March 22, 2016
I am sitting at my desk contemplating the gospel for today and thinking of the horrific events in Brussels. Jesus says in John 12:24-25 "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life." Those are hard difficult words to hear especially today.
As so often happens after a terrorist attack is perpetrated on innocent people, the question is Why? Why is it those who love their life lose it? The idea of someone killing innocents because of some twisted interpretation of their religion is indeed repugnant to us. Not so different from 2000 years ago this week when another innocent was put to death because the authorities did not like what he stood for.
Each year during Holy Week we contemplate just what it means for Jesus to die on the cross for us. Over the years it has become fashionable to say he didn't die for our sins but died because he was a threat to the status quo. I admit each year I wrestle with this very notion of the meaning of Jesus' death. I would prefer to think that I would not be a party to all that took place this week but when I dig down into my heart of hearts, I wonder if I would be all that different from the crowds calling for his blood. I pray fervently that I would not, be as we have too often seen in the last few weeks, a mob mentality is a frightening thing and easy to be swept up in.
Today please pray for the people of Belgium, the dead, the wounded and their families. Pray that Jesus' words of his death, he being the single grain which fell to the earth will continue to provide much fruit. May we as followers of the risen Christ remember our own fruitfulness as we spread his love throughout the world.
March 12, 2016
It is customary in the Episcopal Church to change the blessing to one of penitence each Sunday during Lent. But, I decided this year to keep to my usual blessing which is: "My friends, life is short and we have little time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us. So make haste to love and be swift to be kind." It is the last words in this blessing which has always struck me as the most important-be kind. Kindness is defined as the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.
I kept this blessing for the simple reason we need more kindness in our world. Without going all political we need to be more generous with one another. Generous in the sense that I may not agree with what someone has to say, but I have to try to understand why he feels as he does. It is when we are unable to show generosity in spirit and love we do not show to one another the love of Christ.
When I reflect on my own conduct, there have been times when I have been less than generous with my fellow travelers. I hope that age and my growing in faith keeps me from reacting to unkind comments and treatment of one another in our world. We often think the way we do because of past experiences, how we grew up or what we have read and heard; it may seem irrational to some but for others it is "their" truth. We do not have to understand it or agree with it; in fact there are times when we are compelled as Christians to speak out against hate and prejudice. What I do is I pray their fear and hate will evolve into love and compassion for all. Jesus tells us to pray for everyone, not just the people we like or agree with.
My mode of being is not to try to change someone's mind through words, but rather to model the love of Christ. This love is not a tepid or wishy washy way of thinking. After all Jesus was neither of these, reading the gospel accounts, he showed quiet strength, loved everyone especially when they were unlovable and gave his life for us. Yes, Jesus was angry at times speaking truth to power but he did it with dignity, integrity loving us all to the end. May we do so with our fellow travelers.
February 27, 2016
Lenten thoughts halfway through the season
When I preside at the Holy Eucharist during the season of Lent, one of the prefaces for the service states, “ You bid your faithful people cleanse their hearts, and prepare with joy for the Paschal feast.” The feast we share at the resurrection of our Lord and Savior. Asking for the forgiveness of another is one way I can cleanse my heart and make room for Jesus in my life. When I seek and ask for forgiveness I am freeing up space in my heart and mind for all the good things God has in store for me. When I remain caught up in nursing old grudges and hurts as well as dwelling on the ways I have hurt others, God is crowded out and I am not living the life He has set out for me. Mired in the pain of the past, I can not live in the present or prepare for the future. Lent reminds us we are to shed those things which keep us from having a full rich life; the life God has intended for each and everyone of us.
January 26, 2016
A new discussion group began Tuesdays and our first book was "The Good Book: Writers Reflect on Their Favorite Bible Passages" the conversation has been lively. What was brought to the group was a vast array of thoughts and questions regarding the reading for the week. The story I found interesting was "The Womb and the Cistern Well" the story of John the Baptist imprisoned by Herod. What we all discussed was how John must have felt knowing that he was in all likelihood going to die. That he had his doubts about who Jesus was and asks that famous question: "Are you the one or are we to wait for another?" We all agreed being John was not easy. He had worked and toiled in the community to bring people to God only to have his power given to another. Was is given willingly? The writers of the gospels would us believe yes but human nature would have to say otherwise.
I think about this in terms of our own needs to be recognized and wanted. It is not easy to give up control and power for someone else. We all think we are irreplaceable and John's story tells us we are anything but.
It has been far too long between posts, I wish all who read this blessings in 2016. As often happens at the turn of the calendar, we begin to think goals and dreams for the new year. Many of us start with good intentions but, unfortunately life gets in the way; suddenly all of our optimism is gone, leaving us with the same thoughts and behaviors we so desperately want to change. Yesterday I came across a review of Marie Kondo's new book " "Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up" which is a follow up to her wildly successful book "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up." I read the first book and was intrigued by her thoughts on what makes for an organized happy life.
Her discussion of how we treat our things and our homes while for some is odd, I find it inspiring. Kondo suggests when we return home, we tell our house we are happy to be home. Say it out loud! We thank everything we use for what it has done for us throughout the day. She contends we keep nothing that does not spark joy, hence the title of her second book. I was oddly comforted by the notion of thanking my things. So often I rush around without reflecting on how fortunate I am, although I do tell my car, the "Green Hornet" that I love her.
Kondo forces us to come face to face with what we have and how gratitude does not have to be a laborious or rote exercise. But, one where we pause and give thanks for all that is in our lives which gives comfort and stability. I feel calm just reading those few paragraphs at the end of her book and perhaps this is one small change I can make to bring serenity and happiness to my home. Her idea is one which make for a happy life: simply giving thanks for all that I have.
Here we stand on the cusp of Christmas Day. This is for Christians I believe our New Year. For some this may sound a bit odd because according to the liturgical calendar the first Sunday in Advent is the start of our year. But I believe it is tomorrow for the simple reason that each year we put our faith in the birth of a child born over 2000 years ago. We hope and pray that this will be the year when peace will reign on the earth and a new era of love and generosity will begin. It is this faith in the birth of Jesus which keeps us coming back to the story and the promise that God has made: his kingdom will have no end and that kingdom is open to all of us whoever we may be.
My Christmas prayer is that we all find peace and joy this season as we renew our faith in the birth of God.
Merry Christmas and God's Blessings!
Tomorrow is one of my favorite services of the year here at St. Thomas, "A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols" will be at 10:00am. I still remember the first time I heard it live from London. It was a wonderful way to bake cookies and listen to the story of our faith told through scripture and music.
The first lessons and carols was held on Christmas Eve 1918 and was adapted from a service order created 38 years earlier at Truro Cathedral. The BBC's first broadcast of the service was in 1928 and has been broadcast every since, omitting the year 1930. Through the dark days of the Depression and World War II and stretching into today is the constant of Lessons and Carols. What we do in the service is pause and reflect on the in-breaking of God through the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; though evil may surround us and we despair over what is to come, these are traditions which keep us in touch with our humanity. And for a moment allow us to suspend time and ponder the Divine.
I sit here on a lovely December afternoon marveling at our beautiful weather. It is hard to believe it is already mid-December for it feels more like October. I am not going to complain after 50 odd years spent in the North. Christmas does seem far away although it is nearer than I would like to think. There are still gifts to buy, the house to get ready and the tree to trim.
For some though, it is not the holly, jolly season we are lead to believe should be. It can be a time of thinking about the "what if's" and "if only's" of life. There are fractured families; loved ones who have died and sorely missed at this time of year. It is difficult to remind ourselves that the perfect Christmas does not exist. It is all a fabrication by Madison Avenue to have us buy more thinking that is the true route to happiness.
If we reflect on the birth of Jesus in an honest fashion, we can see that his start in life was anything but easy. Who wants to be born in a stable in a strange town to parents who are bewildered and little frightened by the circumstances? This was I am sure not the way they had planned the birth of their first born child. But as we know things rarely go as planned in this life. Often we feel as if there is no one in control. Which is why in those moments we turn it all over to God. This is not to say that God makes everything all right because we know that too is not the case. Sometimes we have to through difficult circumstances to further our own creation. Last week's reading from Malachi said in part, For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. We too are purified by God through our own difficult times, what seems like the fire of sadness and fear is turned by God into a new creation of contentment and peace.
Since my sermon yesterday, several people have thanked me for saying what needed to be said. Selfishly I said what I would have wanted to hear my priest say in the midst pain unspeakable horror and evil. For those of you who were not able to hear my sermon. The short version of what I said was I was angry. Angry at the fact the people were living their lives, enjoying friends, family in restaurants, a concert and a football match, when chaos broke out and their lives were lost and for others irreparably changed. I was angry because everything we have again thought was safe, is not.
For me I am not ready to think about forgiveness of those who perpetrated these heinous acts. I state this because of what the Lutheran pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book "The Cost of Discipleship." Bonhoeffer wrote, "Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing…."
We can be angry for a time, but we also have to think about what can we do in our own corner of the world to spread Jesus' message of love of the other and hopefully at some point reconciliation. We don't let people off the hook for their behavior, but we also don't allow their hatred to seep into our own lives and change who we are as believers in the risen Christ. It is him in whom we base our faith and he is the rock of our foundation as people and most importantly as Christians.
We often in our society lament the need for "real community" in our lives. But have we thought about what that really means to us as individuals and as a collective? The Church is one place in particular where the word "community" is bandied about and I myself use it quite regularly when I preach. My definition of community is a place where we can be real with one another, sharing both the good and the bad of our lives. We can be vulnerable with one another knowing that we will be listened to and taken seriously. We are allowed to share with one another those deep feelings and thoughts we may not comfortable expressing to friends or family outside of the Church. In addition, we are allowed to question our own belief systems and closely examine what it means to attempt to live a faithful life. These are not easy to accomplish, but we continue to try and it is the focus of my ministry in this place.
We also use our community to celebrate one another and support each other. I think of this in light of last night and celebrating a talented singer and guitar player in our midst. Sixteen of us visited a neighborhood restaurant to eat, drink, enjoy one another's company and to listen to some great music. It was gratifying to have so many people want to be together outside of Sunday mornings as well as tell someone, he was important enough to our community for us to literally "show up." Woody Allen said, "Ninety percent of life is just showing up." The Brooklyn Law School Library Blog expands the quote with their own words of wisdom, "Just get involved, make the call, or introduce yourself. The results will astonish you." I hope our parishioner was astonished by our involvement last night, it was a great night to celebrate talent, music and community.
Saturday October 24
Last week I went to see the movie "The Walk" the story of Phillipe Petit's high wire walk between the World Trade Center. It was an edge of my seat two hours I was happy to spend. What I have thought about since seeing the movie is Petit's obsession with walking between the Twin Towers. I had become intrigued by him after I saw the movie "Man on Wire" which was a documentary of his walk. What has captivated me about his story was his belief in himself that he would fulfill his dream. He also was able to find others who were willing to have his dream become theirs and together they devised a plan.
It is not too big a stretch in my thought process to think about how Jesus was able to encourage twelve men to leave home, job and families to follow him. They were willing to work to have Jesus' dream fulfilled on earth of our reconciliation with God. While I am not saying Petit is Jesus, there is a certain aura about him which invites others to participate in his dream. Jesus had that same spirit, that inviting nature which proclaims nothing is impossible. While I do not know if Petit is a man of faith, it is ironic he is the artist in residence at St. John the Divine in New York City. He also speaks extensively about creativity and fulfilling our dreams. Perhaps on reflection he is divinely inspired to do the impossible-just like Jesus.
Saturday October 17
Were you watching Jeopardy! these past few weeks? If so, you would have become acquainted with Matt Jackson, a 23 year old paralegal from Washington, DC. Matt's breadth of knowledge was awe-inspiring. He won thirteen games and a total of $411,612 and will return to play in the Tournament of Champions. I became obsessed watching this intelligent young man and would tune in each night wondering how well he would do.
What really has captured my attention though was the night Matt lost to another contestant on the program. It was his honesty and integrity which caused this young man to stand out in my mind. During the game, one of the categories was two-letter French words and Matt was asked for the two-letter French word for ‘with the’. Host Alex Trebek heard his response – al – and thought it was a mispronunciation of the correct answer so awarded him the cash. During the ad break, Matt informed the judges his answer was wrong and the money was subtracted from his total. He then went on to lose the game. But I think we all gained from his grace under pressure.
It would have been easy for Matt to let the wrong answer stand but he chose to do the right thing. We often talk about young people wanting to be famous for the wrong reasons and here is a young man who is known for being honest. A character trait which will stand him in good stead all of his life. With all of the bad news about our world, I was so happy to know more about Matt and wish him only success for what I am sure will be a fantastic future. I also read he is donating 10% of his winnings to charity, something else to admire.
Saturday October 3
The Feast of St. Francis is tomorrow and for us, his life and legacy are still relevant today. I write this as I reflect on the past week's events with the shooting in Oregon. It is my opinion that to blame this massacre on guns or mentally ill is too easy. These ideas do not even begin to scratch the surface of what is a deeper problem in our society. Not all people who own guns are mass killers and neither are people who are mentally ill. We insult both groups of people when we agree with comments such as these. We in essence let ourselves off the hook, because it is their problem not ours. We are in a crisis in this country and it is not guns or mental illness, it is the way we think about what is a meaningful life.
We have a problem with our insatiable need to have our fifteen minutes of fame. How many "likes" we get on our Facebook page makes for a quality existence. The shooter wanted to be famous and felt that his life was a failure because he was lonely and couldn't get a date. Somehow he would make his mark on the world, and killing innocent people, who were working on creating a better life, was his sick, twisted answer. He felt he was a failure-at 26! There is something inherently wrong with us as a culture when we work so hard to create for the world a false image of ourselves. Where nothing is ever wrong and life seems to be some giant party. I know people who are going through terrible personal problems posting on Facebook how great their life is, when in reality it's falling apart. We have set up a false sense of reality for ourselves and others when we fail to be honest with ourselves and one another. Even I get depressed reading how fabulous someone else's life is, and mine is pretty fantastic.
This summer I read the book "Ghettoside," the author explores the culture of violence in our inner cities and the toll it takes on us all. She writes that appearing vulnerable is akin to a death sentence in some neighborhoods. The idea of being tough and cruel is one that permeates the neighborhoods in so many cities and towns across our country. It is a necessary but heart-breaking read and to say I was depressed thinking about the lives wasted because of machismo is an understatement. The book has deeply affected my thinking on this issue. This is why I believe people resort to violence as a way of life: it is easier to be cruel and unfeeling than it is to be kind and caring. Kind and caring means I have to constantly be thinking of others instead of myself. How do my actions impact those around me? That is the question to be constantly asked. Something, that is not always easy to do.
What our country needs to do instead of focusing on the symptoms of these mass killings-guns and mental health-is to spend time thinking how we arrived at this place. One of the reasons I believe, is the culture we have created for ourselves and our young people, everyone is a winner. A few months ago I read an article in which the author stated what a great disservice has been done to our young people by telling them they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up. "Not so", wrote the author, "a person who is 5"3" is not going to be a basketball player no matter how hard they try or how much they want it." When we consistently tell young people everyone is a winner, we set up a false illusion of what the world is going to be like. As we know, not everyone is a winner, and what counts is recovering from loss to try again or to set a different goal. Everyone has the ability to contribute something to our world, no matter how seemingly small it may be.
St. Francis is someone who gave up riotous living to beg with the poor at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Francis' father, a successful silk merchant, demanded he return home through threats and even beatings. But, Francis renounced his father by removing all of his fine clothing and taking up the simple garments of a beggar. Francis' work was to restore churches that had fallen into ruin as a penance for the life he had once lead. He went on to form the Order of St. Francis and whose rule of life was, "to follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps." We too wish to follow our Lord's example of compassion for others and care for the poor and lonely. In the Gospel of Mark, when the crowd wants to make Jesus their king, he escapes. Kingship was not what he was here for but rather to show us to the way of the Father.
As we reflect on the life of St. Francis may he continue to be an example of putting the needs of others first and realizing we can contribute more to the life of others when we worry less about ourselves. I do believe this is the first step to overcoming this horrific epidemic which continues to sweep our country. Instead of creating a life that is fiction, we would do well to create a life that has meaning and purpose.
Saturday September 26
"Ridin' along in my pope mobile, the Holy Spirit behind the wheel." OK so I made that up because as many of you know I drive a Fiat and was tickled to see the pope in his; albeit a higher end version. Reflecting on those words, I challenge myself to really allow the Holy Spirit to navigate my life. What I find is too often I want to be in charge be in the driver's seat. Control is one of those things we find so difficult to give up and it is only when I let the Holy Spirit take control, life seems easier. As always, onus is on me and indeed all of us to make the decision to allow the Holy Spirit to us move along on our journey with God to a deeper spiritual life. It is a challenge for those of us who want control and work so hard to retain it. All I can do is keep giving it all up to God and to let the Holy Spirit work with me and through me.
Saturday September 19
I have just finished reading "The Boys in the Boat" and if you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. The main character Joe Rantz is abandoned by his father not once but twice. Forced at the age of 10 to move out of the house and fend for himself and again as a high school student left by his father at a their half built house during the Depression. Understandably Joe promised himself he would never allow himself to feel hurt or abandoned again. He joins the crew team at Washington University and has a difficult time fitting in with the other boys. It is only when the boat builder George Pocock tells him the only way to be a success at rowing is to trust the others in the boat. For someone like Joe it seemed almost impossible but he realized standing on the dock gazing out over the lake, it was something he needed to do. It was only after he began to trust, did he feel like part of the team and have friendships with them.
How many times have each of us in our own lives tried to row our own boats? It is in the DNA of our country to be rugged survivalists and learn self-reliance. Having the ability to be independent is obviously a wonderful thing but fierce independence like Joe had leads only to misery and despair. We need one another and we need those gentle voices, the George Pocock's, of the world to prod us when need be to take a chance on our fellow passengers in life. The journey is so much richer when we journey together.
Saturday September 12
I am dipping into Paula D'Arcy's book "Waking Up to This Day" about finding the beauty that is in front of us everyday. If we pay attention. That is what I find to be key not only about the book but also in living. Perhaps you are like me, so focused on something, you fail to see the world around you. I know I find when I look up and see all that is present in the world, beautiful buildings, other people and the beauty of creation, I can see God's hand in all of it. Years ago when we were traveling in Austria, the tour guide reminded us all to look up. Many of us were fixed on what was eye level in city of Vienna. I remember chuckling at her words, but obviously they have deeply resonated with me because I still hear her voice gently prodding me to, "Look up." How many interesting things have I seen in my life since then because of those two words.
Jesus used simple language to tell stories and get his point across to his followers. We often think the complicated must be better than the simple. But we know from listening to Jesus' stories and parables that he didn't need to explain God's love to us with complicated language or theological treatises. The simple stories of birds in the air or mustard seeds give us pause to "look up" and see the majesty in God's world.