Monthly Archives: September 2018

Thursday Reflection 9.27.18

Thursday Reflection
September 27, 2018
           Last Saturday turned out to be one of “those days” when I had to relearn one of our culture’s truths: fairly or unfairly, my actions are judged not by their underlying intentions but by their outcome.
           The day began way early in the morning, even for me, when I engineered my escape from the residence in order to attend the Diocesan mandated Safe Church Workshop. I had to sneak out of the house because any sound at the front door would send Abby into LOUD protective mode nonstop barking. (And if she actually saw me leave and not either say “goodbye” or (better yet) take her along, her barking could “awaken the dead”” as they say. So I did sneak out (more or less). And upon my return later in the day, I was inundated with stories of how she was “off” all day. She was upset because I had disappeared. Usually I feed her breakfast, so breakfast was “wrong” for her. She was anxious all day. And she actually scolded me (loudly) when I came back home later that afternoon.  Trying to make for a peaceful morning for all in the house ended up starting WWIII.
           I use our “rock star” border collie (according to one of you – not me) as an example to show that whatever my good intentions had been, actions are judged by their outcome, not by the preceding intent. Ours is a culture that prides people’s intentions. We didn’t think of ourselves as gossiping; we were only sharing news. Too many folks could care less what a person in power actually does: they are very often concerned with protecting a powerful because of the greater good that person can do now in spite of the bad they may have allegedly done in the past. We saw that played out in the 90’s and we’re seeing it again today – political parties reversing roles and truths. Or again, there is, sadly, an abundance of ecclesiastical literature that reveals how in parishes (of all shapes, sizes and Christian denominations) the rude, back biting, and at times even abusive behavior of a parishioner will be excused because they “have such a good heart” and “they mean well.” Bring up this behavior, and there is a movement to kill the messenger.
           Good Intentions ARE important! But so are the actual ACTIONS we end up performing. It simply is not enough to “mean well.” We are called to “do well.”
In the past few weeks, the second (New Testament) reading at the liturgy has been taken from the Letter of James. James reminds us that even believing orhaving faith without the proper works that give flesh to that faith is useless. My first pastor (boss) once told his very young and inexperienced assistant priest: do not judge people by what they say or what they intend. Make any assessment by what they do!
I totally messed up with Abby. I offer my mistake to you so that you may avoid my misstep.
–Fr Joe

Thursday Reflection 9.20.18

Inspired To Make A Difference”
Thursday Reflection
 September 20, 2018
         During the night of July 17, at some point during one of this past summer’s severe storms, the “parish house” (i.e the “new” (2006) addition was ostensibly hit by lightning.  Having been constructed without any surge protection unit in place (an issue which has been remedied as of this August), we experienced the collapse of all our electrical systems. The board controlling the elevator was fried. The security monitoring system burnt out. Computers began behaving as if they had abused prescription drugs. Even the phone lines were not working properly (an issue with which we are still dealing).  The 19thcentury church building with its lack of plumbing and minimum of lighting survived so much better – perhaps there is a sermon in that!
The point is that as wonderful as our discoveries and technologies are, we have become so dependent upon them that we constantly sit at the edge disaster.  What can work so well on our behalf can be turned on us. Instant communication via the many avenues of “social media” can become the means of bullying, sexist, racist or other manifestations of ignorance, chaos or even sinful hatred. The power goes out (not a totally unknown experience in South Salem), the computers are then down, and sooner rather than later, our never-quite-charged-enough phones become useless. Put your total trust in technology and, like the character of Dr. Frank Pool in 2001: A Space Odyssey, you might just find that HAL (or I.A. by any other name) will extinguish you as non-essential to the mission.
This is not a rant vs. technology. This is a cry to remember that you and I ARE important to the mission – because it is God’s mission of which we are a part. On this past Sunday, a question was posed: “what is God calling us to do?” This question is at the heart of what it means to be a 21st century Episcopal parish, and what it means to be a Christian in today’s a-theistic culture. What do we put our faith in? What is really at the core of who I am and what I believe in my heart and soul that my God is calling me to do? Why was I put here?  Are we to be the servant or the master of our creations? God has a plan – we are given a part of this. What have you discerned about yourself independent of the things you play with, or drive, or manipulate? You are important – and if St. John’s had to be transported for a time without power, or elevator, or monitoring or phones or computers or a shred of modern day comfort for a bit – St. John’s as God’s community still has a mission and still is a mission! You are that important.
–Fr Joe

Thursday Reflection 9.13.18

Inspired To Make A Difference”    – In Memoriam
Thursday Reflection
September 13, 2018
         On Sunday afternoon as I was sitting on the floor with Abby over my shoulder sniffing the note pages of what will become a Sunday sermon, when my phone beeped. This turned out to be the first notification I was to receive that Rev. Chip Andrus, the pastor of South Salem Presbyterian Church had passed away. I remember just sitting back against the sofa, turning off the background noise of a baseball game, and saying a prayer asking the Lord to welcome home a dear friend who has returned to our God and Father far too soon.
           As a person who lived so long and was so well known in this community, there will be a host of memories posted and sermons/speeches given by people to whom he ministered, with whom he worked / played / drank and who he loved. This simple reflection is by a friend and brother in ministry, and that is a different kind of relationship. Ministers share a calling: a consistent inner belief that one does not have control over one’s own life. Belief in God explodes into a belief that our God, for reasons of God’s own choosing, has asked you to be a shepherd of God’s flock – to use the words of the psalms!
           Between us there were cups of coffee shared, breakfast planning sessions, exploration of ecumenical possibilities and just plain old gripe sessions on the phone when this or that parishioner had pushed either of our buttons and we could not vent in public. Brothers in ministry vent to one another.
           Behind the “good ole “southin” boy” persona that he mastered so well (although for reasons I shall never comprehend, he really did love his off the grid cabin in the woods in Arkansas) he was a fine preacher and teacher. He was so bright. He had earned his Doctorate and was entitled to be addressed as “Rev. Doctor” but I never once heard him use it about himself except in jest. He had a passion for justice and especially women’s equality and safety issues. Our political conversations were always “interesting”: he the liberal and I the cynic! Neither could convince the other of his folly, but friends do not have to do that.  And what a musician he was. He could incorporate music in our session with middle schoolers when one year our churches shared a religious ed. class for that age group on Sunday morning. Oh to have the power to use music to reach others. What a gift!
           This past week, we as a divided Christian Community will come together to commend one of our own to the mercy and love of God. It was always a pleasure to work with him, and I can promise you that he shall surely be missed by the people he served and whom he deeply loved.
In our Book of Common Prayer we have a phrase towards the end of the Funeral Rite which I offer as a final word: Into your hands O Merciful Savior we commend your servant Chip. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy. Into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.
–Fr Joe

Thursday Reflection 9.13.18

Inspired To Make A Difference”    – In Memoriam
Thursday Reflection
September 13, 2018
         On Sunday afternoon as I was sitting on the floor with Abby over my shoulder sniffing the note pages of what will become a Sunday sermon, when my phone beeped. This turned out to be the first notification I was to receive that Rev. Chip Andrus, the pastor of South Salem Presbyterian Church had passed away. I remember just sitting back against the sofa, turning off the background noise of a baseball game, and saying a prayer asking the Lord to welcome home a dear friend who has returned to our God and Father far too soon.
           As a person who lived so long and was so well known in this community, there will be a host of memories posted and sermons/speeches given by people to whom he ministered, with whom he worked / played / drank and who he loved. This simple reflection is by a friend and brother in ministry, and that is a different kind of relationship. Ministers share a calling: a consistent inner belief that one does not have control over one’s own life. Belief in God explodes into a belief that our God, for reasons of God’s own choosing, has asked you to be a shepherd of God’s flock – to use the words of the psalms!
           Between us there were cups of coffee shared, breakfast planning sessions, exploration of ecumenical possibilities and just plain old gripe sessions on the phone when this or that parishioner had pushed either of our buttons and we could not vent in public. Brothers in ministry vent to one another.
           Behind the “good ole “southin” boy” persona that he mastered so well (although for reasons I shall never comprehend, he really did love his off the grid cabin in the woods in Arkansas) he was a fine preacher and teacher. He was so bright. He had earned his Doctorate and was entitled to be addressed as “Rev. Doctor” but I never once heard him use it about himself except in jest. He had a passion for justice and especially women’s equality and safety issues. Our political conversations were always “interesting”: he the liberal and I the cynic! Neither could convince the other of his folly, but friends do not have to do that.  And what a musician he was. He could incorporate music in our session with middle schoolers when one year our churches shared a religious ed. class for that age group on Sunday morning. Oh to have the power to use music to reach others. What a gift!
           This past week, we as a divided Christian Community will come together to commend one of our own to the mercy and love of God. It was always a pleasure to work with him, and I can promise you that he shall surely be missed by the people he served and whom he deeply loved.
In our Book of Common Prayer we have a phrase towards the end of the Funeral Rite which I offer as a final word: Into your hands O Merciful Savior we commend your servant Chip. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy. Into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.
–Fr Joe

Thursday Reflection 9.6.18

“Inspired to Make A Difference
Thursday
Reflection
September 6, 2018
                 This Sunday my dad would have celebrated his 98th birthday. Ours was a very “different” relationship. While others might conveniently treasure or despise their relationship with a parent, ours was far too complicated for one word descriptions.
He was so pleased that I had an academic (perhaps even scholarly) bent, and yet was prouder of the fact he knew far more than most scholars in spite of his not having a college education. He believed that my playing baseball was being frivolous with my time, yet it was he and my uncle who took me to my first major league games as a preteen.  He never wanted to the parent who examined your report card but was clearly never pleased with “only” a 98 or 99 in anything.
My dad served in the Second World War, was associated with Patten’s 3rdArmy, must have seen more than his share of chaos and death, and (perhaps predictably) would never speak about his experiences. I can remember my being assigned to a debate about the Vietnam War in “Civics” Class, rehearsing my arguments at home, and then having him tear into me no matter which side of the argument I would have presented. His memory of that war was complicated to say the least.
He had an almost total distain for “politicians” and had a view of American society that would have made Archie Bunker seem like Bernie Sanders by comparison. Yet he was the one who introduced me to his friend (from the service? I never knew nor was old enough to ask) who played pro ball in the Negro Leagues – so I learned about the stupidity and evil of racism as a young child. As a little boy I did meet a fellow serviceman from his unit who hailed from Puerto Rico. I was to address him as “Mr. Webber,” because “he is a man who deserves your respect. Learn his language as well as he has learned yours” I was told!
Dad was not only not a church goer, he absolutely abhorred religion, clergy, or theology in any way, shaped or form – and his times in any church building for the mandatory funeral or wedding of a family member were made under vocal objection. He even used to speak approvingly of the beheading of French clergy during the French Revolution! I know my becoming a priest was a matter of deep disappointment and annoyance. Did we have our share of arguments: well, as I said, ours was a complicated relationship!
 I think on Sunday, I will leave the church early and perhaps drive down to the cemetery in New Rochelle. I don’t know if” the apple fell far from the tree.” I don’t know if we do become our parents. I do know that we all impact those with whom we live or whose lives we interact. For better or worse, this particular complicated relationship does make me strive to excel and not be satisfied with 2nd best.  Live the Gospel as best you can, and give others something to model, even if you don’t, do so explicitly or with a lot of fanfare. If there are one or two virtues that I “inherited”, I hope they are “integrity” and “consistency” and perhaps a bit of having an intolerance for pride filled self-important people.
–Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 8.30.18

“Inspired to Make A Difference
Thursday
Reflection
August 30, 2018
           Even though we are actually slogging into the ninth month of 2018, our lives seem to totally revolve around the “school year.” So the notions of “change” and “new beginnings” are about to immerse us. School buses will reappear with a vengeance. Our schedules go from summer-filled to winter-insanity. Is everything ready to go? Is change on the horizon?
           So anyway, I was run-climbing the grassy knoll up to the tennis courts at the Town park with Abby (indeed a sure sign my heart is healed!), and I was trying to explain how her little life is going to change. For over a year, no one has lived in the big house in front of the clergy residence, but that will change this week. A family is moving in, and to the point, they have two dogs of their own. So guess what: although you are an Episcopalian dog imbued with the belief that “we’ve always done it this way,” life must change.  It is no longer ONLY your yard, your road, your hills, your grass or chasing your squirrels.  You are going to need to share what is no longer only your space. Heck, you might find that you will have to share barking at the Fed Ex delivery guy/gal from now on. Of course, I got a snort and a harrumph and grumbling bark. Border Collies love order. Border Collies love repetition. Border Collies HATE change.
           And are we humans all so different? Is there anything more disturbing than being told that we’ll have to do things differently – whether at the parish, or at your jobs or in your family. I know as this autumn begins, there are faces (Aniston, Georgia, Richard, Reilly, Henry, Izzy, Dan) – all of whom are now university students – and two have been for a few years) that are no longer a regular part of “us” because they are growing into their own lives and starting to pen their own adult stories. And this is good and as it should be. But this marks change.
           This will probably mark the last group of high school candidates for Confirmation for our parish for a while – as there is this large gap in ages with the next group of kids. The demographics of Lewisboro have changed. Our parish face will change. Saturday we marked the death of a powerful political leader. Politics as we know it has already been changing. (Maybe not always for the better!) Changes are not always good, but always occur.
           I look at parish mission focuses, liturgical music, the concepts of our two places of worship, and I wonder if there is change on the horizon – actually closer than that.
           So the school year is upon us. Changes in our children’s lives are but a fraction of the number of changes that will come for all of us.  We may need to change how we “see” or “do” church – we’ll see. Are we willing to adapt and change? Or will we be frozen in demanding that all things remain as they always were- which of course cannot happen as much as we might wish it would. Heck, Abby still believes she must be fed each day exactly at 7:00 a.m. and 4:58 p.m. She will have to learn to change this year. I hope we shall as well.
–Fr. Joe