Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, Dec 31, 2009
[ New Year’s Eve]

“Still Life” by Henri Matisse,
born on this date, 1869

It’s New Year’s Eve. The end of the decade, of the “Naughties”. what a decade it has been.

I have no “message”. Except this. American stands on the edge of destruction. We have chosen militarism and imperialism. It leads only to Death.

In the calm of Matisse’s calm simple still life, ponder this moment of our history and the World’s history. Ponder – on this eve of a new decade – what you want our nation to be.

Resolve to work for it.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, Dec 29, 2009

Sometimes I wonder if suicides aren't in fact
sad guardians of the meaning of life.

Playwright Vaclav Havel was elected president of
Czechoslovakia by the country's Federal Assembly,
becoming the first non-Communist to hold the post
in more than four decades, on this date, 1989

Oh. I agree. Suicide is not only a sign of a person’s personal sadness or depression. On a mythical level, it is indeed a sign of a great sadness about human existence, about a lose of meaning.

I am thinking about suicide bombers. They are a mythological sign writ large. I think that they have been misled. Definitely. Suicide bombers have been co-opted, in a horribly cynical way, horribly manipulated by politically and theologically twisted people. By people who have disgustingly betrayed and misrepresented “God”. In the worst way – by lying about “God”.

Suicides point to a collapse of the human spirit. Either on a personal or, more importantly, on a global level. We are now, in the World, in a time of the collapse of humanity.

So, those of us who have a sense of both human capacity for evil and for startling compassion and generosity are now called even more to be authentic. To be, in a simple, clear free way, oneself. Oneself in the way one knows oneself when gazing into one’s deepest beauty. That is what “God” wants.

Simple, yes? Just love. Just do Justice. Just care. Essentially, this is to be human.

Just understand that preserving one’s own Life detached from others is a sign of as lose of true self-identity.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, Dec 28, 2009

I was not looking for my dreams to interpret my life,
but rather for my life to interpret my dreams.

Susan Sontag, artist, philosopher, who died on
this date, 2004, age 71

In some very profound way, to my mind, Ms. Sontag’s thought is the baseline of religious life. Of “being religious”. She has gotten the proverbial horse before the cart.

I dream a lot. I read what people say about dreams. They tell us that dreams are our unconscious working through the events of our life. And, while we may not understand the symbolism, that we must dream because it is the making sense of our experiences. Dreams reveal our engagement with Meaning. If we did not dream, we would go mad.

I do in fact think that dreams, if we pay attention to them as our Scriptural ancestors did, help us to interpret our lives. But that is not what is ultimately important and critical. It is only Step One. Just as “practicing religion” is only Step One. There is a reason for both. And they are related.

Dreams and Religion structure the Vision we develop and eventually choose as the pattern for our Life. It may seem that Religion does this is a more orderly and comprehensible way than dreams – but I do not believe this to be so. It is only so when we have emasculated our religious Life, when we have boxed ourselves into a desperately poor understanding of the vast dimensions both of Life and of “God”. We would do well to remember what many mystical theologians have said: that when we have said everything we can possibly say about “God”, we have only minutely scratched the surface.

Sontag is, I think, absolutely correct. The critical point to reach in Life is to understand that, once or as we have “learned” something about Life, it is of no value whatever until how we live becomes an “interpretation” of that learning. Dreams, Theology, are useless until they become the power of the active living of who we are.

What have you learned about the beauty of who you are – about the “dream” that was implanted in you? How, tomorrow, will you “interpret” it in Life? How will you be authentically You? This is what makes us alive.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: The Weekend, Sat, Dec 26, 2009

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him, and without him not
one thing came into being. What has come into being in him
was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines
in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

From the Gospel story called “John”, Chap 1

The four Biblical versions of the story of Jesus were finally chosen to be considered what became “Scripture”. Many other versions were rejected – primarily because there was one “political” power that dominated and “won out”. It is important to remember that the many other versions of the Jesus story reflect truthful dimensions of the Mystery of the “Eternal Logos become Flesh” – but that in human community, accumulated power “wins out”. That does not mean that you should not read the other Gospels and mine them for their Truth. If you look at human history, it is clear that the “victors” write “history” – but! One should always be suspicious of the version of Conquerors.

At least we have four versions of the story, put into written form from four different Christian communities from between about 60-70 BCE to about 90-110 BCE, according to most recent scholarly determination. “John” is interesting, despite its anti-Jewish bias. It is the “youngest”. It is clearly NOT “factual”. It is “mystical”, reflective, dreamlike, “theological”, imaginative. It wants to make clear that Jesus is God. This position became “orthodoxy” – “right thinking”.

“Orthodoxy” is a way of limiting that indefinable Mystery we call God. It is important to remember this. Elites that gain the upper hand always want to limit, to box things in – and that is always a sign of the desire and determination to control. But! God will not be controlled. Or limited. Not by human fears, human short-sightedness, human small-mindedness, human prejudice. God “will out”, will always find ways to reveal God’s true nature.

That is the role of the “Remnant”. Those who no, are not better than others, but are those who have broken free of those who would control access to the infinite Mystery that is “God”, and have opened their being to deeper, wild, glorious Wonder.

The Word. Made Flesh. In us.

Think what that says about you and me.

Can we rise to this Truth?


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Christmas Day, 2009

Here are some good thoughts for the Feast of Christ-mas. Ponder when you have a moment …. or make a moment. We are, I think, called to fashion a world community of Compassion, Justice, Joy, and Pleasure! May your Life blossom with these things!


I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. ~Charles Dickens

Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart. ~Washington Irving

This December,
 love weighs more than gold!
~Josephine Dodge Daskam Bacon

Only in souls the Christ is brought to birth,
 And there He lives and dies.
~Alfred Noyes

I can understand people simply fleeing the mountainous effort Christmas has become... but there are always a few saving graces and finally they make up for all the bother and distress. ~May Sarton

Fail not to call to mind, in the course of the twenty-fifth of this month, that the Divinest Heart that ever walked the earth was born on that day; and then smile and enjoy yourselves for the rest of it; for mirth is also of Heaven's making. ~Leigh Hunt

[I]t is the one season of the year when we can lay aside all gnawing worry, indulge in sentiment without censure, assume the carefree faith of childhood, and just plain "have fun." Whether they call it Yuletide, Noel, Weinachten, or Christmas, people around the earth thirst for its refreshment as the desert traveller for the oasis. ~D.D. Monroe

Except the Christ be born again tonight
In dreams of all men, saints and sons of shame,
The world will never see his kingdom bright.
~Vachel Lindsay

The Supreme Court has ruled that they cannot have a nativity scene in Washington, D.C. This wasn't for any religious reasons. They couldn't find three wise men and a virgin. ~Jay Leno

O Christmas Sun! What holy task is thine! 
To fold a world in the embrace of God!
~Guy Wetmore Carryl

People can't concentrate properly on blowing other people to pieces if their minds are poisoned by thoughts suitable to the twenty-fifth of December. ~Ogden Nash

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, Dec 23, 2009

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

Clement Clark Moore, author of “The Visit of
St. Nicholas”, first published on this date,
1823, in the Troy NY Sentinal

Here’s the “legend” of Nicolas, who is, of course, “Santa (Saint) nic-clause – Nicholas.

"The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to the those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships."

I have a lovely personal connection, on two levels. One: I went to the General Seminary. It’s in Chelsea, Manhattan – the land of the seminary belonged to the Moore family ,who were Episcopalians. It was between 9th and 10th Avenues (then).

Two: I include a lovely picture, taken at my ordination with my mum, Madge, of Bp. Paul Moore, then bishop of NY. He was a direct descendant of Clement Clark Moore.


Like so much of “religion”, this poem became beloved. And I think it pleasantly expresses some of the virtues of the original “Santa Claus”.

Just remember: the original “Santa Claus” was a Christian bishop know for his deep love of the poor and the orphaned.

The meaning of the story of the Incarnation is that the core of our human being-ness is the Divine Mystery. Love, Compassion, Justice, Mercy, Forgiveness, Truth.

May all these things be renewed in you in the year ahead! Have fun in 2010.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, Dec 22, 2009

You can't let yourself be pushed
around. You can't live in fear.
That's no way to live your life.

Guess Who? (I’ll tell you later)

This raises some interesting questions, yes? As I understand “pushed around”, if that means that you should not let others demean you, I guess I agree. Because of the dynamic of oppression or force. No human beings should use whatever power they have to oppress or control others; that’s what I think. Jesus never did that. He shone a “light” on issues – but His nature was to lead others to see what would or would not enhance their humanity positively, and then to make a choice.

But should one use “violence” to prevent being “pushed around”? I don’t wish to be a violent person. Would it surprise you to know that I own a gun? I do. For two reasons. One, I was threatened by gaybashers on 7th Ave near the Village in NYC years ago. After that, I purchased a gun as a symbol to myself that I would not allow myself or anyone to be the victim of homophobic violence. And, in a perverse “stance”, two, I thought, “If it’s American to have the “right” to own a firearm, then I will”. Owning the gun is purely symbolic. It remains locked up and I would never carry it ….. at the moment - though if I had to live in Texas, I might!

Not “living in fear” is a big issue for me. “That’s no way to live your life”. And in America, we live in a very violent society. People live in fear around most of this land. The Gospel is clear, in my view: fear is one of the primary things that deprives one of Life. Christian theology says that the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus is primarily to “free us from the power of sin and death” so that we are free to Live. The alternative to fighting those who would deprive you of Life is to live without resistance to violence and to accept death rather than violence. I’m not there ….. yet. But think I would like to be.

I firmly believe that it is not loving of oneself or others, nor faithful to God in whose loving “image” we are made, to allow people to disrespect our common humanity. Love demands that we not enable others’ hate or indifference or (false) sense of superiority or value above others. The Gospel is clear that we “ought not to think of ourselves more highly than of others”.

It was Bernhard Goetz whom I quoted. It was on this date in 1984 that he shot four black youths on a Manhattan subway whom he felt were going to mug and rob him. I make no claim to know what really happened that day, or what assumptions were real. But my point is this: we should not have to live in a society of fear.

We need to work to change America, or wherever we live.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, Dec 18, 2009

"We're charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons.
We do. It's a question of whether the white man lives on the Pacific
Coast or the brown men… If all the Japs were removed tomorrow,
we had never miss them in two weeks, because the white farmers
can take over and produce everything the Jap grows. And we do
not want them back when the war ends, either."

Austin E. Anson, managing secretary of the Salinas Vegetable
Grower-Shipper Association, told the Saturday Evening Post in 1942.
On this date, 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the wartime re-
location of Japanese-Americans

Think about this today. It has so much to say about human fear, about the ability of the powerful to destroy the lives of their fellow human beings. About the willingness of citizens to act against their fellow citizens – and I don’t think it is just because of fear. It’s about the innate deep zenophobia we are capable of. Given a moment of societal anxiety, the dominant majority’s racism, hate, fear, distrust comes out in spades. Shameful – and deeply against the then prevailing Christian allegiance of Americans, who should have known more about the Gospel and about the amazing ethical radical life that the Gospel calls people to.

We live in such times. It would be easy for the same thing to happen again. We see evidence of it throughout our American “culture” all the time. McCarthy played on this thread in the American psyche. The Republicans are doing it now, and their minions in all the right-wing movements that are proliferating like crazy in our country. Don’t believe me? Read the magazine of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Are you a follower of Jesus and His great commandment of Love? Of the Buddha, who calls upon all persons to do no harm to others? Of the Prophet, who demands fairness justice for all persons? Keep a close grip on your heat, on your fears and anxieties. Mostly, on your commitment to honouring and respecting your fellow human beings.

Jesus says there are no “Japs”. No “brown” or “whites”. Just human beings who are all equally God’s family.

It’s time we started living up to this standard.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, Dec 17, 2009

Instead of being presented with stereotypes by
age, sex, color, class, or religion, children must
have the opportunity to learn that within each
range, some people are loathsome and some
are delightful

Margaret Mead, anthropologist, born on this day, 1901
[ Sorry; one day late! ]

Oh! God bless Margaret! I have been thinking about this issue for a long time. Here’s a story.

As a lead-in, a story from my AIDS chaplain days. We were having a training session for “Buddies”, those who volunteered to be a friend to persons with AIDS. Our trainer said, “Remember: a bastard before AIDS, a bastard after AIDS”. Boy, was he right!

I arrived back in the United States from Italy. I had become an American citizen – so I was in “our” line. As I approached the booths, a young African-American woman was giving directions. She was barkingly rude to almost everyone, but especially to those who were not light-skinned, and amazingly to those who were “black”.

As I approached the front (happily quickly, as one carrying an American passport) , she was busy “abusing” various people. Her tone of voice was like a Nazi soldier. And here I was staring at a poster saying something about how these people were servants of the American people, and bound to courtesy! Suddenly she got even more abrasive to one Indian-looking family.

I was horrified, and incensed. And, I was wearing my clerical collar. I said loudly to her: “You know; you are a representative of me, and all Americans. You are an employee of mine; I help pay your salary. I find it unacceptable that you are being rude to these people. What will they think Americans are really like, based on you? The sign says that you are committed to represent American values”.

Her head dropped; she looked a little chagrined. And she toned down.

Servanthood. It is critical to the Gospel, and to the “path” to becoming fully human.

That moment taught me something important, vis a vis our “politically correct” time. There are many “loathsome” people in the World, who live out of there own sense of inferiority and low self-esteem. They think that “power” means that they can belittle people, belittle their humanity. I hope that we get beyond that very soon ….. but this being America I doubt it. I hope that I am wrong.

There is no need to tolerate bigoted or prejudiced or socially limited people, like that little self-important gate-keeper. We must confront bigotry gently, firmly, but kindly, with love.

Delightful people. There are many of those in the world.! Remember : Advent is a time to assess just how committed we are to the Kingdom of God. To giving of ourselves to “build” that Kingdom.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, Dec 15, 2009

Formula for success: rise early, work hard, strike oil.

J. Paul Getty, “robber baron”, philanthropist,
born on this date, 1892

BAD formulas for success! And certainly in the materialistic sense, unless one is speaking from hind-sight. “Striking oil” is fairly rare – a matter of luck (perhaps with a little of scientific thought). But it hardly seems “business acumen” to me if you count on luck – but then I might be very naïve on the subject of economical philosophy.

I am personally grateful to J. Paul Getty for just two things. One is the Getty Museum in Mailbu – fabulous – even if most of the things there were “stolen”. But perhaps even more, for the restaurant at the new Getty Museum in LA. They did it right! The restaurant is glass on all sides, looking out over surrounding vegetation and “distant” hills. Usually in sunshine. The tables have white linen tablecloths and napkins. Best of all, the wait-staff wear white aprons that touch the top of their shoes. Perfect! The food and wine are excellent. What more can one ask for on a Tuesday afternoon?

However, as a formula for “spiritual” success, Getty’s aphorism is AOK. Rise reasonably early (Merton said you can’t pray if you don’t see the sunrise); Work “hard”, that is, keep focused; it has nothing to do with how “long” you work from the World’s point of view at Worldly pursuits. “Strike Oil”: this is the Grace of coming in touch with the Divine! From a Worldly point of view, one has to work for it and be lucky. Not so in the “spiritual quest”. We are anointed with the “oil of the spirit” when we open our hearts to the Mystery of God – “unknowable”, etc., but “glimpse-able”. Striking Oil in the earthly Life is a matter of hard work and earning rewards. In the “spiritual world, it “falls our way”.

Giftedness. How do we get “gifted”? By wanting it and asking for it. The God I know is just waiting for that request! That is God’s “purpose” of being and God’s nature. As soon as a human prayer goes up seeking enlightenment, God pounces.

And we are graced. Go ahead. Be bold and trusting (as in “cra do: I trust). You will be blown away!


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, Dec 14, 2009

A (wo)man may have never entered a church or a mosque, not
performed any ceremony; but if (s)he realizes God within
him/herself, and is thereby lifted above the vanities of the world,
that (wo)man is a holy (wo)man, a saint, call him/her what you will...

Vivekananda [parentheses mine]

One night in the Brazilian diocese of Recife (Episcopal), around 1992, I went with a priest on his rounds in the favela (slum). The heat was oppressive (for me). Hundreds of thousands of folk lived in cardboard and tin shacks. A few places had “stolen” electricity (the neighbourhood store). Mostly there were candles, and a few kerosene lamps, and wood or charcoal cooking fires. There were no toilets; human refuse ran through gutters in the street. Amazingly, a TV here and there, with hoards of kids and adults glued to them. If there was any meat for the rice, it was, I was told, cat or rat or dog.

We went to a tiny two room house – concrete blocks donated by the Episcopal church. Eight people lived there. The mother passed her infant to a five year old, and brought us one beer – a fabulously generous offering – to share. She took the infant back to breastfeed, her face and the baby’s highlighted and glowing by the flickering yellow light. She and the priest talked quietly in Portuguese.

Suddenly I “saw” where, mythically and in reality, I was. In Bethlehem, in the stable. There was Mary suckling God Incarnate. I was she, a human being, like every human being bearing within me the Divine Life. Made to give birth to God in the human community. This woman had never been in a church or mosque – but I could see she “realized God within” in a completely unselfconscious way. She was full of love. I was among saints.

There was no vanity of the World. Impossible in that favela. But that moment became for me an icon of Life, reminding me to look for the Holy everywhere.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: The Weekend, Sat, Dec 12, 2009

... one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not
worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize
you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork
is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather
the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn
with unquenchable fire."
(spoken by John the Baptist)

from the Gospel called “Luke”, chapter 3
(for Advent III, RCL Year C)

What is the “point” of this story, with John calling his people to a “baptism of repentance”? Of his counseling each group (taxpayers, soldiers, the “crowds” representing all the normal folk) in the specifics of their ethics, recalling everyone to their ancient standard of behaviour in the Ten Commandments? Of his declaration of One Greater coming with firey, unyielding power – heightened by the language of End Times - to baptize with the “Spirit”?

It is to tell of the shift that is coming! It will no longer be a matter of following rules imposed from without. Of “being good” or just in order to avoid punishment or to receive reward or to deflect the anger of a coming Messiah. No. To be drawn into the life of “God” is infinitely more powerful and transforming. This “winnowing fork” arises from within, from our own heart. This winnowing fork can’t be resisted, because we are wielding it ourselves. We are speaking of a time when loving behaviour has been embraced by all, when each has recognized we are “of God”, when our deepest longing is to be a “Spark” of God in the world. When we are Free.

The Christ comes essentially to free us – freely to choose to be our selves: "to love justice, and do mercy, and walk humbly with our God” ….. because it is the true essence of Us.

So we are being led to next week’s Gospel, when Mary will say “Yes” to God’s invitation to bear God’s likeness in the world.

As Thomas Merton said: “The Advent mystery is the beginning of the end of all in us that is not yet Christ.”


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, December 11, 2009

Religion always remains higher than everyday life.
In order to make the elevation towards religion easier
for people, religion must be able to alter its forms in
relation to the consciousness of modern man.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Russian author, political activist,
born on this date, 1918

In essence, I agree with AS. If I understand what he is saying. He is saying that “religion” is that part of Life that holds out the vision of what Life can be despite the abysmal reality. And he says that “religion” should continuously adjust its vision in order to touch contemporary people in such a way that we will continue to understand the vision and be drawn into it. Jesus was a good example of such a person. He held out a revised version of the Torah which He believed would clarify Its heart and help people to see its original purpose.

The problem is that “religion” does NOT always remain higher than “everyday life”. At least not in my experience. Religion in America has very often gone the opposite way – pandering to the very worst vision of what Life can be. This really annoys me – and I am being cautious here! In my view, “religion” should always be “higher that everyday life”. Always hold to the highest principles of its founder. But, usually, “religion” doesn’t do that.

“Religion” normally resists change. Religion normally evades contemplating the “conscious of modern man”, and, instead of taking the lead by “altering its forms” in order to make its authentic principles heard, it entrenches itself in the status quo in order to preserve its power. Very very sad.

Christianity (and most other religions) embraces Peace. Sisterhood/Brotherhood. Love of the Earth. Universal connection as a human family. Openness to “new truth”. Compassion. At its best that is, when it is not being subjected to perversion.

Our own religious vision should always “remain higher that everyday life”. Our actions ought to reflect that commitment.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, Dec 10, 2009

We may be surprised at the people
we find in heaven. God has a soft spot
for sinners. His standards are quite low.

You don't choose your family. They are
God's gift to you, as you are to them.

Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
Nobel Peace prize laureate, on this
day, 1984

Well, if anything would “prove” that “God” is a projection of human need, Desmond Tutu’s words would be good evidence! And personally, I am delighted – and not surprised – with the idea of a God who has low standards about sinners and the qualifications for “Heaven”.

Jesus is a perfect representative of the God of Low Standards! Look at the people he hung out with, chose as followers, and chose to spend most of His time with. Whomever the posh people of His society held dear, Jesus confronted and criticized. This is a characteristic of compassionate, loving, forgiving people – who recognize themselves in all these folk, who recognize their own need for grace and a “break”.

As to Tutu’s words about family. I spent most of my life “alone”, not sharing my Life intimately with anyone. Then Dennis came along. Indeed a “God’s Gift”. In the context of commitment and attraction, I have learned (and perhaps we learn together) that he is “family” at it’s best, and learned what critical lessons one learns about the life-giving paths of Life. Gayfolk have learned this abundantly in our struggle – because not only have we been graced with partners that many would deny us, but with Family that in fact we did choose, only to discover that God had already chosen for us. Lots of people other than Gayfolk have discovered this Grace.

I think it would be a real blessing for the World and for persons to heed Bp. Tutu’s wisdom: We are all “inadequate”. God has a soft spot for the Inadequate. We imagine such a God because we know deep down our deep need to be embraced and accepted in our inadequacy.

The more we can, as a human community, affirm and embrace one another rather than reject those upon whom we project our own sense of inadequacy and its attendant fear and anger, the more Life will blossom.

I’m looking forward to entering the Pearly Gates - to the huge belly-laugh all of us will enjoy when we see who is there waiting for us!


Monday, December 7, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, Dec 8th, 2009

It is better to have loafed and lost,
than never to have loafed at all.

All [persons] should strive to learn before they die,
what they are running from, and to, and why.

James Thurber, author, satirist, born on this date, 1894

Now that I have “retired”, I can say this: I absolutely agree with Thurber’s thought about loafing. [ I am trying to learn not to overdo exclamation points; it is ….. hard! ] I have never wanted to “work” – that is, do stuff that didn’t make me happy. Even through the many years when I had to do things I didn’t enjoy, I structured in a lot of time to loaf. Admittedly that was one – and few - of the benefits of being “in charge” of a congregation: structuring one’s own time. It is a great gift in our age. It kept me sane and balanced.

As to what we need to learn before we die, again I agree. Thurber says: “to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why”. This could very sensibly be one’s Life motto – and it certainly wouldn’t be, I think, inconsistent with living the Gospel Life, or the Buddha’s teachings, etc. The only thing I would add is, “to know how we can lay aside the mistakes and start afresh”.

It is Socrates’ “Know Thyself”. It is what Jesus always challenged folk to in the parables: knowing the “truth” that will set you free.

Distress is usually “blamed” on someone or something exterior. But most distress is “interior”. If we are responsible about examining our life-distress, we see that we can’t usually change others, we have to change ourselves. People like me get worked up about this because we lapse into thinking that this means we have to compromise our principles. It doesn’t. What it does mean is that we have to accept the consequences of our decisions and choices. As long as we are willing to do that, we are “off to the races”.

We will have to let go of lots of personal idiosyncrasies. Learn to be flexible on all levels of Life. Be willing to change our minds and our point of view – though we should not do so without consulting our brain, hearts, and conscience.

“Religion” offers – if it has integrity – lots of helpful guidelines for doing this or, more, for being a certain kind of person. It would be a worthy meditation exercise during the day, once or twice, to ask the question and take five minutes to ponder; or better, to listen to what the Universe has to say:

What am I running from, and to, and why?

If we can be open and honest to the “answers”, it will help a lot!


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, December 7, 2009

When kindness has left people, even for a few moments,
we become afraid of them as if their reason had left them.
When it has left a place where we have always found it,
it is like shipwreck; we drop from security into something
malevolent and bottomless.

Willa Cather, author, born on this date, 1873,
in Back Creek Valley, Virginia

Were some children ever terrified by Grimm’s “fairy tales”? I suppose there were some; but I would be interested to know what percentage. I always understood that they were stories, so they didn’t disturb me. It never occurred to me that one of those monsters would catch me in the “real” world, my world. Similarly, I can watch “Star Wars”, which has some pretty nasty characters, doing some pretty horrible things, and I’m not afraid or repulsed. I understand they are “tales”, meant to teach me something.

But when I think of Matthew Sheppard’s killers, trapping him and leaving him to die bound to a fence in the Wyoming cold, or of the Nazis calculated extermination of Jews, Gays, and others in the camps, with meticulous “cold” records of their gold teeth, my skin crawls. I sense the “something malevolent and bottomless”. I’ve had to leave certain movies when cruelty appeared. I just can’t bear it. More than anything else, “when kindness has left people”, I have to flee.

I feel it in my gut in the way some slave owners treated their slaves. In ethnic cleansing. In genocide. In religious fanatics blowing apart their victims. In men brutalizing their wives or girlfriends. In tortured animals. In waterboarding by our own government. Alas, there are countless examples of the absence of Kindness in our World today. In my view, it can never be justified nor must ever be condoned. Cruelty always reveals a collapse of human decency.

Willa Cather’s words remind me to pay attention to my behaviour. It is so easy to be unkind. It doesn’t take much to wound another – and we can be so cavalier and unaware of the power of our unkindness.

May we remember the Buddha’s words today: “Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion”. And the reminder of 1 Corinthians 13 about the greatest of the three things that last: “Love is kind”.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, December 4, 2009

One of my favorite philosophical tenets is that
people will agree with you only if they already
agree with you. You do not change people's minds.

- Frank Zappa, musician; he died on this day, 1993, age 52

Well, I would say for myself that this is true ….. politically, and theologically (with 90% of American religion). With a deep sense of mixed emotions, and a desire to be honest, I will admit that I (a) know of no Republican who could convince me that (s)he was speaking the truth or had anything to say that would enhance my understanding (or desired to), and (b) trying to change peoples’ minds never succeeds. This is America and much of the World today, alas.

But: let’s get to the “spiritual” dynamic. I agree: You can’t usually “change peoples’ mind” by intellectual argument or by persuasion. In America, the Mind has taken bottom rung to Emotion. Experience proves this, except perhaps for a “few” who are secure enough in their being to “hang loose”.

You can only help others – and yourself - towards transformation by your action. By loving people. By listening to their hopes and fears, even if you make it clear that you don’t agree with them. We all want to be understood, to be taken seriously. Then we can let go of some adversarial defensiveness.

These days, perhaps we should give up trying to change peoples’ minds. It is counter-productive.

Let’s just focus on the Wounded Soul of all human beings. Our own included. Let’s try to reach out and place a soothing hand on each others’ deep wounds, in hopes that such caring will break down the Berlin Walls that fence us off from each other.

What “changes people’s minds” fundamentally is Understanding and Acceptance. Once we learn to do this for each other while accepting our disagreements, we can move forward. The “grace” is in the cessation of assumed hostilities.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, Dec 3, 2009

Who promised you that only for joy were you brought to this earth?

- Anna Freud, born on this date, 1895

Nope; or, Yep. People who promise “rose gardens” should be steamrollered into the tarmac without a second thought (metaphorically speaking) – which you get to by diligent practice of your “spiritual” path.

Life is Joy and Sorrow. Life is always a balance between the lovely and the painful, on various levels.

If you “believe in” a God who will promise you only Joy, you are (a) delusionary (b) have no real concept of what “God” is for.

No legit “God” offers Perpetual Joy. It just doesn’t jive with Reality and Experience. As a matter if fact, the Deity I know requires us to live with Reality and Experience. And, by the way, most of the Episcopal clergy I know are basically a happy lot. They know that in the throws of suffering, the God of compassion and healing will walk with them, be there for them.

I think that God actually has promised us all that “only for Joy” were we brought to this Earth. It will never come from amassing enough “stuff”. Or whatever the “World” gives, etc. It comes from living simply; from listening to the voice of Holy Silence; from emptying oneself in Love; from understanding Compassion and calling oneself to it minute by minute. This requires a daily “path” that we take up every day.

No one – not even God – can promise Joy. That is up to you and to me. We must choose, moment by moment, to live "Christ’s" life.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ah, the Seine! I’ve walked it several times, both in the outskirts and in the City of Lights! One morning I set out about 8am. Walking, sitting, watching people. At about 9am, having sauntered by St. Chapelle, I found a superb Café where sitting at a table on the sidewalk I had a large bowl of coffee and hot milk, with a fresh baked mini-baguette which I dipped into the large “breakfast cup”, as gazed out over the river and the Isle St. Louis. There are few things – at least to me – more conducive to soothing the human spirit than such a morning.

Later, I strolled the banks of the Seine, taking a long time to peruse the bookstalls that line the river. There it was that I found an unopened slip-boxed edition of the works of Allan Seeger (yes, related to Pete). For $4. Delight.

And that is what, essentially, Life should be about. Delight. It deeply disturbs me that so many of us in the human community have no delight, that Life is so full of pain. Why is it that we can’t empathize? That we can’t rise to changing this? I have both been offered and myself created the opportunities to enjoy the delights of this World – often to the jealous harping of my acquaintances. My giftedness for delighting in the World has overridden the harping of others. Well I remember the tribute offered to me by Helen Greven, Junior Warden at St. Anne’s in the Fields, Lincoln MA, when I left them after eighteen months as their Interim Rector. At the luncheon following my last Sunday there, she thanked me for showing her how to delight in receiving, in how to enjoy Life. I felt that I had fulfilled my calling – for our God is always inviting us to fullness of Life. And might I add: this more than any other thing has taught me to work to extend this to others. It opened my heart, not closed it. Feeling blessed fires a desire that others may share in it.

Tomorrow, I hope to find an opportunity to extend Delight to another. Perhaps the World would change a little for the better if we all did?

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, December 1, 2009
World AIDS Day

I have learned more about love, selflessness
and human understanding in this great adventure
in the world of AIDS than I ever did in the cut-throat,
competitive world in which I spent my life.

Anthony Perkins, actor

So did I. People often ask me what stands out in all the decades I was privileged to minister as a servant of God’s love. It was the years I was a chaplain to those with AIDS, especially in my years in the diocese of Rhode Island. There was a lot of horror, and some pretty nasty people, as in every situation. But towering above all the political neglect and parental rejection and suffering was the courage and selflessness and human understanding of both those with HIV/AIDS and those reaching out. I’m sure that without the latter, my life would have been consumed with bitterness.

I’m not going to pontificate about AIDS, which still afflicts tens of millions of us around the World, or about the continuing neglect. We know the horrible extent of it, and the continuing ignorance. I just want to remember and honour those who were friends, colleagues, and those I had the privilege to assist pastorally. [ Those with just initials are for pastoral reasons of mine, but they and all live in my heart, and I cherish them all. ]

* Tony Felix * Bruce Natke * Art Lamoureux * Fr. Mike Koonsman * Fr. G. W. * Fr. A. B. * Fr. P. P. * Fr. Geoffrey Skriner * Fr. Mills Omaly * Fr. C. H. * Sasha Andreevitch * James Arcaro * George Barros * Roger Boyd * Chris Burke * John DeCosta * Brian Del Pape * Chris Johnson * Jimmy Lipscomb * Richard Metivier * Sara Paneto * Marcie McClane * Ron Reniere * Courtland Roach * Gerald Taupier * David Arruda * Harold Mikelson * Lee Bruner * Gene Tyrus * Fr. Bernie Healey * Paul de Tora * Roger Tetreault * Anthony deRosa
* Richard Dobbing * Jimmy Black * Vern Seidler * John Tobin * Fr. Karl Laubenstein * Normand Olivier * Gordon Stoddard * Jon Jones * Paul Monnette * Richard Vasseur * Terry Robinson * Jim Hayes * Gerry Toupin * Chris Burke * The Rev. Chris Lee * Bill Collagan * Richard Rachiele * Fr. John Emerson * Joe Borges * Gary Hogan * Teddy Remiere * Richard Corrente * Fr. Sanford Smith * Earl Becker * Stephen Carter * Dr. Dennis Tishlias * Fr. Bob Kettlehack * Keith Dailidenas * Tom Bradley * Nure Risho * Bobby St. Jean * Brian Bigney * Bill de Fusco * George Harrington * Tony Prezioso * Paul Curtis * Chris White * Br. Adam Fifer * Michael Callen * Bruce Haller * Fr. Jim LeSage * Brian Orme * David Farland * Julie Renegaldo * Br. Bernie Fessenden, BSG * Eric Lotring * Jim Kie

I am in awe of all the “Buddies”, caregivers, and friends, then and now.

AIDS taught me about the wonder of Love.