Author Archives: sjadmin

A Thursday Reflection 1.18.18

The last week or so has not been pleasant.    Hard necessary decisions for this parish were made by those in authority that always prove to be less than popular and whose consequences are still unknown.  On a personal note, while given a clean bill of health from my cardiologist (there is always a “yes, but.. ”), I have been instructed to begin a physical therapy regime which, while perhaps a bit intimidating for a man in the twilight of his “middle age,” also raises the specter that in terms of health, I will never return to that person I was “when I wore a younger man’s clothes” to quote the great Billy Joel.
While I haven’t ever even seen any of the “traditional”  (“Housewives of ___”) reality TV programs, I have found a few scripted “reality” programs that are at times uplifting and at times heart wrenching.  Two summers ago, a program entitled A Vet’s Life began to unfold the lives of three African-American (classmates) veterinarians who opened a clinic in Houston.  There have been the usual array of stories of life and death: animal lives saved and lost.  You cheer.  You feel badly for those who have lost a beloved pet.
This new season dramatically began with the struggles to reopen their clinic in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey from last summer!  Do you remember the first of the apocalyptic storms that hammered us last year?
For one hour, I was mesmerized at the close-up, cell phone, non-scripted images as well as professionally shot footage of the destructive power of wind, rain and water that caused so much death, heartbreak and destruction.  I watched a clinic staff try to reconnect lost animals with owners, treat sick, scared and confused pets (and their owners as well) while dealing with loss of power, loss of potable water, lack of medicine, lack of dry “anything,” washed out (just .. gone!) roads, houses flooded, houses washed away (and just gone), all the while also and primarily trying to help out their human community members in need.  Their story was inspiring.  I watched the staff of a clinic seek out each other to make sure they had all survived – with all the attention and perseverance that one should expect from a family.
In effect I was reminded that we who were really spared from the intensity of last summer’s storms have so much to be grateful about, and need to be aware that so, so many are still without life’s basics.  Whenever I am emotionally down about the conditions of life for us here in this region and this parish under the circumstances we live, I need to remind myself of just how fortunate we are.  “There but for the grace of God go I” – as the prayer states.
Feelings aside, even the feelings of regret and sadness, we remain as a community yet untouched by some of the harshest treatment that life in its unpredictability can impact upon us.  Our prayer ought to be first and foremost one of gratitude.  Then secondly our prayer should be for those who suffer – those distant victims of war, disease and natural disaster, but also those in our own community who sometimes endure pain and sadness that we simply do not know.  Finally it impels us as a church to reach out to each other and to those outside our orbit to be the instruments of caring and hope.   If you can do something, then do something.  Don’t wait to be told or to receive approval.   Any life you can impact positively, even if in the slightest way, please do so.  “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did to me.”

–  Fr. Joe

 

A Thursday Reflection 1.11.18

I’ve often made use of Abby, our border collie, as a teacher.  I think we had another one of those moments this morning.  A border collie, driven by instinct and force of will, seems to have within this unquenchable fire to find herself a flock and herd them.  As we have so many deer, foxes or feral cats who seem to run through our yard (and leave imprints in the snow),  Abby naturally has been sniffing her way up one side or down the other of most of the trails and embankments around the clergy residence trying to find those whom she should herd and protect!

But this morning, I guided her away from the normal paths (trod upon by the “usual suspects”) and guess what?  She went flying through the fresh untouched snow with only the desire to find a new path, seek out fresh scents to sniff and boldly go where no dog has gone before!

As you begin 2018, take a few moments from your regular routine.  Instead of centering on (and complaining about) the bitter cold, the freezing rain or the perpetually gray skies, seek out some untouched path – not necessarily literally but symbolically!   Where can you “go” or explore or “do” that you have never gone, explored or done before?   Christian mystics might phrase it this way: sometimes God calls you to walk in new directions and seek God in different places.  So as we enter a new year, is there a new direction you might consider?  Is there a new project you might begin?  Is there a change in your life’s direction that might be ahead of you?

I can tell you that from watching Abby, it is such an important thing to do from time to time.

– Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 1.4.18

We’ve finally left 2017 behind us, and now we approach, with hope, a new span of time – a new year – to mark our journey.  With more than one major life-changing medical procedure, the sadness of witnessing two of our family members deal with serious marriage issues, the (at least) inconvenience of moving the residence, the moving away of a few parish members who will truly be missed, the constant influx of anger-filled news (real or fake – I guess that depends on whose truth you choose to believe) as well as the realization that “truth” itself is no longer an objective reality but depends upon one’s choice of political philosophy, the reality that the Korean “police action” of the early 1950’s may be heading for renewal, and this time with the possibility of nuclear weapons, the reopening of so many wounds fed by subtle (or at times not-so-subtle) racism, the uncomfortable realities that the “me too” movement has brought to the surface (and before anyone challenges the utility of 40+ year old memories, please ask yourself if  you would not listen to any woman accuser if she were your daughter, your sister or your mom?) – O yeah 2017 was a year I am ever so glad to see the back of.

So what do I hope for in 2018?  I hope for a nation whose leaders might re-learn how to listen to rather than talk at each other.  I would love to see a culture where the “social” in social media was truly indicative of our willingness to communicate with, share and even uplift each other rather than an exercise is narcissism and cowardly name-calling and shaming.  I would love to see us as a church community truly live as persons of faith and commitment.  We are supposed to be members in a “Jesus movement” that began 2000 years ago.  We’ve a long way to go if we truly want to be persons who love, give and forgive as Jesus does!  I long for the sentiments expressed in our Christmas carols to become a reality each and every day of 2018.  May your New Year’s wishes also be granted!!

Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 12.21.17

For this last reflection in 2017 (yes, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” will resume in 2018), I am neither going to create a Christmas message that oozes with “sweetness and light” because, frankly, it’s not reality.  Nor will I play the role of a crude Mr. Scrooge and give you all a “bah humbug” since the power of Jesus and what we celebrate at the Feast of the Incarnation is so wonderful that I refuse to play the role of cantankerous curmudgeon!

But my friends, my sisters and brothers, let’s keep focused on what is terribly and truly important: the “message” of Christmas is the Message of Easter!  This fact of remembering that God chose to become enfleshed in a human body and thus into human history is a call to remember that every aspect of the Christmas story points to a deeper reality marking the greatest mystery of all: The Death and Resurrection of Jesus for our Salvation.

Don’t forget that a child born into poverty and for whom no one would share hospitality prefigured a time when a popular peasant preacher would be turned on by the crowd of supposed followers and abandoned by his own.  And who stepped up to shelter him then?  And just as the machinations of a corrupt emperor forces a young family to migrate to be registered, so the decisions of a corrupt Procurator will bring about this child’s death as an adult.  As the baby would be laid to rest and bound on to a wooden feeding trough (“manger”), so one day he would be bound to another harsher piece of wood (“cross”).

But never forget that if the place of his birth is seen as a CAVE where no one human should be (only animals hung out there), so his intended final resting place (another cave) would become the site of mystery and light, redemption and reconciliation: from that cave would emerge He who IS the way, truth and LIFE.  Born in a cave / resurrected from a cave.

And finally, in both cases, those who are totally “other” than we – call them “angels,” call them messengers of the Divine – proclaim the Good News.  The announcement to Shepherds of the child’s birth (“Today is born for you a Savior”) and to the women who had come to anoint his broken dead body at the empty tomb (“He is not here.  He is risen.”) is the same message:   Do NOT be afraid!  Be at PEACE.  REJOICE.  Your God is greater than human evil. And God’s “redeeming grace” is far more powerful than human tragedy.

Please don’t forget what we celebrate each Christmas:  A memory of Jesus that prefigures His (and our) most important moment.  And don’t forget that no matter the darkness of our world, that He has been born for us, and lived for us, and taught us, and died for us and rose from the dead to give us life.  And what better gift could we possibly need or be given this or any season of the year!

Peace,

Fr Joe

A Thursday Reflection 12.14.17

I often preach about opening your ears to actually listen to God speaking to you.  Lest you think that this is a merely academic exercise, let me explain how this works – and let me be the example of being hard of hearing!
Since my medical “adventure” these past weeks, I have been trying to ignore the unpleasant (to me) truth that for the time being, while I am still “recovering,” I need to slow down and not “do” as much as I usually do.  I must deal with change. There is a weight restriction on what I can lift.  I am forbidden to shovel snow (or anything else).  I must come to grips with an 11th commandment: “Thou shall no longer eat anything that either tastes good or once had a soul.”  I am likely to pass on some evening meetings if strength disappears.
Not only must I deal with “change,” I am told that I must let others “do” for me, for a little while anyway.  And while I try my best to hide all this, I am grumbling within.  Obviously, this is a rather busy time in a parish’s yearly cycle of events.  There is also the wrap up of expectations and demands from being an adjunct seminary professor.  Don’t forget family responsibilities.  Don’t tell me to “not do” things!!!
But this is exactly the entire point of Advent – and God has been screaming at me.  What is it we celebrate but a fact involving a truth who is a person!   What Advent celebrates is the fact that humans cannot make things right with each other or their God.  Never have; never will!  All that must be “done,” has been done for us in the coming of the incarnate God who is “the way, the truth and the life” for us.  The daily and Sunday readings from Holy Scripture are really in your face reminding, me at least, that none of the people we remember and none of the events we celebrate were initiated by human desire or caused by human ability.  It is God who does: we simply ARE the recipients of “his redeeming grace.”
Through these weeks, I have to keep listening to the haunting themes of O Come O Come Emmanuel because I am the one who needs to be “ransomed” from my foolish beliefs that the world is all about me or that I have to make everything right for everyone.  God has done this already.  I need to be silent, and to listen, and to learn to let God love me.  –  Any of this ring true for you???

– Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 12.7.17

I want to do a little Bible Study 101.  It’s too easy to hear (or read) a text of Scripture so often that we lose its significance or we are closed to new possibilities.  Let me show you how a change in punctuation leads to a change of meaning which can enrich our spiritual lives.
Remember, punctuation is a modern construct!  Ancient texts written in Hebrew, Aramaic and koine Greek do not have punctuation. When John the Baptist begins to preach to people and calling for them to look at their lives, he refers to himself and quotes from the Prophet Isaiah.  But did he say:
(1)    the voice of one crying in the wilderness:   prepare the way of the Lord.
                                                      OR
(2)     the voice of one crying:    in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.
Bible texts usually print and we usually hear the first line.  But what if John is telling them (and us) that to prepare a place for God in your life, you need to listen to that voice but you have to listen in a different place.  Maybe due to our crazed, time consumed, frenetic, overly consumer, ridiculously secular, obsessive, harsh, text filled, non-communicative world of ours, we need to get away from all the noise, find a place of “wilderness” and make a space for God in our lives.
This season is not about saccharine Hallmark TV Christmas films, or running about trying to find the perfect gift for that imperfect person in your life.  It is about preparing for the one who has come in history and whom we believe will once again come to make things right.   It is about redemption and belief in a God who has loved us more than we are able to love each other.  It is about preparing for God’s presence in your life.  You might need to go to a quiet desolate spot – figuratively speaking – to hear that voice.   But I guarantee you: the trip is worth it.

– Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 11.30.17

I have to tell you that I was slightly taken back by the response I got to a posting over a week ago when I reflected on the meaning of the upcoming liturgical season of Advent.  Unlike a different era, we’re not asked to “repent” during this season prior to Christmas as though this were a mini-Lent.  But we are asked, as Christians, to do something that, in our time, might be far more difficult: “…to wait in HOPE for the coming of our savior Jesus Christ.”
Hope is surely a difficult mindset to have or a virtue to live out in an era where anger, hate, intolerance, abuse, and indifference to the voiceless are considered “normal.”  Oh we have our selective outrages.  It’s taken decades for women’s voices to be heard on matters of sexual misconduct, and yet I can’t help wondering if eventually such outrages will just be accepted as part of being a “grown up” in the modern world.  We accept violence, don’t we?  Whether it’s a black church in Charleston or a mosque in Cairo, a concert in Vegas or riding your bike in Manhattan – there is no place immune from the impact of human sinfulness and darkness.  That’s just what we are and what we do, isn’t it?
At this time of the liturgical year, the sacred texts of our Christian tradition challenge us to live in the face of such darkness as lights in that darkness.  Advent reminds us that there is no issue, no force, no philosophy, no attitude, no theological speculation that cannot be critically examined, challenged or eventually healed by the all-powerful love and mercy of our God.  I live in hope because in my heart I know that our God is greater than all the darkness that humankind can muster.   I live in hope because the one whose name means “God saves” has been born for us, and because of His light, we are enlightened and empowered to enlighten others.  When I am at my moodiest and most given to despair for us as a species, I live in hope.  I “hope” you are able to do so as well. – Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 11.23.17

A General Thanksgiving from the Book of Common Prayer

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have
done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole
creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for
the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the
truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast
obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying,
through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life
again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and
make him known; and through him, at all times and in all
places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!!!!

A Thursday Reflection 11.16.17

So what has happened to HOPE?  In my world as a preacher/teacher, the preparation and study that forms the basis for preaching during the Advent and Christmas seasons has long begun.  It’s curious that so much of what I read wants us to jump (almost artificially) into the “JOY of the ‘holiday’ season” (which for too many has very little to do with the birth of Jesus and the celebration of the Incarnation) but seems to overlook the four weeks that liturgically precede the Christmas celebrations.
“Hope” is the forgotten virtue.  Hope is supposed to mark the weeks anticipating Christmas.  But hope is so difficult to consider.  With our political divides usually deteriorating into hostility and outright enmity, with so many victims of senseless violence that only highlights the evil contained (as the poets would say) in the human heart, with the growing realization that too many younger women and teens have had to tolerate the misconduct of older sexual predators for far too long, and even with our world itself seemingly unleashing catastrophic fury on a humanity that has played (false) god with its environment, there seems to be little to be hopeful about.
And yet, believers in Jesus are called to “live in hope.”  Hope is not merely a faith in God.  Hope is the staunch trust that God is truly present among us in spite of our capacity for harming ourselves and others.  Hope reminds us that all time is in our God’s hands (to use the biblical phrase).  To live into HOPE means that while I may not see the entire picture or the end result, I am committed to and convinced that ultimately God will make all things right.  I don’t KNOW how this will happen, and I may not live to see this happen.  But I know it will.  I trust our God who loved humanity (with all its flaws).  The feast of the Nativity brings “Joy to the World” but the weeks beforehand – the time of Advent – brings Hope that this joy is not an illusion.  Hope is our conviction that anticipates the Lord’s final victory over the powers of darkness.  So when it is most dark for you, don’t be afraid to hope!

– Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 11.9.17

On Sunday past, reflecting on the notion of being stewards of our lives, I commented (and you all know this in your hearts) that none of us knows how much time we’ve been given to do the work that God has given us to do.  I told you a Campo family story – the death of my dad in such a sudden and instantaneous fashion.  “You know not the day nor the hour” Jesus warned.
And later that afternoon, we were all glued to whatever electronic media that was available as we, yet again, saw the aftermath of violence in our country.  A man walks into a church with a gun!  This is NOT the beginning of a joke.  It is becoming more and more a regular part of our culture and our nation’s story.
With sadness, I am just going to repeat myself.  I won’t be drawn into the debate about whether this a mental health issue or a gun lobby issue.  No one wants to listen to anyone who believes it is a “both / and” and not an “either / or” issue.  The evidence in front of me seems to indicate that all we’ll end up doing is wringing our hands and arguing our points and nothing will change and nothing will get done… again!
So the preacher in me shares a message for you.  I’m not sure when or even if those with the power to confront this issue will ever do so.  All I can do is let the tragedy speak to me, and hopefully to you.  You really do not know how much time you have to do the work you’ve been given to do.  You’ve been given talents and gifts to build up Christ’s body, the Church, as well as bring the love of God into whatever small corner of the world you inhabit.  You’re called to be a spouse, a lover, a friend, a parent, a child, a worker, a student.  We’re all to be an example to others and a friend for others. We’re all called to be there for each other and build up one another.  We’re called to be a voice that speaks when words are needed and an ear to listen when someone else needs to unburden his/her soul.
God alone knows how much time we have to do the work we’ve been given to do.  How are you using that time?