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

24 March 2016

He is Risen!

Readings Here.

Last Wednesday, before the hustle and bustle of the Holy Week ceremonies and liturgies, some of us here at work experienced a chilling reality.  One of the guys who has been with the company for many years, and who has been a faithful, responsible and always on-time worker, didn't show up.  He didn't call in, he wasn't answering his phone and there seemed to be no signs of his presence at his trailer, which is on the property of our company.  After a little while, the director of employees began to be worried, and eventually, the decision was made to break into this employee's trailer home.  First, an outside window was removed, then another employee was helped in.  The main door to the trailer was unlocked and then three men approached the only room in the house that hadn't been checked.  After having to break the door down, sure enough, our employee was found in his bed, cold and still, but not dead.  He was unresponsive but clearly gasping for air or at least making some noise that resembled a gasp.  Within a few minutes, I called 911 and after what seemed like an eternity (less than 5 minutes), the ambulance and fire truck arrived.  Almost without having to go into the trailer, the fire team recognized a distinct smell of some type of gas.  As it turned out, the house was full of carbon monoxide, 363 parts per million (an evacuation is often ordered after 35 parts per million.)  Needless to say, the situation was serious and within a few minutes of arriving, our employee was rushed to the hospital where he would later be flown to Oklahoma City for more intense treatment.  To everyone who had seen him, and even to the emergency response team, this person was either close to death, or the future victim of sever brain damage.  Needless to say, we were all shaken up and saddened by this event, but life must go on, and we continued with our day.  We spoke in whispers of the fate that must surely await this person and sadly prepared for funerals and difficult moments ahead.  My brother saw the helicopter that was used to take this employee to OK City and all sorts of people tried to find out information on him, but more than anything, we all sat in the awkward knowledge that death was close at hand.  This was on Wednesday.

On Friday afternoon, after a full week of work and everything else, as I was driving home, I got a phone call.  Because of the caller, I was almost certain as to what the call would be about.  Our employee was dead.  With an ignorant resignation as to what I was about to hear, the voice on the other end was high pitched and surprised: "Guess who's coming back to work on Monday?"  Awestruck, I thought of mentioning anyone else's name but our employee, but it was clear that he was the subject of the call.  Sure enough, beyond everyone's understanding, he had made a full recovery, and while he still had some recuperation to go through, he was back as if nothing had ever happened.  He came to our office and thanked us for saving his life, and life as we know it went on.

Needless to say, this was an experience unlike anything I have ever lived, sure, I have seen miracles happen, and yes, I have seen the wonders of God at work, but this struck particularly close.  I had seen him, we all had seen him close to death, farther gone from this world than anyone of us cared to recognize, even the emergency response team.  We had all written him off as another casualty of life, and believed him to be nothing more now than a memory, but that was not to be, he is back and working as if nothing had ever happened.

Now I know this is not a resurrection moment, but there is something to be said about the miraculous event that took place.  Just when the tomb seemed a certain reality for this worker, he proved to be more resilient than anyone expected.  Just as we believed that he had become another part of our history, he made an impact by his return.  But what most impacted me, was the possibility that this man's recuperation was no coincidence.  First of all, he is a man of faith.  I first discovered this when I celebrated mass at his parish.  I remember being surprised by his devotion, but also pleasantly encouraged.  He had shown that his relationship with God was strong and while he himself was not perfect, he knew Christ and communed regularly with God.  Secondly, the fact that everyone had believed him to be beyond hope, and that he proved everyone wrong, has become a sign to me of God's love which surpasses all understanding.

And this all brings me to the Resurrection.  I wasn't there, but throughout my own life, I have witnessed glimpses of the Resurrection, primarily in those moments when God's love became obvious through the unexpected.  Just when I though I had it all figured out, or when I had thought that something was beyond hope, I realized the power of God's love as it is manifested in CHrist.  Almost as if to say "Nope, let me handle this,"  God has taken control of things where I was limited.  And that is what God does, just where we think we know the outcome of a situation, God is waiting to surprise us.  Just when we think that the tomb is sealed forever, we come to realize that in the love of God, there is life and that Life calls us from beyond the grave.  That is the most powerful thing for me, the fact that God's love reaches beyond our limits and inspires us to love!  I cannot say that I am perfect or perfectly attuned to what God is doing in my life, but that isn't necssary.  What is important is that we remain open to the movements of God's Spirit in our lives so that when we are faced with the grave, or a critically sick person, we too may know that life is just beyond, in Christ.  He is truly the Resurrection and the Life, and I will choose to follow Him and love Him!
As always, remember that you are beautiful and that you are loved.  Blessed Easter and Alleluia to you!  Fr. Rick

09 March 2016

Has no one else condemned you?

The Readings

There is an old joke that I have often heard, and maybe, you have too.  In the joke, Jesus tells the crowd: "Whoever has no sin, cast the first stone."  All of a sudden, from the back of the crowd, a stone flies and hits the woman caught in adultery.  Then, Jesus turns to the crowd and says: "Mom, I told you not to come to these things!"  One can only assume what happens next, and I don't believe it went very well for the woman caught in adultery.  
I've always had a problem with this joke for two main reasons.  First, it attributes murderous qualities to Mary, the Mother of God.  I can't imagine her having picked up a stone for those reasons, let alone having thrown it at the poor woman caught in adultery.  My second reason for disliking this joke is that in some ways, it speaks to our own disbelief in God's mercy.  I think that in some ways, it speaks to a profound incredulity for being forgiven for being pardoned, for being made into a new creation.  It is far easier that the woman caught in adultery was made to pay than to believe that she was given a free pass to go and live her life.  I believe that the joke speaks to a fear that we may have, primarily, that if God only knew me or my sins, I would be WAAAAAAAY beyond God's mercy.  We become captives to sin and the results of sin and believe ourselves to be placed outside of God's mercy, we believe that Mary does indeed throw that rock at us, because God will throw us out too!  NOT TRUE!  Instead of throwing us out, or getting rid of us, God's love reaches out, and even then we find it difficult to believe.  We find excuses and reasons to seemingly limit God's mercy, but God's mercy is not limited by our weak ability.  Instead, God's mercy reaches to us and changes us, it calls us from beyond our graves and fills us with the grace to be authentic.  As we come to recognize this, we then start to have some compassion for the woman caught in adultery, not because we save her, but because we too walk away, because we too are not condemned, because we too discover the love of God at work in our lives.  As this happens in our lives, we then start to realize what St. Paul meant by his words, "I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord"  We become people who are changed by God's grace and who are enriched by the ever present call to be ourselves and the joke we once told, becomes a poor distraction from those things that really matter, God's love, God's mercy, and God's joy! So we turn to God and humbly implore God's mercy be out-poured upon us.  And as we do so, we celebrate the joy of God's love, a love that took on flesh and has redeemed you and me!  As always, know that you are beautiful and you are loved.  Blessed Lent.  Fr. Rick

03 March 2016

A New Creation

The Readings Here

In all the time that I have served as a priest, I have had the unique privilege of ministering to a great variety of people in many situations and places.  Of all the prayer and rites that I have ever celebrated, there is one that is seemingly simple, and yet as profound as the words of consecration.  That is the prayer that is offered up at the absolution of a penitent.  God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
These words were always so sacred to me and meant to be said with the greatest of respect and dignity.  I often uttered them with a sense of humility and awe as I considered the impact of these words in the lives of the penitent and my own.
As I reflected on the readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, or Laetare Sunday, (Rose Sunday, not pink,) and as I sat with the Prodigal family, I thought of the second reading from the Second letter to the Corinthians.  In this brief reading, we see the entirety of the Gospel parable and its meaning, and to a certain extent, we see the absolution prayer come alive!  In this beautiful reading, we are reminded of the great gift we have each individually received and continue to receive in Christ.  We are reminded of God's constant and abundant love and how it is perpetually transforming us into a new creation even when we're pretty good at doing those things that can so easily lead us away from love.
In the second letter to the Corinthians, we are reminded that everything is made new by Christ who is blameless and yet took on our sin.  We are looked upon as God's beloved children and we are dressed in the finest robes, with rings upon our fingers and sandals on our feet.  We are made a new creation in God's love and we are transformed.  This does not mean that we become perfect and without blemish, by no means, rather, it presents to us the invitation to an ever growing relationship with God.  This invite though, is contrasted by the seeming hostility of the older brother, and quite frankly, it is an emotion that can become too easy to take on as my own.  As St. Paul warns in another letter of his, it can become too easy to allow sin to cloud our vision.  It is too easy to become cynical or skeptical of God's authentic and true intentions.  We can too easily fool ourselves into believing that we are too far gone, or not worthy and we can believe ourselves to leave God behind since we are beyond hope.  The truth is, however, that God's mercy and love are extended to each of us not matter where we are, who we are, or where we have been.  Even when we believe that we are too far away from God's love, God is right there, ready to transform us.  It's really up to us at that point to recognize that love.  It is especially when we become distant that God's love comes closer, not because God wants to impose the divine upon us, but because the divine is always only ever a prayer away.  To me, this is the most amazing thing about God's love, that I am made new every time I turn toward God.  I am made whole, as I come to Christ, and I am made a part of the body of Christ, every time I partake of the Sacraments.  I am changed and made more into the person God sees in me.  I, yes me, am made new in God's love, and so are you, and it is very good.  Because just as God smiled at seeing Adam and Eve take their first breath, God rejoices in seeing you and me come alive in Christ, and we are joyful, because we are redeemed!
As always, be blessed and know that you are beautiful and you are loved.  I love you.  Fr. Rick

P.S.  It is ROSE, not pink!

11 February 2016

Lent.

This Ash Wednesday is certainly one for the record books.  After having started off the day with little to no sleep the night before, I woke up after five days and was finally cleared for work.  At work, I quickly discovered what no food for the past 5 days means, a few hallucinations later, and a body riddled with the signs of a pretty bad dehydration, I was driven home and given plenty of new stuff to take to help me.  Thankfully, after taking the Pedialyte and all the other things that were prescribed to me, I was feeling much better after a few scary hours.  Sometime along the day, I was able to sit with the pile of ashes that I had intended on taking out into the world to impart, alone, with them and Jesus in my chapel, I sat and reflected on the day.  Never in a million years would I have imaged myself in this state, frail and dependent on others.  Just then, I started thinking about what I would give up for Lent, and it hit me!  Maybe this year, I don't need to focus too much on what I am going to give up, for far too long that was the easy choice to make.  Maybe this year, I would take an example from all those that extended their caring and loving self to me in my time of need.  Maybe this is to be my greatest challenge for Lent, to be a friend who drives another around and waits for them on their medication, or one who worries to the extent that they are able to say, "you're not driving."  Maybe I am called to be that person who says to another just how much I care, not by actually saying it, but by living it out as I wait with them for the meds to kick in.  As I came to see yesterday, my Lenten journey is not so much about strength and fortitude, but about a heart ready to be made vulnerable, a heart able to be molded as the need may be and one that responds in love.  I will never be able to thank those that walked with me yesterday, at least not completely, but perhaps one day, I too will be able to sit with them as they wait on their medication, or maybe one day I will pray with them as they agonize in their own garden.  Either way, my prayer for this Lent is that I may authentically serve, not because I have to, but because I have seen service in a very authentic and selfless manner, and I was made all the better for it.  Be blessed along your journey and know that you are beautiful and you are loved.  As always, Fr. Rick