Have you ever had your dreams shattered? Hopes dashed? Had a life-changing wake up call? Found out were naïve? If so, perhaps you can understand, perhaps learn from, my experience.
Recently I heard a song that took me back in time – with some emotion. The song is entitled
“Get Together” by the Youngbloods. It brought back memories of why and when I transported my body, mind, and ideals from Green Bay to Atlanta. I came to Atlanta as a naïve idealistic Catholic priest. Ecumenism and social justice were my big dream causes. I was an enthusiastic proponent of each and I was primed to do my part to move these issues forward while performing my priestly duties.
I chose Atlanta primarily because of two men, Archbishop Hallinan and the spirit of home town Martin Luther King. Atlanta was to be my Mecca – an opportunity to build on the ideals and leadership that these two espoused and died for. Atlanta was popularly seen as a city of unity, a city “too busy to hate” as Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr. proclaimed.
Ecumenism was an effort led by Hallinan to bring together the commonalities of the Christian religion, regardless of denominational division. King’s efforts were about bringing the races together into a peaceful harmony. I brought my Christian faith ideal to these efforts. This was right up my alley!
As a priest I preached ecumenism and social justice, as well as performing my other priestly responsibilities such as baptizing, forgiving sins, marrying, burying, and counseling. I married the first interracial couple in Georgia who still live happily married here in Lake Country. I instituted and celebrated a folk Mass which brought together people of all faiths, and agnostics as well. One of the songs sung at this celebration was “Get Together”. It was emotionally spiriting and motivating. I share some of the lyrics here. You may want to Google and hear it. It will get you moving!
“Love is but a song to sing. Fear’s the way to die. You can make the mountains ring, or make the angels cry. Though the bird is on the wing, and you may not know why.
Some may come and some may go. We shall surely pass when the one that left us here returns for us at last. We are but a moment’s sunlight, fading in the grass.
If you hear the song I sing, You will understand. You hold the key to love and fear all in your trembling hand. Just one key unlocks them both. It’s there at your command.
Come on people now. Smile on your brother. Everybody get together. Try to love one another. Right now.”
It was a beautiful and meaningful time in my life. However, change was on the horizon. Archbishop Hallinan died. A new Archbishop replaced him who was a throwback to such idealistic change. He did not like what I was doing and sent me packing to a place no priest would want to go. I went. Briefly.
This punishing banishment precipitated my looking at my life in a more enlightened manner. My Catholic enculturation through 12 years of parochial education and five years of seminary began to not make much sense in certain areas of dogma and practice. A more objective view of the Scriptures and Church history helped me realize that I could no longer continue to believe and practice certain aspects of these teachings – and my body was increasingly intolerant of celibacy!
So I moved on to Higher Education. I earned a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Georgia State University. I began this part of my journey as a Counselor/teacher at DeKalb College. From this entry point I “Peter Principled “my career all the way to being a Dean at Kennesaw University.
I was not happy in this latter position, however. I felt I had compromised my ideals. I was no longer a change agent putting my idealism and talents into making this world a better place. I was a bureaucrat, although somewhat enjoying the status, perks, and financial remuneration. But this was not why I was put on earth! Again, a move was in order.
It was time to get back to my core ideals – the purpose of my life. I had to face my fears and begin a new career – a psychotherapist in private practice and motivational writer. With a supportive wife, I started my practice. This was a fit. Again I was, and still am, an idealistic change agent, but this time at a pragmatic level.
It has been very satisfying to touch people’s lives in very profound and personal ways through therapy and written articles. I find it extremely rewarding to help a couple create a life of love together, to help people successfully parent, to assist kids with their developmental challenges, to assist individuals to know themselves and a fitting vocation, to help people deal with their mental health issues, and other varied concerns that people trust unto me.
I am grateful beyond what words can express that I have found the balanced pragmatic idealist life I was searching for. I have an incredible wife, two awesome kids and their wonderful spouses, and four beautiful grandgirls – along with a profession that is meaningful and impactful every day of my life!
C’mon people, let’s “Get together”!
“The unexamined life is not worth living” Socrates