The Outdoors is for the Birds

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By Joe LaGuardia

St. Francis of Assisi is not my patron saint. You remember St. Francis? He was the 13th-century monk who preached to all of nature, including animals. He spoke of creation in moving prayers and poetry. He celebrated God’s care over all creation, including Brother Sun and Sister Moon. If you’re interested, you can purchase a statue of St. Francis at your local hardware or garden store.

But St. Francis is not for me. Don’t get me wrong, I like to garden. I spent several weekends this month working on my garden. When we have work days at church, the mulching is always my job.

For all that enjoyment, however, I have yet to make gardening the spiritual exercise it is for many Christians who echo the sentiments of St. Francis. When I weed, I curse the ground of my toil–namely, calling the weeds, “Idiots!” for being there in the first place. Some of the weeds look beautiful, actually, but they are stupid because they keep growing. And why do weeds grow so much better and faster than the things that I want to grow in the garden?

Today, when I was laying mulch in my front yard, there was a brief rain shower. This is what happens in a typical coastal Florida shower: It is a beautiful day that turns more beautiful when it becomes slightly overcast. A welcome breeze comes through for a few minutes, ushering in the clouds. It rains for a few minutes and stops as abruptly as it began.

Then things change. The beauty ceases, the breeze stops, and it turns deathly humid. You are drenched not from the rain, but from heavy moisture in the air. Your shirt clings to your body, and the mulch-stains on your shorts become mud stains, and you can’t wear your glasses because they become foggy, and you can’t wipe your brow because your arms are like slip-n-slides, and although the sun still isn’t out, the heat rises from concrete and from the damp, and you get a taste of what hell is like.

It is then that I realized I was not a Franciscan at heart. I do better with my nose in a book while in air-conditioned housing then in the beauty of nature that turns bleak and cranky.

St. Francis can guard other gardens, thank you very much. Instead, I’ll stick with a saint I fell in love with long ago, St. Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius popularized using one’s imagination while reading the Bible, and his daily “spiritual exercises” include reflecting on the day as a contemplative form of prayer– a prayer best served indoors.

I had an email bearing Ignatius’s name at one point in my life, when Hotmail was all the rage. And although he is Spanish and I am Italian like St. Francis, I still think that the Jesuits have done more for the Catholic Church than most monastic movements in recent days.

So let St. Francis preach to the birds. I’d rather spend time asking where I find myself in scripture and reflecting on the face of Christ during long periods of solitude and silence. At least I won’t smell like a big, wet sock and have to bath seven times a day.

The weeds will have to contend with another nemesis for now, but at least they won’t face the verbal abuse that I hurl in their direction. Stupid weeds.

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Nurturing a Future-Looking Faith

futureBy Joe LaGuardia

In his address to the U.S. Congress several weeks ago, Pope Francis noted that young people do not have a positive outlook for the future.

“We live in a culture,” he said, “which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future.”

Although it sounds like His Holiness is exaggerating, research affirms this observation.  Young people have very little hope for the future: They marry later, bear less children, and feel that they work longer hours for less wages.

For the first time in recent history, adults no longer feel their children will be better off in years to come, according to a Pew Research survey.  That middle class income has remained stagnate or in decline the last three decades has not helped anyone’s outlook.

Movers and shakers in our culture have not provided any solutions to turn the tide, and our faith in politicians in shaping a better future has collapsed in congressional malaise.

Some only offer the common lament, “If only we can do things like we did when I was young…”; while others provide avenues for nostalgia in order to combat our woes.  Just think of how many movies reboot previous films and genres.

Yet, nostalgia and longing for the impossible will not provide hope for the future.  Optimism will continue to allude those who are searching for answers from yesteryear.

The church, the very people of God, walk to the beat of a different drum.  We Christians need not fear the future or face it in despair, for we know the future that stands before us.

God asks that we be a community of hope and boundless aspiration, a people who tell what God’s future entails and embody the values that adhere to a future utterly bound up in God’s plan for all history.

We Christians maintain the belief that we are saved in Christ.  In turn, we are only residing in the waiting room of life, but it is a waiting room that we are to tend and keep beautiful, to make safe and welcoming for others who need hope for the future.

Christians stand in the shadow of a transformative past and a Holy Spirit that empowers us in the present, but our faith always looks ahead to a future in which Christ is pulling all things closer to that day when the Kingdom of God is fully realized.  Ours is a future-looking faith.

Our worldview does not share in the pessimism of others.  We do not fear the future as others do, for we know God is in charge and that the arc of history (as Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated) bends toward justice and grace.

Without fear entangling us, we can turn our attention to a meaningful life that is freed from paranoia and anxiety.  We can focus on justice by paying attention to the poor, caring for our environment, and being agents of reconciliation by combating violence in all its forms.

We also need to affirm that we are people with aspirations for all creation–and we must encourage our young people to aspire just the same.  This means working hard no matter the salary because we work with the joy of the Lord as our strength and the strength of the Lord as our refuge of peace.

Trust, gratitude, and compassion result from a life lived in the anticipation that God will someday make all things right, that our temporary state of dysfunction and brokenness is but a small bump in the road of God’s grand scheme of eternal life.

I think its about time that we Christians boldly step out in front of the rest of the world and declare, “Follow us, we know the way because we follow Jesus into the future; we follow a Savior who is the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).