Chapter 2

Here is Chapter 2 of a rough draft in progress.  You can find Chapter 1 by clicking here.  Enjoy!

NORTH

 

The white building stood out in contrast against the Manhattan skyline.  Not that it functioned as Manhattan anymore. The towers once built to prosperity and ambition had fallen, only to rise again as centers of study and contemplation.

The city had improved.  Crime vanished.  All the perversions once considered art were confiscated and burned on barges that circled the land in constant reminder.

It took some time, yes, but the populace came around.

This morning an aria echoed from deep inside the bedroom broadcast on speakers to reach the limits of the porch.  The porch was that in term only.  It consisted of Italian marble, a grand fountain, luxury furniture and a media center covering all areas of the territory.

Even with the spread of options, Father Paul Kramer sat with his journal on his knees and a pencil in hand.  The wind rising up the building shifted what was left of his hair. He was writing notes on the cross and the idea of self-sacrifice for a greater good.

The flow of logic gave much-needed comfort.

For what were they without logic?

They were the bastard children of Rome.

When word came that all funding and support would be cut, they had to get creative. It was not time to panic.  It was time to gather and set plans in motion.

He stopped writing and looked to the horizon.  Far below the workforce would be starting their morning commute. The war had ended.  Things looked different now. This was a second chance.

This was the new center of faith without corruption, Rome without the scourge of revisionist history.

“He requests your presence.”

The statement came from his left. Kramer checked his watch.  The bastard was always on time.

“I’m on the way.”

The attendant scurried back inside.

 

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The elevator to the Holy Residence rose in blinding speed.  They had adapted it from the tech firm that owned in building in the time before.  It was accessible only by retina scan and monitored by three levels of security.  Kramer watched the floors blink by until the numbers vanished.

No one really knew how high they were headed.

In a moment, the doors opened.

He always thought of the temple, of their Lord and Savior clearing out the tables of the money changers.  The scriptures had said he fashioned a whip and drove out all those seeking to business in the house of the God.

What would Jesus say about this?

A vault of gold and currency, guarded by soldiers. A communications center four times the size of his own. A media studio broadcasting the morning news. Conference rooms with men in suits talking seriously over cups of coffee.

Kramer walked past all of this ignoring their fleeting glances.

Finally, when it seemed he would stride off the edge of the floor and fall into nothingness, a set of doors stood in his path.  These guards, four altogether, moved to the side.  One keyed in a code that changed daily.   The doors retracted and he walked through as they closed behind him with the hiss of pressurized air.

The far wall was glass from east to west. The bed had been constructed here, overlooking the city but not close enough to the edge that a stray member of the media could take a picture. A body laid on the bed, deep under a mound of covers.

Two doctors passed a tablet back and forth looking at images. A nurse replaced an IV bag.

“How is he?” Kramer asked.  One of the doctors turned to him.

“Good morning Father.” The man went to bow and Kramer waved him off.

“Tell me.”

“Two weeks, maybe six.  The cancer is spreading.”

Laughter came from the bed.  Kramer walked to the edge and touched the skeletal hand that rested on the blankets.

“You still use that thing?”

He looked at the pocket of his coat and the edge of the journal sneaking out. Even with a tumor in his brain, his vision was still sharp.

“How are you doing Vinny?”

The nurse cringed.  When Kramer made eye contact with her, she smoothed out her scrubs and left the room.

“Fine brother. Just fine.”

Vincenzo had risen through the parishes in the midst of the war. He was young, a star of the faith.  He delivered fiery messages that grew the church.  He was the architect of this new world.

He was still the kid from the Bronx that would play pickup basketball after school.

“Soon this will be yours.”

“No, sir.  Not me. No one knows you’re sick.  We can milk this as long as we need. Set up a stable transition.”

“There’s nothing stable anymore.”

“When’s the last time you heard of any conflict?”

Vinny laughed again.  The laughter turned to a deep cough that rattled his lungs.

“You remember Sister Margaret?”

Margaret was a nun of the old order, ancient when they were kids.  She ran her classroom like a dictatorship and they’d gone home with many years of scarred knuckles.

“Of course.”

“She always said silence was deadly. Idle hands are the devil’s playground and all that.”

They stopped talking.  Machines beeped in the background.

“Get Father Paul a chair.”

One of the doctors looked over for a second and went back to his reports. The movement happened in a blink. The arm that had rested on the blanket now gripped the doctor’s hand.  The guy dropped his tablet as it skittered across the floor.

“Now.”

The doctor left the bedroom and returned with one of the chairs from outside.

“Leave us.”

They left together. Kramer settled in the seat.

“You didn’t have to do that Vinny, scaring the kid.”

“I still got it, don’t I? Now get that journal out.  We have some business to discuss.”

 

 

The Forgotten Morning

I woke up today and just wasn’t feeling it.  The sky was cloudy, work would be busy.  The boys were their crazy selves. I drove in and sat at my desk and it just hit me.

The weight of everything fell on my shoulders. I was on the ropes, taking shots and trying to hang on. Strength faded.

Ever feel like this?

The Psalms were one of the first places I found and rested in the Bible. David is honest. Yes, he writes about all kinds of praise and picturesque images.  He also lays out his heart over suffering and sorrow. He flows through the heights and depths of all human existence.

In the 56th Psalm he writes that God knows his tears and that they are written down and accounted for.  God remembers. As I read over that line I suddenly understood.

I felt forgotten.

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It is the nightmare for any writer.  In Dante’s Inferno, the souls in hell can see the future and past, but not the present.  Their punishment is living as personifications of the forgotten, never knowing where they stand at that moment. Imagine a life where the present is a void of empty space.

Most of us live it every day.

We regret and mourn the past while we fear the future. We look back and ahead with such an intensity that it blanks out the present.  We miss the moments that matter. Dante wrote this as a punishment in hell.  Why settle for it as reality?

The night ended better than the day.

I spent time with Carter, helped him with his homework and watched him make an art project. We talked about his emotions and what it feels like to get angry. I looked in his eyes and there was a genuine connection.

Grab the connections.  Hold them in your heart. For they are divine instances of God reminding you things will be okay. You are not forgotten. Your sorrows are numbered and, because God knows, he will intervene.

God knows. Even in the silence, the sadness, the illness, the conflict, struggle and strife.

He will make something beautiful from our stories. Every page and moment counts.

~Matt

What Lights Your Fuse?

Most of us can articulate what we want.  Ask someone on the street or in the next desk at work and you’ll get a quick list of the usual answers of bigger, better stuff and success.  We have these dreams that quicken our heart rate and all it takes is one negative voice for them to quiet down.

This week, as I near finishing the editing process for my upcoming book about the fight against poverty, I’m devoting time to refining my dreams and goals:

~A writing business that makes a difference in the lives of clients and organizations.

~Publications that inspire, engage, and spread hope across an international audience.

~To be able to work from my computer.  Whether at home, a Barnes and Noble, a bench at the park or a blanket on the beach.

~To be there for my boys as they grow up, create a legacy they’ll be proud of, and set a foundation for their future and generations to follow.

The choice is really a tipping point. Google success stories and you’ll find plenty. What makes those people different from you and I?

The decision to go.

The last instructions of Jesus were to Go and Make Disciples of all the world. The order still applies. Time is too short to stand still.  Make use of every day you have and keep moving.

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This is our son Aiden in a pic taken this weekend.  Every time I see it, I smile and I understand.  This is why.  This is one of the flames that light the fuse every morning, in every quiet moment and dark time, and keeps me burning for what is to come.

Find your inspiration this week, grasp it, and get to work.

~Matt

 

Failure is Not an Option

I just started reading a book this weekend by Lewis Howes called The School of Greatness.  Howes is an athlete and entrepreneur.  He has an inspiring story and great podcast that I highly recommend.  In the chapter I read last night, he posed this challenge:

Imagine what your life would look like if you knew you could never fail.

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Fear can be crippling, whether we fear success or failure. We can be scared to break out of the box of our own expectations and those of our family. We grow up listening to the narratives that swirl around us.  It takes drive and effort to break the trend and stand out, to tell the ghosts of the pasts that they don’t have any power in the present or the future.

This weekend, as you hand out candy and dress up in costumes, take a moment and picture your life without failure.  What would you do, how would you change, what would you create? What impact would you make in this world that longs for someone to come and change things?

What legacy would you leave?

Make plans and, when Monday comes, take the first step towards a new future.  I know I will.

~Matt

The Joy Initiative

Around 12:30 last night the wind woke me from a dead sleep.  The curtains in our bedroom whipped out from the wall as rain pelted the windows.  I opened the door to the bathroom just in time to see a decorative picture fly off the windowsill and land in the sink.

The alarm sounded at 6:15.

I showered, dressed, and arrived at work by 7:00 for an ultrasound on my heart.

Last week I had visited the eye doctor who told me that my eyes showed signs of hypertension.  The advantage of working at a cardiologist office is that you can handle your own appointments and schedule your own tests, removing any chance to procrastination. The doc assured me that everything was precautionary, that my heart murmur was nothing to worry about and that my EKG was only mildly abnormal.

Something about your heart makes you think and, at a point in mid afternoon, a realization hit me.

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I’d spent way too long doing work that does not bring me joy or make the world a better place.

Change is coming. It will not happen all at once and it starts now. It consists of purposeful actions to gain freedom from the daily grind of earning a paycheck but not a life, stuff but not substance. I’m tired of punching a clock and coming home exhausted physically and emotionally.

It is time to start shaping a future of realized dreams, serving others and making the most of it. I want to feel like time is on my side again.

How about you? Does any of this sound familiar? We all get to this place at points in our life and only a few will do something about it. As long as you’re breathing, you have a chance.

Join me and take it.

~Matt

The Bird

I parked my car outside of work this morning with about five minutes to spare. I opened the car windows to let in a breeze and checked the headlines for the day on my phone.  Movement, just on the other side of the hood, caught my eye.

I had parked across from a shrub, about knee-high, and trimmed in the shape of a U.  It was a bright green and, just in the midst of the branches, flashed a streak of yellow.  As I watched, it flashed again and the movement took shape.

A smear of black sat above the yellow wings and body. Deep inside this shrub, a bird had settled in the morning sun.

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This was no forest, no sanctuary. This was no mountain or stream running close by.

This was a parking lot.

The bird could have flown to a much nicer environment.  An elementary school sits just past the parking lot surrounded by trees. In a minute, it could have found an entire group of trees, real trees, and set up shop. It could have lived a fairly solid bird life.

But it was nestled in this shrub, in this parking lot, not seeing the horizon beyond the branches.

This is one of those weeks, one of times of spiritual surgery. You feel like you are on the operating table and someone forgot the anesthesia. Doors close while others open. Prayers are answered as quick as needs arise. Through it all, God offers assurance.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

Faith is the search. The fight. The effort to keep moving even if you can’t see the end.  It is one more word, one last phone call, one hug that helps a person fight their depression one more night. It is picking up when you don’t have the energy to move and pushing through.

For our walls can be climbed. Our cage can be opened. Our future is planned and known.  Our dreams are a guide. Great things are coming. I don’t mean some corny prosperity gospel thing.

I mean victories. Creation. Love. Peace. Movement. Building bridges. Helping someone know and understand that they matter, that their fight is important to you.

For are known by the fight, not the end result.  We are called to radical love that destroys the precepts of this world. Jesus told us to Go. Follow. Pray. Sacrifice. Make Disciples.

The day to rest is the day we find ourselves called home once again.

The day to move is now.

~Matt

Break Every Chain

This is a post about freedom.

Not a belated July 4th celebration.  A different kind of freedom.

We all have ways we define our lives. We claim things for our own. We fill in our incomplete sentences and pick identities from the moments of life God had placed in our past. Make your way around a party and talk to people.  You’ll find the spoiled one, the beaten down and abused, the rich and privileged.

I remember playing on the golf team in high school.  One of the guys was the son of a family that owned a pair of furniture stores in town.  He wore the best clothes and had the most expensive golf clubs.  His name was his identity.

There is a danger here.

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The crucifixion scene in the Bible always fascinated me.  The imagery was harsh and dramatic. I could picture the wind and rain-swept hillside, the trio of crosses with thunder crashing in the background.  I could see the guards and the brave few supporters of Jesus gathering at his feet.  The part that fascinated me was his words:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

There are volumes of debate and analysis on the meaning of this question.  We understand that, in the moment, Jesus had taken on all sin to be the living sacrifice for our salvation.  God, in perfection, could not assist.  His Will be done.

The Son had to move on without the Father to complete his ultimate journey.

I believe we are all called out on the water.  To realize our destiny, we throw off the chains of our past and step forward.

We are shaped by our past, defined by our future, and driven by our dreams.

Tonight I pray you know freedom from the things holding you back. I pray you find new life and look in the mirror and know you are okay. You are strong. You are able.

You will make it.

~Matt

Real Neat Blog Award

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I want to thank my friend Roxanna for a Real Neat Blog Award nomination.  Her blog is filled with encouragement and she is passionate about making a difference for her readers.  You can find her blog by clicking here.  If you are ready for a positive change and new purpose, check it out and follow tonight!

Thank you for everyone in my audience.  I’m blessed that you’ve decided to join this community on a journey that can change your life.

In terms of the Real Neat Blog Award, here are the rules…

RULES

  • Put the award logo on your blog.
  • Answer 7 questions asked by the person who nominated you.
  • Thank the people who nominated you, linking to their blog.
  • Nominate any number of bloggers you like, linking to their blogs.
  • Let them know you nominated them (by commenting on their blog, etc.)

Here are the questions and my answers;

1. Who has been the single most influential person in your life to date?

-This could go so many ways.  Right now, I’d say my son Carter.  He’s six years old and he’s everything I never was in my childhood.  He’s athletic and outgoing. He had endless energy.  He’s funny and, in many ways, he’s my hero. He’s teaching me about myself as a man, husband, and father. I hope, and pray, I can live up to his expectations one day.

2. What book has impacted your life the most (so far)?

-I’m going with one from the fiction and nonfiction worlds.  The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a necessity for anyone looking to amp up their creative efforts. It is encouragement and a much-needed kick in the rear end. The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene is the other.  Greene is a master, the novelist I wanted to emulate from the moment I read him in college. There are parts of his books that have seared themselves on my heart. If you haven’t read either of these books, check them out ASAP.  You won’t be disappointed.

3. Share with us a link to a blog post by you that you think we ought to read (or re-read 😉 )

Why I Believe.

4. Share with us a quote which is either funny or cheesy :-p

-I love everything from Pressfield’s book that I mentioned above.  Here’s a solid quote that covers all the bases: a little funny, a little cheesy, and true.

There's a secret that real writers know

5. What do you want to change in your community?

-I want to see widespread social and economic change.  I want to see people living lives of faith and life in action.  I want people to know that God does cut through the cosmos and interject into our lives, that reality can be changed and hope is real. I want new lives, to draw attention to the people fighting to make a difference and give them the encouragement needed to wake up and do it all again tomorrow.

6. What inspires you (or pushes you 😉 ) to blog?

-When I graduated with my MFA in creative writing, I had a thesis novel in my hands and a major question waiting to be answered.  What would I do? The idea hit me like a hammer, what if I could write to make a difference? What if the words could change people and speak into their situations? That drove me to this blog and my current project writing about the battle against poverty in the city of Reading, Pennsylvania (named the poorest city in the United States in 2011). I believe we are all called to make a difference and I want to tell the stories that matter.  That drives me to every post and publication.

7. Share with us the happiest period of your life so far.

-I’ve been blessed by marrying my high school sweetheart.  We’ve had two amazing boys and any of these moments count.  I’d say these current times are my happiest.  They aren’t easy but, for the first time in a while, I’ve felt God’s hand on my progress and purpose.  I feel like a ship with new wind just starting to pick up the sails. Writing to serve has transformed my creative efforts and, on a deeper level, my life.

The only thing I’m missing is nominees.  Here’s some blogs you should check out, all deserving of recognition and your time!

Blogs You Should Check Out:

1/A Writer’s Path

2/ Wiley Coyote

3/ Memoir Notes

4/Anewperspectiveperhaps

5/ Words on a Blackboard

6/Keithgarretpoetry

7/Fiction All Day

 

~Matt

A Monologue

My Thoughts at 2 a.m. Every Night for the Past Two Weeks:

I should be sleeping. What’s that noise? Did Aiden get up? Maybe he’s out of the crib. Maybe he’s downstairs making popcorn and watching Caillou.

I hate Caillou. We’ve seen every episode a thousand times. Stupid cartoon with the perfect dad who’s an athlete, musician, worker, overall renaissance man.

I could eat some popcorn. Forget popcorn, I could eat some hot wings.  Yeah, hot wings and a beer.  Wonder if there’s any in the fridge? I need to start working out.

Do I really have to go to work tomorrow? How many things need to be handled? I need to print off our tax return forms. Need that tax return.

So many things to be fixed. Bills to be paid. Problems to solve.

I should be writing. Chapters need editing, sections need improving. I should be submitting essays, short stories, fiction, new and old creations.

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Photo Credit: Poppy Wright via Compfight cc

How can I do better tomorrow? How can I make sure it is different from today? How can I keep this stress to myself and not let Val know about the weight that sits on my shoulders?

How can I live up to my expectations, to be a provider, to build a future, to put two boys through college and help them on their way to their own families?

We’re getting older. I graduated high school fifteen years ago. Our prom songs are mysteries to kids today. What about fifteen years from now?

How can all this shift from reality to inspiration, from doubts that masquerade as “common sense” and cynical misunderstandings to inspiration that unlocks the future of change and liberating truth.

I have a dream. A dream to write, to provide a voice for those who can’t speak, a dream to operate a business and outreach that can enhance and revolutionize the fight against poverty. A dream to change the world and make it better.

So my sons can be proud of me.

So they can tell their kids, one day, that their dad is their hero.

Speaking of the kids, how were they off school yesterday and I wasn’t off work?

Tap on my shoulder. “Daddy will you lay with me?”

I’ll be down in a minute.

Why We Write: To Answer a Calling

Great writers are born, not made. This cliché is all over the world of writing, as if it is some exclusive club.  I’m here to tell you this is not true.

If you’re like me, you probably have looked in the mirror once or twice and asked what you were meant to do. In my application essay for Fairfield University, I wrote that we are all incomplete sentences. We spend our lives looking for the ending.  We try relationships, work, substances both good and bad.  We throw ourselves into things to find meaning.

I am a writer. There was never a different option.

The trick is giving yourself permission to claim your ending.

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Photo Credit: pasotraspaso via Compfight cc

The trick is understanding why.

There are a handful of “overnight” success stories. Stroll through your local bookstore and you’ll see shelves full of people who have gained contracts and released something for the world to consume. The mistake is measuring yourself against these other writers.  They have their stories.

You have yours.

We aren’t called to write for the shelves or Kindles. We write to make a difference.  You are called to make a difference.  The payoff is when one person, someone you’ve never met, posts a comment, sends an email, or tells you they were impacted by your work.  When they tell you that you’ve changed their life, gave them hope, and let them know it will be okay.

We write to serve, not to sell.  When you answer the call and put your thoughts on paper, you’ll be amazed at what can happen.

~Matt