13 December 2010


Last evening (12 December) the National Geographic Channel televised "The Real Caligula" as part of its series, When Rome Ruled.  I got caught up in this, because Caligula (who ruled from 37 to 41C.E.) was known for his erratic and nearly mad behavior.  After an inexplicable illness, he became psychotic and claimed to hear voices of the gods...in fact, spending much time in the temple of Jupiter conversing with that god's statue.  He would then often dress as Jupiter at public gatherings of the Senate.  His behavior led to a long series of murders, debauchery and expenditures of wealth on ego driven projects (e.g. a nearly mile long causeway bridge between the emporer's palace and the temple of Jupiter for his singularly private use). 

I cite this historical period for two reasons.  First, researchers believe that, like other Roman emperors, Caligula suffered from epilepsy.  In the history of ancient Rome, this was also known as the "sacred sickness" because of the kinds of experiences cited with Caligula above.  Also, it is believed that a particularly violent epileptic seizure early in Caligula's reign triggered a psychotic break and the onset of manic depressive behavior.  Second, modern study of the brain (primarily work being done through NIH) has led to associating certain spiritual experiences with areas of the brain associated with epilepsy (temporal lobe), delusions (brain stem) and reality detachment (frontal and parietal lobes).  NPR recently reported on this research; the summary of which can be reviewed at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=110997741&sc=emaf .

Neurotheology is a growing science that engages research on the function of the brain and the experience of God.  Much of what I have shared above would suggest that spirituality resides in the realm of psychoses and other neurological disorders.  No doubt, this would please atheists, agnostics and other skeptics of God and spirituality.  In truth, I wondered early on if some of my more profound experiences of the Holy were onsets of a break with reality.  After all, I am a trained scientist as well as a theologian.  Isn't science the search for hard data and concrete evidence? 

Over the years, I have become as familiar with moments of deep spiritual awakening and insights as with other aspects of larger reality.  Having now spent hundreds of hours in various modes of psycho-therapy (self initiated) exploring the possibility that such experiences and resultant changes in life patterns, I have come to accept the consistent diagnosis of "normal with the usual levels of neuroses."  (as an aside, every person who has a personality has some number of neuroses as a part of life...we deal with them or learn to compensate in some way.  BTW, denying having neurotic behaviors can indicate a kind of delusion....a more serious behavioral issue).  "Normal" in psychotherapy denotes an acceptable range of behavior characteristics given to the general population.  It's nothing special.

What we are learning is that brain function can reflect two avenues of experience.  One can lead to a deepening of reality and human character.  The other can lead to one of several forms of psychoses or be the affect of a genetic disorder (as in epilepsy).  The parts of the brain responsible for these functions also connect with deeper functions.  It is here that theology (especially ascetical theology -- exploration of prayer and spiritual discipline) can intersect with physiology and psychology.

Folks generally pray as if God is "out there" somewhere.  The more typical view is that heaven exists as a place separate and away -- a place to which we will "go someday."  Since we are spatially oriented, we have denoted "up" as a good place and "down" as a bad place.  We have Dante largely to thank for that orientation. 

Jesus spoke of heaven in a very different way by saying that "the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."  He was not talking about the end of the world (as many suggest).  The grammar of the New Testament (Koine Greek language) used in that quote means literally, 'the Kingdom of Heaven is able to be palpated -- touched -- and experienced in the moment of time and space.'  Greek allows for a mouthful of meaning in a few short words.  The New Testament also spoke of God within us.  In fact the first order of creation includes humankind being created "in the image of God."

The theology of Imago Dei (image of God) does in no way indicate that we look like or function like God (Caligula's delusion...a dysfunction associated with the brain stem and temporal lobe).  It means that our foundational character, which defines us as uniquely human is of God....God "breathed into the being, and the being became human" (transliterating the Hebrew text).  Our essence, then, is of God.  How then do we access this center of our nature (theologians call this nature our ontological core)?

Prayer does not go out unless it first goes in....deep within.  It is the discipline of contemplation and deep meditation.  Both of those are associated with the frontal lobe.  It is like a computer.  The programs we must have are all in binary code (ones and zeros).  The operating system must be capable of "reaching in" and transcribing that code into usable language and symbols.  The brain is the operating system that reaches into the core of our being to connect us with not only our True Self but with the God whose image is reflected in that True Self.  The brain translates the experience into forms that we use in daily life...to define our complete reality.

This is not a fond hope, but the cutting edge of theology and science...working in tandem...and now often working in harmony.  For some very interesting reading, I suggest Dr. Francis Collins (MD, PhD), who is now head of NIH and formerly led the team that mapped the human genome.  His books, The Language of God and The Language of Life are both outstanding reading in both science and spirtuality.  When the completion of the genome mapping project was announced by then President Clinton in 1993, Dr. Collins began his short presentation with the words, "We now have seen the fingerprint of God." 

In Christ's Love,


17 November 2010

See What I Mean? A Timely Example of Moral Distortion

     Within hours of writing yesterday's blog posting ("The Juice is Worth the Squeeze"), I learned of a manipulative, legal trick play used by a middle school football team to score a touchdown.  First, watch the Youtube.com playback.  It will be necessary to view it a few times.  First, pay attention to the lower middle of the picture.  The coach is standing next to an official and calls out a foul for five yards against his own team.  The official ignores the call.  Then watch it again and see what happens on the team.  You will see the center hand the ball over his shoulder to the quarterback, who nonchalantly walks into the opposing line as if to step off his own five yard penalty.  The other team is stunned, obviously.  The quarterback then breaks into a sprint to score a touchdown.   Please watch.  See you on the other side.


On first look, this is a hoot!  Imagine, a) this being legal (it is); b) pulling it off; c) actually having the other team believe it.   Now for the question that will bring us all down to earth?  Is this a morally sound value that has created this behavior?    Darn!  Testy priest!

So happens that I have heard two persons speak of this.  One is a psychologist and the other an NPR sports analyst.  Amazingly enough, both have nearly identical "takes" on the event.   If this were attempted by a group of adult, professional players, much of what is observed here would not have happened.  The choices would have been framed with fully formed moral consciences.  The quarterback would have made the decision to act or not on the coach's call.  Guaranteed:  the opposing team would not have been taken off-guard.  The quarterback would have been flattened by either a lineman or the nearest backfield hulk....not pretty.

In terms of moral development and the formation of conscience, young people do not have completely developed capacity for making such choices independently until near adulthood (ca. 20 years of age).  One can see the change in most young people, as they engage their environment more responsibly and make sounder, wiser decisions. 

Both commentators noted above cite that the Driscoll Middle School coach makes this decision to manipulate the playing field and directs his team to engage the play.  This eighth grader is doing what young people do on teams:  exactly what the allegedly responsible adult tells him/her to do.  The other team hears a foul call, sees the official and does what young people are taught to do....obey....in this case stand still and wait. 

My point here is that both the psychologist and NPR sports analyst agree that this is a form of child abuse.  It is teaching children to deceive and, in reality, cheat the other team in irresponsible and unsportsmanlike actions.  What has happened here is that a filter has been put in place for these kids by two seemingly responsible adults through which the actions of moral conscience will have to pass to create ethical behavior.  They have been behaviorially modified by their mentors.

A glass is filled with water and a straw placed in the glass.  Seen from the side, the straw looks fractured as it goes from air to water.  That is not a true picture but a distortion created by density and specific gravity.  It is similar between the conscience and the events of life that become filters. 

This is serious stuff and will create the kinds of dysfunction we currently see in government, business and on Wall Street.  It's part of our mess.

In Christ's Love,

Fr. Fred+

16 November 2010

"The Juice is Worth the Squeeze"

 This article is originally published under the title "Rector's Reflections" in our parish weekly newsletter.  It is rendered in its entirety here.

    Recently, I was watching a movie in which the title phrase was used to describe what a person’s experience of living a moral life might be like. I decided immediately that it would be a good epitaph for a tombstone….AND a great way to define moral integrity.
     Our current Sunday Night Dialogue is a three-part series of reflections on our understanding of Church and State. Can it, or should it, be separate? I began the series on 7 November with a presentation on “Christ and Culture.” This is the title of a book written by H. Richard Niebuhr in 1956 and still in print. It remains required reading in the Ethics and Moral Theology classes of most of our seminaries.
     In the above noted presentation, I shared a working definition of ethics and morals. These two terms are much confused in our common parlance and representation of relational integrity. Most all of our contemporary culture has relegated “morals” to the behaviors surround sexual conduct, marital relationships, various addictions, etc. “Ethics” has been determined as being largely those actions and behaviors that reflect business and social interactions. This last definition is probably a bit closer to accurate. However, our definition of “morals” is astoundingly far from its original meaning.

     The classic definition of moral – both in Aristotelian philosophy and Judeo-Christian Tradition – is “the fundamental, ontological character within an individual which reflects both created and assimilated values.” Some explanation is in order. The term “ontological” is a theological base word that describes the essence of one’s being. It is more comprehensive than the terms, “spirit” or “soul.” It is life-force that drives what is termed “conscience” – our ability to know right from wrong/good from evil. In most infants, this is an innate quality. It often is either shadowed or lost by life factors that include experiences, trauma, neuro-pathological episodes or social conditioning (e.g. if a child grows up in a highly bigoted home, the nature of good in others is very diminished over time).
     Being moral, therefore incorporates all aspects of one’s character…only a small portion of which is human sexuality or other patterns of behavior normally given to that name. Another way to describe moral character is “passion.” Again, this has nothing to do with our current usage of the word. “Passion” is the energy that drives our character to accomplish the highest possible good and is a reflection of our character. Passion is what creates the conscience….that sometimes small voice that will indicate what we really need to believe about our environment or our relationships. Conscience is how moral character emerges into conscious levels of our lives.

     The classic definition of ethic – again in both the Aristotelian Nicomacean system and Judeo-Christian Tradition – is “the doing of our morals…values.” Once we have a conscience that is informed by our moral character, we need to apply the elements of that character to our interaction with our outside world and relationships. The behaviors that emerge are described as our ethics. Unlike our current, and very limited definition, ethics incorporates all behaviors that define us in the world. Yes, this can make us truly sit back and take stock of what we are all about.
     Ethics can be either well-informed or ill-informed. If our moral character is sound and largely undistorted by life events cited above, our behaviors will be well-informed and bring stability and harmony to our external environment. To the extent that distortion bends our character or skews it, our behaviors will bring instability or disharmony to the external environment. Another way to determine ethical behaviors is by their relative altruism. If behaviors are largely couched in self-serving, ego-driven motivations, there is a good chance that we have some distortion (or “baggage” in the current linguistics) at work as filters through which our conscience must travel.

     I have mentioned Aristotle a couple of times in this presentation. He is considered the “father” of systematic thought regarding morals and ethics. Aristotle’s writings in this area were titled (by him) as “Ethica Nicomacea.” Another writer that developed a systematic philosophical approach to moral and ethical life was Plato. These two Greek philosophers were the platforms used by Christians from the first century onward to develop our theological framework that we call Moral and Ethical Theology.
Oddly enough, seminaries most often teach Ethical Theology first. Reason: It is the easiest to identify and “dissect.” While doing that, professors are teaching basic biblical principles and basic theological language to apply to our spiritual essence. Once that process is underway, the task of exploring Moral Theology begins. These studies really never end. I have been constantly investing time of prayer, reflection and reading in these areas over the decades. We are constantly learning more about ourselves, our environment, our relationships and the global implications of both our character and our actions. The Zen master says, “A butterfly flaps its wings on one side of the world, and that creates a windstorm on the other side of the world.” More appropriate within our Christian Tradition, “An action done by me today will have an affect far, far beyond my capacity to realize.” This is not an exaggeration in the least. Ponder it.

     This is obviously an oversimplified presentation of ethical and moral theology. It is a truly fundamental part of who we are and must have reflective study and prayer. It is the foundation of prayer, in fact. Back to the title of this article. God requires of us to constantly make the choice of either listening to and tapping into our moral essence or simply going on our “gut” and tapping our emotional and ego-driven motivations. It is a hard choice we must make. I regularly find myself rebounding from distorted and filtered values (a moment of anger, judgment, rage, anxiety or fear). However, when I take the time and effort to let go of my pre-conceptions and dig into my place of essential character, I can squeeze out the good juice of God’s Love that defines me as a human person and recasts my behavior as I engage my surroundings. Thus: The juice is worth the squeeze!

     Advent is a good time to slow down enough to see Divine Love at work. God wants so much for our characters to inform our actions that God gave us the ultimate expression of that desire: Jesus. That birth and His life provide us with a completely open and deep view of what it means to express God’s Love and engage the world with the power of that Love. If it is anything less, we need to make serious adjustments. I am not a Christian soldier marching as if there is war. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ seeking the fullest expression of God’s Love in all that is around me….friend and foe alike. That is the actual Gospel Imperative. Advent defines the journey!

In the Love of Christ Jesus,

Fr. Fred+

15 October 2010

Is There Always an Angle?

It has been a while since I last posted a blog entry. Much has been happening, both in my parish and in my personal life. All of it is exciting in its own way. St. Andrew's has begun a Restoration Campaign that I have been praying would take place since shortly after my arrival. It is a massive undertaking, and we have incredibly gifted and passionate parishioners leading and working to make it possible for us Restore, Rebuild and Renew our internal and external fabric as well as our faith community's spiritual focus. As we prepare for the next one hundred years of ministry in our part of metro Kansas City, we are doing so with a truly renewed sense of being an integral part of life beyond our walls.

As part of the above work, we began a strategic planning process about eighteen months ago that set us on a journey of answering the question, "What is God calling us to major in as both a unique faith community and part of the diocesan family of West Missouri?" Again, we had been praying about the timing of doing this work since my arrival in 2004. Again, there were a number of energetic, bright and forward looking parishioners who worked hard to produce the final strategic plan that has just been published. We "rolled it out" in mid-September and will embark officially at our Annual Parish Meeting on 24 January 2011.

Then, along came this unexpected journey. I am growing accustomed to "paying for" the rough and tumble aspects of my youth and young adulthood. Injuries and damage add up. I was not expecting, however, to be advised by my orthopedic surgeon that I would have to have an entire joint replaced....soon. We knew it was a fait de'accompli in the next few years. But, in mid-August -- just before Denise and I embarked on vacation -- I found that the deterioration in my right shoulder joint was moving faster than anticipated. So, as I write this, I am nine days out from the surgery that replaced the joint and did additional work to bring future tightness and added stability to the supporting musculature. Upside: pain management is way better than anticipated. Downside: recovery will be longer due to the extra work -- and, I have to be at home for two weeks. That means at home...inside....going nowhere. Infection is a big deal with these things.

There is something of an upside to mandatory "confinement." I have time to think more about what I am doing and what lies ahead. I am realizing in my own life that there are twists and turns that are totally unplanned and often short-notice. I have also become more sensitive of late to angles. There is a theology behind the angles, but that will wait a bit. The angle I am most intrigued with at the moment is that which precipitates action or creates points of views and ideologies that aren't supported by anything resembling Real Truth. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, I was reading an article in a new journal about the state of the current electoral process. You know, the one that will lead to voting on 2 November. One has to have almost no means of public information not to know just how political ads have taken shape. It is bad enough that I mute whatever I am listening to or watching when they invade my air-space. Yes, I am very interested in who gets elected. Yes, I will indeed vote. But the rhetoric, smearing of character, and misrepresentation of facts become almost insidious at times.

All of this reminds me of the insurance salesmen that would invade college dormitories, when I was a student (38 years ago). The promise was a secure, firm and worry-free future by investing in various insurance instruments now -- payments beginning after we graduated and found jobs. Fortunately, I had learned from my dad about some of this before he died, and I just said 'no.' In doing so, I was guaranteed at least a five minute haranguing about how I was severely jeopardizing my future and family/loved ones I may have at my demise. No! Unfortunately, one of my friends purchased one of these policies. Just to report: it was a disaster, and it took him some legal counsel to get free of the obligations.

It leaves us with the conclusion that there is always an angle. It creates an environment of mistrust and doubt.

There is another kind of moral/ethical dilemma among us. In that article, I mentioned above, the author made a statement to which I have given much thought: "There is what we believe; then, there is what we hear; then, there is some other stuff; then there is the real truth."

To follow the logic: we develop a series of beliefs about ourselves, others, ideologies, our outer environment, our inner environment and larger truths that are informed my cultural folkways, family members, teachers, peers and other places we are convinced we can trust. Our actions and interactions will be grounded in these beliefs.

As we engage life, we will hear stories and vignettes of experiences in favorite places (at the club, on the golf course, in the locker room, at the spa, in the grocery store, etc.). The dialogue seems convincing and the information being shared is compelling. Has to be right. Soon, an emotional frenzy is whipping up faster than an Oklahoma tornado out of a late spring thunderstorm. Unlike the tornado, we don't have chasers to check the origin and potential direction this storm might take. Like the aircraft carrier commander said, "things will get out of hand and people will get hurt....badly hurt."

There is other stuff that enter our sphere of influence that can momentarily take charge of our moral and ethical guidance gear. A family crisis, a death, an accident, a difficult error of judgment. The list goes on.

I am not endorsing a political party or ideology in what I am about to say. I do see, however, in the recent emergence of the Tea Party, just such a frenzy -- cultural tornado -- that seems grounded in various places by misinformation, anger, and even prejudice toward particular groups of people. When all of this began, I took a more than my usual casual interest in the politics of the moment. How factual are all of these points of view that represent what is known as "political platform?" How can one group of people claim that we need to "take our country back?" I wasn't aware of an invasion. My constitutional freedoms seem well intact. I may not agree with elements of policy currently in play with our administration. Nothing seems any more hijacked than any other administration known to me in my lifetime and study of history. Yet, we have a mightily whipped up and frenzied group of people out and about.

No, I am not making light of anything. If I have a cause at all, it is one that seeks to answer the question, "What is the deepest moral good -- the embracing of which will allow me to know the design of God, the integrity of self and the action that will best meet the needs of the largest number of people?" The second question, "What actions must I take to insure that I am living with both integrity and character in the human community...all of whom are created in the image of God and who are from the same origin as me? (another time about spiritual oneness and genetic identity...the reality of Eden)

There are angles in most things. What I believe isn't always the truth. It may be an expression of part of a truth...but not the truth as it really exists. Nothing near all that I hear constitutes fact. There is a whole bunch of trash in print and on the audio/video airwaves. I'm not talking about pulp fiction. I am talking about standard stuff. There is sensationalism everywhere. How do I get to the best truth?

For me? I pray a lot. Not with words regarding "the best man/woman" or "this issue..." kind of stuff. I pray in silence. What is emerging as a sense of grounding from which to act? Then, I do research...not in my own comfort zone but from every angle I can get...right into the midst of what I might find most disagreeable. I make myself available to being wrong in my current pattern of belief. I listen for shallow thinking or overly emotional rhetoric or "deal making." I don't jump to conclusions. I wait to be sure I am centered and balanced. I don't shut others down or dismiss them out-of-hand or call them crazy if they are in a vastly different place from me. I ask questions...sincere questions...and I listen...really listen without trying to form a response while the other is sharing his/her point of view.

Now, I blow it with some regularity. My Myers-Briggs shows me as being hard-wired toward responding viscerally. I play out of my gut with information coming in. I have to watch this constantly. Frankly, I get caught out occasionally. That's when I fire dumb emails or slam folks with my own brand of rhetorical firestorm. It is nothing for which one should be proud. It doesn't answer the moral imperative that I shared above. If anything, it totally distorts it. Then, when my wits are again about me, I have some work to do to reshape the environment I have left in shambles.

In a bit more than two weeks, we will be asked to elect men and women to public office at various levels of responsibility. None of them are bad people. Each of them, like each of us, belongs to God and, in their own way, are passionate to serve their constituencies. Look upon them as God's folks. If the faith community has anything to offer, it is to love the other as we would want to be loved. Disagree but don't seek to destroy. Vote your conscience, but be very careful to inform your conscience with data that is as close as possible to Real Truth. Do your homework.

The world will be a better place, if we all took the moral high road.


Fr. Fred+

23 July 2010

"Hamlet's Blackberry" and Other Contraptions

For the past couple of weeks I have been trying to read through William Powers' book, "Hamlet's Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age." It is a fairly recent release, and I found it in our local library on the new books shelf. As luck would have it, William Powers was interviewed on NPR early this week about the subject of his book. I was fascinated. My problem with reading the book isn't the content. It is the fact that our work at St. Andrew's has become so dense in the past few weeks, that any reading outside the technical material needed for my craft has been darn near impossible.

I didn't buy my first computer until the spring of 1989. I owned a word processor for my office, and it sufficed...until our parish church (Holy Cross, Sanford, FL at the time) was robbed...my word processor unit being one of the heisted items. I decided to replace it with a bona fide computer. I shopped my purchase through one of the technical gurus in my parish. I purchased a tower unit with 40 mb of hard drive and 1 mb of ram. According to the folks at the computer store, I was on the leading edge of the computing power curve at that moment. Oh, and it included an amber screen. Hot stuff!

Three years later, in the fall of 1992, I was preparing to move family, household and my office to St. James Cathedral, South Bend, IN, where I was to become the Dean on 1 January 1993. Things were becoming difficult for my once fancy computer. So, I had a friend in Orlando custom build a tower unit with a 486 processor, 256mb hard drive and 4 mb ram. Once again, I was in front of the technology curve. I would be the most technically advanced cathedral dean in the Episcopal Church....for about 10 months.

Let me back up a moment and reflect on a comment I made to my parish in Sanford, FL at the Annual Meeting in January 1990. My first computer was about 8 months old, and we had just purchased a full computing system for the parish office. I had done some casual statistics and reported to our parish that, with the two computers, we could reduce administrative production time by almost 60%. The savings in time would provide us with a large number of weekly hours for pastoral, program and other functional ministry opportunities. Huzzah!

It is now 2010. It is two parishes and almost 21 years since the purchase of my first computer. I am writing this on my laptop, which is just passed two months old. It has a ridiculous number of gbs of hard drive and enough ram to run the world on the screen. The whole system weighs about 6 lbs. My office at St. Andrew's is in a pretty good technical place. We have an internal network with our own internet domain and website. Our internal servers are two in number and hum at high speed 24 hrs/day. Each office has either a laptop or a desk top machine. Most all of them are current state of the art. Our network handles all 12 of us on staff using the email and internet features at the same time. We process a huge amount of information and data on a weekly basis (it's a parish of about 1800 folks). We also have wi-fi throughout our complex -- except for the church itself. I can run my office from either my office or my home (25 minutes away).

At home, my wife also has a personal laptop, and we have a "dinosauer" (five year old) desk top system in the study that we use as a main server for our wi-fi system, our wireless printer, scanner, copier, fax machine and music storage.

I have a smartphone that allows me to access my office email at will wherever I am. I could access my home email account as well...should I desire to do so. I Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, text message, phone chat and listen to music via my computers, smartphone and iPod Nano. My phone calendar syncs automatically with my office calendar...all of which syncs with my administrative assistant's version of my calendar. Any time either of us generates an event on my calendar, that event is logged on two computers, a server and my phone. All my computer data is automatically backed up to server when I shut down. Damn! I just keep moving.

BUT, there is a problem, I now have less discretionary, program, pastoral and prep time for my craft than I had 20 years ago. What gives!!

I find this hard to admit (for reasons I will reveal below), but I did a hard data analysis last year on what had happened to my statistical predictions in January 1990. I front-loaded the average weekly hours of work. I then determined what time is spent in administrative, pastoral, program, liturgical and other necessary work in the average week. I did this over a three week period. The results surprised me.

First, my 1990 predications were not wrong. I had saved about 60% of my admin time...time which it took to do set activities. HOWEVER, the total amount of current administrative time had increased by more than 65%! I was spending more time with administration because more administration was being demanded/expected/required. Adding to this was the expected availability. Whether in the office or in the "field" or at home or on a vacation, the expectation had become that availability would be constant and as immediate as possible. I was getting text messages asking why I hadn't responded to an email that was only sent 20 minutes prior to the text message! Absurd? Nope.

All of this led me to proclaim earlier this year (to a group of colleague priests) that we have entered a place of information overload. There is hardly a space left for absorbing what it means to be alive and in the world. This, it turns out, is very much the same tune being played by William Powers in his book.

Now I get back to why data collection would be a surprise to some. I am fast becoming "death" on data. Information, facts and details are important; and I use all of that on a fairly regular basis. We have, however, become data junkies. Whenever something doesn't go the way we want it, there must be measurable means by which to analyze it. Numbers in the pews going down? Give us data...we may be failing. Forget the long view of parish life-cycles that have been normal and natural for the life of the Church. We have lost sight of what information is necessary what is obfuscatory. My little analysis last year found that our staff spends nearly 35% of its time collecting, collating and publishing data. Another survey anyone?

I love technology. I enjoy having information stored in portable and easily retrievable packets of binary bytes. I love my Kindle, which now has 25 full-length books stored within it...and room for probably 150 more.

I love Facebook. I am having a blast connecting with high school and college classmates I never thought I would see or hear from again. What a change 40 years of life makes, when we look at each other's pictures. Still, the energy and enthusiasm of youth returns in sharing stories and current events with those who shared formative years of life.

I love blogging and handling routine communication via email. Such electronic communications allows me to stay up with actions that are in process and needing rapid communication. I can think fast and do so on-screen when the journalistic insight strikes. Now, let's make email what it was designed to be...guaranteed communication that can be easily responded to....in the recipient's own time!

Denise and I have pledged "smartphone free zones" in our life together. No emailing, Tweeting or Facebooking in the master bedroom. My phone is there only when I am on call...and just on phone reception. No email or other communication beeps.

Whenever we have a day off together and plan an outing, the above rule applies in that setting. Last summer, I created a special area for contemplative prayer in our finished basement. It's a great little corner. Phones and laptops are not allowed when the work of that space is engaged.

The bottom line here is BALANCE. When I am working, all my systems are up and engaged. That's the way it should be. In that space, we still have the problem of what constitutes appropriate use of time, data and expertise. My colleagues share my concern that priests are not able to do priestly work at the level commensurate with our craft. The mantra is becoming more universal "Give us an MBA rather than a Master's in Theology." I doubt it will change before I retire next June, but it will need to change before too long...if the Church is to remain the true Body of Christ. One thing my leadership detractors forget: God makes the rules in this place!


Fr. Fred+

29 June 2010

On The Track

It was 29 June 1978, and I was still 27 years old (I am a November baby born in 1950). 26 days earlier, I had received my Master's Degree at Nashotah House and moved my then relatively meager belongings and collection of professional books to my new job at Christ Church, Springfield, MO. I then drove to Orlando, FL, which was the See City of my home diocese (Central Florida).

On 22 June all of us who had just graduated from seminaries from Central Florida gathered with Bishop Folwell and a staff of clergy and lay specialists in the canonical areas of proficiency at Camp Wingman. A four day series of oral exams followed. At that time, our diocese required the Master's Degree, the successful completion of the General Ordination Exams (on the same level of law or med boards...given to all senior seminarians in the Episcopal Church in January....seven grueling days of in-class examination and writing of essays in all seven canonical essays) and the successful completion of the diocesan oral examination. These exams were anything but objective, but examiners could tell how well we functioned under pressure and how our knowledge could be flexed with convoluted questions.

Now, on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul -- 29 June -- I stood at the Altar Rail of St. Luke's Cathedral, Orlando with six other candidates. We were about to be ordained to the Transitional Diaconate. With assignments in various places, we would work as Deacons for a period of six months. If all went well, we would then be ordained to the Priesthood. The vocational journey was now almost underway!

There were seven of us ordained to the Transitional Diaconate that evening in Orlando. Three of us had graduated from Nashotah House. The other four from one of the other ten seminaries in the Episcopal Church USA. I no longer remember which ones. We were about to be scattered to almost the four corners of the United States. Central Florida was turning out a lot of priests in those years. I was the average age of seminary graduates, and jobs were not plentiful at that time. Central Florida had one postion for an Assistant open. My dear friend, Paul Wolfe, got that position by actually doing a summer internship in the parish that hired him. West Missouri had no one emerging from seminary, and I got "loaned" to Christ Church, Springfield. Therein lies a story fit only for memoirs...not a blog.

Of the seven of us ordained on 29 June 1978, four of us are still active in parochial ministry. One left the Episcopal Church for a breakaway entity. One retired due to health issues. My friend and "co-conspirator" in both serious endeavors and occasional hijinks, Paul Wolfe, died from cancer in March 2009.

My "pay entry date" for retirement purposes was 1 July 1978. It is when I technically started at Christ Church. I drove back to Missouri two days after ordination and began actual work on 5 July. June 1978 was a whirlwind month of proportion that astounds me upon reflection as an older person. I was known for high energy, quick response, dogged determination and theological acumen. I ran 10 miles a day, ate sparingly and practiced Hatha Yoga faithfully...at 5:00am every morning but Sunday. My long runs were five days a week and worked into either lunch hours or after my workday....rain, shine, snow, heat and cold -- sometimes at 10:00pm through the Southwest Missouri State University campus that was less than five blocks from my apartment. Stamina was the name of the game. My ordination picture from those days appears on my Facebook photo page.

I was ordained a Priest six months -- to the day -- later. Bishop Arthur Vogel ordained me on 29 December 1978 at Christ Church....on a cold, icy Friday morning. Even with the weather, the church was full. I will never forget either of those ordination days! Powerful and unusual things happen during those sacramental rites. Something inside changed. For me, it was a palpable and rather radical shift in character...state of being.

I began my vocational struggle (it's like a caterpillar trying to emerge from a cocoon...those years of preparation for ordination) with a plan NOT to be a parish priest. My plan was to finish a Ph.D. and teach in a seminary or university setting. God is much bigger than we are, and, as my journey unfolded, one parish experience led to another and yet another. I developed specialties for which I never believed I had gifts. I learned to compensate for areas where it was clear I was not gifted. There is an "economy" of spirituality that creates balance -- if the individual and community are patient and willing to seek complementary functions in community. I found this to be the hardest lesson for both priest and people.

Today, I sit in my office at St. Andrew's, Kansas City, MO -- Diocese of West Missouri. I have come full circle in my travels, without ever meaning or intending to do so. When I went back to Central Florida in 1980, I thought that was it in terms of general place. Today is the 32nd anniversary of my ordination to the Transitional Diaconate, and I have been down a long road.

I no longer run...having shattered miniscus cartilidge in both knees (requiring surgery). I'm on borrowed time for a prosthetic right shoulder joint. My power lifting days are over. I still stretch and use yoga techniques. I now get aerobic with bicycles and elliptical machines. I deal with the kinds of limitations that age creates -- though I still have a lot of energy and stamina. Stamina can now be also measured by how much crisis I can absorb and maintain both objectivity and balance. That comes only with experience.

My office now has a library of almost 800 books....35 years of reading, research and shifting interests in the theological disciplines. I love these books. They are extensions of experience and define a good portion of my universe. I have written extensively; been published a few times; taught thousands of hours; preached hundreds of sermons; faithfully followed my Benedictine Rule of contemplative prayer and in-depth study. I have been been married almost 30 years, and we have raised two wonderful, bright and engaging daughters. They are launched into life apart from us. We have lost parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. We have gained second and third cousins, nieces, nephews and countless dear friends.

My hair is now silvered, slightly thinner and not quite (but almost) as long as when I was ordained. I carry some extra weight and struggle with the issues of genetics....heart, vascular and joint conditions. Medco pharmaceuticals, providing our clergy insurance with long-term prescriptions, knows me well. I hate this part. I have always loved my self-sufficiency. It is now more restricted. I am dependent on others for my well-being. An important lesson is being learned here.

Parish Priesthood has hugely opened my vistas. I have no patience for prejudice, bigotry and closed minds. I have almost no patience with passive-aggressive and passive-dependent behaviors. I am barely tolerant of those caught up with self-importance. My love for persons in general has expanded exponentially...regardless of culture, creed, orientation or socio-economic place. I soak up their wisdom and reflections like a sponge. Constantly confronting pain, grief, brokenness, and transformation has made me more progressive, tolerant and accepting. Like Desiderata suggests, I do walk more placidly amidst the noise and haste.

When I knelt before the Altar at St. Luke's Cathedral, Orlando and awaited Bishop Folwell's hands to rest on my head and his prayer of ordination...calling down the Holy Spirit...I wondered what others might think. Now, I am blessed with not worrying about that much at all. I am God's person. Period.

Thirty-two years, six parishes, thousands of people, weddings, funerals, Eucharists...teaching, proclaiming, caring, counseling, directing, praying, laughing, crying and walking in places most others might not care to tread both in the world and deep within souls. It is the ordained life. One gift given: I am rarely frozen in fear. I keep moving. My spiritual feet still seem quite agile. It is truly a gift!


Fr. Fred+

02 June 2010

Paying the Price

Today's edition of the "Kansas City Star" has an article that begins at the bottom right of the front page. Its author, Amy Sherman is a licensed mental health counselor and has a website at http://www.bummedoutboomer.com/ . We Baby Boomers may not consider ourselves "bummed out," but her article certainly makes a point worthy of reflection: "Come on Baby Boomers, Get Happy!"

Sherman shares that a Pew Research on Demographic Trends has found that, of all generations, Baby Boomers are the unhappiest and most discontent. I checked into this research and found that the data is overwhelming in this regard. It also reveals that Boomers are the biggest consumers of prescription antidepressants and have the largest number of stress and anxiety related physical illnesses. Reading this study made me both somewhat depressed and anxious....but, hey, I am a Baby Boomer.

Amy Sherman provides several ways to "get happy." To see these, one can go to http://www.kansascity.com/ and type "Baby Boomers get happy" in the search box. Her suggestions are good and reflect practical therapeutic approaches. As I thought about the article (while driving from home to the office), it occurred to me that something more profound has been happening over the past three decades of my vocation as a parish priest.

First, we boomers are those born from immediately after World War II (1945) through 1964. Our parents' generation had experienced the Great Depression, a massive war and stress/anxiety of proportions larger than anything since the Civil War, and nothing since has equaled their experiences as a culture. Yet, that generation seemed to have a resilience and capacity to deal with adversity that, frankly, staggers the imagination if considered for a moment.

Second, boomer parents tended to be more emotionally reserved and possessed a work ethic that was balanced with a reliance upon both societal and faith communities. As we grew, boomers tended to find our parents' style to be too restricting and emotionally constricting. The decade of the 1960s was both a psychological and cultural backlash to those and other perceived problems with the "establishment."

Third, boomers tend to think that our "rebellion" established new norms for culture. Actually, while we were altuistic, it was our parents' generation that enacted most of the culture-shift laws. It was also that generation that provided most of the sources of what would be considered "wealth" that we boomers tended to reject in those heady days of the late 60s and early 70s.

Fourth, inheriting that wealth from our parents, experimenting with communes and a society of love turned into a kind of driven, hedonistic quest for individualism the likes of which America had not known until its emergence in the mid/late 1970s. I may be overstating it a bit here, but research would bear out my observations I am sure.

The truth is, our (boomer) quest for a society of beauty, love and peace was very shallow. As we pressed for new freedoms, we also tended to reject the balance that our parents knew to be essential for healthy culture.....spiritual depth. For sure, we thought we were taking that next step into "deep awareness" and "communing with the cosmos." But that was actually only drug induced...a little help from LSD and other "mind blowing" and reality altering concoctions. I'm not making this up. I was there.

As we boomers were forced to take our place as the adults of society, and as our parents' generation began to phase out, our kneejerk reaction was to replace the quest for an altruistic society with a quest for individual authentication. Spiritual depth (now left behind in the flotsam and jetsam of our youthful rebellion) was replaced with possessions as the statement of ultimate worth and meaning. Remember the bumper sticker? "He Who Dies with the Most Toys Wins." Well, who's winning?

We boomers tended to raise our children (again, tending toward some generalization here) with our values...with a venere of expectation for making more, building more, achieving more and expecting more. Our parents left us a legacy, and we turned that legacy into an empire dedicated to "Me." Adult boomers with teenage children expect those children to be baptised, confirmed and married in churches that they, themselves, do not attend. After all, "Sunday is My only free day." Who's fault is that? We created the ethic that now powers our culture to be a 24/7 super mall of consumer choices.

While a vast majority of our parents worked hard to make it possible for the highest percentage of its offspring to attend institutions of higher learning at any time in history up until then; we boomers believe that such gifts were owed to us. Our offspring tend largely to be spoiled into believing that they need do nothing to attain what previous generations considered luxuries. My brother and I had parents who worked hard; and we enjoyed vacations, good food, good educations and relative security. I still had to earn the money for my first car and pay for my graduate studies. Our generation of children have expected (and most often received) their first cars, "full boat" educations at top ranked schools and high paying jobs right out of college.

We boomers have done so much...and all on a value system that is deprived of depth and spiritual empowerment. Some are opening eyes to that error, as the end of life draws closer. We wake up feeling as though we have gone to hell already. Well, if we have, it is our own fault. God, like an ever-loving parent, continues to wait for us to realize just how far astray we have gone. .

I realize that I wax somewhat cynical. It is generally not my way of doing things. The cup, for me, tends to be always half-full. As Memorial Day came upon us this year, I watched several movies that reflected a level of values and character that opened to me the reality of what we have squandered and the shallow legacy we are leaving our children. I tend to note that our children are seeing that shallowness.

One of my parishioners called my office this past fall and berated my administrative assistant about my refusal to allow his son to be confirmed at the same age he was. He bemoaned the fact that his son was now exploring Buddhism and blamed me for making this happen. Good try! The truth is, his son probably looks at his parents' generation (mine) as being shallow with expectations that do not fit with their reality. To wit: this son's parents never exhibit a depth of spirituality commensurate with their expectations for their children. This shallowness is transparent. Our children want more. If the Church of their parents can't do it, another faith tradition just might. We are not post-Christian my friends. We are post-boomer. It's our own fault.

I am passionate in my love for the Living, Transcendent God...revealed in Jesus. I have not always shown that to my own children, and I am a priest. Somewhere in the early 1970s, I awoke to the reality that where my generation was going tended toward a kind of nosedive. Did I escape? Not really. Enough rejection existed in me to expect more of my own children than was healthy. There is a cost to that.

As I approach age 60, I'm working toward a shift. Perhaps Alvin Toffler was right. I hope not totally. Now, I am working to create spaces of spiritual depth and creative exploration of Reality that is balanced...making folks whole. There is a price to pay for that as well. I am beginning to pay my share of the cost for living and teaching the Truth. It is not God who is exacting the price. Guess who?


Fr. Fred+

14 May 2010

"You Are the Best of Both..."

Recently, getting a day off has been as difficult as finding hen's teeth. I have always found that analogy interesting...from my childhood days...but, when it comes to days off since Easter, it fits perfectly. Our parish has been through a series of critical, transformational events that would be fairly normal for a parish over a two year period. We have done it in five weeks! All of my clergy staff are feeling the emotional, spiritual and physical elements of fatigue. I carefully monitor how "my team" is working and how I am interacting with our daily work.

Yesterday, I struck "gold." I found that I could take a fair chunk of the day for personal, domestic and family care. Being by myself for most of the day, I decided to take in a movie. A perfect distraction! Denise generally does not care for action movies with violence involved. So, I found myself only one of two persons in a theatre showing Clash of the Titans. Anyone with some background reading in Greek mythology will know this movie...the story of Perseus, who finds himself in a triangle of confrontation between Zeus and Hades (Zeus's brother). As I teenager, I loved reading the Greek myths and read countless books and articles over a several year period.

As a college student, I began to take a second look at Greco-Roman mythology in the study of psychiatrist Carl Jung's research. I have now spent almost all my adult life exploring the psychological and spiritual implications of the psyche's role in forming and shaping our reality.

The truth is that the Greeks had a profoundly simple way of dealing with their internal, psycho-spiritual warfare. They projected the components of their psyche into the outer world and created the pantheon of gods, goddesses and demigods. The contemporary works of theologians like Thomas Moore, Morton Kelsey, John Sanford and a host of researchers like Isabelle Briggs-Myers, David Kiersey, Marilyn Bates, and Edward Edinger give us an ever deepening array of gateways into exploring the fullness of being human....using Jung's methodology.

But I digress a bit. On this Thursday afternoon, I simply wanted to see a good action flick and escape for a small time from the intensity of what the previous days had given us. It was working. Then I realized that this movie, Clash of the Titans, wasn't like all the previous epic screen renditions of gods, goddesses, monsters and dark caverns. I suddenly realized why a number of movie critics had panned it at release. This movie jumped square into the struggle of internal human balance between self as simply human and Self as integrated whole. Perseus was angry with the gods, but he was really angry at his own limitations. I was back at work...being a theologian, psychologist and professional journeyer of the soul-scape.

There is one line in the movie that I think summarizes the human condition. Perseus has just emerged from a portion of the underworld inhabited by Medusa (the beautiful woman with hair of snakes and a look that literally turned men to stone). He has successfully relieved Medusa of her head and emerged from the cave with only minor wounds. He used a sword given him by Zeus for the mission and, upon emerging, thrusts it into the ground in a moment of seeming rejection. At that moment, his demigod guide, Io is dealt a lethal blow (as such can be to one who is eternal), and she lays dying on the ground. Perseus is crushed and angry. Io grabs his arm and says, "You are not a god, and you are not a man....you are the best of both. Embrace it and fulfill your destiny." That's Jungian psychology in a sentence right there.

Perseus is the Greek counterpart of the Apostle Peter. Trust me on this. Peter had moments of profound insight and wisdom. Jesus commended him for this by saying, "This is not from mankind but from God..." Then, a very short time later, Peter will utter an entirely willful statement like, "You can't go to Jerusalem, because you will be killed....however, if you must, we will go with you and die as well..." Jesus response: "Get behind me Satan; for what you say is not from God but from mankind." Schizophrenic? Hardly! Peter wanted to control his own behavior; master his own destiny (and that of Jesus); but he also occasionally stepped into the place of allowing the depth of his psyche to function in its created order and reflect the truth of Self in God. In the end, Jesus confronts Peter with the three-part question, "Peter, do you love me?" Shortly after the Ascension, Peter found that place of being the best of both and is recognized as the functional icon of faith.

How is it best to understand and embrace Jesus? The post Reformation rhetoric has called forth phrases like, "having a personal relationship with Jesus." I do not, for a moment, condemn the real meaning of that phrase. But a personal relationship means something very different in the context I provide above. Listen to the words of Peter: "He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped; but he emptied himself and became obedient...even to the point of death..." Point One: The Transcendent God is not "out there" somewhere but very immanent...touchable. Point Two: The Transcendent God is not separate from humankind...but is a participant with humankind. Point Three: Jesus is the fullest possible expression of what it means to be The Best of Both. Jesus, as Paul would say later, is the "pioneer and perfecter of our faith..." In Jungian terms, Jesus is fully integrated Self.

I am willing to take the heat for what I am about to say, but it can be backed up. Most psycho-therapeutic modalities and most parochial pastoral/theological engagement is on the level of applying band-aids to human integration. I am a student of human systems psychology and, while it explains a great deal about relational dynamics in families, businesses and churches, it doesn't begin to challenge the deep level of engaging and embracing integration of the psyche. Most pastoral care and theology is the application of biblical verses and superficial prayer to the presenting problems of parishioners. These are not bad things, but they are ways we choose to deal with our deepest levels of pain, fear and dis-integration. Like Perseus, we find it more compelling to deny the sacred and trust only what is deemed human. Hebrew theology called it the "sin of Adam." Christians call it Original Sin. It is a profound act of willfulness that separates our self from our Self.

The character of sacramental life provides us outward signs of inward Grace. Like Greek mythology, these outward signs convey power, authority, transformation and nurture. Unlike Greek mythology, sacramental signs only tell a story. The real work (in theology, we call it "operation") is what the Spirit of God is doing within us or within the community. The sacramental principle is most accurately described as making us the best of both.

An afternoon away from the responsibilities and concerns of parish ministry became a time of insight and new struggle with images, character and integration. Maybe this vocation and its disciplines is God's way of saying, 'you are never really off...just taking a break from one reality to explore another for a little while.' So be it.


Fr. Fred+

14 April 2010

What Goes Around Comes Around (Maybe)

Off and on, for a number of years, I have uttered the word "huzzah!" as an expression of excitement or approbation. I never really gave it much thought, because my Dad had used the word on occasion in my youth. In the meantime, there were words like, "yeeha!" or "Yeeess!" or (in the Navy), "Hooyah!" Yesterday, I was caught up short in a Facebook conversation with a parishioner, when I used the word in one of my posts.

The parishioner expressed surprise saying, "It's funny to see you say that, because it's a word that 20s age folks use....not someone in their 50s.." "Not so!" I responded. Then I began to think about language. Later language led to thinking about the Church. Theology, as a discipline, tends to do that sort of thing.

The word "huzzah" actually has its origins in Shakespeare's era. It ducks in and out of English speaking culture and makes a big appearance in America during the Revolution. The word stays present and gets really popular again in the Civil War and western expansion era of the middle late 19th century. It then disappears, except in various regions and among individuals (or in period movies). Now, it seems, it is gaining new popularity among young adults.

In 1988, I read a book that provoked thinking in this area of cyclical popularity. John Snow, the retired Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA, published a study in vocation entitled, The Impossible Vocation: Ministry in the Mean Time. It is a study of the nature of modern pastoral theology and how the church has adapted to cultural trends.

In one of Dr. Snow's pivotal conclusions he states, "The central social function of all religions is to build a culture which mitigates the fear of death, freeing its members from suspicion and fear of one another so that compromise, cooperation and consensus can result in a moral and peaceful world." (Snow, pg 145). How the Church goes about this task has taken many identities. The book rehearses these and concludes that the clinical counseling methodology that began to be used in the late 1950s and through the early 1980s simply did not work as a comprehensive modality for pastoral care. Being trained largely in that model (and owning an undergraduate degree in psychology myself), I wondered immediately where that conclusion might leave me in the professional work of a parish priest.

Reading on, I learned that the ultimate goal would be a return to the parish priest as spiritual director and "shaman" (holy person) in community. This reflects another pivotal book of a few years earlier by the late Urban Holmes (Dean of St. Luke's School of Theology, University of the South, TN) entitled, The Priest in Community: Exploring the Roots of Ministry (1979). Fr. Holmes takes the entire scope of human disciplines to reflect on the role of priest in community. Like John Snow later, Holmes shows that holding a particular discipline as definitive for priestly ministry limits the reality of the sacramental character of priesthood.

Even though these two books functioned to shape a large measure of my 3+ decades of parish ministry, I nearly forgot all about that in the more recent struggles of understanding the contemporary function of priest in community. For the past decade or so, the Church has been sliding into a role of "religious business enterprise." That is not a personal assessment but one noted by several theologians in the larger Church. The successful business model of the "roaring 90s and early 2000s" has become the measure by which many local parochial agencies judge success. A colleague told me several years ago that, "all we need is to turn our graduate degrees in theology in and pick up an MBA...that would qualify us to be parish leaders." Reluctantly, I must agree.

Back to the "shaman." This is a scary term for most folks. It raises images of witchdoctor types dancing around with rattles and incantations...or using strange potions and powders to work some kind of weird magic. That's a pretty limiting view. It's a product of too much of the wrong kind of television. Of course, most modern education is at the level of what one sees or hears in the mass media...but I digress.

The shaman in history is one who creates vision; is steeped in the prayer of his/her tradition; is a steward of the mysteries that shape the inner life; and has been gifted with the power to affect change...as a channel or vessel...never as the source. But, in the Episcopal Church, does that define a priest?

There could be no better authority for answering this question than Archbishop Arthur Michael Ramsey -- the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury (retired 1975, deceased 1984). In his powerful little book, The Christian Priest Today, Archbishop Ramsey sums up priesthood: "Man of theology, man of reconciliation, man of prayer, man of the Eucharist -- displaying, enabling and involving the life of the Church -- such is the ordained priest." Look familiar? It almost mirrors the textbook definition of the shaman.

If one wants to wax skeptical regarding the Anglican theological perspective, one just needs to open The Priesthood by Fr. Karl Rahner. Rahner is considered one of the greatest theological minds of the 20th century...and a Roman Catholic Priest. In this short but dense book, Rahner creates a litany of the character of priesthood. At once the guardian of mystery; the journeyer into the life of the Spirit; the vessel of Grace in community; the shape changer of culture. Again, this is looking very familiar. Rahner published this work under the title Einubung Priesterlicher Existenz in 1970.

What has happened to us? Largely, I conjecture, we have become fearful of falling into the hands of the Living God and, thereby, have created a more convenient means by which we can measure the Church's relative worth and success. A person recently told me, "Today’s businessperson / vestryperson believes that if they can measure it, they can influence it. And they are willing to measure the success of your parish. So what is today’s rector to do? Fight? Fold? Follow? Fret? "

This is an important statement and series of questions. Given the definitions I have shared above, I want to suggest some things: 1) Today's Rector remains a priest, regardless of the intentions of non-ordained leaders. 2) If regression analysis is necessary, consider that the reasons for the Church's being may have been compromised by a kind of rationalism that works to avoid mystery. 3) The future of the Church depends on the ontological transformation of its people. That means plunging deeply into the mystery of human nature as it is defined in the image of God. 4) We need to pray like crazy that the current pre-occupations with secular models gives way to the definitions that visionaries like Ramsey, Holmes, Rahner and Snow placed before us decades ago. These were men of prayer....shape changers in the relationship between Christ and culture.

Finally, Katherine Tyler Scott, noted business consultant and deeply rooted Episcopalian published an article in the 9 April edition of The Washington Post. It can best be summarized in her own words: "Sheer intellectual ability and objectivity are insufficient to determine the moral good and responsible action. They must be accompanied by the adaptive capacity to hold the tension of the opposites together long enough to understand the problems and the appropriate response....At its core, the Episcopal Church believes in the compatibility of tradition and reform, the partnership of faith and reason. If the church can remember and reclaim this charism, it will help those who follow to navigate the present currents of complexity, chaos and change with reasoned and mature judgment and action. It will enable the church, and all of us, to exhibit the courage to move from the margin, to stand in the gap, to hold the tension of the opposites together, and to take the risk to tell our truths in the world--a world that desperately needs to shed itself of the tendency to demonize differences....Leaders cannot sequester congregants in beautiful spaces of worship with glorious music and liturgy without also engaging them in deeper reflection about what it means to live one's faith responsibly in the world."

Huzzah! Perhaps Katherine Tyler Scott is a prophet of our times. If so, maybe what has gone around will once again come around....just maybe.


Fr. Fred+

06 April 2010

The Flight of Fear

One of the most powerful reflective words in the English language is "fear." It strikes a discordant note in the hearts of the most stalwart persons. Accusing another of being afraid has caused wars and untold pain. The emotion that is described as "fear" can paralyze entire groups of people and obscure/distort the images and events directly in front of them.

On the other side of this coin, "fear" is the most misunderstood and misused word in the English language. It is adequate to describe one type of emotional response to a circumstance, but the word is used to describe a whole range of emotions that really aren't fearful. It is a word used to provoke others into actions that may have absolutely no grounding in the reality of the moment. Human emotions are the most shallow and least trustworthy bases for action known in creation. The law describes certain types of murder as "crimes of passion" (read: emotion).

In his first inaugural address in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt stated, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself..." Those words were spoken at a time considered to be the worst of the Great Depression. Fear was rampant, and the American spirit at one of its lowest in history. Yet, Roosevelt -- himself suffering the slow but steady ravages of polio -- stood tall and spoke those words with a kind of authority that began to transform society and move it to a place of confidence and security.

Theologians and psychologists have been trying to get at the roots of human fear for generations. Both Carl Jung and Murray Bowen (MD, Psychiatrist who began his research at Menninger Clinic and later founded the Center For Family Process at Georgetown University Medical School) have been modern pioneers in placing fear appropriately within the frame of human character and sequential actions. It was Murray Bowen who isolated the "lineage" of fear, which is: anxiety leads to fear; fear leads to anger; anger leads to hatred; hatred leads to destruction. (Star Wars fans will remember Yoda quoting an abridged version of this).

To state this in a more practical way: We get worried, which raises a lot of fearful responses regarding the outcome of events about which we are worried. Fear festers like an inflammatory infection and finally bursts. This bursting forth is recognized as anger, which can take a variety of ugly forms. Anger can also fester and, like bone cancer, strike at the very heart of our character. The product of that process is hatred. Hatred can be expressed from benign neglect or prejudice to an outright hostile bigotry, judgmentalism and targeted aggression. Hatred, once released, is always destructive....to persons, property, environment, civilizations. Pure hatred knows no bounds in its destructive rampage.

The next time you get anxious, think of the experience as being the embryo of what could become a murderous debacle. Remember, also, murder includes actions which have nothing whatever to do with ending a physical life.

As I cast my thoughts and prayers toward Easter last week (I was preparing the sermon I preached on Easter Day), a little bit of sociology emerged. In the last three decades I have noticed that the generation represented by my parents ("The Greatest Generation" as termed by Tom Brokaw), were very invested in the totality of what we call the Triduum of Holy Week. These are the Holy Three Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and The Great Vigil of Easter. As a child, the church would be nearly filled on these days...and then again for the Sunday Easter liturgies.

Now that The Greatest Generation is thinning out, we still see a number of folks at the Maundy Thursday Liturgy. It is bright and has a ring of confidence as we reflect upon and respond symbolically to the three commands of Jesus (servanthood, remembrance, watch/pray). Good Friday has become a truly lightly attended day of rites. Our subsequent generations are anxious and fearful people, when it comes to dealing with death, emptiness and desolation. There is a question to this that I will post out later.

Realizing the above is an over generalization, it reflects the reality that we are Easter people who don't have any idea what makes Easter happen. When I was a cathedral dean, we were having Easter Vigil after sunset on Saturday evening. The lights would be out, and ushers helped folks find seats in the darkened cathedral nave. One year, a newcomer who had never been to an Easter Vigil, entered the dimmed Narthex and looked into the dark, cavernous space. With wide eyes, he looked at us and exclaimed, "Wow, it's like a tomb in there!" Without missing a beat, my Honorary Canon (Leonel Mitchell, retired professor of sacramental theology at Seabury-Western Seminary) smiled broadly and said, "Yes, isn't it?" That was the idea.

We fear the dark, because we often fear what we cannot see. That's why agnosticism, cynicism and complacency about things spiritual gains a foothold in our lives. St. Paul said it well, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God." Try this line of logic: compassion leads to healing; healing leads to threat to the control of others; threat to control leads to conspiracy; conspiracy leads to uprising; uprising leads to false accusation; false accusation leads to death; death leads to resurrection. THAT is the Easter logic. It continues to often be the way of humanity and, unfortunately, the Church (take this on faith).

The compassion of Jesus created the circumstances around which many were healed. It was an outward sign of spiritual wholeness. This infuriated the Sanhedrin, because it threatened the control they had over the general population in Israel. The Sanhedrin conspired to have Jesus brought up on trumped charges (sedition). That conspiracy stoked the fires of doubt and judgment. Jesus was condemned, crucified and laid to rest, by his friends, in a tomb. There it is, the bloody tomb! Can't get around it folks.

The gateway to healing was opened by an act of God's very deep love for every person. Consider how small we are in the scope of the universe...possibly smaller than the size of the smallest bacteria on our planet. We cannot fathom that we are microscopic in the larger scheme of things. YET, we are not lost to God, who infuses us with love so intense that God invested Self among us in Jesus and opened the gate to experience the expanse of Kingdom. Ponder this for a time. It is transformational.

I close with part of a blessing attributed to St. Clare. Clare with the dear friend of St. Francis. She founded the Order of the Poor Ladies as a companion order for Francis's Order of Poor Friars. Both were later known as the Order of St. Clare and the Order of St. Francis. The quote below was part of a reflection by Clare, completed around 1249.

"Live without fear: your Creator has made you holy, has always protected you, and loves you as a mother. Go in peace to follow the good road, and may God's blessing be with you always."

Easter Blessings!

Fr. Fred+

01 April 2010

Three Days

Some events stand out in life as if they happened just yesterday. One can remember the sights, sounds, smells, people, places and feelings as if they were coursing through the senses at this very moment. Such was my experience on 30 March, when I prayed for my Dad, who died on that date in 1968. I was 17 years old, a senior in high school, at our senior prom. Just a shade more than two months before my graduation from Winter Haven High School (Central Florida). In a moment, that whole evening and following day flooded into the present.

My Dad turned 54 just four days prior to his untimely death (26 March). He was in the hospital, after having a heart attack on 22 March. It was a second major heart attack that struck him down in the hospital that Saturday night 42 years ago. Had he lived, he would be 96 years old now.

Last night, Denise and I went to one of our favorite pizza parlors to celebrate her Dad's birthday. He was born on 31 March 1919 (Frank Dama was a first generation Italian-American and made the best pizza I have ever had). Somewhat like my Dad, "Dad Frank" died two weeks after we announced Denise's pregnancy with our first child. Somewhat like my Dad, he and Denise's Mom were on a trip and in a hotel room in Richmond, VA -- where he quietly and suddenly succumbed to a heart attack. That was on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend 1984. Frank would be 91 had he lived to this moment.

These are not macabre stories but life events that have shaped members of my family and framed my own journey as a son, friend, brother, husband and father. As I experienced the "re-membering" of my Dad's death on 30 March 1968, it wasn't me going back to that moment and those times. I have done that (years ago) and found myself only wallowing in the sentiment of a 17 year old who had no experiences of life by which to compare the tragedy that seemed to overpower me at that time. Instead, the event came to me as a "presence of moment" -- and I was placing myself, the 59 year old son who did graduate from high school, graduated from college, served in the armed forces, completed graduate school and engaged the world as a parish priest for better than three decades. Now, having wrestled with death and witnessed the deaths of colleagues, friends, parishioners and patients too numerous to count, my perspective is different.

I am not immune to the pain of death. If anything, I have become much more sensitive to it. I know it by sight, sound, smell and touch. I've journeyed with those who have grieved their losses. I have grieved with them in my own heart...privately in order to be fully present to them in their moment.

In the early morning hours of 3 March 2009, I received a call I had dreaded for several weeks. It was the younger brother of one of my very dearest friends and colleagues, Fr. Paul Wolfe. Paul had died shortly before...after nearly four years of struggle with cancer. This was really close to home. Paul and I were only four months apart in age. Both of us grew up in Central Florida. We were classmates during our graduate studies at Nashotah House Seminary. We partnered in the operation of a consulting organization for the Church until I left to be Dean of the Cathedral in South Bend, IN in 1993. We talked and emailed regularly over the years...and almost daily over the four years of his illness. When one looks into the coffin of a friend like that, it is much like looking into a mirror.

I was a patient at St. Luke's Hospital the two days prior to the first anniversary of Paul's death. Chest pain and vascular issues had created concern for my cardiologists, and they determined that I would have a cardiac catheterization....immediately. It would be my third such procedure, since the discovery of the genetic condition that laid me out in the cathedral, January 1995. The results showed nothing new...in fact, remarkably clear coronary arteries and very good heart pressures. The problem? A change in medication that led to coronary artery spasms....chest pain. Back on the original med and no more chest pain.

The morning after my release from the hospital, I was engaged in contemplative prayer and giving thanks for renewed health. Paul "came to me" without my specifically thinking of this being the anniversary date. Again, this moment was not going back to the feelings and experiences of that week a year ago (I preached at his Requiem liturgy). Instead, the event came to me as an invitation into the present. What have I learned about myself and my life since that week? What have I learned about others and the capacity to be open to the painful moments of their journeys? Have I grown and changed? Or, have I simply wallowed in the mire of self-pity, fear and attendant anxieties surrounding the inevitabilities of this life journey?

From that, I took the mantra that I put forth in my last blog. I am aging --- NOT getting old.

Now that we have entered the holiest three days of the Christian Year (known historically as the Triduum Sacrum), the temptation is to engage the liturgies of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Great Vigil of Easter as us looking back at the historical moments of those three days of Jesus' life. Nothing could be farther from the truth!

Nothing has changed in history about the human condition. We may be more sophisticated intellectually. We may have become a more compassionate and just people (MAYBE, but that is for the next blog). We still, however, must answer questions about who we are; why we are here; and what is our ultimate purpose.

If we are to do this in a manner that points us forward, we must place ourselves in these liturgies as a participant in the event as it is being made present to us right now...in the moment. "Love one another, as I have loved you." "Do this in remembrance of me." "Watch and pray with me." We must do that this Maundy Thursday night. "Why have you forsaken me." "I thirst." "Into your hands I commend my spirit." We must engage this struggle and pain on Good Friday. "He is not here, he has risen." "Why do you seek the living among the dead." "Touch me and know the truth." We must embrace what it means to be healed, restored and incorporated into the Body (salvation).

These Three Holy Days are our days. It is the "Presence of Moment" that brings all that has transpired into the experiences we are now having in this moment of our history. It is what we will take away from this that will determine how we grow forward....grow forward.


Fr. Fred+

24 March 2010


Denise and I recently returned from a five day trip to San Diego, CA, where we had a wonderful visit with our elder daughter, Mary, who is currently living and working there. We also had a wonderful visit with dear friends, Fr. Jim and Laneta Carroll. Jim retired as Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, San Diego in the mid 1990s and was a mentor for me in my early days as a cathedral dean. He is now becoming a mentor for my own approaching retirement. Besides all that, the weather cooperated wonderfully to make for a very satisfying week.

San Diego is also home for a big chunk of the United States Navy. That may not mean much to most folks, but, I was in the Navy from 1972-78 and served in the Submarine Force Atlantic Fleet (SUBLANT) as part of Submarine Squadron 14 in Holy Loch, Scotland. At that time, SUBRON 14 was home for ten fleet ballistic missile submarines -- lovingly known as "Boomers." As I was completing that tour of duty and preparing to enter graduate studies, the Navy offered me an opportunity for a career the likes of which almost dissuaded me from my vocational path toward priesthood. There is still a part of me that is connected to all things Navy -- especially submarines. Being in San Diego was something akin to a wide-eyed kid at Christmas.

San Diego is home to the Naval 3rd Fleet...a large number of surface war ships and support vessels. North Island Naval Air Station is home for a number of helicopter squadrons and fixed wing attack and support squadrons -- as well as the port for three of the Navy's latest aircraft carriers (all of which are now powered by nuclear reactors). Also on Coronado Island is the Naval Amphibious Base, which is also home to the Navy SEALS training center. Across the harbor, on Point Loma, is a Submarine Fast Attack Squadron. Fast Attack submarines do not carry missiles. They are built for speed and at-sea warfare. The Los Angeles and Seawolf class subs are part of the San Diego squadron (
Boomers are located in other ports). About 95,000 Navy personnel make up the crews and shore support for these vessels and bases...as well as communications and research facilities. San Diego is a Navy town!

I share all of this because it is the environment in which I had a revelation. In the midst of all these vessels...surface, air and sub-surface...I became aware that NOT A SINGLE ONE of these vessels were in use at the time I was in the Navy. All of the submarines (and I mean every single one) of both missile and fast-attack class have either been dismantled or decommissioned and used for training or museum purposes. The USS Midway, as well as all more advanced Essex class aircraft carriers, are decommissioned. The Midway is at San Diego and is now a museum (an extremely good one). As I became transfixed with nostalgia, I did so amidst a technology that did not exist 35 years ago. The technology with which I was familiar and trained to engage is the stuff of Clancy's book, Hunt for Red October. Yes, that technology existed -- and has been almost totally superseded.

None of this stopped me from being excited about watching the return and deployment of three submarines; the deployment of the USS Carl Vinson -- one of the two aircraft carriers in port; the coming and going of several destroyer frigates; the training of amphibious boat crews; a glimpse of SEALS in the midst of BUD/S training (a rare sight, since they work in a secluded part of the pacific beach coast of Coronado); and the constant coming and going of Sea Hawk, Sea Knight and Cobra helicopters (the Sea Hawks are the Navy version of the Army's Black Hawks). I think Denise grew weary of my rather regular chatter describing what I was seeing.

There was a temptation in all of this to say to myself, "I wish it could be like it was when I was on active duty." This occurred especially while I was touring aboard the USS Midway. Her last deployment was Desert Storm in 1991. She was decommissioned in 1992. It was the technology at work when I was active. Two compartments aboard the Midway caught me up short. The communications compartment was huge and contained several rows with stacked receivers and transponders. The tactical warfare station was large and contained desk-sized screens for fixing aircraft and surface craft positions in deployment. In a modern aircraft carrier, all of this equipment is located in a few systems no larger than a standard computer network tower (a little larger than a good-sized briefcase) and screens are mobile with laptop-style equipment. Everything is digital and high definition. Engines are streamlined turbines running on clean fuels or nuclear power.

Now for the revelation. Having been ordained in the Episcopal Church for nearly thirty-two years, I have exceeded a generation of church history. We have grown in our understanding of the technologies of human behavior and relational dynamics. We have been able to grasp more of the capacity and capability of the human body, mind and spirit in the past 30 years than has been able to be understood in almost all of human history prior to our time. Any of us ordained over 25 years ago has
experienced a huge shift in how ecclesial life is both lived and led. Priesthood, while still the bastion of the "last of the generalist" vocations, requires more skill in each of the areas included in that "generalist" category. Everyone wants a priest who can be a business leader, spiritual master, brilliant teacher, competent psychologist, capable sociologist, investment capitalist, engaging conversationalist and skilled politician. Yet, I do not know a priest who has all (or even most) of those skills.

I love being a generalist. It fits my personality and range of interests and capabilities. Yet, there are still times I think of what it might have been like to be a Naval officer specializing in surface intelligence...having only one discipline. Nostalgia does that to a person. I chose not to do that. Later, as a priest, I was, once again, offered a commission to be a Chaplain in the Navy. Again, I turned it down. I had a new wife, and we were planning a family. Deployment for long periods did not suit our relationship. Long hours were enough.

Real growth means change. Change is the only constant in human life and community. Sorry, folks, but that is the absolute, unavoidable truth. Yet, in the Episcopal Church especially, the slogan seems to be "Forward to the 1950s" (or 60s...pick your decade or century). We want new, young people filing our parishes, but we want to do so with technologies and environments that have no meaning to them. Many folks of my age and older eagerly grab up the latest cell phones, televisions, DVR and Blue Ray players, and the host of programs constantly emerging.

While doing all that, we doggedly hold onto a black & white, medieval, analog-style spirituality. One might say that spirituality is the one thing that never changes. WRONG. God is dynamic. The human spirit has limitless potential and capacity. In all the centuries of Judaism and Christianity, we have only scratched the surface of the dynamics of the human connectivity to God and all things spiritual. It never ceases to amaze me just how much there is to learn about this thing we call "spirituality" and its expression in worship and relationships. My sadness comes from not having the time to engage it all in what is left of my lifetime (at age 59, limitation is becoming part of my thinking).

I have determined that "being old" is not a condition of relationship with God. Age is non sequitur to being old. Old has to do with disconnection and loss of vision -- and as such might be termed a sin (that's a moral theology leap). It has to do with black and white/analog thinking in an HD color/digital reality. Being old has to do with looking backward for the Living God, rather than forward for the emerging Kingdom -- where the Living God beckons us. Age is a reality, and with it comes wisdom. Old is a self-imposed refusal to continue growth. I have aged, but I refuse to be old -- ever.

At what latitude do we dwell in life? As I sat on the beaches, rocks and in the parks of San Diego and watched the modern Navy at work, I felt proud to have been part of that community. While the technology has progressed beyond my time of training and engagement, I deeply appreciate what the men and women now "at the helms" can accomplish in providing protection and security. The only way I can be a spiritual mentor to these folks is to be an intrepid explorer of spiritual landscape...alive in this moment of God's revelation. Living in another time and place is simply being old.


Fr. Fred+

17 February 2010

Temporal Manifestation of an Eternal Quality

I have a fairly new friend in The Rev. Dr. Rob Voyle. Rob is originally from New Zealand and makes his home in the Portland, Oregon area with his wife Kim. Rob is an Episcopal Priest and holds a doctorate in Psychology...as does his wife. Together, they own and direct the Clergy Leadership Institute. Rob has taken the best of industrial and business psychology and applied it to the Church through a methodoloy known as Appreciative Inquiry.

While I had been introduced to the Appreciative Inquiry (henceforth called AI in this blog) a few years ago at General Convention (via Rob's exhibit booth), it was not until January 2009 that three of us from the Diocese of West Missouri attended the foundation AI course taught by Rob and Kim. In May, we attended the second level AI course. Our training is to help resource congregations in our diocese with leadership and development tools for future ministry. AI is a powerful set of tools and resources that I am coming to increasingly utilize.

One of the benefits of being part of the diocesan AI team is that we have a monthly conference call practicum with Rob. In the hour long conference, we present case studies and situations that reflect either our own work or the work of an anonymous diocesan entity and are coached by Rob on the application of AI technology and methodology. It is in the latest of these coaching sessions that Rob reflected what I have used as a title for this blog. "What is the temporal manifestation of an eternal quality...?

For the theologian and sacramental Christian, the answer to that question is "sacrament." The classic definition of a sacrament: "The outward and visible sign of and inward and spiritual Grace, given to us by Christ as a sure and certain means by which we receive that Grace." The ancient Celtic Christian would say: "The place at which heaven touches earth...a thin place." The First Nations (Native American) people would say: "Any time and place where Wakan-Tanka (God) erupts through creation..." In any definition, it is an incarnational moment. One of my confirmation students many years ago said it best: "It's when God puts on clothes.."

We are a spatial people. Our brains are geared to time and space orientation. Reality is measured by our place and by the moment of that placement. We rely upon what is around us to both locate us and direct us as we move about. It's automatic and instantaneous. No secret here. It simply happens. To further lock us into this definition of reality, we provide a deeper definition to the object of spatial relationship. E.g.: a tree is a tree. It is defined by shape, size, species and qualities (bark, leaves, wood, etc). However, a tree surgeon -- using special equipment -- can detect the movement of life-giving liquids through special vessels within the wood. Other life sounds can be detected as well. The tree has "voice." It's a spatial quality, but one not observable.

More striking is the nature of fauna...creature...reality. We can identify spatially an animal of a certain type and even describe its characteristics. What is not so readily apparent is the behavior it may exhibit or the motivations behind the behavior. For instance, on Sunday evening, I was sitting at a table in our parish hall, leading a class in a gifts of ministry exercise. I felt something move up my right leg rapidly. Thinking it was just the effects of my light myopathy, I simply rubbed the area below my knee. About 30 minutes later, I felt a burning/itching sensation on the inside of my knee. Later examination in my office showed a nasty welt that looked like a giant mosquito bite. At home, my wife identified it as a spider bite.

It just happened that my annual physical was scheduled for Monday morning. I showed my doc, who confirmed it. As he examined it, he reflected, "She was a cranky little booger." It is usually the female who bites, and she did leave a nice gift...one that put me on antibiotics and topical anti-coagulant. I never saw the spider, so my ability to identify species is impossible. The fang marks were unmistakable for those (like my doctor) who immediately identified it. The effects were also obvious. Whatever this angry Ichtomi (Lakota for spider...a trickster in myth) had as venom, my body was not dealing with especially well.

Thus, without seeing the creature, we can identify it by behavior. We can only guess what provoked a bite. It could well be that, when I brushed my leg, I hit the creature and literally made it mad. Does a spider have the capacity for anger? Or, is it just reflex to what appears to be a life-threatening gesture? That's the unseen quality.

Rabbi Edwin Friedman (Family Systems specialist and mentor, who died in 1996) once told a group of us: "Say your best friend, who is also one of your clergy colleagues, is elected bishop and suddenly changes his way of relating to you; what quality within him or you has shifted so that he/she no longer seems like your best friend?" The obvious outward manifestation is a change of professional position and physical location. The person, however, should be (by all measurable qualities) the same person you have known for all those years. Is there a new eternal quality...inward disposition....Grace...at work?

Thomas 'a Becket, before he became the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162, was King Henry II's Chancellor. They were very close personal friends as well. Upon accession to the See of Canterbury, Thomas undertook a more austere and ascetical lifestyle...becoming a strong advocate for the work of the Church. The relationship between Becket and Henry II took a very different course. In the end, responding to a frustrated gesture from Henry, four knights entered Canterbury Cathedral and killed Thomas 'a Becket at the foot of one of the chapel altars.

It would seem that Becket's encounter with what is holy in his life shifted his perception of reality. He suddenly began to see God at work in places not before noticed. In like manner, we have expectations of persons who occupy certain roles in our cultural environments. Our perception of reality...wherever it is formed...creates our inner landscape of identification. When someone or something functions outside those expectations, our reality is set askew. We can be almost literally thrown off-balance. (I have done this both in frustration and as a "shift technique" in my work as a priest...my goal being to have folks "expect the unexpected").

As I have spent time with the Lakota community, I have learned a great deal about incarnational reality....temporal manifestations of an eternal quality. It is the art of actually seeing instead of just looking and really listening instead of just hearing. In the practice of this art, a different frame of reality emerges. It's the same spatial material but now reflecting an eternal quality. Critics call this "panentheism." Such critique is not accurate. Panentheism expresses that all things are in God. Pantheism expresses that all things contain God. In Celtic and First Nations theology, God is immanent and can be reflected in any element of creation chosen for a temporal manifestation (outward sign).

The first principle of Biblical theology is that humans are created "Imago Dei"...in the image of God. In Hebrew, the breath (ruach) of God is breathed into this creature and we are filled with God's nature (nephesh). Without getting into the complexities of language, if our nature is allowed to be a complete part of our reality, we reflect Grace (God's abiding love). If we walk with this understanding, it is not a leap to see that, if creation emanates from the work of God, God can utilize what has been created to manifest Presence into spatial reality. Thus, I could see "cloud sign" as a response to prayer. A birch tree can reflect the connectedness between God and our moment of reality (in the Sundance). A spring can reflect healing Grace (Colman's well in the Burren of west Ireland). It can happen only once...or as many times as God choses to utilize the stuff of creation. THE place it is guaranteed to happen regularly is through us humans. We have been called forth for that purpose.

The season of Lent begins today. A good, practical way to address the above meanderings is: Does your heart follow your head? Or, does your head follow your heart? Or, do head and heart arrive at the same place together? The real loss is if the heart never shows up. A good discipline is to discover your heart (true self) and allow it to inform your head. Try it. Seriously, amazing things happen!


Fr. Fred+