Reflection - May 10, 2020

“‘In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. 
If there were not, would I have told you that I am going 
to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, 
I will come back again and take you to myself, 
so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way.’
Thomas said to him, ‘Master, we do not know 
where you are going; how can we know the way?’
Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’”

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Reflection - May 3, 2020

“A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy;
I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Through the necessity and miracle of technology, I was able to watch the graduation ceremony for the United States Air Force Academy Class of 2020. It was surreal with cadets spaced eight feet apart from each other on the patch of relatively flat grass in the middle of the Terrazzo instead of in Falcon Stadium. They sat in front of the Class Wall, just below the Cadet Chapel, where the crest of every graduating class hangs. Some things were familiar, but many particulars were different. It brought back many memories and drew a few tears from my eyes. At the end, they threw their hats in the air as the Thunderbirds flew overhead, just like I did. One of the lessons I took away from the Academy actually came from the head football coach, Fisher DeBerry, although I never played football, to the great benefit of Air Force Athletics. He had a number of pithy sayings, but the one that stuck with me would be shared with the football team after every game and before they would go on vacation or even out on the weekend. He would say, “Remember who you are.”

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Reflection - April 12, 2020

“On the first day of the week,
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.”

Jesus Christ is Risen! Alleluia!—I just don’t feel that enthused. Normally, we have been building to this. The season of Lent, with it’s additional prayer, fasting and alms giving, sets the stage for a big celebration. Hours of confessions, prayers like the stations of the cross, and meatless Fridays have witnessed to our preparation as a community and as individuals to grow through this time. Those preparing to be baptized or join the church have taken the final steps and their anticipation is palpable. We process with palms, join the Archbishop to bless oils and renew priestly promises, wash feet, venerate the cross, light the new fire, listen in darkness to the word of God and celebrate the sacraments of initiation. This all culminates with a packed church on Easter Sunday, with glorious music, smiles all around, and, at St. Boniface, the statue of the risen Christ ascending into place above the tabernacle as the church shakes with organ music, pulling out all the stops. Jesus Christ is risen! Alleluia!

Not this year. Many of our Lenten practices got upended. The communal signs of our preparation got suspended. No one has been baptized. No one has been confirmed. No one has received their first communion. Our liturgies have been simplified and what has been done, has been done in empty churches. There was no procession with palms. Oils got blessed in an empty cathedral. Priests renewed their promises virtually. No feet were washed. The priest alone venerated the cross on Good Friday. No one was there in person to sing or to experience the statue of Jesus rise. Sure, we have done our best. Many of us have continued to observe Lent in isolation, watched masses and devotions online, and hungered to receive the Eucharist. It’s not the same, of course. The reality of the suffering of so many, the deaths of thousands, the economic hardships, the pain of social distancing, and the uncertainty of it all not only makes it impossible to celebrate as we usually do, but even trying to celebrate feels empty. We are anxious, afraid, frustrated, impatient, and grieving. What do we have to celebrate?

It’s not all that different than the first Easter. It can feel like everything we had expected from life and everything we had hoped for has been stripped away. The disciples were scattered, locked in homes, afraid that they would meet the same fate as Jesus. Their world had been upended. Their grief was profound. For the apostles, their rabbi, Jesus, had been killed, the one they looked to as a leader, Peter, denied he had known Jesus, and their friend, Judas, betrayed Jesus and then committed suicide. Jesus had been trying to prepare them, but I don’t think they got it, not until the soldiers showed up in the garden. Then it was like an avalanche: once it started moving, it just got bigger and bigger, and couldn’t be stopped. 

That seems about where we are. It’s not right to think of this Easter in terms of what we have become accustomed to. And maybe it’s not right to think of it even in terms of the core mystery we have spent 2,000 years reflecting on and remembering. Maybe, this year, we need to experience it like the first disciples on that first Easter, when Mary of Magdala went to the tomb early in the morning. As it was for her, it is still dark for us and for our world, as dark as it has been in any of our lives. For Mary, there was no grand celebration, no glorious music, no 2,000 years of tradition, no packed church. She didn’t know the answer, didn’t comprehend the mystery, didn’t celebrate the resurrection. That would come, but on that first day of the week, she just saw the stone removed from the tomb. That was enough, for the moment. In the midst of her darkness, that was hope. Still unknown, a new story was about to begin. With love conquering death, the risen Jesus would enter a locked room, heal broken hearts, journey with the disciples from fear to courage, empower them to act, and inspire a new vision. This Easter, we, like Mary, are just at the beginning of a story about to be told. In our darkness and unknown, in this time of quiet, if we visit the tomb of our hearts, we will see the stone has been removed. That is enough, for the moment. That is our hope. 

Reflection - March 8, 2020

“And he was transfigured before them;
his face shone like the sun
and his clothes became white as light.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them,
conversing with him.”

When I was only two, we lived in Germany because dad was stationed with the army in Ansbach. While there, my dad bought a “pop-top” VW camper bus, orange, that we would take for family camp outs. My memories are so fond of that camper bus that just a few years ago, my mom gave me a custom Christmas tree ornament of the same, orange and all. It even came back with us to the States. One of my earliest memories is of a camp out at a farm, gathered with other families near a barn.

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Reflection - Apri 26, 2020

“And it happened that, while he was with them at table,
he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, and gave it to them.
With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him,
but he vanished from their sight...
Then the two recounted
what had taken place on the way
and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.”

This is, to me, the kind of scripture story that just feels like the inspired word of God. Perhaps, it is because, even on the surface, it repeatedly gives me new insights into Jesus, his resurrection, and the response of faith on the part of the disciples. Possibly, it is because of the deep and varied interpretations it has provided for the church in different contexts through the centuries. Maybe, it is because I have done so much study on the fourfold action of taking, breaking, blessing and giving, which is the very action of the Eucharist, and how closely that parallels Jesus himself entering into our humanity with his divine life. It could be because the connection made so beautifully between the celebration of the Eucharist and the recognition of Jesus in the breaking of the bread, which, again, parallels my own life and path of faith. I could go on, but there is something good, beautiful, and true about this story that seems authentic: it is both simple and profound. It captures the reality of our humanity with the reality of God’s divinity and the active, yet gentle, interplay of the two: the dance, if you will, of God and man. It reverberates with the breath of God. It rings true. 

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Reflection - March 29, 2020

“And Jesus wept.”

I went through two times in my life, both relatively short, when I didn’t cry. The first was after my parent’s divorce where the pain, even as a child, seemed too great and I imagined that I was Spock from Star Trek (because he didn’t have emotions) or a robot (for the same reason). So much did I identify with Spock that I practiced, over and over again, raising one eyebrow. You may catch that expression on my face to this day. It worked, for a time, but by trying to avoid pain, I also avoided healing. Eventually, I couldn’t bottle it all up anymore and I had to deal with it. Thankfully, from healthy examples in my life and a support group at St. Polycarp for children of divorced parents, I would learn to embrace or enter into the pain so as to pass through it and find a new beginning. Much later, I would discover this is the pattern of the Paschal Mystery, the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, which is repeatedly at work in our lives. It is only by bearing our crosses that we can reach new life. It is only by losing our life that we find it. And, it is only in dying that we are born to eternal life. There is no short cut, escape, or avoidance. We may use those to cope for a while, but in the end, they only lead to problems greater than the original pain. No, I couldn’t pretend not to hurt and, for me, that also meant tears—real, healing, and cleansing tears. 

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Reflection - February 23, 2020

“You have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one as well...
You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”

My particular specialization as an intelligence officer in the Air Force was target intelligence. After a hiatus of a few years, when the Air Force decided to renew specialized training for targeting, I was an honor graduate of the first class. Within six months, half of our class had been assigned temporary duty in the Middle East and I had been sent for my targeting skills to King Abdulaziz Air Base in Dahran, Saudi Arabia, in support of Operation Southern Watch. I became adept at analyzing target systems, determining critical nodes, and calculating the application of force to achieve various objectives. Give me a communication system, an air base, an oil refinery, a power plant, a rail yard, a port, a fifty foot deep bunker, any type of bridge, or a host of other target systems, and I could tell you how to inhibit, disrupt, damage, or destroy them, although my knowledge now is certainly outdated. I will still occasionally catch myself, when crossing the Ohio River, for example, thinking about the bridge design, construction techniques, elements of vulnerability, weapon accuracy, impact points, blast yields, etc. As I was preparing to leave the Air Force to go to seminary, I was offered an assignment to the first Air Force cyber warfare squadron, which would have used my same analytical targeting skills in a different realm of force application. 

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Reflection - April 19, 2020

“On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”

I wanted to leave seminary at the end of my first semester. That would’ve been reactionary and a wise member of the staff advised me to give it a year, discern during that time, clarify my reasons for leaving, and then decide whether to stay or to go. It was good advice. I did leave after that additional year, but I knew clearly why. One reason was to establish my own personal pattern of living and being. I needed to find out who I was when no one was telling me how I had to live or behave. The three years I was out of seminary were instrumental for my maturity, self understanding, and human development. Though still far, far from perfect, I was a better human being when I went back to seminary. More authentic and with a better sense of self, I could take advantage of the many opportunities to grow pastorally, spiritually, intellectually, and, again, humanly. The disruption in my seminary formation was ultimately beneficial.

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Reflection - March 15, 2020

“But the hour is coming, and is now here,
when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth;
and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.
God is Spirit, and those who worship him
must worship in Spirit and truth.”

Some interpretations of this passage (beginning in the 17th century) saw it as a rejection of ritual worship. It meant for them, and has come to mean for others, that the form that congregational worship takes is unimportant because it is really about the interior disposition of the worshiper, not about the particular actions.  Clearly, Jesus is disconnecting worship from the physical location of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem (or, for that matter, the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim). Jews would have prayed anywhere: at the city gates, in their homes, or in the synagogue. Worship, however, was tied to the ritual sacrifices at the temple. Worship was always about sacrifice or offering, about atonement for sin or thanksgiving for blessings. In this interpretation, those things are unimportant, but sound doctrine and emotional conviction become the hallmarks of “real” worship. Distilled through the centuries, we see this today as a Sunday service with 30-45 minutes of singing (to capture the emotional conviction) and 30-45 minutes of preaching (to present sound doctrine). Other ritual is understood to be dead or legalistic and traps the participants in a merely outward system of empty religion. 

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