Category Archives: Uncategorized

Thursday Reflection 8.16.18

“Inspire To make A Difference”                                                    

Thursday Reflection                                                                                                    

  August 16, 2018

Some people have their best conversations or do their best thinking (and I have heard, best singing) in the shower.  Not me!  I believe my best on-my-feet thinking comes whenever I have these early morning walk-n-talks with Abby.  She has a way of posing such seemingly innocent but self-serving yet pointed questions.  She does her “Border collie” species proud!

So anyway, this morning (Sunday) as we were racing up a hill, she questioned why I am forever trying to get her to not bark at every unexpected sound or every person who walks by the house,  (or into my office when she comes to work with me).  I tried explaining for the zillionth time that while I understand that it’s in her nature to bark to strangers (who might secretly be wolves trying to hurt her sheep – one never knows), just because it is a part of her nature, she does not have to do this every time.  Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you have to do it each and every time.

So she asked for concrete examples.  It’s like being a Met’s fan, I told her.  You know the team, as constituted, is abysmal.  The season cannot end soon enough, and there is little hope for the near future.  You CAN always choose to support another team and end the pain.  But I choose not to.  My dad and uncle brought me to my first game when I was 12.  It’s where I belong.  Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should.

When I’m driving on stretches of road without another car in sight, I certainly CAN exceed the speed limit.  After all, who would know?  But should I?  So Abby, you can bark, but perhaps you should choose to not bark

So then she asked:  is it like this:  you American humans certainly could choose to not sink into social media hype and hate speech diatribes towards others with whom you disagree.  You can avoid hate centered town gatherings and marches if you choose to.  You just choose to not do the right thing.  Just like I choose to bark and not be quiet.

Now I explained it’s more complicated than that.  Here we have laws and systems of rights and guaranteed freedoms and all the complexities of 21st century high tech political and social life with which to contend.  So she retorts: I’m not sure what any of that means.  I just know that you told me that simply because you can do something, that doesn’t mean you always should. So I guess this only applies to dogs and not humans?  Now that sounds right and just .. not!  These early morning walks-n-talks are starting to give me a headache!  I hate it when she’s right!

 

— Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 8.2.18

Thursday Reflections

August 2, 2018

                                                                      

“Inspired to Make a Difference”

If you could travel back in time, what person would you want to meet or which event would you want to witness (or even change)?   Would you speak with Capt. Smith in April 1912 on the bridge of the Titanic and ask him:  “Race at Full speed at night into the ice fields.  What could possibly go wrong?”

Would you like to be able to determine what the real electoral count from Chicago precincts were in 1960 – and did Kennedy actually win or lose Illinois and thus the election? (And you folks thought presidential electoral political chicanery was invented in 2016! Seriously?)

Would you like to have listened to the missing minutes on the Nixon tapes before they were erased?  Would you have wanted to be in the stadium and cheered (perhaps alone and being abused) when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and changed processional sports forever?  Would you have loved to have seen the faces on the Cardinals in the Vatican Ecclesiastical Industrial Complex when in 1959 Pope John XXIII decided that his Church needed to open the windows and let in the Holy Spirit?   “Were you there when they crucified my Lord”?

On a lazy hot summer day, it’s always fun to play “what if”.  But we are creatures bound and limited by time.   We can only know our present, and can only act within the horizon of our own experiences.    We can never know with certainty what others may have seen or heard or felt in the past.  As limited human beings, we remain flawed and fragile, hope filled and failure prone.  The limitation of temporality is a reminder that we only create our stories in the “now”.

And no one will ever really travel back in time and judge why they (or we) did what was done.  No one will ever be able to truly justify another’s motivations or actions with absolute certitude.  We live in this moment and are responsible now for what our decisions or actions cause.  For the last time, we are creatures living in the present and journeying into an always uncertain future.  We have no power to change what has been!

So in answer to my own question:  what person or event would I wish to witness if I could travel back in time?  Frankly, what’s the point?   I would prefer to live life to the fullest now, and work with all the gifts God has given me now and do my limited human (but grace filled) best for our future.  I’ll leave the past to itself.

 

— Fr Joe

Thursday Reflection 7.26.18

Thursday Reflection 

July 26, 2018

At present I’m reading an historical account regarding the “true story” behind the miracle at Dunkirk.  From what I can glean from the texts and orders quoted, the memories recorded, and the diaries reopened, it seems that what I was taught in history class wasn’t even close to the truth about the debacle that marked one of the opening events of WWII.   There are no possible or logical reasons to explain how the British (and other Allied) forces were rescued off the French beaches from utter annihilation by the unstoppable Nazi divisions.  There were acts of sheer courage, incredible stupidity, dumb luck, careful planning, weather interference, grace under fire and human hubris all rolled into one lost battle that saved hundreds of thousands of lives – in spite of being soundly beaten at that moment.

So when I look at the condition of the Jesus Movement today – in our secular and hostile USA “culture,” when I see churches closing, or in financial peril, or with inner circles of “entitled” still clinging to the illusion of power in too many parish communities;  when one witnesses  inter- and intra-communal antagonism, lukewarm (at best) commitment on the part of a growing numbers of “members” who seem to want (when it is convenient for them) some kind of warm fuzzy religious feeling but without commitment, one could throw up one’s hands and simply ask the last person to turn off the lights when they lock down the building.  It seems that what happens in “life” can happen at church: “acts of sheer courage, incredible stupidity, dumb luck, careful planning, weather interference, grace under fire and human hubris!”

Or we can remember that with God, all things are possible!  Whenever I see nothing but darkness, I believe that there is a dawn just beyond my field of vision.  I am convinced that the Lord never stops calling ordinary disciples who can make such a difference in other believers’ lives.  Like yesteryear’s war heroes who were simply ordinary folks who stepped up when needed. So I uphold our Episcopal Church and believe this “bridge church” can and will touch lives and raise minds and hearts to God.   I also believe that the Lord will continue to call “ordinary believers” to step up and provide the leadership and the “grace under fire” that the Christian movement needs today.  After all, we have seen the impossible happen.  Who am I to declare that a religion-less culture is our inevitable destiny?

–Fr Joe

Thursday Reflection 7.19.18

Thursday Reflection   

 July 19, 2018

There is one lie (among many) that our culture perpetuates, and we parents and grandparents, as much as we love our offspring, do them no service by perpetuating the illusion.

Have any of you heard that foolish comment that we show our children love by telling them that they are so special and that there is “nothing” they cannot accomplish if they really want to have or do something!   The facts of biology, talent, having financial resources and all the other unfair aspects of “life” shows such a cultural dictum to be utterly absurd.  I think about the five high school freshman (teenagers all: 4 girls and 1 boy) with whom I spent so many months preparing them for Confirmation.  As much as I pastorally love and care for them, I can guarantee you that not one of them, no matter how much they try, or wish, or would demand will ever develop into a 6’10” NBA power forward!  Not going to happen.  There are limits to what we can accomplish.  Sorry!

This is a cancerous notion that infects our culture.  It’s called “entitlement.”  I want something, therefore I should have it.  I am entitled to it.  And while those who live by this notion are annoying and arrogant at worst (and just plain foolish at best), the saddest thing is that this belief is a betrayal of what we’re called to be as disciples of Jesus.  We’re to love one another as much as the Lord Jesus loves us.  That sometimes means facing hard truths about our own physical, emotional financial, psychological limitations and the effects those limitations might have on our family life.  I cannot have it all.  I cannot do it all.  I need to face the truth about this, and live within the limits of  gifts and abilities that our gracious God has given me.  Use those gifts and abilities, work to expand them if possible, never be satisfied with mediocrity, but also learn what my boundaries will ultimately be, be at peace with them, and be the best I can be.

In baseball, a young pitcher is taught to “stay within yourself” – to know what you can and cannot do.  I just wonder if middle class suburban “culture” has become so filled with “entitlement” that we have lost our way and we just cannot or will not live within our limitations.  God loves without limit.  God alone acts without being subject to limitations.  We humans can’t do either of those things.

We keep going back to the Genesis story of the primordial couple who are told:  eat this fruit.  You’ll be just like God.  After all, you’re entitled.  And how’s that been working out for us?

–Fr Joe

 

Church Tavern Challenge

Labor Day

5K/10K Run/Walk

and

Kids’ 1K

St. John’s Parish is proud to announce the first annual Church Tavern Challenge 5K/10K Run/Walk presented by Domino Sugar. The Challenge replaces the seven-year Labor Day tradition of the Church Tavern Biathlon (which included a bike race component) with run/walk-only races, featuring distances to appeal to everyone from the serious runner to families who just want a fun day together. The day will also offer a 1K race for kids. The traditional tankards will be awarded for first and second-place finishers, with other prizes for the top finishers in each age group.

In addition to celebrating Labor Day and encouraging fitness in our community, the event raises money to help with the outstanding work of the Community Center of Northern Westchester and the continued work of the parish.

Beginning at 9:30 am on Monday, September 3, the races will wind through the hills and country lanes of South Salem, New York, starting and finishing at St. John’s Church on Spring Street. The competitions will be followed by a chance to cool down and relax with delicious barbecue, musical entertainment and fun games for the kids.

Event chairperson Matt Shue describes the Challenge as “a perfect set of races, where you can be as competitive or as laid-back as you wish. The point is to get out in the fresh air, have a great time and contribute to a good cause.”

Registration for the 2018 Church Tavern Challenge is now open on the running website.

 Click Here to Register

Cost is $25 per runner or walker, and $10 per child (12 and under) for the 1K run.

Further details on the race course will be announced shortly.

Thursday Reflection 7/12/18

Thursday Reflection                                                                                                            

  July 12, 2018

 

JoAnne had a disturbing experience walking Abby last week.  They had been in Katonah walking about and doing whatever Border Collies and their adopting moms do on a “girls day out” when, as JoAnne relates, they came to a particular street and Abby just froze.  She became fear filled.  She whimpered. She refused to walk down that street – no way no how!  She dug her paws in, engaged her brakes, lay down in defiance, and did whatever other doggie type cliché you wish to conjure up.  Fear had her paralyzed.  And what was most confusing was that there were no overt signs of any trouble ahead.  There were no aggressive dogs (or persons) lurking in the shadows (because last week’s blistering noonday sun had eliminated them all).   There was no rational “reason” to explain her behavior, but freeze up – she did!  And it took all sorts of cajoling, bribes, and pleading to cross the road and move beyond that street in order to return to the car. I’m not asking you for solutions to Abby’s issue.  Maybe she has a memory from her puppy wandering days down south that this street brought to mind.  Maybe, she was just tired and played JoAnne for sympathy.  We’ll never know.

But this experience can be a metaphor for parish life, small Episcopal Church 2018.  We, like too many other small parishes in our small Communion of less than 2 million members nationwide, are approaching unknown avenues, having to make decisions, planning for an uncertain future and looking out on unfamiliar paths, and there is the temptation to just freeze.  It’s always easier to claim that the past was “Utopia”, and it is better to return to what “was” than to face the uncertain “now” (or future).  Some parish communities get trapped in an ideological quicksand of inaction because folks claim that they want to change or grow, but they want things to stay the same as when they were perfect (or at least “better than this”) in the past.

The questions we, as a small parish, must be asking ourselves are just what is it Christ wants us to be and where does Christ wish us to go?   In the end, it’s not about institutions, or buildings, or “things”.  It is about discipleship.  It is about love being manifested.  It is about not being afraid to do whatever we discern God is calling us to do.  Dogs (usually) are motivated by food or play.  Christians must pray, and struggle, and discern and then must act in love.  Only then can we avoid being frozen in fear.

–Fr Joe

Thursday Reflection 7.5.18

Thursday Reflection

July 5, 2018

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

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

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

Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 6.28.18

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

Fr Joe+

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

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

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

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

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

With much love for all of you,

+Mary

Thursday Reflection 6.21.18

Thursday Reflection                                                                                                      
June 21, 2018
 

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

Thursday Reflection 6.14.18

Thursday Reflection                                                                                                    

  June 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

–Fr Joe