Holy $#!& Moment

As we stood in at Liturgy this morning in our chapel, I had a moment of clarity. Perhaps it was because my cold was finally going away. Maybe it was because I was making a concerted effort to work on my habits and personal issues that keep me from God. Maybe God thought I just needed a pat on the back from the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it was all three, maybe it was neither. Either way, I felt my mind open as we stood in front of the alter, listening to one of the friars celebrating Mass.

In a moment, I realized where I truly was. I'd gone from being a salesman, a person who'd chased money and women like a sport, a person who'd barely cared about anyone but myself...to being here in a friary, happily celebrating Mass. Maybe for the first time I understood how "awkward" it was for people who knew who I "was" and tried to fit in who I "am." I couldn't help but smile at how amazing this past 3 months of my life has been.

Usually I hear people who have moments like this and realize they've made a huge mistake. Hell, my last huge revelation is where I realized I needed to make a change in my life. Yet this morning I felt affirmed about what I was doing. Maybe it was the fact that I enjoyed doing bible study in jail, or because I liked being involved with my faith. Perhaps it's because I feel I am being who I truly am, not just what I want others to think I am. Or perhaps it's something deeper than that. Perhaps I deflect a lot of the compliments I get because I feel I am "not worthy" of praise. Today...I feel good to be here, and I realize that the work I've been doing is worthy of praise, because it's not something I could have done completely me by myself. I had a lot of help.

Perhaps this seems like rambling, but I feel full of the Spirit this morning; it feels good. =)

Sick Dreams

After being ill for the past few days, I decided on the best course of action: buying a bottle of NyQuil and preparing to sleep for over 12 hours. It's an interesting way to cure yourself, and I actually feel better this morning than when I went to bed at 4PM yesterday afternoon. So I know the remedy still works.

This course of action has one huge side-effect...the really really weird dreams. When you're sick, you can start thinking about really bazaar things, (what if more than three Vito's, that is to say me in three different substances that are exactly alike, existed within this plane of existence?) Add my memories, my schooling, and some of my weird experiences and things get pretty crazy.

Here's a few outside factors to keep in mind:

1. My room is directly above the chapel, so when they start the Opening Hymn, I can hear it.
2. We live in the bad part of town, so every once in a while, a car with a lot of bass will come bumping by.
3. I have an odd sense of humor.

The first dream I remember was me at an outdoor revival. I had the feeling that this was actually a weekend retreat, but the feel of the place, the look of the large tent, mixed with the preconceived notions I had were telling me this was more of a Baptist Revival. As I walk into the tent, there's an announcement made: "And now, reading for the last time, Sean Connery!"

And as Sean Connery began to read, I started thinking: "This guy cannot proclaim." And maybe in a cross-memory, I imagined myself standing before the entire department at my college and reading my dissertation as I would read the letter to Titus.

After the reading came the Psalm, and everyone started dancing. Not Liturgical Dancing or anything interpretive, rather "we're on the Ellen show" type of dancing. I remember being confused because the Psalm was something slow, like "Shepherd Me, Oh God" or something.

After that, there was some confusion about who would read next. I volunteered (as I often do) but someone else did. My memory gets fuzzy after that, but I remember debating with Stephen Colbert (via satellite to his TV show) and being angry that every statement I made turned into a joke for him.

Later, after having woken up and coughed out 13 lbs. of phlegm, I remember dreaming about this little convenience store in the middle of a bad neighborhood. It was well lit up, with plenty of bullet-proof glass surrounding the joint. Inside, it was one of those tight stores where the aisles are really close and all you can see are candy, those really gross sandwiches, and the cigarette rack above the checkout person's head.

It was late at night, and while I feel more comfortable in these areas than most, I definitely was not comfortable here. I remember ducking behind a waist-high brick wall as I watched a car with a guy holding an M4-A1 rifle sticking out the side of the passenger window. As I walked to the store, I see a guy approach me out of the corner of my eye. I've never been robbed in real life, so I never know what the experience is gonna be like, and in the dream I was a little shaken.

Upon approaching me, he sees my face, my shirt (I happened to be wearing the Capuchin Soup Kitchen shirt) and my keys (I often wear a lanyard around my neck with all my keys when working at St. Ben's, as a symbol of being a Porter) and started talking and joking with me. Immediately my demeanor changed, and while I had no idea how this guy knew me or what he was even talking about, I could converse with him and joke...no longer feeling scared.

At some point, a really really loud car drove by, with the bass pounding. In my dream, I saw a '79 Monte Carlo SS (black) with huge 24" rims (which I think looks disgusting) roll by. After the car left my dream, I remember walking into the convenience store and seeing one of my old bosses doing the numbers as she was getting ready to close down. She looked rather stressed about working there, but she's always found happiness in paperwork and numbers, so she seemed somewhat at ease.

After a while, the owner comes in, who I recognize as Bruce Willis. He takes me outside and on top of the roof of the convenience store, and reaches for a light switch (one of those dial ones, not just a regular switch). As he slowly brings the lights on, these really bright spot lights that he has pointing onto the roof of his store (which makes no sense) he starts shouting "Wake up! Wake up, little ones!" in a patronizing tone. I hear groans and curses coming from people who were sleeping on top of his roof in little corners.

He ushers them past us and tells them not to sleep up here anymore. I was kinda mad, so I told him: "You know, you've kinda fallen off since that movie with Matthew Perry." I don't remember what happened next...I woke up.

The last dream stayed on topic (if that's actually possible) from when I woke up at 1AM until I woke up again at 8:30AM.

I dreamed I was working for Kramer Intl. again, a company where I would go to different college campuses to do music videos, have laser tag shows, virtual reality rides....stuff like that. I was riding with someone as we were going out to do this show. The guy I was riding with was someone who'd worked for me at Kramer, and was really really kind of weird. Like one time he told me he was training to kill someone. Yeah, that kind of weird.

Anyway, he and I were in the truck headed to somewhere in Wherever We Were Headed to do a laser tag show. When we arrived, we had these really nice rooms at this resort. This entire neighborhood was extremely nice. And I'm not talking Farmington Hills nice or Whitefish Bay nice, I'm talking REALLY nice. Overlooking our resort is this massive mansion on top of this great hill, which if i had to guess, was a 1/4 mile slope from where we were.

These people who came down from the mansion were happy beyond reason to see us. I'd think something like Laser Tag would be beneath these sort of people, yet they were extremely happy to see us. It was the two parents with their daughter and friend. Apparently their daughter's class was in the running for being the national champs in Laser Tag this year, and us coming would give them the opportunity to clinch their spot as the top of their division.

In reality, the Laser Tag game was just an inflated arena big enough to fit in a gymnasium. Inside the arena was some music, some black lights, and a fog machine to make everything look cool. The guns each had sensors to track how many people you killed. It was kind of cheesy, wasn't really structured, and it was something for the kids to do.

When we set up this time, it was like watching a first-person-shooter video game. Part of my dream was a flashback to when I played Counter-Strike, as these girls (their daughter was part of an all-girls Laser Tag Team) did flips, crazy jumps and shots...I think I even remember a slow-motion shot by one of them like in Max Payne.

After the win and celebration, we were invited to the mansion to celebrate with everyone. On the one hand, it was cool to celebrate, but it was then that I started to "notice" things.

Perhaps of my love of movies and conspiracies, I uncovered a plot by one of the girls who'd "enslaved" the daughter of the rich family so that she would have them killed, sell the house to my partner for absolutely nothing, then by continuing to "enslave" the minds of others, she could become this huge super villain and take over the world.

There was a car chase scene down one of the freeways, there was a tender moment where I tried to convince the daughter not to go against her parents. I saved the day, vanquished the evil conspirators...and after driving back by myself I realized I only got paid $45 for going there and I'd left my laptop somewhere at that resort.

So remember, if you have a bad cold, you have 24 hours where you can just sleep, and you're in need of a new blog topic, don't forget about the healing power of NyQuil. =)

Sick of Being Sick

For the past few days, I've been fighting something. Only today have I started having sneezes and a sore throat.

I have very little to add except that I feel like shit, I want to sleep but can't, and I get irritable when I don't feel good.

...I hate being sick!

The Ethics of Shopping

Sometimes living in community makes me have to take sides on topics that I never truly considered before. As a Capuchin, my actions speak not only for myself but for the community and the Order I belong to. Therefore there are times when some actions come into conflict with other members of the Capuchin Franciscans.

One of my chores for the friary is being "the buyer." As the buyer, It's my job to make sure that we have all the necessities, toiletries, and food needed. When a list is compiled I run to the store to purchase what is needed. Because I live in a house with 13-14 other men, buying small things at the local grocer aren't as affordable. It's far easier and economical to buy in bulk.

Unfortunately, others don't share the same point of view.

One particular friar in the house is feels a special need to support the local grocer. The store name is Lena's, and it's an African-American owned grocery store that's been in Milwaukee for 35 years. Before the postulants arrived into the house, he was the buyer and spent most of the money buying things at that store. Since we've moved in and the eating habits of the house are changed, he still thinks we should be shopping at the local grocer for our food needs.

Now I have an understanding of "Buyer Responsibility." I support free-trade/equal-exchange coffee, I don't buy anything from Wal-Mart or Sam's Club, and I will happily buy from a local grocer than a large location when the situation fits. As a Capuchin, I have to figure in factors such as cost to the house, are we living within our means, are all the nutritional needs of the people in the friary being met, and most importantly are we buying efficiently like a home chef would.

But now and again I will get into discussions with this one friar as he tries to make this issue of Lena's his primary focus. While I entertained his argument from the first few months, we got into a heated discussion over it today. He's spent a lot of time doing help in the African American community, both here and in Detroit, Gary, IN, and other places in the U.S. And that is where he's coming from. For me, I've lived in a single-parent household where my mom found it hard to find a place to insure her and me when I was a child. Our experiences are very different, and while I felt it unnecessary, we had to discuss the ethics of buying food for the friary.

If I've learned one thing, it's that we cannot be altruistic in our shopping habits. Some places are "greener" than others, some have better treatment of their employees, some have better prices from better sources, and some have loyalties to specific people in the local community. To try and appease all those aspects is futile; the best I can do is focus on what I feel is important and try and be respectful of other's interests.

So now that friar buys fruits, vegetables, and meat from the local Lena's while I buy the staples for meals, and all the extra things needed in a household. It's a good arrangement...until the next argument arises.

Raging Against the Machine

Today as we stood in the windy, rainy downtown of Milwaukee, we had our 3rd prayer vigil in front of the Homeland Security Building, which houses the Agency for Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as a detention location for people who have been rounded up to be sent back to Mexico or whatever country of origin.

While we continue to hope for immigration reform, the concern each time is with the inhumane treatment of people. Mothers and fathers who've been torn from families, families terrorized by raids that require no solid evidence, wholesale invasions of factories where they halt workers and deport them on site.

Had you told me over a year ago that I would have given up my great job at G.T Autos so I could stand with a sign in front of the Homeland Security building singing Ubi Caritas, I simply would have laughed. Here I am again, finding myself stretched beyond my earlier comfort zone, doing what I feel is right, and doing so in the name of God.

Each day I spend here with the Caps, I learn and do new things. Slowly I am becoming a different human being...a better human being. While I've not had to do a "display of public disobedience," there's always time to improve. =)

Reflections on Election Night

I realize that I am in a church that stands divided amongst itself. With the results of this term's elections less than a few hours away, I can look back and really see the polarization that exists, and the problems in dealing with that rift.

I belong to a church who's leaders plead for it's followers to vote solely on the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage. This is the stance of many bishops, in spite of the fact that 12.5 million people are illiterate in this country, the fact that your child has a 40% chance of being offered drugs in the 9th grade of an average public school, and we spend billions on a senseless war that has already been cited: "Post war findings do not support the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessment that 'Iraq has biological weapons'" source

I belong to a church that teaches charity and justice to all people, yet when I look out into the see of faces during a Mass, they are always one color. Even at integrated parishes, each "group" attends their own Mass; a contradiction in the idea of being the unified Body of Christ.

I belong to a church that reaches out to the needs of the poor and needy, but those people refuse to accept our theology with regards to Christianity. Whether it be from not understanding our Catholic Tradition, being disgusted with the treatment of priests acting immorally with children, or feeling neglected for so long from the Church, many of the people we serve feel unwelcome or distanced.

I belong to a church that continues to change, both for the good and for the bad. There are people who are still stuck in the 60's, trying to radically change things to a more modern approach. We've gone from the "Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit" to "Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier," all in the name of inclusive language.

I belong to a church that struggles between the legalistic and hierarchical structure that has kept things going for so long, and the inner conscience that drives their sense of right and wrong. Until the end of time, this battle will continue to wage between what is "canonically correct" and what is "of pure conscience and of the Holy Spirit."

I belong to a church of elitist white suburbanites, dirt-poor illegal aliens, old European immigrants, young people rediscovering Traditional Catholic roots, liberal post-modernists, social activists, gay/lesbians dealing with faith, social conservatives, and guys like me who try to find that one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic church in the midst of all these people.

As this election day comes to an end, I think about all these people who make up the Catholic Church. Perhaps the example we've seen play out for the past two years is something we need to look at with regards to our church. Are we willing to denounce those whom we call brothers and sisters in Christ because of our perspective on what is "right and proper?"

I like to think that the divisiveness that exists is the opportunity that God has given us to practice the Gospel as Jesus lived it. If, by some miracle of charity, we're able to set aside our differences and become one Church that is unified in spirit and not just in observance to the succession of St. Peter, perhaps that is when we'll no that we really "get it."

Vote for the candidate that most reflects your sense of self. May we be blessed with the opportunity to turn back from some of the earlier mistakes, and use that chance to become closer as a nation and as a church.

Test of Music

I don't usually get nervous, but this upcoming Sunday has me freaked out. Luckily I won't be by myself, but I'm still stressed about the event. Usually going to Mass isn't such a big deal; being on center stage can change a lot of that.

I've given several talks at parishes about homelessness, hunger, and poverty in the Milwaukee area, and those were rather easy. This Sunday I will be playing the music for Mass without the Music Director. This entails about 4 different hymns, the Mass Setting of Music, and the best part: it's all in Spanish. (no hablo espanol ><)

This entails knowing and making sure all equipment is set up before Mass, checking levels, attendance of the choir (missing a few sopranos makes things interesting), coordinating with everyone so they all know which hymns are being done, and of course the act of playing guitar and singing. My guitar playing is OK, but my singing is nothing to be proud of.

Luckily I won't have this task to myself. One of the other Postulants also plays guitar at this same Mass, and the Director has left it to us to lead the music for this Sunday's Mass. Now this is a Capuchin parish; the fact that we are there participating as Postulants is something the friars tell the parishioners each week. I know that even if we completely screw things up, no one will take offense or even say a mean thing about it. The standard response will be: "Oh, how wonderful it is that they're doing something so important!"

But for both the other Postulant and I, we see music as a huge part of our vocation. While scary and daunting, this is a chance for us to get actual experience about what it takes to perform the job of a Liturgical Music Director. Granted we're just a fill-in while the Director is away, but people get Master's degrees for this kind of work, and having the training already will be beneficial in the long run.

Also, I know deep in my heart that this will be one of those experiences where I will treasure forever...even if we completely mess up. To be able to talk about leading a Mass as a Postulant is a great story to tell when I'm old and crusty. So while I'm excited, I know I want to do everything I can to make this Sunday go without a hitch.

So say a prayer for me, God knows I can use em for this weekend!

Stay tuned, I plan on getting video of the event!

Handling the Past

While I'd hoped the previous entry would have helped heal some of my heartache, I found that even today I was still thinking about the time spent online. It is something I keep rather personal; I feel other people can't understand or maybe cannot see past the initial idea of a video game being a means to help someone begin to understand religious life.

The biggest reason I dwell on this as an issue is because it will not be the last time I have to deal with such feelings. What happens in 5-6 years when I miss going through the formation process with my classmates? What happens in 20 years when I miss a parish or ministry that I presided at? What happens when I'm old and can't get out of my wheelchair...trapped in the memories of the past that I cannot return to?

I spoke of this in generalities with my formation director. He was wonderful in not pressing details, and gave me a few things to think about as I continue to work through this rather unique time in my life.

Many of us remember things in our life that when they are gone, it is like losing someone we loved. The experiences, the memories, the change in our life which are the fruit of such things...all of those are linked with with grieving process. While his words made sense, even I found it hard to really try and grieve for a character made to exist in a fake world.

He continued to talk about healthy ways to express the good that is found in such things. He mentioned that because I liked to write, perhaps I could put such things down for me to read, and put them in the sense that they are not sad, but wonderful memories to be cherished.

He also talked about a symbolic death for whatever I was longing for. He explained that when I was ready to make peace and be able to let go of the past, that a symbolic death could be a way for me to kind of deal with the issue once and for all. It wouldn't be hard to just delete my character (which still exists in Sony's database). I don't know if I'm ready for that quite yet, even though I haven't seriously played the game in years.

I spent quite a bit of time thinking about this issue, although I am still not proud to talk about it in public. I think what I will do is log in one last time to visit the many places I remembered during those past 4 years, grab a few screenshots along the way, and begin to put down stories that I remember from my time there. While it may not be of interest for many of my readers, perhaps it will be something that benefits me and my journey to become closer to God.

My formator also told me he heard a lot of symbolism in my discussion of this topic; he said he could hear my reverence for whatever I was describing. He offered (gently) for me to begin and share that with the community here in Milwaukee, since I considered it so important to who I was. I told him of my fear of vulnerability, and that my personal EQ experience was like a special flower I kept hidden from the rest of the world. It was something I protected, something I cherished but refused to let others see for fear they would not understand. To share this part of my life is scary.

But perhaps that's where my catharsis will lie: in the telling of my entire story with pride and joy. To deny any part of my journey on this long, winding road is simply to lie to myself. To not say that a video game impacted my life is to deny everything about me that I never liked before finding my vocation. What I've learned is that God works with our faults and our quirks, and uses them for whatever means he sees fit.

Maybe I'll keep the stories here, perhaps I'll create a new blog for the gaming community; a place where such stories and memories can be shared with others who hold their EQ memories close like I do. I don't know exactly what my plan of action is, but I know I will do something I haven't done in a long time: face my fears, admit my weaknesses, and find a way to put this important time in my life down for others to see.

Memories Of A Game Gone By

I hate to admit it, but sometimes I miss living in a false reality.

When people ask me what kind of person I was before being a Capuchin Postulant, I tell them all about my sales days, and my time spent at the poker rooms. They usually laugh or make a joke at this point in which I return with a funnier joke, and it's a wonderful story for them to tell others.

Sometimes I want them to ask me: "So what do you miss most about your old life?" For them it would be a surprise because it wouldn't be women, status, big paychecks, or anything tangible. What I miss the most was the chance to wage war with my guild, joke and laugh with a group of people whom I called friends (yet only saw a few of them in real life), moaned and complained with when we were frustrated, and shouted at and led when there was task to be done. What I would tell them is that I miss 4 years of my life spent "in community" with a group of 50-70 people from around the country (and in some cases around the world) as we got together to laugh, curse, conquer, argue, be inspired, share, and always with the intention of becoming better.

I've written many times about finding all these things in an online game, and I think the paradox that many people find with this type of community, beneficial or otherwise, is that to spend so much time in this way is to remove oneself from what is happening in the "real world." To spend a weekend on the computer is to spend time away from family/friends, to not exercise or move much, to not eat balanced meals, and to spend an "unhealthy amount of time" in front of the computer. The same exists with any other MMORPG (World of Warcraft, Vangaurd, Lord of the Rings Online).

And perhaps there are reasons for people to be worried at times. If someone is not mentally stable, they may have a hard time differentiating from fantasy and reality. Young children should not play these types of games in an environment where the parents cannot monitor what is happening. Games like these can cause people to lose jobs, loss personal money/property, improper sleep and eating habits, unhealthy social habits, and can lead to addiction for those who are prone to such things.

Taking all these things into consideration, I still feel a loss at times for not having the community of people I knew when I played Everquest. While the game held promise and the goals in the game were long-term, the part that mattered most (and the reason I sometimes spend $15 bucks to log in and say hi) is because of the people. It's all fun and games until you start meeting people on a real level, and begin to hear their stories.

I remember a 20 year old woman who had just developed Epilepsy. Since I'd had the condition for over 15 years, we used to spend lots of time talking about her fears, sharing stories about trips to the doctor's, not being able to drive at times...the game was merely a means of a support group.

I remember watching as our guildleader told stories about his newborn baby, and how the women in the guild would share their experiences and advice.

I remember learning about proper leadership during raids (large group encounters that could have 72+ players in one huge group). I remember lifting people up who'd never performed a task in front of such a large group, who were worried about failing. I learned to handle people who were overbearing, not paying attention, or simply did not share my point of view.

I remember the sense of loss for a player who'd died in real life, yet never seen the guy until a picture was posted after his death. I wondered if it was possible to feel grief for someone you've only met in an online game, and ended up realizing that it made you wish you had the chance to know the person even more.

I think of all these things, not the amount of time spent in front of a computer sitting on my ass. I think of how much I miss the time spent, and not the time I wasted. I recollect the memories of these things that happen on a computer screen, but they're not different than a memory from a bar or the beach. As wrong and unhealthy as it sounds, I want to relive the past. And that's why, every now and then, I really think about logging back into EQ.

Like an older man fighting mid-life crisis, I find myself at times wishing for the way things were. But on those rare occasions when I do log back in, I realize that only a few people remain from my memories. Those large numbers of friends have moved on. Some are playing different games, some are raising children, some are fighting a terminal illness, some are living happily and maybe haven't thought about this game since they left.I still keep in contact with some of those people who have also moved on. There's something they say that always give me something to contemplate: "Your decision to become a friar actually doesn't surprise me; I could see it in you years ago." I find it very reassuring, but some would find it very contradictory: How could someone who wants to live the life of God choose to spend their evenings in front of a computer instead of working at a soup kitchen, or helping at a homeless shelter. Instead of spending Sunday recuperating from a late night raid, why didn't I spend that time at Church? If I enjoyed community so much, why was I not able to do it in real life?

I've yet to figure out how He decided to make this all work, but I'm going with the flow. And while I can't explain the complexity of an online interaction to someone who's never even heard of these games, I can only live my life by reflecting on all the things I've learned. I continue to use what I learned from a simple video game in my ministry, and unfortunately I still continue to hide this huge influence from others I meet.

But like that man in his mid-life crisis, I miss the people I knew (even though some of them I never knew their real first name), I miss the great deeds we did (even though they don't seem so great in context of the real world) and I miss the time I spent with them (even though I was sitting alone in front of my computer.) And as those thoughts sink in, my desire to play leaves me...for now.

Perhaps after I'm dead and gone, someone will remember my time in Everquest and remember what I did. And perhaps while I wasn't a saint, I could get my old character canonized as the patron saint for MMORPG players: "Saint Severaen of the Faydark"

I finish with my head swimming in memories, and my heart heavy for a time now gone by.

(rather poetically, I looked online in the guild forum and in my old email box for screenshots of my time in EQ. I could find only a few, and only one with me -Severaen- in it.)