Sunday, May 31, 2009

Renewed in the Spirit (The Series Finale)

The Solemnity of Pentecost

Today's Word:
Acts 2:1-11 (The Holy Spirit descends upon the Apostles; the gift of speaking in tongues is conferred)
Psalm 104:1, 24-34 (When you send forth your renew the face of the earth)
1 Corinthians 12:3-13 (In one Spirit the many parts have been baptized into one body, the Church)
or Galatians 5:16-25 (If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit)
John 20:19-23 ("Receive the Holy Spirit"; the institution of the Sacrament of Reconciliation)
or John 15:26-27; 16:12-15 ("The Spirit of Truth will guide you")

Happy Birthday, Christian Church!
For it is with the descent of the Holy Spirit that the Apostles, having prayed and reflected for nine days following Jesus' ascension, are at last motivated to speak boldly on behalf of their Master and all that he taught.

Happy Birthday, Cornerstone!
It was on this very date eleven years ago that the community was established. I was there, at the invitation of my friend Mike. They've come a long way on an even longer road in these eleven years. Then, as now, it was Pentecost Sunday - and the significance is not lost on me.

Today, the Sacrament of Confirmation was celebrated (in the Methodist tradition) for fourteen young adults. Like it's Catholic counterpart which I observed five weeks earlier, it is filled with joy, hope and promise as the youth professed with their own voice and in their own words their beliefs.

I was reminded of my own confirmation. I remember the date: March 20, 1965. Then, at the age of ten (and in the fifth grade), the theology centered around becoming "soldiers of Christ;" and Onward, Christian Soldiers isn't even recognized as a hymn in the Catholic tradition! Since that time, the underlying theology has thankfully evolved into preparing for lives dedicated at least in part for service in the name of the Lord to the community at large.

It is fitting that Confirmation be celebrated on this day or during the Easter Season; but it has little to do with other rites of passage that take place and are associated with this time of year. It is most certainly a time when the congregation should gather and help the young take their place along with the old in the roles of service and servanthood. It is not, as may have been taught at some point in time, a passage into adult life. For many of the youth, it is on the cusp of leaving home to continue their education at college. This can serve as a reaffirmation of the community to pray for these young people as they grow in maturity and prepare in a more personal way for the challenges they will face as adults.

The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me.
He sent me to preach good news to the poor,
   heal the heartbroken,
Announce freedom to all captives,
   pardon all prisoners.
God sent me to announce the year of his grace—
      and to comfort all who mourn,
To care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion,
   give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes,
Messages of joy instead of news of doom,
   a praising heart instead of a languid spirit.
Rename them "Oaks of Righteousness"
   planted by God to display his glory.
(Isaiah 61:1-4, "The Message" by Eugene H. Peterson)

And He has sent me to do all this for and through my son.

In many, many ways and for many, many reasons (some good and others not so good), I did not consider how to do this. Ultimately, all I have learned and experienced - both the joys and the sorrows - I am meant to share with him, to help him understand in some way that there is someone who loves him, someone larger than life itself who wants the best for him. While that role is largely filled by my dear wife and I, in the end we will find other caring people who will help him along on his journey.

With the passing of Pentecost, we return to the ordinary cycle of the year, which we last left in the thick of winter nearly 100 days ago. Now, spring is in full bloom and beyond; the earth has awakened from her hibernation. By God's grace, with much help and reflection, so have I.

As I have cause or am prompted to reflect further, I intend to do so here. I may ask more questions than I answer. But it's more important than ever that they be asked as fast as they come to mind. While the day-to-day reflections will stop for now, the journey is far from over. It is resuming anew. I continue to pray for opportunities, especially for us both, that will build on where we have been and where we hope to go.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Beginnings and Endings

The Vigil of Pentecost

Today's Word:
Genesis 11:1-9 (The Tower of Babel, which prefigured the Apostles' speaking in tongues)
or Exodus 19:3-20 (Moses and the Israelites reach Mount Sinai)
or Ezekiel 37:1-14 ("I will put my Spirit in you, that you may live")
or Joel 3:1-5 ("I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh")
Psalm 104:1-2, 24-30 (When you send forth your renew the face of the earth)
Romans 8:22-27 (The Spirit intercedes for us in inexpressible groanings, for we do not know how to pray as we ought)
John 7:37-39 -
On the final and climactic day of the Feast, Jesus cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says." (He said this in regard to the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were about to receive. The Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified.)
("The Message" paraphrase by Eugene H. Peterson)

Since Easter Sunday, seven weeks ago, both my wife and I have been led in a new direction in discovering the root of my son's affliction with autism. I should clarify that by saying that my wife has uncovered a series of information that connects many dots and provides an opportunity to help effectively manage, if not eliminate someday, that which can take an innocent, intelligent child and turn him into an apparent lunatic or worse.

Sharing this information with me has been both a joy and a painful pill to swallow. Painful, because what causes things like this are largely preventable in hindsight but can't always be determined at the time - and, when discussing concerns with a pedigreed professional, the diagnosis often casts either or both parents as unknowing, untrusting, and way too concerned to rationally deal with the situation. There's often a acute level of guilt felt, because God gave you the ability in love to bring this new life into the world; and yet, only hours after birth, actions are taken that can alter permanently the development of that life.

Yet there is still joy, and great hope.

Unlocking the prison gates is possible; tearing down the walls can happen. This has been proven time and time again on so many different levels. It may not happen with the force of a destructive explosion. It may be likened more to a child's learning to walk; one step at a time, and not without some pain. Often it requires time, patience, perseverance - the qualities found as a life formed and cultivated in faith.

God promised that he would instill His Spirit on His people. In doing so, those who recognized this presence, this Spirit, in their lives would be able to withstand trials, and overcome serious obstacles that all of us face in some way or other. Jesus promised the sending of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who would work in our lives to continue to offer hope and strength in times of trial.

Researchers have (perhaps begrudgingly) acknowledged that a strong sense of faith, a belief that sustaining help is present, plays a very important part in the healing process, regardless of the affliction. It is in this hope that God is present in the Holy Spirit that 'renews the face of the earth.'

Come, Holy Spirit! Fill our hearts! Engulf us in the fire of Divine Love and hope! Renew us in strength and perseverance! Enlighten the path before us!!

Ultimately, may this help allow us to rebuild and renew life in others, and move another step closer to making the world a better place than we found it.

I rejoice in the progress we are making, and have a better understanding of how to continue. And continue we shall. That is ultimately what we're called to do; as individuals; as families; as community: to move one step closer each day on the road that we're on, the road that leads to a place where one day will be no more sorrow or suffering.

Monday, May 25, 2009

At the Intersection of Liberty Street and Freedom Way

Memorial Day (US)
May 25, 2009

Today's Word:
Acts 19:1-8 (Paul baptizes in the name of Jesus at Ephesus)
Psalm 68:2-7 (God arises; his enemies are scattered)
John 16:29-33 ("In the world you will have trouble; but take courage, for I have conquered the world")

Or - selected readings from the Order of Funerals:
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (To everything there is a season)
Psalm 23 (Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants...)
1 Corinthians 15:20-32, 40-58 ("Where, O death, is your victory? Where is your sting?")
John 17:6-17 ("I pray not that these chosen be taken from the world, but that they be delivered from evil")

Sometimes, to be delivered from evil (real or perceived), a person has to put his life on the line, as if stakes in a game of chance. The ultimate stakes are determined to be so high, that which is being protected so great, that the risk-taking is deemed necessary.

Today is about those who put their lives on the line, especially those who died doing so; but to me, also for the living who have or are presently risking their lives to protect others. The men and women of our military services, definitely; but also for those in the careers of public safety: firefighters, and those in law enforcement.

There is a fine line between the ideals of Liberty and Freedom, and it is constantly juxtaposed and blurred. This nation declared its independence on the uncompromising rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and it's interesting to note this particular order.

While America was NOT (repeat: NOT) founded as a Christian nation (it didn't want to identify itself with the 'papists' in Rome or the ongoing religious persecutions of the time which brought many to the shores of the Western Hemisphere), our founders were innately aware of the sanctity of life in general. They understood that true liberty is not the same as true freedom (anarchy). To establish true liberty would bear a cost of freedom. As Benjamin Franklin put it: "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

In our endeavors to enjoy Life, often on a day like this we are more engaged in the pursuit of happiness than it might seem reasonable. To be fair, by late May the nation has finally thrown off the yoke of winter and all are basking in relatively fair weather; our bodies are clamoring for Vitamin D from the Sun, and what better way to get it than spend the day outdoors sacrificing a piece of meat on the barbecue grill? Maybe so, maybe so - but just remember that somebody died in a trench somewhere long ago; somebody fought persistently for the highest of ideals; people are keeping watch even as I write, just so you can enjoy that overcooked piece of steak. Is it any wonder that God finally said that it was love that He seeks, and not sacrifices?

Today I am honored to be able to lead singing at a Mass at one of the many cemeteries that dot the Chicago landscape. I will watch as my elders potentially look foolish attempting to honor their fallen companions. But it will bring a tear to my eye as I remember why it's such an important thing to them. It will remind me of how important it is to honor not only those who died, most of whom are names I don't know and have never met, but also the living who even now put themselves constantly in harm's way for our benefit. I will do my best to remember never to take them for granted.

In the midst of the American Civil War, Julia Ward Howe visited a Un­ion Army camp on the Potomac River near Washington, DC. She heard the soldiers singing the song “John Brown’s Body,” and was taken with the strong marching beat. She wrote these words the next day:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery Gospel writ in burnished rows of steel;
“As ye deal with My contemners, so with you My grace shall deal”;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel,
Since God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Since God is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet;
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free;
[originally …let us die to make men free]
While God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! While God is marching on.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is wisdom to the mighty, He is honor to the brave;
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of wrong His slave,
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.

--Battle Hymn of the Republic
Julia Ward Howe

Saturday, May 23, 2009

I'll Be Loving You Always

May 24, 2009
The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord on Sunday
The Seventh Sunday of Easter (in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Nebraska; where the Ascension of the Lord was observed last Thursday)

Today's Word:
Acts 1:1-11 (Jesus' Ascension - the prelude to the sending of the Holy Spirit and the promise of His return)
Psalm 47:2-9 (God mounts his throne to shouts of joy)
Ephesians 1:17-23 (Christ has all things under his dominion; he is head of the Church, which is his body)
or Ephesians 4:1-13 (Unity in diversity: One Lord, one faith, one baptism - One body, many parts)
Mark 16:15-20 (The Great Commission; Jesus returns to the Father in Heaven)

(Sunday VII of Easter:)
Acts 1:15-26 (Matthias is chosen to fill Judas' vacancy after prayer and discernment)
Psalm 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20 (The Lord has set his throne in heaven)
1 John 4:11-16 (As God is love, he who abides in love abides in God; and God abides in him)
John 17:11-19 ("Consecrate them in the truth; your word is truth")

And: Philippians 3:8-21 (The believer's citizenship is in heaven)

In order for Christians to fully realize the depth of their relationship with God, and especially with God in the person of Jesus Christ, he had to leave the earth behind - as we all do. While he could leave it bodily - a privilege he had as God but was also imparted to a select few - he died and left his physical body, as we one day will.

If Jesus had remained, everyone would continue to seek his direct intervention. We would not have been given his legacy, nor his Spirit from which the gifts of divine wisdom, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and respect all flow freely. Without these gifts, it would be much more difficult to join together as the family of man and move forward. It's already difficult enough - how many more would be lost in despair without this great hope and promise? Paul would not have been able to say that "our citizenship is in heaven" without such inspiration; it is unlikely that he ever saw Jesus in the flesh apart from that fateful day on the road to Damascus.

As on the night before his death, Jesus would have divine memory to take with him. But what he left behind was nothing short of a pure legacy of love, a love which would never end.

As around the sun the earth knows she's revolving
And the rosebuds know to bloom in early May
Just as hate knows love's the cure
You can rest your mind assure
That I'll be loving you always

As now can't reveal the mystery of tomorrow
But in passing will grow older every day
Just as all that's born is new
You know what I say is true
That I'll be loving you always

(Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky)
Always (Until the ocean covers every mountain high)
Always (Until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea)
Always (Until we dream of life and life becomes a dream)

Did you know that true love asks for nothing
Her acceptance is the way we pay
Did you know that life has given love a guarantee
To last through forever and another day

Just as time knew to move on since the beginning
And the seasons know exactly when to change
Just as kindness knows no shame
Know through all your joy and pain
That I'll be loving you always

As today I know I'm living, but tomorrow
Could make me the past, but that I mustn't fear
For I'll know deep in my mind
The love of me I've left behind
'Cause I'll be loving you always

(Until the day is night and night becomes the day)
Always (Until the trees and seas just up and fly away)
Always (Until the day that eight times eight times eight is four)
Always (Until the day that is the day that are no more)
Did you know you're loved by somebody (Until the day the earth starts turnin' right to left)
Always (Until the earth just for the sun denies itself)
I'll be lovin' you forever (Until dear mother nature says her work is through)
Always (Until the day that you are me and I am you)
Always (Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky)
Yeah Until the ocean covers every mountain high)


We all know sometimes life hates and troubles
Can make you wish you were born in another time and space
But you can bet your life times that and twice it's double
That God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed

So make sure when you say you're in it, but not of it
You're not helpin' to make this earth a place sometimes called hell
Change your words into truths and then change that truth into love
And maybe our children's grandchildren and their great grandchildren will tell

I'll be loving you Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky
Loving you Until the ocean covers every mountain high
Loving you Until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea
Loving you Until we dream of life and life becomes a dream
Be loving you Until the day is night and night becomes the day
Loving you Until the trees and seas up, up and fly away
Loving you Until the day that eight times eight times eight is four
Loving you Until the day that is the day that are no more
Loving you Until the day the earth starts turning right to left
Be loving you Until the earth just for the sun denies itself
Loving you Until dear Mother Nature says her work is through
Loving you Until the day that you are me and I am you
Now ain't that loving you (Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky)
Ain't that loving you (Until the ocean covers every mountain high)
And I've got to say always (Until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea)
Always (Until we dream of life and life becomes a dream)
Always (Until the day is night and night becomes the day)
Always (Until the trees and sea just up and fly away)
Always (Until the day that eight times eight times eight is four)
Always (Until the day that is the day that are no more)
Always (Until the day the earth starts turning right to left)
Always (Until the earth just for the sun denies itself)
Always (Until dear Mother Nature says her work is through)
Always (Until the day that you are me and I am you)

Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky
Until the ocean covers every mountain high
Until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea
Until we dream of life and life becomes a dream
Until the day is night and night becomes the day
Until the trees and sea just up and fly away
Until the day that eight times eight times eight is four
Until the day that is the day that are no more
Until the day the earth starts turning right to left
Until the earth just for the sun denies itself
Until dear Mother Nature says her work is through
Until the day that you are me and I am you

--As (I'll Be Loving You Always)
Stevie Wonder

To the Author of Life

Today's Word:
Acts 18:23-28 (Paul in Galatia; Priscilla and Aquila set Apollos straight in Ephesus)
Psalm 47:2-10 (The Most High God is King over all the earth)
John 16:23-28 ("Whatever you ask the Father in my name He will give you")

Business has picked up and the general lack of movement in the daily readings has held me back from posting. I am just about at the end of the season and the series, so this is not surprising.

I am not through yet. A spiritual journey is a life-long one, so I know I'm far from done with this. It will become less of a daily thing and more of a weekly one or whenever the Spirit motivates me.

I have noted that the daily passages have been following the advance of the early Church in the book of Acts; and that the gospel readings have been exclusively from John; a semi-continuous reading of chapter 15 two weeks ago, chapter 16 this week, and chapter 17 next week.

This may not be new to anyone, but through this semi-continuous reading I made the following connections:

After the visualization of the Vine and the branches, Chapter 15 is devoted to a treatise on divine, or agape love, and the commandment to love one another as brothers (phileos); not just among the disciples but extending to all. Chapter 16 brings up the subject of the ultimate cost of discipleship - as well as the cost incurred should one decide against it. Chapter 17 is Jesus' prayer of consecration of the apostles, as well as his personal benediction before his passion and death. All of it is as powerful as it is verbose. What I mean to say is, once one gets past John's well used ability to turn a phrase, and can listen while reading, the deeper message is found and sinks in.

I am very thankful for all that has come about this season. Not all I received has been easy to hear or accept. I know it was better received, accepted, and understood than it's ever been. For this to continue, to make this work for the benefit of as many as possible, it is mine to continue to express thoughts, probe, clarify, and discern; and ultimately, to love; to act and to 'do the right thing.' This is what we were created for!

Empty Hands held high
Such Small sacrifice
If not joined with my life
I sing in vain tonight

May the word I say
And the things I do
Make my lifesong sing
Bring a smile to you

Let my lifesong sing to You
Let my lifesong sing to You
I want to sign your name
To the end of this day
Knowing that my heart was true
Let my lifesong sing to You

Lord, I give my life
A living sacrifice
To reach a world in need
To be your hands and feet

So may the words I say
And the things I do
Make my lifesong sing
Bring a smile to you


Hallelujah, Hallelujah,
Let my lifesong sing to You


--Lifesong (2005)
Mark Hall, Casting Crowns

Monday, May 18, 2009

"I Told You So"

Today's Word:
Acts 16:11-15 (Paul reaches Philippi, converts Lydia)
Psalm 149:1-6, 9 (The Lord takes delight in his people)
John 15:26 - 16:4 ("The hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God")

I beg your pardon...
I never promised you a rose garden...

Well, not here, anyway.

Accepting the creation story in Genesis, humanity was given a garden, and in the evolution of man, somehow managed to give it away. When God discovers Adam and Eve hiding in their shame, the stage is set for the rest of the intrigue and unrest that permeates the Bible.

Not so long ago I wrote in my personal journal (upon a suggestion and after some discernment) that one of the undercurrents running throughout the Bible is the theme of dissatisfaction. Adam and Eve are suddenly unsatisfied with what God has given them when the serpent tempts them, saying that they would become gods themselves. The Israelites led by Moses are constantly complaining during their sojourn in the desert. Later, they want a king. And when a True King shows up in the person of Jesus, they're not satisfied with him.

Then there's Jesus himself. In the Gospel of Mark Jesus is portrayed consistently bringing up his disciples' lack of faith. In various places in the Gospels he challenges the perceived ideal. He says he's come not to unite, but to divide. And here, as he prepares to consummate the mission for which he came, he reminds his disciples that when they suffer similar trials and fates in the years to come: "Well, I told you so!"

They said this path that leads to heaven
Will not be the easy way...

And it's not. There are days when the road is as much under construction and as seemingly intraversable as it will be getting across the Fox River this summer from my part of suburbia. It's inconvenient, time consuming, and unstimulating. It draws us away from the capacity we have for love. Maybe that's part of why so many just give up.

Along the spiritual path, some of the most frustrating things come about that have all the appearances of bearing God's approval. What's worse is when these work for some and not for others. Could this, though, be an indicator of the depth of personal relationship God wants to have with us? I can't be sure, but I hope so. Temptations can be rejected.

True, Jesus did not promise us a rose garden. He said we'd always have to deal with the poor and marginalized. He wondered if he would find any faith on earth when he returned. And he said we'd have to bear up our crosses and challenges to follow him. But he also promised eternal life. He promised his presence would remain long after his physical body was gone. And he promised an Advocate, the Spirit of Truth whose work would not end until the time appointed by God.

So far, there's nothing to suggest that any of Jesus' promises hasn't been kept.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Where to Go from Here?

The Sixth Sunday of Easter
(May 16-17)

Today's Word:
Acts 10:25-48 (Peter and Cornelius: "God shows no every nation, whoever fears God and acts in righteousness is acceptable to him")
Psalm 98:1-4 (The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power)
1 John 4:7-10 (Let us love one another, as love is of God)
John 15:9-17 ("As the Father loves me, so I also love you")

Philippians 3:1-11 (Paul of Tarsus: "All the things I once thought were so important are now gone from my life")

Okay, I blew it. I stumbled. I ran out of concepts. I ran out of my past. I was uncertain about what to say about the future, as I am not one given to speculation.

The Catholic lectionary has sputtered a bit; dwelling on John 15 for four days straight. Yes, it's an important one. From it are drawn a couple of great contemporary songs - Michael W. Smith's Friends (Are Friends Forever) and Israel Houghton's I Am A Friend of God. In The Great Adventure, Steven Curtis Chapman writes: The love of God will take us far beyond our wildest dreams. And it does; it really does.

Having said this, though, reality slapped me in the face last week as I recommitted myself to the ideals of the vows I took upon ordination. Of late, I have come to understand the nature of my son's autism; how it is possible he was stricken by it and how all three of us have struggled to understand and overcome it. I asked: If (my son) has trouble dealing with the barrage of stimuli before him, how can he relate to God, whom he cannot see?

Perhaps my son is teaching me here. He's been rather resilient through all of this. His joys continually outweigh his suffering. He may experience God in such a way that exudes his resilience.

I also see in my son an aspect to the depth of God's love. He is a warm and outgoing person, and would hug anyone and everyone if given the opportunity. To attempt to explain to him that not everyone is comfortable anticipates the words of Jesus hitting me through my son's sparkling eyes, saying: And just what is wrong with wanting to share my joy so openly and freely?

The first accomplishment of the early church was to break out of being a subset of Judaism. It took courage for Peter to admit being human and yet yield to a higher authority through guidance by the Holy Spirit. Paul of Tarsus was an orthodox Jew before his conversion, yet by the time he wrote to the church he helped establish in Caesarea Philippi he had come to this realization:

"Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I've dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn't want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God's righteousness." (Philippians 3:8-9, The Message by Eugene H. Peterson)

Breaking away from keeping a list of rules. That seems to be the way things are running for me. Bearing witness to Christ, rather than being open and free, had somehow become locked in a set of well-meaning rules. At the time of Christ, the "Law" of which he spoke had no less than 613 specific edicts. All of them in some way were derivatives of the Ten Commandments. Jesus comes along and says that the whole of the Law and the exhortations of the prophets before him boiled down to two commandments: Love God above all things, and love your neighbor as yourself. In John 15 and in his first epistle, this is boiled down to three words: Love one another.

Love is what matters, it is what lasts. Paul of Tarsus wrote that it is the greatest of the three things that last, coupled with faith and hope. It is only in these three virtues, with the emphasis on love, that answers are found; solutions are implemented; obstacles are overcome. How that love is expressed? That is where we're left to our own ingenuity and decisions. At this point the manner of expression is as individual as the fingerprints on our hands.

"My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn't know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can't know him if you don't love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to clear away the damage done to our relationship with God." (1 John 4:7-10, The Message)

Love conquered all. Love conquers all. And Love will conquer all that we do to divide and separate us.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Endless Love

May 15, 2009

Today's Word:
Acts 15:22-31 (The exhortation of the First Council of Jerusalem)
Psalm 57:8-12 (My heart is steadfast; I will chant and sing praise)
John 15:12-27 ("No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends")

(As on Thursday, I wrote this Friday morning and wanted to have a lot of time to think about what was being written. While the past is passed, what I write now has more to do with the present and future.)

Ultimately, it is love and determination that makes us strong; to grow, as is said in Luke and Acts "in wisdom and Spirit."

Raising children means being a well-spring of these virtues. Raising children with lifelong challenges such as autism, even more. Sometimes I think my head is buried in the sand somewhere.

My wife and I live with the daily challenges of raising our autistic son. He has come a long way since he began his life's journey.

On one hand, we want to be optimistic and hopeful that he can enjoy life like most other children. On the other, most other children - and most other parents - don't fully understand what this is like, and tend to distance themselves from it. I admit that I've only just recently gained a better understanding of how our son relates to us, to others, and to events in his life. People with autism cannot easily express intangible thoughts or feelings, so faith and hope are added to the love and determination that it takes to help them grow.

His experience in developing a relationship with God seems unfathomable to me. If he has trouble relating to the barrage of stimuli before him, how does he relate to God, whom he cannot see?

When I served as a deacon at Mass, I would proclaim the Gospel of the day. Catholic liturgy has its share of pomp and circumstance, so I would carry the Book of Gospels from the main altar to the lectern/pulpit, holding it high. My son imitated this at home. But that's about all the time he could manage not to fidget from that time (about age 3-4) until about three years ago. He did not seem to have an appreciation for the traditional organ hymnody - he thought everything sounded sad, in his limited words.

When I started taking him to Cornerstone ten years ago, he took an immediate liking to the use of multimedia and the uptempo, contemporary music. He still fidgeted some, so I only brought him with me when I could be with him the whole time (which admittedly was very infrequent). Still, he picked up something from that limited exposure; enough to carry him to the point where he wanted to go more often. This has evolved into what we do today. He's able to sit and participate when I am singing or playing with the band; he is generally attentive to the extent he can be.

Somehow, a mother's love and the love of God have been imparted on our son. I make no claim to have done any of it directly. Not that I don't do it at all - I guess I would say I have trouble internalizing myself. But the proof is there.

In all of this, I have experienced a profound level of God's endless love. Each time a barrier is crossed, when the dominoes fall and we're still standing and looking for more, there is a renewed sense of hope, of strength, of resolve. There is the desire to keep moving, never to give up, never abandon the journey together.

Yesterday, I reaffirmed the vows I made at my ordination fifteen years ago. This time, though, it has more to do with being a beacon of Light - loving God, serving Him through others; and thus, proclaiming Christ. And it is not for my sake or gain, but for my son and others like him. It will also mean praying for more insight for him. I will also pray for the unknown who have no one to pray for them, and for pleas for help and healing known to God alone.

'Twas On A Morning Like This

May 14, 2009
The Feast of Saint Matthias, Apostle

Today's Word:
Acts 1:15-26 (Matthias is elected to fill the place vacated by Judas)
Psalm 113:1-8 (The Lord will give him a seat with the leaders of his people)
John 15:9-17 ("I give you a new commandment: Love one another")
(Note: I initially wrote this post on Thursday morning. I did not post it publicly at the time as I wanted more time to read and re-read it privately. Sometimes, despite the best intention, I discover in hindsight that I humbly exalt myself a bit much. As I wrote, I sensed a need for a lot more time to discern what I was saying to and about myself. After consideration, I see no reason to hold back. I accept any feedback - or even the lack of it - lovingly.)

Fifteen years ago.
It was a day much like today.

I'm not going to recap the events of that day or the profound effect they've had - I've already spent a good part of two months replaying it.

What I will say is: With God's help, I shall change my life. I will never be the same again.

Back then, I did not know what I do today. I was oblivious to a great many things. I've made some progress, yet I still hold unrealistic concepts of the way everything works.
With God's help, I shall change my life. I will never be the same again.

In those days, I led myself and allowed myself to be led by agendas. While they seemed noble, they were agendas just the same. Some are very hard to unload. Some are even harder to understand. The Truth can be very hard to accept. But I will. Somehow.
With God's help, I shall change my life. I will never be the same again.

Jesus' greatest commandment is: Love one another. There are no exclusions or exceptions; no exemptions or aberrations. I am loved, am meant to be loved, and am meant to love others, without qualification. I have to let go, not hold back; praise any and all good without expecting any recompense. Giving praise to others - totally giving self to others - is an investment; recompense in itself. Though I may at times feel all but totally surrounded by uncaring people, I cannot let this snuff out the love and compassion I can give. Today, I rededicate myself to the ideals that inspired me all those years ago; ideals that should inspire all. I do it solely to bear quiet witness to that great commandment.
With God's help, I shall change my life. I will never be the same again.

I am yours, gracious and loving God. I am no longer an entity unto myself.
Put me to what You will, rank me with whom You will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for You, or laid aside for You,
exalted for you or brought low for You.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to Your pleasure and disposal. In this way only shall I find true peace.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
I am yours; only now can I take You into my heart.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
(adapted from the Wesleyan Covenant prayer, c.1780)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow

Today's Word:
Acts 15:1-6 (The First Council of Jerusalem is convened to settle the issue of Gentile converts to the Church)
Psalm 122:1-5 (Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord)
John 15:1-8 (The Vine and the branches)

There are people within my arms' reach who are looking for compassion and peace. There is no denying it. I don't have to go looking for them.
They're looking for a peace the world cannot give them.

Jesus said he had not come to praise those already devout, but to assure all of God's continuing providence. And what started out as a spark became a blazing fire.

The flame of that fire is still within me, despite many efforts - including my own - to extinguish it. But no more.

Despite the gloomy wet weather in my part of the world; even with the threat of storms, it is a great day, for God has made it.
Tomorrow will be even greater.

The sun will come out Tomorrow
Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow
There'll be sun

Just thinking about tomorrow
Clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow
'Til there's none

When I'm stuck with a day
That's grey and lonely
I just stick out my chin
And grin
and say....... oh!

The sun will come out tomorrow
So you gotta hang on 'til tomorrow
Come what may

Tomorrow, Tomorrow,
I love ya Tomorrow
You're always a day away

When I'm stuck with a day
That's grey and lonely
I just stick out my chin
And grin
and say.........oh

The sun will come out tomorrow
So you gotta hang on 'til tomorrow
Come what may

Tomorrow, Tomorrow,
I love ya Tomorrow
You're always a day away

Tomorrow, Tomorrow,
I love ya Tomorrow
You're always a day...... a........ way!!!

from the musical "Annie" (1977)
Lyrics by Martin Charnin, Music by Charles Strouse

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rocky Road, and Not the Ice Cream

Today's Word:
Acts 14:19-28 (Paul and Barnabas: "It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God")
Psalm 145:10-13, 21 (God's dominion endures through all generations)
John 14:27-31 ("Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you; not as the world gives do I give it to you")

Hardships. Crosses. Challenges. Call them what you like.

There are days when I become painfully aware of those I've had to carry, and those my loved ones also carry. When these moments come, the term "normal way of life" is all relative.

Just what is "normal", anyway? Is it the nice home in the suburbs with the two-car garage, 3.2 healthy kids who all go to good schools, get above-average grades and are active in some extra-curricular program?

This doesn't describe folks who live in the inner-city neighborhoods; nor those who live in lakefront high-rise condominiums; nor those who live in the "McMansions", ten minutes away from the apartment my family and I call home. For that matter, it doesn't describe us either. "Normal" does not describe any family dealing with catastrophic events, like the recent California wildfires or the Atlantic hurricanes. The term loses meaning if you're connected to someone challenged with a debilitating condition, such as muscular dystrophy, autism, or the whole gamut of geriatric diseases.

Yet these can all be considered under the broad umbrella of "normalcy." And I make this observation strictly out of American life. What's "normal" here can be considered extravagant elsewhere.

Jesus is considered a champion for the poor, yet he basically said that poverty would always be a part of this world.

Having said all this, though, does not excuse me - nor anyone else - from working compassionately, toward bearing some burden of those with the heavier crosses, the more severe challenges.

I was reminded last night that man indeed does not live on bread alone. In fact, some so are allergic to wheat and its byproducts that eating a piece of bread is life-threatening rather than life-sustaining.

And I am reminded once more that miracles are not limited to those blockbuster events recorded in the Bible. Each and every new day is one in itself, with the potential for countless others.

While I'd love a big miracle, I will do my best to acknowledge and rejoice at all the little ones. They are the harbingers of hope.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Saddle Up Your Horses!

Today's Word:
Acts 14:5-18 (Paul performs his first miraculous healing in the name of Jesus at Lystra; the locals take him for a Greek god)
Psalm 115:1-4, 15-16 (Not to us, O Lord, but to your name give glory)
John 14:21-26 ("The Holy Spirit...will teach you everything and remind you of all that I taught you")

Saddle up your horses!

Started out this morning in the usual way
Chasing thoughts inside my head
I thought I had to do today
Another time around the circle
Try to make it better than the last
I opened up the Bible
And I read about me
Said I'd been a prisoner
And God's Grace had set me free
And somewhere between the pages,
It hit me like a lightning bolt
I saw a big frontier in front of me
And I heard somebody say 'Let's go!'

Saddle up your horses
We've got a trail to blaze
Through the wild blue yonder of God's amazing grace
Let's follow our leader into the glorious unknown
This is the life like no other whoa whoa,
This is the great adventure

Come on, get ready for the ride of your life
Gonna leave long faced religion
In a cloud of dust behind
And discover all the new horizons
Just waiting to be explored
This is what we were created for, yeah

Saddle up your horses
We've got a trail to blaze
Through the wild blue yonder of God's amazing grace
Let's follow our leader into the glorious unknown
This is the life like no other whoa whoa,
This is the great adventure

We'll travel on, over mountains so high
We'll go through valleys below
Still through it all we'll find that
This is the greatest journey
That the human heart will ever see
The love of God will take us far
Beyond our wildest dreams
Yeah, oh saddle up your horses
Come on get ready to ride

Saddle up your horses
We've got a trail to blaze
Through the yonder of God's amazing grace
Let's follow our leader into the glorious unknown
This is the life like no other whoa whoa,
This is the great adventure

--The Great Adventure (1992)
Steven Curtis Chapman

Over the course of Judeo-Christian history, there are many instances where a paradigm shift appears in the way people approached God.

Many of these come from the grass roots, as it were. The chosen shepherd boy David slew a giant and became the greatest of Israel's kings. The prophets of Old Testament times called for a change of heart at the top; when kings didn't do so, the nation ultimately suffered.

Jesus was born of a virgin betrothed to a carpenter. The Apostles had been fishermen, tax collectors, and tent makers. Once they received the Holy Spirit, they stood Judaism on its collective ear, and then moved on to the rest of the known civilized world. Paul of Tarsus would travel all the way to Rome, as would Peter.

When God called upon Francis of Assisi to "rebuild the Church" it meant more than to repair crumbling buildings.

When Martin Luther, John Calvin, John and Charles Wesley, and other reformers parted company with Roman Catholicism, it was in their minds at first to preserve the Christian faith from the political corruption that was seen in Rome and throughout Europe.

In the 19th and 20th Centuries there have been periods of religious revival. Over the last fifty years, many of the rituals associated with the Church have undergone change to reflect an assimilation or association with modern art, culture, and expression.

The nature of God does not change, yet God in His infinite goodness is dynamic. The psalmist of David's time astutely recognized this:
"When you send forth your renew the face of the earth" (Psalm 104:34).

With each new generation and the state of creation they inherit, the dynamics change. There are still countless people who do not 'know' God because history points at Church leadership who seem to have put themselves and/or a political agenda above the mission God established and that Jesus proclaimed. These will not be swayed by coercion or by threat of peril to their immortal souls. Christ must come to them, somewhere at their level; with compassion, mercy, and with the gentle prodding of the Good Shepherd, if they would be fruit-bearing branches of the Vine.

Doing this will no doubt infuriate the high and mighty, bound to maintain the status quo as they inherited it. But that is NOT the way God intended it. God wants us, like Jesus, to boldly go where none have gone before.

No doubt there will be alienation and the associated anguish and pain. But to the person with firmly rooted faith, determination and hope is not far behind; and the Spirit of God is with that person.

"Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him" (John 14:23).

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Let's Have Some Wine!

The Fifth Sunday of Easter
(Mother's Day)

Today's Word:
Acts 9:26-31 (Paul is sent to Tarsus after threats on his life in Damascus and Jerusalem)
Psalm 22: 26-32 (I will praise the Lord in the assembly of His people)
1 John 3:18-24 (Let us love not in word or speech alone, but also in action and in truth)
John 15:1-8 ("I am the vine; you are the branches")

And: Philippians 2:1-18 (Take for yourselves the same attitude that is yours in Christ Jesus)

(Yesterday's post contained a reflection for Mother's Day. I was singing at Mass last night and the homily was devoted to Moms and the "ministry" that is uniquely theirs.)

As we move further along in this season, we are treated to a more-or-less continuous series of passages from Acts of the Apostles, the first letter of John, and John's Gospel. I've considered Paul of Tarsus at some length in the last week or so, and will no doubt return to him before this series ends.

Today we hear Jesus express himself through John in the imagery of the vine and branches, and the bearing of good fruit. Over the last couple of days (courtesy of my wife) I caught a couple of documentaries via video online dealing with various parts of the food chain; both of these have been produced within this passing decade. Not coincidentally, all three have something in common.

The first of the films, The Future of Food, is an exposé of an industry that on the surface appears to have the lofty goal of increasing crop yield through genetic modification of seeds. The other, Super Size Me, touches on the fast-food industry and its possible role in the rise of obesity in the United States. Both of these films show the dire consequences of mucking about with things that are of God: Nature and the human mind and body.

When temptation comes, it can often take the shape of a lofty goal or a great convenience. But as I came to see, ambiguous goals and convenience for convenience's sake do not produce good fruit. For decades past seed farmers made an art of culling seed from the previous crop to plant for the future. Not every seed was used; only the best were considered. These weren't genetically enhanced or altered; and what these seeds produced was a 'win-win' situation for all concerned. Likewise, the human body needs balanced intake. After a thirty-day diet consisting solely of fast-food fare, the filmmaker gained over twenty-five pounds and nearly destroyed his digestive system.

In his rendering of the Good News, John gives us several images representing Jesus. Last week we recalled a lifelike image in the Good Shepherd. During the week previous (and later this summer) the image of Jesus as the Bread of Life is considered. Here, in the image of the vine and branches, we have another link to life in the plant kingdom.

The temptations of the world graft themselves onto the branches of the vine. They would threaten to destroy it but cannot, as Jesus is at the heart of the vine. The careful gardener will prune those branches that have become dried-up and brittle, and can no longer bear fruit; not doing so takes energy away from the rest of the branches, reducing the quality of their fruit.

How do we carefully assure that we (the branches) are healthy?

Through care and concern for ourselves and for others, we can stand up and be fruit-bearing, life-sustaining people of God. Love is not a mere word, according to John - it is a decision leading to action. If our consciences pull at us indicating something is wrong, it's time to stop to pray and reflect further.

What motivates us must not be self-serving. In one case, the ambiguous corporate goal of genetically modifying seed to increase yield was done with the intent of cornering the marketplace and increasing profits, without concern for the land, the people who work it, or the health impact down the road of people who consume that altered crop. In the other, fast-food is easily marketed at children and young families who are very busy with life. Billions of dollars are spent in advertising and promotions to get people to buy - only a small fraction of that amount is spent to assure what is being sold is healthy.

In the end, as Paul writes to the Church in Caesaria Philippi, what brings us around to balance is our attitude. It must be selfless, as was that of Jesus Christ, who - even though he was God, the second Person of the Trinity, and knew it - did not regard being God as his position. On earth he dispensed with vanity, and the pursuance of what we might think of as "the good life" - to bring about a life that is truly good.

May we find in each other that which is truly good. May we offer love for love's sake today, especially to our wives, mothers, grandmothers, and godmothers. And may we celebrate today with the wine of gladness, which was poured out once long ago for our benefit, to renew the earth, and give us renewed life.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

For the Moms

Today's Word:
Acts 13:44-52 (After drawing much attention, Jewish leaders have Paul and Barnabas expelled from Antioch)
Psalm 98:1-4 (All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God)
John 14:7-14 ("I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me")

Today I'd like to honor all the women out there who are moms (there's no such thing as "have been" in the profession of motherhood).

I came to understand many years ago about how special mothers are. My understanding is not complete; nor will it be as long as my spirit inhabits this body; but it's a very deep thing. I used to share this with couples of newborns who were to be baptized. I'm not sure they understood it then; I hope that over the years that they might remember and have a 'light bulb' revelation of sorts.

Mothers are martyrs of sorts. In giving birth to others, a mother gives a part of her own life away.

Moms are acutely aware of having to make sacrifices. They do so more than most of us realize. Some will not admit to this, saying that it is an act of love. Ah, there's the rub - most sacrifices are acts of love.

As a man I barely qualify to speak of the great love of which Moms have the capacity to cultivate and share. It is too soon hit upon by family unwittingly taking unfair advantage, as if it were an endless spring of fresh water or a bottomless cup of coffee. It's true that Moms have an unfathomable level of endurance; still, it's not without limit, yet the rest of us continually push it.

In almost all my observations, Moms really do know best. Even when they're wrong, they're right.

While there are many Moms who like being pampered on their special days, there are just as many who eschew it. Moms are conscious of adversities 24/7/365 - even when it comes to something as simple as taking her out to dinner. (At least all those in my life are that way.)

Even as they grow older and the fragility of their lives becomes more obvious and prevalent, Moms are a resilient group of people. They are our first nurturers, our first teachers, and our first friends.

There is no good way to express gratitude, appreciation, thanks, or even love to someone who gives so much - and keeps giving every day of her life, in spite of her own condition.

I do know, however, that a Mom's love is more precious than just about anything else.

Friday, May 8, 2009

'The Ongoing Mission: To Boldly Go Where None Have Gone Before'

Today's Word:
Acts 13:26-33 and Psalm 2:6-11(Paul continues preaching in Antioch; "Jesus is God's Son")
John 14:1-6 ("In my Father's house there are many dwelling places...I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life")

As one might guess from the subject line, the Star Trek prequel movie releases in theaters today.
My son and I were able to see an advance screening last night. (One of the perks of my job is an annual movie night which is usually deemed the one with the most technical effects. We both thought it good; it was especially interesting to see how the young actors had to play into the characters long held by William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and the rest of the original cast.)

To boldly go where none have gone before.

If that doesn't suggest the Great Commission or any other missionary endeavor, think about it awhile. While our missionaries have never left Earth, they have embodied everything written in those brief lines about space being "the final frontier." Bearing new life in Christ to new civilizations in potentially unknown lands.

There are still missionary endeavors in many parts of the world today. In some places, their lives are still on the line - even if the vast majority of their work is more humanitarian than evangelization. Pray today for all who serve as Jesus' hands, feet, and voice in bringing one desperately needed commodity to the world: hope.

To showcase the Gospel today, a song is in order:

I don't know where you lay your head
or where you call your home
I don't know where you eat your meals
or where you talk on the phone
I don't know if you got a cook
a butler or a maid
I don't know if you got a yard
with a hammock in the shade

I don't know if you got some shelter
say a place to hide
I don't know if you live with friends
in whom you can confide
I don't know if you got a family
say a mom or dad
I don't know if you feel love at all
but I bet you wish you had

Come and go with me
to my Father's house
Come and go with me
to my Father's house
It's a big big house
with lots and lots a room
A big big table
with lots and lots of food
A big big yard
where we can play football
A big big house
It's my Father's house

All I know is a big ole house
with rooms for everyone
All I know is lots a land
where we can play and run
All I know is you need love
and I've got a family
All I know is your all alone
so why not come with me?

Come and go with me
to my Father's house
Come and go with me
to my Father's house
It's a big big house
with lots and lots a room
A big big table
with lots and lots of food
A big big yard
where we can play football
A big big house
It's my Father's house

--Big House
Mark Stuart, Barry Blair, Will McGinnis, Bob Herdaman (Audio Adrenaline)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Let Us Pray

National Day of Prayer

Today's Word:
Acts 13:13-25 (Paul preaches at Antioch)
Psalm 89:2-3, 21-27 (Forever I will sing of the Lord's goodness)
John 13:16-20 ("No slave is greater than his master; no messenger greater than the one who sent him")

There have been several national days of prayer in the U.S. before the day was made official in 1952. The Continental Congress issued a day of prayer in 1775 to designate "a time for prayer in forming a new nation". During the Quasi-War with France, President John Adams declared May 9, 1798 as "a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer," during which citizens of all faiths were asked to pray "that our country may be protected from all the dangers which threaten it". The words prayer and day have been used together in speeches by every U.S. president since the founding of the nation.

The idea
(for this day as we know it today)originated with the Rev. Billy Graham, who suggested it in the midst of a several-weeks crusade in the nation’s capitol.

A Senate report falsely claims as part of the rationale for the law that prayers were conducted at the Constitutional Convention, which adopted the U.S. Constitution: “When the delegates to the Constitutional Convention encountered difficulties in the writing and formation of a Constitution for this Nation, prayer was suggested and became an established practice at succeeding sessions,” according to the report by the Committee on the Judiciary.

However, Benjamin Franklin suggested prayer, but in his own notes recorded that the convention, “except for three or four persons, thought prayers unnecessary.” His suggestion to pray was met politely but with some embarrassment, scholars note, and delegates quickly adjourned.

On April 17, 1952, President Harry S. Truman signed a bill proclaiming a National Day of Prayer must be declared by each following president at an appropriate date of his choice. In 1982 a National Prayer Committee formed to coordinate and implement a fixed commemorated day of prayer. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan amended the law decreeing that the National Day of Prayer should be held on the first Thursday of May. A claimed intention of the National Day of Prayer was that it would be a day when members of all faiths could pray together in their own way.

Almighty God, Creator of all,
it is You - and only You - that know the motives of our minds and hearts.
In your endless grace,
continue to guide us toward the path of truth and peace.
Protect us, and our families and friends;
Indeed, protect all creation from the many dangers that threaten us all.
On this day set aside by civic leaders as a day of prayer,
may our leaders see in this moment
the genuine sanctity of all life; human, animal, and plant.
May they be led by your outstretched arm to uphold, defend, and protect
the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, truth, and peace.

We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Mental Potpourri

Today's Word:
Acts 12:24 - 13:5 (Paul and Barnabas are commissioned for the first missionary 'tour of duty')
Psalm 67:2-8 (May all the peoples praise you, O God)
John 12:44-50 ("I came into the world as light")

At this juncture in the season, things seem to be settling down to a pattern of relative normalcy everywhere. That would lead me into studying what is going on elsewhere in the world; but as what is discovered there amounts to so much falling over each other in dealing with our endless self-indulgences - everything from the H1N1 (don't call it 'swine') flu virus to the suburban woman who killed a motorcyclist she didn't see soon enough because she was painting her fingernails while driving - I will look for something on the path less traveled.

As people who are trying to lose weight for better health, my wife and I are fans of TV's The Biggest Loser. The most recent episode has the four remaining contestants returning home for 30 days to get reacquainted with the lifestyles they left behind for the previous seventeen weeks at a...fat farm. (I'm not going to mince words; it's the first term that came to mind. Call it a fitness boot camp if you prefer.)

The Final Four all head for home boasting of the new lease on life they've been given, only to realize in less than three days that weight loss alone will not keep you on the road to optimum health. They're already aware that there is one last weigh-in at the end of the thirty days; now they see the reminders of what they left behind: the fast-food parlors on every other corner, people who don't appear to either diet or exercise and seem perfectly healthy. To top it off, they learn that they will run a full 26.2-mile marathon as their final challenge. They're stressing-out - and I've come to understand that stress will upset your metabolic balances enough to slow, stop, and even reverse weight loss if it isn't dealt with soon enough.

Trainers Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper travel to the contestants' homes to check on them, but also to remind them - perhaps for the first time all season - that there's another dimension to this besides a proper diet and physical activity. Because The Biggest Loser is a commercial reality contest, this dimension is quickly eclipsed by reminders of the game and the prize for which the contestants are vying.

I want to touch on the idea of the 'whole' person for a minute.

We as Christians think of ourselves - perhaps too much - as 'broken.' The state of life around us certainly provides proof of brokenness. Having said that, though, isn't one of the reasons for Jesus' living among us, and the whole of his passion, death, and resurrection - isn't all this designed to make us whole?

Paul of Tarsus, who we're told today is setting forth on the first of his missionary journeys, will later write to one of the communities in which he preaches that "your body is a (T)emple of the Holy Spirit." Most modern-day preachers will take this and apply it in terms of sexual awareness; but there are a few who, like me, also see this symbolism as a reminder to be careful of what you put in your body, how you nourish it and care for it.

Today I attended a health care seminar on managing stress. Again, nobody in the health care industry can seem to mention it directly, but a wholistic approach to coping with stress includes your faith and spiritual beliefs. While it is true that too much emphasis in this area can lead to potential trouble, the lack of it will lead to trouble.

One more observation.

A look at Wikipedia's online almanac shows that May 6 (today) is "International No Diet Day." How curious.

The International No Diet Day (INDD) is an annual celebration of body acceptance and body shape diversity. This day is also dedicated to raise awareness of the dangers in diets. This day is observed on May 6, and its symbol is a blue ribbon, similar to the red ribbon of the World AIDS Day.

The concept of INDD originated at 1992, when British Feminist Mary Evans Young decided to fight the diet industry and to raise awareness of the dangers in anorexia and other eating disorders. In order to do that, Evans Young addressed the local media saying "Fat Woman Bites Back". When she was interviewed on television, she "reminded" the audience to celebrate the International No Diet Day on May 6. This specific date had no specific reason other than its proximity to the television interview.

There are several goals to the INDD:

* Doubt the idea of one "right" body shape.
* Raise awareness to weight discrimination, size bias and fatphobia.
* Declare a free day from diets and obsessions to body weight.
* Present the facts about the diet industry, emphasizing the inefficacy of commercial diets.
* Show how diets perpetuates violence against women.
* Honor the victims of eating disorders and weight-loss surgeries.

If memory serves correctly, I believe it was Shakespeare who wrote, "To thine own self be true." I'd like to amend that to read, "To God and to thine own self be true." That makes lots of sense. Common sense; something that every now and then seems lacking.

Taking a holistic approach is virtuous; by that I mean that it encompasses the virtues of faith, hope, and love. I've come to understand that chasing after every new thing is not necessarily holistic. And I'm thankful that I have a great support system (both human and divine); I owe my very survival to having it in place.

I hope that somewhere along the way, I've managed to be the same sort of human aspect of that support system to others.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

"The Hand of the Lord Was With Them"

El Cinco de Mayo

Today's Word:
Acts 11:19-26 (The believers came to be called Christians)
Psalm 87:1-7 (I tell of people in foreign lands among those who know the Lord)
John 10:22-30 ("The Father and I are one")

Cinco de Mayo is a holiday celebrating the defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. People with Mexican roots celebrate it everywhere. Over, the years the day has become very commercialized and many people see this holiday as a time for fun and dance.
--excerpted from Wilson's Almanac (

In last Sunday's reflection I touched on the subject phrase in saying, "God is on our side." I also put forth the idea that God being on "our" side is not the proper way of looking at it. To say "God is on our side" indicates a possessiveness we want to avoid. Remember? It's the greater understanding we should desire and pursue. Luke, the writer of Acts of the Apostles, sees this clear distinction in his account of the growth of the Church. The leadership and the community are on God's side.

Congregations were springing up in many places in the Eastern Mediterranean. Most noted of these in the list Luke gives is Antioch, in modern-day Syria. Antioch will become well known for the remainder of the 1st Century; it is one of the seven major churches given in the book of Revelation. As the communities apart from Jerusalem grew, so did concerns among the Jewish believers of "The Way" of inclusivity. The leaders at Jerusalem (which included the Apostles) sent Barnabas, a trusted disciple, to Antioch to check things out. Barnabas was more than pleased at what he saw. Further, his encouragement to the community drew others into it.

Sudden growth has its problems. If there aren't enough good leaders, people with vision and foresight that is a gift of the Holy Spirit, growth can actually strangle a community. Barnabas sees an opportunity here. He reassures the people in Antioch that they won't be left without guidance. He then sets off to look for an old friend.

Biblical scholars indicate it's been about three years since Paul of Tarsus experienced his conversion on the road to Damascus. In that time Paul was at home; most likely studying, praying, and sorting out how he 'fit in.' He had to leave Damascus rather quickly after he began preaching for Jesus there as opposed to against him. From what we know of Paul, I will presume that he maintained contact with the believers in Jerusalem and elsewhere. He would not be content to live out his days as an itinerant tent maker - not with the lives of those he had harmed before his conversion weighing on his conscience. He knew he would make good on his indebtedness to the One who revealed Himself as true Lord.

When Barnabas arrived in Tarsus, explaining his experience at Antioch and what it offered, Paul went there with him. For the next year they continued to work tirelessly, continuing to build the community. The community became so well known that all believers had a new sense of identity and purpose. As such, they began to call themselves by a new name...the Anointed Ones, or as we know it, "Christians."

If "God is on our side," we may still stumble and fail - and in so doing, question many things. If we're on God's side, if "the hand of the Lord is with us," great and wonderful things happen.

Today, I pray that I am on His side, and walking in His ways.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Story from Real Life

Acts 11:1-18 (Peter's vision and exegesis: "Who was I to be able to hinder God?")
Psalm 42:2 - 43:4 (When shall I go and behold the face of God?)
John 10:1-10 ("I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly")

almost wrote today off.

The readings continue to play off the growth of the early Church and the revelation of inclusivity - and the Gospel passage is the prelude to yesterday's dialogue about the Good Shepherd. Neither need that much more explanation relative to Biblical times. So I've been going about my work; the stuff for which I'm compensated and that pays for the roof over the head and the food on the table. Nothing was striking me as all that shareable.

Nothing, that is, until I found a strange heading in a new software package of which I'm helping to evaluate for my employer.

I'm looking at a module within the software called 'Partners' - this represents others with whom you do business, be they suppliers or customers. Within this module, there's a heading called - I kid you not - 'States of Mind.'

Curious person that I am, and since I have this puppy all to myself (if the system crashes it's not a problem), I went to the next level to see what this "states of mind" thing is all about. As you might guess, it's a rating criteria; something that could be conceivably used to rank your overall business relationship with the supplier or customer. There are five such ranks, each with a ratings factor as follows:

Very Happy  - 8.5
Happy - 7
Normal - 5
Unhappy - 3
Fury (Furious) - 1

I'm not certain how the ratings factor works. I'm presuming that it's based on a scale from 1 - 10, where a ten - especially since it's not listed - would be equivalent to "Miracle Worker," "Walks on Water," or "Business god."

On Earth, we're all statistics in some form. You tend to be associated with the following sets of ID numbers:
Social Security number (at work)
Checking account or credit card number (your bank and other consumer transactions)
Phone number (most people have up to three now - home, work, and cell phone)
In your church, it's your envelope number.
There are more. The more you're known, the more numbers get attached to you. That's a fact of life as we know it.

I, for one, am not a big fan of having to rate things. Nothing's perfect; but there are few things that are so bad that I would objectively rate them in such a manner. In a business climate, rating your clients on a scale like this makes it difficult for the back-up or replacement on the staff to deal with those ranked at the bottom. Would you look forward to cold-calling a client knowing that the person or company at the other end has a past history of being unhappy or furious? I know I wouldn't.

Naturally, Jesus gets a '10.' But this isn't about ratings.

I'm just thankful beyond belief that I can call upon God - by name - and that He has called me - by name.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

'One Flock, One Shepherd'

The Fourth Sunday of Easter
Good Shepherd Sunday

Today's Word:
Acts 4:8-12 and Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 21-29 (The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone)
1 John 3:1-2 (We are God's children now; what we are to be has not yet been revealed)
John 10:11-18 (Jesus is the Good Shepherd: "I have other sheep...these also I must lead, and they will hear my voice")

Philippians 1:27-30 (Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel...that you may stand firm in one spirit)

I have several ways to go with today's meditation, running the gamut from the classic shepherd in the pasture with the sheep (nice photo op) to a treatise on Psalm 23 and the many musical settings thereof (and I like them all). In fact, the latter was what I thought I was going with as I lay in bed waking this morning.

Then I revisited the text of today's Gospel passage and the paradox of "one fold, one shepherd" prompted me.

Obviously there's something wrong with that prospect. If there's only supposed to be one, then which one? Why? And, why are there so many - more than there were at the time Jesus walked the earth and when John recalled this sixty years later? And why aren't we all Jewish? And why are Jews still waiting for the First Coming of the Messiah?

As I've been writing and have come to understand, Paul of Tarsus (fka Saul) was a devout Jew - studied under Rabbi Gamaliel, one of the best teachers of the time - and saw all these liberal Christ-following Jews as an aberration; as anathema to the proper practice of the Jewish faith. Even there, though, was division - the Pharisees on one side and the Saducees on another, with still another group - the Essenes - showing viability.

I've thought about this strange paradox. It flies in the face of an ideal called unity. The Christian Profession of Faith calls for "one" holy Church; yet there are hundreds of denominations. Catholic Church theology speaks of "unity in diversity", something hinted at in the Gospels and in Paul's writing. But even that is an ideal not quite realized. How can we speak of unity among Christians when there isn't even unity among Catholics? (Further, for the benefit of my other Christian friends and readers, this rift isn't limited to Roman Catholicism. There is a sense of disparity everywhere, and one doesn't have to look hard to see it - just look outside themselves and it's rather apparent.)

I believe the biggest obstacle to understanding what Jesus teaches us in being the Good Shepherd is that each fold, each denomination, carries to some degree a mark of exclusivity. Nobody owns any exclusive access rights to God. (Sorry, Benjy; you too, Henry, Marty; and everyone else.) No lofty status, no degree of knowledge, no high or low, no near or far makes any one person or any one path more accessible to Jesus and to God than the one you're on right now.

I grew up (in wisdom and spirit, no less!) holding some rather exclusive teachings. In some ways, as a preacher I should be perpetuating the sense of elitism and separation that those teachings suggest. But that would be very, very wrong! Our life should be devoted to an understanding of God, not a possessiveness. For example, let's say that Notre Dame and DePaul (or Southern Methodist and Illinois Wesleyan) tie in a football game. Each wonders why the game ended in a tie. Each believed as they went into "battle" that God was on their side. Problem is, God was on the other side, too!

The walls that separate and divide us from God and each other are walls humanity built for themselves. Our Jewish brothers and sisters are still among God's Chosen People - for if it were any different, God would have to abandon His promise, something He would never do. It took a little thought, but it didn't take long for the early Church to see that the message of the gospel was meant for everyone, and having received this Good News, we should live in the manner in which the message calls us.

Today, I pray that my mind will always be open to hear God's message, even if it is not in the 'usual and customary' way.

Shepherd me, O God,
Beyond my wants;
Beyond my fears;
From death into life

God is my shepherd, so nothing shall I want
I rest in the meadows of faithfulness and love
I walk by the quiet waters of peace. (Refrain)

Gently you raise me and heal my weary soul
You lead me by pathways of righteousness and truth
My spirit will sing the music of your name. (Refrain)

Though I should wander the valley of death
I fear no evil, for you are at my side
Your rod and your staff my comfort and my hope. (Refrain)

You have set me a banquet of love in the face of hatred
Crowning me with love beyond my power to hold. (Refrain)

Surely your kindness and mercy follow me
All the days of my life
I will dwell in the house of my God forevermore.

Shepherd me, O God;
Beyond my wants,
Beyond my fears;
From death...into life!

--Shepherd Me, O God
setting of Psalm 23 by Marty Haugen

Saturday, May 2, 2009


Today's Word:
Acts 9:31-42 (The Church at peace; Peter heals the paraplegic Aeneas and raises Dorcas from the dead)
Psalm 116:12-17 (How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?)
John 6:60-69 (The Bread of Life Discourse VII: "Do you also want to leave?")

Acceptance. Easy for some things, difficult in others.

If I won the big prize in the lottery, that would be relatively easy to accept.

Why is it, then, that something much more lasting than the lottery cash prize - which, by the way, also effects a change in lifestyle - is at times, so hard to accept? Is the concept of life at peace with the Creator so far-fetched from reality; are the temptations too great, that it is so hard to accept the manner of life that comes with it?

That is the whole point of the Bread of Life Discourse. I haven't paid much attention to the ongoing dialogue this week - not because it is hard to wrap around, but because the stories of Deacons Stephen and Philip, and the conversion of Saul played larger to me. (Reading deeper this week I realized that it was not the Apostle Philip but another of the first seven deacons who preached to the Samarians and the Ethiopian official; that is an important point that is often missed.) I will also have another opportunity to reflect on the whole of the Bread of Life Discourse later this summer as John 6 is proclaimed over six weeks beginning in July.

The conclusion of this discourse is possibly the only place in John's Gospel where Jesus in his humanity might be wondering what to do next. Thousands of people were fed miraculously, and wanted more. They so desperately wanted to believe in Jesus. Yet, signs and wonders were not what it was all about. There was much more - but it meant a change of heart and of ways. It meant taking a risk that some simply thought they couldn't take, and as a result, many disciples stopped following Jesus and returned to their previous way of life.

Seeing this, Jesus takes this as an opportunity to ask the soon-to-be apostles: "Do you also want to leave?"

Peter speaks up. Remember, this is the guy who wanted to build three temples at the scene of the Transfiguration, and would deny he even knew Jesus. What's he going to say this time?

"Master, to whom shall we go?"


We're blessed by this and by anyone who 'hangs in there' when the path is not clear. This makes it possible for the rest of us who may stray from the path to receive the prayers and grace to return to it.