“Inspired to Make a Difference”
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
“Inspire To make A Difference”
August 16, 2018
Some people have their best conversations or do their best thinking (and I have heard, best singing) in the shower. Not me! I believe my best on-my-feet thinking comes whenever I have these early morning walk-n-talks with Abby. She has a way of posing such seemingly innocent but self-serving yet pointed questions. She does her “Border collie” species proud!
So anyway, this morning (Sunday) as we were racing up a hill, she questioned why I am forever trying to get her to not bark at every unexpected sound or every person who walks by the house, (or into my office when she comes to work with me). I tried explaining for the zillionth time that while I understand that it’s in her nature to bark to strangers (who might secretly be wolves trying to hurt her sheep – one never knows), just because it is a part of her nature, she does not have to do this every time. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you have to do it each and every time.
So she asked for concrete examples. It’s like being a Met’s fan, I told her. You know the team, as constituted, is abysmal. The season cannot end soon enough, and there is little hope for the near future. You CAN always choose to support another team and end the pain. But I choose not to. My dad and uncle brought me to my first game when I was 12. It’s where I belong. Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should.
When I’m driving on stretches of road without another car in sight, I certainly CAN exceed the speed limit. After all, who would know? But should I? So Abby, you can bark, but perhaps you should choose to not bark
So then she asked: is it like this: you American humans certainly could choose to not sink into social media hype and hate speech diatribes towards others with whom you disagree. You can avoid hate centered town gatherings and marches if you choose to. You just choose to not do the right thing. Just like I choose to bark and not be quiet.
Now I explained it’s more complicated than that. Here we have laws and systems of rights and guaranteed freedoms and all the complexities of 21st century high tech political and social life with which to contend. So she retorts: I’m not sure what any of that means. I just know that you told me that simply because you can do something, that doesn’t mean you always should. So I guess this only applies to dogs and not humans? Now that sounds right and just .. not! These early morning walks-n-talks are starting to give me a headache! I hate it when she’s right!
— Fr. Joe
August 2, 2018
“Inspired to Make a Difference”
If you could travel back in time, what person would you want to meet or which event would you want to witness (or even change)? Would you speak with Capt. Smith in April 1912 on the bridge of the Titanic and ask him: “Race at Full speed at night into the ice fields. What could possibly go wrong?”
Would you like to be able to determine what the real electoral count from Chicago precincts were in 1960 – and did Kennedy actually win or lose Illinois and thus the election? (And you folks thought presidential electoral political chicanery was invented in 2016! Seriously?)
Would you like to have listened to the missing minutes on the Nixon tapes before they were erased? Would you have wanted to be in the stadium and cheered (perhaps alone and being abused) when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and changed processional sports forever? Would you have loved to have seen the faces on the Cardinals in the Vatican Ecclesiastical Industrial Complex when in 1959 Pope John XXIII decided that his Church needed to open the windows and let in the Holy Spirit? “Were you there when they crucified my Lord”?
On a lazy hot summer day, it’s always fun to play “what if”. But we are creatures bound and limited by time. We can only know our present, and can only act within the horizon of our own experiences. We can never know with certainty what others may have seen or heard or felt in the past. As limited human beings, we remain flawed and fragile, hope filled and failure prone. The limitation of temporality is a reminder that we only create our stories in the “now”.
And no one will ever really travel back in time and judge why they (or we) did what was done. No one will ever be able to truly justify another’s motivations or actions with absolute certitude. We live in this moment and are responsible now for what our decisions or actions cause. For the last time, we are creatures living in the present and journeying into an always uncertain future. We have no power to change what has been!
So in answer to my own question: what person or event would I wish to witness if I could travel back in time? Frankly, what’s the point? I would prefer to live life to the fullest now, and work with all the gifts God has given me now and do my limited human (but grace filled) best for our future. I’ll leave the past to itself.
— Fr Joe
July 26, 2018
At present I’m reading an historical account regarding the “true story” behind the miracle at Dunkirk. From what I can glean from the texts and orders quoted, the memories recorded, and the diaries reopened, it seems that what I was taught in history class wasn’t even close to the truth about the debacle that marked one of the opening events of WWII. There are no possible or logical reasons to explain how the British (and other Allied) forces were rescued off the French beaches from utter annihilation by the unstoppable Nazi divisions. There were acts of sheer courage, incredible stupidity, dumb luck, careful planning, weather interference, grace under fire and human hubris all rolled into one lost battle that saved hundreds of thousands of lives – in spite of being soundly beaten at that moment.
So when I look at the condition of the Jesus Movement today – in our secular and hostile USA “culture,” when I see churches closing, or in financial peril, or with inner circles of “entitled” still clinging to the illusion of power in too many parish communities; when one witnesses inter- and intra-communal antagonism, lukewarm (at best) commitment on the part of a growing numbers of “members” who seem to want (when it is convenient for them) some kind of warm fuzzy religious feeling but without commitment, one could throw up one’s hands and simply ask the last person to turn off the lights when they lock down the building. It seems that what happens in “life” can happen at church: “acts of sheer courage, incredible stupidity, dumb luck, careful planning, weather interference, grace under fire and human hubris!”
Or we can remember that with God, all things are possible! Whenever I see nothing but darkness, I believe that there is a dawn just beyond my field of vision. I am convinced that the Lord never stops calling ordinary disciples who can make such a difference in other believers’ lives. Like yesteryear’s war heroes who were simply ordinary folks who stepped up when needed. So I uphold our Episcopal Church and believe this “bridge church” can and will touch lives and raise minds and hearts to God. I also believe that the Lord will continue to call “ordinary believers” to step up and provide the leadership and the “grace under fire” that the Christian movement needs today. After all, we have seen the impossible happen. Who am I to declare that a religion-less culture is our inevitable destiny?
July 19, 2018
There is one lie (among many) that our culture perpetuates, and we parents and grandparents, as much as we love our offspring, do them no service by perpetuating the illusion.
Have any of you heard that foolish comment that we show our children love by telling them that they are so special and that there is “nothing” they cannot accomplish if they really want to have or do something! The facts of biology, talent, having financial resources and all the other unfair aspects of “life” shows such a cultural dictum to be utterly absurd. I think about the five high school freshman (teenagers all: 4 girls and 1 boy) with whom I spent so many months preparing them for Confirmation. As much as I pastorally love and care for them, I can guarantee you that not one of them, no matter how much they try, or wish, or would demand will ever develop into a 6’10” NBA power forward! Not going to happen. There are limits to what we can accomplish. Sorry!
This is a cancerous notion that infects our culture. It’s called “entitlement.” I want something, therefore I should have it. I am entitled to it. And while those who live by this notion are annoying and arrogant at worst (and just plain foolish at best), the saddest thing is that this belief is a betrayal of what we’re called to be as disciples of Jesus. We’re to love one another as much as the Lord Jesus loves us. That sometimes means facing hard truths about our own physical, emotional financial, psychological limitations and the effects those limitations might have on our family life. I cannot have it all. I cannot do it all. I need to face the truth about this, and live within the limits of gifts and abilities that our gracious God has given me. Use those gifts and abilities, work to expand them if possible, never be satisfied with mediocrity, but also learn what my boundaries will ultimately be, be at peace with them, and be the best I can be.
In baseball, a young pitcher is taught to “stay within yourself” – to know what you can and cannot do. I just wonder if middle class suburban “culture” has become so filled with “entitlement” that we have lost our way and we just cannot or will not live within our limitations. God loves without limit. God alone acts without being subject to limitations. We humans can’t do either of those things.
We keep going back to the Genesis story of the primordial couple who are told: eat this fruit. You’ll be just like God. After all, you’re entitled. And how’s that been working out for us?
Church Tavern Challenge
St. John’s Parish is proud to announce the first annual Church Tavern Challenge 5K/10K Run/Walk presented by Domino Sugar. The Challenge replaces the seven-year Labor Day tradition of the Church Tavern Biathlon (which included a bike race component) with run/walk-only races, featuring distances to appeal to everyone from the serious runner to families who just want a fun day together. The day will also offer a 1K race for kids. The traditional tankards will be awarded for first and second-place finishers, with other prizes for the top finishers in each age group.
In addition to celebrating Labor Day and encouraging fitness in our community, the event raises money to help with the outstanding work of the Community Center of Northern Westchester and the continued work of the parish.
Beginning at 9:30 am on Monday, September 3, the races will wind through the hills and country lanes of South Salem, New York, starting and finishing at St. John’s Church on Spring Street. The competitions will be followed by a chance to cool down and relax with delicious barbecue, musical entertainment and fun games for the kids.
Event chairperson Matt Shue describes the Challenge as “a perfect set of races, where you can be as competitive or as laid-back as you wish. The point is to get out in the fresh air, have a great time and contribute to a good cause.”
Registration for the 2018 Church Tavern Challenge is now open on the running website.
Cost is $25 per runner or walker, and $10 per child (12 and under) for the 1K run.
Further details on the race course will be announced shortly.
July 12, 2018
JoAnne had a disturbing experience walking Abby last week. They had been in Katonah walking about and doing whatever Border Collies and their adopting moms do on a “girls day out” when, as JoAnne relates, they came to a particular street and Abby just froze. She became fear filled. She whimpered. She refused to walk down that street – no way no how! She dug her paws in, engaged her brakes, lay down in defiance, and did whatever other doggie type cliché you wish to conjure up. Fear had her paralyzed. And what was most confusing was that there were no overt signs of any trouble ahead. There were no aggressive dogs (or persons) lurking in the shadows (because last week’s blistering noonday sun had eliminated them all). There was no rational “reason” to explain her behavior, but freeze up – she did! And it took all sorts of cajoling, bribes, and pleading to cross the road and move beyond that street in order to return to the car. I’m not asking you for solutions to Abby’s issue. Maybe she has a memory from her puppy wandering days down south that this street brought to mind. Maybe, she was just tired and played JoAnne for sympathy. We’ll never know.
But this experience can be a metaphor for parish life, small Episcopal Church 2018. We, like too many other small parishes in our small Communion of less than 2 million members nationwide, are approaching unknown avenues, having to make decisions, planning for an uncertain future and looking out on unfamiliar paths, and there is the temptation to just freeze. It’s always easier to claim that the past was “Utopia”, and it is better to return to what “was” than to face the uncertain “now” (or future). Some parish communities get trapped in an ideological quicksand of inaction because folks claim that they want to change or grow, but they want things to stay the same as when they were perfect (or at least “better than this”) in the past.
The questions we, as a small parish, must be asking ourselves are just what is it Christ wants us to be and where does Christ wish us to go? In the end, it’s not about institutions, or buildings, or “things”. It is about discipleship. It is about love being manifested. It is about not being afraid to do whatever we discern God is calling us to do. Dogs (usually) are motivated by food or play. Christians must pray, and struggle, and discern and then must act in love. Only then can we avoid being frozen in fear.