Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Boy, I stepped in it.

Sermons @ Lord teach us to pray or on iTunes

Gah! I hate that feeling!  You know? When I cram my foot in my mouth so deep I feel the inside wall of my stomach.

What I did isn't earth shattering, but it's enough to occupy the mind and make the heart sink.  It's when you care about someone who has done a kindness for you.  She shows you generosity, and then, for the sake of a laugh, you trivialize it.

That's what I did today.  Someone I care about bought us some tickets to a live production, one that I had only seen in film. As I was decompressing from a busy morning I used my playful banter to relax.  Well as I am wont to do, I went too far, and I outright mocked the play and unintentionally demeaned her thoughtful and generous gift.

If it had only been a stranger I would be embarrassed.  Yes!  But quickly time passes and embarrassment subsides.  The experience morphs into a self-deprecating joke that gets retold again and again for more laughs.  "Remember that time when I..."

But when I hurt someone I love I feel it in my stomach. I carry the heaviness with me.  It's a low, empty-feeling inside.  I want to physically get down on the floor to get lower than the sadness; I actually hurt with the one I hurt.

I understand and feel this sentiment: I want to crawl under a rock and sit alone. Waiting, praying to forget about what I've said or done.

What to do when I feel like this?  Much should be said about asking for forgiveness and saying, "I'm sorry."  For the first time in a long time my initial reaction was to call and say, "I'm sorry."  Not, "I'm sorry you feel that way."  But rather "I'm sorry that I hurt your feelings."  "I wasn't appreciative of your thoughtfulness." And "I will be more mindful of how my actions impact you."  But, "I'm sorry" is only a statement, an acknowledgement of fault.  It's a beginning place.

I have yet to say, "Will you forgive me?"  "Will you forgive me?"  That's a whole other question.  It increases my vulnerability.  It takes the control away from me and places it in the heart and mind of the one whom I've offended.  When was the last time you asked, "Will you forgive me?"  And who was it?

Over time that heavy feeling will go away.  But the quicker I ask the question the quicker the healing begins and peace will be restored.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Cycling Pilgrimage along with the Good Shepherd

April 22, 2018
I John 3.16-24

Jesus offers himself to us when we are quiet, when we are alone, when we are listening for the Shepherd's voice.

I don't think I'm going to talk a lot this morning; except to share some stories;
Because I want the scriptures to speak to you today. I want you to listen for the voice of the Shepherd. //
But here is what I am going to say:
I went on another one of my cycling trips.
Why do I do this?  I get out there on the road and I'm riding my bicycle--lugging my gear behind me--out in the middle of nowhere, looking up at the vultures circling above wondering if they think I'm their next meal.

There is this need that I have to separate myself from the demands of the things of this life and to discover how to gravitate toward relying on God for life, relying on God for sustenance, relying on him for safety.

So here are a few things that happened to me on this journey.
I planned the trip well.  I wanted to ride from my house to Austin; and along the way visit each of the Episcopal Churches in small towns in between home and Austin; I had it all mapped out.

But as time approached my plans started to change; we had a special funeral service to plan, I discovered my bike needed some additional maintenance and these factors (for the best) changed my timeline, and therefore changed my route.  Now I was headed toward Camp Allen in Navasota.

This change affected the type of tour I would take; instead of pulling a trailer with camping gear I would simply carry clothes, a little food, and stay in roach motels along the way.  Sometimes our plans change when we listen to the Shepherd.

What I discovered at the end of the day when your neck and forehead are burnt from the sun and your upper lip tastes like salt from being hot and sweaty all day...it comes down to:  All you want in a motel is to wash off and lie down.---a shower and a bed. //

I mentioned that I brought some food.  I brought bags of mixed nuts, cheese, and summer sausage.  After an afternoon rest, to sit and eat on the edge of the bed...to have my little bit of cheese and sausage, and handful of nuts, I quickly discovered I didn't need that much to make my hunger go away...

But I would guzzle water.  Water!  There is nothing that quenches your thirst more, when you're really thirsty, than tap water from a motel sink.  I carried two water bottles with me; filled them up each day.  I also brought a 6-liter water bag that I never used.

Each morning, when I was rested and ready to start my journey again, the thought of filling the water bottles from a motel tape was disgusting to me.  So...you know what I did?

I started filling the bottles from the motel sink in the afternoon when I was thirsty.  When I valued water most, I filled the bottle, and I didn't care about how dirty the sink was.  Now!  Somewhere in all of this, God was taking care of my basic needs.

God shows me what is required to survive...and folks...
After all that, all that is left...is luxury.  After having a wash, a place to lay your head, food and water...everything else is luxury.  Extra pillows, clean sheets--luxury.  In the first motel I stayed in;

I couldn't get the air conditioner to work.  The only reason I wanted it to work was because I paid for the room.  It wasn't that hot inside.  I didn't need it. It was luxury.

Like a Shepherd guards his flock, God was protecting me and providing for my needs. //

Out on the highway: there were wide shoulders, on the busier roads you can hear the sound of cars coming from behind you. And each time I look in my rear-view eyepiece most vehicles give me a gracious buffer as they pass by.

In those moments, I felt thankfulness for God's love fore me;  Here's the deal...
I wasn't feeling thankful that he keeps me from getting smushed by an eighteen wheeled rock truck...  I was thankful for the life he gives me in Christ Jesus.

"Whether I live or die I am the Lord's possession.  We belong to the Lord.  That's what I was thankful for.//

Speaking of road kill:  I also learned something as a side-note.
When you're about 20-30 yards away from dead animals on the shoulder, take a deep breath...hold it...and when you get to the animal slowly begin exhaling.  By the time you're done breathing out and ready to take a new breath, you won't have to smell the carcass.

The last two things I want to share with you:
Cows are wonderful.  Once you get out on the FM Roads (Farm-to Market roads) where there is very little traffic you find the cows grazing in the pastures on the other side of the barbed wire fence.  It's usually very quiet; you can hear the wind and the gentle tick-tick of your bicycle's free will.  And the cows notice you.

A car could go by---a thousand cars could go by and the cows would take no notice.  But when a loan cyclist  with his bright yellow safety vest and flashing lights comes quietly cruising by...
They raise and turns their heads and just look at you...//
They look at you like, they're trying to figure you out...what in the world is this?

And they're chewin' that last bite of grass they took...just lookin' at you. //

And then...you start talking to them, you know?  "Hey cows, how y'all doin'?"  "What are y'all lookin' at?  Hope you're having a good day."

Then they get curious about you and start trotting along to the end of the pasture to get a last glimpse before your ride off down the road...

Let me tell you what that feels like.  it feels like you're connecting with God through one of his other creatures.  And before you think I'm totally crazy;  if you have a dog you know what I'm talking about.  And if you have a cat...and he allows it...you might know what I'm talking about.

I felt this connection to God's creatures because of curiosity and because of kind/peaceful words.
I was mindful of how we should live everyday like that as we encounter strangers.

The last story I want to share with you all:
I'm riding along State Highway 159 from Bellville to Hempstead.  The traffic was light; a few cars pass by, but it was pretty quiet.  I went on enjoying the tranquility of the ride:

When!  About 75 yards off the highway to my right along an old country fence a donkey (for no reason at all) starts braying at me, "Hee-haw, hee-haw" and various other inhuman grunting sounds.  It's the most obnoxious sound and he goes on and on and won't stop.  And he's spoiling that lit bit of quiet I was having//

And because now, I talk to animals, right?
I'm like, "DUDE, what's wrong with you?  Chill out!"  But he. kept. on. talking.

Okay biblical scholars:
Q: What would you think of if a donkey started talking to you?
A: You better listen.

Write this down. Numbers 22.21-39--you can go back and read the story of Balaam's donkey.

This nameless donkey is carrying the prophet Balaam down the road.  Balaam is a good prophet but he is going to do something God told him not to do.  The donkey sees up-ahead on the road that the angel of death (sword drawn) is blocking their way, and he's going to kill Balaam when they pass by.

So the donkey stops which infuriates Balaam who punishes the donkey.  After several times the donkey finally speaks and says, "What is your problem?  I'm saving you from the angel of death..."

So...what did I do?  I turned to that donkey and I said, "Look donkey, I'm already halfway between Bellville and Hempstead.  I ain't turnin' around.  If the angel of death is down there he'll have to smote me dead.  I AM THE LORD's possession."  "But!  I will slow down."  And I did slow down.

30 seconds later two cars passed by me and unexpectedly pulled off onto the shoulder in front of me.//

Now I don't know if God saved me from some calamity...that's not what matters.  For we are the Lord's possession.

What matters is that I slowed down and was listening for God.  Listening for and responding to his direction; listening for the Shepherd's voice and guidance.
(Thy rod and thy staff the comfort me; thou leadest me beside still waters)

So, today I'm going to ask you all...to listen...for God's voice

Listen (I John 3.16-24 read aloud)
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister[a] in need and yet refuses help?
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us. (NRSV)

Open your prayer books to page 305 (the baptismal candidate prayers)
Deliver me, O Lord, from the way of sin and death.
Open my heart to your grace and truth.
Fill me with your holy and life‑giving Spirit.
Keep me in the faith and communion of your holy Church.
Teach me to love others in the power of the Spirit.
Send me into the world in witness to your love.
Bring me to the fullness of your peace and glory. Amen.  (Book of Common Prayer 1979)

If you want to be a better disciple tomorrow than you are today.  If you want to experience the presence of God, print these words and put them on your refrigerator, on your handle bars, on your steering wheel.

And listen for the Shepherd's voice.

Monday, April 9, 2018

My Day with Joel...Yes... Joel Osteen.

Sermons: Lord teach us to pray.

Did he dupe me? Have I been lied to by the ecclesiastically righteous, the established denominational leadership? Have I picked and chosen the sound bites that reinforced my snarky expectations of a televangelist?

He is not careful with the words that you want him to be careful with.
He is careful with the words of condemnation and proclaims clearly that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus.  Maybe you’re just jealous.  Matthew 20:15

So, as many people do, I have a lot of impressions about televangelists and Joel Osteen.  This is especially true of Episcopalians and mainline protestants who feel the tightening of the belt and withering fruit on the dry branch. While we clamor for 100 or scrape to break the 200-barrier, Joel has thousands of people locked up in captivity; tens of thousands of people come to listen live and millions watch on television. 

I never get a day where I can randomly go to any church I choose.  I’ve visited all the big Episcopal churches in Houston, so where will I go..?  (Lightbulb) Lakewood! I’m going to the Oasis of Love and the den of “The Prosperity Gospel!”

The following is my experience of a onetime visit:

9:35 AM
Parking Lot, not a lot of signage from the parking garage to the building; however what we called The Summit (currently Lakewood Church) is a big building so it’s hard to miss. The Sunday school hour is lightly attended by adults (at least in this area of the building - remember it is a stadium with a wrap-around concourse.  There are numerous people to ask for help; although they don’t always know the location of the adult Sunday school class. They sent me to the right floor and I was on time.

10:00 AM
At first Sunday school was reinforcing my expectations about money and the church.  It was team taught by a husband and wife.  It was akin to a four week financial seminar series.  This Sunday was addressing Auto and Homeowners’ Insurance.  It was useful information but not a bible study.  They never asked for money or hinted in that direction.  It occurred to me that seminars like this would be useful for working folks.  After 35 minutes I was ready to get out and explore, but I sat too close to the front.  (Next time I’ll remember to sit in the back of the room.)

10:50 AM 
On the way to worship I was greeted by an usher. I'm sure I looked lost.  With a small flyer he shook my hand and told me about the men’s weekday bible study Maximizing Manhood (or something like that.)  But!  He looked me straight in the eye and said, "This will transform you; and it will transform your whole family."  Hmm. That sounds great.  I like transformation.  I might even go to it.  In this instance and others in worship there is a strong identification with traditional gender discipleship and family organization.  I think they treat traditional labels as normative.  Female, Male, Mother Father Children—Wife, Husband.

Restrooms: as clean as Buc-ees and not at all pretentious. I’m an architect*; I notice these things.

People: The diversity of the Kingdom of God.  I see God’s children of many colors, and it reflects the diversity of the city of Houston.  African, African - American, Hispanic, Indian, and Anglo faces dressed from casual to coat and tie.  There are very few oriental Asians which is a surprise for the diversity of Houston. I could speculate, but I won’t.  I see single moms bringing their sons, single dads bringing their daughters, families of many types.  That’s what I see.

Interior worship space: It’s very lovely.  The size of a concert arena but clean and warm. Homey.  My godmother and mother worked here in the 70s/80s.  I used to watch the Ringling Brothers every year and other events.  My first concert was the BeeGees (cameo by John Travolta) The concrete aisles and rows are now carpeted.  It makes the atmosphere warmer, inviting. Getting a seat at 10:58 AM was easy.  There are a lot of seats.

11:00 AM Order of Worship
Intro Prayer
Music/brief musician testimony
Victoria’s teaching
Music/prayer teams/offering (testimony)-going toward ministry to people with special needs at home and abroad (just like in any other church---so don’t judge)
Victoria and Joel—Benediction Numbers 6:.24-26

My Experience and Reflections
Victoria and Joel step out.  There is an opening call to prayer and to putting aside all the troubles and strife at home, in the workplace, in current and past relationships.  Be a new creation today in this moment. There is acknowledgement of pain, sadness, suffering, but allow yourself to put that away; be joyful in God’s goodness.  Hmmm, sounds like a psalm.

I’m mindful to let go of judgement and pre-conceived impressions.  I want to take this in for what it is.  I’m a quiet Episcopalian.  I would never choose this for my worship experience, however that doesn’t mean that God won’t be here.  I’m mindful of Elijah when he flees to Horeb.  He waits for God first in the wind, then the earthquake, then the fire.  But God was not in them.  Then a sheer silence and Elijah heard the Voice.  I Kings 19:11-13  Yes God was in the silence, but it doesn’t mean he can’t be in the earthquake. While the first bits of uplifting music is being played some stand and sing and gyrate.  I stand and look around to see some people sitting, listening.  And I think, “These must be the Episcopalians that haven’t found us yet.”

I push away those thoughts and try to engage in the worship through singing.  The songs are unfamiliar, lack the poetry and theological depth of hymnody, but it’s sung with joyful voices all around.  That is enough.  God is here.  The lyrics are published on the big tv screens but are difficult to read because the musicians' faces take up most of the screen.  I struggled to sing all but two songs throughout the morning.  The first time I sung was in the opening set; it was a soft ballad and a somewhat traditional piece.  The second time I sung was around the offertory.  It’s content was about the cross as God’s final act of redemption.  It was repetitive but spirited.

There is some ethnic diversity on the stage but very little.  The choir is more representative of the congregation.

She offered an encouraging message. She has an old school Houstonian drawl that wasn’t too distracting, and she had several syntax gaffs which reminded me of Appalachian speak.  But when you’re used to the Queen’s English it’s hard not to notice that.  The main thrust of her message was for us to get ourselves out-of-the-way so that God can use us to bless others!  A while back I heard her make a very unorthodox statement that fed the accusation of Prosperity Gospel; however nothing she said today pointed toward the idea that faithfulness equals economic wealth.  That’s good.  And I must say that words have exited my mouth that didn’t really capture my intent.  I usually catch and correct myself right away.  So, cut her some slack jack.

More loud music J
To this point the little 10-year-old boy, sitting next to me with his father, has been quietly asking for 5 minutes, “I’m ready to go.  Can we go?”  So much for loud music appealing to the youth…

12:00 PM ish
While music is being played, there is an invitation to pray with a partner in each section.  This is for whatever needs you may have. There was also a wonderful testimony of a man whose autistic son was struggling to speak.  After a great deal of prayer, the 5-year-old, during bed-time prayers, picked up his bible and recited the Lakewood pre-sermon statement of faith.
This is my Bible. I am what it says I am. I can do what it says I can do. Today, I will be taught the Word of God. Etc. **
For the parents of the boy it was a great break-through and the story is uplifting. It did not intend to suggest that his autism was cured, but rather the boy spoke for the first time in a long time.  It was meaningful and witnessed the tremendous presence of God in little moments.  It reminded me of how I was born deaf and how, through prayer, my hearing was restored. Now, only if God could make my leg grow back… That's a joke. 

12:10 PM
This is what you’ve been waiting for.  At first glance, I thought the room increased in population.  If it did it was only slight.  Based on previous comments in the morning I have a sense that Joel acknowledges that there is a great deal of suffering in people’s lives.  But he rejects victimhood mentality.  What happened to you before doesn’t have to shape your future.  He stresses the sense of new creation in each person when he or she becomes a believer in Jesus.  And so, your life should reflect that new creation. 

What I think I hear most is that the life should reflect faithful trust in God to care for you.  And that your relationship with God through Jesus will empower you to live a new life.  And that new life will help you engage your neighbors in the world in a godly way.  (Like Jesus did.)

While referencing a few texts he retells the stories of Joseph and the birth of Manasseh , Ruth and Boaz, and Job.  In each story there is a cycle of pain followed by birth or blessing that is realized in their lives.  God is the source of their blessings and restorations.  After betrayal by his brothers, false arrest and imprisonment by his master, Joseph chooses to see God’s goodness in these catastrophes.  And Joseph chooses to see that God used these evil things to save and redeem his people.  And Manasseh is born. 

(THIS IS ME TALKING:  Mainline Christians say the same thing.  “It’s Good Friday but Easter’s coming!!!”  Our gospel is retelling Jesus’ suffering and death but his resurrection makes it all worth following God.  These are our words of hope that keep us going.)

Back to Joel:
Joel didn’t shy away from the birth pangs analogy.  According to Joel, Job suffers for 9 months before he is restored with a "double portion."  Isaiah 61.7

Joel is inviting people into a mindset akin to the father’s love in the Prodigal Son. Luke 15.11-32   While our eyes are on the sinful son and the depth of the father’s love toward him we have ignored the love the father has for his older son: “everything that I have is yours.” What Joel is offering to believers is the idea that they are not merely the repentant younger brother, but are also heirs and recipients (now; in this life) of the riches of God’s love.

There’s the problem, “Riches.” “Prosperity”  When we hear or think of “rich” or “prosper” we naturally think of temporal, economic, financial reward.  But I must say that at no time did Joel promise these things for the people’s faithfulness.

In fact Joel never once promised financial or economic prosperity;  rather he spoke of intangible rewards for faithfulness such as a positive outlook on health, spiritual life, and relationships.  In the metaphor of Jericho the foolishness of walking around this wall for 7 long days is absurd yet faithful.  And at some point in this drudgery and misery God is going to tear down these walls.

Joel is claiming to have God’s promises in this life.  Hmmph.  “The Kingdom of Heaven has come near to you; The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  Matthew 10.7

He’s very clear that you will hit bumps in the road in this life.  You will and have suffered; you or your loved one might get cancer and die.  You may struggle through divorce.  But these things do not separate you from what belongs to you as God’s child.  Can power and principalities separate us from the love God in Christ Jesus?  Romans 8:39

He proclaims the ethos of the Kingdom of Heaven in this life.  Today, Joel said very little that I would argue against.  His exegesis, if at all present, was concealed in his story-telling.  His story-telling and application were meaningful.  The first time I preached in seminary in Sewanee the New Testament professor told me, “That was a very good exegetical sermon…”  So much for exegesis.  While I've come to appreciate his comment I think, life application is more meaningful to God's children.

Where then does all this vitriol toward Joel come from?  I have to admit that mine came from prooftexts, snippets, and an anti-televangelism pre-disposition.  And simply, it's nurtured by envy.  We know what the psalmist says about that.

Joel is not careful with the words he uses to describe prosperity.  And people with envy in their hearts are quick to pounce on him because he has money but more so, he has people.  It’s easier to critique him as a charlatan and be envious of him for what appears to be temporal success.

He’s a decent teacher and story teller.  I don’t think that he could have built Lakewood from the ground up as his father did, but he has had the right gifts to bring God's congregation where it is today.  God has given Joel the pastorate of Lakewood Church, perhaps those of us who have been critical of Joel should wrestle with God over our envy for his generosity to Joel.  Matthew 20:1-16

And guess what?  Unlike Jim Bakker or Jimmy Swaggart, there’s been no scandal that Joel has slept around or embezzled money.  His critics only accuse him of soft selling the gospel for profit.  Will they still hear "Prosperity Gospel?"  Probably.  Today he talked about sin, repentance, Jesus dying for us, and the promises God has for his children.  There was nothing said in worship today that I wouldn’t have said except perhaps in a different way.

Would I go back?  If I wasn’t committed to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, if sacramental ministry and liturgy were offered, yeah. I’d go back.

As is the case with most non-liturgical churches they don’t read a lot of scripture in worship.  That’s relegated to private devotion and bible study.  There was no indication of the Lord’s Supper; but much was offered regarding baptism.

I followed up today (Monday) with a phone call to the church office.  Communion is offered prior to worship in the New Beginnings room every Sunday. I really would have liked to have known this. Also, funerals are held in the “Chapel” on level 3.  

 *architect…by education not licensed

** This is my Bible. I am what it says I am. I can do what it says I can do. Today, I will be taught the Word of God. I boldly confess: My mind is alert, My heart is receptive. I will never be the same. I am about to receive The incorruptible, indestructible, Ever-living seed of the Word of God. I will never be the same . Never, never, never. I will never be the same. In Jesus name. Amen.
(this is the confession prior to Joel's sermon.)

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.