Jul 20, 2013 - Kind of Random, Mindfulness    No Comments

Day 33: What a jazz-playing rideshare driver taught me about grace

Dear Pope Francis,

I’m always amazed — and dismayed — at how quickly I fall out of being present to what Richard Rohr would call the “really real” or the “naked now.” This is especially hard to bear as it takes so much work to get to such a state in the first place. Just as I’ve finally fought past my ego and am in the moment with an open mind, heart, and body, the whole house of cards falls apart. In an instant I’ve closed down again am focused on my own small, petty self. Thankfully, however, these moments are sometimes accompanied by gentle prods from the Divine to open back up again, focus on the moment, and glimpse a truth about myself. The trick is catching these moments of grace, which are always undeserved, before they pass.

Here’s just one recent example. In December, I spent a weekend attending lectures by Richard Rohr on spirituality and the two halves of life. The talks were based on his most recent book, Falling Upwards. The whole weekend was amazing; I learned so much about myself. I felt truly cracked open and expanded. I not only learned from Richard Rohr that weekend, but also from my Sophia classmates. We really bonded over those few days and I felt a closeness with many of them that I hadn’t before.

So it was in this cracked-open, naked state in which I prepared to leave Sophia on Sunday for the journey home. I should note here that I’m not a good traveler. I stress out. A lot. I worry. A lot. For me, each step in the travel process is just a catastrophe waiting to happen. What if my ride is late? What if my first plane is late and I miss my connection? What if there are weather delays? What if I get crammed into a middle or window seat and have to go to the bathroom? Try as I might, most of my trips are a constant stream of worry from beginning to end. And, it’s really just my ego freaking out because it has no control over the process. From the moment I step out of my door until I return home, things are out of my hands. And my neurotic, control-freak ego has a conniption. (Not being in control, by the way, is how Richard Rohr defines suffering.)

But that post-Rohr Sunday I was in a completely different space as I stood waiting for the shared ride van to pick me up and take me to the airport. I wasn’t worried. At all. I’d pushed my ego aside and was prepared to accept the trip home as it came. And, after all, what could possibly happen? I was in this spiritually enlightened space, and that should protect me, like bubble wrap, right?

You know where this is going, don’t you?

My ride was supposed to arrive at 3:15 p.m. Which ticked by and my watch soon read 3:20, then 3:25. Did I mention I was also flying out of a different airport on this trip and it was further away so it would require more travel time? When it was 3:30 I started to edge into panic mode and called the rideshare company. I was told they’d scheduled my pick-up for 3:15 a.m. that day, not p.m.

Right then I dropped like a stone out of the naked now and became one big ball of hopping mad ego.

What did they mean the car came at 3:15 a.m.? Why hadn’t anyone called me when I’d missed it? What were they going to do about it? I had a plane to catch!

The dispatcher put me on hold for a moment, then came back and said they were sending a new van out. It would arrive in 20-25 minutes. I demanded that it not be a shared ride, as I had a schedule to keep and I would now be very behind. The dispatcher promised I would be the only one on that ride.

I ended the call with another stream of complaints. There may have been unkind words about his mother. And her mother.

Having 20-25 minutes to kill when you’re really angry is never a good thing. It gives you time to stew and for the anger to simmer, then bubble, and then boil over. I was well on my way to Mt. Vesuvius mode when suddenly and quietly a line from Richard Rohr’s lectures crept into my head: “Who do you think you are?” He’d actually used it himself in the context of getting upset over travel plans gone wrong.

It stopped me cold. Indeed, who did I think I was? What right did I even have, my little self, to be taking a plane that day, to travel for my Sophia courses, to be able to indulge my spiritual questioning? It was a grace to have this opportunity, why did I insist on getting upset when the least little thing went wrong?

I started to feel awful for how I’d treated the rideshare dispatcher. Yes, it was a mistake and yes it could cause me problems, but nobody was going to die because I didn’t get to the airport on a timeline that fit with my schedule. My smallness and pettiness were illuminated in that moment. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

One good thing about beating yourself up is that time flies while you do it, and soon my van was pulling up. Even though I had just been shown the dark side of myself, I actually started to get angry again. My ego was not done with the situation; it was going to make this driver pay for the wrongs of the company.

Then, something amazing happened. As he drove by me to get to a place where he could turn around, the driver rolled down his window and called out “Hey man, be right there!” I still don’t know whether it was the tone of his voice, or the simple fact that he wanted me to know he cared enough to keep me in the loop, but my anger started to melt. I felt it slide away, and it was nearly gone by the time he pulled up, put my suitcase in the back, and helped me into my seat.

And we were off. Immediately, the driver reached for an iPod he had wired into the van’s sound system, shuffled through a few playlists, and then selected a song. Motown. Very loud Motown. I’m all for a peppy tune, but this was a bit too much. Just as I was about to say something, though, the driver asked me what I did for a living.

“I work in PR,” I said.

“Ah, you mean like you do TV interviews?”

“No,” I replied. “I’m behind-the-scenes. Setting that kind of thing up. I have a face for radio.”

He laughed, then asked “So you must have to be good with people?”

I found myself feeling very glad he hadn’t witnessed either my call with the dispatcher or the internal raging monologue that followed it.

“Yes, I guess so,” I said, neutrally.

“That’s great,” he said. “I love people too. It’s why I love this job. I’m not even supposed to be working today, but I came out of a meeting and they needed someone, so I said yes. I love this job that much. I get to talk to interesting people, and I get to play my music.”

Before I could say something to the topic of that music, that loud, loud music, he went on.

“I’m in a band, you know. Jazz. Big Band. I record everything we do. Want to hear something?”

Great, I thought. Now I’m going to have to listen to bad loud music. And jazz. I really, really don’t like jazz. If I say yes, will he ask my opinion? What if it’s horrible? And I don’t know anything about jazz! What if he asks me to comment on some technical riff the second sax player does?

“Sure,” I said. “That would be nice.”

He grabbed for the iPod again, rummaged through his playlists, and the music began.

“This is from a concert we did last year,” he said. “Sold out show.”

And I don’t know why, but I was instantly captivated by that music. As I said, I’m no jazz aficionado, but something about the song transported me into another state. My brain and soul got quiet again. The loudness didn’t bother me; in fact, I was glad of it so I could be completely surrounded by the music. The driver didn’t ask my opinion, he didn’t ask for any kind of commentary on my part. He just let me listen as we made our way to the airport. The world took on an unreal quality, and reality kind of dropped away. It was just me, the driver, that van and his music. We floated and time stopped.

He played through several more songs, and talked a bit about his band.

“I really do record everything,” he said. “Even when we mess up. Want to hear that?”

“Sure,” I said.

“This bit is from a practice in the garage where we rehearse. It’s hilarious, man. The drummer completely loses the beat and we give him such a hard time.”

And I listened. And the drummer did, indeed, completely lose the beat. It was obvious even to me. And then I heard the low rumbling sounds of men talking trash to each other, giving each other a hard time. Chiding voices filled with masculine affection. The voices of men at home with themselves and each other.

“Yeah,” said the driver. “It’s just the best when we get together. Some of these gigs we get pretty good money. We do one each year for an oil company and I’ll maybe get $500 that night. But, you know, I don’t do it for the money. Not anymore. I do it because I love playing and being with the boys.”

And here, I thought, was someone truly living in the naked now. In love with life, with people, and with what he was doing at every moment. Someone who was willing to share both his talent and his screw-ups. OK, they were technically the drummer’s screw-ups, but what kind of person is proud of when the group they belong to fails in some way — and then shows it off? Someone who had a lot to teach me, obviously.

We entered the airport roadways as the last sounds of the band members laughing faded from the van’s speakers. A feeling of peace and tremendous gratitude flooded through me. This, I thought, was grace at work. I certainly hadn’t deserved such a transformative experience. Really, what I deserved was a long, miserable van ride with an insolent driver who made me late for my plane. What I got, however, was a musical magic carpet ride.

When we pulled up to the curb outside the departures area I realized I didn’t want that ride to end. At all. I didn’t even want to move, out of fear I’d break the spell. But, the driver got out and went to fetch my suitcase so I had to get on with things. I realized then that I hadn’t looked at my watch the whole drive. I had no idea what time it was. So I quickly glanced down.

Imagine my amazement when I realized we’d arrived five minutes sooner than I would have had my original ride shown up on time.

Your friend,


Day 32: Cosmology as story

Dear Pope Francis,

I’ve written here about the New Cosmology. Cosmology is an odd word. It sounds scientific or something a philosopher would say. I have a hard time wrapping my head around it sometimes.

But, cosmology is essentially the story we tell ourselves about how we came to be in this world, and how it was created. The power of cosmology comes from the fact that it uses story. Stories are how we relate to the world. They can also be changed or manipilated. They can include or exclude. They have a perspective.

What those working in the New Cosmology are doing is trying to create an inclusive story of creation. Its not easy, but it’s important that we keep trying.

Here’s a poem I wrote about story.

Tell Me a Story
By Kevin Aschenbrenner

Tell me a story


don’t hold back.

I want all the gory details

nothing’s off limits.

Feel free to embellish

a little

It’s your story, after all

Yours for the telling.

Mine for the listening.

Teach me patience with your story.

Invite me




Stop my whirring brain,

the internal monologue,

the impulse to formulate a reply.

Lead me with your story

to a place where I’m not the centre

of all things.

Where focus shifts outside myself.

To you.

Drop new lenses onto the bridge of my nose

and sharpen my gaze.

Help me with your story

to learn to look past the surface

for the context

and understand that

all that was


and will be

is in your telling.

Turn me, with your story

to face the universe

and see my place

inside of creation.

Equal but unique.

Small but unfolding.

Inspired by the divine in all thing

May your day be full of stories, Pope Francis.

Your friend,

Jul 18, 2013 - My Poetry    No Comments

Day 31: Watch your language

Dear Pope Francis,

Yesterday’s post on the Vatican Twitter indulgence story reminded me of a poem I wrote awhile ago. It was just after I’d begun my studies at the Sophia Center, and I was struggling with not having the language to describe what I was learning. The New Story brought so many, well, new concepts into play in terms of how I understood the Divine, but I lacked the language to discuss them. My “old” words did not seem capable of conveying all of this new meaning. I felt I was fumbling for words.

So, I wrote this poem. I hope you enjoy.


Forgive Me as I Fumble My Words

by Kevin Aschenbrenner


Forgive me




my words.

At thirty-nine, I’m learning to speak


Words I thought

I already



God. Father. King. Religion. Heaven. Hell. Saint. Sinner. Scripture. Jesus. Good. Evil.

These used to be solid, dependable, pronounceable words.

Rolling off my tongue, automatic, thoughtlessly.

I was fluent in that language. Knew its rules.

Learned the conjugations long ago.

Could be understood within my closed tribe.


But these words no longer fit

in my mouth.

Like a favorite food that once made me sick,

and since then I can’t stomach,

to me they now bring nausea

a puckering of the lips

gorge in the throat

warding motions of the hands

grave unease.


And I know why.


These are baggaged words.

They come burdened with meaning

accreted through millennia of misuse



They are barnacled over, sharp.

They wound me now,

when they pass through my throat,

leaving jagged cuts along my tongue and gums.

They wound others who hear them, too.

They alienate, drive off,





I no longer want to pay the baggage fees for these words.

Their cost is prohibitive.

I want to unpack that ugly luggage

smelling of unwashed clothes

too long kept from the fresh air

and let the truth out

to run free again in the world.

As it was always meant to.


For that is what our spirits need.

A good airing out.

Time to shake themselves loose.

Mix with fresh air, and ideas.

Let the wind in to plump them up

Like new pillows

So they may support us in these nervy times

When we all need a soft, safe refuge to collapse upon

To rest, renew, and rise again.


And I will resist temptation to clothe truth too quickly

in binding words.

To end the uncertainty

and placate my anxiety with forced enclosure.

For I know what starts as a flowing linen robe

May soon, if we’re not careful

Become a corset

Or a constricting collar with a perfectly-knotted tie

Making truth becoming to look at

for some

but left scratching at its throat, straining its torso

panicked and unable to breathe.


I will not fear that without those old words

those old bindings

that what lay obscured at their core

is gone.

Truth persists.

It travels well and remains undamaged,

no matter how poor the packaging

or negligent the handling

It bounces back.

Arrives fresh, ripe, unspoiled.

You just have to know it needs peeling

before you can bite in

and let its juice dribble into your soul.


So, forgive me

as I



my words.

I am frustrated, too

that I can’t make myself


as easily

as before.

And this spiritual aphasia may persist

for a good



So if my words come slowly


and ill-fitting

bear with me.

I’m using new vowels and consonants

to build an airy, boundless, transparent net

To both carry truth

and let it breathe.


Jul 18, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Day 30: Indulge me

Dear Pope Francis,

Well, there was certainly a debate stirred up by the story that the Vatican might be offering indulgences for Twitter followers on your @pontifex account.

OK, so The Guardian maybe didn’t read the fine print on that before writing the headline. Here’s a more balanced view from Fr. James Martin, which stresses that this is about World Youth Day and ways of connecting if you can’t be there in person.

I’m all for opening things up, as Fr. Martin suggests that the Vatican is doing. It’s great that you are encouraging people to engage with you online.

But why the sin/hell talk? And plenary indulgences? Didn’t that go out with, you know, hair shirts and self-flagellation? At the very least they’re not mentioned much in a post-Vatican II context.

What I would have loved to have seen was messaging from the Vatican around how to participate in World Youth Day if you can’t be there in person, and a list of online resources and ways to see key events live-streamed online.

Maybe The Guardian wouldn’t have been able to run with such a hyperbolic headline, but at least it would not have led to more eye-rolling and “oh, there goes the Vatican” on social media and elsewhere. Language is important, and words such as “indulgences” or “purgatory” just reinforce the image of the Catholic Church as being all about sin, guilt and failing. That’s rather sad, as most of us Catholics know the Church is so, so much more.

Again, it’s so good to see the Vatican opening up to new means of communication. I just think this attempt needed a bit of fine-tuning. Maybe instead of focusing on sin, hell and purgatory (oh my!), a message about how participating in World Youth Day, no matter how, is another way of connecting with the Divine.

And we all need more of those in our lives.

Hope your packing for Brazil is going well.

Your friend,




Jul 16, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Day 29: Contact

Dear Pope Francis,

So, this is my 29th post and I’ve yet to hear from you. No worries. I know you’re busy. I can wait.

In the meantime, to make it easier for you to get in touch I’ve added a new page to the blog with more about me and contact info. You can find it here, or at the top of the list of options at the right.

So, go on, check it out!

Your friend,


Jul 16, 2013 - Kind of Random    No Comments

Day 28: Don’t stop believing

Dear Pope Francis,

Corey Monteith, star of a popular U.S. television program called “Glee” passed away over the weekend in Vancouver. He was 31. No cause has been released yet, but he had a long history with substance abuse and was recently in rehab.

I don’t know why I’m writing about this today. Maybe because the other main story in North America right now has been 1) covered way too much and 2) is not something I could begin to know to write about.

But I can write about Corey Monteith. Sort of. I don’t know him personally. I’ve never met him. I couldn’t tell you if he was a nice guy or not. But those who have met him have said nice things about him.

I only know that he starred in a show that celebrated difference, and he played a character who was, above all, true to himself. And, he and the other actors performed songs guaranteed to brighten your day. At least they often brightened mine. Is “Glee” high art? No. Was Corey Monteith special? No.

But I’m inexplicably sad all the same. Because, on the surface, Corey Monteith never showed the pain he must have been in to abuse drugs the way he reportedly did. He showed up to work, sang his heart out, did his lines, and put on a brave face. Of course, he got paid well to do it, and became famous — with all the perks that brings. But you never read stories in the press about Corey Monteith devolving like other celebrities who were eaten alive by drugs. He just sang. And acted. And went to rehab. And came out. And appeared to be OK and getting his life together.

And then, one day in Vancouver, he died. Like many others who fight addictions and don’t make it. When the news first came out, someone wrote on Twitter that the overdoses happen every day and the police do not hold press conferences, so why should they for Corey Monteith. I guess that’s true.

But I’m still a little sad. And I don’t know exactly why.

Here’s one of the first songs Corey Monteith and his castmates did on “Glee.” It’s still one of my favorites.


Your friend,



Jul 15, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Day 27: Who you are is good enough.

this article todayDear Pope Francis,

I read this article today that compared you to Princess Diana. It said you’re the Princess Diana of the Church  Maybe reporters need shorthand was to sum you up, but I thought this was pretty thin. For one thing, by identifying you with Diana, the reporter defines you — and everything about your papacy so far says you resist easy definitions of who you are.

I thought of this poem that I thought was apt in this situation.

Saint Francis and the Sow
The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;  
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;  
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch  
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow  
began remembering all down her thick length,  
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,  
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine  
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering  
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

Jul 13, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Day 25: Friends

Dear Pope Francis,

I read this article today in which you said “there are many masters of the Pope.” It made me a little sad and hopeful that you have some friends you can trust in what seems like a very unfriendly place.

I spent time with friends yesterday and today and it’s really a gift to have people in your life with whom you can be yourself. No agendas. No pretenses. Just people holding space for each other. It’s holy time.

I hope you get some time with friends this weekend, Pope Francis.

Your friend,

Jul 12, 2013 - Poets, Resources    No Comments

Day 24: Two of my favorite people in one post!

Dear Pope Francis,

A treat today. Poet Drew Dellinger writing about Thomas Berry. So much awesome for one blog post.

Carolina Prophet: Poem for Thomas Berry
By Drew Dellinger

we were dreamed
in the cores
of the stars.
like the stars,
we were meant to unfold

we were dreamed in the depths
of the undulating ocean.
like the waves,
we were meant to unfold

like bursting supernovas, birthing elements,
which crucibles give rise to creativity?

the world makes us
its instrument.

Father Thomas,
speaking for stars, in a voice
old as wind: ‘origin moments
are supremely important’

what are the origins
of a prophet?

found in syllables of Sanskrit,
or Chinese characters?
in a decade of midnight prayer?

in childhood epiphanies
rising like heat?

blue Carolina sky;
dark pines;
on the lilies,
in the meadow,
across the creek.

born in Carolina
on the eve of the Great War,
Saturn conjoining Pluto in the sky.
raised in a world of wires and wheels,
watching dirt roads turn to pavement.

brooding intensity,
measuring loss
when others could see only progress.

white hair communing with angels of Earth

Father Thomas, reminding us
we are constantly bathed in shimmering memories
of originating radiance

we are constantly bathed in shimmering memories
of originating radiance

the psychic stars:
the conscious soil:

this thin film of atmosphere;

and only gravity
holding the sea from the stars.

when a vision of the universe takes hold
in your mind, your soul becomes vast as the cosmos.

when the mind is silent,
everything is sacred.

like the spiral
like the lotus
like the waves
like the trees
like the stars,

we were meant to unfold.

Hope you enjoyed. If you like Drew’s poetry, you should really buy his book.

Your friend,