01 July 2014

You are beautiful, and you are loved!

This past week, I disappeared.  (Or maybe those around me wish I had) Either way, this past week I was privileged enough to serve a Youth Sing Praise (http://youthsingpraise.com/), a week long retreat during which young men and women come together to share their musical abilities and talents while also participating in a prayerful experience of God's love.  It is an intense time in which there is little sleep, much music and all sorts of other things.  As for me, I had the happy chance of serving as a facilitator.  What this meant was that I sat with a group of teens entrusted to me, and walked with them throughout the week.  There were five groups and each takes the shape of the teens in the group.  Since I was a last minute substitute, I was very nervous and worried, I feared I would be boring and cool.  At least that's what I thought.  Now I need to preface the following statement by saying that I don't often cry, and especially not in front of people.  This being said, YSP is a time in which a large group of teens arrive and share their gifts.  Dance, song, music, and so much more.  Each offers what he or she can and each becomes vulnerable to the other as together we celebrate these unique gifts in the love of God.  This closeness to God is what struck a chord with me this year, almost out of the nowhere, I was touched by the powerful witness that so many of the youth lived.  From the Helpers Team who generously gave their time to work behind the scenes, to the theatrical team who help shape the show like a sculptor chipping away at marble.  The most powerful witness came from the teens.  From the very beginning, I heard from them words that spoke of love and acceptance, they shared their struggles, yes, but also the wonders of God's love that they had clearly experienced.  Out of a moment of toil and tribulation, some youth spoke of the love of God, and it wasn't only something they had heard from an adult, but something they shared from their own heart.  I often sat in awe of the words of these youth, and yes, even sat in tears as I heard them speak of God's love, a love which they had each experienced and which had been reinforced at YSP.  To hear them, I was reminded of the truth of God's love, a love that sees beyond the wounds and the sorrow, and a love that calls us into life, not a perfect life, but a life where we each find our voice, where we come into tune with who God is calling us to be, a life where we learn to sway with each new moment and ultimately, a life where our very song becomes a witness to the glory of God at work here and now.  The tears came, because as I sat in silence and prayer, I was reminded that no matter what, I, you, and all of us, are beautiful and loved no matter what.  And just as Judas and Mary Magdalene sing in Jesus Christ Superstar, "I don't know how to love Him."  we are reminded that we need not worry, because love will ultimately help us find the way of loving that in turn brings life, and it will be good.  And while the week may be over, and the set torn down, the call to evangelize continues, because when one has known the love of God, one must in turn proclaim that love to other, and that I will certainly try to do.   For now, and as always, know that I love you.  RL.  And by the way, your face!

30 May 2014

Magnificently Maleficent!

For those familiar with my ramblings, I’m sure you could probably say that the major theme of my entries is LOVE.  Whether or not I am able to articulate the accurate thought, love is at the core of what I write, and preach, and attempt to live.  This being said, I just watched the movie Maleficent, and it was not what I had expected.  (POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD)  Without giving too much away, the movie got me thinking on what love means for me in my life, and how Love calls me to live.  The way in which love is portrayed in the movie made me think about a Facebook discussion in which I clumsily stuck my nose.  The article was just a brief note which made mention of a Dallas TV cohost that got upset and stormed off of the set of her show.  The reason for her leaving had to do with the fact that somebody mentioned how there had been several professional and non-professional players who had been reprimanded for having had negative comments about Michael Sam.  As the host walked off the set, she made mention of going to Midland.  Quite honestly, I don’t really know what this meant, and it isn’t really important for the sake of this blog.  What did become difficult for me, is that of all the comments for and against the host, one person (and there’s always at least one) began to ramble off Bible passages which are so easily used to condemn homosexuality.  Whatever.  As Jesus says, even the devil knows his scripture.  What is important (and this is where the movie comes in, I think) is what is at the root of everything the Bible says, and ultimately, what Jesus LIVED!  You see, it is all too easy to hide behind scripture as we hurl insults or condemnation at others, especially those we don’t “agree” with.  The greater challenge comes when we have to reach out to our brother or sister and love them.  I say this because Jesus Himself didn’t check credentials or labels.  He didn’t ask the leper whether or not he was a child of Abraham, instead, he approached the leper and made him clean.  The leper, the one who had become worse than death, was reintegrated and brought before God and man in a moment of mercy and love.  In a similar way, I don’t recall reading where Jesus asks the woman caught in adultery whether or not she was Jewish or Him stopping to tell her that He loved her but hated her sin.  Instead, he goes to her, and saves her, and not just spiritually.  There are many, many instances in which love transcends titles and status, and that is where Maleficent comes to mind.  Because just when I thought I knew how the movie would turn out, it happened that I was surprised and moved by the image of love doing exactly what I didn’t expect.  This love (in Disney’s own way) reaches beyond the norms of what we say it should do, and does that which is seemingly impossible.  And isn’t that what we as Christians believe, that LOVE does the impossible.  I mean come on, we profess that Love takes on flesh, Love walks among us, Love teaches us, Love reaches out to us, Loves dies for us, and just when we think that the end credits are about to appear, Love makes us realize that He cannot be contained, Jesus even reached beyond death and LOVES!  And so, in a similar way, I am challenged by Maleficent because of the witness she shows me.  Love will surprise us!  So there it is, Love is calling each and every one of us to look beyond the label, and to see through Love’s eyes, not into the eyes of the leper, the woman caught in adultery, the gay or the outcast, but into the eyes of one redeemed by Love, one whose life is just as beautiful as my own.  One upon whom God smiles and cries out “My beloved!”  It isn’t always easy, but it’s a call that we must heed, for as we come together in communion, we come before Him who is Love, and who touches us, just as the woman with the hemorrhage and so many others.  Loving is sometimes difficult, but it will make all the difference.  So I pray that I may be an image of Love (as clumsy as I may be).  As always, know that I love you.  RL

22 May 2014

How can we know the way?

As I read the Gospel passage for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/051814.cfm)  (John 14:1-12), there were many things that went through my mind.  First of all, this is the Gospel that was read at my dad’s funeral.  It spoke greatly to me and reminded me of the peace that Christ brings to all of us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” is both a challenge and a consolation, especially at a moment of great pain such as it was at my dad’s funeral.  This same passage was also one that I often recommended for other funerals, and one that strikes me differently every time.  Secondly, this passage is one in which poor Thomas seems to have caught Peter’s disease (open mouth, insert foot).  This seems to be the case, but Thomas is challenging Jesus to something more, Thomas is asking for a proof unlike any other, maybe the question could be like that of a child asking a parent “do you love me?”  Jesus immediately responds by saying “YES!”  And this is where all would seem to be well, but then Phillip has the same illness.  “Lord” he says “just show us the Father.”  But this is where we get tripped up as human beings, or maybe, this is where I get tripped up.  It seems almost too simplistic to believe that Jesus is showing us a glimpse of the Father, or that in His love we find the way, the truth and the life.  For some reason, maybe because of our sin, we can’t believe this deal.  It’s too good to be true, and we treat it as such.  But stop for a minute, and listen to the words of Christ, or stop and think back to the radical actions of Christ, or for that matter, think to a favorite Saint or holy person, and think about what makes them stand out.  Very often, it was the simple matter in which they personified love.  Whether it was through the self-offering of a martyr, or the giving of self of a mystic, each and every one of them gave out of a profound awareness of love,  they knew the Way, the Truth, and the Life, not because they had read it in the Scriptures, but because they had known Him in their daily lives.  This is the challenge we face today, also, to live out love in a way that is reflective of the Love He has given us.  But this is also where we get tripped up.  Often, we look at another (perhaps someone we disagree with) and think “I love that person, but don’t like them.”  Or we look at a person and think that by our loving them, we will change them.  NO!  This is not to be, because even in His own love, Christ never loved as a method of change, instead, love was the factor that brought about such radical newness that change happened through the exchange of love that was had.  Now, I’ve confused myself here, and I’ll try to unravel what I mean.  Quite simply (or not), I mean that to love is what we are called.  No matter who we are, or what faith (or lack thereof) we profess, we are called to love.  This seems simple, but in truth, when we love (even as clumsily as we may) we bring about a change in the world that then radiates to others, and they in turn are affected by this love and nothing is ever the same.  This love, however, the love of Christ, is one that we must not pretend to guard.  This is often the case, we fool ourselves into believing that we love this or that person, but in actuality, if we scratch away the surface, we find that instead of loving, we were merely “tolerating,” and toleration can lead us toward a complacency that then moves into mediocrity.  Yes, I am being harsh, but that is what Jesus is trying to do in this passage, He is trying (as He does over and over) to shake the Apostles and disciples out of their stupor of toleration and into an authentic and radical love, a love that provides the answers, a love that shows the way, a love from which life flows, and a love that is true and courageous.  Now I understand that this is a lot for just one person to achieve, but that is precisely where prayer comes in, we don’t just sit and pray, we must be attuned to the voice of God and to Love as He makes his move in our lives.  As we do that, we will come to know God in a different way, and instead of measuring out our love, we too will become Saints.  We will be those holy men and women who loved.  This is a challenge, but this is where we are called to dwell, a place where we each have a space that has been lovingly prepared, a place where our hearts are not troubled, because our hearts are not tied down to the limitation we so easily impose.  It isn’t easy, but it is possible, and as long as I live, I will strive to love, and in love, I will know the Way.  As always, know that I love you.  RL

12 May 2014

Are you a thief?

A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy;
I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)

I recently attended a church service that started out like any other.  During the collection, however, there was something different.  A young lady, wearing a hoodie, and a backpack, simply dressed and somewhat too casual, came up to the ambo and asked to share a "witness."  The presider allowed her the microphone and as everyone looked up to listen to this mysterious person, she began to speak.  Quietly and slowly at first, she slowly gained her courage and began to share about God's love.  The sermon had just been about the Shepherd who calls His sheep in love, and how in that love, the sheep find their place of refuge.  The preacher reminded the congregation that Christ calls each and everyone of us in love, and that Love sends us forth to a radical hospitality that breaks beyond the labels and boundaries that we tend to put up so easily.  Perhaps it was in that same spirit of radical hospitality that the microphone was so easily handed to this young woman.  Her voice picked up and she continued sharing her experience of God's love, and something in her words reminded us all of the words of the Shepherd.  She knew Him, just as we knew Him, and this was reflected in the way she spoke of the One who had called out to her.  But this is where the connection between she and I ended, because after her beautiful elocution on the Shepherd and His Love, she turned and spoke of His condemnation.  Within a matter of seconds, the beauty that this sheep had expressed in speaking of the Shepherd, was turned into an ugliness that no black sheep contains.  In just a few thoughts, the Shepherd's love was turned and mis-formed to become a hammer of hate and ignorance.  Just like that, the young woman who had spoken of the Shepherd, jumped the fence and followed the thief,  in no time at all, the love which had been expressed became a fleeting memory to which many attempted to cling, finding it difficult to believe the hate with which this person spoke, some of us stood in silence, others reacted negatively to the thief among us, and yet others, accustomed to these attacks, took their seat and prepared for the next part of the celebration.  Myself, I felt nothing but love for this young woman, but sadness too, and I was reminded of the times when I so easily had taken the name of the Shepherd to withhold His Love to others.  I was immediately reminded of the aggression which I had felt at times toward those different from me, the disgust I had experienced at seeing something different from what I was used to, or told that "we" believe.  At that moment, it became clear to me that as a follower of the Shepherd, I am not immune to the very human tendencies to use those things greater than I to justify myself.  The feeling of using Christ as a mask to make myself feel better for the things I do, for my self-righteousness.  As I approached Communion that day, I was humbled at the fact that the Shepherd comes to me each and every day, and that He calls out to me,  in Love, even when I am being difficult.  This event also started the wheels spinning in my head.   How many times have I become that thief to others?  Although I would like to answer this question immediately, I don't believe it needs an instant answer, instead, the question becomes an extension of Communion because at receiving the Bread of Life, I am then called to be a witness of the Love that has come to me!  As a person who participates in the intimate reception of Christ, I can no longer be satisfied with being who I was before, I can no longer be that thief, I must be love in the world, because Love has come to me.  And so, the moment of tension and confusion that was brought about by a hooded person, became a moment of reflection and grace, because the Shepherd has called me in love, and I know His voice.  Can you hear Him?  

As always, know that I love you.  RL

20 April 2014

Be still, and know that I am God.

There’s a Garth Brooks song that has been rattling in my head throughout most of Lent.  The song is Belleau Wood, and it recalls a Christmas truce that took place spontaneously on Christmas Eve 1914, in the fierce trenches of World War I.  The event came to be known as the Christmas Truce, and stood as a poignant reminder of our humanity as soldiers of all sides joined in singing Silent Night. 
In the song by Garth Brooks, there is a line that says “Heaven’s not beyond the clouds, it’s just beyond the fear.” Even when I first heard this song, as I zoomed down Front Street (in Midland) in my blue 1984 Z-28 Camaro, almost 17 years ago, I was struck by the profundity of those words: “Heaven is not beyond the clouds, it’s just beyond the fear.”  
Those same words came to mind early this Lent as I listened to a friend tell me about a very profound experience of resurrection that he had gone through with his son.  Listening to him, I was very impressed by how clearly he detailed this experience of Resurrection.  Then I was struck by the fact that all too often, the Resurrection is seen as a grandiose and distant example of God’s omnipotence, it is a moment of WHAM!, and a distant reality that took place a long, long, long time ago (like 20 years ago or something…)  And as I think about it, I can acquiesce that these thouhts are often true, but there is far more to the Resurrection than the resurrection.  Far from being an isolated incident a couple of millennia ago, the Resurrection is a truth which each and every one can glimpse at every moment of every day, a truth which is not revealed in someone’s Rising from the tomb, but through the love that we express, love rooted in Love.  This is where the song comes in, because while we hold the Incarnation, and the life, and the mission, death and resurrection of Christ as being historical events of long ago, they are realities that we can encounter on a daily basis, or to quote the song “Heaven’s not beyond the clouds, it’s just beyond the fear.” 
Ok, so by now, there may be some who are still trying to figure out what I’m talking about (I don’t blame you).  As I see it, in our faith journey it is sometimes too easy to find reasons for a diminishing relationship with Love.  Even the Scriptures tell us of Jesus’ having to wake up the Apostles on more than one occasion.  I can almost hear Peter (in a groggy and whiney voice) “but Master, it’s late and we’re tired… boo hoo.” 
These things happen, and when as we throw sin into the mix, we start to become those things that we are not.  We slowly start to dig our trenches deeper, and deeper, and we become complacent with being where we are or we believe what others may tell us about mercy and grace, and God’s wrath.  The trenches, however, is never where life happens.  Jesus the Christ showed us this by rising from his own trench, and calling us to RISE from ours.  From those mistakes, those fears, those sins that have held us down and blinded us to the gift of life that is freely given to you and me!  Again, Heaven’s not beyond the clouds, it’s just beyond the fear, and yes, that song about an incident that happened during one of the deadliest conflicts the world has ever seen, is appropriate, because ultimately, we are called by Love himself to stand up as dignified and beloved children of God (sometimes in a messy trench filled world) and join the chorus of voices which stand beyond the trenches and proclaim who we are in life, and in love!  You and I, each one of us, are called to recognize where have been, and to make amends if necessary, but then to get up and live! To live a life that proclaims to all exactly what it is that Love has done for us.  A life that proclaim that God not only took on flesh, but also has Risen from the dead A life that resounds with the truth that I have been made new, and my life has been given a worth that is far beyond any monetary price.  We are called upon to stop thinking of the Resurrection as an event of the past, to stop imaging what it must have been like and to live as children of the Resurrected with our entire heart, and mind and soul, and our being.  Just as those soldiers risked so much, and started singing a simple hymn, we are called upon to become a hymn of the Resurrection, because I have glimpsed it in my heart, and in my life.  Each one of us is implored to become who we are in Christ, no longer slaves, no longer servants, no longer people who imagine, or who dwell in the trenches, but people who live freely Love’s Resurrection.  We are to be the presence of Christ as we break the bread, and to be the healing peace as we reach out to others, we are to share with all, believer or not, a love that calls us beyond the trenches that divide us, and into a unity that is brought together in Love. 

The soldiers at Belleau Wood showed us this through their simple coming together in song, and my friend reminded me of this through his story, but Christ gives this to me through His resurrection, not something that happened yesterday, but a reality in which I am now!  He is Risen!  He is truly Risen, and I know His love!  Heaven is not beyond the clouds, it’s just beyond the fear, and Love, Christ, He has conquered fear!

05 March 2014

Ash Wednesday. Am I really Ready?

I was driving earlier this week and kept thinking of Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday.  I thought of all the different services that will take place, I thought of the prayer and reflection that will occur, and I hoped for myself, that I may be ready to begin this season.  But as I stop to think, I can't help but ask myself: "Ready for what?"  For a time of self sacrifice?  For a time of penance?  Or maybe for a time of growth?  Either way, the honest answer comes from a very human reaction.  I am not ready.  This isn't because I don't want to observe Lent, but because, quite frankly, I'm tired.  I'm exhausted (and not from partying too much!)  Of course it wouldn't kill me to give something up, and yes, sacrifice and penance are good for the soul, no matter what, but deep down inside, I'm just not ready, nor do I want to be ready, and perhaps this will be my greatest struggle throughout this Lenten journey.  Will I be willing to give my heart to God?  And in doing so, will I be willing to dispose myself to His will, as I once did so carelessly?  I don't know, and that is what scares me.  Will I fall into a trap of routine and dogma, of law and authority?  Or will I allow choose to accept myself in a manner different than how I was trained?  
As I think about this season, giving something up won't be the struggle, the real challenge will emerge from whether or not I allow myself to love, and to be loved.  This thought alone scares me, but maybe, that is where my Lenten time will lead.  Not in a chocolate deprived angst, but in a yearning that can only be satiated by something far greater than a simple loaf of bread, or can of Coke.  Someone Grander than I.  Either way, this Lent will be a season of purple meditation, a time of thoughtful prayer, and intentional walking, but maybe that is the purpose of all this, a time to call us back to a simpler way of being in which I, and all of us, will come to find that in each step, there is healing.  A healing which comes from the One who is far greater than bread, or power, or any empty promises to which I can so easily subscribe.  Ultimately, the journey will lead where I choose to allow.  I just hope, that as I go, I will know Light and grow to love Him again, as I once did.  Shalom. Know that you are loved and peace to you.  RL

24 February 2014

wetback. faggot. loser. one of those.

It’s been a while since I last wrote anything on my blog.  Perhaps I should keep it that way, but today, 24 February 2014, I read an article on the Huffington Post which speaks of a U.S. Senate candidate, Chris Mapp from Texas who stated that ranchers would be free to shoot “wetbacks” on sight.  The article then goes on to state that Mr. Mapp defends his comments by saying that it’s just the way people talk around here.  No, Mr. Mapp, we don’t.  And more importantly, we can’t.  These past few days, I feel as though I have been bullied again.  My Congregation sent me a letter reminding me of how childish I am.  They reminded me that they are under no obligation to care for me, and that in turn, I am the one obliged to obey them.  The letter also stated that I should really consider beginning the process of laicization (in which a priest goes back to being a lay person).  Again, No!  Maybe I’m being too sensitive, or maybe my vision is blinded by ignorance, but if there is anything that I have come to know more profoundly in the past few months, it is that in Christ, we are each call to love.  I know I’ve said this time and time again, but I don’t believe I can say it enough.  Ultimately, and especially as people of faith, we are called upon to love.  It is a love that makes us sensitive to the pain of others, it is a love that reminds me that words may not hurt, but the weight they carry can be a significant pain to have to live with.  Even now, and after receiving that letter, I was reminded of the hurt that bullies in the past placed on me.  Sure, they were just words, but what happens when one’s ignorance becomes a fierce weapon that inflicts unjust oppression on another.  Even last night, I received a phone call from a friend who told me that some brother priests of mine had labeled in a very negative way.  No matter what, the love that I receive in Christ is not a love that equips us with the armament of hatred and ignorance, but one which leads us to my brother or sister, to the fag, or the wetback, to the cracker or the leper, and invited me to extend a hand of love to them.  The beautiful thing is, that in doing so, instead of condemning and casting aside, we invite them to also extend their hand, and while we may not always see eye to eye, insofar as we are able to reach each other, we make a slight difference in this world.  In order to do this, however, we must recognize that no matter what position we are in, we cannot be judges or arbitrators of God’s love, it is freely outpoured upon all, and if for no other reason, that is why I must go to my brother or sister, because I have known great Love!  And no, I’m not perfect, but Love refines us, and in the end, we are made more who we are called to be, in love.  As always, know that I love you.  RL