not the way it would soon become, pressed flat against the side of your head

from too many hours on the floor or on the couch.

You wouldnt dare be seen by others any other way.

The rouge was just right, high on your cheekbones and your lipstick was

something between pink and red that I dont know the name of.

Your voice was starting to become unsteady with the first glimpse that the confidence

was slowly being sucked out of you as you asked me

Hon, do you think Im beautiful?

Of course I did.  And always will.

Your breath smelled of mint tic-tacs with a faint tinge of vodka that

supposedly wasnt there.

Your skin was stretched tightly against your gaunt face and felt like latex as

my cheek brushed against yours when I hugged you goodbye. 

It wasnt the same goodbye that I would soon be coming to say

as you lay there on the floor with your sister kneeling by your side.

Where are you going?you asked.

No.  Where are you going.  Thats what I wanted to know.  That day you went.

Happy Mothers Day.

I could taste the scent of White Diamonds as I inhaled and it rested on my tongue

like fog on a pond at morning time.

You gave a faint groan as you turned to walk away back into a life

that was never meant for you or perhaps that you were fated for from the beginning.


Straights and Loops

Posted in Uncategorized on May 3, 2016 by thecrossingchicago

IMG_0638The hike wasn’t a particularly arduous one.  There were changes in elevation totaling 680 feet as we worked our way up and down the hills, but few were very steep on the North Kettle Moraine Trail in Wisconsin.  Westyn and I decided that we would take a short trip for spring break and do some backpacking and get some R&R.  I use the term “backpacking” very loosely as we only hiked about eight miles.  But, I was wearing a trail-rated backpack, so I’m technically not exaggerating when I use the term.

The first part of the hike started with a 2.5 mile loop that began at the lookout tower giving views all the way to Lake Michigan.  Once we completed the loop, we took the Ice Age Trail that ran adjacent to it and started heading north on a straight trail that went for some 32 miles.  Our intention was to walk about six miles of it before turning around. 

It occurred to me as we were walking just how much more difficult it was to walk a straight trail than a loop.  While there isn’t the great sense of anticipation that you get with a straight trail as you wonder what you may encounter ahead, the loop gives a certain feeling of comfort knowing that you will eventually come upon familiar ground and know you have completed your journey.  When you are walking a straight trail, you really have no sense of how much farther you have to go and there is the constant desire to turn around due to the nagging reality that the farther you go, the farther you have to return.

I was telling myself to keep going and resisting that lazy instigator in my head that gave me every reason to turn around: It was supposed to rain later.  We might get hungry.  A herd of deer might rush out of the woods and run us over.  We could get attacked by wild rabid rabbits and the nearest hospital was miles away.  You know, all of those perfectly rational grounds for giving up.  Ok, so I may be a little facetious here.  As we made our way past a bog and heard the distressed cry of a heron, the muses broke through the chatter and spoke to me showing me what a great metaphor this trail was for life.  I pointed out to Wes that I had just a momentary stroke of genius – he wasn’t impressed.

Genius or not, the sentiment is true.  We are much more comfortable taking a route in life that will lead us back to where we started.  It might not be a healthy place or one that is in our best interest, but at least it is familiar.  If we dare to take the straight trail and foray into new territory, challenging ourselves, and taking risks that lead to unknown possibilities, there is the disconcerting possibility that we may fail.

But so what?  What if we do fail?  We get up, dust ourselves off, and try a different way.  What’s the worst that can happen?  What are we afraid of?  Some may worry that not enough people will support our endeavors.  If we do what we know we should be with conviction, the right people will follow. 

If God has made us for a certain purpose, aren’t we going to succeed in fulfilling that purpose?  Too many of us are living in fear and timidity because we are uncomfortable with the unknown.  Well, take a chance anyway and see what happens.  See that trail there running alongside the loop?  Take it.  Go as far as you can, and should you stumble, get back up, laugh it off, and keep walking.  Because that trail was made for you and only you can walk it.

The wet touch of a cool, light rain on my head brought me back from my epiphany.  Wes and I looked at each other and nodded as if to say, “Yep.  Better head back just to be safe.”  After all, everyone knows that a sprinkle is just God’s gentle warning to turn around and get back before the Noahic deluge begins.  In the end, I wasn’t really tired at all.  By the time we got back to the campground, the rain had stopped and we played a couple of one-on-one basketball games.  I had all this energy, not even being fatigued and all.  So when he suggested we play a full court game and called me a lazy old man for protesting, I gently reminded him that it would be a long walk back to Chicago.

The Zahir

Posted in Uncategorized on May 1, 2016 by thecrossingchicago
zahir“Zahir, in Arabic, means visible, present, incapable of going unnoticed.  It is someone or something which, once we have come into contact with them or it, gradually occupies our every thought, until we can think of nothing else.  This can be considered either a state of holiness or of madness.”
– Faubourg Saint-Peres – Encyclopaedia of the Fantastic
This idea of the Zahir is one that Paulo Coelho explores deeply in his novel of the same name.  In this tale of journeys and obsession, the main character’s wife, Esther, suddenly disappears one day leaving him wondering why or where to.  For him, she becomes the Zahir that he cannot get out of his mind.  She occupies his thoughts constantly and drives him to a point where he must decide whether she will become holiness or madness for him.
Who or what is our Zahir?  Is it something or someone that is real and tangible or is it an ideal that we have assigned?  As we are all in search of some deeper meaning in our lives, we can easily become attached to that which appears to manifest what we thought we have been seeking.  But does it really?  Is it merely a temporarily satisfactory substitute for what we are really longing for?
These are questions that we have to ask ourselves on a regular basis.  It is our human propensity to become attached to things that fill a provisional need, but as we get older and wiser, we come to realize that we have settled for less than what was meant for us.  Upon this awakening, we are faced with the task of continuing to settle or starting the intentional work of detaching.  Neither is easy, but holding on to a false reality is ultimately more tasking and saps meaning from our lives.
As Coelho says in The Zahir:

“That is why it is so important to let certain things go. To release them. To cut loose. People need to understand that no one is playing with marked cards; sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. Don’t expect to get anything back, don’t expect recognition for your efforts, don’t expect your genius to be discovered or your love to be understood. Complete the circle. Not out of pride, inability or arrogance, but simply because whatever it is no longer fits in your life. Close the door, change the record, clean the house, get rid of the dust. Stop being who you were and become who you are.”

            – Paulo Coelho – The Zahir


Chances are, there is something or someone who “no longer fits in your life.”  Do you have the strength and courage to let go?  I know you do, but do you know it?  As Coelho says, you don’t have to do it out of pride or arrogance, but for your own well-being – and likely theirs.  You can hold on to the representation of the ideal until it drives you to madness, or you can embrace the ideal itself until it leads you to holiness.  It’s your choice.
In the end, our only job is to stop being who we were and become who we are.