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A Thursday Reflection 3.15.18

It’s the “Ides of March” (and not a good day to be a Roman politician with autocratic aspirations), but I’m going to think back only a week or so rather than 2000 + years.  What lessons did I learn or questions do I now ask in light of the meteorological events of March 2018?
You certainly learn something about friendship and neighborliness when it comes to needing to use the shower of another or that they will share a hot cup of coffee or tea with you in close quarters when you haven’t bathed in days!
I know that we were all “mildly” inconvenienced by the loss of power for those days – and have nothing to complain about if we compare ourselves with people in the Caribbean who are still without power or homes months and months after the hurricane.
I also know that this year marks 70 years since this country pulled off the great rescue of  millions in a city in winter peril (the city of our “enemy” – cf. the Berlin Airlift), yet we still seem impotent to care for our own citizens who have suffered from last summer’s storms aftermath!  Why?   And systemic poverty in this land?  Why?
I learned that greater is not always better than fewer:  e.g., two Nor’easters are not better than one.  Also, I struggle with the math in this question:  Why is it that two good legs walking vivacious, snow-loving dog are of less value than one good leg + one herniated disc + one cane + one back brace?  Isn’t “4” always better than “2”?
For that matter, why is the proportion of joy of a dog loving a raging snowstorm always in direct reverse proportion to her “daddy’s” desire to go out and walk her in it?
Curious how the tenor of news never seemed to change: power came back on and we find out that we’re still shooting, hurting, abusing one another, and that peace which the Lord promised (“…which passeth all understanding…”) seems so, so far away in this time of social and political agitation.  Jesus warned that “the poor you will always have with you…,” but it seems that in spite of our collective and communal wealth, those suffering from poverty increase.
A last reminder and question: When will we learn to not put all our faith in our technology?  Nature scoffs at our hubris.  Try to contact anyone when the power is gone, you or they don’t have access to a cell phone (or remember the number), and the roads are blocked with downed trees.  One learns how small we really are – and how much we all need each other.
John Donne:  “No man is an Island.”  (16th Century)
Hillary Clinton:  “It takes a Village”   (20th Century)

Me:      So when will we finally get it??    (yesterday)

– Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 3.1.18

You would think that it would be easy to create a weekly reflection during the season of Lent. After all, why not condemn this sin or that sinner (and the media gives us so many from which to choose) and point out the flaws in those all around us?

Ever sit in a room at night typing, as I am doing right now? An interesting thing occurs. You sit in the light and stare out a window into the darkness (you know: where all those sinful persons, places or things live) and yet the strongest image you will encounter is your own reflection!

It is an understatement to point out how pathetic this world of ours has become and how steeped it is in self-righteous hypocrisy from those all too ready to judge and condemn others with whom they disagree. If Lent has become an opportunity to practice the Christian disciplines of prayer, fasting and giving to charity, and so many refuse to do so or feel they are above such quaint customs, well, I can look for those types of hard-hearted individuals and expose them. Could I not? And yet, when trying to see beyond my window this evening, all I can see is my own reflection.

As I look to expose the weaknesses in my sisters and brothers, why is it I can’t see beyond the one staring back at me?

– Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 2.22.18

I had a meeting with Bishop Sauls last week – preparing the Easter Service w/ Confirmations. So I schlepped down to the Cathedral to meet him – on the day after the most recent mass murders of our children. To say I had little if any enthusiasm for the trip or the planning session is a gross understatement. But then in those darkest moments, grace intervenes!
Now I have been taking the subways by myself since before I was a teenager, but in all those decades, this is only the second time I have witnessed this miracle.
On our #1 downtown Broadway local car, there was this young girl – a street kid – a teen whom Dickens might have described as a waif. She had that “far away stare” of someone who has seen (or done) too much for her years. She had eyes of ice blue and wore handed-on clothes. She kept her distance and yet invited conversation. She admitted she is hungry, needed money or food. She knows about homeless shelters and that’s why she avoids them! She would sing one song for everyone, and if you could help her, please do. Then she also said that she was singing not only for the kids who died in Florida yesterday but for all the ones “who avoided the bullets this time but are gonna die the next time.”
If I say her voice was powerful but angelic, you will dismiss this account as fiction. But it was.   She sang: “God bless the child” better than I have ever heard! She ripped a hole through my soul.
I wear a clerical collar – and people on subways watch what clergy do: and usually they shake their heads and scoff at us for being fools. I gave her the sandwich I had bought for myself for later.   Others stepped up and gave her either money or food (mostly fruit or granola bars). She was gracious and grateful. One stop later the doors opened and she disappeared.
I have seen folks take a moment to be gracious and helpful. I have seen an instant where the color of skin, the difference of gender, the isolation of age or the insistence of political rightness of my view counted for nothing. There was a need and people responded. There was a voice and folks were mesmerized.     Why does it take a tragedy for the barriers to come down for even an instant? Was she the lost soul among us – or are we the lost around her?
– Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 2.15.18

I picked up on this scripture reflection last week – but what a wonderful way to initiate the spiritual growth and reflection that the season of Lent should bring us.  So – everyone,  here are some powerful thoughts for a Holy Lent.  Fr. Joe


Love Them
By the Rev. Ben Hankinson

The life of Christ stands in stark contrast to the rest of the world, or at least it should. That is not to say that it stands apart in the sense of being disconnected or disinterested. Rather, just as Jesus and Paul are deeply invested in lives transformed by the good news of God’s love, so too should the church be invested in the transformative work of the Gospel in the local community of family, friends, strangers, and even adversaries.

One known for such love, overcoming adversity and hardship in various shapes and sizes, is Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She challenged herself and those under her leadership to embrace the radical life of Christ in their missions around the world, taking hold of Paul’s admonition to the Romans.

That charge is well summarized in these words found in Mother Teresa’s home:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

Whatever our relationship with others, may we heed the call of Christ and love them in such a way that the love of God is made manifest in and through us.


Romans 12:9-21

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

A Thursday Reflection 2.8.18

Has anyone ever taken a hard look at the “facts,” legends or traditions we seem to put our faith in?  Question the usefulness of such a “fact,” and one might be branded either heretic or “you’re no fun at all.”

A week ago, sophisticated and educated humans descended upon innocent life forms such as gophers, groundhogs, etc., focused intense camera lighting upon them, picked them up without their permission, thank you very much, and infallibly declared that the predetermined outcome (seeing the creature’s shadow) will have meteorological consequences for determining the onset of Spring!   Although I have not seen this other “scientific” experiment recently, there is allegedly a captive octopus or squid at some university that has a higher percentage of picking both Super Bowl and Presidential Election winners than the gambling elite of Las Vegas who do so for a living!  And do you believe in the chicken who allegedly can tap out the tune of our national anthem on a keyboard – (the Opening ritual of Puppy Bowl XIV)?

I’ve been told that people need something “to believe in” – even when logic dictates that the event or “truth” never happened or at times is downright silly.  And I get that.  Our lives are becoming so frenzied and hectic that we’d like to have some stable element that anchors us.

And why not?  We can all use a silly tradition or three to put, if not our “faith,” then at least our feelings in!  What I find so curious is that for a culture that has so many questionable things to believe in (UFO’s have landed and their inhabitants now own stock in New Mexico; reality TV is actually real; only my political party tells the truth; our best days are behind us – whatever myth you firmly hold), we deem ourselves either too busy, involved, educated or exhausted to believe in the one Being – who is life … who is BEING and who desperately wants to have a place in our lives.   Take God out of our lives, and humans will replace God with other idols in which to put their faith.  Kind of goes back to a question I’ve posed before:  In whom do you trust?  Whom do you serve?  Who do you believe loves you?  What do you believe in and if not Our Lord, then how is that working for you?

Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 2.1.18

Some of you have told me that you enjoy this message when it “shakes me up a bit.”  Well the other day, I read the following reflection on one of the Anglican Publication blogs.  How does this grab you as a preparation for the Season of Lent which will be here in 13 days?
Enjoy the reflection of a Mr. LeBlanc:
Are You Ready?
By Douglas LeBlanc
When I was a tween convert to the Jesus Movement, I remember seeing this T-shirt: “Jesus Is Coming Back, and He’s [Ticked] Off.” I thought, “Yeah, man, he’s so angry with all those old fogeys and hypocrites who do not see how precious we are in the Jesus Movement.”

While I enjoy laughing at the vanity of my tween self, I do not abandon the heart of the truth expressed in today’s Gospel passage: Jesus is coming back.  How he responds to any one of us depends on whether we greet him as Lord or merely as a symbol whose name we have invoked for self-focused purposes.

Bob Dylan expressed it well in the blistering blues song that closes his album Saved:

Are you ready to meet Jesus?
Are you where you ought to be?
Will he know you when he sees you
Or will he say, “Depart from Me”?

… Are you ready for the judgment?
Are you ready for that terrible swift sword?
Are you ready for Armageddon?
Are you ready for the day of the Lord?

Are you ready? I hope you’re ready.

–  Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 1.25.18

On Sunday, a few of you commented that you never received last week’s “Reflection.”  I know it was written and set up to be sent.  Many of you might have received it on Monday.  For reasons we don’t quite understand, the program believed that the reflection should go into the “draft – unfinished” folder rather than the “to be sent” folder – in spite of the fact that every usual and normal procedure was followed.  Our technology “hiccupped.”

We 21st century folk tend to put so much trust in our technology – dare I say that we all too often put “faith” in our technology.  In an era that scoffs at any faith in God, we put so much  faith in our iphones, our computers, the net, social media, all our technological advances in medicine, science, law and, of course, weaponry.

We trust our systems and yet over a week ago, pressing one wrong button (switch, lever, keystroke – does it really matter?) could have brought us all into World War III – a false report of an inbound missile.   We make our plans concerning winter driving safety based on the accuracy of forecasts – but how often this winter have those forecasts been fuzzy and iffy – leaving us virtually unprepared for what is to come.    Because we are so busy, we tend to communicate via texts and emails – which often go unread because we have hundreds of them clogging our in-box. Therefore, instantaneous non-communication is the basis for our staying in touch.  Don’t even get me started how it has been demonstrated too many times that people tend to say harsher, nastier or more untrue things in a text or tweet than they would face-to-face.  Nor does a written text always convey the tone (light vs. serious; ironic vs. literal) of what is being said.

Now look: I marvel at the things we humans can accomplish and create when such is for the good.  I wish I were more tech savvy.  But the creative work of human hands does not always lead to fulfillment or happiness.  The Book of Genesis teaches a story intended to be both humorous and serious.  A bunch of powerful creative guys (and yes, this time “men” means “men” so you women are off the hook!) were basking in their testosterone and essentially declared:  we’re great!  Let’s show all humanity and history how great we are.  Let’s build a huge city and center it with a tower that touches the very face of god in the heavens.  Even god(s) will know how much we can do on our own.   Go back and read “the rest of the story.”  How well did that turn out for them?  Be careful in whom or what you put your faith!!!!!

Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 1.18.18

The last week or so has not been pleasant.    Hard necessary decisions for this parish were made by those in authority that always prove to be less than popular and whose consequences are still unknown.  On a personal note, while given a clean bill of health from my cardiologist (there is always a “yes, but.. ”), I have been instructed to begin a physical therapy regime which, while perhaps a bit intimidating for a man in the twilight of his “middle age,” also raises the specter that in terms of health, I will never return to that person I was “when I wore a younger man’s clothes” to quote the great Billy Joel.
While I haven’t ever even seen any of the “traditional”  (“Housewives of ___”) reality TV programs, I have found a few scripted “reality” programs that are at times uplifting and at times heart wrenching.  Two summers ago, a program entitled A Vet’s Life began to unfold the lives of three African-American (classmates) veterinarians who opened a clinic in Houston.  There have been the usual array of stories of life and death: animal lives saved and lost.  You cheer.  You feel badly for those who have lost a beloved pet.
This new season dramatically began with the struggles to reopen their clinic in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey from last summer!  Do you remember the first of the apocalyptic storms that hammered us last year?
For one hour, I was mesmerized at the close-up, cell phone, non-scripted images as well as professionally shot footage of the destructive power of wind, rain and water that caused so much death, heartbreak and destruction.  I watched a clinic staff try to reconnect lost animals with owners, treat sick, scared and confused pets (and their owners as well) while dealing with loss of power, loss of potable water, lack of medicine, lack of dry “anything,” washed out (just .. gone!) roads, houses flooded, houses washed away (and just gone), all the while also and primarily trying to help out their human community members in need.  Their story was inspiring.  I watched the staff of a clinic seek out each other to make sure they had all survived – with all the attention and perseverance that one should expect from a family.
In effect I was reminded that we who were really spared from the intensity of last summer’s storms have so much to be grateful about, and need to be aware that so, so many are still without life’s basics.  Whenever I am emotionally down about the conditions of life for us here in this region and this parish under the circumstances we live, I need to remind myself of just how fortunate we are.  “There but for the grace of God go I” – as the prayer states.
Feelings aside, even the feelings of regret and sadness, we remain as a community yet untouched by some of the harshest treatment that life in its unpredictability can impact upon us.  Our prayer ought to be first and foremost one of gratitude.  Then secondly our prayer should be for those who suffer – those distant victims of war, disease and natural disaster, but also those in our own community who sometimes endure pain and sadness that we simply do not know.  Finally it impels us as a church to reach out to each other and to those outside our orbit to be the instruments of caring and hope.   If you can do something, then do something.  Don’t wait to be told or to receive approval.   Any life you can impact positively, even if in the slightest way, please do so.  “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did to me.”

–  Fr. Joe


A Thursday Reflection 1.11.18

I’ve often made use of Abby, our border collie, as a teacher.  I think we had another one of those moments this morning.  A border collie, driven by instinct and force of will, seems to have within this unquenchable fire to find herself a flock and herd them.  As we have so many deer, foxes or feral cats who seem to run through our yard (and leave imprints in the snow),  Abby naturally has been sniffing her way up one side or down the other of most of the trails and embankments around the clergy residence trying to find those whom she should herd and protect!

But this morning, I guided her away from the normal paths (trod upon by the “usual suspects”) and guess what?  She went flying through the fresh untouched snow with only the desire to find a new path, seek out fresh scents to sniff and boldly go where no dog has gone before!

As you begin 2018, take a few moments from your regular routine.  Instead of centering on (and complaining about) the bitter cold, the freezing rain or the perpetually gray skies, seek out some untouched path – not necessarily literally but symbolically!   Where can you “go” or explore or “do” that you have never gone, explored or done before?   Christian mystics might phrase it this way: sometimes God calls you to walk in new directions and seek God in different places.  So as we enter a new year, is there a new direction you might consider?  Is there a new project you might begin?  Is there a change in your life’s direction that might be ahead of you?

I can tell you that from watching Abby, it is such an important thing to do from time to time.

– Fr. Joe

A Thursday Reflection 1.4.18

We’ve finally left 2017 behind us, and now we approach, with hope, a new span of time – a new year – to mark our journey.  With more than one major life-changing medical procedure, the sadness of witnessing two of our family members deal with serious marriage issues, the (at least) inconvenience of moving the residence, the moving away of a few parish members who will truly be missed, the constant influx of anger-filled news (real or fake – I guess that depends on whose truth you choose to believe) as well as the realization that “truth” itself is no longer an objective reality but depends upon one’s choice of political philosophy, the reality that the Korean “police action” of the early 1950’s may be heading for renewal, and this time with the possibility of nuclear weapons, the reopening of so many wounds fed by subtle (or at times not-so-subtle) racism, the uncomfortable realities that the “me too” movement has brought to the surface (and before anyone challenges the utility of 40+ year old memories, please ask yourself if  you would not listen to any woman accuser if she were your daughter, your sister or your mom?) – O yeah 2017 was a year I am ever so glad to see the back of.

So what do I hope for in 2018?  I hope for a nation whose leaders might re-learn how to listen to rather than talk at each other.  I would love to see a culture where the “social” in social media was truly indicative of our willingness to communicate with, share and even uplift each other rather than an exercise is narcissism and cowardly name-calling and shaming.  I would love to see us as a church community truly live as persons of faith and commitment.  We are supposed to be members in a “Jesus movement” that began 2000 years ago.  We’ve a long way to go if we truly want to be persons who love, give and forgive as Jesus does!  I long for the sentiments expressed in our Christmas carols to become a reality each and every day of 2018.  May your New Year’s wishes also be granted!!

Fr. Joe