Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Responding to Evil: Thoughts for Manchester

In light of the recent attack on youth and their mothers at a concert venue in Manchester, England I feel a strong lead to answer the question, "How can we faithfully respond to evil?"

There is a very natural and righteous sense of anger when innocent people are harmed.  In my estimation that anger comes from at least two places in our hearts and minds.

One place is that anger comes from pain.  In this situation it is the pain of loss.  For those affected directly by acts of terror their pain is unimaginable; people in the city, family, and friends of the dead and injured have lost security,  hopes for the future life of children and family, and they have lost peace.  Their pain is the seed of anger.  For those of us farther away we empathize with their loss as we imagine ourselves to be like them enjoying pleasures of life interrupted.  Brought to mind is the loss of our community's mental security.  We are rightfully angry because of pain and loss.

Another place is that anger comes from injustice.  Anger is planted in the need to have fairness which is stripped away because of events like this.  We desire for there to be justice among people. Terrorist bombings are an extreme example of taking away equality.  My right to live is just as valuable as your right to live.  The destruction of all innocent life is a crime against God who is the giver of life and humanity who is our brother.  There is no fairness or justice in the murder of innocents.  So we are angry.

What do we do with anger?  Anger can be the seed of revenge.  Vengeance is the response to injustice and the theft of equality.  It is natural to have a desire for vengeance however humans do not meet it out fairly.  Revenge in human hands leads down a dark path.  Often when men are motivated by revenge to seek justice they react with greater destruction and only perpetuate the violence.  A measured response is needed.

How do we respond to the reality of violence and tragedy?  Prayer. But not in a trite, blind-faith kind of way.  Not the kind of prayer that momentarily asks to comfort the suffering and heal the injured.  Not the kind of prayer that is empty words like when the leaders say "God bless America" because they don't know how to finish their speech.

The prayer I'm talking about draws us closer to God and brings us to a peace and strength which goes beyond our understanding.  The prayer I'm talking about is a prayer that fortifies and allows you to move forward knowing that when these things happen it will not devastate you.

Prayer brings peace and calms us; it enables us to prepare for the future events and not only react to them.  Prayer helps us to thoughtfully and with measure respond to tragedy.  Prayer helps us to pick up pieces and begin to put things back together in a way that makes us stronger and prepares for a future peace.

It's praying the Serenity Prayer slowly enough to allow words to form in your mind and actually believe each syllable of every word.  Prayer is to truly accept those things beyond your control, change those things that you are able to change, and to know the difference.

I saw today an American news outlet that has taken a moderate shift in how it's reporting this story.  The journalists were not inciting anxiety as they customarily do.  That is a good thing.  God's desire is for us to draw closer to him and comfort those who are suffering and anxious and fearful.  We are to resist hysteria and thoughtless reaction.  Prayer helps us move forward thoughtfully.

As we remain calm we must at the same time be vigilant.  We must reform those things that bring about organized violence by groups who hate us and we must stand guard and be watchful for those enemies of peace who are motivated solely by the evil intentions of their hearts.

Prayer is the antecedent of action.  When we have the calm and peace the state is then prepared to meet out justice to the guilty.  Ultimately God will be arbitrator of justice, but nations in this world have a responsibility to protect and defend the peace of society in a temperate way.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

One of those antiquated texts from thousands of years ago.

...All those things have vanished like a shadow, and like a rumor that passes by; like a ship that sails through the billowy water, and when it has passed no trace can be found, nor track of its keel in the waves; or as, when a bird flies through the air, no evidence of its passage is found; the light air, lashed by the beat of its pinions and pierced by the force of its rushing flight, is traversed by the movement of its wings, and afterward no sign of its coming is found there; or as, when an arrow is shot at a target, the air, thus divided, comes together at once, so that no one knows its pathway. The Book of Wisdom 5.9-23
My Commentary: This was written over 2,000 years ago and it testifies to the fleeting nature of our lives. Most of us will not even be a bullet point on the historical timeline of history. Names that are familiar to us like Christopher Columbus, Florence Nightingale, George Washington Carver, Golda Meir, Maya Angelou, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson have secured a legacy in history that most of us will not attain. What then is the purpose of our little lives?
Our legacy is instead in the small moment of contact with individuals. Instead of leaving a track in the sea perhaps we are driving the ship or unfurling the sail. We are the ship builders and mathematicians who charted the way for Columbus. We are the paper maker who provided parchment for Jefferson or the peanut farmer who gave Carver his peanuts. We are the kites and thread makers which enable Franklin to develop the lightening rod. We are the stage crew of comforters, helpers, and support on the big stage.
As it pertains to the passage from Wisdom all of this activity, in which we participate, finds its eternal purpose to the extent that it glorifies the eternal God.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Becoming an authentic believer.

There's a persistent perception that many people hold. That perception is that they are unwelcome to God and to the Church because they don't have their shit together. I am a priest and I don't have complete order in my life spiritually, and certainly not temporally. At times, I feel I fail more often than I succeed. 

I'm actually wrong in that, and I judge myself too harshly; but my failures are not barriers to God. 

There was a time in my life when I looked on the Church (God's people) as hypocrites. That was a line that was fed to me by some source, I don't know what source. That source wanted to keep me from knowing God. What I found when I came to be with faithful people was that I was the one who was the hypocrite. 

While I pointed the finger at self-righteous bible-thumpers, I was actually judging myself. I could say that, "I believe in Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, the Resurrection." But at that time in my life, I had very little grace for myself and I had even less grace for other people. I was the hypocrite because my thoughts and actions moved me farther away from the beliefs I held. I lived incongruously, in-authentically. 
And because of my in-congruent life I perpetrated the very line I had been fed about hypocrisy. 

I am still in-congruent. But the difference in me today is the direction I'm heading. I turned and am heading toward God and I am striving to let go of the weight of sin that holds me back.  My failures still look like hypocrisy to those outside. I know this won't matter to many of you, because you hold to some other belief system. But for those of you who want to know God and have relationship with him, you can have that. He wants the same thing. He pursues you more than your desire to know him. 

You can be found by him. I was found in the Church. To be transparent, I've also found the devil sidling up here. But I don't let that get me down, it's always been that way. Evil finds its way because it wants to disrupt the Good. What I hope I affirm to you is that there is goodness. It is found in relationships with those who are striving together (the Church) to know God. And I hope you'll respond to his pursuing you.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A reluctant recepient

When I was younger I used to hate going to Luby’s Cafeteria.   I’m not sure that my family was aware of my vitriol toward the establishment, because we seemed to go there all the time.  The cafeteria was the full service kind. A place where an eight-year-old boy could grab his tray and silverware rolled up in linen napkin and push down the rail.  Along the way the attendant would serve a helping of the food for which he asked.  Across or under the sneeze guard he began to pile on the choices, Salisbury steak and mushrooms(that he’d scratch off later), mashed potatoes with gravy, salads, and of course the obligatory green vegetables.

More often than not we were denied all things we really wanted.  After multiple rejections we learned to stop asking for Jell-O and coconut or chocolate cream, apple or cherry pie.
Fortunately, I assume, I was never forced to take the liver and onions.  And although we were allowed the choice, we were often admonished for picking up corn and mashed potatoes.  I learned early that two starches in the same meal is a sin.  It was a sin I committed regularly.

Slowly pushing the tray I reach the line's end.  Water and tea were the cue for my pulse to begin quickening.  Onward I pushed grabbing ice water.  And reaching the cashier my heart was beating against the collar, pounding away with no rational explanation. 
It wasn’t because the girl at the cash register was a beauty. I was still too young to think that way. 

No, as I approached her my thoughts were thus:  Will this be the time I’m finally allowed to take my tray and carry it to the table myself?  Will I be shamed again to have the girl conscripted from the back counter to carry my tray twenty feet to our table?

She always mysteriously appeared at the end of the railing.  She was some behind the scenes contrivance, some conspiracy, some underhanded and unspoken plot to undo my independence.

A few times I had already lifted my tray off the rail only to turn and be intercepted by some young attendant.  My escape in search of a table was ended before it began.

She never said a word to me, but with one look at me, she knew why she was drafted from her duties of filling water and tea glasses.  And I know why she awkwardly stands there waiting for my tray to reach the end of the rails.

I never believed that she offered a kindness to me.  It was kindness that I did not want, that I resented, and outright rejected.
She was my humiliation and the reminder that I was different.  She was the voice that whispered, “There are things that you can’t do.  You have one leg and so you’re special.”  Except I didn’t want to be special.

 
Today I went for a walk with some friends in Andorra.  It was a mountain hike and it was beautiful.  The trail runs along a rushing mountain river no wider than a Texas creek.  Uneven rocks, dirt, mud, and the occasional cow pies (Just like Texas creeks) lead up along some steep and treacherous path.  Not technically difficult for the causal hiker.  But a beautiful mountain terrain.  It’s a terrain, for me, that more often goes unseen.

As is always the case we start in the same parking lot.  And almost as soon as the journey begins the anxiety and humiliation reappears as the gap between me and the group lengthens.  As I am looking down judging where the next footstep will fall they are now ten, fifteen, twenty feet ahead of me.  An exponential growing gap between me and the group.
When I’m moving in this environment, I only see what’s right in front of me.  Because I can’t shake the idea that the next uneven rock or unseen crater hidden under a tuft of grass will be my undoing.  A fall, a trip, or worse a prosthetic brake would quickly end the adventure and make for the most humiliating and arduous hop back to civilization.  It’s a thought, an anxiety, which I haven’t manage to shake off since I broke a crutch in the second grade.
And always there is someone who does the kindness of hanging back with me.  Under the guise of just a pleasant conversation they offer the kindness of walking with me.  And I am made mindful that I am slowing them down.
The reason I like to go alone and at my own pace is that when I’ve had enough of a long walk, rather than pressing on, I stop and count my blessing for a safe travel thus far.  I declare this is where the train stops and turns around.  It’s then that I pause and take in the glory around me.  And then I feel no burden or obligation to anyone but myself.

But today for the first time my heart is ready to accept this kindness.
How ridiculous are these emotions? How prideful and selfish of me?  How another person’s kind gesture is intended for compassion but so repugnant to the recipient.

I am a mess. I both want sympathy and understanding while at the same time despise any footnote of my disability.  My hypocrisy is stark. My emotions are irrational.  I am irrational.  Wretched mind! Who will save me from this body [this mind] of death?

Now I think I know how God feels.  How foolish we must seem to God.  Who looking down from heaven or walking along side of us sees our disability.  And we in our spiritual pride reject his goodness and kindness on us all.  He who bears our tray and lot for the sake of his great love for us?
It was humiliating to me to be given that assistance.  When I didn’t feel that I needed it.

But I did need it.  I needed someone to carry that damn tray so that I wouldn’t bear the humiliation of that one time that I would have dropped it.


Accept the kindness given to you in all of its forms; whether you think it misguided or not. It is still kindness.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The love you long for...

I miss Kate.

When we were young.
Not in a nonchalant way. Not in the way that the simple phrase, “I’ll see you later,” tries to ease loneliness.
But I miss being there with her and seeing her face. Giving her a hug.  In the morning when we go to work we have a goodbye kiss. It’s our tradition.  And we exercise that custom every morning.  Except when I’m being selfish because I’m upset about something.
Along the Camino the albergues and hostels that I’ve stayed in all have single beds.  I’m glad of that, because I know that if I were in a large bed, I would reach over to feel if she were there.  And in doing so, I would feel her absence even more. 

I can’t account for it but my mind turns toward my parishioners.  I’m thinking of the men and women who have lived faithfully for decades with the love of their lives. 

Spouses, the woman or the man that they loved and cherished and cared for in sickness and in health, and now for some there love has gone on to heaven.  And for the first time in decades they’re not just alone.  They’re alone with the reality that the most intimate human relationship they have had, here in this life, has changed.

For most of them, if not all, their faith lets them know that they would see their love again.  And they live on.
My current situation is not the same.  Because I know that, barring some catastrophic occurrence, I will see my love again in this world.

But this extended time away seems to make the days and nights longer by her absence, and it gives me the smallest glimpse at what my friends feel, just a glimpse.  It makes me love them more because of their suffering.  Not out of pity, but out of empathy.  And I have no idea how it really feels.  And it makes me love her more even though she’s just out of reach.
But there is hope given to us in our faith.  A guarantee that we will see those we love again in a perfected state.  Jesus taught that we’re not given in marriage in the next life, that marriage is an institution for this world.  But there is a love that is an extension of the love we share today.  And when we pass through the glass dimly seen that love will be better than the one that we have today.

The love we share today is only a glimpse into the Fullness of Love that will exceed our understanding in this world. 
And so we live in the hope of the reality that Love transcends death and that our relationships of love continue through the veil in a way that is better.  It may not feel better, but our faith tells us that it is better.  And perhaps with time as we cling closer to God and these assurance we will feel that to be true.

God’s desire for us is to love and trust him.  When we are separated from the things in this world that we care mostly about, then we cling to him for his assurances more than anyone else or any other thing.
This why Christian marriage is best understood as indelible.  The covenant relationship entered into (in this world) is a model for the eternal relationship between Christ and the Church his bride.  How can Christ be separated from his bride?  It’s not possible.  And so as the vows say, “…till death do us part.” I understand this has proven impossible for some, but with God, "...all things are possible."

In the end, when our relationship with God is confirmed, there is no end.  In fact if you believe in the Communion of Saints (as I do) then your relationships within the body of Christ only grow, become holier, and perfected in the agape love of God.
The impetus then is for us to begin loving that way now, not waiting for the right time or place…or death.  But to begin loving God, neighbor, spouse, children with a love that is something like Jesus’ love.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Caught in my own trap.

The busyness of the Camino.  When I first started this journey on the Camino I had expected to write a lot more often. But my efforts seemed to be thwarted by a self-driven sense of, “I need to get there.”  Every day I stopped to calculate miles/kilometers traveled versus estimated miles/kilometers to get to Santiago.  And as I focused more and more on the numbers and taking pictures along the way to remember places, I notice this idea that I’ve been driven by some sort of fear of not being able to complete the Camino at all or just as bad not beating the June 1st deadline.  My experience of the Camino has been locked up in a trap, a mental trap that I set myself.

And as a result I focused more on riding longer distances taking on the harder days and sitting in the saddle.  Stopping frequently to get those pictures to show everyone.  And what I was missing was the disappointing part. By worrying about getting there I was avoiding meeting new people and getting to know them.  If you walk the Camino you have the intermittent opportunities to dialog with folks as you move along.  You may change your cadence to keep up or slow down.

But on a bicycle you’re pretty isolated.  Traveling at faster speeds and at times on different paths you have to maintain awareness of the terrain as it quickly changes second to second.  Walkers don’t need to focus that way.  Plus cyclist don’t usually have the room to ride two abreast of each other and so it’s not as common to build those relationship while traveling.

It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve realized these issues.  By staying in the saddle longer, stopping only to eat and sleep and based on the dynamics of cycling I haven’t been participating in the best part of the Camino: meeting people from all over.

Early on I had brief encounters with a few people when I was too tired to go on.  But it’s only been in the most recent few days that I’ve ended my days earlier and managed to put myself in social areas along restaurants, bars, and common rooms where people stop for early dinner/late lunch, a beer, or a coke.

I had dinner with a retired banker from Minnesota, catholic seminarians from New York, a stamp investor from South Africa, fund raising consultant from Hawaii’, an oil rig chef from Japan, married couple from Australia, two bosom buddies from Canada, and a Lutheran minister from Denmark. 

I’ve met others, but these are the ones I’ve sat with and had lunch/dinner/snacks with.  These are the ones who I’ve had introspective conversations about life, culture, our shared experiences on the Camino.  Some offer wisdom that helps me understand better my role as a priest and pastor. 

I can say without a doubt that a conversation I had on Sunday has literally helped me clarify my role as a church leader and what I should be doing and saying to the people in my spiritual cure.

As I am getting closer to the end of the Camino, to Santiago I don’t feel the rush.  I can see the end is in reach.  And I’ll do my best to take these last few days to spend time where it matters and that is with the people that God has brought here at this time in place to take this same journey with me.

In preparing my congregation for my time on the Camino de Santiago I often referred to the pilgrimage as a metaphor for life.  I hope that we can take this life lesson I’ve learned along the Way and use our time on the journey to meet new people.  Hopefully we;’ll talk with them allow them to learn from us and us from them.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Contentment

She stands at the outer door, arms crossed and leaning against the doorpost. Waiting? For what?  It’s impossible to know without asking.  Is she thinking about this pueblo, this little village that she’s lived in or lived for her whole life?  How peaceful it is?  How much she loves it? How much she wants to leave it?  She watches me approach, and I see her?  I’m hungry and tired at the lunch hour.  Do you have a sandwich I ask? And through a series of exchanges she goes inside and begins to make a sandwich.  She seems neither perturbed at an intrusion to her solace nor elated to see a stranger ride in to her sleepy little town of Zariquiegui.

And the young boy in Navarette. He couldn’t have been older than 15 years. Standing behind the bar dutifully carrying out the tasks him mother gives. He has a simple look on his face and wears jeans and a provincial futbol team jersey.  Learning the ropes to one day take over this family business of serving those of us who pass by this town on the way to something bigger?  Does he care?  Does he want more?  Is he content with his life?  Does he look forward to the day he can run the business on his own or the day that he breaks away from the bar and the town?

As we pass through village after village all seemingly the same, small stone houses and narrow brick and stones streets I feel the sense of contentment.  Especially from the older people.  These are the ones who in the noon day sun stand under the shade of trees near the watering fountains to discuss, “What?” I don’t know.  But in each village it’s the same.  In the evening the old married couples stroll the vineyard’s adjacent paths and masonry roads; the cool air and a happy “buenas tardes” on their lips.  They are content.

They have a wealth of history and tradition.  Millions of dollars in gold chalices and leaf overlayed on alter pieces and statues show there is material wealth to be had if it is wanted.  Those things are held collectively by the church or the state as museum articles.  Outward appearances seem to show that the villagers have less individual positions relative to Americans.  And the villagers appear in my estimation to have less interest in upward mobility.

That’s not to say that they don’t aspire to better things in their individual lives.

It seems there is very little room in our world for a person to be content with their life.  That in order for a person to be considered successful in our country in our life we have to be upwardly mobile.  We must be making more money possessing more things.  We must be married with children, and on, and on, and on.

There are times when I am more aware of how messed up our American way of life is, and this is one of those times.  The imperative of the gospel of Christ is to be content with what one has.  It doesn’t mean to not aspire to great things.  But it means enjoy what you have and be satisfied. Give us this day our daily bread.