The Laughter of Children…

So today we had our first day of school at our newly renovated Zion Preschool at Saint Miriam. We also had a luncheon with our faculty, all tenured educators who have dedicated their lives to teaching these little ones, some for over 29 years! We are proud that we were able to retain 100% of the staff in our recent transition. It was a great day to be with them and I am proud to have them on my team.

I was able to catch the glimpse of a few of the children, too. Their faces were all aglow with the laughter that comes so easily with this age. It was so contagious that even their parents, much like many of us, weighed down with the worries of the world, also showed signs of letting go and laughing along with their little ones! They all seemed to bounce down the walkways of the parish, some even holding hands and others twirling like tops in the September sun!
 
It is a time of transition for all of us: a new church and the changing weather, leaves about to turn color and going back to school, letting go of our children as they go off to college and begin new lives; a time of firsts and lasts and everything in between we call life. A time of pigtails, new clothes, book bags, and notebooks. A fleeting time that can escape us if we do not take care and stop long enough to see it: to see the stuff of life that truly matters.
 

During weddings, one of the time-honored ways to end a ceremony is with a blessing. One of my favorites is an old Irish wedding blessing and a central line reads, ‘may the laughter of children grace the halls of your home.’

The laughter of children does grace the halls of our new home now.

We have much to be proud of, so much to honor.



Today is MY Birthday!

Today is my birthday. Today is my birthday. Today, I was born! That, for some, is a blessing. For others…well, let us all forget that for today’s reflection!

Well, I guess I was not literally born today. What I mean is, today is my birthday; way back a long while ago – many years ago – I was born. I was fashioned together by a God who knew I would be loved by the best family ever. And, I now have two: one who has been with me from the start, and the other…all of you, my parish family. And tonight at 6:00pm, I will do what I have done every year: I will celebrate Mass, but at this time in our brand new church home in Flourtown! I pray you will give me the gift of your presence as I bring to you the gift of His Presence.

As I write, my body is now finishing its 49th year of life. Wowsie!

Breathing, walking, beating, thinking, moving, eating, drinking, trusting, fearing, loving, laughing, singing, wondering, seeing, hearing, touching, teaching, talking life.

I’m reminded on this, my birthday, of a favorite passage in the book of Psalms from the Bible.

Psalm 139 says:

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

That is how I have tried to live the first half of my life; I pray I get another shot at the second. I have praised God, given generously to the work of His holy Church, tried to be a good and faithful servant, loved beyond measure, and made a few mistakes along the way. But, no matter what…I have lived. I pray you have lived, too.

Your Story is my story, our story is God’s story, and to live it large and well is our greatest dream.

Today is my birthday. My birthday wish, just support the work of God’s church and say a little prayer for me.

Thank you everyone for bringing me to life!

 



Stripped Bare and Yet So Beautiful…

Yesterday I was on campus again at our new location helping to ready the new parish and friary building. I have to admit that I was exhausted – really exhausted – and really tired of painting! There was lots to do and lots of people to help, but each of us was working really hard to meet the deadlines. The space is coming along and will be so beautiful. It will be so worth it!
 
About half way through the day, the carpet was removed from the sanctuary. The floors were ‘laid bare for all to see’ and I sat and watched as the sunlight sparkled from the stained glass – “the Good Shepherd” panels above the chancel area – even against the old floors that had been covered for so long. It reminded me of each of us, scars and brokenness covered by often beautiful outer coverings, and yet our souls remain the same. I was reminded of how some used my past to try and hurt us, as they do to others. I was reminded how even Jesus was laid bare for all to see as He hung upon that cross to save the likes of you and me. Then I was reminded of how – despite our brokenness – we are all so beautiful! So radiant! How the sun (read…Son?) still flashes its warmth on us. Yes, the rain and the sun fall on the just and the unjust alike…
 
It reminded me of that old welcome we read and loved. So, as we begin a new phase of our journey…here it is again! Welcome home – to a new home – but one where the heart remains the same!
 
“We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.
 
We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.
 
We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.
 
If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.
 
We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!”
 
That is where our true life comes from – our radical welcome of everyone who seeks us.
 


A Time To Celebrate!

It is time to celebrate soon! We gave, we prayed, and we supported. We encouraged one another with the joy of what we have become at Saint Miriam: a place of hope, laughter, song, and worship. We have built a Catholic Parish where everyone is welcome regardless of where they came from, who they are, what mistakes they made, how they are living now, who they love, how many times they have failed, how they self-identify, or how many times they have been rejected by others in the world. Yes, we have built a place where all are welcome at the Lord’s Table, in our hearts, and through our doors! We built a place from love. We have been selfless. We are Saint Miriam! And that, my friends, is a lot to say!

Over the last few years’ things have not always been easy. As we have struggled to build this place, there have been many times we all felt we might not make it. But we prayed and remained constant – congruent – in our living example of a loving God and we have been blessed. We are blessed because we have always reminded the world that it truly is the least of my people that God has asked us to hold up – to lift up – to heights they never felt possible. We are selfless in a world where that has little meaning. I am proud to be your pastor. I am proud and honored to walk this journey with you. We are Saint Miriam!
 
The next two weeks will be filled with great joy, some sadness, a little anxiety, and a lot of work! We need to pull together – as we have in the past – and make this next dream a reality. Please volunteer to help with the move, assist with the needed repairs at our new location, and whatever else you do, give generously to be part of what makes us great – we share the burden together. As I have always stated: we do not ask for equal giving, as that would be unfair, but we do ask for equal sacrifice.
 

For those who give $250, or more, by the 30th of August, you will receive a private tour and celebration invite via email for Thursday, September 3rd for our first Mass at our new location. You will see our new home before anyone else and you will be thanked for being among the first to help support us on our way. This day will also be my birthday, and I could not imagine being anywhere else than with you!

We are a story that should not have happened. We are a story of redemption. We are a story of love. We are a living Gospel story of the inclusive love of all of God’s created. We honor the inherent dignity of every human being. We have a lot to be proud of!
 
“Under God’s wings we shall rest…”


Another Fleece Story!

Our patron for the diocese, Bernard, was a French abbot, author of many beautiful hymns,  and the primary builder of the reforming Cistercian order. He was born in 1091 in his fa­ther’s cast­le at Les Fon­taines (near Di­jon), Bur­gun­dy. He died on Au­gust 21, 1153, in Clair­vaux, France. Hence, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

Bernard’s fa­ther, Te­ce­lin, was a knight and vas­sal of the Duke of Bur­gun­dy. Ber­nard was ed­u­cat­ed at Cha­ti­llon, where he was dis­tin­guished by his stu­di­ous and med­i­ta­tive ha­bits. He en­tered the mon­as­tery of Ci­teaux (the first Cis­ter­cian in­sti­tu­tion) in 1113. Two years lat­er, he was sent, with twelve other monks, to found a daugh­ter mon­as­te­ry in the Val­ley of Worm­wood, about four miles from the Ab­bey of La Ferté, on the Aube. He rose to em­i­nence in Church po­li­tics, and be­came em­broiled in the pa­pal schis­ms of the 12th Cen­tu­ry. He was well known in Rome, and found­ed 163 mon­as­ter­ies through­out Eur­ope! The Ca­tho­lic En­cy­clo­pe­dia car­ries a large ar­ti­cle on him. He was a major reformer who believed that Church could be – and do – better!

As you know, I am always looking for signs that we are doing our best for God. And, as we approach our final move dates, I find myself deep in prayer. It was in a moment of reflection that I remembered the story of the fleece and Gideon in the Book of Judges! It goes like this:

After death of Joshua, the Israelites turned away from God, and served idols. Therefore the evils came upon them of which they bad been warned by Moses and Joshua. But at different times God, seeing their distress, raised up “judges” to deliver them from their enemies, and to judge over them. The first of these judges was named Othniel. He was Caleb’s nephew. The last was Samuel. One that lived about one hundred years before Samuel was named Gideon.

The Israelites at this time were in great trouble. They were hiding in dens and caves because of the Midianites, who had conquered them and overrun their country. When their corn was ripe these enemies came and destroyed it, so altogether they were in a sad plight. One day Gideon was threshing wheat in a secluded place, so as to escape the notice of the Midianites, when an angel from God appeared to him, bidding him to go and save the Israelites from their foes. Gideon obeyed the command: but before commencing the battle he much desired a sign from God showing that He would give the Israelites the victory. The sign Gideon asked for was, that when he laid a fleece of wool on the ground, if the victory were to be his, then the fleece should be wet and the ground dry.

He placed the wool on the ground, and taking it up the next morning found it wet, although the ground was dry. So he knew God had answered him as he desired. But he was not quite satisfied. He begged God for a second sign. This time the ground was to be wet and the fleece of wool dry. God gave him this sign also: and then Gideon felt sure that the Israelites would be victorious over the Midianites.

It that not like us? We ask for a sign, get it, and then ask for another! Let us be satisfied that we have grown to where we can move into a new location and honor a legacy of the former congregations that occupied this land.

And, lastly…how about one more sign? Saint Bernard was a man of ex­cep­tion­al pi­e­ty and spir­it­u­al vi­tal­i­ty. Mar­tin Lu­ther, some 400 years lat­er, called him, “the best monk that ever lived, whom I ad­mire be­yond all the rest put to­ge­ther.”

Later this month, we move into a former Lutheran parish to carry on their mission to love and serve God….is that not worthy of your support?



“Sometimes bad things happen to good robots…”

So its journey included attending a beautiful wedding in Germany, and having its portrait painted in the Netherlands, then it began its exciting saga in the United States beginning in the inviting and scenic coastal New England town of Marblehead, Massachusetts on July 17th, and it even made it enjoy a Boston Red Sox game! The child-sized robot, named, “HitchBOT”, made it across Canada and parts of Europe, but then, in the City of Brotherly Love, HitchBOT was vandalized beyond repair and its journey is ended, at least for now.

Two weeks. That’s all it took. Two weeks to destroy something that was imaginative and joyful! In a statement from the creator team, they sadly reported, “HitchBOT’s trip came to an end last night in Philadelphia after having spent a little over two weeks hitchhiking and visiting sites in Boston, Salem, Gloucester, Marblehead, and New York City, unfortunately, HitchBOT was vandalized overnight in Philadelphia; sometimes bad things happen to good robots.”

Yes, it’s true! This is why we can’t have nice hitchhiking robots in our country. This is why the world is in need of the good, the honest, and the holy! Sometimes bad things happen to good robots and to good people, too! This is why we are building a new church!

Frauke Zeller, one of HitchBOT’s creators, recently said the robot’s “family” was disappointed by the incident. I am, too. Not because this computer-driven entity had a soul, but because we – as human beings – can so soul-lessly destroy anything created!

You see…the deeper lesson is that HitchBOT was entirely dependent on the kindness of strangers. It traveled by itself and couldn’t move on its own, but actually required friendly humans to take it from place to place; to allow it to have a journey to begin with!

I guess the real story of this robot is as a sort of ‘grand social experiment’, intended, in part at least, to test our human psychology when confronted with a technological novelty, but for me, the deeper lesson is one of morality: We would rather kill than assist someone else in their journey.

Please…join me in building a place where all are welcome and loved and embraced. Yes, even HitchBOT.



Trusting God. Every.Single.Day.

 

I have tried to read biographies about inspiring people who place a kind of radical trust in God. Now, to be clear, by “radical” I don’t mean reckless or imprudent, but am referring to the difficult, very counter-cultural act of recognizing God’s sovereignty over every area of our lives. These true stories are about people from all walks of the Christian life, not just Catholic or Protestant, but Hindu, Indigenous, and Islamic, too. These examples have been consecrated religious and many lay people, both men and women, too. And yet they all have distinct similarities in their approaches to life and their view of the God they worship: God comes first, even when the waves are coming over the edge of their very tiny boat.

I found it fascinating to see what common threads could be found in the lives of these incredible people who placed so much trust in the Lord, especially as I have been navigating the seemingly insurmountable pressures of the move we are about to undertake: from banking and exhaustive meetings, to fundraising and appeals, to planning and logistics, to lawyers throwing their weight around, and dioceses and synods trying to stick their noses into matters that do not concern them, to subcontractors and needed township approvals, to budgets and trying to honor people’s emotional needs and still keep everything afloat! It has been a trying time for me as a pastor and I often find myself alone in my day seeking the solace of God. So I look to these ‘others’, too, to help me stay filled with hope and strength. It is not easy. I am broken.

While there are many common threads to these people of God who have gone before me to give me a glimpse of hope, one attribute that has helped me immensely during these past few months is that they all have a daily appointment with God. In fact, I have never heard of a person who had a deep, calm trust in the Lord who did not set aside time for focused prayer and conversation with God every day. Both in the books I’ve read and in real life examples, I’ve noticed that people like this always spend at least a few moments, and even up to an hour or two if circumstances permit, focused on nothing but prayer and talking with God, every day. For many of these people, they also tend to do it first thing in the morning, centering themselves in God above before tackling anything else the day may bring.

I’ve also found through enough of these stories of people praying for something very specific, then receiving it, that I started to wonder if they were psychic, or if God just liked them more than the rest of us or something? What I eventually realized is that their ideas about what to pray for came from the Holy Spirit in the first place, because they spent so much time seeking God’s will for them, day in and day out. I hope to learn to trust like that…

A story is told of Mother Angelica who had a satellite dish delivery person at her front door who needed a check for $600,000, or he was going to take the dish, thus killing her plans for the new religious station, EWTN. She ran to the chapel and prayed in earnest, and a man she’d never met randomly called and wanted to donate to her cause…you guessed it! He donated $600,000! Her prayer wasn’t answered because she had a personal interest in television and just really wanted it; No…her prayer was answered by God because she had correctly discerned God’s plan that she was to start a television station on this particular day.

So, I have spent my days trying to ask for God to help me decide what I should pray for and I hope (and pray?) that it comes from the Holy Spirit. I wonder what we could all do together if we just prayed for what God wanted and trusted that God was active in our lives, every, single, day?



You Can Go Home Again.

Novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote a lengthy novel called You Can’t Go Home Again, which was highly acclaimed when published in 1940, after his death at the age of 38. It was required reading in my Pros and Fiction Literature course at college my very first year after high school, but honesty I only read excerpts and relied on a synopsis in the event of a test. (This obviously was a reflection on me at the time and not on one of the literary giants of the 20th century!)

Actually, I was always intrigued by the meaning of the title, if not the 720-page paperback novel, for in my youth I always assumed that you could always go home again, but as I grew older and became plagued by my mistakes of growing up, it was harder and harder for me, for there, back home…I was always only 9 years old and always “little Jimmy who seems to never make good.”

The book’s title obviously became a worn out saying and cliché. I believed it simply because it was written in the psyche of our culture. But, these last few trips home, especially after my father’s death, have shown me a new way to look at ‘home’.

Whether your “home” was a college dorm, or your first apartment, where a set of adoptive parents held you first, the condo you purchased, or the longtime family homestead in some small away town you grew up in, or whatever it looked like or felt like, those “homes” don’t appear to be the same when you revisit them; it is simply true, and there is no denying it. However, I have found that it is we who change and that it is a good thing. We become stronger as we are filled with more life experience. We let go of our youthful fantasy of what home is supposed to be and realize that home is truly where our heart is. Today, as I write this weekly reflection I am home and would not want to be any place else.

Yes, I have learned for me that the same water and sand and beach and sky are still here, it is my memories, now wound together with my past wrapped in the knowledge that I have gained through experience that make me whole. As I crossed the threshold to my family home this past evening – and my yesterdays and tomorrows blended into each other – I noted how perfectly our lives are composed of innumerable memories. The bad fade, the good linger, and the fondness grows. God’s generous gift to me and to you.

The thought that things change as you age and look back is an elusive matter. So, yes, you can always go home again because all your previous “homes,” even including some unpleasant memories, always dwell in your heart where grace abounds.

Today, I am home…



Living Tiny…Living Large…Giving More!

As you may know, we sold our home. We did in order that we might be able to give the equity we earned to Saint Miriam to help us build a new church. No, the decision did not come easily or lightly. It took a lot of prayer and a lot of arguments (‘er, ah, talking! Ya talking!) But, we made the decision, sold our furnishings to an auction house, destroyed ten years worth of old records in storage, and made the choice to live in a ‘Tiny Home”. It’s like being on a tiny adventure!
 
The National Association of Home Builders reports that single-family homes are getting bigger, averaging 2,434 square feet in 2005 compared with 983 square feet in 1950.
 
Tiny houses buck that trend, and there are cable TV shows such as my favorite, Tiny House Nation, and a wonderful documentary called, Small is Beautiful, and while I was always fascinated with the idea, I never really – deep down – thought that I could do it. But, I have. And now, after a few weeks of getting used to it I must admit that I love it!
 
The tiny-house movement is all about living large in a small space. Remember the aforementioned 983-square-foot 1950s home? It’s big enough to contain several tiny houses, which can be as compact as 80 square feet and rarely exceed 500 square feet. Our home is approximately 362 square feet. (Yes, no misprint!) And, yes, it take some getting used to, but you quickly learn how to move and get along with everyone living with you! Even Tucker has finally settled in and since there is no room for his kennel any longer, he has taken to sleeping in the tiny bathroom (I guess, truth be known) it is a bit smaller than his previous kennel! So, we all made it work.
 
Why? We decided that our lifestyle is one of conscious choice:  We choose to live connected to the land, our food, our God, and each other. We also choose to live a zero-debt lifestyle in order to give more to help build a church and to allow God to use us and allow us to be less burdened and less in debt. No, we are not debt free, but the goal is one that will not elude us if we stick with it.  And, there is something comforting of letting go.
 
In order to move into our home, we had to let go of a lot! No extra books (all on an iPad now), no extra clothes (reduced and down to a few of each needed item), no extra food (minimally stocked cabinet and smaller meals make better choices for living in small spaces, no more changing things around (I used to love to rearrange the furniture on a monthly basis! No more, the decision was made when the space was built!), and the new rule that ranks right up with “Worship only one God”…anything new IN means something old goes OUT! So, storage is minimal, decisions minimal, and space minimum, but the reward has been living large. How?
 
I have more time to dream, to think, to pray, to sit, and to just be me. I have a new relationship with my partner, my dog, my family, and my God, and yes, even with myself! I worry less and I have learned to live more simply.
 
Do I ever yearn for my previous life and the McMansion I once owned? Never. Why? I have things far more valuable and they take up no added space.