Category Archives: Strong By ’17

A Thursday Reflection 6.22.17

So many of you seem to enjoy this spiritual journal whenever I use Abby, our Anglican Border Collie, as an example of what to do or not to do.  This week, I want to share a conversation we had.  (Yes, I speak “Border Collie.” It is easier than 1st century Aramaic.  No, I am not a Collie “whisperer.”  Border Collies only shout; they do not whisper!)

So, Abby was complaining about the recent upheaval in her life.  Her mommy got so sick and had to go to the people vet and almost didn’t come home.  And when she did, she was given too much pain stuff and that stuff hurt her, and Abby was sad and scared.  Then the move to the new rectory.  All these strangers coming into her yard, packing her stuff, using her boxes and her tape, moving them from her house to the new house and breathing her air.  (We’re slightly obsessive: you think!)   Now her people-pack are in this new field and house with all these new strange smells to learn with new deer and bunnies and birds to have to chase and organize just when she was getting the rest of the old herd in line.  Now her mommy is better but not completely, so Abby still must sleep on the bed and make sure mommy is safe.

I tried to explain to her that Jesus (her redeemer as much as mine) taught us to put our faith in Him and not in the stuff of this life.  Some of that “stuff” are not just physical possessions.  His “kingdom” (actually the term is “kingship” – it’s a 1st century Aramaic word!) is “not of this world.” We’re only here as travelers, and only for a short time.  We pass our days guided by our loving Father who sent His Son to restore us, to divinize us, to redeem us.   Nothing much here is permanent: not our jobs, our aspirations, our inspirations, our affiliations.  We don’t even get to keep our same bodies: they grow and develop and then decline. (Just try jumping up the adjacent wall with Abby every time she now needs to go out and “take care of business.”)

Someday this beloved creature of God will die, as will I, as will we all.   We leave this place with its hurt and pain, its uncertainties and cares, its loves and hopes and dreams.  Hopefully, we have lived such lives that we return to the loving One who breathed life into us when the journey began, who sent the second “person” within God’s triune existence to live for us, die for us and rise to overcome death for us.    Our true “home” is not here.  Nothing “here” is changeless.

So, like it or not, nothing is permanent.  Change is not always good or easy, but change always happens.    In this fragile existence we call “life,” sickness, uncertainty, stress, confusion, anger, unfairness and the whole gamut of human states of being will and must occur.  So, hopefully, must love, peace, patience, courage and the rest of the fruits of the Spirit.   But it happens in such a short time.  So stop barking Abby!  This time of change will pass … until the next changes occur.  And God will guide us through them as well.

Abby’s Dad

A Thursday Reflection 6.15.17

What a whirlwind these months have been!   From the varied and frustrating trips to so many M.D.’s trying to ascertain why JoAnne was “breaking down,” through the intensity of the parish Lenten program (which is a great joy but always intellectually demanding to put together), through the end of the Confirmation program with this fantastic fearsome foursome with whom I met and taught over the months, through all the planning and prep and execution of Holy Week liturgies, through JoAnne’s surgery, missteps through recovery and now finally the move from rectory A to rectory B (with all the prep and stress that comes with that).

So what is God teaching me through all this chaos?  I who love to be in control and have things planned out weeks in advance must now react from moment to moment to answer a need.  My mind still thinks I am 25; my body scoffs at this!  I must spend time consoling Abby who doesn’t react to “change” in her life very well at all and thus proving that her breed of Border Collies – stemming from the England/Scotland border – are full blooded Anglicans who react with a howling “…but we never did it this way before!”

I’ve learned that one can lose a loved one in the blink of an eye despite all the best intentions to take away pain.  I am learning how frail we all are and how time forgives us not.  I find that I don’t miss TV or talk radio in the least, and I used to be an avid political and sports junkie.  I am learning how to be gracious in receiving the generosity of others, and admitting to self:  “Self, you cannot do this alone.”  It may not take a village, but it certainly takes a parish.  And of course I have re-learned that waiting around on uncomfortable chairs while your beloved does P.T. makes you feel as useless as a headache.

I have been taught these months that God is in control, not me.  And the Lord will continue to teach me over and over and over until I get it.

A Thursday Reflection 6.8.17

Last week my beloved canine companion reminded me of a deeply personal and theological truth even though, in her pain, she hardly intended to do so.   Do you remember the nasty two pronged thunder/lightning storm that passed through here last week?   Well the storm hit, and I sadly observed this Border collie (usually decisive and “poetry in motion”) utterly frozen in indecision.  Since JoAnne’s surgery, Abby has been hyper vigilant in protecting her “mommy.”   She sleeps or just rests on the bed keeping JoAnne under her watchful protection.  However, like most dogs, and in her case, intensely so, she is terrified of thunder.  There is a place in the house (on the bed in another room in the dark) where she rides out such storms as she shivers, quakes and cries.  But now the conundrum: Abby was caught between her self-imposed duty to protect her “sheep” while wanting to flee in fear.  Her eyes expressed both terror and confusion, and as a result she was frozen in the hallway – suspended between duty and terror.

Now Abby is but a dog, and she can be endearing and annoying, tragic and triumphant – almost as much as we humans.   But she is NOT one of us.  Unlike all other creatures, only we humans are described in sacred scripture as having been created “in the image of God.”  We baptized Christians are also defined by St. Paul as “the Body of Christ” – His presence in the world.  We have a purpose in this world, and our lives are not to be defined merely by instinct or desire.

And yet, as I watched poor Abby and tried to comfort her amidst the cracks of “heavenly noise,” I was sadly reminded that we can fall into that same trap.  We can be caught between what we ought to do and what we want to do.  We can allow fear to freeze us into inaction.  People do this.  I’ve seen parishes do this, and I pray we never slide into that kind of inertia.

Being open to the Spirit means sometimes returning to our responsibilities in spite of fear.  It means being where we may not wish to be doing what we do not wish to do.  The risen Jesus told Peter that the day would come where he would be led where he would never wish to go!  And Jesus may at times direct us, His church, in the same way.  Fear may be real, but it is never the solution.

A Thursday Reflection 6.1.17

I am no longer surprised by the capacity for humans to delude themselves.  It used to surprise me, then anger me, and then even sadden me.  But now I just sigh.  So what else is new! This is simply my observation (and prayer).
As I sit at this desk on the Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend, from my window I just observed a person, sitting in her car in our parking lot rapidly consume a hugely loaded bagel before she quick pace walked down to the O.A. meeting in Lawrence Hall.  Self-delusion?
This isn’t a sermon about healthy eating or sensible food choices.  I’m sure those thoughts are uttered often enough.  But this is reflection about the Feast of Pentecost (this coming Sunday) and the need for each of us to reopen our hearts to the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s manifold gifts including wisdom, prudence and discretion.
I think ours is a world that has become so “me” oriented, so averse to “me being judged” that we assume the right (the license, as it were) to think, say or do anything that we choose whether it is harmful to us or anyone else.   The Holy Spirit is about unity, community, and a brother and sister hood of believers who support each other, love each other, and try to build each other up in their journey of faith.  Culture seems to exalt isolation, “my” individual choices and rights and the need to put others down as we wander aimlessly seeking happiness wherever it cannot be found.  And we think this is “good” – and the way things should be.  More self-delusion!
This Sunday, the Feast of Pentecost challenges us to renew who we are in Christ and to reignite our faith in Christ by reflecting the Spirit’s gifts given to us.  How well we use those gifts in our journey to achieve our purpose is a matter of our choice to live “in the Spirit” or to delude ourselves again and again that life without God is fulfilling us!

A Thursday Reflection 5.25.17

     As I’ve told you, from time to time I will share various spiritual reflections that I happen to read over the course of any given month.  Again, I do not know who these authors are except that they are Episcopal priests serving somewhere here in the USA.  So I share Fr. Dave’s thoughts on the need to take Sunday seriously as a time to make things right with God and each other – and this needs prep time.  So let me know what you think of his reflection.    – Fr Joe


Spiritual Errands
Daily Devotional • May 20
By the Rev. Dave Halt
May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Summer is only a month away, although it may appear that it has already arrived. The days are increasingly longer, and there is more time to do the things we like to do outdoors. Saturday is great day to accomplish all the outdoor work that has built up over the last week. It is a day for chores and errands, and if all of it gets done and the day is fine, maybe there will be an opportunity for a bike ride, a walk, or an excursion with the kids. A fine day indeed.

All of these are lovely things and good things. We should not deny ourselves the wonderful possibilities of a beautiful Saturday. However, there is another good and beautiful thing about Saturday. Saturday is a day to prepare us for the most important work we can do each week, the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in our local parish. As we tend to all those important things we must do each Saturday, we should also tend to our spiritual lives in preparation for our work together tomorrow.

Is there someone whom I have offended that I need to be reconciled with? Am I in harmony with my neighbor, my fellow parishioner? Is there a barrier to being able to glorify God with one voice? Am I living in accordance with Christ Jesus? These are questions that should be asked as we prepare to come to the Lord’s Table and partake of his Body and Blood. In answering the questions we should take the steps needed to be in right relationship with God and our neighbors as much as it depends upon us.

This theme of harmony was an important part of the life of the Early Church. St. Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 117 AD) mentions it often in his epistles to the various churches. He writes to the Ephesians: “become a choir, that being harmonious in love, and taking up the song of God in unison, you may with one voice sing to the Father through Jesus Christ” (4:2).

God has graciously allowed us the work of tomorrow’s liturgy for our own good and for the life of the world, and has given us time for confession and peace that we might put to right any disharmony we have. Let us become the choir of God tomorrow, having had our rehearsal today.

Let not the harmony be weakened and the one voice of the Church muted by our absence.


Romans 15:1-13
We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. 3For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 4For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.

5May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

7Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”; 10and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; 11and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; 12and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.”

13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

A Thursday Reflection 5.18.17

Last week, a fellow suffering N.Y. Mets fan sent me a link to an article entitled “Does God Hate the Mets?”  Being passionate about the game I love and having little to “do” as I sat in the hospital waiting room “waiting” word of the outcome to JoAnne’s surgery, I began to reflect theologically about such an issue. My conclusions are not as one-sided as I had imagined.

First of all, beware of anyone who dares to speak for God!  If you read through the marvelous and haunting text of the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, you soon learn that too many presume to speak for their God and are really only mouthing their own prejudices and presumptions.

Secondly, the notion of God choosing any sporting event in which to invest God’s time is a bit troubling.  Now I would not ever dare inform the Holy Trinity that they shouldn’t have some time off, but think about it:  how many issues are there in our world that we humans have so totally screwed up that perhaps God needs to be more directly involved since we can’t seem to get out of our own way.  Not quite enough time in any day to waste settling the not-so-serious questions of whether Michael or LeBron is the greatest player of all time.

Now here’s an argument against God’s involvement with sports.  Where God is, there is justice!  In sports, justice is never assured. Why is it that the better team does not always win?  Why have the Yankees won so many championships and my Mets have won 2, and if not for a freak error by a Red Sox first baseman in 1986, that number would be 1.   Why do professional athletes make zillions of dollars and those who teach our children or care for our sick or clean our buildings make so little?

On the other hand, where God is, there is Love!  In fact, God is love (so St. John wrote more than once).  The love of the competition, the love of pushing oneself beyond what is comfortable or what we think we can do, the love of the community which is the team, the love of the challenge, the love of the journey even if not always fulfilled in being seen as “the best” – they are but pale shadows of the love that God has for us and which we are called to have for all who cross our path.  I can see God, the source of all truth and love smiling upon athletic competition.

So do I think God hates the Mets?  I think I’ll let you try to figure that out.

A Thursday Reflection 5.11.17

I am well aware that “Mother’s Day” is a “created” holiday that fuels our economy each May in terms of funds generated for travel, time spent in long distance communication, purchase of flowers, cards and all sorts of things edible (whether good for one or not)!  I am also very much aware that this Sunday will mark the first Mother’s Day since my mom passed from this life into life eternal.  For those of us of a certain “time” (and there is no predictability when that “time” will arrive), a visit to our parents is not a journey to an apartment but rather a trip to a cemetery.

I hope I don’t fall into too many platitudes or sound too saccharine.  I am well aware that there are those in this parish who have not always had the best relationship with their mothers.  (And yes, you know your rector is one of them!)  I hope you will use this coming Sunday as a catalyst for spiritually important considerations.

First and most importantly, don’t let one designated day of the year be the only time to demonstrate appreciation for any person in your life (mother, father, sibling, child, life partner, member of your church family, etc.)  Christians celebrate Holy “Eucharist” – and the word “Eucharist” literally means “thanksgiving.”  Being persons who are thankful for those whom we love or who love us ought to be our “brand” or visible sign to the world.

Remember on Sunday that our culture still does not appreciate women in spite of its lip service.  Do you truly believe in gender equality in terms of respect, salary, and the right to express oneself without all the snide accusatory (and stereotypical) retorts?

Remember that if bringing out life and nurturing life are among the obvious acts of “motherhood,” then there most likely have been so many other women who deserve our honor and respect as well: those who have taught us, mentored us, cared for us (or our aging family members), nursed us to health, cared for our pets, stood as our advocates, healed us, and those whose intellects have changed our world.  (Again, see the film: Hidden Figures.)

To all of you, and you who know who you are, may God bless you and may you have a Happy Mother’s Day.

A Thursday Reflection 5.4.17

We’ve got to “be” what we’re intended and meant to be!  Abby has been teaching me a negative lesson the last week or so.  As winter finally came to an end, we had an “understanding” that it was time for a bath, like it or not – NOT !!!  O the trauma, the crying!  Greater speed and agility than an Olympic sprinter but reduced to a whining lump of pathetic puppy treating her humans as if we were “Mommy Dearest” (a cultural reference for those of you over 40).  And then, to top it all, she has now taken to waiting for me to relax my gaze and vigilance when we go walking so that she can do these 2 ½ double flip slides on her side to return to the self-scent which she craves!

Here’s the theological lesson:  This (in my view) naughty dog, as others I assume, needs to be and smell as she knows herself to be and smell.  Call it “dog-i-tude” or her “nature” or whatever.  She knows what she is meant to be and does all in her power to achieve this.

We Christians have, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, a new redeemed “nature” There is a new “normal” for us.  Living in ways of darkness, human imperfection, sin and death are not what we’re supposed to be.  We’ve been given life and given it abundantly (cf. this Sunday’s gospel)!  Living in the fallen ways of our culture that exalts death should make as much sense to a Christian as trying to make Abby live into the nature of her dog soap and smelling Chateau Foo Foo #56 .  We need to be what God has called us to be: it’s our true nature, now redeemed!

A Thursday Reflection 4.27.17

I had a most thought provoking experience last Thursday afternoon.  At the request of a Diocesan contact, I was interviewed by three Fordham University students as part of their assignment in a Theology course.  They had a series of questions they were posing to clergy from various Christian and (as I found out later) non-Christian traditions.  (I have never been anyone’s homework assignment before!)

Now from what I discerned from casual pre- and post- interview conversations, one of them is Roman Catholic, at least culturally, one is Jewish and one is a “none” as in “no religious affiliation.”  But all three of them happen to be taking this Introduction to Theology Course from such differing personal perspectives.

Now there were the expected questions for which I had been prepared:  comparison of the Anglican vs. Roman Catholic and or Protestant traditions (they never remember there is another “half” of Christianity in the East); the theodicy issue (“justify” a loving God in light of human suffering and evil – so judgmental when in college; where are we on the creation vs. evolution debate.

Then the surprise:  I was asked when I was 20 (their age, I presume) where did I “see myself” in 50 years as opposed to where I am today.  I was not only surprised by the question, but when we talked about it, one of them confessed that he often has asked this of his parents, and is shocked to have his question dismissed.  They never even asked this question that he seems (by his admission) so seriously concerned about – not obsessed but close!

Now I am wondering if this new generation of young adults who are going to replace us are all so far reaching in their concerns.  Of course the world of the early 1970’s would be so utterly foreign to this group.  Heck, my parents only just bought their first color TV in 1972.  How can anyone know what the next 40 or 50 years will bring: Internet and smart phones on the one hand, but 9/11 and world-wide terrorism on the other.

And yet, I find it hopeful that they are thinking in that direction.  It should remind the rest of us that we need to live for more than just the “here and now.”   Jesus’ retort to Pilate at his “trial” that His kingdom is “not of this world” should remind us all that we’re only passing through this earth for a few short years.  When I graduated high school some 50 years ago, I had no idea where I would be or what I would be doing in 2017.  Our purpose is to pass through this time and place and space we call our life, live out our commitment to Christ as best we can, touch other lives and bring others to that peace “that passes all understanding” as is our mandate.

The veil between now and your future is pierced only by God’s vision.  You need only be willing to be that disciple, be that Christian who will “love one another as (He) has loved you.”   And if you do, years from now, you will be where God has intended you to be.

An Easter Message from the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem

We, the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, join together in proclaiming the triumphant victory of our risen Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ from the dead. The message of Easter, which was first announced in Jerusalem, and has echoed down the centuries, now resounds again in Jerusalem, the city of the Resurrection.

This year we have witnessed the restoration of the Holy Aedicule in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, two centuries after the last renovation, and almost one hundred years after steel girders were installed to support it. The completion of this challenging work is testament to the support from around the globe involved in the project, and to thank them for their prayers and support.

The service to celebrate the unveiling of the restored Holy Aedicule was a testimony to our spirit of Ecumenism and a celebration of our unity in Christ. We stood together, as one body, one voice, around the empty tomb. We stood as Christians united in offering hope, perseverance and determination to transform this world under the banner of Christ who conquered all evil through his Resurrection. The sacred history of Jerusalem, and particularly of the Holy Sepulchre, is a constant reminder for the whole world that in this place and at a certain time, the Resurrection was proclaimed for all people and for all time. The Resurrection inspires a resolute steadfastness in the living stones (local Christians) as living witnesses in the Holy Land.

It is our prayer that the hope established through our risen Lord will enlighten the leaders and nations of the whole world to see this light, and to perceive new opportunities to work and strive for the common good and recognize all as created equal before God. This light of Christ draws the whole human family towards justice, reconciliation and peace, and to pursue it diligently. It draws us all to be unified and to be at harmony with one another. The power and resonance of the Resurrection permeates all suffering, injustice and alienation, bringing forth hope, light and life to all.

Through the Resurrection and the empty tomb, we need to remember that pain, suffering, and death do not have the final word, it is God – who has the first word, and the last. This was the message of the Easter angel, who challenged the first disciples – both women and men – “Why do you look for the living among the dead? [Jesus] is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24.5).
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

+Patriarch Theophilos III,
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate

+Patriarch Nourhan Manougian,
Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate

+Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa,
Apostolic Administrator, Latin Patriarchate

+Fr. Francesco Patton, ofm,
Custos of the Holy Land

+Archbishop Anba Antonious,
Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem

+Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad,
Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate

+Archbishop Aba Embakob,
Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate

+Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey,
Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarchate

+Archbishop Mosa El-Hage,
Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate

+Archbishop Suheil Dawani,
Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East

+Bishop Munib Younan,
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

+Bishop Pierre Malki,
Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate

+Msgr. Georges Dankaye’,
Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate