Category Archives: Strong By ’17

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.

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.