Jun 28, 2015 - Social Justice, Vatican    No Comments

Poem: But


A heart shaped out of flames

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/mantasmagorical




You were created in the image of the Divine…

You are treasured by the Beloved…

Jesus loved those on the margins best…

You deserve respect…

You are intrinsically disordered.
You’re only holy if you’re celibate. That’s your gift.
It’s against God’s wishes that you marry.
If you do marry, you are cut off from the Eucharist.
Which was meant for all sinners, but not sinners like you.
You can’t teach our children.
No matter what talent you have for inspiring them.
Or even come to family dinners where children might be present.
(Your corruption can be spread when passing the butter.)
Or even have happy families of your own. That’s just not possible.

It’s because we love our Church that we say this.
One Holy, Catholic, Immutable Church.
We’re caught, you see, between you,
and these immutable laws we wrote down,
in permanent ink,
that can’t be changed,
despite what the Divine is showing us
ever more forcefully,
through the witness of the people,
and the signs of the times,
that are themselves written in heartbeat red,
demanding attention.

And we love the sinner, hate the sin.
Love, you see, is narrow,
and unkind,
and to be earned, or withheld,
on our say so,
because we know the will of God,
and your love
So we can’t.


Under this weight of “buts”,
you still love.
You are, in fact,
a crucible,
for love.
Your love is questioned,
and taunted,
denied, shunned,
and hated.
Yet, you love.
And show facets of love maybe not yet discovered,
or, before this, known only to the Divine.
Love 2.0.
Full-stop love,
with no buts implied.

We are all called: Responding to unspeakable violence

A heart shaped out of flames

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/mantasmagorical

Dear Pope Francis,

It has been a week marked by grief and sadness in Canada, the country where I live. In just one week we had two incidents where troubled individuals acted out in violence, taking the lives of two of our military. One attacked the seat of our federal government itself, Parliament Hill, in Ottawa. Since both attacks I have been grappling with how to respond. Grief and sadness can so easily lead to fear and anger.

Yet,  acting out of fear and anger may not be the best way to respond to unspeakable acts of evil. As with much in this life, I think the answer lies in mystery, in paradox. For, I think grief and sadness should motivate us to act out of love and openness, rather than shutting down and closing off in anger and fear. It’s not easy to do. I don’t even know if I’m capable of that.

I wrote the following poem as a way of working this out.


We Are All Called

By Kevin Aschenbrenner


We are all called.

We are all called.

In these nervous, anxious times

when fear and anger seem to be

our only options.

We are all called

to show up in the world

clothed in compassion and peace.


This is not easy,

and might seem like giving up,

giving in,

or even weak.

It might seem better, even sensible,

to choose fear and anger.

We’re protecting ourselves,

we could say.

We will not be intimidated,

we could say.


We could choose to fear the thoughts of others

before they even have them.

Or even act on them.

We can fear them just for thinking

thoughts we don’t like.


We could turn away from the troubled,

when they cry out for help

in ways we don’t understand,

thinking they’re not worth our time

or money,

especially our money,

and then react in disbelief and anger

when the troubled return our disinterest with violence,

the only way, it seems

to get us to listen.




We could realize

that we are all called.

We are all called

to be in the world

and see it for what it is

and not what we’d like it

or fear it

to be.

We are called to see the pain.

We are called to use our creativity

and put our heads and hearts together

to dream up better answers;

Because the ones we have now

are not life-giving

but life-taking.


We are called not to strike out in violence,

but pull in,

with embraces.


We are all called.

We are all called.

To show up in this world,

clothed in compassion and peace.


Please pray for us, Pope Francis, that we might respond with open hearts to a troubled world.

Your friend,


Gratefully overwhelmed

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/Prawny

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/Prawny

Dear Pope Francis,

Well, if you ever want to see a spike in blog traffic, write about falling in with Anglicans. I am so happily overwhelmed with the response to that post. As of today, it’s had 3300 views and people have left some really amazing and thoughtful comments that I very much appreciate. It was even shared on Reddit. It seems many folks resonated with what I expressed in that post.

Honestly, I did not expect such a response. I felt like getting my thoughts on attending an Anglican parish onto the blog, and so I sat down and wrote. I never imagined it would be shared so widely. I’m truly grateful to everyone who read it and passed it on.

If I’ve learned anything from the response to the post is that there’s a restlessness among many Catholics and a desire to see a church that reflects a living embodiment of our faith. Many people have also expressed a desire to see the walls come down between faith communities and, ultimately, around the Divine. There are so many rules that do more to keep people from fully experiencing a living, loving God rather than bringing them into a closer relationship with the Beloved. Catholic, by definition, means universal, and I think we’ve been falling short of that name for quite awhile.

I’m excited by the dialogue created around my post, especially the interfaith response. I think it’s a sign that we’re on our way to something new, something big, as we all grow in our understanding of the Divine Mystery. I, for one, can’t wait to see what evolves.

Your friend,


Sep 28, 2014 - Spirituality    35 Comments

I’ve taken up with the Anglicans


Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/jclk8888

Dear Pope Francis,

I’ve taken up with the Anglicans. I know. I don’t really understand it, either. It just kind of happened.

Except that it didn’t just happen, and I do understand it.

You see, I’ve been searching for a long, long time for a new faith community. Eight years ago, when I moved to where I live now, I tried out several local Catholic parishes, and was sorely disappointed. Actually, that’s putting it mildly. I left nearly every Sunday Mass feeling angry. I went to the cathedral one Sunday. The Gospel reading was the passage where Jesus steps in when an adulterous woman is about to be stoned and asks the crowd if any among them hadn’t committed a sin. It’s a Gospel rich in meaning and revelation about who Jesus was, and who we are as the people who follow him. The sermon, however, was all about sin. Sin. Sin. Sin. Oh, and not crossing the Magisterium. I wanted to leave after the sermon and shake the dust from my shoes as I went. But I stayed, and stewed. I tried a few more parishes after that, but it was more of the same. And I was rarely welcomed as a newcomer. Nobody went out of their way to say hi. Mind you, if they caught me after that cathedral sermon, or those like it, I was probably radiating anger.

In my mind, you shouldn’t leave Mass angry. Confused, maybe. Challenged, yes. But angry? No.

Over the last year I started to orbit around a local Anglican parish. I began attending a contemplative prayer group hosted there twice a month. I made friends with their new rector, who I met on Twitter. We had coffee several times. During one of those chats, he mentioned that the Anglican Eucharist is an open table, and that, as a baptized Catholic, I could receive communion. To my Catholic hindbrain this sounded revolutionary. My whole lifetime in the Catholic Church was spent hearing about the seemingly many things that could cut one off from receiving the Eucharist. An open table? Who were these people? I’m also a little embarrassed to admit that I went home after coffee with my priest friend and googled whether or not I would be excommunicated for receiving Eucharist at an Anglican mass. Turns out I wouldn’t. The fact that I hadn’t actually been to a Catholic Eucharist in ages kind of made that moot, but, still, old habits die hard.

It was still several months before I attended my first Anglican Mass. Part of the issue was I’ve gotten very used to having no schedule on the weekend, and the idea of showing up somewhere at 10 a.m. on a Sunday seemed a little problematic. A week ago, though, I ran out of excuses and there I was, in the pew. And it felt good. Really good.

First, I was welcomed. Not just by the greeter at the door, but by almost everyone, at every turn. People seemed genuinely glad to see me. I already knew a few people from the parish, and they came over to say hello. But there were others, complete strangers, who welcomed me and said they were glad I chose to visit.

The next amazing thing was that a woman read the Gospel and gave the sermon. I know. Imagine that. And, apparently this happens often! It’s not just a one-time thing. A woman. Speaking in church. Preaching. It took me a bit to even wrap my head around that it was so awesome.

The liturgy was easy to follow, and there were even leaflets in the pews advising newcomers on the basic logistics: how to follow along, how Communion worked, etc… And, to be honest, nobody around me seemed to care if I made a misstep or two. Try doing that in a Catholic Mass. Eyes will shoot daggers at you.

There was coffee after Mass and, again, people went out of their way to welcome me and engage in conversation. It was truly lovely.

I went home absolutely full, and a little tired. I’m an introvert and so that many new people is a little overwhelming. I’m not ashamed to say that, driving home, I got a little misty eyed. It had been so long since I’d felt welcomed into a Eucharist celebration. The only other time recently where I’ve felt such a sense of welcome and belonging was at the Mass held at the end of the Sophia Summer Institute, where I did my M.A. program. That is also a truly inclusive celebration.

And that was at the heart of it for me. Inclusivity. This is a community that welcomes everyone. In fact, the prayer after communion even has the line “We celebrate Christ. By including everyone!”. I think that pretty much says it all.

I went back today for Sunday Communion and had the same welcoming experience. This week, the parish was holding a special meeting after Mass about developing a response on officially recognizing same sex unions in the Anglican Church of Canada’s marriage rite. Imagine that. Parishioners actually meeting to share their thoughts with those in higher authority. (And the group agreed overwhelmingly to recommend expanding the marriage rite to include same sex couples.)

Women preaching. Parishioners given credit for being intelligent, thoughtful members of the Church who can be trusted with big decisions. Contrast that with the Catholic Church where 250 celibate men are about to gather and talk about family life. Stark, isn’t it?

And, for me, this is the crux of things. I know people who stay in the Catholic Church and take a guerrilla stance, hoping things will change. I admire them, and hope so too. But, I’m tired of not having a faith community of my own. I’m tired of not having a place to go on Sunday to receive the Eucharist. And, mostly I’m tired of being in a Church where the hierarchy is so badly out of sync with the real world it’s beyond a bad joke. Every time I read about a priest or bishop who has denied communion to a good and faithful Catholic based on outdated thinking and hurtful prejudices, it breaks my heart. And I don’t think I can be even a silent part of it any more.

That said, I’m not giving up my Catholic identity. In fact, there are quite a few Catholics in this Anglican parish. I haven’t met any of them yet, but I’m sure I will. Maybe we should wear badges or something. I guess I’m going to try being Catholic within a non-Catholic community for a little while and see how it goes.

Because, quite frankly Pope Francis, life’s too short. I need a faith community. I need to attend Mass and participate in the Eucharist.

I need to be home.

Your friend,


Sep 2, 2014 - New Cosmology    1 Comment

What is Your Great Work?

A potter at work

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/Jusben

Dear Pope Francis,

I spent a good part of this past summer re-reading “The Great Work” by Thomas Berry. Berry was a Catholic priest who argued that we humans must stop thinking of ourselves as the top of the heap when it comes to all the other beings with whom we share our one precious planet. In Berry’s mind, only by truly seeing ourselves in the context of the long, long history of the Universe and how we co-exist with the rest of creation can we humans begin to bring ourselves into right relationship with the rest of the Earth’s inhabitants.

It’s bringing about that shift into right relationship that Thomas Berry believed was the true mission of those of us alive right now, in this particular moment in the history of our planet. He called this the Great Work, and devoted an entire book to the topic. In one passage I keep re-reading, Berry says that each of us was “chosen by some power beyond ourselves” for the task of the Great Work. Says Berry, “We are, as it were, thrown into existence with a challenge and a role that is beyond any personal choice. The nobility of our lives, however, depends on the manner in which we come to understand and fulfill our assigned role.”

I suppose this could be read as Berry saying each of us was born with an assigned task and we must, mechanistically, carry it out absent any free will. Having read more of his writing, however, I don’t think that’s what he means. What I get from this passage is that, at this time in our history where there is so much evidence of the ecological imbalance we humans have caused on this planet, we have a chance to wake up and move things in a new direction.

I think Berry is saying that each of us brought into this world with us unique gifts that, at this particular moment in time, are crucial to putting all of humanity in a better relationship with the rest of creation. Maybe someone has an aptitude for science and can study the shifting climate and predict what that means. Perhaps others are good communicators and can translate complex science into language everyone understands. Artists make us see our daily reality in new ways, inspiring action. Farmers, cooks, caregivers, parents, healers, fixers — they keep everything from breaking down. Spiritual guides remind us to square our lives with something greater than ourselves in how we live out each moment.

It’s hard to see a way out of the pain of this world sometimes. What can one person do? Well, that one person can’t do everything — but his or her gifts are perfectly suited to doing some things very well. This is where each of us can help. By pulling together, each in our own unique way, we can effect great change.

This is what I think Thomas Berry meant. He’s asking each of us to consider one question: What is my Great Work? Figure that out, and you have your assignment. Answer that question, and you can help save the world.

Your friend,



Aug 8, 2014 - Vatican    No Comments

Cry out, sisters, cry out

Dear Pope Francis —

I know you’re busy, but I’m sure you must have heard that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is holding their annual meeting next week. They have a great plenary speaker, Sister Elizabeth Johnson. She is a noted theologian who has written several important books on the nature of our relationship to the Divine. Unfortunately, not everyone thinks she’s amazing. Tellingly, it’s mostly men who think this, and it’s mostly men who have criticized the LCWR for having her as a speaker. Interesting, that.

This is also something of a watershed meeting for the LCWR. After the meeting, the organization will fall squarely under the purview of U.S. bishops tapped by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to oversee the group. Again, men have been tapped by to tell a group of intelligent, dedicated, devout women how they should exist in the Church. Interesting, that.

I think Sister Joan Chittister sums this up pretty well in a piece published today by the National Catholic Reporter:

Next week, for instance, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious will face decisions that will move the question of the agency of women in a man’s church either forward or back. Strange as it may seem in the 21st century, the issue is whether or not women are capable of hearing diverse speakers and still remain faithful Catholics. The issue is whether or not women religious may discuss various points of view on major issues and still remain faithful Catholics. The issue is whether or not women religious can manage their own organizations and still be faithful Catholics. The Vatican’s answer to those questions is no. For the last 45 years, however, LCWR’s answer to those same questions has been a clear and persistent yes.

That same article includes a link to a petition asking you, Pope Francis, to personally intervene in the situation. I do hope you’ll consider it. You’ve been doing a lot of intervening lately. I think the LCWR deserves some attention and support.

Your friend,


Jul 31, 2014 - Kind of Random    No Comments

We are all one

Two people holding hands on a path.

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/taliesin

Dear Pope Francis,

Hope you’re well and having a balanced summer of not too much work and some rest. You deserve it.

I heard a local city councillor in the radio this morning. He was talking about the upcoming municipal elections and how the business community was looking at endorsing a slate of candidates felt to be friendly to their interests. In principle, I don’t really have a problem with that. Businesses are the economic lifeblood of any community and they deserve to have their interests represented on city council as long as they are held in balance with the needs of other residents.

What I found distressing about this particular councillor’s comments was that he expressed concern about the amount of city money going into efforts to end homelessness. He questioned the city’s involvement in social housing, saying there is only so much tax money to go around, and it might be better spent on improving things for local businesses.

In my mind, this is not a helpful view of city residents as it comes from an outdated sense that there are different kinds of citizens. What the councillor seemed to be saying is that there are residents of the city who deserve tax dollars to be sent their way, and those who don’t.

This view is highly problematic as it does not take into account the complex interrelatedness of our society. In short, we are all one and what happens to one group affects another. Devoting tax dollars to providing housing options for all residents of the city does not mean taking away money from businesses. In fact, it might free up money. Like most urban centres around the world, we have a homeless population whose needs are unevenly met by local city services. Because these residents often have substance abuse, mental health challenges, or both, they are most often dealt with by local police, who spend time shuttling them from cells to the hospital in a never-ending cycle. A significant amount of police resources goes into doing this — resources that might not be necessary if adequate housing options were available. Lower policing costs could translate into lower business taxes or an increase in services.

Our economic systems also depend on the full participation of all residents. Providing stable housing for homeless residents increases the chance that they will be able to address any mental health or addiction issues, find stable employment, pay taxes –and  buy products and services from local businesses. This is not wasted money; it will go back into the local economy, probably at a greater rate than taxes earmarked for other residents.

Separating out local residents into us versus them, deserving versus less-deserving, or business owner versus homeless is not only misguided, it is also economically problematic.

Your friend,


Some recent writing

Dear Pope Francis,

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve written to you. Life has a funny way of, well, happening. But, I have been writing and publishing in other places. Here are links to a couple of recent pieces by me.



Hope you enjoy.

Your friend,