April 4, 2019
“Being At Peace with Where We Are!”
With the sun and warmth of spring now within smelling distance, I am dealing with a different new experience at this time. As I’ve previously written (and you all know), springtime conveys all the imagery of new life. All is fresh and young and beautiful. From a new baseball season, the rites of passage of high school proms, the ability to walk with Abby with only a light jacket or drive anywhere with the car window open, all about us are signs of nature and life being renewed. In a few weeks, we liturgically enter into a celebration of not only the Lord’s passion and death but more importantly his “being raised from the dead unto the glory of the Father.” Oh to be young again!
But for reasons that I am only gradually coming to comprehend, I am having to acknowledge that, at least physically, I am never going to be young again. Try to RUN with the dog, and my knees and lower back will relentlessly remind me of what I am no longer! Ask the church office staff: rare is the moment when, leaving the office, I remember to take coat, phone and keys without forgetting at least one of the above. But it’s more than no longer being able “to hit that fastball.”
On Holy Tuesday each year, at the “Chrism Mass” at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine where we priests renew our vows, as we gather by year of ordination, I cannot help but notice that each year, my era of clergy grows smaller and smaller – and the reading of the names of those who have passed into life eternal grows longer and longer. It’s one thing to know that you’re going to be the oldest in the room when you are teaching teens in their Confirmation Class or teaching theological students when they study canon law at General Theological Seminary, but it is more humbling to also be the oldest in the room when “older” faculty (even mere adjuncts like myself) come together for a meeting.
My mentors warned me that the day must come when I would be “…in the autumn of my life…” (to quote the great Sinatra). Can I be at peace with this? In response to that question, “What is God calling me to do,” how must I answer this within the limits of body, mind and spirit? Will I be wise enough to acknowledge my limitations and not try to keep with the pace of my 20 year old self? Will I be humble enough to let others show kindness to me? (A young women on the subway a few months ago actually wanted to give up her seat for me! I was horrified! Would that I had been more grateful to allow her to show kindness!)
Learning to share the wisdom gained from experiences (good and bad) but without intruding or sounding “preachy” is a skill that now must be acquired. I believe that this is a call to which I must respond. I wonder what the Lord is asking in whichever chapter of life you are living?
Being Out of Position
Each year during the final weeks when I spend time teaching the parish teens about our Christian Faith (in Confirmation Class), I try to come up with some (any!) innovative ways to explain what living the Gospel is like and what “sin” as rejection of grace means. (I have often secretly wished I could video those encounters so that parish adults could observe and hear for themselves what marks the lives of their adolescent sons and daughters, how they think, feel, and argue about the rightness or wrongness of specific actions, and what their personal level of Christian morality is like).
And this brings me to face the same question: so how does one, as a Christian, describe “sin” – as an act or attitude of failing to live into the love of God and love of neighbor mandated by Jesus? Allow me to use an example from yesteryear. I played baseball in my ill spent youth, and I can assure you that in no way I did give up a promising athletic career for the Lord’s service. I was merely a catcher blessed with extraordinarily mediocre abilities who had fun.
One particular late spring game where a high school actually worse than us was on our schedule, we were experiencing a rare blowout win – some absurdly unbelievable 23 – 2 lead with but one inning to play. Predating today’s “mercy rule” and having to finish this game, Coach decided to play everyone – and many of us got to pick a “different” position from where we normally played. For reasons I will never understand, I ended up playing at third base – never before and never since!). In that awful half inning, I managed to kick, miss, and or throw away just about anything hit at me. I even tripped over the bag and fell splat on my face.NEVER EVER AGAIN !
But here is the point. Do you want a working definition for “sin?” Try this: sin is playing out of the position that Jesus has placed us in!. It’s being where one should not be, and not using the tools/skills that God gives us as we should. It’s not seeing the field (life) from where we should. It is taking on too much, or at other times not doing enough.
God’s grace is open to all, but only we can open our hearts and souls to receive it. Thinking we can “do it all,” or are so important that one is above the need for improvement is another symptom. Holding others to standards that we do not hold ourselves to is still another. Seeking to learn and taking enjoyment in the flaws of the “other” is yet another.
In A League of Their Own, Tom Hanks uttered the unforgettable line: “There’s no crying in baseball.” But baseball does have its uses as a metaphor for life. And if I am honest with myself and with my God, I know that there have been more than enough times in my life that I put myself “out of position.” I’ve failed to live as my Lord and Master has shown me. There is reason for me to cry as I recognize my own flaws. How about you?
Thursday Reflection “What is God calling me to do?” March 21, 2019
It’s SPRING! The calendar declares that we survived this winter with its not-so-much-snow but a too generous portion of sleet, freezing rain, and bone piercing damp chill. Even though we now march through the spiritual challenges of a Holy Lent, there is a bit more brightness to the day, more warmth in the sun, and, who knows, maybe we have seen our last winter storm of the season – although we all know that late March can play nasty games with the awful white stuff.
It’s Spring. In decades past, t’was the time to throw a baseball, choose a college, shed long extra clothing, begin the chorus of sneezing to springtime allergies, become obsessed with “March madness,” and at least “to live in hope” for that “summer job” that meant some discretionary income and time away from the parental nest. In seminary, spring was the time when those end of semester papers had better have been in at least research if not writing stage. It’s Spring,and in years of study of post-seminary ecclesiastical law, presentations and papers had better have been already long completed so yearlong comprehensive exams could be prepared for.
A parish’s rhythm is somewhat similar. It’s Spring, and that means Lenten programs are already happening, and the work for Holy Week should be reaching the final prep stages It also means that in many local faith communities, the season of joy filled events – weddings and baptisms and/or confirmations and graduations – is about to take place.
For me, this is a season of awakenings. We hopefully take in the glow of the season’s warmth. We hopefully might have to reflect less on the various tragedies that infect our broken world – although events in New Zealand last week have already proven me wrong. It’s a time to see new life, seek new life, and perhaps appreciate not only what is new, fresh and young but also what is (or those who are) elderly, fragile but young at heart.
For me, as a Christian, the greatest gift of Spring is about to be celebrated: not just new life in all those baby bunnies we’ll see in our yards, but in the greatest gift of life – a share in the risen life of Jesus. The feast of the world’s redemption is about to be remembered! And it makes no difference what stage of life you are in. It is Spring, and the glory of the promise of a resurrected life is about to be shared with us. Again!
Thursday, March 14, 2019
“What is God Calling me to do?”
I know I have spoken about this issue on more than one occasion. I may have written about it as well – I honestly cannot remember. But, sisters and brothers, let me make yet another request that we acknowledge the uncertainty of life and in life, and take advantage of the time given to us to do what we were sent here to do and to enjoy the company of those whose paths we cross and who dwell with us.
An avid baseball fan and a passionate N.Y. Mets fan, I was caught up in that “miracle” in the summer and autumn of 1969 – the so called “Miracle Mets” and their utterly improbable run to a championship that year. I was a university sophomore in my late teens working both at a summer camp “for underprivileged urban youth” and on “off days” worked at a local beach club in a snack bar, as a waiter / busboy, and as coach of these “privileged” suburban youth basketball team. (I think I did get 8 hours of sleep – total combined all summer!)
I was caught up with a group of perennial professional losers who, thinking back were only about 5 – 8 years older than me. They were led by a young star pitcher who graduated from Stamford University, and whose status in the baseball draft was somehow screwed up by the powers that be – so his name was re-entered into a special drawing, and the N. Y. Mets drew the name of Tom Seaver out of a hat – literally. He was talented, a star, articulate, fiercely competitive and for that summer was not only the best pitcher in baseball, he may have been the MVP of all baseball (except for the prejudice of certain baseball writers who would never deign to give that honor to any pitcher). He may in fact be the greatest star my poor talent deprived team has ever had.
I bring this up because that man is now 74 years old, and it was recently announced that he has been diagnosed suffering from dementia. He will no longer be seen in public. For those of us who have cared for a parent with this disease, as much as we love that person, we know that the cost in terms of emotional and physical capital is not to be believed. And his family will experience this. There will be a major celebration this summer to mark the 50th anniversary of that amazing championship season, and he will not be there. He may not remember that he was on that team. He may not, at that point, remember who he was or is.
The point I make in all this is to remind you: we know not the paths that we will walk in life. We don’t know if we’ll make memories or if we’ll be allowed to keep them. We don’t know how much time we will be given to enjoy the company of others. We don’t know how much time we will have to give love and experience love in return. I often “shoo” folks out of here after meetings are over not only because I am indeed old, tired and probably cranky, but because I hope there are folks waiting for you back home who love you. And you simply don’t know how much time you will be given to experience that love.
Thursday, March 7, 2019
“What is God Calling me to do?”
I am trying to help our border collie become more liturgically literate! As astute as she is, Abby doesn’t quite get “Lent.” Now of course there are those purists who will remind me that “technically” dogs, lacking human reasoning and some even claim lacking a soul – seriously – are not capable of sin, and therefore have no need to understand the notion of “repentance.” To my critics I would respectfully provide anecdotal evidence: this dog may or may not have an intellectual grasp of the concept of “sin,” but she knows how to lie, disobey, steal, be willful , stubborn and insistent on rolling around in any batch of disgustingly smelling biological materials found on the ground! I’ll let our esteemed attorneys of our parish debate this one, but this seems a matter of Res Ipsa loqutur – whose non technical real life definition might read: “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…” – well you get the point.
So I try to explain to “her majesty” that in the early church, as folks were preparing for the great celebration of Easter – the most significant feast we Christians celebrate – there were three portions of the community that began to prepare themselves in a very special way.
There are the majority of us whose lives are marked by our normal human frailties. There are “the things we’ve done and the things we’ve left undone.” All of us need to take stock of our lives from time to time and seek the Lord’s strength and forgiveness.
Secondly there were those who were preparing to be baptized by the Bishop on the Eve of Easter. They had spent years in study and prayer. Now they spent the final forty days in serious preparation, fasting and seeking the prayers of the community that they were, sometimes at the risk of their lives during times of persecution, about to enter.
Finally there were those who because of their notorious and extremely grievous sins (in the early centuries of the church’s history, you find lists of such things like abandoning the Christian faith out of cowardice, murder, adultery, being married more than once, worshiping Caesar among others) had been spending perhaps years doing public penance: living lives of prayer, fasting and giving to charity and seeking the forgiveness of the community and of Jesus. They also were now in the last forty days of their time as “public” penitents before being allowed to rejoin the community.
And thus that final season of the Spirit, “Lent,” was born. It was a time when all three of these groups – and they are us, are they not – came together in prayer and action — So all Christians (and those who wished to be) spent the final weeks together in preparation to become one with the Risen Christ and the community reborn from and nourished in His spirit.
So try explaining all this to Abby. She would rather play – of course. She would rather race in March snowstorms as she shadows (in the hopes of herding) the deer that pass through the yard. Perhaps she instinctively knows that she is not held to the human standard. She is not capable of change and of repentance. But we are. Perhaps she is of the mindset that as long as I “give up” something that I may enjoy but certainly don’t need anyway (alcohol, movies, chocolate, TV or whatever), I’ve done enough. She was not made to deal with the deeper questions: what is there in my life that really, for heaven’s sake, needs to go? Where can I grow and should I grow in my spiritual life? What is God really calling me to do? How can I be more generous? How can I learn more about His word in Holy Scripture?
Abby, imperfect as she is, does live her life giving love and receiving it. And she is where God wants her to be. But what about us? Where are we in terms of the spiritual life? And how may these forty days bring us closer to the one who died and rose for us?
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?