"Have you ever felt out-of-place? Do you turn away from human suffering because of discomfort or fear? Do you see others for their appearance, or do you do see them as God does?"

Those are just a few of the questions Rev. Kenneth Paulli, OFM, asks in his first book, "Outside the Walls: Encountering God in the Unfamiliar." The new book carries a simple but powerful call to action: Step out of a comfort zone to better connect with God.

"It's more comfortable to be comfortable, whatever that is for a person, being with your family, friends or pets," said Father Paulli, an associate professor of education at Siena College in Loudonville.

But his own faith has always grown in situations "when my comfort has been disrupted."

In his book, Father Paulli shares nine personal stories of being in unfamiliar or unconventional situations and how his faith was impacted by each of those experiences.

The stories range from a bull-riding show in Arizona, to a visit to a bar in Ireland, to a parish in Haiti where he met a man with no shoes. Father Paulli talks about what he learned each time and ends the story with a prayer and reflection questions for readers.

Deep thinking
"I want the reader to sit with [the lesson] and think, and they are hard questions," the author explained. "They are great provincial questions. I don't have the answers to them -- but the prayer is to help [readers]."

Father Paulli said the inspiration for the book came from his time leading parish missions across the country. For 25 years, he traveled to various parishes. He said he's "never given the same talk twice," which made him think, "There's got to be a book in this."

The author said he found a structure for his book through reading the biography of St. Francis of Assisi, the 13-century Italian saint best known for his affinity for animals. In the first chapter of his book, Father Paulli explains that Francis initially lived inside the safe, walled city of Assisi. It was only when he left his comfortable life that Francis discerned God's plan for him.

Author's story
As a child, Father Paulli had no intention of entering religious life. He grew up in Westchester County, in a large home on six acres of property owned by his grandparents. Along with his parents and two sisters, the house was shared by his aunts and uncles from his mother's side and their children.

"There was a lot of playing outdoors," he recalled.

He studied business at The University at Albany, but transferred to Siena for his junior year, having missed the small class sizes of a Catholic school and knowing that Siena had a good business program.

His life was changed when he met the Franciscan friars at Siena. He was ordained in 1990 and earned a master's degree in systematic theology from the Washington Theological Union and a doctorate in religion and education from Columbia University in New York City.

In 1997, Father Paulli returned to Siena to teach. In 2007, he became part of the college's administration, serving as assistant to the president, then as chief of staff and the college's vice president.

In 2015, Father Paulli wanted to transition back to teaching. He took a sabbatical and, during that time, was able to write the book he always wanted to publish.

"It's hard work, but you don't get better unless you do it," the author remarked. "Writing is work, but it can be transformative, for the writer and the reader."

Father Paulli currently teaches a freshman seminar course at Siena. In his spare time, he likes golfing and cooking. He's also working on his second book, which will include more stories of inspiration and connection with God.

He hopes people "read this and find something that helps them on their own path. That is my goal."

("Outside the Walls: Encountering God in the Unfamiliar" is available at www.amazon.com. Father Paulli will also have book signings April 7-8 at St. Mary's parish in Ballston Spa and April 14-15 at Mater Christi parish in Albany.)