Category Archives: Strong By ’17

A Thursday Reflection 8.17.17

Although I publicly claim not to be bothered by “regrets” since such is a waste of emotional energy, in my more reflective (and perhaps sadder) moments, I can’t help but both feel them within myself and notice them in others.  I’m not talking about the “what-ifs” that most of us of a certain age now experience: what if I had answered the call to study law instead of theology or taken my dad’s advice and majored in chemistry which had been the love of my academic life in high school?  Those are merely whimsical questions.

I wonder if we as a nation will ever even begin to regret the sins of slavery, racism and discrimination and their myriad offspring of hate-filled behaviors that truly infest us as a people – nationally and locally!  I wonder if the world now regrets never having settled the issues on the Korean peninsula 60 years ago.  I wonder if the world will someday truly regret having developed the technology for weapons of mass destruction. (I have always been struck by the response of the great Albert Einstein who, when asked if World War III will be fought with atomic weapons, stated that he did not know, but if it was, then he was absolutely certain that World War IV would be fought with sticks and rocks.)

Will we all regret that the modern world has allowed religious or political fanaticism to flourish or to have allowed our lifestyle choices to place the poor of this world in more environmental jeopardy than is ethically justifiable?

Maybe I have used the wrong term.  It is not “regret” that I am examining.  Maybe the word should be “repent!”    Maybe “the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done and the evil done on our behalf” (to quote from Enriching Our Worship’s version of the Confession of Sin) need be on our plate all the time so that as we do repent of the wrongs we perform or allow, we return to our loving Father who offers us life in abundance.  Modernity is so “enlightened” that it has no place for Christ.  To have no place for Christ is to have no need of forgiveness – and to use a rather snarky but poignant quote:  “so how’s that workin’ for you?”

We have no time because we are so busy – and even if we’re not so crude as to say it, we act as though we believe it.  Will we or our children regret our choices and attitudes unless we do repent and seek to bring “the peace of Christ that passeth all understanding” back to our world?  I pray we still have time to do so.

 

A Thursday Reflection 8.10.17

This coming Sunday, the Gospel text that will be read in most Episcopal, Protestant, and Roman Catholic parishes happens to be one of my favorite “memories of Jesus” in all of the New Testament.   Take one tired carpenter/preacher who leaves his core group so that he might spend a little time in prayer.  Add the desire to go about their normal business without using a skill they should have had (get into a boat and head out when a storm is coming!), followed by what surely was a miscast scene from The X-Files where Jesus is walking through the storm toward them – on water, and then finally mix in the semi-delusional bombast of one Galilean fisherman named Peter who conjures up his “proof” for what he may be witnessing.  (“Lord, if it really is you, tell me to come out of the boat and walk to you!”)   If I want “proof” of what I am seeing, this is not exactly an invitation to inspire confidence.
Dismissed during the Enlightenment as utter fantasy, and relegated to a Christian theological re-reading of the psalms by certain contemporary schools of scriptural thought, it seems to this simple and ordinary parish priest that we miss the point by overthinking.  Look at what is going on!   Here I will speak for myself.  If any of this might apply to you, so be it.  If not, your life has been smoother than mine, and God be praised for that.
You’re out on your own and the context is a storm.  This is so often how life is experienced.  You might have all the skills and “knowledge,” but guess what: Life Happens!  And life can be so utterly unfair.
The unpredictability and unfairness of life can rip out your pulsing heart. An 11 year old girl goes out to play, and she is murdered.  A talented young prospective athlete blows out his arm, and his zillion dollar contract and hoped-for life style evaporates in an instant.  My company downsizes, and in spite of my years of work, I lose my job.  People mishear what you say and misinterpret what you mean either because of their own agenda or perhaps foolishness, and you are demeaned.   In spite of your best efforts at a project, you simply aren’t good enough.
Life brings its storms.  Some results are truly tragic!  Others pass for tragedy only in the minds of the usually privileged.  No matter!  The feelings of loss, helplessness and loneliness can burn “a hole in your soul” (using a phrase a friend of mine is wont to use).  But the point is that we are NEVER alone.  We might not be able to see clearly.  We may wallow in self-pity.  We may have legitimate reasons to feel such pity.  But we are never alone.  There is one who is always with us.  He isn’t going to call you out of the boat.  (That’s been tried, and the human didn’t do so well, did he?)  But there is “one like us on all things but sin” who always journeys with us, who upholds us, and never abandons us.   And as long as I know that I am never abandoned, then the storm will never ultimately destroy me.

A Thursday Reflection 8.3.17

Most of you know that my being a New York Mets’ fan has conditioned me to deal with loss and disappointment on a regular basis.  The other day, I witnessed at home what it must be like to have a sense of entitlement and expectation to win all the time, and then to have that taken away.  Wasting time on a hot summer Sunday early evening, we were watching one of those goofy dog competitions.  Getting to the agility event, I know that this is one Border Collies always win. They actually have an unfair advantage in the way their hips are created.  It’s as if they have a “slinky for a spine” – to use the phrase of a long ago commercial.

Long story short, the Border Collie did not win.  It lost to some “rat dog” whose handler “may” have cheated with an early release – who cares!  But the angst from the couch next to me over the unexpected loss.  (NO, it wasn’t Abby whining!)  Is this what it is like to feel “entitled?”

We no longer live in a world that “entitles” Church or Christians to anything.  A long time ago in what seems like a galaxy far away, the trappings of church determined the work week calendar, when stores could open, how time itself was delineated, how much deference clergy received, and the vocabulary of holidays.

We now live in a world where church attendance is no longer a matter of social status: you come to worship because you believe.  And there may be more status in rejecting the trappings of any organized religion – especially the various traditions of Christianity.   Sunday worship has even been described to me as a “bother” or an “inconvenience.”

This may shock you, but as one who questions the very purpose of entitlements, I see this as perhaps the Lord waking us up.  If we are to be disciples of Jesus and walk his path, enlightened by His Spirit, then perhaps we must do so without social support or even social courtesy.   Maybe we’ve been chosen to be the generation who must really LISTEN to what our God is calling us to be.  Living off the status or accomplishments of prior generations is no longer an option and in effect, we are “entitled” to nothing – not even parochial survival.  All we know is that we have been redeemed through no act of our own.  We are totally loved by Our Father – not because we are entitled to that love, but because of God’s gracious mercy.  All that I have and am is pure gift!  And that puts having any sense of “entitlement” outside of my definition of being a Christian.

A Thursday Reflection 7.27.17

I believe we’ve been experiencing one of the theological reminders that while we’ve been redeemed in and through Christ, we are certainly not yet perfected.  In fact, we seem to display our flawed human nature in so many varied, public and even unintended ways.
A U. S. senator, now suffering from cancer who was a former P.O.W. and failed presidential candidate, is now lauded for being such a fighter and man of conviction by those who did mock and dislike him both politically and personally.  Is it guilt that makes us speak well of those who are seriously sick or some foolish belief that if I say or do something “nice” about someone whom I dislike, God has to even the scales and think better of me.   A bit hypocritical, you think?
A former football star who was the center of a sensational murder trial decades ago, who may have gotten away with murder but whom we must hold to be legally not guilty as judged by his peers, becomes the center of a media circus once again as his parole board hearing (for a totally different crime of which he actually was convicted) becomes the TV event of the summer.  What makes this individual worthy of such attention more than any of these other men or women who had the same board review that day?   What is it about “us” that makes this “must-see-TV” (that’s the media’s term, not mine).
For that matter, how many of us have endured a “rubber necking” delay on any road because of the need to gawk at possible accident victims in the opposite lane.  (Trust me: you really do NOT want to see what a human body looks like when car and tree collide!!)
This is NOT about being a tired curmudgeon seeking to grumble about human nature.
These past few days have allowed me to reflect about how much more we all need to grow spiritually closer to the Lord.  And in doing so, perhaps we actually speak more kindly to folks while they are with us and not only when they may be dying.  Perhaps we can refuse to allow any media circus to overfeed us with the nonsense that fills our airwaves and cables by taking more time to NOT watch TV and spend more time with the persons we love – maybe even talking with them!  Maybe even in this frenzied 21st century, as we are so over-scheduled and rushing about, we can learn to take some time to spend with God and also with each other, to renew ourselves in body and spirit, to focus on the good and not merely the bad in others, and to stop wasting so much time and energy over things that, in the end, may not be all that important.

A Thursday Reflection 7.20.17

I believe I have told you that there is an on-line service to which I subscribe that includes a spiritual reflection each morning.  Most often these reflections are written by priests.  This one below was not, and I was so struck by it that I wanted to share it with you.  Again I do not know anything about the author, but I found her prayer self-search moving.  So I hope you will enjoy this as much as I.  –  Fr. Joe

 

What’s the First Thing?
Daily Devotional •
By Eleri Kerian

Every morning, I wake up — usually, to the sound of an alarm emanating from my iPad. Hot water comes out of my faucet as I wash my face, and I brush my teeth with an electric toothbrush. I add clean water to my bowl of oatmeal, and while it microwaves, I check my e-mail, Facebook, and Instagram because certainly something important happened while I slept (or at least it feels that way).

I have utilized many of the fruits of modern civilization in just my first 15 minutes after waking, as a steady consumer of the food supply chain, electricity, plumbing, the Internet, and other technology. And yet, surrounded by these tremendous gifts, I often feel incredibly disconnected from my blessings in the morning. I arise and immediately find myself overwhelmed by the stress of the upcoming day: doctor’s appointments, laundry, basketball practices, homeschooling, children who insist on eating three times a day, writing blog posts, deadlines. My head is spinning before I take my first sip of coffee.

I identified this as a major problem in my spiritual life when a friend posed the question (ironically, on Facebook): “What is the very first thing you think of when you wake up? What does this tell you?”

I contrast my modern morning routine with Psalm 146: “I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.”

Since this personal discovery, I’ve been making a concerted effort to begin each day with an act of praising God. Then I remind myself that there is nothing on my to do list today that is going to be a problem a year from now. This gradual exercise has allowed me to “put not my trust in rulers” and do better at ordering my days and my thoughts in the best way for spiritual growth.

 

Psalm 146

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2 I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.

5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
6 who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
7     who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
8     the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

10 The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!

A Thursday Reflection 7.13.17

As many of you know, seven (7) young people from this parish participated in the Appalachian Service Project (“ASP”) earlier this summer.  They went down to Virginia to serve God’s poor as they participated in work projects of home repair.  Upon their return I emailed them and asked if they would not mind sharing some of their experiences, and also, would they share what they might have learned from this experience.  On Sunday morning July 9, four of them addressed our congregation and spoke from the heart. 

            I am going to share with you (although I will respect their privacy and withhold the writer’s name) written reflections from some.   Please note that the four email excerpts you are about to read do NOT necessarily come from the same four teens who spoke – in fact they do not.  But I thought you would find the reflections of our own teenagers to be food for the spirit as well as thought.

 

Hey Fr. Joe.  The trip was amazing and I learned so much from it.  Not only did I make new friends within ASP but also friends with the family I worked with.  My family was so nice and I loved spending time with them.  Their life was so different compared to us.  I wish I could have stayed down there for longer and helped the family more and also gotten to spend more time with them.  But the time that I did spend with them will stay with me forever.  ….
            Hi Fr. Joe:  Sorry this is late.  I started work this past week and have had a pretty busy schedule but just wanted to pop in and say ASP was incredible.  It was a truly eye opening experience and I learned so much more about the country we’re in and the state of it.  I also got to meet so many lovely people, both from Bland County and Westchester.  It was really powerful and moving and I’m so glad I went……
            So I guess the biggest thing that I learned during the trip was that everyone had a story.  The family that I had worked with had some of the most love for each other I had ever seen, but also had gone through the hardest situations in life.  They had lived in Chicago when MLK Jr. was assassinated, and their house was completely destroyed by the riots.  The father of my home owner had been in the Korean War.  My home owner has had 30+ surgeries in the past year.  A flesh eating disease, nerve damage in his left hand, acid burns on his legs, suicidal thoughts, and is the nicest person I have ever met.  His family has battled cancer, poverty, destruction and disease, and yet are the greatest family I have ever met.  That’s the lesson that I learned this week, is that there is always hope in love.
            Hi Father Joe,   …  I had an amazing time on ASP (as usual).  My group did flooring in a house all week, which was a first for me. We stayed at an old bible camp in Virginia which was super fun, and I met tons of new people.  All the families were amazing…  


I would add one final thought:  to do as they did and learn from their experience, our parish youth are also amazing.

                                                                                    Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 7.6.17

Yesterday (July 5) is an anniversary of no particular significance to anyone except JoAnne and me and the 33 other folks who happened to be in the right place at the right time to experience the greatness of God and the utter tiny insignificance of us humans.
More than two decades ago, JoAnne and I spent the July 4th holiday in Boston to breathe in the atmosphere of independence in the context of where such revolution began.  But before we left, simply on a whim, in the midst of a hot (upper 90’s) and sticky “day after,” we signed on to  a Whale Watch, and traveled about 25 miles out into the “perfect storm” waters of the Atlantic.  What we experienced was, for me, life-changing.
I have often preached about the greatness of our God and the awesome power God exhibits.  I know from the teachings of many churches that we have a duty to conserve and protect life and nature.  St. Francis of Assisi (who is “owned” by no one church) often reflected such thoughts in his prayer and poetry.  But to be on a not exactly “small” tour ship in the midst of a pod of whales that just happened to come our way was truly breathtaking and spiritually enriching.  To have what was described as a “young one” glide up to our boat and dwarf us (like a hand enclosing around a peach), to gaze into eyes that were larger than my entire body and looking right into me was humbling.  I have never felt so small!
We watched them play.  We watched them do that dive-into-the-air and slam-into-the-sea thing they do so well.  We heard them call to one another (and to us?) as they swam off.  We smelled their breath through the blowholes. (Yuck – really nasty fishy breath … but what else would it be?)  And somewhere in my soul, I heard the reminder of our God that we have been given responsibility to care for all God’s creatures and this world of ours.
Just wanted to take a summer’s day to remind any and all who read this that, as disciples of Jesus, we’ve been given a mandate to care for “this fragile earth, our island home.” (Eucharistic Prayer C)  From supporting issues that protect our environment, to adopting the unwanted pets that our culture seems to deem disposable and “throw away,” to cleaning up our grounds and never littering, to recycling, to supporting life and quality of life for all God’s creatures – just a reminder that these are not political issues owned by one party or philosophy.  These are responsibilities that we, as children of God, have towards all the other creatures with whom we share the space that God once called “good.”  (Gen. 1:2)
 – Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 6.29.17

Have you seen the video (gone viral) of the gorilla having fun in the kiddie pool?  The sheer joy of this animal splashing and seemingly dancing away (as the video is now set to a rock music background) is way more than cute.  It gives us a rare moment of watching an experience of sheer joy.
These days, animals seem to experience joy more than we do.  (I have watched Abby race up and down stairs in a maniacal fashion with what appears to be a smile or her sneaking up on a bunny knowing that she will only get so far and then let the chase begin!)  We exist in a culture that is demanding, stress inducing and time robbing.  Trying to schedule meetings in this parish is exhausting because we’re all limited in terms of time.  “Free time” has passed away into “the dustbin of history,” and so many of us desperately try to balance demands of work, home, spouse and children in our roles as married, parent, chauffeur, cook, master scheduler, volunteer and employee.  When do we get to experience some “joy?”
I am aware that many folks enjoy this blog more when its message is soft and uplifting.  But as a pastor and spiritual guide, sometimes I have to lay out the unpleasant truths folks do not wish to hear.  Part of one’s living into our priestly vows – promises I renewed the other day as I celebrated the 42nd anniversary of my ordination.
I pose not a judgment but a question:  how much joy is there in your life?  And if you are not or have not experienced an inner sense of peace and happiness with who you are as a child of God, as redeemed in Christ, and what you do in all the various activities created by the various roles you must play given your employment, lifestyle, residence, etc., then I have to ask:  what exactly is the point of having when you’ve lost the sense of being?
One can keep racing about listening to the noise and getting all our stuff done (or not) and be miserable in doing it.  But why would I do this?  We really have so little time here to do what God has asked us to do.  (Wait until you have the chance to review your first 60 years that have just sped by!)  Why waste that time being angry and stressed.  Or as Jesus so bluntly put it so many centuries ago:  “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul in the process?”   When were you last relaxed and happy, and if you can’t remember, then what do you intend to do about that?
– Fr. Joe

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.