15 July 2016

The Better Part

Readings Here :-)

What is the better part?

I sat in the fading sunlight yesterday.  To the West, the glowing remnants of a day that had been given its best, even in the 103 degree weather.  To the East, a darkening sky that seemed ominous and full of terror.  To look around the sky, there was a contrast between the radiant warm colors of the setting sun and the cold dark clouds of the oncoming storm.  And then,  the lightning!  At first it was one bolt that struck with the focus of a college professor with his red pen in hand!  Sharp and fast, it struck and then it was gone, but the witness of its presence remained.  After that first lightning bolt, there were plenty more and while my initial instinct was to run and shelter, I stayed put and in awe as the weather put on this glorious production.  The Heavens were telling the Glory of God and I was privileged to be a spectator, admiring such beauty.
For many years, I did not like Mary, she seemed lazy and careless to me. She had clearly skirted all her responsibilities and left her sister Martha to do the work and to make matters worse, when Martha mentions her sister's lack of assistance, it is she, Martha, and not Mary who gets a Jesus reprimand.  The "big brother" in me always cringed at poor Martha.  I always imagined her to storm off and then do the rest of her work in a huff, like I would have.  So this is the part where I wish I could say that I am no longer like Martha.  This is the part where I would triumphantly announce that I am more like Mary and so much attune to the voice of the Master...  yeah, right.  If only! In actuality, however, there is an important lesson to be gleaned from this story.  In reality, the story calls us to never be afraid to sit at the feet of the Master and listen.  It is a pleasant reminder that no matter what, we are invited to approach Christ and sit with Him in Love.  But the flip side of the story is that Martha is not completely wrong either.  Sure, she's told that Mary is right, but notice also that she isn't ever told that she is wrong.  I believe this is because the Love of God calls us to listen and act.  Or if you prefer, to put it in the words of St. Benedict "ora et labora."  It is in this exchange of listening and acting that we encounter Christ in a very different manner.  You see, it is easy to say "I'll keep you in my prayers."  It is much more difficult to then become those prayers, to en-flesh what we proclaim, but this is exactly what our Christian call to evangelize is.  It is a becoming recharged and renewed int he Love of God so that we can in turn share that love, or become that love for others.  A relationship with God is always good, but if that relationship only stays within the confines of my heart, then there is something seriously lacking.  Now don't get me wrong, this doesn't mean that I get to be a holy jerk to other people, especially those I perceive as bad.  As I have come to know God's love more and more, I have come to realize that sharing God's love does not have to take the militant form of evangelization that has so prevailed in our times.  Instead, evangelization is a partaking in the present time, the hear and now and being available to what the Spirit may be doing.  In many ways, it is about being like Mary and then Martha or Martha and then Mary.  it is about being able to stand in awe of the Divine and then share, not because the Divine forces us to, but because we can't help but share the good we have just encountered.  it is standing in the middle of the storm and allowing yourself to be immersed in the wind, the rain, the light and the darknes and then sharing the experience with others.  The love of God is not exclusive to one group or one person, but there can be no doubt that each of us, in our own unique manner, have the grace to encounter that love in radically different ways.  As I sit and reflect on this amazing love, I also hope that each one of you has that experience which inspires you to share.  If nothing else, sit and enjoy and then go and do.  As always, know that you are beautiful and you are loved.  God bless you.  Fr. Rick

10 July 2016

That person on the side of the road.

Gospel of the Good Samaritan

The Gospel of the Good Samaritan has never hit me as strongly as it did this week.  It's not that I'm on some pietistic kick, or that I was particularly struck by my prayer this week, instead, this Gospel passage struck me because in a seeming barrage of videos and news clips, I saw that trampled man in the faces of so many this week.  Yes, it's easy to say that the man by the side of the road was those killed by cops, or the cops killed in Dallas, but that's not exactly what struck me.  What hit me the most was seeing how so many of us were so readily able to justify the killings or at least make up a good excuse for them.  In one social media quote, I read how one person posted the criminal record of one of the murder victims, as if that justified the killing.  Others wrote about the good deeds that these men had done in their lives and hailed them as heroes, or perhaps, modern-day Saints.  Either way, yes, these things were there, and yes, they demand some profound reflection from each of us, but that's not where I saw the man fallen by the wayside.  Instead, it struck me to see the priest and the scholar of the law in me!  And truth be told, all too often, those men who ran away from the injured man, are often each of us.  I saw him in those who post their anger against Muslims, without knowing a single Muslim.  Or those who discriminate against Latinos, Gays, Blacks or anyone else who doesn't look like them, without really knowing any.  I saw the man fallen by the wayside, to be each of us when we are left without recourse to a fair reception in the public sphere, or each of us when we find ourselves judged before even uttering one word.  I also see each of us becoming the priest or the scholar when we choose to actively avoid anything or anyone who is not like us, or who is different.  This passage isn't about serving our neighbor when it suits us, it is about going beyond our comfort zones and serving those in need.  Furthermore, this passage isn't about serving a Jew, a Muslim, a Gay, a Latino, a Black, a Cop or any other title, it is about serving our brother and sister, a fellow HUMAN BEING!  That is what struck me in a very particular manner this week, it's not about the service of a Samaritan to a fallen Jew, but about the care that one human being offers another.  This then brought me to question myself, what are those things within my own worldview that prevent me from truly being able to serve?  What lenses have I put on that influence the way I am with others, especially when that "other" calls me beyond my area of expertise?  The Gospel passage today is radical, not because it shows the image of one person serving unconditionally, but because it shows one person serving without consideration of who or what the person in need is.  In my own journey to serve God, and to the face of Christ in the world today, I believe that this passage calls me to go and be love to all the world, yes, even those who don't believe, not because I hope to convert them, but because I have known Love.  We have each experienced Love, my hope is that we can then go and love others and share with them, not because they are this or that, but because they are our fellow human being.  As always, know that you are beautiful and you are loved.  God bless you.  Fr. Rick

08 July 2016

An Epistle of Our Times

Peace and God's blessings to you my dear one, beloved in God's eyes!  The night has been long, and death has been rampant.  There are tears on the faces of many people and fear in the hearts of even more.  Anger seems to have gained an upper hand and faith seems to be something quickly fading away.  As we have heard before, be not afraid!  Life is here and God is with us.  Our dignity as God's beloved children may appear to have been stripped away from us as we encounter so much violence and death, but in Love, we are brought to a new state in life.  Yes, there is pain and yes, there is doubt, but be not afraid.  Christ is with us and nothing can change that truth.  The tomb, yes, the tomb and the tombs of our daily existence have been made obsolete and we are called into life.  Be not afraid, for the shadows we see today are but a mole hill and not a mountain.  That tomb has been vanquished and in Him we have become a new creation, a new child, beloved and good.  Yes, sin still prevails and yes, sin has caused great pain, but sin is not our way of life, Christ is and in Him we shall find the light no matter how dark things may seem.  Be not afraid, we have been told, and today, even as I feel the inkling of running away, I have to root myself to the One in whom there is no fear, in whom there is no death, in whom I am made whole.  Be not afraid, we are one and together, in love, change will be made.  Be not afraid for you are beautiful.  Be not afraid for you are loved.  Be not afraid.  Take my hand and together we shall walk into the light, with Him, in whom there is no fear.

07 July 2016

Blue? Black? All? no, Your life matters!

All day I've been thinking about the tragic police shootings that have taken place this week.  It's difficult to believe that only two day ago, a man was shot and killed and that video was posted all over social media.  This morning, as I got my morning fix of NPR, I could not believe that there had been another gruesome murder, and once again, a video posted onto social media.  At first reaction, I wanted to place blame, I looked at the seemingly ostentatious teeth of Alton Sterling and the seemingly callous comportment of Philando Castile's girlfriend and associated the worst of my own prejudices onto the situation.  Furthermore, my energy went toward the police as I think of what they must be going through and what their world must be like, especially now, with so much aggression.  That took me onto a tangent that has been brewing in my brain since early today.  Why all this aggression?  Where has it come from and what can I do about it?  As I mentioned, upon hearing about these two men's deaths, my instinctual reaction as a goody two-shoes and as a person of my own upbringing, I wanted to blame the guilty and exonerate the innocent.  During my prayer, though, something happened.  For the first time, I realized that the guilty were not the dead men.  Nor were the innocent the officers.  In actuality, there is no innocent and the guilty are guilty for reasons other than their rap sheets or their trigger finger.  Even as I type, I am trying to grapple with the reality that our world has become so familiar with death and violence.  As a minister, I am challenged by the call of Christ to love, the service of Jesus which was to heal and the movements of the Holy Spirit who calmed the chaos at creation.  As I reflect on the violence that has taken place, I am shaken to recognize the violence within me and how that is triggered by the shiny gold teeth in Alton's smile, or the shiny gold badge on the officers.  As I think about this, I am forced to discern on what it means to be a child of God, and not just as a lip service to the God's of Facebook, but as a true believer in the One who calls me to be a part of His body, the One I see in my brothers and sisters.  It scares me, but the aggression I feel is not of God, nor is the anger that naturally rises within me as I read or hear about another black man's death.  This isn't just a reality of black men being killed, instead, it is a deeply rooted growth that has taken over our country, not this Christian nation that so many want to shout about, but this country, a land created for all.  A land where I am able to celebrate who I am and live freely.  Our agression and fear have driven us to see each other not as sisters and brothers, but as a nuisance at best and a threat at worst.  We have become a society where we turn to our man-made god's and look for solace, often finding death instead.  So all that being said, what does it mean for me to be a Christian?  What does it mean to love? and how am I to respond to what has happened.  First of all, no, I cannot go seeking revenge.  Violence begets violence, no matter what.  Secondly, as Christ calls me to love, how am I to do so in today's world?  and how am I to do so as a person of non-violence?  Finally, in love, how am I to be reconciliation, both within and beyond me?  Ultimately, this begins with me.  It begins with each of us.  It means recognizing those things within us that bristle when brought into the light and moving away from that which is not of God.  It means recognizing that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear, and it means going into the darkness with the full knowledge that within me, the light is.
A better tomorrow is not about perfection or Saintliness, it is about an authentic living out my life and celebrating others as they live theirs.  It is about moving into tomorrow, not in toleration of others, but in an understanding that makes all of us stronger!  I do not have all the answers, but as I reflect, I recognize and beg forgiveness (of the victims, their families and so many others) for those things that I have harbored that have filtered the way I looked at these events in the past.  Today, I know what it means to say "Black lives matter."  But I would stretch it beyond that, no, I don't intend to cheapen it by saying that all lives matter, instead, I will offer a remind to myself (if not for anyone else) that by saying "Black Lives Matter," I am reaffirming my belief in the Body of Christ, because insofar as the families of these black individuals hurt today, Christ hurts.  Christ matters, and Christ is in that car, in that parking lot, in that park, and in that hoodie.  I can no longer defend the supposed innocent, for I have seen in myself the ease of placing blame.  I am for Christ, and Christ is bloody and dead, and that matters!  As always, I love you, you are beautiful.  Fr. Rick

18 May 2016

Spiritual, but not religious...

As you may all know, my spiritual journey has been quite eventful in the past few years.  I've faced challenges like I would have not imagined coming from the RC church, I've been introduced to new ways of knowing God, I've dabbled and considered joining the Episcopal Church, and I've been welcomed into an amazing church that is the Old Catholic Church.  Although I can't say that some of these events were easy, I can now look back upon some of them and reflect on what it means to 1. be a person of faith in the modern age, and 2. be a person who has been disenfranchised by the religion of one's upbringing.  To some extent, REM's song "Losing my Religion" comes to mind.  That's me in the corner...  just losing my religion.  Yes, yes, it may seem a bit of a stretch, but these experiences have brought me to a place where I can better understand those who are spiritual, but not religious.  (Warning: This is more of a self-reflective blog, so if you choose not to continue reading, I can't blame you.)  If you've chosen to stay with me, welcome aboard!
The reason for this blog is primarily to sort through some of my own thoughts on being a so-called "Millenial" and being a person who has seen the best and the worst of religion.  As I sat and thought back on the years of roller coasters that I've experienced, I was taken aback at a certain point when in some exasperation, I sighed heavily and thought for the first time in my life "I'm spiritual, but not religious..."  I must admit, the thought was a random and thoughtless expression of the situation I had just encountered, but as I thought about it some more, I felt that this thought had to be explored a bit further especially since its not completely true, but also not completely untrue.  As I mentioned before, this blog is about being a person of faith today, tomorrow and into the future.
So what does it mean to be a person of faith?  If you look on Facebook, it means clicking "Like" on some cheesy image of Jesus, or perhaps sharing your opinion of what "the Bible says" or some other mindless expression of faith.  Outside of Facebook, it can mean living a life that is holy and good, but even that is vague and easily manipulated into what the church or my particular social group expects of me.  What does it mean to be a person of faith today.  What does it mean for me?   To be honest, for a long time, I don't believe I could have answered that question.  Add to that the fact that I have never doubted my call to service in ministry, and you have a whopper of a dilemma.  But in reality, being a person of faith today, means living a life that is authentic and honest.  A life that leads to being true to oneself even as we encounter God on a daily basis and carry the Gospels more and more profoundly in our hearts.  All too often, I have encountered and have seen within me, the notion of being a pietistic saint.  A holy version of myself, all polished up and ready to show the world.  Those notions of piety and holy are nice for statues and art, but don't serve the Gospel well.  The instead hinder my growth and make a mockery of the very mission we have as Baptized Christians, primarily to evangelize.  A shiny and holy saint looks good at church, but it is an authentic witness that makes the difference.  If one truly looks at the Saints throughout history, one will find that these men and women were people who grappled with their own struggles, recognized their need for Christ and accepted God's love as a redeeming force of transformation.  I too am in constant need of this redeeming love, and I would venture to say that many of us are.  That is what makes good witnesses though, and eventually Saints.
2.  Welcome, but not really.  The other element of my journey has been to belong but not.  This was and is primarily true with the Roman Catholic Church.  In their final letter from the Vatican, I was addressed as Father Rick, but was told that should I choose to return, I would only ever be able to serve as a Brother.  Today, I continue to minister as a priest in the Old Catholic Church, and this has been a blessing.  Thankfully, my journey has only shown a future full of hope and newness as I explore God's love in the Old Catholic Church.  This aside, however, I cannot help but understand the countless people who so often feel welcome but not, or worse, kicked out of their own parish or religion.  For some, the distance was created by a church unwavering in their harmful and almost hateful ideas and ideologies, for others, a natural growth has taken place that has lead them away from the religion they were brought up in.  Still others, religion has proven to be a hindrance to authentic growth and true human life.  To some extent, all of these are true, but what do these things mean for me as a minister?  First of all, I believe that they call me to my own authenticity, first as a human being, then as a priest.  Secondly, I believe they sit as a challenge to constantly renew my church and my way of serving.  This does not mean change the liturgy, it means be willing to go beyond my comfort zones to those places that are often considered off limits.  I recently read an article of a group of pastor's wives that ministered to strippers at a strip club, they shared a meal with them and then provided them with toiletries and other necessities.  The author of the article spoke of her realization of the fact that these women weren't monsters to be avoided, but the fertile ground of which Jesus spoke.  As a church, and as a priest in the church, I am called upon to name the uncharted waters of religion and to go to them.  I am called upon to listen to my flock and to minister to them as they need ministering, not as I think.  overall, I am called to live authentically as a human being and to love as Christ has loved, not because I have to, but because I cannot help but share God's amazing love with others, whoever they may be.
Today's church is full of potential, and instead of avoiding those areas of growth that the Spirit leads us into, I am called upon to recognize the challenges and to accept them.  This doesn't mean that I'll be successful 100% of the time, but no Saint ever was, but they were faithful.  My sincere hope and prayer is that in my own life, I can be a sincere witness of God's love, and that in whatever way, that I can be a catalyst for someone else as they live out their life in an authentic manner.  Together, the difference will be visible, even if it doesn't seem possible all at once.  We aren't called to be perfect, but we are called to live our life to it's fullest, and as we are reminded by St. Irinieus, "the glory of God, is humanity fully alive!"  Be alive, be blessed because you are beautiful and you are loved  Fr. Rick

22 April 2016

Love One Another. Maybe.

By Our Love

Jesus, Friend of Sinners

The message this week is quite simple, yes, even as it is taken from the COMPLICATED and sometimes CONFUSING Gospel of John, the message is simple...  "Love one another."  (Don't believe me?  Look here.)  That's it.  Blog over.  Have a good day.

Yeah right, if only it was this easy!  The Gospel passage for this fifth Sunday of Easter is far more complex than just a simple "love one another."  I don't mean to say that the phrase isn't found in the Scripture, it is very much in the Scripture, but it isn't what it seems.  First of all, the call to love one another is a constant reminder of the life we are called to live as Christians,  a life that is both challenging and rewarding.  This call to love is also an invitation to participate in an authentic way, in the life of Christ.  As Christians, mediocrity is not an option.  We are called to love, and we are called to find life in love.  For us Christians, however, the hangup comes when we believe ourselves on a different track of being Christian.  All too often, it is easier to fall into the habit of living a life of checklists.  For example, we may believe that we are living a good Christian life because we have all our Sacraments and are submitting our own children to the same.  Or we may think ourselves saintly because we have a choice charity that we often support.  Or maybe, just maybe, we think ourselves beyond reproach because  of all the Girl Scout Cookies we purchased this year.  Whatever our checklist may contain, it can be too easy to convince ourselves that we are good, and while these actions don't necessarily exclude us from being considered good, there is something far more profound that Christ calls us to when He calls us to "love one another."
In some regard, the call to love is seen in the making of the Eucharistic bread.  It takes elements from different realities which are in turn combined to make this bread.  Too much of one thing, or too little of another, and the bread won't be right.  The same can be applied to our lives.  Too much focus on one area of our Christian journey, and not enough on another, can leave us wanting more.  All this being said, it is important to remember that Christ's call to love is one that transcends my comfort zones and leads me to a love that is given freely and without reserve to others.  A love that in turn gives me life and a love that is born out of Love Himself, Christ.  This then takes me to one of the many challenging aspects of loving as Christ did, and that would be prayer.  How do I pray?  When do I pray?  Do I pray?  How is it that I build up my relationship with God, and how is it that my knowing God's love, inspires my own loving?  This question is one that must be asked on a daily basis, and one that must be considered constantly.  How am I to love as Christ, if the only experience I have of Him is once a week on Sunday?
This call to love, however, also calls us beyond the security blankets that our different churches can so easily offer us.  Instead of seeing another Church, or a member of another Church as an enemy or a potential member of my church, what would it look like to extend a hand of welcome and love in celebration of our diversity?  what would it look like to see the other as Brother or Sister instead of "one of those people?"  Instead of waging wars against each other as different Christian denominations, what would it look like to love?
I was once told by a priest professor that I was "too saccharine"  falsely sweet, and while this may seem true, I refuse to believe that as a Christian, I have to live isolated from anyone not like me.  Christ doesn't call us to be friends with everybody, Christ calls us to love, and love is made real in many different ways, even when I may not like someone.
For now, I believe I have ranted far too long.  Thank you for persevering through this blog, and as always, know that you are beautiful and you are loved.  God bless you.  Fr. Rick

08 April 2016

Do you love me? I suppose i do.

Fiddler on the Roof "Do you love me"

Readings Here

Good ol' Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof asked a most compelling question...  "Do you love me?"  He asks his wife, Golde, and after some deliberation, she responds, "For 25 years, I've washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked your cow...  after 25 years, why ask now?"

I've always liked Golde's response because it resonates with the way I express my love.  Yes, it can be clumsy at times, and to the untrained eye it can appear as nothing more than actions meant to appease, but at the root of everything, there is love.
In the Gospel on this Third Sunday in Easter, we see the Risen Christ approach Peter.  After they had eaten, Christ asks Peter "Do you love me more than these?"  Peter responds with a "Duh!"  But then Christ asks again, and again.  Finally, more than  a little worried, Peter responds with a beautiful proclamation of faith.  "You know that I love you." he says.  For the Peter, it is obvious that he loves Christ, but just a few passages earlier, we read how Peter had denied Jesus three times.  Upon recalling Peter's denial, the question that Christ poses to Peter then takes on a different meaning.  But what does it mean to love?  And what is it that the Risen Christ calls us to in our every day lives?
Especially in today's politically charged environment, it seems that to love is to fall in line with one or another agenda, party, ideal or whatever.  This is easy and quite frankly, something that I find myself doing on a regular basis.  This comfort even means that Christ is put into a compartment that is one more piece of the puzzle that is my daily life.  The questions Christ asked Peter, however, have a more profound root than anything we may be aware of.  In the Gospel, Jesus the Christ, was asking Peter to a more profound level of love, one in which Peter's denial would then become impossible.  From His first question, Christ invites Peter to reflect on the answer in a manner that is worthy of the Christ, Peter, however, impetuous as ever, responds with an answer that is quick and obviously prepared.  Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."  Almost like Golde's response, Peter's is easy and immediately given.  Yes, I love you.  But that is not what Christ asks.  Christ is calling Peter to a profession of love that is rooted in the deep reality of God's love, a profession of love that cannot be easily swayed or pushed aside.  "Do you love me?" is a question that is born of God made man, it is a declaration of who He is and an invitation to accept Him, not only in the now, but in the deepest parts of our heart.  Much like Jesus being born in that manger, Christ is asking us to accept His love once again, but this time, He calls us to more!  The love that Christ shares with us is  a love that challenges us and makes us more who we are meant to be.  It is a love that compels us to love and to live in that love.  Christs' love is one that brings us to the limits of our comfort and pushes us just a bit more.  It is a love that carries us in the difficult moments and rejoices in the moments of light.  The question Christ is asking is not so much one that can be answered with a simple "yes."  Instead, the question Christ asks is one that can be answered in the model of Golde: "Do I love you?  I serve you in others and feed your sheep, I comfort the widow and welcome the stranger.  I give my life and follow you near.  Of course I love you!" This response is not one born out of a fear to serve, but rather, a service born of the love we have known.  Do I love you? Our yes is lived out in our ministry, our life, and in the way we love.  We may not all sing this out loud, but let our living be proclamation enough of the Love we have known, Christ the Risen one, our life, our light, our LOVE!

As always, know that you are loved and your are beautiful.  Be blessed.  Fr. Rick