Author Archives: sjadmin

Thursday Reflection 6.7.18

Thursday Reflection                                                                                       
June 7, 2018
 
 
 A friend of mine commented that the last several of these “reflections” have been rather dark if not downright depressing. Granted that multiple school shootings, political gridlock, racist tweets, sexual misconduct, racial injustice, and the ever unpleasant reminder that nuclear war is not an impossibility can push one’s psyche over into the dark side. Is there hope for us? I speak as a member of a religious movement that seems to lack any influence on general culture (and if you doubt that, just remember, a week a or so ago, Ireland – about as “Roman Cathoplic” Is there hope for us as believers, as citizens, as parents, as stewards of God’s creation?
 These past several months, a group of parishioners and I have been reading / studying (plodding) our way through one of the Hebrew Scripture’s most difficult and haunting texts: The Book of Job. Imagine a “story” or parable – written in poetry but is essentially a series of lengthy arguments about the nature of God and the nature of evil – and one man’s quest for justice.
Those who make it to the end of the poetry text are left with a very unsettling response to it all: the voice of a God who reminds His human antagonist that you don’t know nearly as much as you think you do! You don’t have an overview throughout history and time as God has. Don’t be assuming that the questions that most concern humans are the questions that concern God. (Isn’t that a wee bit annoying?) Will “justice” in the present always solve an issue? What is experienced as horrendous at present often becomes the means or the impetus to make matters better if not for oneself, than for others. (e.g. If one heavy smoker dying wretchedly from lung cancer (clearly a tragedy and an evil) can influence others to not follow her example, has not some good emerged from the evil of the disease?)
Job in the end remains as a person with self-worth and personal integrity. He doesn’t have many answers to the darkness of life, but he is a person of faith, and he can live with his uncertainties. He can believe that God is to be found, not always in overcoming evil, but in my not being destroyed by it because I am not alone.
There are countless reports in the news that sadden me. But I have much to learn from Job. I just wish I could see things with God’s perspective.
 –Fr. Joe                                                                                                            

Thursday Reflection 5.31.18

I was in the process of writing something in a similar line for this coming week’s reflection when I was truly hit by this posting by a Mr. James Cornwell who writes for Living Church magazine.
I share his reflection, and I hope you find it as thought provoking as I did.
Fr. Joe
Incorrigible Optimism
By James Cornwell
As I write this, one can still hear the echoes of our national conversation on gun control after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Politicians and pundits, both right and left, have held forth since that outrage with prescriptions for addressing the problem of gun violence in America, the implication being that if we just do what they say, we can prevent anything like this from ever happening again. The powers of sin and death are thought to be restrained with a more precise application of public policy, as a bacteria’s spread can be restrained with the appropriate application of penicillin.
But the Gospel reading opens with a different take: the problem is not merely mechanical but spiritual in nature. The blind and dumb man brought to Jesus is so disabled because of a demon – Satan has taken him into his house to be his plaything.
In America, our incorrigible optimism prevents us from peering too closely at the blinding darkness these acts of violence reveal, filling the void with our dumb speech that grasps for reasons. We believe that evil has no real power to drain the light and music from the world, that it is merely the working out of mechanical forces that lie hidden but can ultimately be bent to our will. Our blindness and dumbness in the face of sin and death is simply due to a lack of knowledge and political willpower.
But our will is precisely the problem. The words of Jesus suggest that we are the “goods” of a “strong man.” We cannot escape his power unless he is bound. But do not despair! Because, as St. Paul writes, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. The machinations of mankind inexorably lead to the cross, but the Word of the Lord brings us to resurrection.
Since the school shooting in Parkland, there has been another school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas.

Thursday Reflection 5.24.18

Thursday Reflection                                                                                                                

May 24, 2018

I am trying to make sense out of the “power” of tradition.  It seems to me that traditions are declared to be powerful, symbolic, fussy, senseless, useful or useless – depending on the meaning with which we infuse them.  They can sustain life or suck it right out of you when you buck them.

Work with a couple preparing for marriage!  Even those who have a tangential relationship (at this point in their lives) to any Christian Community are horrified at the thought of changing things associated with wedding day liturgical traditions as they understand them – even those that have long since lost their meaning.   Tradition has power!

Come to any Episcopal parish as the new priest.  You will eventually be told in no uncertain terms (either directly in honest conversation, or through overheard gossip, or if you are truly blessed, that ever popular anonymous complaining note) that there are certain ways of doing things in this place, there are certain people who must always have their way in this place – concluding in the choral anthem: “but we’ve always done it this way” or “but we’ve never done it this way!”  The power of tradition, for good or for ill.

That’s just an ordinary part of “church life.”  So translating this insight into life out in the world, acknowledging the rights of all citizens and the need of the rule of law, even unpopular laws, even laws that may have outlived their original intent, I have observations to make and questions to ask:

Wasn’t the high school experience intended to be the educational locale where the rites of childhood pass and where intellectual growth and curiosity were to accompany the reality of physical maturation?  Wasn’t high school, admittedly never a perfect place, still a place of growth, challenge, awkwardness, friendship, and learning? We learned about ourselves and others.  We made mistakes.  Our teachers were either friendly or unfair.  We began to understand and to be understood.

I know those years were not “perfect perfect,” but wasn’t there at least a longstanding “tradition” in this nation that our children would be safe?  Wasn’t there a tradition that when you sent your daughter or son off to class, you wouldn’t have to wonder whether yours would be the next school bathed in blood from gun violence?  We were intended to hold our children in our arms, but not cradle their lifeless bodies as the targets of rage.

Wasn’t school the place for education and growth?  So I wonder:  what happened to the power of those traditions?    Please don’t tell me that merely waiting for the next murders in our schools (and praying it does not occur in our town) is now becoming a new and acceptable tradition!

Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 5.17.18

Thursday Reflection                                                                                                             

May 17, 2018

Last week, I pulled an “all-nighter” that I am sure many of you as parents have experienced.  You all know I love our border collie, but …

So for reasons that will never be explained and at a time that has yet to be ascertained with certitude, Abby ate something she should not have!  And did she ever get sick.  Just after midnight, when all of us “normal” humans are now heading into fitful “r.e.m.” sleep, she awakens in terrible distress, and literally drags me outside into the night (where the deer roam, the coyote prey, the bears hide out, and who knows what else is out there) where she manically consumes what seemed to be tons of grass.  Bottom line – in a very short time, she was soooo sick, and retching every (any) where (on porch, stairs, beds, people).

After this self-purging, I tried to be a good doggie dad, and sat up with her for some time, just petting this now clearly repentant (for NOW at least) but helpless little creature.  Eventually she fell back to sleep.

I did not!  I sat up for most of that night, listening to the sounds of the darkness.  I had to reaffirm that no one should ever face the fears of pain and sickness alone – how we need the company of others, and that there is a reason why Jesus mentions in his great judgment parable that we will be blessed because “I was sick and you visited me.”

 When one cannot return to sleep and avoids early morning T.V¸ then one can appreciate the gift of silence.  There is so much noise in our lives.  No wonder it is difficult to focus on what is truly important.

Sometimes instead of “doing” anything, we need to take time to be silent and just “be.”   When I realized that I was so wired and concerned that I wouldn’t be returning to sleep, I tried to work on a sermon for a week or so from now.  (The outline of this document is now in the trash – as it truly was rubbish after I re-read it a day later).   Sometimes we just need the quiet, and we need to take it when the time is provided.  We need to take it even if the cause was the naughty behavior of one of God’s loveable but not always bright creatures.  When was the last time you had quiet time?  When was the last time you took some “quiet time?”

 

–Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 5.10.18

Thursday Reflection                                                                                                                

 May 10, 2018

As much as I love our border collie (and believe that as a creature with self-awareness and capacity for love, she possesses a “soul” – a position that puts me at odds with some other Christian Church’s doctrinal stance), I certainly observe a major difference between her and me.  I have the capacity to choose while she is caught in the rhythm of her instincts.  We humans make choices: some good, some not-so–much, and some just dreadful unto evil – but it is we who determine our choices!

The last “Confirmation Class” each year is a fun one for me because I put the teens through a number of “no win” morally ambiguous situations, and they must choose the “right” behavior.  Of course, at age 15, they have yet to mature (mentally or spiritually) to understand the difference between a “good” choice vs. a “right” choice.  They do not yet know that we cannot always frame the context of life’s dilemmas nor can we “change” a preceding event to make a present choice more reasonable.  They haven’t learned that life’s experience will not present us a “do over.”  They are young Christian men and women who are maturing in their life in Christ just as they are maturing physically, mentally and emotionally.  And they are still children – they have yet to realty master the relationship between choices and consequences.

So what are the principles that reflexively and immediately come into play before each of your decisions?  Is it Christ’s “new” commandment to love one another as He loved us?  Is it the “golden rule?”  Do you determine whether this thought, word or action is in accord with the Covenant with God you made at your Baptism?  Does it follow or violate one of the “10 Commandments?”  Do you take each situation as a unique universe with its own norms for good vs evil, or do you abide by principles that endure no matter the situation?   Must every decision make you feel good?  Does what you “feel” in any way determine (or should it?) what you decide?  Are we as Christians supposed to judge situations differently from non-believers?  If so, why?  Or, why not?  We often hear the phrase: “don’t judge me!”    So is every behavior to be accepted?  If you believe there are no absolute principles, then, of course, you’ve just created one!  So does one create one’s own absolute norms?  Is every choice to be evaluated simply by outcome: if it works, don’t fix it and, heaven forbid, never change it.

And on and on the discussion might go!  While this is the basis for a good few get-together sessions to discuss “Ethics’ Today 101” (or whatever you might wish to entitle the course), I just thought I’d pose the question for you:  so just how do you decide to do what you do and why?  Does being a disciple of Jesus make a difference, or not?    — Fr Joe

Thursday Reflection 5.3.18

Thursday Reflection                                                                                                                                  May 3, 2018

 

Last weekend, I escaped upstate for a day and experienced life “in the far northern burbs” as a grandpa and observer of everyday USA reality.  Can’t say it totally left me with a “warm fuzzy” feeling.  So for many of these observations, I end up questioning now how you do it, but rather, why?

So let me just take one slice: a two hour immersion into cultural insanity yet cuteness known as my grandson’s first 9 – 10 yr. old little league game.  Now I am NOT going to be one of those nasty caricature parent-fanatics who seem to need to live through the success of their progeny.  OK,  so my grandson tried to score from second on a four time kicked ground ball, and was out at the plate by a mere 45 feet.  The umpire could have gotten that call wrong, but I’m not going to loudly comment at a volunteer high school kid   – unlike some folks I overheard!

I do have a few other unsettling observations.  Will someone explain to me where the “fun” of the game is to be found when the mom of one little guy, (trying to) pitch, who would pace back and forth in front of the bleachers like a caged lion grumbling: “…can’t enjoy myself whenever he pitches!”  Silly me, I thought this was about little kids enjoying themselves and learning the game.  Didn’t know that one’s own self esteem must be forever tied to little kids doing as little kids do: imperfectly and silly even when trying!

Will someone explain how you can enjoy a game when you’re on your cell phone for all but 4 minutes and 37 seconds of a two hour game – calling this associate, speaking to that underling (?), making changes, and apparently orally “rewriting” several key pieces of legislation that surely will impact western civilization as we know it?   Sorry, you missed your son’s at bat – again!  By the by, without even trying I now know more about this person’s work and personal life than I really need or want to.  No one has to steal his privacy; he tossed it away!

Will someone explain the logic in signing up your various children to so many sporting and non-athletic activities per day that they are forever trapped in the cycle of car here unto car there – missing this practice to attend this activity – and not seeing that you cannot do everything – no one  can.  One cannot be in two separate places at the same time.  One sometimes must make choices in terms of what one can or cannot do.  Shouldn’t we be teaching our kids this?

Will someone explain why one mother, bringing her son to the game, has to be glared down and publically lied to by the child’s father (and latest girlfriend du jour) because he is avoiding child support, and he seems to need to have all the world know  (and loudly) that “I’M the victim here”!

Or we can reflect upon why the need to stand in front up of everyone so that one can see better, block everyone else’s view  (and give out more personal directives to one’s particular offspring – so that the little kid might be totally confused between what his coach is telling him and what dad/mom is telling him.  (I also really loved this one guy who delegated his daughter and sent an older daughter to shout instructions at her diminutive sibling – seriously)?

Yeah, this was quite an afternoon for observations.  So will someone explain to me where the “fun” of all this can be found?   Is there anyone out there who agrees that we as a people really need to have a serious conversation about civility, about letting our children be “children” and having fun, or about building folks up and not looking to tear them down.  Also the conversation might include respecting privacy (one’s own and that of others).   And while we are at it, do not assume everyone wants to hug you or being hugged.  Finally for goodness sake, give our children the space to be children and love them in and through their mistakes.  There will be enough opportunities to experience the wrath of others when they become adults.

A Thursday Reflection 4.26.18

A week ago, I was reading from one of my usual on-line spiritual reading sites, when I was almost knocked over by this posting by a Fr. Hankinson (from I know not where – and it matters not!)

This hit home for me – all the expectations and plans that were made through and post college, through and post seminary years later that did not occur because the Lord seemingly has different plans.  And this is not just about me!  One of the hardest spiritual disciplines to cultivate in one’s own spiritual life is the ability to “let go” and see God’s guidance in the unexplained or unplanned events of life – even the ones we dread.   So I share this reflection with you because it brought me so many memories.  I hope this does the same for you.

–          Fr.  Joe

 

It’s Not A Mistake
By the Rev. Ben Hankinson
God sometimes asks the unexpected. Approaching my senior year of seminary, I was about to start interviewing for positions. Then one day a name I had never heard came across my email: Trinity, Mt. Vernon. I had no clue where it was or how to be a priest in charge.

I had always assumed that I would be a curate or an assistant before I sat in the big chair. I knew the plan of how things were supposed to be, or so I thought. As it became abundantly clear that southern Illinois was about to play a significant role in my life, I wondered if God really knew what he was doing. Of course he does, but in the moment it can be hard to understand the path ahead.

As I write this, we stand on the cusp of the Sacred Triduum, and I am reminded of a somewhat similar exchange between Peter and the Lord at the Last Supper. John the Baptist and Peter object to the seemingly backward circumstances in which they find themselves. It seems like a mistake: Jesus should baptize John; Peter should wash the feet of Jesus.

And yet it is not in error that the Lord engages John or Peter or us. We cannot foresee all the stops along the way, nor can we always comprehend the rhyme or reason for certain people, places, and events. But so long as the journey’s end is found in Christ, so long as the signpost of the way is the Cross, when God asks us to take a detour from the roadmap we’ve laid out for ourselves, then we can do so with confidence and step out boldly in faith.

 

A Thursday Reflection 4.19.18

For my non-theological (not canon law) “enjoyment” reading, I’ve started a book entitled The Great Fire. It explores a time, place and incidents in history of which I am shamefully and abysmally ignorant.   The book itself is a recreation from official documentation, reasoned speculation as well as excerpts from personal diaries about an American attempt to rescue folks from one of humanity’s first well planned and executed attempts at genocide: the atrocities against Armenian and Greek Christians who were caught up in the onslaught of Turkish nationalism during and at the end of World War I.
In one sense it is better explaining to me how none of the issues of hate that were at the cause of “the war to end all wars” were ever dealt with. So we ended up with a World War II. What a surprise!
It reminded me how perceived wrongs and injuries in the name of “religion” can metastasize into unending revenge – decades or even centuries later – as much of this story seems to me at least to be some kind of payback for religious wars that had occurred long beyond the memory of (but never with the hope of forgiveness from) any of the participants.
Of course, only “important” people leave their mark in history – right? I’ve read about one Greek national living near Smyrna – a teenage boy who will by sheer luck survive this massacre. His name was Aristotle Onassis, and years later he would become a wealthy man who married the widow Jaqueline Kennedy.   I am reading about the exploits of journalists who saw a humanitarian slaughter unfold, but who could say or do little to help – including a very young “cub reporter” just beginning his writing career named Ernest Hemingway. But what of the “unimportant” millions who leave no mark? They just endure. Who speaks for them? Who cares about them?
This book is hardly “fun reading.” It is about pain and death and cowardice and religious hatred. And it is all true. Not a novel! Not the makings of a Tom Cruise Mission Impossible film. It is just another true story of how it is so easy to hold on to the pain: those injuries and hurts that others cause. We always remember them. The good that people may do for us is so easily forgotten. Too easily forgotten.
Taking this down to the micro level: why not spend this day remembering the “good” that someone may have done to or for you. Thank her or him (again, if you already did so – or for the first time, if you ignored their kindness). Appreciate the good of others.   And if you can take any lesson from history, learn to let go of the hate filled memories. They always destroy! Even if you never act on them, they will destroy you – from within.
So if I am learning one thing (beyond this terrible story itself), it is how easy it is to forget the kindnesses, and how easy it is to recall the pains that people in our lives cause. And it is so not worth it to hold on to that pain!
                                                                                                            Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 4.12.18

Last week our border collie endured a major oral surgery as the result of having shattered a back tooth chewing on … no one is sure what, and she’s not “fessing up!” So in the span of less than one year, two priests and a dog have undergone major medical procedures. (I alone was not put under general anesthesia – I got to watch them fix the access to my heart in “real time.”)
The past year has been a reminder that all our assumptions about being “healthy” are so foolish. The older we get, the longer the time on life’s path, the more chance (or inevitability) that we break down. So the eyes don’t focus as they did, and the hearing can be (selectively?) spotty. The back plays games and the legs can no longer speed us through the city blocks (or country miles) we used to run.   Even now, as Abby fights off the effects of the pain killing medication intended to help her feel better, she tries so hard to do things with that machine of a body that Borders possess, but simply cannot – at least for the time being. And what is done efficiently, by the dog or her doggie “mommy” or “daddy,” is slower and still Advil driven.
“When I wore a younger man’s clothes…” (to quote the great Billy Joel), the feast of the Lord’s Resurrection was a matter of faith, but it never carried any personal message. We believe, as Christians, that Christ has overcome death. Such is Easter. All well and good. But what about me?
Now each Easter’s liturgy brings more than a reminder to acknowledge the most important tenet of the Nicene Creed. It reminds me that as I (and all those who journey through life with me: those I love and those I serve, and even she who races on all fours and would spend the day rounding up sheep) move closer to the end of allotted time here, there is that promise for those of us who keep faith that there is “more” and there is “wonderful” beyond the termination of bodily health and life. There truly is existence beyond existence. “I believe in the resurrection and the life of the world to come.” My faith affirms this. My breaking body waits in hope!   Such is truly part of the beauty of this feast!
– Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 4.5.18

The spiritual journey can be so difficult. I so wish that the upbeat feelings that stem from beautiful Holy Week liturgies and the warm communal spirit they create in us were easy to maintain. But like anything else, Christian life is not lived within the confines of a church building listening to the sounds of wonderful music, taking in the scent of incense and candles or even attending to the proclamations of Good News from young voices.
Why was it so easy to behold the unappreciated gift of snow on the day after Easter and then to allow my language to deteriorate into a string of blasphemies as if this could prevent an iota of a flake from falling? Why did I allow satanically inspired thoughts of revenge fill me on Tuesday when, seeking to find a parking spot reasonably close to the center where I endure “physical therapy,” I happened upon a bright gleaming silver Mercedes (w/ beautiful black interior) angle parked to take out not one or two but three parking places. Why was I so immediately tempted to angle park myself behind the car to block that car for the next 1 ½ hours… or perhaps leave the driver a consoling note thanking him/her for this thoughtless act and perhaps making a reference analogously to that body part that is necessary for a bowel movement!
My point is simple: joy, warmth, and all the fuzzy good “feelings” that most associate with a life well lived – being a Christian – while among the fruits of the Holy Spirit, are not enough. One can slip into anger, annoyance, crankiness, cynicism or despair quite easily. It is not the initial moment of grace but the sustained effort and openness to receive that grace which is the hallmark to life in the spirit. It is a wonder to have that experience of love. It is far more difficult and yet more wondrous to live into a vocation to love.
The risen Christ calls us to love one another as much as he loved us! His was a love that took him to death, and then through death to life. I am whining about lack of parking and inclement weather.   The spiritual journey can be so difficult – but worth it!