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Thursday Reflection 10.18.18

Thursday Reflection
Inspired to Make a Difference
October 18, 2018
     I have a small banner hanging in my office. It displays a picture of a lighthouse with the words of Ps. 119:105 beneath: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”
         That image of a light shining from an old New England lighthouse is a powerful one. A light in the darkness! A light that shows me where I am going. A light that keeps me from tripping and falling. A light that guides the ship in a storm, gives it a sense of both placement and direction, and importantly keeps it from being ripped apart by rocky coastline and hidden reefs.
         I keep wondering from where that light, which humans really need, is going to come if our culture has determined in its hubris that there really is no God, and matters of religion are of just such nonsense for the elderly or the weak willed.
         If the Lord does not light my path, how do I get a sense of direction or see what really matters? Is it any wonder that the numbers of the poor or homeless grow, but we don’t see them among us?
A few weeks ago, we all were immersed in a tragic drama – televised for our viewing “entertainment” – as we were forced to listen to memories of what may have been sexual criminality or inappropriate high school drunken behavior or memories of an incident that did not occur as remembered – we will never know – but I had kept asking over and over where the parents of those privileged youth had been that night. How can we hope that our youth walk that right path if there is no light to guide them?
         I am looking more and more at a world that ignores its Creator, scoffs that matters religious as merely mythological, and then wonders why it is torn by violence and hate. Take away the light, you get darkness. Remove the guidance in the storm, you get a ship wreck.  St. John in one of his letters has the very brief verse: “God is light.” So take away the light that guides us. And you’re surprised that all you’re left with is darkness?
–Fr Joe

Thursday Reflection 10.11.18

Thursday Reflection
“What is God Calling Us to Do?
October 11, 2018
           This is the time of the year when, as a Mets fan, I am so often asked if I am rooting for or against any particular team in the baseball playoffs since, for reasons only divine wisdom will fathom, the team of my rooting interest is usually long eliminated. It’s been my experience that this simple question is usually a veiled attempt by the supporters of New York’s other team to either elicit praise and support (“last man standing”, I suppose) or just a way to rub salt in already festering wounds. Now, if truth be told – so often it is not – I was raised to be a gracious loser even if I seethe within. For in truth, while I always acknowledge those who have bested me, I HATE to lose. Always have! Always will!
           I really can’t bounce this idea off Abby because she doesn’t understand acknowledging our limitations, congratulating those who do succeed, or dealing with the times when we were not good enough. Border collies may (almost) always win. We humans – not so much.
           I have seen enough of how our political landscape has deteriorated into a battleground where there can only be chest bumping / taunting winners and rage filled losers. I have seen this spill into youth sporting events where parents who make the conscious immoral decision to live vicariously through the success of their children act out in utterly reprehensible fashions. We see this in the media from time to time.   I can even tell you a story of a long ago incident where a teen boy [someday to become a priest] was asked to substitute referee a CYO basketball game in the place of a sick classmate. There was a foul call made against a player whose elbow clearly connected into the shooter. Then there was then an outraged aggrieved and disagreeing / disagreeable parent who ran on to the court, screamed at this 16 year old, threatening him physically in front of a ¼ packed gym. Oh and yes, I even could tell you about the equally unpleasant aftermath where, after the game , this parent ran into a certain uncle of that teen [who would someday become a priest] and the physical consequences endured by that parent for his lack of “respect”. One should not be happy about either incident – both are shameful!
           The point I hope you all get is that how we deal with “winning” or “losing” – when the symbolic “referees” of our life miss the calls, when the unfairness of life brings either something expectantly joy filled or outrageously unpleasant into our lives – how we deal with our feelings at such moments speak volumes about not only our maturity but also the sincerity of our discipleship. If social media is a mirror of exactly how much rage and taunting, shaming and intolerance for any opinion other than my own truly infects this culture of ours, then God help us. We have all lost! We can’t be authentic disciples only when it pleases us or when life goes well. I choose to follow Jesus in this faith community as long as I get my own way. I love those who agree with me personally or politically and hate all others. How do I deal with being a disciple, living into my calling, and knowing that at times all will not go well with me or my life!
–Fr Joe

Thursday Reflection 10.4.18

Thursday Reflection
Inspired to make a difference
October 4, 2018
         Today is the date that Christians of all shapes and perspectives honor one of the truly unique, dangerous and incredible leaders / reformers of all time. He was born as Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, but remember him by his “informal” name of Francesco or Francis – Francis of Assisi.
           I could not possibly write anything insightful or laudatory that hasn’t already been written, preached or just opined. Born into the flawed medieval Church, he injected his own brand of spirituality into an institution that was in dire need of reform. A child of middle class wealth and values, a legendary ne’er-do-well youth, a soldier, prisoner of war, thinker who listened to the voice within, heard his redeemer whom he insisted was telling him to “rebuild my church,” and he literally started to do so as he went about to repair a broken neighborhood chapel.
           But that voice from within was calling him to do more than fix the plumbing! Eventually he discerns the call challenging him to proclaim the good news not by preaching alone, although he was to do this well, but rather by living a lifestyle of radical poverty and to move his church away from the siren’s song of materialism.
Most are aware that he found God in all of nature and not necessarily in grand cathedrals. He was the original “Dr. Doolittle” at times found preaching to the animals in the forest, allegedly claiming they actually listened!
           He was such a strong personality that he attracted others, men and women, to embrace this crazy new way to live as (not just speak as) as Christian. Even the depths of the medieval papacy was wise enough to recognize such an extraordinary witness to Christ,
He was an extraordinary man of peace. You all now know that (in a truth is stranger than fiction moment) Francis and the Sultan of Egypt (a nephew of the great warrior prince Saladin) prevented what would have been a bloodbath encounter between warring armies during the crusades. This is just one forgotten moment when peace defeated pride, and the message of Jesus was actually taken seriously by all those who had the power to change history.
           I long for such men (and women) of witness and conviction. But I also know that as much as we admire them in retrospect, reformers are very often rejected in their own time. Who really wants to take all this seriously? Who really wants to live the good news as the Lord intended we do? Who is secure enough to not only not fear poverty but to embrace it as a way to get rid of the clutter in our lives? People claim to admire Francis. But I wonder if we are really willing to listen to him and join him on the pathway that he insists will bring us to our God.
–Fr Joe

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

Thursday Reflection 8.23.18

“Inspired to Make a Difference”

  Thursday Reflection                                                                                     

August 23, 2018

This won’t be a prophetic text of overpowering insight.  It’s just a call for us to take time and remember and move on.  Remember the days and dates that meant so much to you.  A call to reflect on the hopefully happy, the sometimes not-so-happy, the challenging, the eye popping memories that we call carry within us.

It’s August 23:  and on August 23, 1971 (“a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away”) I boarded the Leonardo da Vinci (sister ship of the Andrea D’Oria – by the by … oops) and headed off to spend the next four years as a theology student in Europe.  And indeed my ideas about my country and its place (and responsibility) in the world, and my call to greater scholarship as a candidate for Holy orders changed me forever.  So I remember this date with fondness.

Of course we should remember the birthdays of spouses, child(ren), grandchild(ren) or parents.  We remember the day we took vows and promised before God to do all in our power to commit ourselves to the “other” in love until death.

I hold in memory the sadder days: the day, when I was still a child, that my youngest brother died and changed our family dynamic forever.  I remember Sept. 11, 2001 and its legacy in terms of national identity, national fears, hope and hopelessness and being drawn back into the pseudo-religious tragic decisions that were the “Crusades” and their now 21st century aftermath so many centuries later.

Holding on to memories is not an excuse for never letting go of the past.  It can be an invitation to better appreciate those who are our loved ones even as we hold in our hearts those who have passed on.  I’m sure this parish will always remember its former days with fondness and longing even as we have to admit that those days and the culture that supported this parish decades ago is “…but the chasing of the wind.”.

Truly remembering can free us from the burden of carrying the burden of a false nostalgia – as if what was past is only what was good or only what we should or could be.

It’s August 23, and while I remember with fondness where I was and with whom on this date forty seven years ago, I can (hopefully)  move on and not be stuck there – in memory.  After all, if I were to tell the WHOLE, story, not only do I remember leaving New York Harbor, or the water canon salutes from the ferries, or the anticipation of four intensely demanding but wonderful years of study with classmates who were so much more gifted academically than I ever could have been, I must also remember how SICK I became later that evening as I was introduced to the reality known as sea sickness!  Remember – hold the memories close – appreciate those you remember – but always move on!

— Fr. Joe