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Sunday, January 15, 2012

One Year After Marshall

Today (Jan 15, 2012) marks the one year anniversary of me quitting my Youth Ministry job in Marshall, MN.  I've thought a lot about what happened over the last year, why it happened, who its changed me, and where I am in life now because of it.  This post is, for the most part, a reflection and attempt at healing, it is also in part, an apology.

As much as I would like to blame my departure from Marshall mostly on other people, the truth is it had as much to do with me as anyone else.  Yes, I was working long hours with what seemed to be very little support from parents.  Yes, there were people I didn't get along with.  But more than that,  I had no friends and I was homesick--four hours away from my now fiance, and 3 from my family.  I was spiritually dead--I didn't feel a part of the parish or able to upkeep my spirituality.  I missed grad school and the challenge of learning.  I was inconfident in my ability as a youth minister and got very little affirmation I was doing a good job.  All these combined lead me to be depressed, which lead me to be apathetic about how I was doing.  Let's get one thing straight though--I did not leave because of the youth.  They were great, and the reason why I stayed as long as I did.  The reasons I left were because of the parents, the job itself, and even more so because of my personal inadequacies.

My program started to slip, parents began to meet and decide whether I should stay or go.  I think secretly I was looking for a way out, so when the priest came and offered a chance to peacefully resign, I jumped at it, and I was gone two days later.  Without saying goodbye to anyone.

This last part is what I regret the most.  It's not that I was a crappy youth minister, that I didn't do everything I could have done in the program, or even that I realized that's not what I'm called to do as a job--but what I regret the most is that I feel I both ran away and abandoned the youth.

And it is this regret that I am still trying to get over--did I do the right thing, or was leaving in the manner I did cowardly?  I don't really know yet, but i'm working through the answers to some of my questions.  Was going to Marshall in the first place the right decision?  I'm pretty sure it was.  Was leaving Marshall the right decision?  I think it probably was.  What I do know however, is that no matter how much I regret the manner in which I left, if I'm to evaluate the decision based off of the current status of my life, leaving Marhsall is quite possibly the best decision of my life.

In just a year I've gotten engaged to (I can honestly say) the most beautiful woman in the world (an event that probably would not have happened if I had stayed in Marshall), I've completed a semester of my Masters of Arts in Theology program at Saint Paul Seminary, and I'm two weeks into a job that I absolutely love.  I must say, while in Marshall I was nearly miserable, lately I am the happiest that I have ever been.

I still have some healing to do, still have some things to work out in my mind and heart... but now that I'm happy, I can do that.

Friday, January 13, 2012

No Place to Call Home: The State of Catholic Young Adults in American Politics

This is one of the few political posts you will ever see me write, mostly because, as I will discuss later, I hate politics.  Why do I hate politics?

There is a movement among my generation of devoted Catholics to move towards the conservative and traditional aspects of the faith, perhaps in response to the (some would say) abusive implementations of Vatican II.  However, that's not the point of this post.  Rather, it is a platform for me to stage the conundrum my generation faces against the rising liberalism of the western world.

First, let me say this:  I am not educated in politics, I understand very little of it, and for the most part I'm relatively apathetic about it.  So if I say anything that objectively untrue, please feel free to logically and reasonably correct me with evidence.  However, if you care to spout partisan bias based off of something you hear from one of your catered news shows, please don't bother.

OK.  So why do I hate politics?  Quite simply, I view politics as a lose-lose situation.  The only reason I even vote is because its my obligation to do so as a responsible citizen and Catholic.  I hate doing it because there is NO mainstream political party or movement that correctly lines up with traditional Catholic views.  No matter who you vote for, the person you vote for will be against something in the Church.

I firmly believe that, from a Catholic (and hopefully mainstream Christian) perspective, we should be voting for "socially conservative--financially liberal" candidates.  This ensures that our culture is held accountable to live moral lives while providing for the poor and vulnerable.  It is the best balance between Social Justice and virtuous internal and family lives.  Now, "liberals", which fall mostly under the term "democrats" are obviously liberal on both axes, while "conservative" "republicans" are conservative (again obviously).  So the problem, in theory, is that we can either vote on fiscal matters and go democrat, or vote on social matters and go republican.  Still there are problems with this... many young Catholics have been brought up to think that voting democrat is near evil, and that democratic fiscal views are socialist, communist (yes there IS a difference), or at the very least want to take away what people earn.  Additionally, we've basically been told to "pro-life" (another term I loathe), and thus "socially" is the only way to vote.  The problem is, and let me try to be succinct in this, Republicans don't have a consistent pro-life platform either, and economic and educational status has at least a correlation with the likely-hood of getting an abortion.  Could the economy be at least a partial solution to reducing abortions?

This is the problem I, and I think a decent portion of my rational, un-brainwashed, catholic peers feel.  We have no political home.  And so, as a defense mechanism we either just don't care, or we try to rationalize why one party is better than the other.  Let me say this though: if there is ever a "pro-life" democrat (and mind you this includes: war, abortion, marriage, death penalty, euthanasia, etc.), they would most likely have my vote.

Let me just give a couple more reasons about why I hate politics (and excuse me for my rant).  I have seldom had a good discussion or experience with politics.  In fact, I find it to be one of the most irrational, stubborn, biased, and divisive topics I know.  Most people who claim to be from one party or another do it for one or two issues and don't actually know what they're party fully believes.  Political parties become more like a label and status symbol then they do for any platform for discussion about a better country.  If you can rationally think about what you believe, what you, the country, and the poor and vulnerable truly NEED, can get your head out of your butt, and take everything you hear from news channels with a grain of salt, and still say you're from one party or another, then more power to you.  However, if you think that being either republican or democrat makes you more or less American, please don't even bother discussing politics with me.

Monday, January 9, 2012

What Makes Love Work?

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about what makes Emily (my fiance') and mine's relationship so good.  Don't get me wrong, we definitely have our problems in our relationship, but there is a solidness and security there that I don't seem to see in many relationships, even some marriages.  Over the 15+ month's we've been dating we've seen good (and bad) relationships crumble or go through some serious tribulation.  We've had our problems too, the first 6 months was a constant struggle and there were times when we both thought about calling it off (her more often then me though ;-)).  Still, we're now at the point of planning the wedding, so we must be doing something right.  Now, I will be the first to admit that the primary reason we are together is through the grace of God.  It if wasn't for Him helping us through some difficult situations, and Him wanting us to be together, we would have broken up a while ago.  However, after thinking about it for a while I've come up with the 3 basic elements that makes our relationship one of the most solid I know.  I think any relationship that has these three, as well as God's help (which is the most essential), can be a good and secure relationship.

1) Commitment:  If you think love and relationships are supposed to be easy, I suggest you re-examine the state of marriage in this country.  Love, marriage, and relationships of all kinds will be the hardest things you do in your entire life.  This is why love is not about feeling, but about commitment.  Emily and I CHOOSE to be with each other no matter what.  Our confidence in this decision is held strong by our prayers and the numerous signs that God has given us to be together.  I'll admit, there are times when I just need my space from her, when we fight and get angry, or when our "feelings of closeness" aren't so present.  That doesn't matter, because we know we will whether any storm because we are each others' vocation.  Commitment must be the building block of any relationship, otherwise it will crumble.

2) Communication: This is another obvious relational pillar that people, quite frankly, tend to suck at.  Communication must be open, honest, respectful, and consistent.  I worry when some couples tell me that they never fight... fighting is what healthy couples do! IF they do it in the right way.  When you have a problem it is important to tell your partner about it so that both your needs can be met.  However, do it at an appropriate time.  When discussing or arguing, don't use negative tactics such as name calling, score keeping, or generalizing.  You can find tips on these all over the net, so if you have problems with healthy arguing, I suggest you look up some advice, or get a hold of me and I'll help you.  Some couples are afraid to talk about problems because they are afraid that a fight could get ugly and end the relationship, or they just don't like confrontation.  Well, this is where the commitment comes in--if you know a fight won't break you up, then you can have it and still feel secure.  I could go on and on with this paragraph, but because you can find this info everywhere, I'll cut it off here.

3) Intimacy: This is the element that everyone thinks they do great at but know one really knows how and thus people end up in unloving marriages.  Put simply, intimacy is a mutual feeling of love between two partners.   Yes, this is the FEELING part.  However, its not just about sex! Sex can be without intimacy if you are using the other person, and a lack of at least occasional intimacy can break any committed bond.  You must show and communicate your feelings of love for each other.  This is tricky, since each person speaks a different love language.  In other words, each person expresses and receives love in a different way.  If you feel you are not receiving love you cannot give love.  It's a very delicate circle, but someone has to start it.  Gary Chapman writes a great book on this called The 5 Love Languages--check it out if you or your partner are feeling unloved, or if you just want to learn how to love better.  The movie "Fireproof" also has some very good examples of this principle.

Every relationship has it's weaknesses, struggles, and strengths.  It's primarily through the Grace of God that relationships work out, and some, quite frankly shouldn't last.  I don't have all the answers, but for some reason my relationship has lasted, and will continue to last, and I believe it is for these three reasons.  Please, if you are in a relationship that is struggling, examine which area(s) need work and talk about it as a couple.  If you have good friends or parents who have beautiful relationships, ask them for advice and help as well.  Good relationships don't flower in a dark closet, they are meant to be shared and thrive in a Garden of Relationships.  Cheesy I know, but its true.  A private relationship is a dead one.

Happy Loving