a priest at the altar of my own life

Our wedding presider, Jessica Gazzola, has started a blog–please check out!

The Altar of Her Life

IMG_1958I occasionally stand at an Altar to call a community to gather.  There we are invited to lay down our gifts, our stories, our lives.  We consecrate bread and wine, asking Spirit to transform what seems dead into something living and new.  When I stand at the Altar, life is held suspended in mid-air and we are changed. 

But these moments at the Altar are fewer.  Today, my sacred moments are less demarcated and exist more in the cracks of life; between diaper changes, scraped knees, and sibling squabbles.  I preside over snack time, congregations of bug worlds, and, most importantly, my own experiences of the joys and trials of life. 

So I start this writing practice.   It is my way of carving time out of my busy life with kids to offer my gifts, my stories, my life… not to change it, but to allow it to change me.  I am a…

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Wilco, Washington, D.C. via Chicago

Music can help us through the next challenge…especially Wilco!

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What’s your favorite thing about music? What does music mean to you? What’s your favorite way to experience a new album? Do you methodically listen to each track in order or do you hone in on a couple of songs and then branch out as you feel ready?

I recently moved from Ohio to Washington, D.C. and it was a hard change to make. We are molded by our surroundings and I spent a good portion of my 30 years on earth in North East Ohio. I understood how people thought, the culture I lived in, and I felt like I belonged. That wasn’t the case when I first walked onto the streets of America’s Capital, I felt insignificant, like I might not fit it, and certainly didn’t have a place.

But, then it happened…

I started listening to the album “Summerteeth” by a band named Wilco. They are celebrating…

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Read to a child and get in touch with the magical Absolute Mayhem of your soul! (c) John Winston Powell, December 8, 2014

Absolute Mayhem

When I was child, my mother read to me a lot.  I have no doubt that this is one of the reasons I was able to get a head start in school and the research backs this up.  She didn’t keep the books that she did read to me as a kid but I know Dr. Seuss was in there, making his way into my brain.  My mother-in-law, Sharon,  has kept several of Lisa’s childhood books and still gives her one for Christmas these days, hearkening back to that wonderful intimacy of child and parent reading a book together.

What I really like about my friend Kelly Suellentrop’s new children’s book, Absolute Mayhem, is that it taps into the wildly fun, colorful fantasies that children conjure up in their heads when they are given the time to do so.  When I grew up, the time was pretty much unstructured:  you did your homework, you did some chores and then you could do what you wanted within the limits set down by your parents.  There were not too many limits for me;  be home by six for dinner was about it.  Want to play baseball this year?  Or not?  Want to take piano lessons?  Ok, but then you have to practice a half hour a day.   However,  we didn’t have all the structured play activities or athletics that we have for today’s children.  I guess there are pros and cons to these things, and I don’t have children now so I’m just relating that those of use who grew up in an earlier age experienced more freedom in one sense.  I could sit around in my house in Olney, Illinois,  in the 1970s and just make up stuff in my mind.  In fact, I pride myself on having been able to play by myself often in our sun room.  Of course, this is when I started talking to myself, so if you think I’m weird now, perhaps this is why.  At the time, I might have wanted more people around (my sister was 14 years older than me and out of the house) but it gave me quiet and time just to meander in my thoughts and to learn how to entertain myself.  I also loved music and played 45s on my little record player, imagining myself as a great athlete or musician or cowboy or whatever I fancied that day.

Absolute Mayhem shows that children have this innate ability where they are able to play between the worlds of imagination and the everyday world, which is hopefully also a creative space for them. If you believe, like Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, that life is a psychedelic experience, the proof is in children.  They play unencumbered by “reality” or “evidence,” and this book will put you back in the childlike mindset.  It is wonderfully illustrated and has a blast looking at a typical weekend with Lulu and Milo being sucked into the playground of their mind’s eyes.  I know that Kelly has a great love for The Monkees’ movie Head, one of the psychedelic classics, so it’s hard for me not to think that she is showing us that what seems to be “absolute mayhem” of the imagination can be absolute joy, the joy of a child living in the present moment.  This was a major insight of the “flower children” and one that is as old as Jesus saying that you must be like a child to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

I won’t ruin the story but you can check it out at http://www.amazon.com/Absolute-Mayhem-Kelly-Suellentrop/dp/0692311017/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1418068390&sr=1-1&keywords=absolute+mayhem  Get in touch with your inner psychedelic child this Advent and Christmas season.  Don’t let the world take your sense of childlike wonder away from you.  You can experience Absolute Mayhem and come out the other side with a smile on your face—and on the face of a child who wants to share her imagination with you today!

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Silence and Kindness in the Wake of #Ferguson

My friend Kelly has written an excellent piece on the value of silence and reflection as we go forward in the aftermath of the Grand Jury decision. Thanks to her for also including links to One Ferguson and my blog. Peace.

Are You Finished Yet?

The snow came on Wednesday and brought with it a bit of welcomed quiet on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Yet the very constant and often charged chatter in my newsfeeds remained as loud as ever.

At times like these, social media seems anything but social. That place where I go for mindless entertainment, to catch up on the lives of friends, to give my thumbs up for personal successes and birthdays and anniversaries, to commiserate about Taylor Swift’s 1989 album suddenly becoming the soundtrack to my daily goings-on thanks to my nine-year-old…that place has looked a lot different over the last week. And I don’t always like what I see.

St. Louis is my home, always has been. I do not live in the Ferguson area, but it is the place where my mom grew up, where I still have family and friends. Once upon a time, my husband and I…

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“A reflection given in SOLIDARITY FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE prayer service…” (c) John Winston Powell, November 10, 2014

IMGP0717I’m John Powell, I teach theology here at Villa, and I’m a proud Ferguson resident.

The last three months have been gut wrenching for all people who care about justice in North County and all of St. Louis.  Blessed Pope Paul VI has told us that “if we want peace, work for justice.”  I have protested with the protesters and I have talked to friends and neighbors who believe that the police force was warranted in the Michael Brown case.  Regardless of the decision of the grand jury, we know that a myriad of social injustices have come to the forefront of our consciousness.  Issues of police abuse of power, racism, both institutional and personal, as well as poverty and economic development are involved. 

I have been part of the beginning of a resident, grass roots movement called One Ferguson.  I would like to ask you for prayers as we try to address three areas of concern:  our children, our economics, and our community relationships.   Our residents will be working for structural reform in terms of

Police and Court Reform – Providing reform to the justice system through refinement of local ordinances and coordinated efforts to restructure the process in which police and courts are presently operating in the region.

 Community Relations & Development – Providing opportunities and formulating structured dialogues to encourage residents to openly discuss issues that divide us across racial, socio-economic, and political boundaries.

 Economic Development – Formation of innovative ways to bring development to our community and region.

Citizenship Support & Progress – Improving opportunities for residents to be engaged in Ferguson and coordination of resources/grass roots efforts that improve the living conditions of all residents of our community.

 Resident Education Advocacy – Expansion and promotion of youth programs, civic agencies, and educational programs that provide community education and training.

 Ultimately, it takes all of us to work together for justice.  With your prayers and solidarity, One Ferguson and other groups in St. Louis can be inspired to transform death into new life for our communities.

May Philippine, Madeleine Sophie, and Janet Erskine Stuart be with all of us in our work for justice.  May Jesus help us.

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REFLECTION: What is peace? Questions from a Ferguson resident (c) John Winston Powell, October 27, 2014

Pax Christi USA has published a reflection on questions I’ve had about peace in light of the Michael Brown shooting. Thanks for reading!


by John Powell
Pax Christi St. Louis


An unarmed African American teen is shot by a white police officer in controversial circumstances.

Civil authorities release information in controversial ways.

People react by going to the streets, marching and chanting in protest.

Authorities use tear gas and other weapons to quell protest.

People burn or loot businesses in reaction to police tactics or for reasons only they know.

People yell “F_____ the police!” in front of police officers at a protest.

People stereotype and discuss the “opposing” side on social media and spread mistruths or half-truths.

Residents just want things to get back to “normal.”

Which of these do you consider “violence?”  Which do you consider “peaceful?”  Which are moral?  Which are legal?  Which of these can lead to justice?  Which can really bring “peace?”  What is “civil disobedience” to you?

As a Ferguson resident and Pax Christi St. Louis member…

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Ferguson (for Mike Brown and Darren Wilson…and all of us) (c) John Winston Powell, M.A. 9/28/14

Wilson BrownTwo men but so much more. They are us. At war with one another, they inhabit our souls.

And now all of this…

Righteous anger, prophetic anger, the anger of Jesus in the Temple against the structural sins that go on, seemingly intractable throughout our American experience. Ferg…

Protest with good intent, for much of these weeks; a small amount of people taking advantage, looting for the present, forgetting the future. Ferg…

Reactionary people who can’t live in the world as it is now; holding back their minds from a new community, using good love for our town as a front for racism. Ferg…

People who don’t understand civil disobedience, even some who are doing it.  People intimidating others in the name of justice. Ferg…

Civil authorities confused, making mistakes, trying, deflecting….one step forward, three back, have to keep walking, have to keep reaching out.  Who is to blame?  It’s social sin, it’s not just one person.  Meetings, meetings, more meetings.  Ferg…

But the truth is a multisided question mark everyone is struggling with…except for those who don’t see shades of gray…who can’t see Christ in the “other.” Ferg…

Is this dissonant?  Does it not inspire?  Are you confused?  Yes.

Are you convinced that something is wrong in the system? Yes.

Do you think that we can do better than reading every few weeks about yet another young black man dead at the hands of those who serve and protect?  Yes.

Are we capable of empathy, for the sake of this town and our greater humanity? Yes.

Do you think Darren Wilson wishes he could get back those bullets?  Yes.

Do you think Mike Brown wishes he would have done some things differently on August 9? Yes.

Can you imagine Mike Brown crying from heaven, just saying “Stop and listen to one another!”  I hope you can.

Mike probably touched the heart of the Chief who says, “This is a fucking tragedy…” Ferg…

It’s been that way since the beginning of the country.  The original sin. Ferg…

And what do I do?  The social justice teacher.  Prepare, think, hope that you do the power of the stories justice for young people who may think they are not Ferg…

And what do we do here, in the home of Bella Luna, Lisa and I?  How can we be agents of change?  Change the dynamic, help people discuss the issues with each other on the streets, these streets of change?  Ferg…

We have been chosen.  We step up to the plate. We get ready with our bats, to either hurt or help. Ferguson, Missouri, United States of America.

“And here’s the pitch…”

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