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Thursday Reflection 7.5.18

Thursday Reflection

July 5, 2018

         Today is not only the day after Independence Day, but it is the day that the Episcopal Church will begin its 79th General Convention –the highest legislative and moral authority of this Church. This body meets every three years.  Every Bishop (hundreds active and retired) is expected to attend. 4 clergy plus 4 lay representatives from each and every diocese of our church will be present – totaling ALMOST 1000 PEOPLE when one includes alternates, youth, vendors, guests and speakers. (By contrast, both Houses of the United States Congress do not total 600 people)!

There will be hot button issues (as usual). Issues of sexuality and same sex marriage rites never go away. There is a mandate to come up with a process for possible revision of the Book of Common Prayer (currently in use since 1979), and our Hymnal (1982), and there are calls for reform but also to “leave it alone.” Other liturgical books, are in need of refinement, of examination, of possible reform – always to engender debate. There is a budget to be examined and passed. And then, how do we as a Church face the issues of racism, institutional violence and also what appears more and more a secular culture that has paid lip service to gender equality but really raised (well, actually lowered) the level abuse of women to practically an art form of “normality” in some professions! There is the thorny issue that the single most important and responsible non-bishop of our church, the President of the House of Deputies, has never been a salaried person. The demands of the office have grown over the centuries.  The traveling demands in and out of NYC alone are enormous. To this date, one cannot have a full time paying “job” or a “life” while serving as President of H.D. Therefore it is forever been a person who either is retired, or crassly put, so wealthy that he or she can afford to do this job without pay.  Many believe this must change. Most bishops oppose this being a salaried position and have voted down this request each and every convention it has been raised.

I am hoping that among the hundreds of proposed resolutions (most of which may not even see the light of day), among all the political and moral posturing regarding the reform of “Title IV” canons (the disciplinary procedure for clergy who have done wrong), I am hoping that instead of ecclesiastical chest bumping” over the success of our Presiding Bishop’s preaching at the last royal wedding, those who deem themselves (and whom we commission as) our leaders will in the informal gatherings, at the dinners, in walking to and fro, at times of prayer (informal and liturgical) will start to do some really serious soul searching and brain storming regarding who we are as a church and where is God calling us to be. I spoke in this past Sunday’s sermon that what the scriptures seem to make (uncomfortably) clear is that Christ never promised to accept us as we are! In fact, he seldom does that with those whom He calls. Christ always calls us to be better than we think we are capable of being. He calls us to higher and deeper and better. And I, who entered this Episcopal Church by choice so many years ago, am praying that we, as a Church, listen to what our God is calling us to do – of who and what we are meant to be in Christ Jesus. It just seems that the “Kingdom of God” that Jesus preached and calls us to be and to serve is so far away. There is so much work, in Christ’s name and empowered by His Holy Spirit, that we need to be doing.

Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 6.28.18

Last week New York’s Assistant Bishop, Mary Glasspool wrote this reflection / sermon for the priests of our diocese.  Given the divisions and trauma that we as a nation (and as The Episcopal Church) are going through, I thought her words were prophetically important for us as Christians.  I ask you to read these words, and remembering that while the context was her teaching the priests of our diocese, I believe we can all benefit from her reflection

Fr Joe+

I was speaking with a friend of mine this past week who had just returned from a retreat at Iona Abbey in Scotland. Part of our conversation centered on the worship there, and my friend reported being startled when, during the prayers of the people at one of the services, the officiant invited the following: Let us pray for those parts of the world that suffer strife and division: the Middle East, Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, and the United States.

In a very real way, I was reassured that there is a recognition outside of our own country that there is division and strife here, and that we are being prayed for specifically because of it. And the prayer shined a light on a reality that we are living every day: that of a divided and conflicted country. I keep thinking that there is a huge opportunity for the Church to model for people what it looks like to deal in a healthy manner with conflict; to show a better way of bringing about justice; to do the work of love in deeply wounded places. There are so many biblical passages we could adopt for this journey. I think of Paul’s words to the Church in Rome. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:9-10) I wonder if we pay enough attention to that last statement – Outdo one another in showing honor

Americans are taught from childhood that competition is good. It builds character, strengthens drive, fuels ambition, and pushes us to do our best. But the competitive spirit has been bred so successfully that it now extends far beyond our playing fields or boardrooms or shop floors. Competition between spouses destroys the trust and love necessary to maintain and cultivate the relationship. Competition between children escalates into gang wars that destroy families, neighborhoods, and lives. Competition between Christians also exists, and like other misplaced matches of world rivalry, it is a competition that creates only losers.  Individual churches and whole denominations have eagerly bought into the numbers game, convinced that more is better, that biggest is best. The church with more members, a bigger choir, a dizzying array of special classes and programs – we deem these churches as winners

The Apostle Paul does call Christians to enter into serious competition. But it is a contest with a considerable difference. There is no winner-take-all warfare against outsiders waged in the name of liberty, justice, and the American Way. The biblical challenge calls Christians to outdo one another in showing honor – not sanctuary size or annual budgets or number of people. The fullness of living that Paul outlines is not the fullness of size, but the fullness of the Spirit, the fullness of Christ. Instead of pitting Christians against Christians, in competition for Church members, supremacy of theological viewpoint, or (God help us) wealth and power; Paul suggests other ways of outdoing each other. Let’s see who can love the most, with all that true loving costs. Let’s see who can forgive the most, even when the woundedness still hurts. Associate with the lowly. Bless those who persecute you. Outdo one another in honoring people. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Outdoing one another in honor is not the world’s way of competing. The world, in fact, may brand the Church as foolish, futile, and failing. But the Church can still serve God’s world by modeling what it means to love, despite the hate being thrown around on a daily basis; to minister justice with compassion (in the words of this week’s collect), and by competing not for numbers, size, or even being theologically correct – but for joy, compassion, true justice, and forgiveness. The world should know that we are Christians not because we’re right, but because of our love.

With much love for all of you,

+Mary

Thursday Reflection 6.21.18

Thursday Reflection                                                                                                      
June 21, 2018
 

            This coming Sunday we’re going to celebrate the 259th anniversary of this parish. At present, the “plant” boasts of two church buildings, the Early Learning Center, and the “new” (cornerstone year 2006) addition (“parish house”). As I read through some of the history of this parish, I wonder how those first clergy and spirited Anglican worshippers would have felt to know that there would be buildings while there was, for them, only an open space. That there would someday be both men and women clergy presiding at the liturgies would have been unthinkable for them. That their spiritual descendants would have both central heat and air conditioning for a comfortable physical environment was beyond their expectations.
            The culture they experienced in 1759 would hardly have sympathized with parents who try to balance work schedules, traveling requirements and the many many (sometimes reasonable and sometimes not) demands for children’s’ activities which suburban middle class culture imposes to allegedly assure entrance into better schools. They would have kept the Sabbath rest without question. We all either cannot do so or choose to not to do so.
            The liturgy of that time was far wordier and much more penitential (as those who will be present at this Sunday’s “Rite I” liturgy shall experience). In that era, almost everything could be viewed as sinful. In our era, almost nothing is viewed as sinful.   Somehow I don’t hear the teaching of Jesus in either of those extreme positions.
            The Church of England was planting itself in these colonies with little thought for growth or leadership. (Heck, not one single bishop ever bothered to come to the colonies from England during the entire colonial period. So any “Confirmation Candidates” had, by necessity, to end in a potentially dangerous “road trip” back to London so that the Bishop of London (technically the Bishop of the American colonists) might confirm those children. Church “school” was non-existent – it was the responsibility of parents to teach their children prayers, the commandments and how to use the Book of Common Prayer (version 1662)
            Ironically in less than 30 years from its establishment, this St. John’s community would no longer be a mission of any Connecticut parish – in fact it would no longer be a part of the Church of England. Political events would take their toll. An original church structure would be burned down. The first constituted Rector would die as collateral damage from the war for independence. This church would become a part of the new movement known as the Episcopal Church, and from there, it would go through several cycles of growth and decline in both importance and membership.
            Simply: this Sunday is our anniversary. It is OUR day. We are spiritual descendants of a special group of believers in Jesus who left their mark in what was to become the United States, and New York State, and Lewisboro, NY.   As a parish, we are not the largest, nor the most important, nor the richest. At times we show incredible love for each other, at times our compassion for ourselves or others is without limits, and of course at other times we don’t always treat one another with due respect.   After all, we are redeemed sinners, lest we forget.
But as St. Paul wrote, “by the grace of God, I am what I am…” and I believe God put this little community “in the woods” here for a purpose. And it is the responsibility (and the joy) of each membership cycle, each generation, of parishioners – of members of the “Jesus movement” – to discern what it is that God has called us to do.   Just what has God called the present day members to do to make their mark and make this culture more loving? We say that we’re been inspired to make a difference.   OK. Now what?   259 years of St. John’s parishioners are watching us to see how we will carry on their legacy!
–Fr Joe
                           

Thursday Reflection 6.14.18

Thursday Reflection                                                                                                    

  June 14, 2018

This morning is Thursday June 14.  To those of you who have a more (or less) patriotic calendar in front of you, you might remember this day as “Flag Day.”  I have a less significant memory (in terms of how it might have affected civilization and life as we know it) but for me, an extremely important date that marked a life changing experience.

On June 14, 1971, having graduated from college about a month previously, I received a letter from the Cardinal-Archbishop of New York.  (Actually it was a form letter from a staff member, but when you’re a recent university grad, you see things having more significance than they may actually have had!).  The neatly typed note on crisp diocesan stationary simply informed me that, although I had applied to enter the diocesan seminary to begin four years post graduate study in theology in preparation for possible ordination to the priesthood, I was being sent on scholarship to live in the American seminary in Rome.  I was to attend the Gregorian University and begin these studies in an international environment at a theological university whose demands and tradition rivals Oxford or Cambridge.  (Here is where I make the comment “with the best and brightest”, but as my sometimes spiritual mentor the great Groucho Marx is alleged to have said, “why would I want to join any club that would accept me?”)

Although “technically” I had a “choice” in this matter, in reality – not so much!   One did not turn down such appointments.  Whatever my class standing had been, no matter my (total lack of) knowledge of conversational Italian (since all lectures there were in Italian), no matter how “average” my background in classical Latin and Greek, guess what, I was being sent into an environment that I could not control, did not understand, and in retrospect was probably as ill prepared as one could possibly be.

And yet because of all of that, I bless this date in my memory.   This was the date that marked a change in my life forever.  The Lord does that to us.  Unexpected challenges that both build us up and humble us at the same time.  From this point in my life, my classmates, friends and mentors would hail from all over the U.S.A. and indeed all over the world.  Because of years living and studying in an international environment, I tend to view issues beyond the myopia that infects us politically.  Living among those who were so talented taught me to push myself past what I had accepted as my limitations.  Being exposed not merely to great theological minds but to those who actually taught those minds gave me a love of scholarship which, even though I hardly share their status, gave me a love for learning that I never previously had.  I learned to experience the sights, smells and sounds of living cultures and important histories.  (Don’t tell anyone, but I even cut a class or two once to insert myself into an archeological dig so that I could touch history rather than just read about it!)

Remember those days when your life was so affected.  Remember the choices you made that shaped you.  Appreciate the choices made and the paths chosen, or even for the choices made for you that you did not appreciate at the time.  Pray for those who made such choices and who just might have appreciated your potential more than you yourself did.  Be grateful for the unexpected blessings.  Know that the Lord has given you far more ability than you might believe about yourself – if you would only stop and remember what has brought you to this day!

–Fr Joe

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.