Monday, May 08, 2023

I’ve had many updates started and saved. Some have been found and discarded and others lost, maybe to be found by accident one day in the future. I’m hoping to actually complete this brief update/summary of the last two and half years and then move on to more current updates. I think I’ve said in the past that the blog acts as much as a journal, even therapy, for me as it does a way to let friends and family know what’s going on. I think the updates over the past couple years that are saved (somewhere), but that I never used, are part of the journaling/self-therapy aspect more than they were intended for updates, which is probably why I never posted them – being aware at some level.

I’m also forever behind in communication, which since my last update (or longer) has focused mostly on family (and even that has been mostly limited to my dad, sisters and brother) - - and I’m just hoping and trusting that everyone I’ve fallen behind with will just understand and allow ourselves to move on. Usually, that’s how it works, anyway - - good friends and loved ones always seem to be able to just pick up as though no time has passed.

With many of the BIG things that have gone on over the last couple of years, it has taken me time to feel the right inspiration and to whittle down what I want to share, without getting side-tracked into using the blog too much for in-depth therapeutical purposes, and not primarily as an update. I just now glanced at my last blog post - - it was the road trip to visit family and friends across the US, with a lot of good camping along the way. After that, I returned to Wisconsin to finish my sabbatical by having the final month of it with my parents.

As requested by the “superiors”, about a month prior to the sabbatical’s completion, I informed the US SMA that I still felt very connected to SMA, felt that SMA is like my family, and that I still strongly valued and shared their approach of being close to the people we work with – the “most abandoned of Africa and African descent” – and I requested a renewal of my contract. I also knew that the new leadership team in Ghana was requesting for me and another guy (Joe, the one who took over some of my work on the camp when I left and whose contract was coming to an end) to come back to work with people with disabilities and in other areas in Ghana – so, I was hopeful about a future of continuing with SMA in Africa.

There was new leadership in the US SMA at that time, and they informed me that it was good to know what I was thinking. They were looking at the future of the program for the lay people in the US SMA, and I should wait a bit until they update that and make decisions related to the overall program, then they will respond to my request to continue with them. That was early October 2020….and I still haven’t heard back, but, obviously, the response has been clear all the same.


                                   one of many winter hikes with dad

So, after the first couple of weeks of silence and then being told I no longer had health coverage, I found a list I had previously begun of organizations I would like to work for, and edited and expanded upon it and started looking into what kind of openings those organizations had available at that time. The world was still kind of deep in COVID, so that complicated things a little – but the dreams and fantasies of new doors opening were there.

Early December that same year (2020), the French SMA asked if I’d be interested in coming to France to be a part of them and to work with migrants. In fact, it is something that I was very open to doing. As mentioned, SMA is family (even if the US SMA had decided to drop us from their part of the family), and over the years, it has become an extended, worldwide family to me. And the work with migrants. . . that goes without saying, in my opinion. People on the move in that way aren’t looking to invade, attack, rape, kill, etc. - - they are looking for safety and/or opportunities for themselves and their families that they can’t find in their home countries due to many factors beyond their control. They are hopeful that eventually they will be able help their loved ones back home. They have abandoned all they know, all their supports, and risked their lives in hopes of opportunities and safety. So, I told France yes, but that I would be coming independently . . . not as part of the US SMA. . .

. . . and then my mom had a stroke and was in-between hospitals, rehab, sub-acute care, and finally hospice . . . and then she left us to rest peacefully following years of chronic pain and her final few months that consisted of an even bigger battle following her stroke.

                  view from my mom's hospice window during her final days

I stayed with my dad for a while after that, working with him to organize and simplify his life and his future. He and I did a shorter version of the road trip I had done the previous year – again visiting friends and family and doing some camping. 


Great Sand Dunes National Park, one of Dad's dreams...
 Sand hill cranes...just down the road from Dad's new home
 the Ice Age Trail that goes through the forest behind dad's new place, with visiting niece and nephew

SMA France was very understanding and gave me the necessary time, and finally, November 2021, I left for Chaponost, France, just outside of Lyon. 

Since then, there have been basically three parts to my life here in France with SMA. One is being a part of the life and the project (Les Cartieres) at the place where I live; another is welcoming and taking care of the young migrants passing through and staying for a few days at Les Cartieres; and the third part is working with migrants in the city, hoping and praying that our efforts will help them to legally become a part of the system so that they can, to some extent, achieve their dreams. These last two parts are actually what inspire and fulfill me the most these days – the people and their stories fill my heart, my time, my thoughts; they leave me deeply moved, in hope and in tears.

                   one of the two Chaponost snow falls the winter of 2021-2022

And I will try to write more about these three things soon…


Saturday, October 10, 2020


It’s been hard to update the blog over the past 6+ years for a variety of reasons. One is that I didn’t feel much inspired by a life in administration. It was interesting to learn the administrative side of this organization, the “behind-the-scenes”, the parts of the group that made it possible for me (and continues to make it possible for many others) to do what we are being sent to do. That being said, though, there hasn’t been much to really write about.

Another major reason is that so much has been going on in the world. As soon as I started to write something over the past few years, suddenly there was something that came up in the world (often on a daily basis, it seemed), and what I saw in our US politics/social structures made whatever I was writing about seem so trivial. As a result, I’ve put many started updates aside over the past years and have dwelt in a place that feels a bit stunned, disappointed, distracted and, at times, angry. I’ve remained shocked that roughly half our country (give or take 3 million) support the direction our country is going/has gone over the past 4 years. I remain disbelieving that so many “Christians” support such un-Christian (and un-American, un-human) values that are being put forth – where is the love of neighbor, of the stranger, of the immigrant? People claim that is what they believe and they go to sing about it on Sundays, but then go home to live and react out of fear – not out of the love they are professing and singing about. I’ve been struggling to grasp some understanding of this. A year or so after the election, I asked some friends/family in the US if this was “normal” – to have the president in the news daily, spouting so many idiotic and hate-filled messages and receiving constant coverage – or, was I just in an environment now (having constant internet access and electricity) that it was possible for me to be more aware of things.

There has been such a constant barrage from someone who seems to want to stoke fear and hatred of the unknown, of strangers, of people who are different in some way… it was hard to absorb and process what was happening….but, finally I have had a bit of time to think through and process some of it - - to get thoughts together and I feel the need, some inspiration and even an obligation to write something. If I stay silent, what does that say about my values?

Last year, a few months before finishing my time in Rome, I asked our “superiors” if I could have a sabbatical. As usual, now that my current assignment had been completed, I wanted time and distance to figure out if staying with them is still the direction for me. I also wanted some time to talk with people I care about (in and out of the organization), some time alone, some time to camp, pray, etc. I gave my plan for the sabbatical, which included visits to some of the other countries with our organization and with people I’ve come to know over the past years – both laity and priests – as well as visits to family and friends, some of whom I haven’t seen for many years. I had some extended camping I planned to do. I also included a request to have some time in the Holy Land for a course and/or retreat, to explore some things in a structured way. I wanted to do this and I felt it was expected as part of a sabbatical – something structured with someone to discuss and reflect upon things. My sabbatical request was accepted, for which I am very grateful.

I began in January by visiting some of the countries and people I’ve come to know, including some time with friends I haven’t seen in about 20 years – hearing everyone’s words, thoughts, stories, advice. That’s how I had hoped to continue for the first 3 – 4 months of 2020, with plans to return to the US in April or May.

COVID tossed a curveball, though, and has continued to do so. As a result, I ended up back in Rome the day before it shut down and stayed there for roughly 3 extra months, cancelling the rest of my visits to colleagues and friends in other countries with our organization, postponing a canoeing/camping trip in the Boundary Waters between Minnesota and Canada with two of my nephews and one of my sisters. I eventually got to the US mid-June, roughly a week after Italy “re-opened”.

Meanwhile, George Floyd had been killed and the US seemed to be erupting – finally – over systemic racism and injustices. So many of us, myself included, have been complacent over the years, even complicit through our complacency, by choosing not to be on top of things and as a result allowing our country to be what it was and not making powerful statements and demands for changes, and then following through on those demands with the work and commitment, even in small steps, needed to achieve the changes. The last four years of politics in the US, and in much of the world, has opened the eyes of many of us – at last – and pushed us to take action (marching, voting, running for office, talking, writing, getting angry, becoming aware….etc.) – realizing it doesn’t have to be the way it has been, even realizing and acknowledging that we all have a voice and need to use that voice.

Following a 2-week quarantine (to be on the safe side) upon my return to the US, I met briefly with my US “superior” with hopes to discuss future options, only to be told I should enjoy the rest of my sabbatical and we will talk about the future as the sabbatical draws to a close. I again adjusted my plans and decided the safest way to make the most of the sabbatical in a pandemic world where I didn’t want to fly, where most people are isolating, distancing and where many things are still closed, would be to rent a car, drive, camp and be outdoors as much as possible, especially when visiting loved ones with whom I hoped to have some time during the remainder of the sabbatical. Yet, I was completely prepared to accept precautions people were taking if they chose not to see me. 

second camp

"hidden" alpine lake

I usually feel closest to God when alone in the beautiful creation around us. A camping trip…a hike…looking up at the stars…being silent in God’s creation is easily a retreat for me. I don’t feel the need for a chapel or church, since the chapel or church is all around us, if we choose to see and feel it. I mentioned to my “superiors” that an extended camping/hiking trip often feels synonymous to a retreat for me, and it seemed some of them scoffed at that idea, leaving me with the impression that, in their eyes, a retreat can only take place if there is a human-made chapel structure and retreat center, time spent in meditation in a chapel, listening to and discussing with someone who is guiding the retreat, etc. A retreat like that can be profound and beneficial, I agree, and had been part of my original plan, but I don’t see it as possible or wise during a pandemic. I also don’t see it as superior to a silent journey through the chapel God gave us, i.e. the earth and the people we meet on the journey. It is just another way, meeting other needs. I still hope to have a guided, individual retreat at some point post-pandemic. It’s helpful to have that extra ear, that guidance, another perspective and the structure.   


However, my extended road trip, a mix of camping alone and seeing some family and loved ones along the way was a perfect blend of deep and thought-provoking discussions followed by time alone to think and reflect. Time in the car was a blend of landscapes that left me in wonder, thoughts, a range of music, NPR… Fox News and….Rush Limbaugh. I wanted to try to get an understanding of how and why…I wanted to be open to hearing what “the other side” thinks. I was surprised at how many religious stations there were in some places – and how Rush Limbaugh was on those stations. This angry, shouting, hate-filled man spreading fear, rejection, prejudice and hatred over the airwaves was difficult to listen to for very long, but I repeatedly tried. I ended up not being able to understand how any station purporting to be “Christian” and “religious” and about “God” would associate themselves with so much hatred and anger and prejudice.

I read an article while I was on the road that talked of a community in PA that was pro-Trump back in 2016. They felt he stood up for them and their values…that finally there was a politician who did that. They didn’t agree with his lifestyle and values, but they felt he had their back. What I can’t understand: if their values are so important to them, if they are strong in their beliefs, values and lifestyle, how can they be so afraid of people who are different? How is welcoming an immigrant a threat and not a way to live out their values? How is it a threat to have a Muslim or a person of another color in their community? If they are strong in their values, then, in my understanding, there shouldn’t be any threat – it’s not an "either my values/or your values" situation. Welcoming immigrants does not mean losing your values and culture – it could even mean enriching them. Two people of the same sex marrying each other does not threaten “traditional” marriage – the most traditional thing about marriage is two people sharing their love and committing to share their lives. The list could continue, but the point remains the same – not knowing about something is an opportunity to learn and to grow and to put into practice those “Christian” values so many people claim they have. Not knowing does not mean losing those Christian values. Saying “Black Lives Matter” does not mean other lives don’t matter or matter less – it means we recognize that for far too long, it is black lives that have mattered less in our society  - - and we are tired of it and angry about it, and angry at ourselves for allowing it to go on this long.
Saying we value our democracy and country does not mean blindly accepting the fear and hatred that comes from some of our leaders. It means being able to reflect on that hatred, think for ourselves and use our voices to call them out when their values do not represent what we are about, what we profess our lives, faith and values to be about, and are not what our country has been striving to achieve since before it was independent – and has not yet succeeded in achieving. Our country was founded upon the ideal that all people “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” In the US, we all grow up knowing this line from the Declaration of Independence. Sadly, we have not succeeded in making that line a reality in our country.  
Fear, hatred, racism and prejudice are not the way to ever achieve that ideal.


Monday, October 14, 2019

updates and travels

Over a year after the previous blog update and my sincere intentions to start updating more regularly, I’m finally doing another update (and once again have intentions to resume posting more often than annually). 

Soon after my last post, when I wrote about Hope for Life and Sarah, I intended to give an update about Sarah. Within about 24 hours of writing about her, several people offered to contribute to what was needed for her to acquire a new leg. It was amazing to me – I had described her situation and what a beautiful woman she is, but I hadn’t expected to raise money. So, about a month or two following the blog update, thanks to donations received, she was at the rehab center getting her new leg. Since then, she’s been getting around well. I had fully intended to do an update immediately to express my appreciation – but I didn’t.

Since then, a lot has been happening within SMA and among the lay people who are involved with the SMA. There have been meetings (of course). Some were for the lay people who are involved with the various units of SMA. Then, this past May, there was the big SMA meeting that takes place every 6 years to elect new leaders and set the goals for the next 6 years (a one-month long meeting!!). Following that was a meeting for just the US SMA (only 2 weeks), and then the usual meetings here in Rome. I feel like meetings have been a major part of my life for the past 6 years – meetings and other administrative things, but I knew it would be like this when I agreed to take up the position (which is part of why I hesitated to agree immediately to come live in Rome for 6 years). There were a lot of preparations for some of these meetings – and the meetings had, in my opinion, very mixed results (more on that in the future), as meetings will do.

In Rome during August most people flee to the beaches or the mountains to be with family and in cooler, fresher air. Rome can become a bit hot. The people in the SMA house also leave – the priests who are here to study go for extra classes, to help in parishes and for holidays. The bosses take their leave at that time since the rest of Rome is also on holiday, so it makes it difficult to get official business done. For the past 5 years, I’ve been the one to stay at the SMA house in Rome during August. We can’t all abandon the house, and the mass desertion leaves me happy to be the one to stay and take care of whatever needs to happen. I spend the entire month sweating, but it’s also a solitary and peaceful time, and mostly a time when I can focus on work I want to get done – I enjoy the solitude, setting my own schedule and deciding what and when I want to eat, focusing without interruption on things I want to get done, etc. 

I then get to take my vacation at another time – a time when things are busier in the house and in the city, and a time when there are fewer people traveling…making traveling a bit more peaceful as well. 

Pompeii, with Vesuvius in the background

Vesuvius, from Naples

This September a couple of friends had time off and came to visit. We spent a little over a week in Tuscany and then another week in the southern part of Italy. Tuscany lives up to all the beautiful descriptions that are out there about it. 

The Vie Cave - what feels like a maze that meanders through what feels like canyon outside of Sorano (but, it is neither a maze nor a canyon)

a view of Sorano - after wandering through the canyon

re-entering Sorano, after going back through the canyon

lunch in Tuscany - with the view seen in the picture at the top of this post

the remains of a castle at the top of Montemassi, a village we stayed in for a couple of nights

view of village from the castle
another view of the village

One of the little hill-towns we stayed in, Manciano, was having its annual wine festival (Festa delle Cantine) for the 3 nights we were there. So, every night found us wandering the streets with a cup of wine, that was regularly being refilled, around our necks . 

souvenirs following 3 nights of a wine festival

The parts of Southern Italy that we visited were just as amazing and beautiful as Tuscany – and with just as many delicious foods and wines. 

Blue Grotto

with Jessie and Arthur - long-time friends who were visiting
the town is Polignano a Mare - this rocky beach we swam at is also seen in the next photo, through the arches that we had to walk under

In spite of a lot of movement, the time off left me refreshed and relaxed…and a bit more hopeful than I had felt following the meeting from May.
One of the Trulli houses of Alberobello (also called "Mushroom Houses") where we spent a night.....unfortunately, those HUGE beer steins were only filled with rain water from the previous day

I can't call this graffiti (painted on a wall in Pisticci)


a couple of "yarn bombed" trees in Sorrento, where we were waiting for a ferry to Capri and the Blue Grotto pictured above