Thursday, October 27, 2011

"The Way"

Originally published in The Bluffton Packet

'The Way' reminds us to make most of every step

While Charlie Sheen was "winning" it appears his father and brother, Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez were busy filming The Way, a story of a man who walks the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James.
I'm pretty excited to see  The Way because I walked the Camino de Santiago (or simply "The Camino") with two friends a few years ago. Long before Emilio Estevez said it on "The View," my friends and I learned that the Camino -- and pilgrimages in general -- are a metaphor for life.
The word "pilgrims" might take you back to re-enacting the first Thanksgiving or make you think of people in drab attire and buckled shoes, but there's more to the label than a Charlie Brown special. A pilgrim is a "person who journeys to a sacred place for religious reasons." So, a pilgrimage is the journey that person takes. The value of a pilgrimage is that it reminds us that this life is not all there is, that our lives are a journey that will certainly end in death -- we just don't know when. As Pope John Paul II explained in 1986, "We are pilgrims progressing from time to eternity, and our goal is the father himself."
The Camino is a 500-mile trail that begins on the border of France and spans across Spain, ending in Santiago de Compostela, the city where St. James is buried. It's one of the most popular pilgrimage routes in the world, with about 70,000 walking the path each year. My friends and I took about 32 days to walk it, finishing between 12 and 20 miles a day. The days fell into a comfortable routine of waking, walking, eating and getting to know our fellow pilgrims.
One of the mottos of the Camino is "el camino es la meta" or "the way is the goal." With hours each day spent on "the way," one can see how this applies to life. Each step I took toward Santiago wasn't just about the final destination -- it was about what I was experiencing, learning and doing along that path.
The goal was both the destination and to make the most of each step that took me there.
Christ told his disciples, "I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6). Until my pilgrimage, I hadn't given much thought what it meant to say that Christ is "the way." The Camino was full of days that could get long and weary. When the blisters kicked in and you were running low on water, every step required a conscious decision to stay on the path. We were never sure of what to expect, but our goal was simple: the way.
So it is with life. We encounter challenges, boredom, difficult decisions and people but we know that every moment is bringing us closer to the end of this life and the beginning of the next. Just like those hoping to reach Santiago need to stay on the Camino, those hoping to reach heaven have a clear way to follow: the person of Christ.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

#stuffmiddleschoolerssay, aka: my social justice fail

After Msgr. Gregory of Mustard Seed Communities spoke at all our masses this weekend, I thought I’d ask the middle schoolers what they thought about it and if they wanted to help somehow.  The conversation went something like this:

“So, who heard Msgr. Gregory at mass this weekend?”

I was greeted by a chorus of, “I didn’t go to mass this weekend”.  
(Insert tangent of, “I know you’re in sixth grade, but you need to remind your parents how important it is to take you to mass on Sunday.  I'm sure you’ve all heard it.)

“Well, if you didn’t hear Msgr. Gregory for yourself, he talked about the children that they take care of in Jamaica, The Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Zimbabwe who don’t have enough to eat.  There’s a program where we can support them called Sustain a Life”. 

At this point, a fifth grade boy excitedly raises his hand and blurts out, “Miss Alison!  You know how you can buy a star?  We could BUY a poor KID!”

This idea is met with great excitement.  A sixth grade girl chimes in, “yeah!  We could keep it here in the youth room.  They could sleep on the couch and you could be it’s MOM!”

This is not going the direction I had hoped, but thinking it was still salvageable, I tried to bring them back to the reality of the situation, asking, “well, that’s really nice of you guys to want to take care of a kid, but don’t you think they’d miss their family, living in the youth room?”

The kids stare at me, blankly.  “No”, they all say.

I persist, “You wouldn’t want to leave your family and live in the youth room, would you?  Even if you had cool stuff, wouldn’t you miss them?” 

Again, a blank stare, “no.”

I have a suggestion for them.  “Well, guys, we can’t keep a kid here” (insert round of disappointed sighs) “but we can send them money each month to help feed the kids in Zimbabwe.  What about if, for the next month, instead of drinking Capri Suns, we drink water and send the money to feed a child in Zimbabwe?”  

“You mean bottled water?” they ask.  

“No, that still costs money.  You’d just drink from the water fountain”, I explain.

“No, I don’t think so…” they all answer.  At this point, I’m rapidly losing faith in humanity and, specifically, the 6th grade.  “You guys, when you die and Jesus asks you how you took care of each other, don’t you want to say that you gave up Capri Suns so kids can eat?”  

“Well, maybe if we could have hot chocolate instead?” they propose.

Then, Mr. “Buy a kid” remembers something.  “Miss Alison!  You can sponsor a puppy for $15 a month!  And they send you a hoodie and a tote bag!  That’s even cheaper!”.

I sigh.  “You know what guys, let’s just put in a movie.”

I realize that sixth graders who have grown up on Hilton Head have a long way to go when thinking about children on the other side of the world.  So, my question is, what have you found to work in teaching kids empathy and compassion for children they have never met or seen?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Halloween: Let's not Bring Sexy Back...

Originally published in The Bluffton Packet:  

Halloween in a few weeks provides some serious fodder for a “Pastor’s Corner” column.  Few holidays stir up as much controversy-- Christians don’t like the spooky supernatural overtones; police warn of the dangers of going door-to-door and dentists offer prizes in exchange for candy to prevent cavities.
These are valid concerns, and I’d encourage parents to be aware of the dangers of occult activity that can creep into Halloween celebrations, don’t let kids knock on the doors of strangers and be sure to brush your teeth.  However, the latest Halloween trend that I find disturbing is best summarized in the 2004 film “Mean Girls” when the main character, Cady, explains, “Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total ... (let's just say it rhymes with "but")... and no other girls can say anything about it.  The hardcore girls just wear lingerie and some form of animal ears”. 
While this description is a bit crude, the reality is that any girl over the age of seven searching for a Halloween costume will discover the entire selection prefaced by the term “sexy” (even if it’s not labeled “sexy” per se, it’s implied in the hemlines).  Justin Timberlake’s not bringing sexy back—the costume shops are, with their options for sexy “rag dolls”, “nurses” and “crayons”. 
“Sexy”, by definition, means something is sexually suggestive or stimulating.  Growing up, I always enjoyed Halloween as an opportunity to dress up as someone I found glamorous or intriguing.  I transitioned from painting my face as a cat or clown as a child and began raiding mom’s make-up supply to wear with a poodle skirt when I was a teenager.  I wanted to look older and pretty, but “sexually stimulating” was not an objective when I was eleven.
While the pressure for parents to allow their daughters to dress as a “sexy _______” (insert anything:  cow girl, panda, maid, vampire) for Halloween is becoming disturbingly normal, assembling costumes is also a great opportunity to discuss the difference between looking pretty, glamorous and interesting versus “sexy”.  No one’s saying that girls need to wear a burka, but Halloween is a great opportunity to learn how to get attention for the right reasons—for being creative, quirky and beautiful.  Not the girl with the most skin showing.  This isn’t normally an objective, why should it be for Halloween?
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis tells the story of an unattractive man who was forced to wear a mask which made him appear more attractive.  Lewis explains, “when he took it off he found his own face had grown to fit it. He was now really beautiful. What had begun as disguise had become a reality.  What had begun as disguise had become a reality.   As we help our daughters, nieces and friends choose their Halloween costumes, be sure the disguise is a reality that will both inspire the right behavior and get the right attention.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

what is love?

This was originally published in the Bluffton Packet...  

Like any single gal, I get a lot of unsolicited advice about dating.  It ranges from the not-so-helpful-observation:  “you know, you’re not getting any younger” (thanks, I hadn’t noticed) to the overly-simplified: “you’re just too picky” (I know right?  Me and my crazy rules about illegal drug use) to the absurd: “there’s lots of men in Alaska” (and then I could see Russia from my house?).  Occasionally I do hear something helpful and inspiring.

Bill and Joan are a couple from Church who, despite their senior citizen status, are wildly popular with the youth group.  I think it’s their sense of humor and exquisite listening skills.  While the kiddos are rambling on and on about their families, pets and vacation, Bill and Joan listen with patience that can only come from spending years with children and grandchildren.  The kids also think they are “adorable because he still looks at her like she’s the most amazing person in the world”.  Given their fame, I asked Joan if they’d consider talking to the teens about marriage and dating.

Joan paused and said, “well, you know the key to marriage is respect.  If you respect someone, you’ll just fall more in love with them as time goes on.  If you don’t respect them, eventually you won’t even want to be around them”.

Genius.  I realized in all the advice I hear and read, respect for someone rarely enters the conversation.  Respect has been pushed aside by both mine and younger generations.  Physical attraction and plain ‘ole lust— which asks what can I get from you?-- has overshadowed seeing and respecting the whole person in their inherent dignity.  Love-- “willing the good of the beloved” as we learned in Theology (or, in laymen’s terms, just wanting what’s best for the one you love)—is no longer the question.  Now, it’s “what’s best for me, and I’ll keep you around as long as you’re on the same page”.

While the idea of love may be fading amidst the onslaught of messages we get about relationships from the world, it is still what humanity craves and what the future hopes for.  It’s why Bill and Joan are so popular with the kiddos—their marriage, grounded in respect, is what the kiddos want for themselves one day.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “that’s what I want for MY kids too!” then this is a great time to live in the Lowcountry.  On Tuesday, September 27 there will be a program for Middle and High School students at the Visual Performing Arts Center at Hilton Head High School from 7:00-9:00 p.m. entitled “Silver Ring Thing”.  A program about guys, girls, dating, waiting, love, second chances and the best choices, it will challenge your kids to wait for a person who respects them in a relationship.  You can buy tickets for $5.00 on-line at   or for $8.00 at the door.  There will be a simultaneous meeting for parents. Empower your kids by showing them what real love and respect is and to not settle for anything less.

Obviously, the Silver Ring thing is over, but you can find more great resources on respect and love at Family Honor and