Sometime around the year 2003, I got hit with the proverbial perfect storm that rocked my world; the disintegration of my 20 year marriage coupled with intense doubts concerning the spiritual path I’d set out on shortly after high school. To try and make sense of it all and avoid a total meltdown, I purchased a pack of legal pads and spent many evenings over the last ten years reflecting on where I’d been, where I’m at, and where I may be headed. At times my journey reminded me of Bilbo and Frodo’s adventures in Tolkien’s beloved The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings tales; hence the title of my book-There and Back Again: A Child of the Sixties Returns to His Catholic Roots. The narrative covers 5 periods of my life, beginning with growing up in Redford Township (in the shadow of Detroit, Michigan), and concludes with my present status, a high school history teacher in Dearborn, Michigan.
I had hoped that my reflective writing effort might help me come to grips with why my path took so many strange twists and turns and had so many dead ends and narrow escapes. I was Joe the Redford kid, Joe the Catholic-school student, Joe the hippie, Joe the Born-Again Christian, Joe the pastor, Joe the married man, Joe the father/grandfather, Joe the History/Language Arts teacher, Joe the Returned Catholic, and so many other things. In reflecting on what I’ve written, I wonder, “Am I a wiser man? Do people catch a glimpse of Christ in me? Are the fruits and gifts of the Spirit a living reality in my life?” The truth is that I still wrestle with anger, lust and gluttony. I’m still tripping on my tongue (my spoken words) far more than I should. Struggles with doubt and unbelief still raise their sinister heads and glare at me with those red, intimidating eyes, no doubt to paralyze with fear, or worse, to create an indifference in my faith in Jesus. Yet as sorry a saint as I may be, I’m still pressin’ on. If my journey has taught me anything, it’s that nothing can separate me/us from the love of God (barring an act of free will, wherein one rejects the saving message of the Gospel).
There were times when I thought a more appropriate title for this book of mine might be something like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. One day I thought,” Gee Joe, you’re putting some dark stuff in here. You might end up creepin’ folks out.” This is a risk I’ve decided to take. The Old and New Testaments, as well as certain lives of the saints, don’t whitewash events, be it Job’s trials, David’s infidelities, Peter’s denial of Jesus, or Augustine’s struggles with sexuality as a young man. In the 5 snapshots of my life in this book, I wanted to tell it like it was and like it is. At the same time, I wanted to fulfill my intentions for putting myself through this-the oftentimes emotionally painful aspects of reliving some difficult events in my life-by using what little discernment I possess. I want to offer a ray of hope to others who have lost their way; as Steve Winwood sang in “Can’t Find My Way Home,” his song with the English band Blind Faith, “I’m wasted and I can’t find my way home.” Home as in Jesus and, perhaps, the family that I now affectionately call my own, the Catholic Church. As for me, this chunk of clay remains a work in progress.
All of our lives read like an adventure. Someday I should like to hear about yours. Blessings, Joe