Author Archives: sjadmin

Thursday Reflection 2.14.19

Thursday Reflection
Thursday, February 14, 2019
“What is God Calling me to do?”
         I am going to be that “fool” rushing in “… where wise men (sic.) never go!” (and if you remember this song, then you were a teenager before I was).  I am going to push for “a little change” (gasp !!) – something Episcopalians are just not good at.
The year is already six weeks old, and I am feeling the desperate need to introduce a little change into my life. Let’s face it: that little rat in Punxsutawney, PA may be promising that we’re heading into Spring more rapidly this year, but the cold in my soul doesn’t feel Spring’s warmth anywhere nearby. Same old winter. And the Patriots won the Super Bowl again. Boring! Heck, as much as I love Abby, watching a border collie (again) smoke the competition (again) in the 2019 Master’s Agility Competition at Westminster is just same old, same old. (Spoiler alert: Borders have an unfair advantage in the way their hips are constructed AND they are so bloody smart and quick).
So starting the end of February the weekend liturgical services will be marked with a little “change” – just to keep us fresh and hopefully to feed us with fresh thoughts, meditations, and food for the spirit.
As we have done in years past, on February 23 – 24, the sermon will be a specially recorded sermon of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King (this year, I have chosen A Knock at Midnight which he preached in August of 1967 as a reflection on Luke 11:5-8)
Then the following six weekends (starting with the weekend BEFORE Lent begins on March 6), we’re going to have a special presentation in the place of a “sermon.”   I have purchased a program entitled: Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week by Dr. Amy Jill Levine. We’ll incorporate a video presentation within our services as each week as a brilliant but very down-to-earth scholar takes us through the various scripture remembrances of that final week of Jesus life: Entering Jerusalem, The Temple, the Teachings, the First Dinner, the Last Supper, and Gethsemane.  Her reflections are all about risk: risking reputation, righteous anger, challenge, rejection, the loss of friends and finally temptation.
          So the liturgy for those six weeks leading up to Palm Sunday will be “changed”. Hopefully they remain praise filled as well as thought provoking.
Anyway I am inviting you all to embrace “change” even if just for a few weeks. And if these small changes in public worship achieve their desired ends, perhaps there will be more and better changes for you and I in what matters most: our journey to life eternal!
Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 2.7.19

Thursday Reflection                                                                                                               

 February 7, 2019     

“What is God calling me to do?”

The Episcopal New Yorker (Official Diocesan newspaper) just sent out a notice that it is looking for authors to provide articles for its next edition exploring the theme of DEATH.   The categories are, for any clergy, the “usual suspects” (e.g., ministry to the dying; ministry to the family of those who are dying; preparing funeral rites; death of a child; death of a parent; dealing with long term illness; dealing with tragic unexpected death; and on and on).

What I continue to find so interesting as an observer (and participant) in the human condition as it is lived in this millennium is our deeply ingrained desire to avoid dealing with this topic at all..  Having an issue of a journal totally so dedicated reminds me of just how much we cringe from facing death as an inevitability..

The rubrics of our Book of Common Prayer remind me that at least once (if not more often) per year, my priesthood vows command that I remind people of their duty to put their affairs in order, to make sure that (as much as humanly possible) they will provide for the spouse or other family they leave behind, and also leave gifts to various charities and causes as a final demonstration of one’s commitment to Christ.  And I cannot tell you how often in my years as a parish priest, I will encounter some parishioner who will express her (or his) disapproval of  even raising this issue.  “No one who gets up early on a Sunday morning wants to hear that someday they’re going to die”- this I have been told a number of times.  News Flash:  Whether we say it or deny it – It’s the truth!

Even for those who profess their faith in life beyond life (“…I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.”), there is our fear of the unknown.  There is the realization that as we get older, we have left not only a “carbon footprint” but a moral footprint as well.  There have been too many unkind things said or actions done that we have not yet fully regretted or perhaps even acknowledged.  There have been too many “I should have’s” in my life. And perhaps we wonder (to ourselves if not aloud) whether one can truly be forgiven for all the pain one has caused.  On the flip side, there is the anger at those who “sinned against us” and we wonder if there will be sufficient punishment for those who hurt me (or any other innocent soul).  Funny how we are very comfortable seeking divine justice on to OTHERS!

And there is that little matter of forgiving those who have injured us.  Just how will we be held to account should we leave this life’s journey with hatred for another still burning within?  Even if such animosity is deserved!  Do we demean ourselves by forgiving too often?  Do we become enablers to the abusers?  How does leaving an issue like this “in God’s hands” bring justice to those who have no one to care or speak for them?    So many unanswered questions!

Lent is still a month away (Easter VERY LATE this year).  The reminder in the Ash Wednesday liturgy that we are but “dust” is unsettling.         “All we are is dust in the wind…”     

So when was the last time you reflected on an event that is heading straight for you?   Ready or not: “Sister Death” (as Francis of Assisi referred to this reality) comes for us and will bring us home to a loving and forgiving God – but have we loved and have we forgiven?  Have sought to be loved and forgiven?  Are we ready for the journey?   Or is death a topic never to be addressed except at a funeral of someone else.  Just leave me alone and let’s not think about it.

So, anyone want to take up the offer and write for the paper?

 

Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 1.31.19

Thursday Reflection
Thursday, January 31, 2019
“What is God Calling me to do?”
  Even though the 2 year old Program does not meet in the church office today and this should be (in theory) a “quiet” day, I am struck by the amount of noise and “anticipation”: that is in the air.
           A quiet day without little ones on the other side of the wall means that I can bring Abby to the office where her biologically driven instinct (to both protect and round up in a circle) the toddlers won’t have to kick in. We can have some quiet time. But I let her play and run about madly in the hour before anyone arrived on this property, and so now she is exhausted, sleeping on the rug, and snoring so loudly that I might consider using earplugs.
           However, the reverberating crunches of tree cutting / trimming going on in the area are semi-deafening as well. All this in anticipation for another winter storm we’ve been promised for later.
           But this is mere background noise compared to the chatter of semi-frozen moms standing in the parking lot having dropped off their 3 and 4 year olds at the ELC and are now anticipating (loudly enough to be hear in my office over the tree cutting and the dog snoring) the upcoming storm and all their relative “alternate plan B’s” for the rest of the day.
           Add a truck engine of the vehicle picking up clothing from the clothing bin and a sprinkling of horns honking (someone on Rt. 35 must not be turning on to Spring St. rapidly enough), and so called “life in the country” can clearly hold its own against any urban racket assaulting the ears.
           To be honest, I think we have become a culture that worships noise. Talk Radio can generate neither income nor ratings unless there is mutual antagonism and shouting over the airwaves. A Championship Football game will be played on Sunday, but one would think that civilization as we know it will depend on its outcome – so much is the hype and the boasts and the wishing of evil unto mine enemies! (which for any New Yorker, I guess that means any team in any sport that calls New England its home base!). I have watched with fascination how reporters / journalists (allegedly professional listeners and learners) shout over each other and keep re-asking the same questions because they aren’t paying attention to what has been said – they seem only interested in formulating their own noise!
           Speaking as one who owns more than his fair share of guilt in this matter, I hope (another New Year’s resolution – perhaps) we might learn to take time to find some QUIET so that heads can be cleared, eyes can be opened, and we can be insulated (for a moment at least) from all the noise about us. Maybe when there is some quiet, then some listening to what really matters might start taking place. Maybe people can then begin to talk rather than text each other as their primary means of communication because this speech (and sound) is important. And maybe we all can learn to not be so afraid of the silence. Helps with thinking (rather than emoting – and that has got to be a good thing.  Now will someone please wake up this dog before her snoring shatters a window!!!!!!!
Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 1.24.19

Thursday Reflection
Thursday, January 24, 2019
“What is God Calling me to do?”
          Let me give you an example of something which, while majestic to witness, is a sign of things-not-good.  You who are caretakers of dogs know that no matter the weather, you must take care of your charge and provide opportunity for him or her to respond to the “call of nature.” So Abby and I had our share of slip sliding and trekking over the frozen snow and ice these past few bitterly cold mornings/evening. And then we saw it:
At the back of the yard usually runs a waterfall type stream (referred to as “babbling brook” in the real estate literature). However in response to subzero wind chills, that entire water display (from over the hill way beyond our back yard down to road beyond the front of the house) had frozen solid.  It is a river of ice – suspended in time and space. Any creature unlucky enough to have been in it is now solidly embedded within its mass (kind of like Harrison Ford’s character “Hans Solo” in the concluding scene of Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back).
There is a seductive attraction to the frozen river. It is beautiful to behold! It is awesome and cool to witness a wall of water now frozen where it used to flow rapidly. But it’s wrong! This is so wrong! That water was intended to move, to vivify the life forms within it, and to gracefully inspire us to passage with it into future movement. But it’s motionless and solid, going nowhere, and taking up space without purpose.
One of my concerns for our parish (as a symbol for my church in general or even our nation) is the fear that we become so fixated on ourselves, that we never consider change or growth or the input of anything or anyone new, and we remain “frozen.”  When I was investigating this deep and rich Anglican tradition of Christianity, one of the factors I had to overcome was how some few people (with smirk but also with a kind of off putting pride) advised me that “we are God’s frozen chosen.”  Now I don’t hear that phrase uttered aloud much anymore, but I certainly still experience the effects of those who choose to believe this.
While I do not believe in shedding all traditions or always taking a contrarian approach simply because I can (that’s such 9th grade thinking, is it not?), I am very concerned by those who desperately want to hold on to structures, people, ideas or material things which no longer serve their original purpose. In any organization, a parish included, if the buildings, just as an example, become a drain or an eyesore because one cannot properly and responsibly care for them, then holding on to them makes little sense. If people choose to move on and find their own way to God by another path, rather than condemn them or desperately try to hold on to them with self-denigrating apologies, let them go. Honor their choice. Be faithful to what you believe is the right choice for you. If new people do enter our community, they need to be loved and embraced and listened to – and not merely talked at and made to feel that they should be grateful we let them in the door. Just because things were done in a certain way for years, decades or even centuries does not, of itself, tell us that this is the way things should be done now. We need to discern, judge, examine, pray for wisdom, and then act to bring about, with God’s grace, life we share and will share, and not just muse that our better days are behind us.
I believe in movement. I believe in growth. I believe that “God calling us” means we must move towards God – and “move” is the operative word. I don’t want history to judge us as the group that chose to remain frozen. Looking at the frozen waterfall, I am afraid it has lost its beauty as far as I am concerned. Just saying!
Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 1.17.19

Thursday Reflection
Thursday, January 17, 2019
“What is God Calling me to do?”
         I think I’ll leave Abby out of this week’s musings! (She is starting to “want a piece of the action,” and I don’t feel like sharing any portion of the “millions” I make in bonus money for writing this column)!
         How well do any of you tune out the “noise” around us? As a kid who found it impossible to study if TV or radio were on, it is surprising that as much work gets done at the church office on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. For those who are unaware, on those days, our Early Learning Center’s Two Year Old’s Program takes place in the “classroom” next to my office.
There are many many little two year old humans reacting with joy, sadness, glee, terror and crankiness at the thought of being dropped off by mom (or dad). If you are looking for peace and quiet, time for prayerful meditation, or the pacific journey into some mystical experience, then TRUST ME, you do not want to be near this office on those days. Play time is loud time. Learning time is loud time. I’m sad because mommy is leaving me is very loud time. It is the wonder filled stuff of childhood, and as a priest and grandpa, I marvel at the beauty of what goes down in that room.
But I am also moderately proud of myself for having learned to “tune out” all the action background noise seeping through thin walls. I am learning to laser focus on what needs to be written / read or the person with whom I am speaking. (Spoiler alert: on Friday the Bishop’s assistant [“point person”] who is coming up from NYC to set up the details for the Bishop’s Pastoral Visitation in a few weeks is going to be meeting with me, in this office, with this joyful noise. This is what we call a “teachable moment” – what life is like in the real world)!
But this is all an introduction for me to question: are we still able to tune out the noise that so dominates 21st century USA life? Can you focus on what is important in the midst of the shouting, the anger, the fear, the false assumptions, the lies, the pain that all conspire to distract us from what our life’s journey is really about. “Talk” radio has become “screeching” radio and whether the object is sports or politics, all we hear is noise. Can we tune the racket out and focus on solutions and not scream and blame for the problems.
And, speaking as one who needs the “quiet” (and is the stone thrower living in the glass house), can we make more time to make quiet around us. I think the lyrics of the song went: “all we need is love”  and not “all we need is noise.” I know this comes as a shock to many, but not everyone needs to hear my voice or read my thoughts at every moment of every day. There really is need for quiet time – and then maybe some one-to-one conversation. Who knows? Maybe we start to become reflective and gentler in our dealings with the other, and maybe if the background noise that infests life is managed, there will be less need for columns like this. (And then Abby says I can spend more time writing about her).
Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 1.10.19

Thursday Reflection                                                                                                    

Inspired to make a difference” 

January 10, 2019

I long ago had stopped making New Year’s resolutions since I tend to break them so easily.  I think this year, I am proposing one for myself and anyone else who has the courage to take the challenge.  As often happens in my unusual life as an adoptive Border collie parent, this resolution is born from a conversation we had during one of our cold wet early morning “bathroom” – and – exercise walks!

Dodging rain drops, Abby asked me what “zero sum” means as it refers to politics or economics.  Now what I know about either discipline would fit into a thimble, but this I do know: the phrase assumes that there is only a finite and limited about of “x” in the world (and “x” can be food, powermoney, love or anything for that matter.   Whatever I possess will take away from you.  There is no middle ground.  If I win, you must lose!  If I have authority, you must submit.  If they “love” me, they must “hate” you.    (I know this is a bit simplistic, and it makes life sound like the one-and-done format of the NFL playoffs, but like I told you, I am no political or economic theorist)

As I tried explaining what I barely understand and do not believe in to my far-too-inquisitive border collie, her theological acuity kicked in.  She wanted to know if I believed that God was so limited, eg, if God infinitely loves me, then God must love someone else less.  I explained that, to me, that’s what the theory would hold, but I can’t buy that.  She then asked me, does this kind of thinking undergird all our politics today:  one must never compromise.  One must win and this means one must destroy the other.  I told her that political practitioners might not express their thoughts so crassly, but it is hard to not see this being played out day after day in the public arena.

Although I am tugging at her to come in out of the rain, she digs in her paws and asks:  so is that why some people leave their respective groups (be that group a “family,” a “church” a “club,” etc?  If I can’t get my way all the time, then I quit.  Again, I tried to explain that this is a rather simplistic way of viewing things, but to be honest, for some, this is exactly why they move on.  Others may have tried and tired of compromise.  Some must never do so as they deem themselves always right all the time.

So here is my resolution for 2019:  I am going to religiously try to avoid “zero sum” thinking!  If I do not get my own way, I will be at peace with the final decisions of others.  I will not treat my opponent as my enemy.  I will try to imitate our beloved Master who wishes us to love others, even our enemies, with the same steadfast love that God always has for us.  Now I do have one advantage as I hope to live out this resolution: I know who will be watching me each morning and asking if I am keeping my resolution.   Of course, then she’ll more than likely ask me to slip her more food for breakfast as long as mommy doesn’t find out.

Fr. Joe

 

Thursday Reflection 1.3.19

Thursday Reflection
Thursday January 3, 2019
“What is God Calling me to do?”
           In spite of the rain on New Year’s Eve, I have just come off the most wonderful few days away – visiting children and grandchildren.   It was the first time in months where I have spent days in utter relaxation and not bothered with emails, writing sermons, following up with insurance companies or reviewing work contracts. I have just had some time with the pure of joy of being irresponsible and silly and eating all sorts of things that I dare not put in print lest either my beloved wife or my cardiologist read this and explode at me!
           However, it was still time for prayerful reflections. Abby and I took long walks on unfamiliar turf (the local high school football field and the various tree filled streets behind it) where we raced from (I guess?) smell to smell in spite of cold.  Of course being a year away from a heart procedure, I can do far more than I could a year ago, but still I am coming to face an undeniable truth – my body no longer allows me to pretend to be 25 (or even 65), and each step with a racing border collie reminds me that the finish line of my journey is now that much closer.
           I walked by unfamiliar and large village church buildings that seemed to me to be filled with as few (maybe fewer) than those who join us in worship each weekend here.   Christianity as we know it is changing in terms of those who wish to commit themselves to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I think we will be a much smaller but hopefully more dedicated communion.
           I have now seen at family / friendly gatherings that there are now topics (politics / politicians, religion v. spirituality, beliefs about culture and custom that are just so volatile that the topics for intellectual conversation have been reduced to watching the next funky reality based TV cooking show!  I am sensing that that the voices of discord and anger are getting so loud that one may not even utter a musing thought without fear of reprimand (or threat of reprisal). And I pray with hope that this coming year the volume gets turned down and we try to listen a bit more – it can’t get worse – but that’s what I was hoping for a year ago! How did that work out?
           So I am ready to throw myself back into the “battles” of life. 2019 is here. Let’s not just wistfully hope but truly work at committing ourselves to improving our own lives and the lives of others in 2019.  Let us be instruments of peace. Let us make this coming year a year to remember for all the right reasons as we remain open to be vessels of God’s grace to a broken and dark world. Happy New Year!
Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 12.20.18

Thursday Reflection
“What is God Calling Me to Do”
December 22, 2018
         So there are the still very dark mornings that Abby and I go for her walks. When we hit the ground running neither the sun (nor God, I have been told) has yet risen!
We have these wonderful theological conversations and/or arguments day after day. This morning she complained (again) that your typical Christmas Crèche does not show a border collie present somewhere between Mary and the shepherds – perhaps – when obviously there had to have been one there. Who else was going to organize these stupid humans who create a housing shortage due to tax registration demands?
Abby asked me why we seem to love to sing Silent Night when our lives are so full of noise most of the time. We don’t act as though we mean it. And what’s with the candles in churches during the hymn? Better your LIFE is a light to shine in the darkness than some church candles that flicker for three minutes or so and make everyone “feel good”. Feeling good about oneself isn’t going to bring about either justice or peace.  Living and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus will!
Abby loves Christmas – not because of holiday festivities. In fact that’s the part she grumbles about as her priest parents are usually doing extra parish work in the weeks preceding that take time away from her. But she told me that observing us all trying to be a bit kinder, trying to reach out to those who have so much less than we, and trying to find a quiet space for God so that “thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as in heaven” aren’t just words on our church wall but a battle cry for those who believe to make this dark world a place where, finally, “the lion and lamb shall lie down together” and “the light will shine in the darkness.”
So into the early morning darkness the two of us walk: myself and a border collie whose thoughts and questions can force me to see the world, not as it is but as God wants it to be. She should know: one of her ancestors was present when the call to bring peace on earth was given. I told her I’m hoping and I’m listening and I will try harder. And I know I have been graced and loved; forgiven and redeemed. She smiled (she really does, you know), and just wished me a Merry Christmas!
Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 12.13.18

Thursday Reflections
What is God Calling Me To Do
December 13, 2018
What are the events, experiences, gifts-you-receive, services-you-do-for others that bring you joy this time of the year? I know so many of us are running amuck trying to balance family and work, children and spouse, shopping and prioritizing, travel and home, community and (perhaps) church. So many folks longing to be happy and to “feel” all that peace and joy we are supposed to feel at this time of the year. Heck, we might even tolerate the nasty unusual cold that has hit our region prematurely. It feels better (so I am told) at Christmastime! (yeah .. right!)
           But as I have written in years past, I also know that this time of the year brings, to some, not all, a mixed emotional bag full of memories – terrible image – and not all of them so good. Clergy know of this season as a time of telephone calls and walk-in unexpected appointments of those who continue to struggle with life’s unfairness and pains. There are those feel no joy do feel angrier because they can’t find whatever it is they think they need to give them that peace.
           One of the few blessings of growing older is to live through such times and to learn that in spite of certain undeniable truths (such as: life is unfair; your friends will never always support you; death always takes away those we love much too soon; family is loveable but at times infuriating – and a plethora of other annoying facts), I have come to learn that joy comes in simpler ways. And I have to stop running, and take that moment to experience them and not just rush to where I think my schedule next demands I must be.
           So I found great joy in the voices of all those carolers singing up a storm last Saturday Evening at the Christmas Carol Sing-A-Long. Perhaps for some, this might be their only experience of Church. I hope not – they know not what they are missing. But if it is, then they were touched at least for a moment. A parishioner shares a good moment in what I know to be a struggling relationship at home – and for a few moments I feel the joy and hope within that person that is not always there – again, for good reasons!  No matter what time of morning, afternoon, evening or night when I come schlepping back to clergy residence, I am greeted by the world’s most opinionated control freak puppy with sniffing snout and wagging tail and a wondrous “I am so happy to see you; you are my joy and life; I love you always; now don’t I deserve a treat?” welcome.
           I find joy when someone, anyone, remarks that a religious message at this time of the year, not necessarily from me but from any religious leader to whom they have listen of whose text they read, has made a difference for them and made them think. I am filled with joy when people find Christ in Christmas and know that this truth will set them free.
           You can’t make everyone happy. You will not always be happy. But there will be moments when God’s hand can slow you down and touch your soul. I hope you’ll stop and experience those moments.
Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 12.6.18

Thursday Reflections
What is God Calling Me To Do
December 6, 2018
           Today is the day on the Christian calendar (East and West) that marks the memory of one Nicholas, Bishop of Myra who was tortured and murdered for his faith and his leadership role in the local Christian community during the time of the persecutions instigated by Roman Emperor Diocletian (maybe 342 A.D. – ish?)
            A man renown for a holy life and courage, if you same his name in Latin (a language he NEVER would have spoken as an Eastern Bishop, you would call Holy Nicholas: “Sanctas Nicholas.” And if you say his name fast enough for centuries, and cut the name up a bit, you get: “Santa Claus!”   If you dress him up in the red robes of a western European Bishop (robes he NEVER would have worn as an Eastern Rite Bishop), you get the red robed Santa. Amazing what lives on after our time – how we are remembered.
           This man’s life is shrouded in mystery. All we know with certitude is how he died as a leader and loving pastor of his people. But we know enough of legend. He is considered the patronal saint of sailors – for reasons I know not. He is also considered the patronal saint and protector of children. He was known to oppose those powerful ones who would have forced girls from among the poor into prostitution in order to support their impoverished families. He saved children. He made powerful enemies. He was a man of God who took being a Christian seriously. He was known to give away church resources to assist the poor. And now you can connect the dots and see how our cultural icon reflects the only vaguely remembered generosity of a hero from a long lost era in a land so far away.
           Being a disciple and a member of the Jesus movement is serious work. And costs us love. It may cost us life. But it is so rewarding. So we might now visualize or remember Nicholas as he was. But we can imitate him to a point and strive to be more generous, loving courageous and mindful of those who do not have as much as we.  That’s why this is such a special time of the year. Remember “Sanctas Nicholas.” Be like “St. Nick.”  Let generosity fill your heart and spill into your actions!
Fr. Joe